TALES OF THE ROAD
BY CHARLES N. CREWDSON
ILLUSTRATED BY J. J. GOULD
Dedicated to Alex C. Ritchey, Salesman. the Author's Friend.
I The square deal wins II Clerks, cranks and touches III Social arts as salesmen's assets IV Tricks of the trade V The helping hand VI How to get on the road VII First experiences in selling VIII Tactics in selling—I IX Tactics in selling—II X Tactics in selling—III XI Cutting prices XII Canceled orders XIII Concerning credit men XIV Winning the customer's good will XV Salesmen's don'ts XVI Merchants the salesman meets XVII Hiring and handling salesmen XVIII Hearts behind the order book
He is the steam—and a big part of the engine too—that makes business move
Larry let business drop entirely and danced a jig
"Whenever I let go the buggy handle the baby yelled"
"Tonight we dance, tomorrow we sell clothes again" "I listened to episodes in the lives of all those seven children"
"I braced the old man—It wasn't exactly a freeze but there was a lot of frost in the air"
"You ought to have seen his place"
"My stomach was beginning to gnaw, but I didn't dare go out"
"In big headlines I read 'Great Fire in Chicago'"
"Well, Woody," said he, "You seem to be taking things pretty easy"
"You'd better write that down with a pencil" said Harry
"Shure, that cigare is a birrd"
"He came in with his before breakfast grouch" "I'm treed" said the drayman. "They're as heavy as lead"
"What explanation have you to make of this, sir?"
"He tried to jolly her along, but she was wise"
The author wishes to acknowledge his special debt of gratitude to the SATURDAY EVENING POST, of Philadelphia.
THE SQUARE DEAL WINS.
Salesmanship is the business of the world; it is about all there is to the world of business. Enter the door of a successful wholesale or manufacturing house and you stand upon the threshold of an establishment represented by first-class salesmen. They are the steam —and a big part of the engine, too—that makes business move.
I saw in print, the other day, the statement that salesmanship is the "fourth profession." It is not; it is the first. The salesman, when he starts out to "get there," must turn more sharp corners, "duck" through more alleys and face more cold, stiff winds than any kind of worker I know. He must think quickly, yet use judgment; he must act quickly and still have on hand a rich store of patience; he must work hard, and often long. He must coax one minute and "stand pat" the next. He must persuade—persuade the man he approaches that he needs his goods and make him buy them—yes, make him. He is messenger boy, train dispatcher, department buyer, credit man, actor, lawyer and politician—all under one hat!
By "salesman" I do not mean the man who stands behind the counter and lets the customer who comes to him and wants to buy a necktie slip away because the spots on the silk are blue instead of green; nor do I mean the man who wraps up a collar, size 16, and calls "cash;" I mean the man who takes his grip or sample trunks and goes to hunt his customer—the traveling salesman. Certainly there are salesmen behind the counter, and he has much in common with the man on the road.
To the position of traveling salesman attach independence, dignity, opportunity, substantial reward. Many of the tribe do not appreciate this; those do so best who in time try the "professional life." When they do they usually go back to the road happy to get there again. Yet were they permanently to adopt a profession—say the law—they would make better lawyers because they had been traveling men. Were many professional men to try the road, they would go back to their first occupation because forced to. The traveling man can tell you why! I bought, a few days ago, a plaything for my small boy. What do you suppose it was? A toy train. I wish him to get used to it—for when he grows up I am going to put him on the road hustling trunks.
My boy will have a better chance for success at this than at anything else. If he has the right sort of stuff in him he will soon lay the foundation for a life success; if he hasn't I'll soon find it out. As a traveling salesman he will succeed quickly or not at all. In the latter event, I'll set him to studying a profession. When he goes on the road he may save a great part of his salary, for the firm he will represent will pay his living expenses while traveling for them. He will also have many leisure hours, and even months, in which to study for a profession if he chooses; or, if he will, he may spend his "out of season" months in foreign travel or any phase of intellectual culture—and he will have the money of his own earning with which to do it. Three to six or eight months is as much time as most traveling men can profitably give to selling goods on the road; the rest is theirs to use as they please.
Every man who goes on the road does not succeed—not by any means. The road is no place for drones; there are a great many drops of the honey of commerce waiting in the apple blossoms along the road, but it takes the busy "worker" bee to get it. The capable salesman may achieve great success, not only on the road, but in any kind of activity. "The road" is a great training school. The chairman of the Transportation Committee in the Chicago city council, only a few years ago was a traveling man. He studied law daily and went into politics while he yet drew the largest salary of any man in his house. Marshall Field was once a traveling man; John W. Gates sold barbed wire before he became a steel king. These three men are merely types of successful traveling men.
Nineteen years ago, a boy of 15, I quit picking worms off of tobacco plants and began to work in a wholesale house, in St. Louis, at $5 per week—and I had an even start with nearly every man ever connected with the firm. The president of the firm today, now also a bank president and worth a million dollars, was formerly a traveling man; the old vice-president of the house, who is now the head of another firm in the same line, used to be a traveling man; the present vice- president and the president's son-in-law was a traveling man when I went with the firm; one of the directors, who went with the house since I did, is a traveling man. Another who traveled for this firm is today a vice-president of a large wholesale dry goods house; one more saved enough to go recently into the wholesale business for himself. Out of the lot six married daughters of wealthy parents, and thirty or more, who keep on traveling, earn by six months or less of road work, from $1200 to $6000 each year. One has done, during his period of rest, what every one of his fellow salesmen had the chance to do—take a degree from a great university, obtain a license (which he cannot afford to use) to practice law, to learn to read, write and speak with ease two foreign languages and get a smattering of three others, and to travel over a large part of the world.
Of all the men in the office and stock departments of this firm only two of them have got beyond $25 a week; and both of them have been drudges. One has moved up from slave-bookkeeper to credit-man slave and partner. The other has become a buyer. And even he as well as being a stock man was a city salesman.
Just last night I met, on leaving the street car, an old school boy friend who told me that he was soon going to try his hand on the road selling bonds. He asked me if I could give him any pointers. I said: "Work and be square—never come down on a price; make the price right in the beginning." "Oh, I don't know about that," said he. I slapped him on the breast and answered: "I do!"
I would give every traveling man, every business man, every man this same advice. Say what you will, a square deal is the only thing to give your customer. You can do a little scaly work and win out at it for a while; but when you get in the stretch, unless you have played fair, the short horses will beat you under the wire.
The best customer on my order book came to me because I once had a chance to do a little crooked work, but didn't. I had a customer who had been a loyal one for many years. He would not even look at another salesman's goods—and you know that it is a whole lot of satisfaction to get into a town and walk into a door where you know you are "solid." The man on the road who doesn't appreciate and care for a faithful customer is not much of a man, anyway.
My old customer, Logan, had a little trouble with his main clerk. The clerk, Fred, got it into his head that the business belonged to him, and he tried to run it. But Logan wouldn't stand for this sort of work and "called him down." The clerk became "toppy" and Logan discharged him.
But, still, Fred had a fairly good standing in the town and interested an old bachelor, a banker, who had a nephew that he wanted to start in business. He furnished Fred and his nephew with $10,000 cash capital; the three formed a partnership to open a new store and "buck" Logan. Well, you know it is not a bad thing to "stand in" with the head clerk when you wish to do business in an establishment. So I had always treated Fred right and he liked me and had confidence in me. In fact, it's a poor rule to fail to treat all well. I believe that the "boys" on the road are the most tolerant, patient human beings on earth. To succeed at their business they must be patient and after a while it becomes a habit—and a good one, too.
You know how it goes! A merchant gets to handling a certain brand of goods which is no better than many others in the same line. He gets it into his head that he cannot do without that particular line. This is what enables a man on the road to get an established trade. The clerks in the store also get interested in some special brand because they have customers who come in and ask for that particular thing a few times. They do not stop to think that the man who comes in and asks for a Leopard brand hat or a Knock-'em-out shoe does not have any confidence in this special shoe or hat, but that he has confidence in the establishment where he buys it.
So, when I was in Logan's town to sell him his usual bill, his clerk hailed me from across the street and came over to where I stood. He told me that he had quit his old job and that he was going to put in a new stock. I, of course, had to tell him that I must stay with Logan, but that out of appreciation of his past kindness to me I would do the best I could to steer him right in my line of goods. I gave him a personal letter to another firm that I had been with before and who, I knew, would deal with him fairly.
Fred went in to market. When in the city he tried to buy some goods of my firm. He intended to take these same goods and sell them for a lower price than Logan had been getting, and thus cut hard into Logan's trade. But the big manufacturers, you know, are awake to all of those tricks and a first-class establishment will always protect its customers. My house told Fred that before they could sell to him they would have to get my sanction. They wired me about it, and I, of course, had to be square with my faithful old friend, Logan; I placed the matter before him. As I was near by, I wrote him, by special delivery, and put the case before him. He, for self-protection, wired my house that he would prefer that they would not sell his old clerk who was now going to become his competitor. In fact, he said he would not stand for it.
The very next season things came around so that Logan went out of business, and then I knew that I was "up against it" in his town—my old customer gone out of business; Fred not wanting, then, of course, to buy of me. But I took my medicine and consoled myself with the thought that a few grains of gold would pan out in the wash.
