A MAN OF SAMPLES
SOMETHING ABOUT THE MEN HE MET
"ON THE ROAD"
BY WM. H. MAHER
"ON THE ROAD TO RICHES"
"When do you start, Tom?"
"Well, good-by; sock it to 'em; send us in some fat orders."
"I'll do it, or die; good-by."
And then I sat down to think it all over. Our traveling man was off on a wedding tour, and I had agreed to take his place for this one trip. As the hour drew near for me to start, my courage proportionately sank, until I now heartily wished that I had never consented to go. What if I failed? I had been stock clerk and house salesman for three years; I had been successful; my position was a good one, and one that would grow better; there was nothing to be made by success on the road, as I had no intention of continuing there, and failure might be the means of making my place in the house less secure. What an infernal fool I was! If there had been any way under heaven for me to get out of it I would have hailed the opening with delight. I would have blessed any accident that would have been the means of sending me to bed for a week or two, and I would have taken the small-pox thankfully. But there was no release. Like an ass, as I was, I had agreed to take Mallon's trip, and I must go ahead if it made or unmade me.
I ate my supper with a heavy heart, bade my landlady and her daughters a solemn good-by, then went to the theater to forget my sorrows. At midnight I was checking my sample-trunk for Albany, and persuading the baggagemaster that 218 pounds were exactly 120. I succeeded; but it took three ten-cent cigars to do it.
The reason I call the town Albany is because that is not its name, and I may as well say here that as I write about actual incidents I don't propose to "lay myself liable" by giving the name of any town or any dealer. If I call him Smith it will naturally follow that he was not Smith.
If Albany had been a hundred or more miles away I would have taken a berth in the sleeper, but we were due there at 2 o'clock, so I dozed and nodded and swore to myself during the two hours' ride. I wanted to get there, but I dreaded it, too. Stories I had heard traveling men tell about poor beds, mean men, dirty food, and unprincipled competitors all came back to me in a distorted fashion, and if I didn't have a nightmare I must have experienced a slight touch of delirium tremens.
"How much of a town is Albany?" I asked the conductor.
"No town at all; just a crossing."
"No hotel there?"
"Oh, yes; they call it a hotel."
This was exactly what I expected. Probably no one would be up and I could walk around the town for the next four hours. What an idiot I was! By thunder, I would break my leg or my arm the first thing I did and get out of this foolish—
What, so soon! Those were the two shortest hours I had ever known.
No lights anywhere; no one about; nothing but—
Good; here was a ray of comfort. "Hotel? Well, I should say so. Where is your light?"
"Here it is." And a lantern came around a corner as the train dashed off on its way.
"Don't mind your trunk; that will be taken care of and I'll get it in the morning. Here, Dan, lead the way,"
We walked a square or two and went into a neat appearing office. Bed? Yes, I might as well get a few hours' sleep. And I was given a very comfortable room. I lay in bed trying to recall our customer's name, and preparing my speech of introduction when—. Some one was rapping at the door. What's up? Breakfast! What, breakfast already? Why, I hadn't thought I was asleep at all.
As I looked over the register, after breakfast, dreading to start out, I asked the clerk;
"Been any gun men here lately?"
"None since last week. Layton was here from Pittsburg on the 22d."
"Did he sell anything?"
"I think he did sell Cutter a small bill"
"How many stores are there here?"
"Three that sell guns. Are you in the gun business!"
"Yes. I am from Pittsburg."
I hung back as long as I dared; found out all about the trains; picked up facts and fancies about the merchants; got my cards and price-book handy; stuck four revolvers (samples) in my pockets; pulled my hat down solidly on my head, and started out. And every step I took I, figuratively, kicked myself for being there, and for being a blasted fool generally. "JOHN O. JORDAN, GUNS AND REVOLVERS."
This was the legend that attracted my attention, and toward it I took my way. I stopped at the window long enough to take a hasty inventory of its contents, and from it I sized up my man. There were some goods there that came from our store; this cheered me, I took courage, walked in, and handed Mr. Jordan my card.
"We have done some business with you," I said, in my blandest tones, "and Mr. Mallon always spoke pleasantly of you [this was a random shot]; he has taken a wife unto himself, and I am making his trip."
"Why the devil don't you send me the goods I ordered last time from him? Where are those British bull-dogs? Did he sell them too low, or is my credit poor?"
Phew! There it was. I must first close up an old sore before I could do anything else. I might have known it would be just so, but I was such a pig-headed fool I hadn't thought of this.
"Tell me all about it, Mr. Jordan;" and he told it, with fire in his eye. But he felt better for having told it. I knew nothing of it till now, but I took out my book and said:
"Mr. Jordan, the goods will come now. You may depend upon it. How many bull-dogs do you want?"
"I don't want any. I got some of Layton. The house can't fool me again."
I sat down on the counter and gave him fourteen reasons for his order not having been filled (I hope some of them were true), and then I pulled out a "Pet" revolver and asked him if seventy-five cents was not mighty low for that.
He admitted that it was, but he had bought of Layton five cents lower. Then I explained wherein Layton's was ten cents poorer than mine (I hadn't seen his), and why he ought to give mine the preference. What had he paid for 32-caliber?
I drew out mine at $1.20, and I convinced him that mine was a better pistol than his, although he said he had already more than he ought to have and he would not buy more. Then I placed an automatic ejector under his eyes, threw out the shells, cocked it and snapped it, and explained how, though it cost us $6.70, I was going to sell him some at $6.
"No, you ain't," said he, "I've got two on hand and can't give them away."
By this time it struck me I was making but little headway and was wasting my breath in praising goods he already had, so I concluded the best plan to go on was to see what he had, and govern myself accordingly. He seemed to have everything, confound him! There was nothing he had not bought in the thirty days, and I began to think I could use my time better somewhere else, when a man came in to buy a gun, and I stepped aside to watch the subsequent proceedings.
The story told by that retailer about those guns would have made a dog howl, if it were not for the fact that he believed every word of it. The farmer wanted a good muzzle loader, but wanted it choke-bored! The retailer brought down seven different guns, all of them choke-bored! and expatiated upon their cheapness and good qualities. Some reference was made to me, as being a gun man, and I was drawn into the conversation. I explained the merits of guns to that farmer in a way that pleased him mightily. I could see that, but he finally said he didn't intend to buy a gun that day, but would some time in the fall, and he passed calmly out.
I looked at Mr. Jordan, and he looked at me. "Are you mad?" I asked.
"No; I'm used to it."
"Then try a cigar."
As we smoked and discussed mean customers, I put in some good licks for my house, and by and by heard Jordan say:
"I lied to you about those bull-dogs; I didn't buy any of Layton; you may send me six."
When Mr. Jordan gave me the order for six "bull-dog" revolvers, I felt that I had made a conquest; I went carefully through my list, adding something here and there, until I had made a very pretty bill with him. So, although he met me as if he wanted to punch me in the head, we parted on the best of terms. Where should I go next? A sign farther down the street said "Hardware," so I started down that way.
A man who carries a mixed stock is easier to sell goods to than is the man who makes a specialty of one line. In the house we always had a closer price for the dealer who made guns a specialty than for the hardware man who kept a few guns and revolvers as a small branch of his stock.
"John Topoff" was the name over the door, so I went in, carefully noticing the stock, the way it was arranged, and the amount, in order to get some idea of the kind of man the owner was.
"Is Mr. Topoff in?" I asked a young man who was blacking stoves and who I was sure was not the man I wanted.
"Naw," he said, as he brushed away.
"Will he be in soon?"
"Naw, he's dead. There's Mr. Tucker, he's the boss."
The young man spoke as if answering the questions about Mr. Topoff had become a burden to him, and if that honest hardware man had been dead long I didn't blame the boy for getting tired of him.
Mr. Tucker had been studiously keeping his back toward me, as if I was to expect no encouragement from him, but he turned when I spoke his name and I introduced myself.
"Don't need anything in your line," said he, as if he wished I would accept that as a final verdict and get out.
What would you have done, respected reader, if you had been in my place? I would gladly have said "good-day," and gone at once if it were not for the fact that my present business was to get orders, and the only way to secure them was to work for them. So I ignored Mr. Tucker's ill-timed remark and proceeded to be sociable.
I explained as pleasantly as I could why it was our house was sending out a new man. I got him interested enough to ask a question or two, which was a point gained, and finally I came round to his stock, but I carefully ignored guns and talked of nails; something I knew nothing about.
Don't you know you can pay no one a higher compliment than to place him in the position of a teacher to you? I picked that idea up somewhere, and I put it in practice by asking Mr. Tucker for information as to hardware and hardware houses. He was soon talking warmly and as if he was enjoying himself, and I was wondering when would be a good time to get guns started, when a little boy came to the door and shouted: "Pa! ma wants you to come home a minute, just as soon as you can!"
