"My house had been selling this man for several years. He handled a whole lot of goods but it worried the life out of me to get his bill.
"Last time I did business with him he had monkeyed with me all day long, and I had struck him as many as four times to go over to my sample room. If he had made a positive engagement and said that he would see me at twelve o'clock that night, it would have been all right; but he would turn away with a grunt the subject of going to look at samples, not even giving me the satisfaction of saying he didn't want anything at all.
"I felt that I'd spent time enough in the town so, after supper, I brought over a bunch of soft hats under my arm, and about nine o'clock he looked at them, picked out a few numbers, and said he had to go to lodge. I boned him about straw hats—I was on my spring trip then.
"'Look at them to-morrow,' he grunted.
"I was beginning to get tired of this sort of thing so next morning early I went around to see another man in the town. I'd made up my mind I'd rather take less business from some one else and get it more agreeably; but, to my surprise, I sold this other fellow $1,300, the best order I took on that trip. And easy! I believe he was one of the easiest men I ever did business with; and his credit was A1. He had no objections whatever to my doing business with others in the same town, because he wished his goods put up under his own name rather than with our brands on them, so this really made no interference.
"I finished with him in the morning about 11:30. On going over to my other man's store I found that he was still in bed. Pretty soon he came in with his before-breakfast grouch. It was afternoon before I got him over to my sample room. Meantime I had gone to sell another man and sold him a bunch of children's and misses' goods—such stuff as a clothing house has no use for.
"After I'd taken the dogging of the gruff old codger for a couple of hours—he kicked on everything, the brims being a quarter of an inch too wide or too narrow, and the crowns not shaped exactly right—I finally closed the order and handed him his copy. As he put his hand on the door-knob to go, he cast his eye over a pile of misses' sailors and growled: 'Well, who bought them?'
"I told him that I'd sold a little handful of goods to a dry goods store, knowing there would be no interference as he didn't carry that line of goods.
"'Well, a man that sells me can't do business with no other man in this town,' he grunted, and with this, slammed the door and left me. He didn't know that I'd sold his competitor a $1,300 bill.
"When I was about half through packing up, the old growler's clerk, who was a gentlemanly young fellow, came in and said to me, hesitatingly: 'Old man, I hate to tell you, but the boss told me to come over and say to you not to ship that bill of goods he gave you until he ordered it. He is very unreasonable, you know, and is kicking because you sold some stuff to the dry goods man down the street.'
"'Thank you, Gus,' said I to the clerk. I was mad as fire, but not at him, of course. 'Now, Gus, the old man has sent me a message by you. I'll let you take one back to him. Now, mind you, you and I are good friends, Gus. Tell him I say he can take his business, including this order, and go with it now and forever clean smack back to—well, you know the rest. Then tell him, Gus, that I've sold not only this dry goods man a bill but also his strongest competitor over $1,300 worth of goods. Tell him, furthermore, that I personally appreciate all the favors he has done for me in the past, in a personal way; that I have enjoyed visiting with him; that whenever I come back to this town again in the future, I shall come in to see him; that if I can do him a personal favor in any way, at any time, anywhere, I shall be only too glad to do so, but that, absolutely, our business relationship is at an end.'
"'All right,' said Gus. 'I'll repeat to the old man every word you've said. I'm glad you've called him down. It'll do him good.'
"And you bet your life I tore his order up without sending it in to the house and drew a line through his name on my book, and have never solicited his business since."
"You did him just exactly right," said the necktie man. "While I squared myself with my friend Morris, I was once independent with a customer who cancelled an order on me. He came in to meet me at Kansas City. Two more of the boys were also there then. He placed orders with all of us. His name was Stone. The truth is he came in and brought his wife and boy with him just because he wanted to take a little flyer at our expense. We had written him telling him that we'd pay his expenses if he would come in. He went ahead and took a few hours of our time to place his orders. At the time he did so I merely thought him a good liberal buyer but, as I now look back at the way he bought, he slipped down most too easy to stick.
"Sure enough, in three or four weeks the firm wrote me that Stone had cancelled his order, stating that he believed he had enough goods on hand to run him, that season, but that possibly very late he might reinstate the order.
"The fellow was good so I thought it wouldn't do very much harm to try to get him to take the goods. However, I employed very different tactics from those I used with my friend Morris. I wrote him this way:
"'My dear Brother Stone: I have received a letter from the firm stating that you have cancelled the order which you placed with me in Kansas City. You know not how much I thank you for cancelling this order. It gave me a great deal of pleasure to sell you this bill of goods, and now that you have cancelled it, I want you to be sure and make your cancellation stick because then, sooner than I had really expected, I shall have that same old pleasure over again.
"'It isn't always profit that a man should look for in business. What good does it do him to make a whole lot of money unless he can feel good on the inside? The feel is about all there is in life anyway.
"'Now in future, you go right on as you have in the past, buy your goods from the other fellow. He will not charge you a great deal more for them than I would and your loss will not be very great in that regard; but each time that I come around be sure to take a lot of my time and place an order with me, even if you do cancel it.
"'Don't even trouble yourself about returning the fifteen dollars expense money that was given you, because the pleasure I had with you was worth that much to me alone. I shall square this matter myself with the other boys. No, I won't do that because I'm sure that they feel in this matter just as I do.
"'With very kindest regards, and ever at your service, believe me, Brother Stone, "'Truly yours, "'——————'"
"He wired the house to ship the bill and sent the message paid."
"That was what I call a grafter," said one of the boys.
"Yes, you bet your life," said the wall paper man.
"I myself once cured a man of the cancelling habit. You know there are some merchants over the country who are afflicted with this disease.
"I had heard of a druggist out in Pennsylvania who was noted for placing an order one morning and cancelling it that very night. He had done a trick of this kind on me once and I'd made up my mind that I was going to play even with him. I walked him over to my sample room early in the morning. I had my samples all spread out so that I could handle him quickly. There were a lot of new patterns out that season— flaming reds, greens, cherry colors, blues, ocean greens—all sorts of shades and designs.
"The druggist picked out a cracking good order. He took a copy of it himself in his own book. As we were working the wind turned the sheets of his memo. book and I saw that he had in it a copy of an order in my line to another firm. This he had given only a few days before. Every season this druggist would really buy one big bill of wall paper, but this was his trick: He would look at the line of every man that came along. Sometimes he would place six or eight orders a season. After placing an order he would immediately cancel it. At his leisure he would figure out which order pleased him best and reinstate that one.
"Well, sir, when I finished with him it was close onto luncheon time, but I didn't do anything but go hungry for awhile. I took my notebook, made out his order, as quickly as I could, wired it into the firm (it cost me twelve dollars to do this), and told them to be absolutely sure to put all hands to work on that order and ship it on the four o'clock fast freight that very day. I had to be in town the next day. Soon after breakfast I went into the druggist's store. I caught him back at his desk. I saw him blot the ink on an envelope he had just addressed. About this time a lady came in to get a prescription filled. As the druggist turned his back I quickly lifted the blotter and, seeing that the letter was addressed to my firm, let it cover the envelope again. I knew this was a cancellation letter.
"After the lady had gone out with her medicine, I asked the druggist to show me some hair brushes which were in the case at the other end of the store from the desk. I made up my mind that it was going to take me longer to buy that hairbrush than it did the old man to buy my bill of wall paper. I was getting his time. But I didn't rub my fingers over many bristles before up backed a dray loaded to the guards with the goods from my firm. The drayman came in and handed the druggist the bill of lading.
"'What's this?' said he.
"'I'm treed,' said the drayman. 'They're as heavy as lead.'
"With this the drayman rolled the cases into the druggist's store. Well, sir, he was the cheapest looking fellow you ever saw, but he kept the goods, all right, and this cured him of cancelitis."
CONCERNING CREDIT MEN.
The credit man was the subject of our talk as a crowd of us sat, one Sunday afternoon, in the writing-room of the Palace Hotel at San Francisco. The big green palm in the center of the room cast, from its drooping and fronded branches, shadows upon the red rugs carpeting the stone floor. This was a peaceful scene and wholly unfitting to the subject of our talk.