Up in a large town above Logan's I had a customer named Dave, who had moved out from Colorado. He was well fixed, but he had not secured the right location. Say what you will, location has a whole lot to do with business. Of course, a poor man would not prosper in the busy streets of Cairo, but the best sort of a hustler would starve to death doing business on the Sahara. A big store in Dave's new town failed. He had a chance to buy out the, stock at 75 cents on the dollar. He wished to do so; but, although he was well-to-do, he didn't have the ready cash.
One night I called on Dave and he laid the case before me. He told me how sorry he was not to get hold of this "snap." I put my wits together quickly and I said to him: "Dave, I believe I can do you some good."
The next morning I went to see a banker, who was a brother-in-law of Logan's and who had made enough money, merchandising and out of wheat, down in Logan's old town, to move up to the city and go into the banking business. The banker knew all about the way that I had treated his brother-in-law, and I felt that because I had been square with Logan he would have confidence in anything I would say to him. I laid the case before the banker. I told him I knew Dave to be well fixed, to have good credit, to be a good rustler and strictly straight.
In a little while I brought Dave to meet the banker. The banker immediately, upon my recommendation, told him that he could have all the money he needed-$16,000. The banker also wired to the people who owned the stock—he was well acquainted with them—and told them he would vouch for Dave.
The deal went through all right and Dave now buys every cent's worth, that he uses in my line, from me. He is the best customer I have; I got him by being square.
A great mistake which some salesmen make when they first start on the road is to "load" their customers. The experienced man will not do this, for he soon learns that he will "lose out" by it. A merchant will not long continue to buy from a traveling man in whom he has no confidence. He, in great measure, depends on the judgment of the traveling man as to the styles and quantities he should buy. If the salesman sells him too much of anything it is only a matter of time when the merchant will buy from some other man. When a storekeeper buys goods he invests money; and his heart is not very far from his bank-book.
The time when the traveling man will ram all he can into an order is when the merchant splits his business in the salesman's line, buying the same kind of goods from two or more houses. Then the salesman sells as much as he can, that he may crowd the other man out. But even this is poor policy.
I once took on a new town. My predecessor had been getting only a share of his customer's trade; two others had divided the account with him. I made up my mind to have all of the account or none. The merchant went to my sample room and gave me an order for a bill of hats. He bought at random. When I asked him what sizes he wanted, he said: "Oh, run 'em regular." "Very well," said I, "but will it not be well to look through your stock and see just what sizes you need? Maybe you have quite a number of certain sizes on hand and it will be needless for you to get more of them. Let's go down to the store and look through your stock."
We went to his store. The first item on the order he had given me was one dozen black "Columbias." I found that he had five dozen already on hand. "Look here," said I, "don't you think I would better scratch that item off of the bill?" I drew my pencil through the "one dozen Columbias."
"Now let us go through your whole stock and see if there are not other items you have duplicated," I suggested. We worked together for four hours—until after midnight. It was the biggest mess of a stock I ever saw. When we got through I had cut down my order three-fourths.
"See," said I, showing the merchant my order-book and his stock list— which every merchant should have when he goes to buy goods—"you have enough of some kinds to last you three years. Others, because they have gone out of style, are worth nothing. All you can get out of them will be clear profit; throw them out and sell them for any price.
"Do you know what has been happening to you right along? Three men— and the one from my firm is just as guilty as the rest—have been loading you. Why, if I were a judge and they were brought before me, I'd sentence them to jail."
"And I guess I ought to be made to go along with them," broke in my friend, "for participating in the crime."
"That I will leave you to judge," said I, "but there is one thing for sure: You will not see me back here again for a year; it would be a crime for anyone to take an order from you during that time. And when I do come I want all of your business, or none; you haven't enough for three, or even for two. You can buy no more than you can sell to your customers, unless you go broke some day. Your interest and my interest are the same. In truth, I stand on the same side of the counter as you do. It is to my interest to treat you right. My firm is merely the one from which you and I together select your goods. Ought I not to see that they give you the right things at the right prices? If I treat you right, and my firm does not, you will follow me to another; if I treat you wrong I'll lose both your confidence and my job."
That man today gives me all of his business; I got him by being square.
By being over-conscientious, however, a salesman sometimes will not let his customer buy enough. This is frequently to the disadvantage of the merchant. To sell goods a merchant must have goods; to have them he must buy them. The stingy man has no business in business. Many a man becomes a merchant and, because he is either too close-fisted or hasn't enough capital or credit with which to buy goods, is awakened, some fine morning, by the tapping on his front door of the Sheriff's hammer. A man may think that if he goes into business his friends will buy "any old thing, just because it's me"; but he will find out that when he goes to separate his friends from their coin he must give them the kind of goods they want. The successful merchant is the man who carries the stock.
One of my old friends, who was a leading hat salesman of St. Louis, once told me the following experience:
"Several years ago I was out in western Texas on a team trip. It was a flush year; cattle were high. I had been having a good time; you know how it goes—the more one sells the more he wants to sell and can sell. I heard of a big cattleman who was also running a cross-roads grocery store. He wanted to put in dry goods, shoes and hats. His store was only a few miles out of my way so I thought that I would drive over and see him.
"How I kicked myself when I drove up to his shanty, hardly larger, it seemed to me, than my straw-goods trunk! But, being there, I thought I would pick up a small bill anyway. I make it a rule never to overlook even a little order, for enough of them amount to as much as one big one. When I went in the old gentleman was tickled to see me and told me to open up—that he wanted a 'right smart' bill. I thought that meant about $75.
"I had to leave my trunks outside—the store was so small—so I brought in at first only a couple of stacks of samples, thinking that they would be enough. I pulled out a cheap hat and handed it to him.
"'That's a good one for the money,' said I, 'a dollar apiece.' I used to always show cheap goods first, but I have learned better.
"He looked at my sample in contempt and, pulling a fine Stetson hat off his head, said: 'Haven't you got some hats like this one?'
"'Yes, but they will cost you $84 a dozen,' I answered, at the same time handing him a fine beaver quality Stetson.
"'The more they cost the better they suit us cattlemen; we are not paupers, suh! How many come in a box?'
"'Two?' said he. 'You must be talking about a pasteboard box; I mean a wooden box, a case.'
"'Three dozen come in a case, Colonel.'
"'Well, give me a case.'
"I had never sold a case of these fine goods in my life, so I said to him: 'That's lots more, Colonel, than I usually sell of that kind, and I don't want to overload you; hadn't we better make it a dozen?'
"'Dozen? Lor', no. You must think that there's nobody in this country, that they haven't any money, and that I haven't any money. Did you see that big bunch of cattle as you came in? They're all mine—mine, suh; and I don't owe the bank a cent on them, suh. No, suh, not a cent, suh. I want a case of these hats, suh—not a little bundle that you can carry under yo' arm.'
"I was afraid that I had made the old gentleman mad, and, knowing him by reputation to be worth several thousand dollars, I thought it best to let him have his way. I went through the two stacks with him and then brought in the rest of my samples. He bought a case of a kind right through—fine hats, medium hats and cheap hats for greasers; he bought blacks, browns and light colors. I was ashamed to figure up the bill before his face. But just as soon as I got out of sight I added up the items and it amounted to $2l00—the best bill I took on that trip.
"I sent the order in, but I thought that I would not have to call there again for a long time. The house shipped the bill, and the old gentleman discounted it.
"Next trip I was intending to give that point the go-by. I really felt that the old gentleman not only needed no more goods, but that he would shoot me if I called on him. But when I reached the town next to his, my customer there, who was a friend of the Colonel's, told me that the old gentleman had sent him word that he wished to buy some more goods and for me to be sure to come to see him.
"When I came driving up to the Colonel's store the back end of it looked peculiar to me. He had got so many goods from me that he had been obliged to take the wooden cases they were shipped in and make out of these boxes an addition to his store. Lumber was scarce in that country. The Colonel came out and shook hands with me before I was out of my wagon. I was never greeted more warmly in my life.
"'Look heah,' he began, 'I owe you an apology, suh; and I want to make it to you befo' you pass my threshol', suh. When you were heah befo' I fear that I allowed my indignation to arise. I am sorry of it, suh, sorry! Give me yo' hand and tell me that you will pahdon me. I can't look you square in the face until you do.'
"'Why, Colonel, that's all right,' said I, 'I didn't want to abuse your confidence, but I fear that I myself was impertinent in trying to show you that I knew more about your business than you did. I want to beg your pardon.'
"'No pahdon to grant, suh; and I want you to accept my apology. The truth is the cowboys in this country have been deviling me to death, nearly—ever since I started this sto'—to get them some good hats— good ones, suh. They told me that they couldn't get a decent hat in this whole country. I promised them that I would buy some of the best I could find. When yo's came some of the boys saw the wagon bound for my store, ten miles out of town. They fo'med a sort of a procession, suh, and marched in with the team. Every one of these boys bought one of those finest hats you sold me. They spread the news that I had a big stock and a fine stock, all over this country; and, do you know, people have come two hundred miles to buy hats of me? Some of my friends laughed at me, they say, because I bought so many that I had to use the cases they came in to make an addition to my sto'. But the more they laughed, suh, the more necessary they made the addition. If you can only get people to talking about you, you will thrive. Believe me in this, suh: If they say something good about you, that is good; if they say something bad about you, that is better—it spreads faster. Those fool merchants did not know, suh, that they were helping my business every time that they told about how many hats I had bought, until one day a fellow, when they were laughing about me, said: "Well, if that's the case I'll buy my hat from him; I like, anyway, to patronize the man who carries a good stock." Now you just come back and see how empty my addition is.'