He started off without a word, and I proceeded to get acquainted with the young man who said "Naw!"
Of all creatures on the face of the earth the average clerk is the easiest to pump. The fact that a man is from a wholesale house seems to be sufficient guarantee that he may safely be told anything regarding prices, and where goods came from. The moment Tucker went out the door Bob stopped his work, and for fifteen minutes he kept his tongue wagging about the cost of goods and all he knew about them. He was so incautious that I soon learned his cost mark, and then did not need to ask cost afterward.
How did I do it? Bless you! Every traveling man does it in spite of himself. For instance, I pick up a box and notice it is marked L.X.K., and I ask the clerk, while I look at the revolver, What did this cost?
He turns the box up to see the mark, and answers, $2.25.
This may be the truth, or may not. If it is, "L" is 2 and "K" is 5, and "X" means "repeat." So by and by I find a box marked B.L.K., and I ask the cost of that. He answers, $1.25. I am now sure that B is 1, L is 2 and K is 5, and I can easily guess that A and C are 3 and 4. By finding boxes with other letters on, and learning from the boy what the mark is, I soon have "Black horse" as the cost mark in that store. I make a note of this in my trip book so that I can use it when I am here again, or when our other man is here.
My way now is tolerably smooth. If he really needs goods the merchant will be willing to order at prices paid before; if he thinks he does not need anything I may tempt him by quoting prices a little under what he paid. In either case I am in good shape to make a fight for an order; thanks to the clerk's loose tongue and lack of sense.
A customer comes in and wants a file. I listen to the conversation, trying to get hold of any hint that may be useful to me by and by. Another man wants a box of cartridges. My ears are wide open now.
"Have you the 'U.S.'?"
"U.S.—U.S. What do you mean?" asks the clerk.
"I want the kind with U.S. on the end."
"What good is that?"
"Good to go. I like that kind. Have you got them?"
"I don't know; yes; no, they ain't either! They're U.M.C."
"Don't want 'em!"
Now I was temporarily selling the U.S. cartridge, so I made a note of what the man said, to be used on Tucker, but I took up the conversation and convinced the customer that the U.M.C. make of cartridges was good; he finally bought a box and went off apparently satisfied.
Just then Tucker came in.
I made some laughing allusion to pig-headed customers, and the clerk at once opened up on the "fool" who thought one cartridge was better than another. When the young man was back at his stove I started out to sell Tucker a bill. He was backward about buying; didn't know our house; always bought of Simmons; did not like to have so many bills; always got favors from Simmons, and despised our city on general principles.
I agreed with him on every point, but (Oh! these "buts") I also wanted an order. I took out my bull-dog revolver that was selling at $2.85; he had none like it in stock; it was the leading pistol, retailing readily at $4 to $5, according to locality. "I want to send you a few of these at a special net price," said I; "the regular price is $3; I will sell you at $2.85." I said this as if I was making him a present of a gold watch. "I wouldn't have the d—n things as a gift," said he.
When a man has been on the road a year or two he is never disappointed because a dealer refuses to buy something he was sure he was going to sell him. He is prepared for "No" on all occasions rather than for "Yes." But a man is terribly disappointed on his first trip every time he starts out to sell a particular article and does not meet with success. I was sure Tucker would give me an order for some bull-dog revolvers, but in answer to my low price he had said he wouldn't take them as a gift!
I would have been very glad to go straight home and let Tucker get along without bull-dogs, but my silly head had brought me into this business and I must keep on. Probably he saw I was a good deal disappointed, for he added, in a rather kindly tone, "Every pistol of that kind I have ever sold came back on my hands for repairs, and I swore I'd never buy another."
"You are making a mistake," said I. "When the double action first came out they did get out of order easily, and manufacturers were obliged to take back broken ones and replace them at great expense to themselves. In self-defense they were obliged to make them better, and they are just as reliable as any other to-day."
"Well, I don't want any."
"All right, we will pass it. But I wondered what one of your competitors meant when he said he had the pistol trade; now I understand."
"Does he sell these?"
"Yes, he had some from us not long ago, and gave me an order for more to-day."
"What's the best you can do on them?"
How many times a day does every traveling man see men act as Tucker did? Here was a line of goods he was cocksure he did not want, but the moment he heard that his competitor had a trade on them he began to feel that he must have some. Seven-eighths of the goods sold are sold in this way. Very few men do business on their own judgment. Their competitors make their prices, select their styles, and force them to carry certain stock. The drummer's best card is always: This is selling like fire; Smith took a gross, Brown half a gross, Jones three dozen, and you will miss it if you do not try a few. Such dealers always have the larger part of their capital locked up in goods they bought because others had bought the same goods.
I repeated my price to Tucker, and he told me to send him a few. "By the way," said he, "what are your terms?"
"Does your house draw the day a bill falls due?"
"No; the house is slow about drawing upon customers, and they always give ten days' notice before making draft."
"Well, I don't like to be drawn on. The house that draws on me can't sell me again. I can't draw on my trade, and I'm devilish glad to get my money in six months, but you fellows in the city expect a man to come to the exact minute. I don't want any drawing on me."
It was an excellent place to have delivered a lecture on the beauties of prompt payments. I could have told Brother Tucker that if he did not see his way clear to pay his bill when due he should not buy it, and if his customers did not pay promptly he should dun them harder or keep his goods. But the traveling man is not sent out to inculcate business morals, and he is too anxious to sell a bill to run any risks by disagreeing with a buyer. I did what all others would have done in my place. I assured Mr. Tucker I would be as easy with him regarding payments as any house in the world would dare be, and that point safely out of the way, I sold him several items quite smoothly. We came to guns.
"What is Parker's worth?"
"Twenty-five per cent, off factory list."
"What! Why, here's a quotation from Cincinnati of 25 and 10!"
"Let me see it, please. I have not heard of any such figures."
"Bob, where is that list of Reachum's?"
"I don't know."
"D—n it, you had it."
"Then it must be in the drawer."
Tucker emptied the drawer, looked through a pile of papers, but could not find the circular he was looking for He was annoyed by it, and I was sorry.
"Well, let it go," said he, "but that was the price."
"There must be a mistake somewhere," said I, "for the goods cost that at the factory in largest lots."
"There was no mistake," he said sharply; "I know what I am talking about. The discount offered was 25 and 10."
I hastened to assure him that I had not meant that he was mistaken, but that Reachum must have made a mistake.
"That's no concern of mine," said he, "and I rather think that Reachum is a man who knows his business as well as any of you. If you are higher than he is on guns you probably are on other goods. I guess you had better cancel that order."
Here was a pretty how-do-you-do! How was I to get out of this box? I confess I was in great doubts as to what to do or say. I dared not sell Parker's guns at any such price, yet the man would cancel the order and probably always have a grudge against the house unless I sold him now. I could not believe that Reachum had made this price, and yet there was no telling what that house might or might not do.
"How many Parker guns do you want?" I asked.
"I don't want any. I only asked because it is a leading thing, and if a house is not low on that I conclude it is high on other goods."
"I was going to say," I said, "that I would meet the price." I wasn't going to say anything of the kind, but as he didn't want any I was safe in saying it now.
"Then you may send me two. I think I know a place where I can sell two."
Just so! I was in for it again, and in for it bad. Sometimes it pays to be smart, and sometimes it does not. This was one of the latter times. As a matter of fact I had no business to quote a discount greater than 20 per cent, but I had said 25 so as to make a good impression on him, and at 25 and 10 I was sure to catch Hail Columbia from the house.
Just then Bob, who had come over when appealed to about the list, said:
"There's that list you wanted," and drew one out of a pile of papers on the desk. Tucker opened it with an air of satisfaction, but I could see his face grow black.
"D—n it, this isn't it."
"Yes, it is; it's the one that came in yesterday, and there's the figures on it you made for Utley," persisted Bob.
I did not wait on ceremony, but looked over Tucker's shoulders, and to my astonishment and delight, there was, in plain figures, discount on Parker guns, 15 and 10 per cent.
"How in thunder did I make such a mistake!" said Tucker, with a somewhat downfallen air.
"We all do it," said I, anxious to help him out the best way I could. "Fifteen and 10 is low enough, but if they were offering 50 and 10 I would meet them."
Don't you think, good reader, that this was a proper thing to say? It seemed so to me, and cost nothing, so I said it. I added, "You see, Mr. Tucker, my price of 25 per cent, straight was a better one than Reachum's. Shall I send the guns at 25?"
"Why, you just now said you'd sell at 25 and 10!"
"I said that because you said you were offered at 25 and 10, but as that was a mistake I take back my figures."