"I would rather herd sheep in a blizzard," blurted out the clothing man, "than make credits. Yes, I would rather brake on a night way- freight; be a country doctor where the roads are always muddy; a dray horse on a granite-paved street; anything for me before being a credit man! It is the most thankless job a human being can hold. It is like being squeezed up against the dock by a big steamship. If you ship goods and they're not paid for, the house kicks; if you turn down orders sent in, the traveling man raises a howl. None of it for me. No, sir!"
"I have always been fairly lucky," spoke up the hat man. "I've never been with but two houses in my life and I've really never had any trouble with my credit men. They were both reasonable, broad-minded, quick-witted, diplomatic gentlemen. If a man's credit were doubtful in their minds, they would usually ask me about him, or even wire me, sometimes, if an order were in a rush, to tell them what I thought of the situation. And they would always pay attention to what I said."
"Well, you are one in a hundred," spoke out the clothing man. "You ought to shake hands with yourself. You don't know what a hard time I've had with the various men who've made credits on the goods I have sold.
"The credit man, you know, usually grows up from office boy to cashier, and from cashier to bookkeeper, from bookkeeper to assistant credit man and then to credit man himself. Most of them have never been away from the place they were born in, and about all they know is what they have learned behind the bars of their office windows. You couldn't, for all sorts of money, hire a man who has been on the road, to be a credit man. He can get his money lots easier as a salesman; he has a much better chance for promotion, too. Still, if the salesman could be induced to become a credit man, he would make the best one possible, because he would understand that the salesman himself can get closer to his customer than any one else and can find out things from him that his customer would not tell to any one else and, having been on the road himself, he would know that really about the only reliable source of information concerning a merchant is the salesman himself.
"When a merchant has confidence enough in a man to buy goods from him —and he will not buy goods from him unless he has that confidence—he will tell him all about his private affairs. He will tell him how much business he is doing, how much profit he is making, how much he owes, what are his future prospects, and everything of that kind. The credit man who was once a salesman would also know that these commercial agency books—the bibles of the average credit man—don't amount to a rap. For my own part, I wish old Satan had every commercial agency book on earth to chuck into the furnace, when he goes below, to roast the reporters for the agencies. A lot of them will go there because a lot of reports are simply outright slander. Commercial agencies break many a good merchant. The heads of the agencies aim to give faithful reports, but they haven't the means.
"Now, just for example, let me tell you what they did to a man who did one of my customers when he first started in business. This man had been a clerk for several years in a clothing store over in Wyoming. He was one of the kind that didn't spend his money feeding slot machines, but saved up $3,500 in cold, hard cash. This was enough for him to start a little clothing shack of his own.
"Now, Herbert was a straight, steady boy. I recommended him to my house for credit. He didn't owe a dollar on earth. He bought about five thousand dollars' worth of goods and was able to discount his bills, right from the jump. Now, what do you suppose one of the commercial agencies said about him? Mind you, he had for four or five years run his uncle's store. The uncle was sick and left things really in the hands of Herbert. The agency said he was worth not over five hundred dollars and that he was no good for credit.
"I, of course, learned of this through our office and I told Herbert all about it and insisted that he ought to get that thing straightened out. He said, when I spoke to him of it, 'Why, I did fill out the blanks that they sent in to me—told them the straight of it, exactly what I had, $3,500, and they surely reported it as I gave it to them.' 'No, they haven't done any such thing, Herbert, because I looked into the matter myself when I was last in your office.'
"Well, Herbert had no trouble in getting goods from the houses whose salesmen he knew real well, but he had to suffer the inconvenience of having a great many orders turned down that he placed—either that or else he was written that he would have to pay cash in advance before shipping. It caused him a whole lot of worry. The boy—well, he wasn't such a boy after all, he was nearly thirty years old and strictly capable—was worried about all this, and I saw it. I told him, 'Look here, Herbert, you must get this thing straightened up. You write the agencies again and tell them just how you stand and that you want them to give you the proper sort of a report.'
"It wasn't a great while before the representative of this agency came around. Herbert went at him hammer and tongs for not doing him justice—then what do you think that fellow did? Nothing!
"In spite of all this Herbert paid up all his bills all right and soon established his credit by being able to give references to first-class firms who stated that he paid them promptly. So, he became independent of the agencies altogether and when they asked him for any statement after that, he told them, 'Go to ——.' Now, of course, this wasn't the thing for him to do.
"A merchant should see that the commercial agencies give him a good report because, if he doesn't, he is simply cutting off his nose to spite his face. If he ever starts to open a new account with some house, the first thing the credit man of that concern will do, when he gets his order, will be to turn to his 'bibles' and see how the man is rated. These commercial agencies are going to say something about a man. That's the way they make their living. If they don't say something good, they will say something indifferent or positively bad. So, what's the merchant to do but truckle to them and take chances on their telling the truth about him?"
"Yes, you're right," chimed in the drygoods man, "but even then, try as hard as he will, the merchant can't get justice, sometimes. One of my customers, who is one of the most systematic business men I know of, for years and years had no report. Half the goods he bought was turned down simply because the agent in his town for the commercial agency was a shyster lawyer who had it in for him. And he had all he could do to retain his credit. Just to show you how good the man was in the opinion of those with whom he did business, let me say that right after he had had a big fire and had suffered a big loss, one firm wired him: 'Your credit is good with us for any amount. Buy what you will, pay when you can.'
"Well, sir, this man was mad as fire at the agencies, and for years and years he would have absolutely nothing to do with them, but I finally told him: 'Look here, Dick; now this thing is all right but there's no use fighting those fellows. Why don't you get what's coming to you?' And I talked him into the idea of getting out after a right rating, and told him how to go about it.
"One day, in another town where he had started a branch store, he met one of the representatives of the agency that had done him dirt, and said to him: 'Now, Mr. Man, I sometimes have occasion to know how various firms that I do business with over the country stand, and if it doesn't cost too much to have your book, I'd like to subscribe.' 'Well, that won't cost you a great deal,' said the agent. My friend subscribed for the agency book, and in the next issue he was reported as being worth from ten to twenty thousand dollars. Another agency soon chimed in and had him listed as worth from five to ten thousand and with third-grade credit. Now, one or the other of these wrong—and the truth of the matter is that both of them had slandered him for years; he hadn't made ten to twenty thousand dollars in ninety days. And just to show you how much good that rating did my friend, he soon began to receive circulars and catalogues galore from houses which, before that time, had turned him down."
"The worst feature of turning down an order," said the drygoods man, "is that when you have an order turned down you also have a customer turned away. I was waiting on a man in the house. He was from out West. He was about half through buying his bill. The account was worth over twelve thousand a year to me. He thought so much of my firm that he had his letters sent in my care and made our store his headquarters while in the city. One morning when he came in to get his mail I saw him open one of his letters and, as he read it, a peculiar expression came over his face. When he had read his mail I asked him if he was ready to finish up. He said to me, 'No, Harry, I want to go over and see your credit man.'
"I went with him. One of the old man's sons, who had just come back from college, had taken charge of the western credits. The old man would have been a great deal better off if he'd pensioned the kid and put one of the packers in the office, instead. My customer went up to the credit boy and said to him: 'Now, Mr. ——, I've just received a letter from home stating that you've drawn on me for three hundred and eighty-five dollars. What explanation have you to make of this, sir? I have always, heretofore, discounted every bill that I have bought from this establishment, and this bill for which you have drawn on me is not yet due.'
"'I'll look the matter up,' said the young credit man. He looked over his books a few minutes and then tried to make some sort of an explanation in a half-haughty kind of a way. My customer interrupted him right in the midst of his explanation and said, 'Well, you needn't say anything more about this, sir. Just see what I owe you.'
"This was looked up and my customer right then and there wrote his check for what he owed and said to me:
"'Old man, I'm mighty sorry to have to do this, but I cannot interpret this gentleman's conduct (pointing to the credit man) to mean anything but that my credit is no longer good here. I shall see if there is not some one else in the city who will trust me as I thought that this firm was willing to trust me. This thing hurts me!'