"I went back into my addition and found that the Colonel's hats were nearly all gone. He had actually sold—and out of his little shanty— more of my goods than any other customer I had. When I started to have my trunks unloaded the Colonel said to me: 'Now just hol' on there; that's entirely unnecessary. The last ones sold so well, you just duplicate my last bill, except that you leave out the poah hats. Come, let's go up to my house and have a julep and rest a while.'"
Although a man's friends will not buy from him if he does not carry the goods, he will yet get their patronage over the other fellow if he has the right stock. Here's where a man's personality and adaptability are his stock in trade when he is on the road; and the good salesman gets the business over his competitor's head just by being able to turn the mood of the merchant he meets. The more moods he can turn, the larger his salary.
One of my musician road friends once told me how he sold a bill to a well-known old crank, now dead, in the state of Montana.
"When I used to work at the bench, years ago," said he, as we sat in the smoker, "evenings when I was free, for relaxation, I studied music. Our shop boys organized a brass band. I played the trombone, and learned to do so fairly well. I never thought then that my music would fatten my pocket-book; but since I have been on the road it has served me a good turn more than once—it has sold me many a bill.
"You've heard of the 'Wild Irishman of Chinook,' haven't you?"
"Old Larry, the crank?" said I.
"Yes, old Larry, the great."
"Well, sir, the first evening I ever went into Larry's store, I hadn't been in a minute until he said to me: 'Oi'm all full up; Oi've got plinty of it, I doon't give a dom pwhat ye're silling.'
"I paid no attention to him, as I had heard of him; instead of going out I bought a cigar and sat down by the stove. Although a man may not wish to buy anything from you, you know, he is always willing to sell you something, even if it is only a cigar. I've caught many a merchant's ear by buying something of him. My specialty is bone collar buttons—they come cheap. I'll bet that I bought a peck of them the first time I made a trip through this country.
"I had not been sitting by the stove long until I noticed, in a show case, a trombone. I asked Larry to please let me see it. 'Oi'll lit ye say the insthrumint,' said he, 'but pwhat's the good of it? Ye can't play the thromboon, can ye? Oi'm the only mon in this berg that can bloo that hairn. Oi'm a mimber of the bhrass band.'
"I took the horn and, as I ran the scale a few times, Larry's eyes began to dance. He wouldn't wait on the customer who came in. The instrument was a good one. I made 'Pratties and fishes are very foine dishes for Saint Pathrick in the mairnin'' fairly ring. A big crowd came in. Larry let business drop entirely and danced a jig. He kept me playing for an hour, always something 'by special rayquist'—'Molly Dairlint,' 'Moggie Moorphy's Hoom' and everything he could think of. Finally he asked me for 'Hairts Booed Doon.'
"As I played 'The Heart Bowed Down,' tears came to the old Irishman's eyes. When I saw these, I played yet better; this piece was one of my own favorites. I felt a little peculiar myself. This air had made a bond between us. When I finished, the old man said to me: 'Thank ye, thank ye, sor, with all my hairt! That's enoof. Let me put the hairn away. Go hoom now. But coom aroond in the mairnin' and Oi'll boy a bill of ye; Oi doon't give a dom pwhat ye're silling. If Oi've got your loine in my sthore Oi'll boy a bill; if I haven't, Oi'll boy a bill innyway and stairt a new depairtmint. Good noight, give me yer hand, sor.'
"Not only did Larry give me a good order, but he went to two more merchants in the town and made them buy from me. He bought every dollar's worth of his goods in my line from me as long as he lived."
CLERKS, CRANKS AND TOUCHES.
Many a bill of goods is sold on the road through the influence of the clerk. The traveling man who overlooks this point overlooks a strong one. The clerk is the one who gets next to the goods. He checks them off when they come in, keeps the dust off of them every day, sells them to the people and often he does the selecting of the goods in the first place. A merchant usually buys what pleases the clerks in order to get them interested. In this way he puts a sort of responsibility upon them. If the business man neglects his clerks, they neglect his business; if the traveling man ignores the clerks, they ignore the traveling man.
But in this matter the salesman must go just so far and no farther, for the moment that the merchant begins to think the traveling man is influencing the clerks unduly, down comes the hatchet! A hat man once, as we rode together on the train, told me this incident:
"I once sold a small bill of hats to a large merchant down in California," said he. "The next season when I came around I saw that my goods were on the floor-shelf. I didn't like this. If you want to get your goods sold, get them where they are easy to reach. Clerks, and merchants too, usually follow the line of least resistance; they sell that which they come to first. If a man asks me where he ought to put his case for hats to make them move, I tell him, 'up front.'
"From the base shelf I dug up a box of my goods, knocked the dust off the lid, took out a hat, began to crease it. One of the clerks came up. He was very friendly. They usually are. They like to brush up against the traveling man, for it is the ambition of nineteen clerks out of every twenty to get on the road.
"My young friend, seeing the hat in my hand, said, 'Gee, that's a beaut. I didn't know we had a swell thing like that in the house. I wish I'd got one like that instead of this old bonnet.'
"With this he showed me a new stiff hat. I scarcely glanced at it before I cracked the crown out of it over my heel, handed him the hat I had taken out of the box, threw three dollars on the counter and said, 'Well, we'll swap. Take this one.'
"'Guess I will, all right, all right!' he exclaimed.
"Another one of the boys who saw this incident came up with his old hat and asked, laughing, 'Maybe you want to swap with me?'
"Crack went another hat; down I threw another three dollars. Before I got through, eight clerks had new hats, and I had thrown away twenty- four dollars.
"Thrown away? No, sir. I'll give that much, every day of the week, to get the attention of a large dealer. Twenty-four dollars are made in a minute and a half by a traveling man when he gets to doing business with a first-class merchant.
"The proprietor, Hobson, was not then in. When I dropped in that afternoon, I asked him if he would see my samples.
"'No, sir, I will not,' he spoke up quickly. 'To be plain with you, I do not like the way in which you are trying to influence my clerks.'
"There was the critical—the 'psychological'—moment. Weakness would have put an end to me. But this was the moment I wanted. In fact, I have at times deliberately made men mad just to get their attention.
"'Hobson,' I flashed back, 'You can do just as you please about looking at my goods. But I'll tell you one thing: I have no apology to offer in regard to your clerks. You bought my goods and buried them. I know they are good, and I want you to find it out. I have put them on the heads of your men because I am not ashamed to have them wear them before your face. You can now see how stylish they are. In six months you will learn how well they wear. I would feel like a sneak had I stealthily slipped a twenty dollar gold piece into the hand of your hat man and told him to push my goods. But I haven't done this. In fact I gave a hat to nearly every clerk you have except your hat man. He was away. Even your delivery boy has one. You owe me an apology, sir; and I demand it, and demand it right now! I've always treated you as a gentleman, sir; and you shall treat me as such.' Then, softening down, I continued: 'I can readily see how, at first glance, you were offended at me; but just think a minute, and I believe you'll tell me you were hasty.'
"'Yes, I was,' he answered quietly. 'Got your stuff open? I'll go right down with you.' After Hobson had, in a few minutes, given me a nice order, he said to me: 'Well, do you know, I like your pluck.'
"It sometimes happens that a traveling man meets with a surly clerk, a conceited clerk, or a bribed clerk who has become buyer," continued my friend. "Then the thing to do is to go straight to the head of the establishment. The man I like to do business with is the man whose money pays for my goods. He is not pulled out of line by guy ropes. It is well to stand in with the clerks, but it is better to be on the right side of the boss. When it gets down to driving nails, he is the one to hammer on the hardest.
"I once took on the territory of a man who had quit the road. About this same time one of his best customers had, to some extent, retired from business activity and put on a new buyer in my department. Now, this is a risky thing, you know, for a merchant to do unless the buyer gets an interest in the business and becomes, in truth, a merchant himself. It usually means the promotion of a clerk who gets a swelled head. The new buyer generally feels that he must do something to show his ability and one of the ways he does this is by switching lines.
"During the illness of my predecessor, who soon after quit the road, another man made for him a part of his old trip. In one of the towns he made he struck the new buyer and, of course, got turned down. Had I been there, I would have received the same sort of treatment.
"My immediate predecessor, who was turned down, posted me; so when I went to the town, I knew just what to do—go direct to the proprietor. I knew that my goods were right; all I needed was unprejudiced attention. Prejudice anyway buys most of the goods sold; merit is a minor partner. Were merchandise sold strictly on merit, two-thirds of the wholesale houses and factories would soon lock up; and the other third would triple their business.
"When I entered the store, I went straight to the proprietor and told him without introducing myself (a merchant does not care what your name is) what my line of business was. It was Saturday afternoon. I would rather go out making business on Saturday than any other day because the merchant is doing business and is in a good humor, and you can get right at the point. Of course, you must catch him when he is not, for the moment, busy.