"Well, let the Parker guns go."
I was quite glad to do so. But it made it up-hill work for a few minutes, until Tucker had got over his chagrin about the guns. But we managed to get in smooth water again, and when we were through I had taken a fair order from him, and much of it was for little odds and ends that paid us a good profit. I bade him good-day with a feeling of gratitude, and assured him of my hearty thankfulness.
After dinner I tackled a general dealer. The hotel clerk told me the Pittsburg man, who was there a week before, had sold Cutter a bill, so I had no hopes of doing much with him, but I had two hours yet, and might as well improve them.
"Martin Cutter" was over the door, and I got an idea in my head that he was a long, thin individual, with black hair and whiskers. But he wasn't. He was of medium size, well built, and had an air of shrewdness and of business about him. He was waiting on trade, so I sat down and watched him and took notes of the stock. When he was through with his customer he came forward and met me pleasantly, spoke well of our house, but said he was just getting in a bill of revolvers and cartridges, and needed nothing in our line.
There was something about him that made me like him at once, and I had the feeling that I was making a pleasant impression upon him. We chatted about Pittsburg, about gun houses, about the cutting going on in prices, and the general dullness in all business. I think that when I went out of the store I had more respect for him as a man and as a merchant than I had for the two who had bought of me. Had he needed any goods, I would have given him my lowest prices at the first word. As I was walking back to the hotel I suddenly remembered that he was just the man to buy a certain pocket-knife that we had lately taken hold of, and I went back to speak about it to him.
"Are you sending goods here to any one?" he asked.
"Yes, two bills."
"Then send me a dozen."
I thanked him, and went off feeling better. The chances are always decidedly in your favor of selling a man whom you have sold before. The dealer who lets you leave town without an order this trip will let you go twice as readily the next time. I like to get him down in my order book even though it is for some very trifling thing, because of the influence it will have on the future.
I went to the hotel, copied off my orders, and mailed them, feeling that I had done extra well, and then sauntered leisurely to the depot. On the train a man behind me heard me ask the conductor about Rossmore.
He leaned over and asked, "Are you selling goods?"
"Then we'll go to Rossmore together. What line are you in?"
"Guns and revolvers."
"The devil you are! So am I."
I didn't fancy going to a town with a competitor. I have now been on the road a good many years, and I do not fancy it to-day. If I can get in there one train ahead of him I will strain every nerve to do it, but rather than go in on the same train I would hang back and let him have the first "go" at the town and take my chances for what he leaves.
When two men selling the same goods are in a town together the dealers usually take advantage of it. They tell the first man that they may want this or that, "if they can buy it right," and, after getting his price, say he can come in later. He knows very well that this means his competitor is to be consulted also, and he must have a very stiff backbone indeed if he does not cut his own prices at once.
So when my neighbor on the train told me he also was going to Rossmore and was selling guns and revolvers, I felt my courage ooze out of my fingers. He handed me a card, with a good-natured smile, and I read:
SHIVERHIM & GAILY, Philadelphia.
I don't like to hand out a card as an introduction of myself to other traveling men, so I told him my name and that of my house, and we considered ourselves acquainted.
"Is this your first trip?"
Now, why in thunder should he have asked that? Did I look different from other traveling men? I felt as if he showed very bad taste in asking such a question and I made a note to never do it unless I wanted to be mean. But I told Blissam (that was his name) that it was my first trip.
"Then you'll find Rossmore a tough place to tackle."
I said we had three customers there.
"So have we; so has every dealer that ever went there. They buy a handful of goods of everybody, and they buy most goll-darned cheap. They'll lie to you until your head swims. First, there's Fisher; keeps an eating room on the main floor and gun store upstairs. I'll go in and quote him Remington guns at $36, when you call he'll ask your price; if you say $36, he'll tell you that you're high, and he'll break you down in spite of yourself."
"But when a fellow gets to the bottom he's got to stop," said I.
"Oh, there's no bottom to guns. It's the meanest business in the world, and it used to be the best. In '70-'73 I could make big profits as easy as a duck swims, but now it's all glory. I sold Simmons a bill of $600 last week, and made exactly eighteen dollars.
"Oh, well," said I, "you can't expect to make much on Simmons, but there are lots of places where you do make a good profit now."
"No, sir; it can't be done. Say, are you going to cut prices much at Rossmore?"
"Not at all, if I can help it. I'm out on the road to make money, and not to show big sales. But I'm afraid your house will overshadow mine."
"Oh, that's all nonsense; people don't go a cent on houses any more; prices are what tell. I'll introduce you."
Not much. No competitor of mine ever introduced me or ever shall. I prefer to introduce myself in my own time and way.
We reached Rossmore about 7 o'clock in the evening. Blissam took it for granted that I was going to the Everett House, but my hotels had been fixed for me by our old traveling man, and he had instructed me to go to the Forest; a cheaper house, but in all other respects equal to the other. I was rather glad, too, that we were not going to the same house. Be ever so sociable with a competitor, still the fact remains that he is a competitor, and his success means your failure. Under such circumstances a man must be less interested in his business than I was to permit him to feel very desirous of his competitor's company.
After registering at the hotel it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to catch any of the dealers that I could that evening and break the ice. It might be worth something to make a good impression before Blissam got around. After getting my bearings well established, I started to call on Billwock.
Billwock was pretty generally known in the gun trade; first for being mighty slow pay, and second for the fact that they had a baby at his shop regularly every year or oftener, and the store was used as nursery and play-ground. Traveling men had to see the last baby and count all the old ones, and according as they praised them did old Billwock buy liberally or not.
The head of the house had said to me, "Don't push goods on Billwock; he owes us enough already. If you squeeze a good payment out of him you can sell him a small bill."
This kind of talk is all good enough, so far as it goes; but the poor devil on the road often finds he can't get a cent, neither can he sell any goods. The men at home think all he need do is to say, "Here I am; what is it you want?" and then copy the order as fast as he can write. But the men who order that way are the kind who never intend to pay for what they order.
I thought the matter of Billwock's account all over by the time I found his store. It was dimly lighted, but I saw a man and woman at the rear, and went in. A mussy and dirty looking man came forward to meet me, but when he had walked a little way he evidently concluded that I was a drummer, and that I might walk the rest of the way to him.
"Is this Mr. Billwock?" I asked.
I told him who I was, but he seemed little interested. I started to ask about his business, but some one sang out my name and said, "Don't go talking business out there; come back and see the baby."
Blissam, by thunder!
I went back and found him beside Mrs. Billwock, with a young one on his knee, and as much at home as if he was the uncle of all concerned. I made up my mind that Blissam couldn't be any more sociable than I could, and I set out to do my prettiest.
About 9 o'clock we both went out together, and, perhaps naturally, drifted to the smoking room of his hotel. He was an old hand on the road, and full of stories of his own and others' experience. I tried to be a good listener.
"There are some mighty queer men in the trade," said he, as he puffed his cigar. "I took an order from a man in Indiana, not long ago, for felt wads, Nos. 8 and 9, and for some cardboard. When I went to copy my orders I remembered that the man had given no size for the cardboard wanted, but I was pretty sure he wanted 12's, and wrote that size. As it happened the house was out of No. 9 felt and let it go, as he only wanted one-third of a dozen. What did the fellow do but send back the card-board wads, saying he had ordered 9's, and giving us Hail Columbia for sending 12's instead, as well as a long epistle about knowing his own business, and not wanting our help in running it. The card-board wads were worth about 33 cents, and the express charges on them back were 25 cents. I tell you the world is full of smart Alecks."
"I presume I have seen more about returned goods than you have," I said, "as I have been in the store so long, and see every package that comes in. I do get my back up over some of the stupid things the average retailer will do. It never seems to enter his head to drop the house a card and await their instructions about the goods that are unsatisfactory, but he fancies he is showing how smart he is by whacking them back at once, and always by express, no matter how heavy the goods are. A neighbor of mine, a hardware man, told me an instance of the smart Aleck a few days ago. The house was handling a new tubular lantern and selling it under the market price of regular goods. The traveling man sent in three orders from a Michigan town, each of them for one-half dozen lanterns. The stock clerk had a single half dozen of the new lantern and found a half-dozen case of the genuine. He filled two orders and put the other half-dozen on the back-order book. The genuine was billed at the cut price and nothing said on the bill. In a day or two back that case came by express, and an indignant letter from the customer for palming off on him the old tubular, when the agent had sold the new. The clerk erased the mark and sent the case back to the other man in the town whose order was not filled. You can see how much time, trouble and expense would have been saved had the smart Aleck dropped a card to the house saying he did not want the lanterns and held them subject to orders.