"I couldn't explain matters in any way, and my customer—and my friend!—walked out of the store and has never been back since. That piece of Tom foolery on the part of our snob of a credit man lost the house and me an account worth over twelve thousand dollars a year."
"That fellow," broke in the clothing man, "should have got the same dose that was once given a credit man in the house I used to work for. He had been turning down order after order on good people, for all of us boys. When we came home from our fall trip we were so dissatisfied that we got together and swore that we would not sign a contract with the house unless the credit man they had was fired. We all signed a written agreement to this effect. Also, we agreed, upon our honor, that if one of us was fired for taking the stand, we would all go.
"Now, you know, boys, it is the salesmen that make the house. The house may have a line of goods that is strictly it, but unless they have good salesmen on the road they might as well shut up shop. A salesman, of course, gets along a great deal better with a good line than he does with a poor one, but a wholesale house without a line of first-class representatives cannot possibly succeed. And the house knows this, you bet.
"Well, sir, I was the first salesman the old man struck to make a contract with for the next year. I, had been doing first rate, making a good salary and everything of that kind, and when the old man called me into the sweat-box, he said to me:
"'Well, I suppose we haven't very much to talk over. What you have done has been satisfactory to us, and I hope we've been satisfactory to you. If it suits you we will just continue your old contract.'
"'There will have to be one condition to it,' said I to the old man. 'Well, what's that?' 'I simply will not work for this establishment if the fool credit man that you have here is to continue. He has taken hundreds of dollars out of my pocket this year by turning down orders on good people who are worthy of credit. Now, it doesn't make any difference as to his salary if he turns down good people; in fact, if he is in doubt about any man at all, or even the least bit skittish, what does he do but turn him down? This is nothing out of his jeans, but it's taking shoes away from my babies, and I simply won't stand for it.'
"The long and short of it was that I didn't sign with the old man that day but he soon 'caved' after he had talked with a few more of the boys—one of whom told him point blank that we would all quit unless he gave the credit man his walking papers. And, you bet your life, the credit man went and today he is where he ought to be—keeping books at a hundred a month!"
"It is not alone against the credit man who turns down orders that I have a grudge," said the furnishing goods man, "but also against the fellow who monkeys with old customers. If there is anything that makes a customer sour it is to be drawn on by a firm that he has dealt with for a long time. Some of the merchants out in the country, you know, get themselves into the notion of thinking that the house they deal with really loves them. They don't know what a cold-blooded lot our houses really are. What they're all looking for is the coin and they don't care very much for a man when they believe he can't pay his bills. I know I never felt cheaper in my life than I did last trip. I went into an old customer's store and what should I see upon his shelves but another man's goods. I felt as if somebody had hit me between the eyes with a mallet, for he was a man I had nursed for four or five years and brought him up to be a good customer. He had a sort of a racket store when I started with him—groceries, tin pans, eggs, brooms, a bucket of raw oysters, and all that sort of stuff. One day I said to him, 'Why don't you throw out this junk and go more into the clothing and furnishing goods business? Lots cleaner business and pays a great deal more profit. Furthermore, this line of goods is sold on long datings and you can stretch your capital much further than in handling other lines.'
"Well, sir, he talked with me seriously about the matter and from that time on he began to drop out the tin pan and grocery end of his line. When I saw he was doing this, I asked him to let me have the hook in the ceiling from which for so long had swung his bunch of blackening bananas, so I could have a souvenir of his past folly! I had worked him up until his account was strictly a good one.
"In fact, he prospered so well with this store that after a while he had started another one. When he did this he, of course, stretched his capital a little and depended upon his old houses to take care of him. He had always discounted his bills in full, sometimes even anticipating payments and making extra discounts.
"I was tickled to sell him about twice as much as usual, on one of my trips. It was just ninety days after this when I got around again and saw the other fellow's goods in the store. When I looked at the strange labels I felt like some fellow had landed me one on the jaw. You know it hurts to lose a customer, especially if he is one that you have fed on the bottle and thinks a great deal of you personally.
"Well, when I saw the other stuff, all I could do was to march right up and say, 'Well, Fred, the other fellow's been getting in his work, I see. What's the matter? The sooner we get through with the unpleasant part of it, the better.' 'Now, there isn't anything the matter with you, old man,' said my customer. 'Come up here in the office. I want to show you how your house treated me.'
"And there he showed me a letter he had received from the house stating that he must pay up his old account before they would ship him any more goods; and the old bill was one which was dated May 1st, four months, and was not due until September 1st. They wrote him this before the first of June, at which time he was entitled to take off six per cent. He simply sent a check for what he owed them and, to be sure, wrote them to cancel his order. There was a good bill and a loyal customer gone—all on account of the credit man."
"Once in a while, though," said the shoe man, "you strike a fellow that will take a thing of this sort good-naturedly, but they are rare. I once had a customer down in Missouri who got a little behind with the house. The credit man wrote him just about the same sort of a letter that your man received, but my friend, instead of getting mad, wrote back a letter to the house, something like this:
"'Dear House: I've been buying goods from you for a long time. I have paid you as well as I knew how. You know I am pretty green. I started in life pulling the cord over a mule and when I made a little money at this I started a butcher shop. My neighbors who sold other stuff, drygoods and things of that sort, it looked to me didn't have much more sense than I, and they lived in nice houses and had sprinklers and flowers in their yards. So it looked to me like that was a good business to go into. I tried my hand at it and have got on fairly well. Of course, I have been a little slow, you know, being fool enough to think everybody honest and to do a credit business myself.
"'Now I really want to thank you for telling me I must pay up before I can get any more goods. I kind of look on you people as my friends, I have dealt with you so long, and if you are getting a little leery about me, why I don't know what in the world the other fellows that don't care anything about me must be beginning to think. When I got your letter telling me to pay up before you would ship the bill I had bought, I felt like I had run into a stone fence, but this lick over the head has really done me a whole lot of good and I am going to go a little more careful hereafter.
"'Just now I am not able to dig up all that I owe but here is my check for a hundred. Now, I want to keep out of the hole after this so you had better cut down the order I gave your man about a half. After all, the best friend that a man has is himself, and hereafter I am going to try a little harder to look after Number One. "Yours truly, "'_'"
"Another thing that makes it hard for us," said the furnishing man, "is to have the credit man so infernally long in deciding about a shipment, holding off and holding off, brooding and brooding, waiting and waiting, and wondering and wondering whether they shall ship or whether they shall not, and finally getting the notion to send the goods just about the time a man countermands his order. A countermand, you know, is always a pusher and I would advise any merchant who really wants to get goods, to place an order and then immediately countermand it. Whenever he does this the credit man will invariably beg him to take the stuff. Oh, they're a great lot, these credit men.
"I know I once sold a man who, while he was stretching his capital to the limit pretty far, was doing a good business and he wanted some red, white, and blue neckties for Fourth of July trade. I had sold him the bill in the early part of May. About the 2Oth of June, I received a letter from the credit man asking me to write him further information about my man. Well, I gave it to him. I sent him a telegram that read like this: 'Ship this man today by express sure. Heavens alive, he is good. You ought to make credits for a coffin house for a while.'"
"The credit man is usually bullet-headed about allowances for another thing," said the shoe man. His kind will fuss around about making little allowances of a couple of dollars that come out of the house and never stop to think we often spend that much on sundries twice over every day. I had a man a great while ago to whom I had sold a case of shoes that were not at all satisfactory. I could see that they were not when I called upon him and I simply told him right out, 'Look here, Mark, this stuff isn't right. Now, I wish to square it. What will make this right?' 'Oh,' he said, 'I don't think these shoes are worth within two dollars a dozen of what you charged me.' 'No, they're not worth within three dollars,' said I. 'I will just give you a credit bill for three dollars and call it square.' It was nothing more than right because the stuff was bum.