"'Can't do anything for you, sir, I fear,' said he. 'Hereafter we are going to buy that line direct from the factories.'
"I saw that the proprietor himself was prejudiced, and that the one thing to do was to come straight back at him. 'Where do you suppose my hats come from?' said I. 'My factory is the leading one in New Jersey.' I was from Chicago although my goods, in truth, were made in Orange Valley.
"'Will you be here Monday?' he asked. This meant that he wanted to look at my samples. The iron was hot; then was the time to strike.
"'Sorry, but I cannot,' I answered. 'But I'll tell you what I'll do. My line is a specialty line—only fine goods—and I'll bring in a small bunch of samples tonight about the time you close up.' Merchants like to deal with a man who is strictly business when they both get to doing business. Then is the time to put friendship and joking on the shelf.
"That night at ten o'clock I was back at the store with a bundle under my arm. The man who is too proud to carry a bundle once in a while would better never start on the road. The proprietor whispered to the hat buyer—I overheard the words—'Large Eastern factory'—and together they began to look at my samples. The new buyer went to the shelves and got out some of the goods which had come from my house to compare with my samples,—which were just the same quality. But, after fingering both, he said right out to the proprietor: 'There's no comparison. I've told you all along that the factory was the place to buy.'
"I booked my order—it was a fat one, too—solid case lots.
"'Shall I ship these from Orange Valley or Chicago?' I asked.
"'Why do you ask that?' asked the proprietor.
"'Because you have bought a bill from a firm you have dealt with for twenty years, Blank and Company of Chicago, that I represent, and I do not want one who has favored me to pay any extra freight. You will pardon me, I'm sure, for not telling you the whole truth until now; but this was the only way in which I could overcome your prejudice.'"
"That's one on me," said the merchant. "Come—boys, you are in on this too—I'll buy the smokes."
Many traveling men make mistakes by steering shy of cranks. The so- called crank is the easiest man to approach, if only you go at him right.
Once I sat at dinner with two other traveling men who were strangers to me—as strange as one traveling man ever is to another. This is not, however, very "strange," for the cosmopolitan life of the road breeds a good fellowship and a sort of secret society fraternity among all knights of the grip. My territory being new, I made inquiry regarding the merchants of a certain town to which I intended to go.
"Don't go there," spoke up one of my table companions. "There's no one there who's any good except old man Duke and he's the biggest crank on earth. He discounts his bills,—but Lord, it's a job to get near him."
Some men on the road are vulgar; but will not this comment apply to some few of any class of men?
"My friend," said companion number two, looking straight at the man who had just made the above remarks, "I've been on the road these many years and, if my observation counts for anything, those we meet are, to a great extent, but reflections of ourselves. True, many call Mr. Duke peculiar, but I have always got along with him without any trouble. I consider him a gentleman."
I went to the "old crank's" town. As I rode on the train, louder than the clacking of the car wheels, I heard myself saying over and over again: "Those we meet are, to a great extent, but reflections of ourselves."
When I went into the old gentleman's store, he was up front in his office at work on his books. I merely said, "Good morning, sir," and went back and sat down by the stove. It's never a good thing to interrupt a merchant when he's busy. He, and he alone, knows what is most important for him to do. Maybe he has an urgent bill or sight draft to meet; maybe he has a rush order to get off in the next mail; maybe he is figuring up his profit or his loss on some transaction. Then is not the time to state your business if you wish to make your point. The traveling man must not forget that the merchant's store is a place of business; that he is on the lookout for good things and just as anxious to buy good goods advantageously as the salesman is to sell them; and that he will generally lend an ear, for a moment at least,—if properly approached—to any business proposition.
After a while, the old gentleman came back to the stove and, as he approached, politely said to me, "Is there something I can do for you, suh?"
I caught his southern accent and in a moment was on my guard. I arose and, taking off my hat—for he was an old gentleman—replied: "That remains with you, sir," and I briefly stated my business, saying finally, "As this is my first time in your town and as my house is perhaps new to you, possibly, if you can find the time to do so, you may wish to see what I have." Recalling that one of my table companions had said he considered him a gentleman I was especially careful to be polite to the merchant. And politeness is a jewel that every traveling man should wear in his cravat.
"I shall see you at one thirty, suh. Will you excuse me now?" With this the old gentleman returned to his office. I immediately left the store. The important thing to get a merchant to do is to consent to look at your goods. When you can get him to do this, keep out of his way until he is ready to fulfil his engagement. Then, when you have done your business, pack your goods and leave town. What the merchant wants chiefly with the traveling man is to do business with him. True, much visiting and many odd turns are sometimes necessary to get the merchant to the point of "looking," but when you get him there, leave him until he is ready to "look." Friendships, for sure, will develop, but don't force them.
At one twenty-nine that afternoon I started for the "old crank's" store. It was just across the street from my sample room. I met him in the middle of the street. He was a crank about keeping his engagements promptly. I respect a man who does this. The old gentleman looked carefully, but not tediously, at my goods, never questioning a price. In a little while, he said: "I shall do some business with you, suh; your goods suit me."
I never sold an easier bill in my life and never met a more pleasant gentleman. Our business finished, he offered me a cigar and asked that he might sit and smoke while I packed my samples. Yes, offered me a cigar. And I took it. It was lots better than offering him one. He enjoyed giving me one more than he would have enjoyed smoking one of mine. In fact, it flatters any man more to accept a favor from him than to do one for him. Many traveling men spend two dollars a day on cigars which they give away. They are not only throwing away money but also customers sometimes. The way for the salesman on the road to handle the man he wants to sell goods to in order to get his regard is to treat him as he does the man of whom he expects no favors. When you give a thing to a man he generally asks in his own mind, "What for?"
Before I left the town of the "old crank" I met with another of his peculiarities. I was out of money. I asked him if he would cash a sight draft for me on my firm for a hundred dollars.
"No, suh," said he. "I will not. I was once swindled that way and I now make it a rule never to do that."
Needles stuck in me all over.
"But," continued the old gentleman, "I shall gladly lend you a hundred dollars or any amount you wish."
For the many years I went to the town of the "old crank," our relationship was most cordial. I believe we became friends. More than once did he drop business and go out fishing with me. Since the first day we met I have often recalled the words of my table companion: "Those we meet are, to a great extent, but reflections of ourselves."
Recalling the predicament I was in for a moment in the town of the "old crank," reminds me of an experience I once had. As a rule, I haven't much use for the man on the road who borrows money. If he hasn't a good enough stand-in with his firm to draw on the house or else to have the firm keep him a hundred or two ahead in checks, put him down as no good. The man who is habitually broke on the road is generally the man who thinks he has the "gentle finger," and that he can play in better luck than the fellow who rolls the little ivory ball around a roulette wheel. There are not many of this kind, though; they don't last long. It's mostly the new man or the son of the boss who thinks he can pay room rent for tin horns.
Even the best of us, though, get shy at least once in a life time, and have to call on some one for chips. I've done this a few times myself. I never refused one of the boys on the road a favor in all my life. Many a time I've dug up a bill and helped out some chap who was broke and I knew, at the time, that as far as getting back the money went, I might just as well chuck it in the sewer. Few of the boys will borrow, but all of them are ever ready to lend.
The one time I borrowed was in Spokane. When I went down to the depot I learned that I could buy a baggage prepaid permit and save about fifty dollars. I did not know until I reached the station that I could do this in Spokane. Down east they haven't got on well to this system. You can prepay your excess baggage all the way from a coast point clear back to Chicago and have the right to drop your trunks off anywhere you will along the route. This makes a great saving. Well, when I went to check in I saw that I was short about four dollars. I did not have time to run back to my customer's up town or to the hotel and cash a draft. I looked to see if there was somebody around that I knew. Not a familiar face. I had to do one of three things: Lose a day, give up by slow degrees over fifty dollars to the Railroad Company, or strike somebody for four.
Right here next to me at the baggage counter stood a tall, good natured fellow—I shall always remember his sandy whiskers and pair of generous blue eyes. He was checking his baggage to Walla Walla.
"Going right through to Walla Walla?" said I.
"Yes," he said, "can I do anything for you?"
"Well, since you have mentioned it, you can," I answered.
I introduced myself, told my new friend—Mason was his name, Billie Mason—how I was fixed and that I would give him a note to my customer, McPherson, at Walla Walla, requesting him to pay back the money.
I gave Mason the order, written with a lead pencil on the back of an envelope, and he gave me the four dollars.
I got down to Walla Walla in a few days. When I went in to see McPherson the first thing I said to him, handing him four dollars, was: "Mac, I want to pay you back that four."
"What four?" said McPherson.
"What four?" said I. "Your memory must be short. Why, that four I gave a traveling man, named Mason, an order on you for!"
McPherson looked blank; but we happened to be standing near the cashier's desk, and the matter was soon cleared up.
The cashier, who was a new man in the store, spoke up and said: "Yes, last week a fellow was in here with an order on you for four dollars, but it was written with a lead pencil on the back of an envelope. I thought it was no good. I didn't want to be out the four, so I refused to pay it."
"The deuce you did," said my friend Mac, "Why, I've known this man (referring to me) and bought goods of him for ten years."