"Yes," said Blissam, "but I have seen goods go back when I thought it was the proper thing to do. You know one of the latest schemes is to sell goods in cases, and throw in the show-case. It started with needle and thread men and has gone into a good many other things. A concern from somewhere in Ohio had a man in Illinois selling shears in this way. In one town he sold the dry-goods man a case, at 45 per cent, off retail prices, and gave him the exclusive sale of the town, and then sold a hardware man across the street at 50 per cent, discount, and gave him the exclusive sale. When each party opened up his stock and made a display they soon discovered how the land lay, and, furthermore, the way in which the dry-goods man swore when he saw the other's bill at so much less than his, would have made your hair stand up. He boxed up these goods and sent them back by express, and I thought he did right."
I went down to my hotel and sat a while in the smoking-room. There were several traveling men there, and they seemed to be very much interested in some "she," but I was never a good hand at making acquaintances, and I made no effort here, but went to my room and soon fell asleep, to dream all night about selling goods at 100 per cent profit. The next morning I was out bright and early to see Jewell & Son. The clerk said neither of the firm was in, so I made myself as pleasant to him as I could, and posted myself as to the goods the house was handling, and the prices they were paying. By and by the elder Jewell appeared, and as I introduced myself he said:
"Gun men are plenty to-day; my son has just gone to the hotel with a Mr. Blissam to look at his goods."
When I found that Blissam was ahead of me, notwithstanding my being out so early, I felt as if I should be glad to get away from him as soon as I could. He was altogether too numerous for me. He had told me he wasn't going to cut prices, and I was very sure I did not want to do it, but I made up my mind I was going to get my share of the trade, cut or no cut.
I began with talk to Mr. Jewell about a single-barrel breech-loader our house was controlling, and quoted it at $7.20, sixty days.
"Is that the F. & W. gun?" he asked.
"Why, Blissam quotes that at $7."
The deuce he did! Yet he was the boy that didn't intend to cut.
"Was his price net?"
"No, two off, ten days."
"Well, that brings them $6.86. We make 5 off in case lots, bringing them down to $6.84, and there is 2 off that, ten days."
This was so mighty close to what the goods were costing us that I felt like crying as I made the figures; but my back was up, and I didn't propose to let Blissam walk over me, even if he was from Philadelphia.
Mr. Jewell was a very pleasant man to meet. He had no hobbies, no crotchets. He was as pleasant with me as if I was buying instead of trying to sell to him. This is a pretty good test of a man. One that meets a strange traveling man pleasantly and gives him a patient hearing is bound to be pleasant and kind-hearted clear through.
I gave him quotations on revolvers and cartridges, and tried to get him to say he would not order of Blissam till I saw him again; but he would not promise, for the reason, he said, that his son might even then be buying at Blissam's room. Still, he said, it was the son's custom to do no more than make a memorandum at the hotel and give the order after consulting him.
I then started off to see Billwock, and squeeze some money out of him. His wife and seven children (or more) were there, but no Billwock. Where was he?
He was down getting a boat ready to go fishing with Mr. Blissam that afternoon, she said.
Had Mr. Billwock left any word for me?
"Nein; not ein wort."
I found where he was and started for him. He wasn't at all pleased to see me; in fact he didn't seem to care whether I had gone from Rossmore or not.
"Going fishing?" I asked. "Yes; I dakes a leetle fish."
"Don't you need some goods?"
"No; I dinks not."
"How about money? Haven't you got some for me?" "Not a tollar now. You see I pay Plissam last night ery tollar I haf."
"Why didn't you divide?"
"It was not wort' w'ile."
"But I must have some money; your account is long past due and we need it."
"W'at you do? I got no money, I told you."
"You must get some. I don't care how you get it or what you do, but I must have $50 to-day." "Well; if I get it I gif it you."
"But you are not going to get it while you are off fishing. I don't want to be too stiff, but I want you to understand that I mean just what I say. Our house drew on you and you let the draft come back, and I have orders now to attend to it."
"What you do, s'pose I not get it?"
"I shall tell you when the time comes."
He saw I meant business, so tied up his boat and started toward the store, muttering to himself and looking daggers at me. When he reached the store he talked in German with his wife awhile, and finally said to me:
"You come in pimepy and I see what I can do."
Satisfied there would be some money coming I then called on the hardware house of Whipper & Co. I had often heard of Whipper. He was known to the trade as the biggest liar east of the Mississippi; but a real good liar is usually an affable fellow to meet, and Whipper called me "My dear boy" before we were together five minutes.
I sympathize with business men in their affliction from traveling men. We go into their stores early or late, as suits ourselves; we expect their immediate attention, and we want to sell them or have a good reason for not doing it. I often walk back to a man's desk and find him intently at work over something; I would gladly back out if I could, and risk the coming in later at a more opportune time. But he has seen me, probably cusses to himself, hopes I am selling something he doesn't keep, so he can cut me off at once, and then takes my card or listens to my name.
I don't want to come right out and say "Do you need anything in my line?" for if he answers "No" I ought to turn about and leave him, so I casually remark that it is a good day, or a stormy day, and he says "Yes," as if he had heard that before. I take a roundabout way of getting to my business, and all the time he would be very glad if I was in Halifax. I may interest him in my goods before I get through, but if he could have had his way he would have omitted the interview until a better time for him.
But there are men on the road who drum a man if they reach the town at midnight, and as he sticks his head out of his bedroom window, inform him they are giving an extra 2 1/2 on "J. I. C." curry-combs and ask him how he wants his shipped. Henley can do this. The boys on the road know that he carries a Waterbury watch in each pocket, and expects to sell 1,000 bills in 1,000 minutes.
I appreciate such a man as Whipper. Whatever it was he was doing he always dropped it, and met a salesman as if he was honestly pleased. I think that ought to offset a great many sins. I hope it will.
I told him my little story and he looked as if he believed every word I said. Then he asked, in a very confidential tone "What is your best price on American bull-dogs?"
"Two dollars and eighty-five cents."
"Phew! You are far out of the way, my dear boy, far out of the way. Did you see this last card of Reachum's? No? How could you? You are on the road. We now get two postals a day from Reachum, and I expect to see them coming oftener by and by. Tom, where's Reachum's last card?"
"I don't know; I toss them in the waste basket when I come across them."
"Don't do it again; I want to make a collection of them in an album. So $2.85 is the best you can do?"
Now, $2.85 was as well as any one could do, and we only had a margin of 10 per cent. to figure on. But I determined to cut a little, just for fun, and see what the upshot would be. So I said, "$2.85 is bottom everywhere, but I am going to make you a special price of $2.82 1/2."
"Tom," said he turning to the desk, "What was that Shiverhim & Gaily man's price for bull-dogs?"
"Two dollars and eighty cents."
I swore to myself that I would punch Blissam's head when I next met him in a good place. There was no getting even with him, let alone getting ahead of him. I dared not go below $2.80, sell or no sell, so I began to talk brand.
"Two dollars and eighty cents is all the Lovell bull-dog ought to sell for," I said: "in fact $2.75 is Reachum's price on them, but we are selling F.& W. goods, and can easily get 5 to 10 cents more for them."
"Will you sell me some of Lovell's at $2.75?"
"I would if I had them, but we don't carry them. I'll make you the F. & W. at $2.80, and I shall catch thunder for doing that. But I want to sell you."
"To be sure; to be sure!"
He said this as a man might humor a child, and as if he fully understood all that was in my mind.
"Tom, do we need any bull-dogs?"
"No, sir; got 50 on the way from Reachum at $2.70."
I probably looked as disappointed as I felt, for Whipper's voice took on a very sympathetic tone. "You could not touch $2.70?" he asked.
I felt like adding, "I can't touch anything; I'm going home."
"What is your price on cartridges?"
"Combination price; same as every one else."
"Is this your first trip?"
"Yes, and my last. I'm not cut out for the road. I don't suppose I could sell you anything even if you wanted it; I'm not a success."
"Pooh; pooh! I've been on the road myself; it is not always fair sailing, and it is not always foul. Keep a stiff upper lip."
Yes, keep a stiff upper lip, when goods were being sold at cost all around you! I was not built that way. Just then the book-keeper, Tom, handed a memo to Whipper and he turned to me. "Have you Quickenbush rifles?"
"Yes; blued and plated. Regular price, $5. I'll make you special price if you want any."
"What will you do?"
They cost us $4.50 at the factory; I quoted $4.75.
"Great Caesar! You are high!"
"Yes? Well, it is the best I can do."
"Make it $4.50 and we will take twelve."
"No, sir; it can't be done. But I am afraid there is no use in my trying to sell you. If you can get them at $4.50 you can buy as low as we can."
"Well, send me a dozen."