"I came into the house soon after this and, passing the credit memo, into the office, the credit man howled as if I were pulling his jaw tooth. It hurt him to see that little three dollars go on the profit and loss account. 'Well, I won't insist upon it,' said I. 'I will just ask the man to return the goods.' 'All right,' he said.
"When I wrote out to my man, I told him the truth about the matter,— that the house had howled a little because I had made the credit allowance, and to just simply fire the stuff right back, but not to forget to ask that he be credited with the amount of freight which he had already paid on the case of shoes. It was just a small item, but what do you think the credit man said when I showed him my customer's letter, asking for the freight?'
"He said, 'Well, that fellow's mighty small.'"
"I have never had any of these troubles that you boys are talking about," said the hat man.
"Lucky boy! Lucky boy!" spoke up the clothing man in his big, heavy voice.
"Yes, you bet," chimed in the others.
"It's a strange thing to me," chimed in the clothing man, "that credit men do not exercise more common sense. Now, there is one way, and just one way, in which a credit department can be properly conducted. The credit man and the man on the road must work in double harness and pull together. The salesman should know everything that is going on between his house and his customer. And when it comes to the scratch, his judgment is the judgment that should prevail when any matter of credits is to be decided upon. The salesman should have a copy of every letter that his customer writes his house, and he should be sent a duplicate of every line that the house writes to the customer. He should be kept posted as to the amount of shipment the house makes, and he should be notified whenever the customer makes a remittance. This puts the salesman in position to know how much to sell his customer, and also when to mark the new bill he sells for shipment. At the time of making the sale, it is very easy for the man on the road to say to his customer, 'Now look here, friend, as you haven't been quite able to meet your past obligations promptly, suppose that we stand off this shipment for a little while and give you a chance to get out of the hole. I don't want to bend your back with a big load of debt.' For saying this, the customer will thank his salesman; but the house cannot write the letter and say this same thing without making a customer hot.
"And another thing: If a salesman has shown himself strictly square in his recommendations, the salesman's recommendations regarding a shipment should be followed. The salesman is the man—and the one man —who can tell whether his customer is playing ball or attending to business. Now, for example, not a great while ago, I saw a merchant that one big firm in this country thinks is strictly good, playing billiards on the Saturday before Christmas. If there is any time on earth when a retail merchant should be in his store, it is on this day, but here was this man, away from his store and up at the hotel, guzzling high balls and punching ivory. That thing alone would have been enough to queer him with me and if I had been selling him and he was not meeting his bills promptly, I should simply tell the house to cut him off.
"The salesman also knows how much business a man is doing,—whether it is a credit business and all the other significant details. The merchant will take the traveling man that he buys goods from, and throw his books and his heart and everything wide open, and tell him how he stands. Even if he is in a little hole of some kind, it is of the traveling man that he asks advice as to how to get out.
"Again, the traveling man knows all about the trade conditions in his customer's town; whether there has been a good crop and prices high; whether the pay roll is keeping up or not; whether there is some new enterprise going to start that will put on more men and boom things. He knows all about these things, and he is on the spot and has a personal interest in finding out about them, if he is honest, and most salesmen are. It is to his interest to be so. And he can give information to the credit department that nobody else can.
"The report of a salesman to his firm is worth forty times as much as these little printed slips that have been sent in by some ninny, numskull reporter for a commercial agency. These fellows, before they go around soliciting reports from merchants, have usually been lily- fingered office boys who have never been in a place where a man can learn much common sense until they have grown too old to get on to things that have come in their way."
"Yes, you bet," spoke up the furnishing goods man. "They are the fellows who do us boys on the road a whole lot of harm. If the agencies wanted to get men who would know how to secure good, sound reports from merchants, they should hire first-class salesmen and send them out instead of office boys.
"The credit man," he continued, "should do another thing. He should not only send to the salesman the letter he writes, but he should confer with the man on the road before he writes. What he should do, if the references the merchant gives return favorable reports and the salesman recommends the account, he should, without going any further, pass out an order to save himself a whole lot of worry. But it matters not how bad are the reports from any and all sources, the credit man should write the salesman if he is near, or even wire him if he is far away, laying before him the facts and asking for further information and judgment. I once asked our credit man to do this but he kicked because a telegram would cost the house four bits. He hadn't stopped to think that it cost me out of my own pocket from ten to twenty dollars expenses on every order I took. Oh, they are wise, these credit men!
"It is strange, too, that credit men do not average better than they do. If the heads of firms really knew what blunders their credit men make, I believe that two-thirds of them would be fired tomorrow. There isn't any way of getting at their blunders except through the kicking of the traveling man and when he makes a howl, the heads of the house usually dismiss him with, 'You sell the goods and we'll attend to the rest.'
"A really 'broad minded, quick witted, diplomatic, courteous credit man,' as you say, is worth a great deal to a house. They are almost as rare as roses on the desert. Now, just to show you how the credit man and the salesman can pull together, let me give you an example.
"I sold a man a fair bill of goods. I knew he was a straightforward, square, capable man of good character. He was a pusher. I was in a rush and I took from him just a brief statement of his affairs. I wrote the house that I thought well of the man but didn't especially recommend him. You see, if you recommend strongly every man you sell, it is the same as recommending none. So, unless it comes to a hard pinch, I say no more than is necessary. Our credit man got the agency reports on this man, which made him out as no good and having no capital, and a whole lot of things of that sort and he wrote the man refusing to ship the bill. It looked to him that this man's condition was so hopeless that it was unnecessary for him to write me. He simply turned the order down straight out. When I came in and went over my list of turn-downs, I simply broke right out and said to the credit man, 'Here, you've made a bull on this.' 'Do you really think so?' said he. 'Heavens alive, yes! I know it. Why, this fellow made five thousand dollars last year on a saw mill that he has. He is in a booming country. Maybe he had a little bad luck in the past but he is a hustler and sinks deep into the velvet every time he takes a step now.' 'Why, I am awfully sorry. What shall I do about it?' 'Leave it to me,' said I.
"I wrote out to my man and told him the straight of it, that the agencies had done him a great injustice, and for him to write me personally exactly how he stood and that I would see things through for him in the office; that my house meant him no harm; that he was a stranger to them, but upon my recommendation, if his statement were anything like what I thought it should be, they would fill the order. At the same time, I suggested that the bill be cut about half for the first shipment.
"Well, sir, that man sent me in his statement showing that he not only had merchandise for which he owed very little, but also over four hundred dollars in the bank. I remember the amount. His statement showed that he had a net worth of nearly eleven thousand dollars,—and that man told the truth. Now, this information he would give me direct, but the house was not able to obtain it elsewhere.
"Now, this is a case, you know, where there is now good feeling all around and this is so just because the credit man paid attention to the salesman."
The outer door of the hotel was opened. In blew a gust of wind. The green leaves of the big palm rustled noisily as we scattered to our rooms, thankful we were not credit men.
WINNING THE CUSTOMER'S GOOD WILL.
To win the customer's good will is the aim of every successful salesman.
"Ah, but how can I do this?" asks the new man.
The ways must be as many as the men he meets. The dispositions of men are as varied as their looks. A kind word will win one man and a bluff another. A generous deed will go right into the heart of one merchant; another will resent it, thinking that the man who does him a favor seeks only to buy his good will. The one thing, however, that the man on the road must do, and always do, is to gain the confidence of the man with whom he seeks to do business. His favor will as surely follow this as day follows night. The night may sometimes be long, like that at the North Pole, but when day does finally dawn it will also be of long duration. The man whose confidence it is slow for you to gain, will probably prove to be the man whose faith in you will last the longest.
Then, the salesman must not only have the knack of getting the good will of his customer on first sight, but he must also possess patience and, if need be, let confidence in himself be a slow growth. He must do business from the jump when he starts out with samples but, to be truly successful, his business must always grow.
A little group of us, having come back from our trips, fell in together one day at luncheon in Chicago. Our meeting was not planned at all, but before the first of us had forgotten the sting of the tabasco on our Blue Points, so many old friends had foregathered that we had our waiters slide two tables together. There was quite a bunch of us. The last one to join the party was a dry goods man. He was a jolly good fellow.