The thing happened this way: On the very day that Mason presented my order both McPherson himself and the clerk in my department were out of town. When the new cashier told Mason that he did not know me, Mason simply thought he was "done" for four, and walked out thanking himself that the amount was not more.
But it so happened that Mason himself that night told this joke on himself to a friend of mine.
My friend laughed "fit to kill" and finally said to Mason: "Why that fellow's good for four hundred;" and he gave Mason what I had failed to give him—my address.
I had also failed to take Mason's address. After he made me the loan in Spokane we sat on the train together chatting. I became well acquainted with him, and with a friend of his named Dickey, who was along with us. Yet I did not ask Mason his business, even; for, as you know, it's only the fresh, new man who wants to know what every man he meets is selling.
After McPherson's new cashier had told me that he had not paid my order, I inquired of every man I met about Mason, but could get no clew on him. He was in a specialty jewelry business and made only a few large towns in my territory. Every time I boarded a train I would look all through it for those sandy whiskers. It was lucky that he wore that color; it made the search easy. I even looked for him after midnight—not only going through the day coaches, but asking the Pullman porters if such a man was aboard. I woke up more than one red- whiskered man out of his slumbers and asked him: "Is your name Mason?" One of them wanted to lick me for bothering him, but he laughed so loudly when, in apologizing, I told him the reason for my search that he woke up the whole car. I never found him this way, and not having his address, I could only wait.
I had just about given up all hopes of getting a line on my confiding friend when, several weeks after a letter bearing the pen marks of many forwardings, caught me. I've got that letter; it reads this way:
"Walla Walla, Dec. 6th.
"My Dear Sir:
"I called on Mr. McPherson today and unfortunately found him out of the city. None of his clerks seemed to know you when I presented your request for an advance. They all began to look askance at me as if I were a suspicious character. I ought to have put on my white necktie and clerical look before going in, but unluckily I wore only my common, everyday, drummer appearance.
"I got your address from a fellow wayfarer here just minute ago. My train goes soon. I am writing you care of your house as I'm a little leery of sending it care of your friend McPherson.
"Your order for the four now reposes in the inside pocket of my vest amongst my firm's cash and will stand as an I. O. U. against me until I hear from you. Even as I write, my friend Dickey, who sits at my left, keeps singing into my ear:
"'If I should die tonight and you should come to my cold corpse and say:
"'"Here, Bill, I've brought you back that four,"
"'"I'd rise up in my white cravat and say: "What's that?" And then fall dead once more.'
"W. L. Mason, "Denver, Box —."
Although I sent Mason a check, it seemed that I was ever doomed to be in error with him. I wrote him insisting that he wear a new hat on me and asked him to send me his size.
He wrote back that he was satisfied to get the four dollars; but, since I pressed the matter, his size was seven and one-fourth.
I wrote my hatter to express a clear beaver to Mason. But somehow he got the size wrong, for Mason wrote back:
"Dear Brother: Everything that I have to do with you seems at first all wrong, but finally wiggles out all right. For example, while I stated that my size was seven and one-fourth your hatter sent a seven and one-half—two sizes too big under ordinary circumstances. But I was so tickled to get the unexpected four and a new lid besides that my head swelled and my bonnet fit me to a T."
SOCIAL ARTS AS SALESMEN'S ASSETS.
Salesmanship has already been defined as the art of overcoming obstacles, of turning defeat into victory by the use of tact and patience. Courtesy must become constitutional with the drummer and diplomacy must become second nature to him. All this may have a very commercial and politic ring, but its logic is beyond question. It would be a decided mistake, however, to conclude that the business life of the skilful salesman is ruled only by selfish, sordid or politic motives.
In the early nineties, I was going through Western Kansas; it was the year of the drought and the panic. Just as the conductor called "All aboard" at a little station where we had stopped for water, up drove one of the boys. His pair of bronchos fairly dripped with sweat; their sides heaved like bellows—they had just come in from a long, hard drive. As the train started the commercial tourist slung his grips before him and jumped on. He shook a cloud of dust out of his linen coat, brushed dust off his shoes, fingered dust out of his hair, and washed dust off his face. He was the most dust-begrimed mortal I ever saw. His ablutions made, he sat down in a double seat with me and offered me a cigar.
"Close call," said I.
"Yes, you bet—sixteen miles in an hour and thirty-five minutes. That was the last time I'll ever make that drive."
"Customer quit you?"
"He hasn't exactly quit me, he has quit his town. All there ever has been in his town was a post office and a store, all in one building; and he lived in the back end of that. It has never paid me to go to see him, but he was one of those loyal customers who gave me all he could and gave it without kicking. He gave me the glad hand—and that, you know, goes a long ways—and for six years I've been going to see him twice a year, more to accommodate him than for profit. The boys all do lots of this work—more than merchants give them credit for. His wife was a fine little woman. Whenever my advance card came—she attended to the post office—she would always put a couple of chickens in a separate coop and fatten them on breakfast food until I arrived. Her dinner was worth driving sixteen miles for if I didn't sell a sou.
"But it is all off now. The man was always having a streak of hard luck—grasshoppers, hail, hot winds, election year or something, and he has finally pulled stakes. When I reached there this time it was the lonesomest place I ever saw, no more store and post office, no more nice little wife and fried chicken—not even a dog or hitching post. My friend had gone away and left no reminder of himself save a notice he had lettered with a marking brush on his front door. Just as a sort of a keepsake in memory of my old friend I took a copy. Here it goes:
"'A thousand feet to water! A thousand miles to wood! I've quit this blasted country Quit her! Yes, for good. The 'hoppers came abuzzin' But I shooed them all away, Next blew the hot winds furious; Still, I had the grit to stay. There's always something hap'ning; So, while I've got the pluck— Think I'll strike another country And see how runs my luck. God bless you, boys, I love you. The drummer is my friend. When I open up my doors again, Bet your life, for you I'll send.'
"Wouldn't that cork you? Say, let's get up a game of whist." With this my friend took a fresh cigar from me, and, whistling, sauntered down the aisle hunting partners for the game. The long drive, the dust and the loss of a bill no longer disturbed him.
The man who grieves would better stay off the road. The traveling man must digest disappointments as he does a plate of blue points, for he swallows them about as often. One of the severest disappointments for a road man is to have the pins for a bill all set and then have some other man get the ball first and knock them down.
A clothing salesman told me this story:
"I have been chasing trunks for a long time but last season I got into the worst scrape of all my life on the road. I was a little pushed for time, so I wrote one of my irregular country customers that I would not be able to go to his town, but that I would pay his expenses if he would come in and meet me at Spokane.
"When he showed up he brought along his wife; and his wife rolled a young baby into my sample room. It was a pretty little kid, and struck me as being the best natured little chap I had ever seen. Of course, you know that to jolly up my customer a little I had to get on the good side of the wife, and the best way to do this was to play with the baby. After I had danced the little fellow around for a while I put him back into the buggy and supposed that I was going to get down to business. But the father said he thought he would be in town for a week or so and that he thought he would go out and find a boarding house.
"As we were talking, a friend of mine dropped in. He directed my customer to a boarding house, and then, just for fun, said: 'Why don't you leave the baby here with us while you're making arrangements. Mr. Percy has lots of children at home, and he knows how to take care of them all right.' Imagine how I felt when my country friends fell in with the shoe man's suggestion!
"Both of us got along first rate with the baby for a while. I really enjoyed it until my friend left me to go down the street, and a customer I was expecting came in. I thought the baby would get along all right by himself, and so I started to show customer No. 2 my line of goods. But the little chap had been spoiled by too much of my coddling and wouldn't stand for being left alone. At first he gave a little whimper. I rolled him for a minute or two with one hand and ran the other over a line of cheviots and told my customer how good they were; but the very minute I let go of the buggy, out broke the kid again. I repeated this performance two or three times, but whenever I let go the buggy handle the baby yelled. In a few minutes he was going it good and strong, and I had to take him out and bounce him up and down. Now, you can imagine just how hard it is to pacify a baby and sell a bill of clothing. Try it if you don't. I soon began to walk the floor to keep the kid from howling, and presently I decided I would rather keep that child quiet than sell a bill of goods. Finally, customer number two went out, saying he would see me the next morning; and there I was left all alone with the baby again.
"I tried to ring a bell and get a chambermaid to take care of him, but the bell was broken. Then I began to sing all the songs I knew and kept it up until I nearly wore out my throat. It seemed as if the baby's mother never would come back, but I had the happy satisfaction of knowing, though, that the baby's mother and father would certainly have to come back and get the little fellow, and I felt sure of getting a good bill of goods.
"Well, what do you think happened? After two hours the mother came back and got the baby and I never saw her husband again! A competitor of mine had 'swiped' him as he came in the hotel office and sold him his bill of goods."
Although my friend Percy who rolled the baby carriage back and forth lost out by this operation, I would advise my friends on the road to roll every baby buggy—belonging to a possible customer—that they have a chance to get their hands on. When the merchant gives the traveling man an opportunity to do him some sort of a favor outside of straight business dealing, he then gives the drummer the best possible chance to place him under obligations which will surely be repaid sometime. But don't go too far.