I entered the order. Was there anything else?
"What is the best you will do on bull-dogs?"
"$2.80 is bottom; but you say you have ordered them?"
"Oh, that is one of Tom's lies; you may send us 50."
We went through the list, and the old man gave me a very nice order; then followed me to the door with his arm in mine, and sent me off as if he was bidding good-by to a son. I forgave him all his lies, and feel kindly toward him to this day.
I ran into a hardware store with my samples of cutlery, hoping to do something in a line where Blissam could not meet me, but the first man I saw was Blissam, leaning over the show-case, as if entirely at home, and in full possession of the stock. He introduced me to Mr. Thompson as if we had been traveling companions for life, but added to me, "Thompson does not do much in our line, except caps and cartridges, and I've just fixed him up."
I felt like taking him by the nape of the neck and dropping him down the sewer, but I turned to Mr. Thompson and talked cutlery. I told him I had a line of No. 1 goods at low prices, every blade warranted, and put up in extra nice style for retailers.
"Whose make?" he asked.
"Northington's; but made especially for our house, and with our brand. We are making a specialty of a few patterns, and intend to make it an object to the retailer to handle them and stick to them."
"You can't touch me on those goods," said Thompson; "I've handled them and had trouble with them. I am now handling nothing but the New York. I don't know that they're better than any other, but Tom Bradley dropped in here one day, and I had to give him an order, and I've not been able to leave him ever since."
"Does he come often?"
"No, about once in two years or so, but he's business from the ground up. I like him and like his goods, and I don't want to change."
I took out my samples more for the purpose of posting myself than with hopes of selling him, and where my patterns were like those in his stock he passed mine over without a word, but I saw that two patterns of mine pleased him. They were even-enders, 3 1/2 in. brass lined, and cost us $3.85. We had been getting, in half dozen lots, $4.80, but I felt that I was in a dangerous place, and I quoted $4.25.
He went back to his stock and returned with a sample the exact counterpart of mine, and said, smiling, "This is Bradley's; he's a tough fellow to beat; I paid $3.65 for it."
I lost all interest in pocket knives then and there and got out of the store right speedily. I was feeling savage, and made straight for Billwock's. He had made a raise of $40 for me, saying, with several German-American oaths, that was all he could do, and when I talked of selling him something he looked as if he would throw me out of the window.
I called twice at Jewell's before I caught father and son there together, and then I had a difficult task before me. The father was inclined to give me the preference, the son favored Blissam, but they had not yet ordered, and were needing some goods, and I felt as if I could never forgive myself if I were to fail then and there.
They tackled me first on Flobert rifles; I quoted them at exactly 10 per cent, above cost to import, but they declared I was too high. I felt sure Blissam's house bought no lower than we did, and that he could not sell on less margin than that, so I stood up to the price. Then we took up bull-dogs; I named $2.80, and they shook their heads at that; so they did at price of Champion guns, till I began to feel that my case was hopeless.
"I am afraid we can't give you an order to-day," said the son.
"I have quoted you my best prices," I said, "and am disappointed."
They talked together a few moments and finally said, "You may send us a case of Champion guns," and this was followed by other items. I could see that they were dividing the order between Blissam and me, and I felt grateful for even this, and tried to make this evident. I succeeded in getting several items that paid a good profit, and I went to my hotel feeling that I had done pretty well.
At the desk I was handed a note from Whipper, saying: If you cannot make the Quickenbush rifles $4.60 please omit them.
There was but $3 profit in the item, and I would have omitted them but for a desire that Blissam should not get ahead of me; so I started for the store to learn something about it. On the way I met Blissam, and I put it right at him. "Are you quoting Quickenbush rifles at $4.60?"
"Not by a drum sight! Who says so?"
I handed him Whipper's note.
"Are you going there?" he asked.
I said I was.
"I'll go with you." This suited me. We saw no look of surprise on Whipper's face. I went straight to the point. "I can't sell the rifles at $4.60, Mr. Whipper, unless I know some one else has quoted that price; if they have, I'll meet it."
"Just scratch them off," said he, as calm as a day in June.
"But has any one given you such a figure?"
"Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies. If I can get them at $4.60 I will take them."
I could get nothing more out of him and we started back. On the way we met Tom, Whipper's book-keeper. I asked him what it meant. "Oh," said he, laughing, "I guess the old man thinks he can get them at $4.60, but we have so many on hand, perhaps it's only his way of canceling the item." And that was all I ever got from them about it.
I parted with Blissam at the hotel, he going to the South and I West, and about 7 o'clock that evening I reached B—. I had often heard our traveling man speak of the hotel here, and the popularity it had among salesmen, so I was prepared to find the smoking room tolerably well filled when I went in there after supper. There were half a dozen or more in one group, who seemed to be on the best of terms, and I listened to their talk. I found that they were discussing the mistakes of the shipping and stock clerks, and of course that touched me upon a tender spot, and I was all attention.
"Some of our boys used to make the most absurd mistakes," said one talker; "but the old man was about as bad as any of them. I remember getting most mighty scared once. I had been entry clerk and shipper and jack-of-all-trades in the house. One night's mail brought us back a letter we had mailed, with the notation of the postmaster, 'No such man here.' Taylor, the boss, took the mail, calling out to the book-keeper, 'Fague, I guess we've got a mistake on you this time.' Fague looked at it, saying, 'I don't believe I've made a mistake, but if I have I must stand it.' The envelope was torn open and the address on the bill was the same as that on the outside, John Smith, New Castle, Ind. Then I was sent to the order book, but the order there was New Castle, Ind. Taylor was getting mad. I was told to find the original order, which I did, and discovered that it was from John Smith, New Carlisle, Ind. Says Taylor, 'There's altogether too many mistakes here. Now these goods are lying at New Castle, and will have to be ordered back; the chances are Smith will refuse to receive them, and we will lose at least $75. The man that made that mistake ought to be known; if we owe him anything he can have it in the morning, and then let him be discharged. What do you say, Dewey?' 'It's a bad mistake,' said Dewey, the partner, 'and we are making a good many, but it's pritty hard to discharge a man. Let us see who made it, and show him how much loss it causes us, and give him a pritty good scolding.' 'No,' said Taylor, 'he ought to be discharged; d—n him, he ain't fit to be around a store; if we owe him anything pay him up, and let him go; it will be a lesson to the rest. 'Billy,' turning to me, 'bring the book here so we can see who made that mistake.' Now I was mighty afraid that I had done it. I had been doing that work, more or less of the time, and I trembled as if I had the ague. And in looking at it before, I had paid no attention to the writing. I went back to the desk for the book, and brought it to Taylor. Dewey came over to look at it as Taylor opened the book and found the place. 'H—l,' said Taylor, 'I did it myself!' Jerusalem! but I felt good! 'Well,' said Dewey, 'if we owe you anything you'd better take it.' I was just about dying to holler. The next day all the boys knew it, and Taylor was mighty quiet for several weeks after that."
"I came near losing a customer once," said another man, "by a little carelessness. I went into his store in a great hurry; sold him a bill, and collected pay for a previous one. I neglected to enter the collection on my book and also to report to the house. They shipped the goods ordered, but supposing that I had not collected amount due from him, inclosed a statement of account with a 'please remit' at the bottom. No bull ever flew at a red rag quicker than he flew at that statement, and he wrote a saucy letter, saying he had paid me, and he didn't like being dunned for a paid bill, etc., etc. You all know just how a small man will act under those conditions. They forwarded his letter to me and I acknowledged my carelessness; I wrote him taking all the blame on my shoulders, and explaining how the mistake happened. But his Irish was up, and in a few weeks he went into the store, still talking 'bigitty,' proposing to settle up and quit. The book-keeper took his money, handing him back his change and a receipt. He counted the change and pushed it back, saying, 'That ain't right.' The boss stood near, taking all the tongue-lashing, but feeling as if his cup would run over if the book-keeper had now been guilty of making a mistake. He took the change, ran it over hastily, and saw that it was correct. This was nuts. 'It seems,' said he, 'you occasionally make mistakes, Mr. B., so you ought to make allowance for others. It is a devilish smart man who never makes a mistake, and a devilish mean one who will not make allowances for the mistakes made by another.' 'Oh, I'm mean, am I,' said B.; 'well, I pay my bills.' 'So do other people; you're not the only man who pays.' But B. went off on his high horse. The next time I went there I could'nt touch him with a ten-foot pole, but the trip after he came around all right."
"I wish I had no collecting to do," said a man near me; "I can sell goods, but collecting is the deuce-and-all. I envy the New Yorkers who don't have any collecting to do. Their business is to sell, and the house collects."