"Hello! Ed, Hello!" spoke up all the boys at once. "How are you? Just home? Sorry to hear your old customer out at Columbus finally had to quit business," said the clothing man.
"Yes; so am I," said Ed. "He was a mighty hard man for me to get started with but when once I landed him he was one of the most faithful customers I had. Do you know that for more than eight years he never bought a sou in my line from any other man? It's too bad that he had to leave this world. He was a fine old gentleman. I'll never forget, though, the first time I sold him. I had been calling on him for three or four years. His town was one of the first ones I made when I started on the road—I was not quite twenty, then.
"He always treated me courteously—he was a Southerner, you know—but I couldn't get next to him to save my life. One day as I walked toward his store, a little German band stationed itself just before his door and started in to play Yankee Doodle. I didn't pay any attention to this at the time, but when I went up to shake hands with the old gentleman, as usual, I asked him if there was something in my line he wanted. For the first time in his life he was uncivil toward me. He said, 'No, suh, there is not,' and he turned and walked away. Well, there was nothing left for me to do but to scoot as soon as I could.
"I made a sneak and went into another store but soon I saw there was nothing there for me and I thought I would run over to the hotel, get my traps together and skip town by the next train. I had to pass by the old man's door again. The little German band was still there. They had quit playing Yankee Doodle but were going it good and hard on 'Marching Through Georgia.' I happened to look into the old man's store and he was pacing up and down behind the counter. A bright idea struck me. I went up to the leader of the band and said, 'Look here, Fritz, can you play Dixie?'
"'Deekse?' said the big, fat Bavarian. 'Vas iss dass?'
"I didn't know much German but I whistled the air and made him understand what I wanted.
"Ja wohl,' said he.
"'Then, here,' said I, handing him a cart wheel, 'just you stay right here and give me a dollar's worth of Dixie,—a whole dollar's worth, mind you!'
"Well, he must have understood me all right, for the band promptly began to play Dixie. I didn't know that the old gentleman had seen me talking to the band leader, but he had come to the front door to order the band to move on shortly after I came up.
"I simply stood there, leaning against the store in the sunshine, while the German band blowed away. Well, sir, the fellow that played the clarionet—when he got down to the lively part of the tune— certainly did make that little instrument sing. They didn't know what Dixie meant but they played it to a fare-ye-well, just the same!
"After a while the old man came to the front door. He saw me standing there in the sunshine. There was a smile on his face as broad as Lake Michigan. Joy spread over his countenance in waves. When he saw me leaning up against the store, he came right out where I was and said, 'Look hyah, suh; I was pow'ful uncivil to you this mo'nin', suh. I want to beg yo' pa'don. No gentleman has a right to insult another, but I was so infernally mad this mo'nin' when you spoke to me, suh, that I couldn't be civil. That confounded Yankee tune just riled me. You know, I was an old confed'rate soldier, suh. The wah is all ovah now and I'm really glad the niggers are free. The country's lots bettah off as it is now. Since I've been up hyah in this country I've begun to think that Abe Lincoln was a good man and a fair man, and a friend to the nation; but, confound it! ever' time I hyah 'Yankee Doodle' or 'Marchin' Through Georgia,' suh, I put on mah unifohm again and want to fight. It's pow'ful ha'd fo' a man that has woh the gray, suh, to forget the coloh of his old clothes, try as ha'd as he will. I want to be broad-minded, but, confound it! it seems that I cyan't, suh.'
"'Well, you are ahead of me just one generation,' said I. 'I was born in the North and raised up here but my father was a Southern soldier.'
"'What!' said the old man. 'Why didn't yo' tell me this befoh, suh? Hyah, I've been treatin' yo' like a dog, suh, all this time. And your father was a confed'rate soldier, suh?'
"'Yes, sir,' said I. 'He was under Jackson.'
"'What! Stomal Jackson? Why, suh, a greater man than Stomal Jackson nevah lived, suh. He was a gentleman clean to the co'. Come right in, suh, and sit down. I want to talk to yo' some mo'.
"'Now, you are goin' to pa'don me, suh, fo' my rudeness this mo'nin'. I want you to say that you will.'
"'Why, to be sure, Colonel,' said I. 'I certainly wouldn't blame you for the same feeling that I know my father had as long as he lived.'
"The little Bavarian band, according to my instructions, kept on playing Dixie so long that the fellow who blew the clarionet began to skip notes and puff. I went out and told them that that was enough of that tune and switched them onto S'wanee River. To the tune of this old air, the Colonel marched me up to his house for dinner.
"We didn't say a word about business, of course, until after we had returned to the store. When we came back there, the old Colonel said to me, 'Now, look hyah,—let me get yo' first name.'
"'Ed,' said I.
"'Well, yo'll have to let me call yo' "Ed." Yo're lots younger'n I am. I can't do any business with yo' this trip. I have my promise out. I told the man that I've been buyin' dry goods from that I'd give him my o'der fo' this fall but I don't think as much of him as I do of you, and hyeahaftah I am going to give you my business. I know that yo'll see that yo' house treats me right and I would ratheh deal with a man anyway that I have confidence in, suh. Now, you needn't hurry, Ed, about gettin' around hyah next season, suh, because, sho's yo' bawn, upon the wo'd of a Southern gentleman, suh, yo' shall have my business.'"
"You sold him next time?" asked one of the boys.
"You bet your life I did," said Ed. "That man's word was good."
"He was a splendid old gentleman," spoke up another one of the boys.
"Yes," said the clothing man, "I haven't been there for four or five years. He used to have a lovely little girl that sometimes came down to the store with him."
"Well," broke in Ed, "I'm glad that somebody besides myself has a good opinion of her for she is to be my wife next month."
"Well, good luck to you and lots of happiness," chimed in all the boys.
"When once you get the good will of one of those southerners," remarked the wallpaper man, "you have it for all time. I don't wish to wave the bloody shirt—I am a northerner, myself—but these northern houses somehow don't know how to handle the southern trade. I travel down in Louisiana and Mississippi, and I really dodge every time that one of my customers tells me he is going into the house. Once I started a customer down in the Bayou country. I was getting along well with him and he was giving me a share of his business. One season, however, he came into the house. I didn't know anything about this until I was down there on my next trip. I went to see him, as usual, expecting at least to get a fair order, but when I asked him to come over to my sample room he said, 'Now, Jack, I'd really like to go oveh and do some business but I've already bought my goods. I was in to see yo' house and when I asked the young man at the do'h to see the membahs of yo' firm, he went away fo' a minute or two and when he came back, he said, without bein' at all polite about it, "They're busy." I didn't say anything mo'h to the young man but I turned on my heel and went out the do'h. It made me so mad that I do believe the spahks flew right out of me. I made up my mind I wouldn't have anythin' mo'h to do with such people and that I would buy mah wall papah in New Yo'k when I got down theah. Now, I'm mighty sorry about this, Jack, but I really cyan't pat'onize a conce'n that treated me wuss'n a niggeh.'
"I tried to explain that the members of my firm were very busy, and that they would have been only too glad to see him had they known who he was, but I couldn't do anything with the old gentleman because, he said, that he didn't wish to deal with people that would treat anybody that way. He said he thought every man should at least receive gentlemanly treatment."
"And you bet he's right about that," spoke up one of the boys.
"Yes, he was," said Jack. "Still it was hard for me to let go. I of course didn't say anything more about business to him but there wasn't much going on that day, although it was Saturday, and we visited quite a while. You know they always have chairs in the back end of stores down south and a customer who comes in to buy something is always asked to have a seat before anything is said about business. It's a good, old sociable way and although it's a little slow, I like it. Traveling is pleasant in the south, whether a man does business or not, because he always receives courteous treatment.
"As we were talking along I asked the old gentleman where his little girl was that I had seen around the store on previous trips.
"'Well, Jack,' said he, 'I'm pow'ful sorry to tell you but I'm afraid she's a cripple for life. A hoss threw her and stepped on her leg an' broke it ve'y badly neah the knee. She has her knee now in a plaster Paris cast but I'm afraid she'll be lame as long as she lives.'