Down in Texas in one of the larger towns, just after the Kishinef horror, the Hebrew clothing merchants held a charity ball. If you were to eliminate the Hebrew from the clothing business the ranks of dealers in men's wearing apparel would be devastated. One of my friends in the clothing business told me how he and a furnishing goods friend of his made hay at that charity ball:
"The day that I struck town, one of my customers said to me, 'We want you to go to the show tomorrow night and open the ball with a few remarks. Will you?'
"Just for fun I said, 'To be sure I will, Ike.' I did not think I would be taken in earnest, but the next day I received a program, and right at the head of it was my name down for the opening speech. Well, I was up against it and I had to make good. You may take my word for it that I felt a little nervous that night when I came to the big hall and saw it full of people waiting for the opening address. I needed to have both sand on the bottoms of my shoes and sand in my upper story to keep from slipping down on the waxed floor! But, as I was in for it, I marched bravely up and sat down for a few minutes in the big chair.
"Then the first thing I knew I was introduced. Now I was really in sympathy with the purpose of this gathering and I felt, sincerely, the atrocity of the Kishinef massacre. Consequently, I was able to speak from the heart in telling my audience how every human being, without regard to race, was touched by such an outrage. Had I been running for Congress there, I would have received every vote in the house. The women sent special requests by their husbands, asking the honor of a dance with me.
"Remember that the traveling man must not overlook the wife of his customer. Generally a man's nearest and truest friend is his wife. The business man feels that she is his best counselor. If you can get the good will of the 'women folks' of your customer's household you may be sure you will be solid with him for keeps.
"But I must not overlook my furnishing goods friend. He had been trained for an opera singer and would have made a success of it had he kept up with that profession. His business, however, prospered so well that he could never go and look the prompter in the face. He had a rich, full, deep voice which, when he sang the Holy City, made the chandeliers fairly hum. There is something in the melodious human voice, anyway, that goes away down deep into the heart. My friend won everybody there with a song. He with his music and I with my speech had done a courtesy to those merchants which they and their wives appreciated. You know you can feel it, somehow, when you are in true accord with those you meet.
"We really did not think anything about the business side that night. I forgot it altogether until, upon leaving the hall, my friend Ike said to me: 'Tonight we dance, tomorrow we sell clot'ing again.' Both of us did a good business in that town on the strength of the charity ball, and we have held our friends there as solid customers. I say 'solid customers' but actually there is no such thing as a 'solid customer.' The very best friend you have will slip away from you sometime, break out your corral, and you must mount your broncho, chase him down and rope him in again."
A mighty true saying, that! It is a great disappointment to call upon a customer with whom you have been doing business for a long time and find that he has already bought. Ofttimes this happens, however, because when you become intimate with a merchant you fail to continue to impress upon him the merits of your merchandise. However tight a rope the salesman feels that he has upon a merchant, he should never cease to let him know and make him feel that the goods he is selling are strictly right; for if he lets the line slacken a little the merchant may take a run and snap it in two.
One of my hat friends once told me how he went in to see an old customer named Williams, down in Texas, and found that he had bought a bill.
"When I reached home," said he, "I handed my checks to a porter, slipped half a dollar into his hand and told him to rush my trunks right up to the sample room."
This is a thing that a salesman should do on general principles. When he has spent several dollars and many hours to get to a town he should bear in mind that he is there for business, and that he cannot do business well unless he has his goods in a sample room. The man who goes out to work trade with his trunks at the depot does so with only half a heart. If a man persuades himself that there is no business in a town for him he would better pass it up. When he gets to a town the first thing he should do is to get out samples.
"When I had opened up my line," continued my friend, "I went over to Williams' store. I called at the window as usual and said, 'Well, Williams, I am open and ready for you at any time. When shall we go over?'
"'To tell the truth, Dickie,' said he, 'I've bought your line for this season. I might just as well come square out with it.'
"'That is all right, Joe,' said I. 'If that is the case, it will save us the trouble of doing the work over again.' In truth, my heart had sunk clear down to my heels, but I never let on. I simply smiled over the situation. The worst thing I could have done would be to get mad and pout about it. Had I done so I should have lost out for good. The salesman who drops a crippled wing weakens himself, so I put on a smiling front. This made Williams become apologetic, for when he saw that I took the situation good-naturedly he felt sorry that he could not give me business and began to make explanations.
"'I tell you,' said he, 'this other man came around and told me that he could sell me a hat for twenty-one dollars a dozen as good as you are selling for twenty-four, and I thought it was to my business interest to buy them. I thought I might as well have that extra twenty-five cents on every hat as your firm.'
"There! He had given me my chance! 'Williams,' said I, 'you bought these other goods on your judgment. Do you not owe it to yourself to know how good your judgment on hats is? You and I have been such good friends—Heaven knows I have not a better one in this country, Joe— that I never talk business to you and George, your buyer. Now, I'll tell you what is a fair proposition. You and George come over to my sample room this afternoon at 1:30—I leave at four—and I will find out how good your judgment and George's is when it comes to buying hats.' Williams said: 'All right, 1:30 goes.'
"I immediately left, having a definite appointment. I went to my sample room and laid out in a line twelve different samples of hats, the prices of which ranged, in jumps of three dollars per dozen, from nine dollars to twenty-seven dollars. In the afternoon I went back to the store and got Williams and George. As we entered the sample room, I said: 'Now, Williams, we are over here—you, George and myself—to see what you know about hats. If there is any line of goods in which you should know values, certainly it is the line you have been handling for six years. You have fingered them over every day and ought to know the prices of them. Here is a line of goods right out of the house from which you have been buying so long. The prices range from nine dollars to twenty-seven dollars a dozen. Will it not be a fair test of your judgment and George's for you to examine these goods very carefully—everything but the brands—for these would indicate the price—and lay out this line so that the cheaper hats will be at one end of the bunch and the best ones at the other? Very well! Now just straighten out this line according to price.'
"'Well, that looks fair to me,' said Williams.
"He and George went to work to straighten out the goods according to price. They put a nine dollar hat where a twelve dollar hat should have been, and vice versa. They put a twenty-four dollar hat where a twenty-four dollar hat belonged, and an eighteen dollar hat right beside it, indicating that the two were of the same quality. The next hat I handed them was one worth sixteen dollars and a half a dozen. It contained considerable chalk that made it feel smooth. After examining the 'sweat,' name and everything they both agreed that this was a twenty-seven dollars a dozen hat. When they did this, I said:
"'Gentlemen, I will torture you no longer. Let me preface a few remarks by saying that neither one of you knows a single, solitary, blooming thing about hats. Here is a hat that you say is worth twenty- four dollars a dozen. Look at the brand. You have it on your own shelves. You have been buying them of this quality for six years at eighteen dollars a dozen. And, what is worse still, here is a hat the price of which you see in plain figures is sixteen dollars and a half, and you say it is worth twenty-seven dollars a dozen.'
"The faces of Williams and George looked as blank as a freshly whitewashed fence. I saw that I had them. Then was the time for me to be bold. A good account was at stake, and at stake right then. Besides, my reputation was at stake. When a salesman loses a good account the news of it spreads all over his territory, and on account of losing one customer directly he will lose many more indirectly; for merchants will hear of it and on the strength of the information, lose confidence in the line itself. On the other hand, if you can knock your competitor out of a good account it is often equal to securing half a dozen more. I did not wish to lose out even for one season, so I said: 'Now look here, Williams, you have bought this other line of goods, and perhaps you feel that you have enough for this season and that you will make the best of a bad bargain. You are satisfied in your own mind, and you have told me as plainly as you ever told me anything in your life, that my goods are better than those that you have bought. I am going to tell you one thing now that I would not say in the beginning: that you have bought from a line of samples the goods of which will not equal the samples you have looked at. It is not the samples that you buy but it is the goods that are delivered to you. Those which will be delivered will not be as good as those which you looked at. You know full well that my goods have always come up to samples. You know that they are reliable. Why do you wish to change? If you wish to change for the sake of making an additional twenty-five cents on each hat instead of giving it to my firm, why did you not take the hat which I have been selling you all the time for $18 a dozen and sell it for three dollars, the price you have always been getting for my twenty-four dollars a dozen hats? In that way you would make an additional twenty-five cents. Be logical! If that's not profit enough, why not sell a $15 or a $12 a dozen hat for $3? Be logical! If that's not enough, why not hire a big burly duffer to stand at your front door, knock down every man who comes in so that you can take all the money he has without giving him anything. You could bury him in the cellar. Be logical.'
"''Fraid they'd put me in the "pen",' said Williams.
"'If I were a judge and you were brought before me charged with selling the twenty-one dollars a dozen hat that you have bought to take the place of mine (for which I charge you twenty-four dollars a dozen) I would give you a life sentence. Let me tell you, Williams, a man who is in business, if he expects to remain in the same place a long time, must give good values to his customers. In the course of time they will find out whether the stuff he gives them is good or poor. Go into a large establishment with a good reputation and you will find out that they give to the people who come to buy merchandise from them good values. Now, the goods I have sold you have always given your trade satisfaction. Your business in my department is increasing, so you say, and the reason is because you are giving to your customers good values. Why not continue to pursue this same policy? I am in town to do business and to do business today. I cannot and I will not take a turn down. If you want to continue to buy my goods you must buy them and buy them right now, even if you do have to take them right on top of the other stuff that you have bought. I shall make no compromise. My price is $1,000—more than you ever bought from me before.'