"But when we do have to look after an account." said a man whom I had set down as a New Yorker from the first, "it is always a tough one. Not long ago our house told me to stop at a town to see one Berry & Co., who had let two drafts come back, and then had written an impudent letter. They had given us an order for about $700 worth of goods, but they are quoted light, and the old man concluded he'd send on a part of it, and when that was paid send another part, and so on. They refused to pay because they did not get all the goods ordered, and when asked for a report of their condition refused to give one, saying parties could find out about them from Dun or Bradstreet. I presented the account and was told they wouldn't pay until they had to. I reasoned with them, but the fellow was a big-head, and the more I talked the worse he acted. I finally told him I was sent there to get the money or put the account in the hands of an attorney, and went out saying I would be back again at a given hour and I hoped they would be ready to settle up. I went to the other dealers there whom I knew and they all said the fellow hadn't a leg to stand on in court. I went back in the afternoon, and after getting another tongue lashing, he gave me a check, but told me I had lied, as he handed it to me. I haven't wanted to punch any one in years as I did him, but I gave him my opinion of him in a few words, and he won't soon forget it, either. Now, you Western men don't have that kind of trouble in your collecting."
"No," said a grocer, "our men never say they will not pay; it's the other way; they say they will and then don't. Seems to me I could get along with a man who said he wouldn't but could be made to. I could do something there; but the fellow who solemnly assures you he will send in a large remittance next week, and then doesn't, is a hard one to manage."
"Do you want to know who, in my opinion, is the smallest man on earth?" asked a Chicago traveler.
Of course they all looked assent.
"Well," said he, "Ed. Smythe told about him the other day, and I know the man. Ed. had his samples open at the Moody House and called on the man. Yes, he would go look at them; he wanted a few German goods. He went there, looked the cards all over (Ed. has three trunks), made a sheet full of memo's, and said he would write out an order. Ed. called around about 6 o'clock in the evening. There are two chairs in the office; the hog sat in one and had his feet in the other; he was reading a newspaper and kept on reading; Ed. stood around patiently, as any man can afford to be patient if he is going to get an order. In the course of half an hour a friend came in and wanted to know of the hog if he wasn't ready to go somewhere. He jumped up, pushed his books in the safe, talked to his friend, and ignored Ed. After a while Ed. said: 'Have you made out your order, Mr. B.?' 'No, sir; I'm not going to give you an order. I don't intend to buy any more from your house,' and he walked into Ed. in a way that he evidently thought would impress his friend that he was a wonderful cuss. Ed. is a good-natured fellow, and business is business; he didn't open on him then, but he got even before long. I tell you the smallest man in the world; the meanest dog in the kennel; the dirtiest whelp I know, is the fellow who thinks it's brave to abuse a drummer when he has him in his own store."
This received a universal amen.
"Let me read you a sketch from the American Grocer on 'Smart Alecks,'" said a man, drawing a copy of that paper out of his pocket. "It's called, 'Solomon Smart visits the City.'"
Solomon Smart, of New Portage, O., dealer in general merchandise and country produce, had been in business three years, but had never, until the present occasion, visited the city where the larger share of his purchases came from.
Going to the city was something to which he had long looked forward. He had dreamt of it when he was a clerk; he had eagerly questioned the traveling men about it, and his old employer always told marvelous tales when he returned from his annual trip.
When the old man died, and Solomon, assisted by his father-in-law, was enabled to buy the stock, he began to arrange for a business trip to the city, but somehow every plan he made was interfered with and came to naught. It was a source of great grief to him that he could not carry out his plans.
"If I could only get to Toledo," he often said to his wife, "I could save at least 10 per cent on prices, and I could pick up job lots of things at big discounts. All the jobbing houses have odds and ends that they are willing to sell at anything they can get, in order to get rid of the stuff. I hate to buy of drummers. It costs piles of money to keep them on the road, and the men that buy of them have to pay it."
Solomon, as may be supposed, was not popular with traveling men. His contempt for them was expressed openly, and his opinion of their being a curse to retailers was usually the first thing he told them, after be had looked at their cards. Some of them argued the matter with him. Some of the more independent members of the profession told him he was a blank fool. But those who called regularly let him say his say and then squeezed an order from him, keeping their opinion of him for use outside his store.
His peculiar opinion of traveling salesmen was not his only peculiarity. Most of "the boys" on the road mentioned him as "Smarty Smart," because of certain tendencies he had of making reductions in prices, of marking off charges for cartage or boxing, or of returning goods because he had changed his mind after buying them.
Solomon didn't intend to be mean; he fancied he was only standing up for his rights, and if he occasionally took a little more than his conscience told him was his "rights," he soothed that by saying to himself that the house wanted to sell him so mighty bad they would stand it.
Let a man be constituted as Solomon was and his "smartness" grows on him. He has an idea that every house he buys from is trying to get unfair advantage of him, and that he must present a bold front or he will be imposed upon. He always magnifies his importance as a buyer, and fancies that every order he sends in is met with a hand-organ and treated to champagne.
So when he finally saw his way clear to making the long-wished-for visit, some of his pleasantest anticipations were the welcomes he expected from the heads of the wholesale houses, and the invitations he would receive to dine and wine with them. But he did not propose that they should pull the wool over his eyes. He would show them that he was no "greeny," and that he knew what was what.
He carried two large empty valises with him to bring home as much of his purchases as possible as baggage, and when he reached the city hotel late in the evening the clerk sized him up as easily and as accurately as if he had known him for ages, and sent him to one of the poorest rooms in the house most unceremoniously.
The next morning, bright and early, Mr. Smart started out to do business. His first call was on a hardware man with whom he had done considerable business, and from whom he was sure of a warm welcome. He was met by a pleasant young man whose manner seemed to ask, What is your business? He asked for Mr. Braun. Mr. Braun was not down yet but would be in a short time. Would he wait? No; Solomon didn't propose to wait. He was there on business and must attend to his business. Perhaps the young man could wait on him? No, indeed; Solomon didn't come to town to be waited on by clerks. Perhaps he would call again, but he said it with a doubtful tone as if he was not sure that he would patronize a house where the proprietor didn't get around earlier in the morning. Then again he was somewhat indignant that the clerk should not have known him, and when he was asked to leave his name he went off saying it was no matter.
Then he called at Sikkor's, wondering if anyone would be in there. Was Mr. Sikkor in? No; did he want to see him personally? Personally! He wanted to see him on business, of course. He would not be at the store that morning, but Mr. Birden was at the desk, yonder, if he would do. Well, it was good to find one proprietor in; and he moved over to Birden's desk, where that gentleman was busy opening the morning's mail. He looked up at the approach of Smart, said "Good morning," and waited for Solomon to tell his business.
"This is Mr. Birden?"
"Yes, sir," pleasantly.
Solomon had rather expected him to say, "This is Mr. Smart?" and to hold out his arms, so he was somewhat disconcerted.
"I buy goods of your house occasionally."
"Yes? Whereabouts is your place?"
"North Portage, eh? What is the name, please?"
"Yes." Solomon could see that he might as well have said Smith, so far as Birden's seeming to recall it was concerned, and he began to get angry.
"How is trade, Mr. Smart?"
"Rather dull just at present."
"Sorry to hear that; hope it will improve. You have a memorandum for some of our goods, Mr. Smart? Let me call one of the men to wait on you. Church, look here."
And before Solomon had time to open his mouth he was introduced to Church, who shook hands with him, linked his arm through his, and had him half way to the sample room. They were getting on well till Church asked: "Let me see, Mr. Smart, where is your place?"
"North Portage," said Solomon in his crispest manner. No one seemed to know him, or to remember him five seconds.
"Oh, yes; North Portage. Waite goes there. Waite's a good fellow; you like him, don't you?"
"I'd like to have him stay at home. I never want to see a drummer."
"Is that so?" and Church looked at him in mild surprise. "Well, what shall we start on first?"
Solomon wasn't prepared to start on anything. It wasn't at all the way he had expected to get started. He didn't like being pushed from one proprietor to another, and then to a mere clerk, and to have that man take it for granted that he was going to buy without any coaxing or figuring. He was disappointed. He expected to have bought a bill here, but there were other stores of the same kind in Toledo, and he believed he'd punish these fellows for their indifference by going somewhere else. Good idea! He would act on it.
He told Church that he guessed he wouldn't leave an order just then; maybe he would come in again. Church coaxed him a little then, but it was too late. Solomon was bound to go, and off he started for a notion house.
The proprietor was in the office, shook hands with him, asked about trade and crops and finally proposed to show him some goods. This was more to Solomon's taste, and he bought readily, but he was disgusted to see that prices were no lower than the traveling man had sold at. He mentioned this to Shaw. "Lower? Of course not. We can't ask you one price in Toledo and another in North Portage. My man carries my stock into your store, lets you see the goods, quotes you prices and posts you."