"Well, sir, she was a pretty, sweet little girl, and when her father told me about her misfortune I was very sorry for him. He couldn't keep from crying when he told me about it. I couldn't say much but I felt mighty sorry. It isn't so bad for a boy to be crippled but if there's anything that goes through me it is to see a beautiful little girl walking along on crutches.
"I told the old gentleman goodbye and started down to the hotel. A block or two away I saw a flower store. I said to myself, 'Well, my firm has treated my friend wrong but that's no reason why I should have anything against him. I don't blame him a bit. I'm just going to send a bouquet up to the little girl anyhow.'
"So over at the flower store I passed out a five dollar bill and wrote on the card that I sent with the Marechal Niel roses, 'From a friend of your father's.' "Now, I didn't have business in my eye, boys, when I did this. It was right from the heart. I was going to Sunday in that town anyway and get out on a train early Monday morning. There was a tough hotel in the next town I was to strike.
"That night, while I was at supper, the clerk came into the dining room and told me that somebody wanted to talk to me over the telephone. It was the little girl's father. He said to me, 'Jack, I want to thank you very much for those flowers that you sent up to Mary. She's proud of them and sends you a kiss; and I want to tell you that I'm proud of this, Jack,—but just to thank you oveh the wyah isn't enough. I wanted to find out if you were at the hotel. I want to come down and shake yo' hand. Are yo' going' to be hyah tomorrow?' I told him I was going to Sunday there. 'Well,' said the old gentleman, 'I will see you tomorrow mo'nin'. I'll come down befo' I go to chu'ch.'
"When he came down the next morning I was up in my room where my samples were. If I could have sold him a hundred thousand dollars I wouldn't have asked him to look at anything, but I did ask him to have a chair and smoke a cigar with me. My samples were in the room where he couldn't keep from seeing them and after he had thanked me again and again and told me how much he appreciated my kindness, he fingered over a line of goods of his own accord, asking me the prices on them.
"I said to him, 'Now, look here, you probably don't wish to price any goods today, as you are going to church. These are worth so much and so much, but if you wish to forgive and forget the discourtesy my house has shown you,—their line of goods is first-class; there's none better in the country; nothing can be said on that score against them,—I'll stay over tomorrow and show you.'
"'No, I won't have you do that,' said my friend—he was my friend then—'Time is money to a man on the road. If I was going to do any business with yo' I ought to have done it yesterday. I have spoiled a day fo' you an' I don't believe the Lord will hold anything against me if I do business with you today. You know he makes allo'ances when the ox gets in the mire, so get out yo' book, if you will, suh,—an' I will give you an ohdeh.'
"Before I was through with him my bill amounted to over six thousand dollars, the biggest order I ever took in my life,—and do you know, we finished it in time for both of us to get up to church just as the preacher was reading his text, and, singularly enough, the text of the sermon that day was, 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.' I half believe my friend had arranged this sermon with the minister."
"Even if I have lost the twang in my voice," spoke up the southerner, a furnishing goods man.
"Oh, come off!"
"Lost it?" said the clothing man.
"Yes, I reckon I have. I've been up no'th long enough. Well, people down in my country are warm hearted and courteous, but all the goodness in the world doesn't dwell with them. I've found some pow'ful good people up no'th. Raisin' has something to do with a man, but that isn't all. We find good men whereveh we go, if we look fo' them right. Your tellin' about sendin' flowe's to that little girl reminds me of the time when I once sent some flowe's, but instead of sending them to a girl, I sent them to a big crusty old man. This man was, to a great extent, an exception to the rule that I have just laid down. That is, he was cranky and ha'd to get next to for nearly ever'body, and sometimes he was pretty rough with me. But I handled him fairly well and always got business out of him, although sometimes I had to use a little jiu jitsu to do it.
"Several seasons ago—haven't you heard this story, boys?—I was on my way up to his town, Deadwood. While I was down at Broken Bow, I got a telegram from the house which read, "Sam Shoup dead"—that was one line—and on the next line the message read: "Wood wants goods."
"I thought this was rather funny when I got hold of the message for I hadn't sold this man Wood for several seasons. He had been a little slow and the house had drawn on him, and I lost him. But I thought maybe things were all patched up again and so I hur'ied on up into the Hills and over to Hot Springs to see Wood. He handled lots of goods and I wanted to get there before somebody else nipped him. Besides, I could double back and catch Chadron and those towns along there on my return.
"I was ve'y sor'y to heah that my friend Sam had croaked. You know, after a man has turned up his toes you can see a whole lot of good points about him that always escaped yo' notice befo'; so at Broken Bow I wiahed the flo'ist up in Deadwood to send ten dollars worth of roses with my card on over to Mrs. Shoup, that I would see him in a few days and pay him fo' them. I also sent a telegram to the widow, extending my heartfelt sympathy.
"Well, sir, when I got into the Springs I had my trunk brought right up, opened my samples, befo' I went over to see my friend Wood. When I went into his sto' he said to me, 'Well, Mark, what are you doing here?' 'What am I doing heah,' said I, 'Why, the house telegraphed me you wanted some goods.' 'Why, I wouldn't buy any goods from yo' house if I were a millionaire and could get them for ten cents on the dollar. They turned me down once good and ha'd and that's enough fo' me. Where's the telegram? I think you're stringin' me.'
"'No; nothing of the kind,' said I, and I handed him the telegram. Laugh? I never heard a fellow laugh like he did in my life.
"'Why, can't you read?'
"'Sure! This telegram reads: "Sam Shoup dead. Wood wants goods."'
"'No,' said Wood. 'That telegram says that Sam Shoup, Deadwood, wants goods. That hasn't anything to do with me.' And do you know, boys, that's the first time that I could understan' that telegram?
"It was such a good joke, howeveh, that I did jolly Wood into giving me an o'deh. From the Springs I went right up to Deadwood. When I met Sam in his sto' he said to me, 'Vell, Mark, vat are you senting my vife vlowers for, and vat are you extenting your heartfelt sympat'y aboud?'
"I showed Sam the telegram.
"'Vell, vell, vell. I nefer had a ting to happen like dot in my life,' said he. 'Now, I know you are my frient. If you had send dose vlowers while you knew I vas alife, I would have t'ought you done it to sell me a bill but you send 'em ven you t'ought I vas deat. Ged op your stuff, Mark, you bet your life I haf a bill for you. I will make it dobble vat I t'ought I vould. You are de only man dat has proved he vas my frient.'"
"Did I ever tell you how I got on the south side of Ed Marks?" said Sam Wood. We had nearly all heard this story before, but still it was a pleasure to get Wood started, so we all urged him to proceed.
"Well, it came about this way," said Sam, squaring himself in his chair, as we lit our cigars. "It was in the old flush days, you know, Goodness! How I wish we had some more mining camps now like Ed's old town. Business was business in those days—to sell a man ten thousand in clothing was nothing! Why, I've sold Ed as much as twenty-five thousand dollars in one season. His account alone, one year, would have supported me. I know one time he came into our store and I took him upstairs and sold him the whole side of the house—overcoats that stacked up clear to the ceiling, and he bought them quick as a flash. He just looked at them. He said, 'How much for the lot?' I gave him a price, and before I could snap my finger he said, 'All right, ship them out. Send about a fourth by express and the others right away by freight.'"
"Yes, but how did you start him, Sam?"
"Oh, I'm just going to get to that now. I was something of a kid when I started out west. I've always been a plunger, you know. Of course I've cut out fingering chips for a long time now, but there was no stake too high for me in those days. It cost a whole lot of money to travel out west when I first struck that country. It was before the time when clothing houses sent out swatches in one trunk. They weren't such close propositions then as now. They're trying to put this clothing business now on a dry goods basis.
"Well, I carried fourteen trunks and five hundred wouldn't last me more than two weeks. I just cashed a draft before I struck Ed's town. I had heard that he was a hard man to handle and I didn't know just exactly how to get at him, but luck was with me.