"'George,' said Williams, turning to his buyer, 'I guess Dickie has us. Give him an order for $1,000 and don't let's go chasing the end of a rainbow in such a hurry any more.'"
TRICKS OF THE TRADE.
The man who believes that on every traveling man's head should rest a dunce cap will some fine day get badly fooled if he continues to rub up against the drummer. The road is the biggest college in the world. Its classrooms are not confined within a few gray stone buildings with red slate roofs; they are the nooks and corners of the earth. Its teachers are not a few half starved silk worms feeding upon green leaves doled out by philanthropic millionaires, but live, active men who plant their own mulberry trees. When a man gets a sheepskin from this school, he doesn't need to go scuffling around for work; he already has a job. Its museum contains, not a few small specimens of ore, but is the mine itself.
Let your son take an ante-graduate course of a few years on the road and he will know to what use to put his book learning when he gets that. I do not decry book lore; the midnight incandescent burned over the classic page is a good thing. I am merely saying that lots of good copper wire goes to waste, because too many college "grads" start their education wrong end first. They do not know for what they are working. If I were running a school my way and the object was to teach a boy method, I'd hand him a sample grip before I'd give him a volume of Euclid. Last night a few ideas struck me when I thought my day's work was done. I jumped out of bed seven times in twenty minutes and struck seven matches so I could see to jot down the points. The man on the road learns to "do it now." Too many traveling men waste their months of leisure. Like Thomas Moore, in their older days they will wail:
"Thus many, like me, who in youth should have tasted The fountain that flows by philosophy's shrine, Their time with the flowers on its margin have wasted And left their light urns all as empty as mine."
Yet many improve their hours of leisure from business; if they do not, it is their own fault. I met an old acquaintance on the street yesterday. "My season is too short," said he. "I wish I could find something to do between trips." I asked him why he did not write for newspapers or do a dozen other things that I mentioned. "I'm incapable," he replied. "Well, that isn't my fault," said I. "No," he answered, "it's mine!"
I know one man on the road who found time to learn the German language. And, by the way, he told me how it once served him a good turn.
"Once," said he, "when I was up in Minnesota, a few years ago, I got a big merchant to come over and look at my goods. That, you know, was half of the battle."
And so it is! When a merchant goes into a drummer's sample room, he is on the field of Liao Yang and, if he doesn't look out, the drummer will prove himself the Jap!
"It was my first trip to the town," continued my friend. "The first thing my prospective customer picked up after he came into my room was a sample of a 'Yucatan' hat. You know how it goes—when a merchant comes into your sample room for the first time he picks up the things he knows the price of. If the prices on these are high, he soon leaves you; if they seem right to him he has confidence in the rest of your line and usually buys if the styles suit him. The way to sell goods is either to have lower prices or else make your line show up better than your competitor's. Even though your prices be the same as his, you can often win out by displaying your goods better than your competitor does. Many a time he is too lazy to spread his goods and show what he really has; and his customer thinks the line 'on the bum' when, in truth, it is not.
"The merchant, Alex Strauss was his name, couldn't have picked up a luckier thing for me than this Yucatan hat. The year previous, my house had imported them finished, but that year we had had them trimmed in our own shop. The duty was much less on the unfinished body than on the trimmed hat; therefore, the price had dropped considerably.
"'How much do you vant for dis?' said Strauss, picking up the Yucatan.
"Nine dollars a dozen," said I, without explaining why the price was so low. It would have been as foolish for me to do this, you know, as to play poker with my cards on the table face up.
"Strauss turned to his clerk Morris, who was with him. They both examined the hat, and Alex said in German to Morris: 'Den selben Hut haben wir gehabt. Letzes Jahr haben wir sechzehn und ein halb den Dutzen bezahlt. Das ist sehr billig!' (The same hat we had. Last year we paid sixteen and a half a dozen. This is very cheap.)
"Then Alex turned to me—he was a noted bluffer—and said in English: 'Hefens alife! Nine tollars! Vy, I pought 'em last year for sefen and a half!'
"I never saw such a bold stand in my life. The expression on his face would have won a jackpot on a bob-tailed flush. But I was in position to call his bluff. His cards were on the table face up.
"I merely repeated his own words in his own tongue: 'Den selben Hut haben wir gehabt. Letzes Jahr haben wir sechzehn und ein halb den Dutzen bezahlt. Das ist sehr billig.'
"'Hier, dake a seecar on me,' said Alex, offering me a smoke. He bought a good bill from me and has been a good customer ever since.
"Just to let you know what a hard proposition Strauss was, I'll tell you another incident in connection with him:
"'After I had known Alex for two years I went into his store one morning, when I was on my fall trip. He came from behind the counter to meet me, wearing upon his face a smile of triumph. He had never approached me before; I always had to hunt him down.
"I said, 'Hello, Alex, how goes it?'
"'Dis is how choes id,' said he, handing me a card. 'Dot's de way id choes mit ev'rypody dis season.'
"On the card which he handed me—and to every traveling man who, came in—were these words: 'Don't waste your time on me; I will not buy any goods until I go to market. Alex.'
"Reading the card quickly, I said to him: 'Thank you, Alex, may I have another one of these cards?'
"He handed me another one, saying, 'Vot you vant mit anudder vun?'
"'I want one to hold as a keepsake of the man, of all men, who is gladdest to see me when I get around; the other I shall pin to the order I shall take from you today and send to my firm.'
"With a sweeping bow, I said, 'Adieu, Alex; Auf wiedersehen,' and left the store.
"I knew Alex's habits. He always went to dinner when the town clock struck twelve. A deaf shoemaker in the next block regulated his watch, they say, by Alex's movements. A few minutes past twelve I went back to the store and left on the front show case a bunch of samples done up in a red cloth. On some of them were large green tags telling the quantity I had of each and the price. I also wrote on the green tags the words 'Job Lot.'
"I knew that Alex would see the bundle; and I knew that he would open it—a merchant will always look at samples if you take them to his store. I also knew that Alex, when he saw the mystic words 'Job Lot,' would be half crazy. Adam and Eve were not more tempted by the forbidden fruit than is the Yehuda (Hebrew) merchant by a metziah (bargain).
"I went back to the hotel. After luncheon I sent out my advance cards and took up a book. My mind was perfectly easy, because I knew just exactly what was going to happen.
"At a quarter to six, Abie, Alex's boy, disturbed me while I was in the middle of a chapter and said: 'Papa wants to see you right away. The store closes at six.'
"I knew that meant business, but I said to Abie: 'Tell your papa if he'll excuse me I'll not come over. Won't you please say goodbye to him for me? And won't you, Abie, like a good boy—bring me a bundle I left on the show case. It has a red cloth around it.'
"Finishing my chapter, I started slowly toward Alex's store. I met Abie. But he didn't have the red bundle—I knew he wouldn't.
"'Papa says, come over. He wants to see you,' said Abie.
"As I went into the store a minute before six, Alex was pacing up and down the floor. My samples were spread upon the show case.
"'Eff you vant your samples, dake 'em avay yourself. Do you subbose I raice poys to vait on draveling men?' said Alex. He was keeping up his bluff well.
"With this I began to stack together my samples.
"'Vait! Vait!' said Alex, 'Aind you choing to gif a man a jance to puy some choots?'
"'Sure,' said I, 'if you want to, but I thought you were going to wait until you went into market.'
"'Vell, you vas a taisy,' said Alex; and in three minutes—he was the quickest buyer I ever saw—I booked an order for six hundred dollars.
"'Now, I see,' said Alex, as he shook hands and started home, 'Vot you vanted mit dot udder cart.'"
Strategy will win out in business, but not deception. The traveling man who wishes to win in the race of commerce, if he plays sharp tricks, will get left at the quarter post. It is rather hard, sometimes, to keep from plucking apples that grow in the garden of deception, especially if they hang over the fence. I sat one night beside one of the boys who was sending out his advance cards. He was making his first trip over a new territory.
"Blast it!" said he, tearing up a card he had written.
"Don't swear, or you'll not catch any fish," said I.
"Yes, but I did such a fool thing. I addressed a card to a merchant and then turned it over and signed his name—not mine—to it. Wasn't that a fool thing to do?"
"No, not at all," I replied, laughing. "If you had sent that card to him, he would have read it. Otherwise, he will chuck the one you do send into the basket."
"Bright idea!" quoth my friend.
A few months afterward I met this same man. "Say," said he, "that was a straight tip you gave me on that advance card scheme. It worked like a charm. Half of the men I went to see had kept the cards on their desks and I had no trouble getting their ears. Some were expecting a long lost relative. When they showed me my cards with their names on them I was always amazed at such a queer mistake. There was one exception. I told one man why I did it, and he nearly threw me out of his store."
When I was told this I felt ashamed to think I had taught duplicity to an innocent. I did not know to what it might lead him.
Stolen fruits may look like they are sweet, but taste them, and they are bitter. I knew a man who sold shoes in the State of Washington. He was shrewd and sharp. He learned of an old Englishman who, although his store was in an out of the way town, did a large business. The shoeman wrote half a dozen letters to himself care of the old Englishman, addressing them as "Lord" So and So. When he reached the town the Englishman most graciously handed him the letters, and to all questions of the shoeman, who commanded a good British accent, answered, "Yes, my lord," or "No, my lord."