"But his expenses are big; it costs you nothing to sell me now."
"His expenses come out of my pocket; not out of yours. I would be mighty glad if traveling men were done away with; but it would be a saving to me, not to you."
This rather staggered Solomon, for it upset one of his hobbies. As he was finishing, and about to say "good-by" to Mr. Shaw, he saw the book-keeper whisper into that gentleman's ear and turn away.
"By the by, Mr. Smart, my book-keeper tells me he has had some correspondence with you over deductions made in remittances. These little things are very annoying, and while the amount in dollars and cents is nothing, still business ought to be done in a business way."
Smart began to feel very hot.
"The book-keeper tells me that your last bill ran nearly two months over time, and that you not only refused to pay interest, but did not pay express on your remittance. Now, Mr. Smart, this is not right. Our place of business is Toledo, not North Portage; our bills are due here, not there; and if we allow them to run sixty days after due we are loaning you money, and ought to be paid for the use of it."
"I don't get interest from my customers," said Solomon.
"That's your business and theirs. You do not sell them on a jobber's profit. We deal with you as a business man, and in a business way. I think I know just how you feel," said Shaw, pleasantly; "when I began business I felt the same way. I squeezed every cent that I could from the men I bought from; but I discovered that it was poor policy. I saved a few cents and lost the good will of the house, which was worth dollars. I speak of all this in a kindly way, and to avoid future misunderstandings. Don't you think of any thing else? No? Well, good-by, I am glad you called and hope to do more with you in the future." And before Solomon knew it he was bowed out.
But he was boiling with rage. He was particularly angry with himself. He had stood there and taken the lecture as if he was a boy. It was in his mind to cancel the order just given to Shaw, but that gentleman had dismissed him so politely and smoothly that he hadn't had time to do it. It had never seemed possible to him that he would have listened to such a lecture as that without giving back as good as he got, and then sending the man and his goods to—-, a place where there is no insurance against fire.
In no very happy frame of mind his next call was on his dry-goods house. Mr. Luce met him, when he introduced himself, decidedly coldly. Solomon began to think that he would go to some other house with his order rather than leave it here. But before he made a move to go out Mr. Luce asked, "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I don't know as there is."
"Our Mr. Goodnow did not stop at your place the other day because of your habit of returning goods. While we would be glad to do business with you, we cannot allow anyone the privilege of ordering goods and then returning them at our expense, if he happens to change his mind. I do not try to make Eastern houses shoulder my mistakes, if I make any in ordering goods, and I don't see why I should bear your burdens."
"Why don't you send what I order? I didn't order the blue print I returned the other day."
"Mr. Goodnow is very positive that you did order it. It is always possible that the small sample he carries with him appears differently to a man than the goods do when seen in the whole piece. And a man might occasionally be expected to make a mistake, as you did the other day when you wrote us to send you three gross of corsets, when you intended, you said afterward, to order but three dozen. But in the last three bills bought of Goodnow you have sent back goods, and it is not possible that he made such mistakes. Then you deduct from bills, though made out at prices agreed upon."
"The last cambrics were billed half a cent too high," said Solomon.
"Then you shouldn't have ordered them. The time to make prices is when you are buying. We have a price for every article in our stock; if you ask it we will give it to you, and then you are at liberty to order or not, as you think best; but if you send us an order for cambrics and say nothing about the price you have no right to express them back to us because our price happens to be different from what you expected. You could have learned our price before ordering, and not having done so, you ought to be man enough to stand to your own action."
"You claim to sell as low as any one, don't you?"
"We do, and are ready to quote our prices so they can be compared with others when called upon to do so. But we all cut occasionally for reasons of our own, and I prefer to make prices when selling goods, not after they are delivered. Some time ago you returned by express a few trinkets. You knew that Mr. Goodnow would be at your place in a short time, and you might easily have waited until seeing him before returning the goods, but you evidently thought you were punishing us and showing your grit by rushing them back by express. I assure you it does not add to your reputation as a business man. I thought I would mention these points to you because they are important in our relations, and unless the men you buy from feel pleasantly towards you there is every reason to suppose that you will be the loser."
"I guess I can buy all the goods I want," said Solomon; "I've not been troubled that way yet." And he walked off, with a surly "Good day."
He had never bought but one bill of the other dry goods house, and did not like their traveling man; but now he would have bought of Old Nick rather than buy of Luce. He went over to Keeler's and again introduced himself (the task was getting as disagreeable as it was monotonous), saying he wanted to buy some goods. The gentleman made an excuse to go to the desk for a moment, and Solomon knew it was to consult the reference book as to his standing; having found that satisfactory he proceeded to show him through the stock. The goods were not nearly so much to his taste as was Luce's stock, but he bought lightly, and considered that he was punishing Luce.
After dinner he called again at the hardware store, and this time found Mr. Braun there. He was greeted cordially when he gave his name, but imagine his feelings when, after a few remarks, Braun said: "What's the matter with you people down at North Portage about axes? We wrote you that four of the last six you returned were in no way covered by warrants; some were broken in solid steel, some were ground thin and had to bend, and one had never even been out of your store. We can't ask any factory to take back such goods from us, it wouldn't be right; and we do not make enough profit on a dozen axes to stand such a loss."
"If you give a warrant you ought to stand up to it."
"We do stand up to it, every time; and we do a good deal more than that. But you do not stand up to it. You take back goods not covered by a warrant and expect us to stand the loss."
"Well, if my customers bring them back I must take them or lose their trade."
"That's your business, not mine. I don't care what you take back or do not take, but I object to your taking them back and then shifting all the burden over to us. We have charged your account with the cost of making these axes good."
"Well, that's the last time you'll ever have a chance to do that."
"We can't help that; right is right. It's a small affair, but the thing has to stop some time, and it had better be stopped now."
Solomon pulled out his wallet, "How much is my balance here?"
Braun turned him over to the book-keeper, who took his money and gave him a receipt. As he walked out he did not hear the remark of Braun to the clerk: "He's one of those smart Alecks that have to be sat down on occasionally, but I guess I gave him a lesson."
He bought his hardware of another house; he bought his groceries of a new firm; he didn't buy any boots and shoes at all, because the clerk did not take hold of him just right, and he reached home the next morning a tired, soured and disgusted man. He told his wife that he had been a fool to spend money when he might have stayed at home and bought of traveling men. "I tell you," said he, "a man's a mighty sight more independent when buying in his own store. The drummers are red hot for orders, and you can squeeze them down. Then you've got your stock to look at, and see costs, etc., and the men feel you're doing them a favor to give them an order; but, by George, they think they're doing you a favor to sell you in their own stores. I'm done going to town."
I saw Mr. Smart a few weeks ago, and he gave me his report of his trip: "I learned something," he added; "I believe I can make more money by having the wholesale houses my friends than I can by making them mad at me, and now we get along first rate. I guess Luce is one of the best friends I've got, but I was all-fired mad at him that time, I tell you. And what made me the hottest was that I felt the old man was right."
A good hotel is a blessing, but the best hotel is still a hotel, and can be nothing more. One feels all right until the bellboy has fixed the key in the door and gone. Then you begin to realize that you are alone. There's but little difference, I imagine, in the feelings of a prisoner going into his cell at the close of day and those of a man in his lonely bed room in a hotel. There may be noises and voices, even songs and laughing, on either side of you, but these only serve to show you how lonesome you are.
I dislike to go to my room until I am forced to do so by the hour. I want to be among people and to see them about me. I go to my room under protest; I turn the key, fix the bolt, look at the window, open my valise, and wish I was at home. I think of fires, of sudden sickness, of to-morrow's trade, of to-day's orders, and of all the pros and cons of business. Through the night I hear scurrying feet in the hall, the late arrivals, the early risers, the bell-boy's raps on the doors, and finally the chambermaid's clatter, and her occasional turn on the knob, as a broad invitation to get up and out of the way that she may do her work.
I started out in the morning at B——, determined to do all in my power to make a good showing for myself. There is but one gun-store, but all the hardware dealers handled something in my line. It is a sleepy town. Time was when it had a large trade in the surrounding States, but of late it sells near home. A town of its size might and ought to support two or three good gun stores. I called on Bell & Co., gave the man who looked most like the buyer my card, and proceeded to say a word or two about something else than business.
"We have had some goods from your house," said Mr. Bell, "but we never get our orders filled. There's always something left out. I don't like it. When I order an article I want it."
Our house had always made a specialty of filling orders complete, and I was surprised at what I had just heard. I remarked this, and that I was the stock-clerk, and that I feared he was visiting on our heads the sins of others.