"The night I got into town, I went into the den out from the office. You know that in those days the hotels would board suckers for nothing if they would only play their money. I knew Ed by sight and I saw him standing by the faro table. 'Ah, here's my chance,' said I. I pulled out my roll and asked the dealer to give me two hundred in chips. I played him twenty on a turn and then said to the dealer, 'What's your limit?' The roof's off,' said he. 'All right, 250 on the bullet,' said I, sliding over. '250 goes,' said he. I lost. I repeated the bet. I lost again. By this time they began to crowd around the table. I didn't see Ed then at all, you know, except out of the corner of my eye. I could see that he was getting interested and I saw him put his hand down in his pocket. I lost another 250. Three straight bets of 250 to the bad, but I thought I might just as well be game as not and lose it all at one turn as well as any other way, if I had to lose. All I was playing for was to get an acquaintance with Ed anyhow and that was easily worth 500 to me if I could ever get him into my sample room, and I knew it. Gee! Those were great old times then.
"Well, I planked up the fourth 250, and won. Then I let the whole 500 lay and—"
"You are pipe dreaming, Wood," spoke up one of the boys.
"Jim, I can prove this by you. You've seen worse things than this, haven't you?"
"Bet your life, Wood," and Jim whispered to one of the boys, 'Wood can prove anything by me.'
"I let the 500 lay on a copper and I won. From that time on I made no bet for less than half a thousand. At one time I had the dealer pretty close to the bank but I didn't quite put him ashore.
"Well, to make a long story short, when I quit I was just a thousand to the good. Next day was Sunday. There was a picnic out a mile from town. I said:
"'Well, gentlemen, I've done my best to relieve my friend here of all he has, but I can't do it. I am a little to the good and I want you all to go as my guests tomorrow to the picnic. In on this?' said I, and Ed, among others, nodded.
"I didn't tell him who I was and I didn't ask him who he was. I took it for granted if he said he would go along, he would. Next day a whole van load of us went out to the picnic. We had a bully good time. When we got into the wagon I introduced myself to all the gentlemen, not telling them what my business was. When Ed told me his name, he said, 'I'm a resident of this town in the clothing business. Where are you from?' I said, 'I'm from Chicago and I'm in the clothing business, too, but don't let's talk business. We're out for pleasure today.' 'Well, that suits me,' said Ed, but when we got back to town that night I dropped the rest of the bunch and asked him in to supper with me. Nothing too good for him, you know. And while he was under the spell I took him into my sample room that night. You ought to have seen the order that fellow gave me. It struck the house so hard when I sent it in to them that they wired me congratulations."
"Are you still selling your friend Rubovitz, Johnnie?" asked our friend, who had just told us his story, of one of his competitors.
"Sure," said Johnnie, "and the boy, too. Yes, why shouldn't I?"
"Well, I guess you should," said Wood.
"Yes! when I was in the old man's store on this last trip, I felt really sorry for a first-tripper who struck him to look at his clothing. That fellow hung on and hung on. I was sitting back at the desk and he must have thought I was one of the partners because I was the first man he braced and I referred him to the old gentleman."
"Well, wasn't that sort of a dangerous thing for you to do?" asked one of the boys.
"Not on your life. You don't know why it is I have the old man so solid. I've got the hooks on him good and hard, you know."
"Well, how's that?"
"Oh, it came about this way," said he. "When I was down in Kansas City a few years ago, when I had finished selling Ruby,—as I always called him, you know—(he came in from out in the country to meet me this time) I asked him how my little sweetheart was getting on. She, you know, was his little daughter Leah. She was just as sweet as she could be,—great big brown eyes and rich russet cheeks, black curls, bright as a new dollar and sharp as a needle.
"'O, she iss a big goil now,' said my friend Ruby. 'Say,' said he, 'who vass dot yong feller in the room here a few minutes ago?' He referred to a young friend of mine who had chanced to drop in. 'De reeson I ask iss I am huntin' for a goot, reliable, hart-workin' Yehuda (Jewish) boy for her. I vant her to get married pretty soon now. She iss a nice goil, too.'
"'How about a goy (Gentile), Ruby?' said I.
"'No, that vont vork. Kein yiddishes Madchen fur einen Goy und keine Shickse fur einen yiddishen Jungen.' (No Hebrew girl for a Gentile boy; no Gentile girl for a Hebrew boy.)
"'All right, Ruby,' said I. He was such a good, jolly old fellow, and while he was a man in years he was a boy in actions,—and Ruby was the only name by which I ever called him. Nothing else would fit. 'All right, Ruby,' said I, 'I believe I just know the boy for Leah.'
"'Veil, you know vat I will do. I don'd care eef he iss a poor boy; dot is all ride. I haf money and eef I ged the ride boy for my goil, I vill set him op in peezness. Dot's somet'ing for you to vork for— annodder cost'mer,' said he—the instinct would crop out.
"Well, sir, I've got to make this story short," said Johnny, pulling out his watch. "I found the boy. He was a good, clean-cut young fellow, too, and you know the rest."
"You bet your life I do," said Sam. "Two solid customers that buy every dollar from you."
"And," continued Johnny, "Leah and Abie are as happy as two birds in a nest. I don't know but these marriages arranged by the old folks turn out as well as the others anyhow."
"It's not alone by doing a good turn to your customer that you gain his good will," said the hat man. "Not always through some personal favor, but with all merchants you win by being straight with them. This is the one thing that will always get good will. Now, in my line, for example, new styles are constantly cropping out and a merchant must depend upon his hat man to start him right on new blocks. A man in my business can load a customer with a lot of worthless plunder so that his stock will not be worth twenty-five cents on the dollar in a season or two. On the other hand, he can, if he will, select the new styles and keep him from buying too many of them, thereby keeping his stock clean.
"Yes, and this same thing can be done in all lines," spoke up two or three of the boys.
"Yes, you bet," continued the hat man, "and when you get a man's good will through the square deal you have him firmer than if you get his confidence in any other way."
"Sure! Sure!" said the boys, as we dropped our napkins and made for our hats.
Salesmen are told many things they should do; perhaps they ought to hear a few things they should not do. If there is one thing above all others that a salesman should observe, it is this:
The surly salesman who goes around carrying with him a big chunk of London fog does himself harm. If the sun does not wish to shine upon him—if he is having a little run of hard luck—he should turn on himself, even with the greatest effort, a little limelight. He should carry a small sunshine generator in his pocket always. The salesman who approaches his customer with a frown or a blank look upon his face, is doomed right at the start to do no business. His countenance should be as bright as a new tin pan.
The feeling of good cheer that the salesman has will make his customer cheerful; and unless a customer is feeling good, he will do little, if any, business with you.
I do not mean by this that the salesman should have on hand a full stock of cheap jokes—and pray, my good friend, never a single smutty one; nothing cheapens a man so much as to tell one of these—but he should carry a line of good cheerful wholesome talk. "How are you feeling?" a customer may ask. "Had a bad cold last night, but feel chipper as a robin this morning." "How's business?" a customer may inquire. "The, world is kind to me," should be the reply. The merchant who makes a big success is the cheerful man; the salesman who—whether on the road or behind the counter—succeeds, carries with him a long stock of sunshine.
An old-time clothing man who traveled in Colorado once told me this incident:
"I used to have a customer, several years ago, over in Leadville," said he, "that I had to warm up every time I called around. His family cost him a great deal of money. The old man gave it to them cheerfully, but he himself would take only a roll and a cup of coffee for breakfast, and, when he got down to the store he felt so poor that he would take a chew of tobacco and make it last him for the rest of the day. Actually, that man didn't eat enough. And his clothes—well, he would dress his daughters in silks but he would wear a hand-me-down until the warp on the under side of his sleeves would wear clear down to the woof. He would wear the bottoms off his trousers until the tailor tucked them under clear to his shoe tops. Smile? I never saw the old man smile in my life when I first met him on my trips. It would always take me nearly a whole day to get him thawed out, and the least thing would make him freeze up again.