The shoe man explained that, like the merchant, he had hated to leave the old country, but that America—sad to state—was a more thrifty country and he had invested in a large shoe factory in Boston. He said he was merely out traveling for his health and to look over the country with a view to placing a traveling salesman on the territory. The Englishman gave him a large open order, supposing, of course, that a lord would carry no samples. The old merchant was so tickled at having a chance to buy from a lord that, notwithstanding his reserve, he one day told his dry goods man about it. This was shortly before the goods arrived.
"Why, that fellow," said the dry goods man, "is no more of a lord than I am. He is not even an Englishman." He did not know that he was "queering" a bill, for this is one thing that one traveling man will never deliberately do to another. He knows too well what a battle it is to win a bill, and he will not knowingly snatch from the victor the spoils of war.
The old Englishman returned the "lord's" goods without opening the cases.
Although the lord did not steal a base on his sharp run, I know of one instance where a shrewd traveling man sold a bill by a smart trick.
In Ohio there was a merchant notoriously hard to approach. He was one of the kind who, when you told him your business, would whistle and walk away and who would always have something to do in another part of the store when you drew near him the second time. What an amount of trouble a man of that kind makes for himself! The traveling man is always ready to "make it short." When he goes into a store the thing he wishes to know, and how quickly, is: "Can I do any business here?" The merchant will have no trouble getting rid of the drummer if he will only be frank. All he must do is to give a fair reason why he does not wish to do business. He can say: "I have bought"—that is the best one, if it is true; it is the index finger pointing out a short route for the salesman straight to the front door. Or, he can say: "I have all in that line I can use for some time." "I have an old personal friend to whom I give my trade for these goods—he treats me squarely" is a good answer. So, too, is the statement, "I have an established trade on this brand, my customers ask for it, and it gives them entire satisfaction—what's the use of changing?" Any one of these statements will either rid the merchant of the traveling man or else raise an issue soon settled.
I will let my friend himself tell how he got the ear of the whistling merchant.
"The boys had told me old Jenkins was hard to get next to, but I made up my mind to reach him. It's lots more fun anyway to land a trout in swift water than to pull a carp out of a muddy pond; besides the game fish is better to eat. When I went into his store, Jenkins fled from me, and going into his private office, slammed the door behind him. I made for the office. I had not come within ten feet from the window before the old man said gruffly: 'I don't want to buy any goods; I don't want even to listen to a traveling man this morning.'
"This did not stop me. I walked to the window, took a pad of paper out of my pocket and wrote on a slip: 'I have some samples I would like to show you. I will bring them over.' I handed the slip to old Jenkins and left him. The man who can do the odd, unexpected thing, is the one who gets the ear.
"When I brought my samples in—I sell a specialty line of baby shoes— I spread them on the counter. The old man was curious to see what a 'deaf and dumb man' was selling, I suppose, for up he marched and looked at my line. He picked up a shoe and wrote on a piece of paper: 'How much?' I wrote the price and passed the slip back to him. 'What are your terms?' he wrote back. 'Bill dated November 1st, 5% off, ten days,' I replied on paper. 'Price your line right through,' he scribbled.
"With this I wrote the price of each shoe on a slip and put it under the sample. Old Jenkins called his shoe man. They both agreed that the line was exceptional—just what they wanted—and that the prices were low. But the old man wrote: 'Can't use any of your goods; the line I am buying is cheaper.'
"I made no answer to this but began packing my grip. The old man tried to write me so fast that he broke the points off his pencil and the clerk's. While he sharpened his pencil I kept on packing. He took hold of my hand and made a curious sign, saying, 'Wait.' But I went right on until the old man had written: 'Don't pack up. I will buy some goods from you because I feel sorry for you.'
"'Thank you, sir,' I wrote, 'but I am no charity bird; I want to sell goods only to those who appreciate my values. Charity orders are always small ones and a small one will not be sufficient for me to give you the exclusive sale.' That was a clincher, for when a merchant sees a good thing he will overbuy, you know, just to keep his competitor from having a chance at it. I started again packing.
"'I really like your goods and will buy a nice bill if you will sell no one else in town,' wrote the old man nervously. 'I was only joking with you.'
"Just as I had finished writing down my order, never having spoken a word to old Jenkins, a traveling man friend came in and said, in his presence: 'Hello, Billy! How are you?'
"'Pretty well, thank you,' said I.
"'What! Can you hear and talk?' half yelled the old man.
"'To be sure,' I wrote back, 'but it would have been impolite to talk to you; because you said, as I drew near the window, you didn't wish to listen to a traveling man this morning. Thank you for your order. Good-bye.'
"The old man never forgot that day. The last time I was around, he said, 'Confound you, Billy! What makes you ask me if I want any baby shoes? You know I do and that I want yours. I believe, though, if you were to die I'd have to quit handling the line; it would seem so strange to buy them from any but a deaf and dumb man.'"
It is all right for the traveling man to put his wit against the peculiarities of a wise, crusty old buyer, but it is wrong to play smart with a confiding merchant who knows comparatively little of the world. The innocent will learn.
A clothing man once told me of a sharp scheme he once worked on a Minnesota merchant.
"When I was up in Saint Paul on my last trip," said he, "a country merchant—what a 'yokel' he was!—came in to meet me. He had written my house he wanted to see their line. But when he reached the hotel another clothing man grabbed him and got him to say he would look at his line after he had seen mine. When he came into my room, I could see something was wrong. I could not get him to lay out a single garment. When a merchant begins to put samples aside, you've got him sure. After a while, he said: 'Well, I want to knock around a little; I'll be in to see you after dinner.'
"'I am expecting you to dine with me,' said I. 'It's after eleven now; you won't have time to go around any. You'd better wait until this afternoon.' I smelt a mouse, as there were other clothing men in town; so I knew I must hold him. But he was hard to entertain. He wouldn't smoke and wouldn't drink anything but lemonade. Deliver me from the merchant who is on the water wagon or won't even take a cigar! He's hard to get next to. After we finished our lemonade, I brought out my family photographs and kept him listening to me tell how bright my children were—until noon.
"When we finished luncheon I suggested that we go up and do our business as I wanted to leave town as soon as I could. Then he told me he felt he ought to look at another line before buying and that he had promised another man he would look at his line.
"Had I 'bucked' on that proposition it would have knocked me out, so I said: 'To be sure you should. I certainly do not wish you to buy my goods unless they please you better than any you will see. We claim we are doing business on a more economical scale than any concern in the country. We know this, and I shall be only too glad to have you look at other goods; then you will be better satisfied with ours. I'll take pleasure even in introducing you to several clothing men right here in the house.'
"This line of talk struck ten. My yokel friend said: 'Well, you talk square and I want to buy of you. I like a man who thinks lots of his family, anyway; I've got a big family myself—seven children—baby's just a month old and a fine boy. But I promised my partner I'd look around if I had a chance, and I think I ought to keep my word with him.'
"Luckily there was another salesman from my firm in town and opened up that same day in the hotel. I sent for him, never letting my yokel friend get away from me a foot. I saw the other man, at whose line my friend wished to look, sitting in the office; but I knew he would obey the rule of the road and not come up to the merchant until I had let him go.
"My partner was a deuce of a long time coming. I listened to episodes in the lives of all of those seven children. I took down notes on good remedies for whooping cough, croup, measles, and all the ills that flesh is heir to—and thanked Heaven we had struck that subject! Finally my partner, Sam, came. As he drew near I gave him the wink, and, introducing my friend to him, said: 'Now, Mr. Anderson is in town to buy clothing. I have shown him my line, but he feels he ought to look around. Maybe I haven't all the patterns he wants, and if I can get only a part of the order there is no one I'd rather see get the other than you. Whatever the result, you'll bring Mr. Anderson to my room, 112, when you get through. Show him thoroughly. I'm in no hurry.'
"Sam marched Anderson up to his room. He caught onto my game all right. I knew he would hold him four hours, if necessary, and tell him all about his family history for seven generations.
"When Sam left, I went over to the cigar stand, pulled out my order book and figured about long enough to add up a bill. I filled my cigar case and going over to my competitor, at whose line Anderson had promised to look, offered him one. He had made a sort of 'body snatch' from me anyway and was ashamed to say anything about Anderson, but he asked: 'How's business?'
"'Coming in carriages today,' said I. 'My city customer was over early this morning and, no sooner had he gone than a man from the country came in. Two clothing bills in one day is all right, isn't it? I just turned my country customer over to Sam, as he has a few new patterns in his line I want him to show. Guess I'll go pack up shortly.'
"I hadn't told a point blank lie, and my competitor had no right to ask about my affairs, anyway. He also went to pack up.
"I let Sam entertain Anderson until I knew my competitor was out of the way. Then I sent a note up to him. In due time he brought the merchant down and soon excused himself.
"'That's a mighty nice fellow,' said Anderson, 'but my! his goods are dear. Why, his suits are two to three dollars higher than yours. You'll certainly get my bill. I told my partner I believed your house would be all right to buy from.'
"I took the order from Anderson, but I was half glad when I heard that he had died a few months afterward; for if he had lived he would have been sure to catch up with me when Sam and I were both in market. And then my goose would have been cooked for all time with him, sure."