"No, I am not," said he. "In the last bill we sent you there were two items left out;" and he found the bill and showed me our own memorandum regarding the items. To be sure they were goods we never kept in stock and never intended to. I explained this, but he took the ground that, in the first place, a house should keep everything in its line, and if they happened to be out of anything should buy it.
I did not attempt to contradict him, for it's a mighty poor time for that when you are hunting for an order, but I tried to change the conversation into some other channel.
"How is your stock of guns?"
"Full. What do you ask for the Lafoucheaux, twist barrels?"
"Oh, you're way out of reach."
It's a pretty good plan not to disagree with a man at any time, but it's especially a wise course about this time.
"I can buy them," said he, "at $9."
"Yes? That beats me; $10.50 is best I can do. Who quotes at $9?"
"Why, Reachum does. So does Tryon's man. Do you know him?"
"I do not."
"He's a lightning fellow; well posted; good natured; sharp as a needle, and a mighty sight better than his house. If he was in business for himself I'd buy all my goods of him."
Yes, that was interesting; but I had other fish to fry.
"Do you need any Lafoucheaux guns?"
"Yes, if I can buy them right."
"I will meet any price given you by Reachum, Simmons, or Hibbard Spencer." I didn't want to; I wanted to get better prices than they were quoting to their mail trade, but I proposed to make myself solid with him at once.
"Well," said he, "I'm waiting for Clayton. I rather promised him an order the last time he was here, and he's to be here in a day or two."
If there's one thing in the wide world that would make a man work for an order that is the kind of speech to do it. I had no grudge against Clayton, but I was bound to get that order or know why I couldn't. I remarked that Clayton was a first-rate fellow.
"Yes, he is; he's quiet and modest, and knows his business; if he only let up on his whistle he'd be perfect."
"I didn't know he was a whistler."
"He is; he's always whistling under his breath as if he was trying to catch the extra 2 1/2 on cartridges."
"Are you handling the U. M. Co. cartridges?"
"Yes; got them of Simmons. He offered to discount Reachum and I gave him the chance. What are you doing on cartridges?"
"60 and 10."
This was cost, but I saw he had a good stock.
"What are you doing on Champion guns?"
"25 and 10."
"$2.40." This was bottom on both these articles, and I would get my hair pulled if I sold at these prices, but I was in for it, and proposed to keep on. The partner came up to me and asked about revolvers, and very soon we were chatting about our line in detail.
If men really want goods, it is often difficult to get them to order. They have thought, like Bell, of waiting for a particular man, or they fancy there may be advantage in delay, or they have no figures but yours and are not sure you are quoting bottom prices. There is a disinclination in all men to buy even in good times, and in these days there is almost a determination in every dealer's heart that he will not order anything at any price, or under any circumstances. Of course, when a call comes for something he has not got he realizes that he has gone too far.
I spread out my samples, talked my prettiest, sang the special praises of my goods, and finally heard the welcome words: "You may send us," etc. When one gets that far, it is his own fault if he does not go on. Several times in our work we were interrupted, so that the forenoon was pretty well spent when I was through. It was the hour when many men go to lunch, and I fancied Mr. Bell to be a man who occasionally might enjoy a glass of beer, so I suggested that we go out. He assented, and led the way to the nearest place.
What is there in the act of eating or drinking together that draws men nearer? It surely does do this, but I don't know why. In his store we were in the position of proprietor and drummer, at the beer table we were two sociable men.
"I do not often drink," said he, "and there are times when I feel provoked at being asked out. Some drummers throw out the invitation as if it was part of their samples, others as if they saw I was cross, and proposed to spend five cents in beer to make me good natured. I occasionally enjoy a glass of beer, and when I don't feel like drinking it all Chicago couldn't make me drink."
I remarked that I was pretty much in the same way.
"I've known a good many traveling men who went to the dogs from too much treating," said he. "When I began business in '65 one of the best salesmen out of New York sold me my first stock. He was paid $5,000 a year, and was worth it. He went on a drunk here, but braced up in a day or two and went off all right. The last I heard of him he was dying in a hospital in Cincinnati of delirium tremens."
"You must have known a good many men in your time?"
"Yes, sir; and knew a good many to go up, and a good many to go down. I was in the hardware trade then, and bought of Billy Smythe and John Milligan. Look at those boys now! Both of them in splendid positions. Poor Hank Woodbury, who sold me thousands of dollars from Sargents', went insane and died. I remember a man dropping in one day who looked a good deal more like a school teacher than a salesman. His name was Bartlett and he was selling chisels. He didn't know much about the goods, or about hardware, but he had a frank, open way of confessing his ignorance and his prices were all right. Do you know him?"
"All the wholesalers know Bartlett; he's getting shiny on the head, but he can talk Miller's cutlery sweeter than the angels can sing. They tell me he's grown rich and lives like a lord; owns an island in Long Island Sound, and a yacht and other good things, but he's the pleasantest man who comes here."
I like to hear about traveling men who have prospered; they ought to get on in the world if any class of men can get on. There may be houses that are prosperous in spite of their salesmen, but such houses are very few. And the man who can make money for others ought to be able to do that for himself, but this does not always follow. I have met some traveling men who were once superior salesmen and then steadily ran down. Perhaps whisky is back of it, or, perhaps, circumstances are against them, but every business man will have known just such cases. Mr. Bell and I discussed this until it was time to part, and then he said, "Come in again, I may see something else." I felt that I had won his good will.
I left Mr. Bell, and went a square farther down the street to a hardware store, where our house had occasionally done some business. I was very familiar with the firm's name, and had heard a great many stories of Mr. Harris, the buyer. There was an air of push and prosperity in the store, and when I inquired for the buyer I was shown into the office. There were two men at the desks, and a man lying on a lounge; the latter proved to be the man I wanted.
"I don't feel like doing any business just now," said he, "come in after dinner."
This was pleasanter than to be told not to come in at all, so I made another call on the street, but did no business. As I took my place at the dinner table a man opposite me (we two were alone) nodded, and asked if I was selling hardware, saying he had seen me come out of Mr. Bell's. I told him my business, and he gave me his card: Tibbals, of Meriden, Conn. I've seen many handsomer men than Tibbals, but I have not often met one who was better company. He had been on the road, so he said, for twenty years, selling plated ware, and I expect "Rogers Bro., 1847," was tattooed all over him.
"Have you sold Harris?" he asked.
"No, he told me to come in after dinner."
"What a lazy fellow he is! That man is the laziest one on my route. I took his order this morning while he lay on a lounge. I asked him if he was sick, and he said he was not, but he was tired. Great Scott! just think of a man getting tired doing nothing."
I saw Tibbals liked to talk, so I led him on to more details about Harris.
"Some folks are lucky," said he. "When I came out here in '65 Harris was a traveling man, but the next January he was given an interest. The house was old, rich, well known and well liked. They carried everything in stock from a bar of iron to a knitting-needle. Harris took the books and gradually got to be the buyer. He used to have some ambition, but for the ten years last past he takes the world as easy as if he was a fat old dog."
"Do they still make money?"
"No, I guess not. They don't buy as they used to, and they are always grumbling. But other men have made lots of money here in these twenty years and didn't have one-tenth the start Harris had."
"Does he drink?"
"Of course he does. Great Scott! when did you ever see a lazy cuss that didn't drink? I've often gone over to the billiard-room and taken his order there. I believe, by thunder, he would leave a customer any time if a crony came for him to go off on a good time."
I do like to hear an old traveling man. If he has the inclination he can give one lots of points. Tibbals went on:
"I ran across a man in Seebarger's the other day that I used to know in Toledo and Cleveland. He was stock man twenty years ago and ten years ago, and is to-day. He's a first-rate man; solid, reliable, competent; he seems to be content, and he used to seem content. But how, in the name of H. C. Wilcox, can a man be so satisfied with himself? I don't understand it. I should want to be going up or down; I wouldn't be a setting hen all my life."
"You have seen many houses go up and down," I said.
"Well, I have. I remember a Detroit concern that in '65 had a nice, small trade, but each year seemed to be doing better, until I used to think they were about the sharpest set on my route. Business was always good, and the goose was away up. One of the partners built the nicest house in the city, and lived like a baron. But, by hokey, he's on the road selling goods to-day, and another man lives in his nice house."
"What brings them down?"
"Big head, almost altogether. They get the big head; they fancy they are all Claflins or Stewarts, and they suddenly drop through a hole. It's almighty hard to be successful and not take to worshiping yourself. And the younger men fall into the trap easier than the old ones do or did. Take such a man as Wm. Bingham, of Cleveland; I don't see any change in him in twenty years. Yet the house has grown to be a very large and very successful one. Did you ever know Tennis?"