"I remember one time I went to see him—you recall him, old man Samuels—and, after a great deal of coaxing, got him to come into my sample room in the afternoon. This was a hard thing to do because if he was busy in the store he would not leave and if he wasn't busy, he would say to me, 'Vat's de use of buying, Maircus? You see, I doan sell nodding.'
"But this time I got the old man over to luncheon with me—we were old friends, you know—and I jollied him up until he was in a good humor. Then I took him into the sample room, and little by little, he laid out a line of goods. Just about the time he had finished it, it grew a little cloudy.
"Now, you know how the sun shines in Colorado? From one side of the state to the other it seldom gets behind a cloud. In short, it shines there 360 days in the year. It had been bright and clear all morning and all the time, in fact, until the old man had laid out his line of goods. Then he happened to look out of the window, and what do you suppose he said to me?
"'Vell, Maircus, I like you and I like your goots, but, ach Himmel! der clooty vetter!' And, do you know, I couldn't get the old man to do any business with me because he thought the sun was never going to shine again? I cannot understand just how he argued it with himself, but he was deaf to all of my coaxing. Finally I said to him:
"'Sam, you are kicking about the cloudy weather but I will make you a present of a box of cigars if the sun does not shine before we write down this order.'
"The old man was something of a gambler,—in fact the one pleasure of his life was to play penochle for two bits a corner after he closed up. So he said to me, 'Vell, Maircus, you can wride down der orter, and eef dot sun shines before we get t'rough, you can sheep der goots.'
"This was the first time that I ever played a game against the Powers That Be. I started in and the sky grew darker and darker. I monkeyed along for an hour and a half, and, just to kill time, tried to switch the old man from patterns he had selected to others that I 'thought would be a little better.' But the Powers were against me, and when I finished writing down the order it was cloudier than ever—and nearly night, too.
"Then an idea struck me. 'Now, Sam,' said I, 'I've had a cinch on you all the time. You told me you were going to take this bill if the sun was shining when we got through writing down this order. Don't you know, Sam,' said I, laughing at him, 'the sun does shine and must shine every day. Sometimes a little cloud comes between it and the earth but that, you know, will soon pass away, and, cloud or no cloud, the sun shines just the same.'
"'Vell, Maircus,' said the old man, 'I cannod see any sunshine out der vindow, but dere's so much off id in your face dot you can sheep dot bill.' 'Well, Sam,' said I, 'if that's the case, I guess I will buy you that box of cigars.'"
Another thing: Don't beef!
There is a slight difference between the "grouch" and the "beef." The man may be grouchy without assuming to give a reason therefor, but when he "beefs" he usually thinks there is cause for it. I knew a man who once lost a good customer just because he beefed when a man to whom he had sold a bill of goods countermanded the order. The merchant was stretching his capital in his business to the limit. Things grew a little dull with him and he figured it out, after he had placed all of his orders, that he had bought too many goods. He used the hatchet a little all the way around. I had some of my own order cut off, but instead of kicking about it, I wrote him that he could even cut off more if he felt it was to his advantage; that I did not wish to load him up with more than he could use; that when the time came that I knew his business better than he did it would then be time for me to buy him out. But a friend of mine did not take this same turn. Instead, he wrote to the man—and the merchant thought a good deal of him, personally, too—that he had bought the goods in good faith, that expense had been made in selling the bill and that he ought to keep them.
"Well, now, that was the very worst thing he could have done because it went against the customer's grain. He let his countermand stand and since that time he has never bought any more goods from his old friend. He simply marked him off his list because it was very plain to him that the friendship of the past had been for what there was in it."
Don't fail to make a friend of your fellow salesman!
This can never do you any harm and you will find that it will often do you good. The heart of the man on the road should be as broad as the prairie and as free from narrowness as the Egyptian sky is free of clouds. One of my friends once told a group of us, as we traveled together, how an acquaintance he made helped him.
"I got into Dayton, Washington, one summer morning about 4:30," said he. "Another one of the boys—a big, strong, good-natured comrade— until then a stranger to me—and myself were the only ones left at the little depot when the jerk-water train pulled away. It was the first trip to this town for both of us. There was no 'bus at the depot and we did not know just how to get up to the hotel. The morning was fine —such a one as makes a fellow feel good clear down to the ground. The air was sweet with the smell of the dewy grass. The clouds in the east—kind of smeared across the sky—began to redden; they were the color of coral as we picked our way along the narrow plank walk. As we left behind us the bridge, which crossed a beautiful little stream lined with cotton woods and willows, they had turned a bright vermillion. There was not a mortal to be seen besides ourselves. The only sound that interrupted our conversation was the crowing of the roosters. The leaves were still. It was just the right time for the beginning of a friendship between two strangers.
"'Isn't this glorious!' exclaimed my friend.
"'Enchanting!' I answered. I believe I would have made friends with a crippled grizzly bear that morning. But this fellow was a whole-souled prince. We forgot all about business, and the heavy grips that we lugged up to the hotel seemed light. All I remember further was that my friend—for he had now become that to me—and myself went out to hunt up a cup of coffee after we had set down our grips in the hotel office.
"The next time I met that man was at the Pennsylvania Station at Philadelphia, ten years afterward, at midnight. We knew each other on sight.
"'God bless you, old man,' said he. 'Do you know me?'
"'You bet your life I do,' said I. 'We walked together one morning, ten years ago, from the depot at Dayton, Washington, to the hotel.' 'Do you remember that sunrise?' 'Well, do I?' 'What are you doing down here?' 'Oh, just down on business. The truth is, I am going down to New York. My house failed recently and I'm on the look-out for a job.'
"And do you know, boys, that very fellow fixed me up before ten o'clock next morning, with the people that I am with today, and you know whether or not I am getting on."
Don't fall to be friendly with any one who comes in your way.
Another of the boys in the little group that had just listened to this story, after hearing it, said: 'You bet your life it never hurts a fellow to be friendly with anybody. Once, when I was going down from a little Texas town to Galveston, the coach was rather crowded. The only vacant seats in the whole car were where two Assyrian peddler women sat in a double seat with their packs of wares opposite them. But as I came in they very kindly put some of their bundles into the space underneath where the backs of two seats were turned together, thus making room for me. I sat down with them. A gentleman behind me remarked, 'Those people aren't so bad after all.' 'Yes,' I said, 'you will find good in every one if you only know how to get it out.'
"I had a long and interesting talk with that gentleman. He gave me his card and when I saw his name I recognized that he was a noted lecturer."
"Well, what good did that do you?" said one of the boys who was not far-seeing.
"Good? Why that man asked me to come to his home. There I met one of his sons who was an advertising man for a very large firm in Galveston. He, in turn, introduced me to the buyer in his store and put in a good word with him for me. I had never been able to really get the buyer's attention before this time but this led me into a good account. You know, I don't care anything for introductions where I can get at a man without them. I'd rather approach a man myself straight out than to have any one introduce me to him, but there are cases where you really cannot get at a man without some outside influence. This was a case where it did me good."
But, with all this, don't depend upon your old friends!
A salesman's friends feel that when he approaches them he does so because they are his friends, and not because he has goods to sell that have value. They will not take the same interest in his merchandise that they will in that of a stranger. They will give him, it is true, complimentary orders, charity-bird bills, but these are not the kind that count. Every old man on the road will tell you that he has lost many customers by making personal friends of them. No man, no matter how warm a friend his customer may be, should fail, when he does business with him, to give him to understand that the goods he is getting are worth the money that he pays for them. This will make a business friendship built upon confidence, and the business friend may afterward become the personal friend. A personal friendship will often follow a business friendship but business friendship will not always follow personal regard. Every man on the road has on his order book the names of a few who are exceptions to this rule. He values these friends, because the general rule of the road is: "Make a personal friend—lose a customer!" Don't switch lines!
The man who has a good house should never leave it unless he goes with one that he knows to be much better and with one that will assure him of a good salary for a long time.
Even then, a man often makes a mistake to his sorrow. He will find that many whom he has thought his personal friends are merely his business friends; that they have bought goods from him because they have liked the goods he sold. It is better for a man to try to improve the line he carries—even though it may not suit him perfectly—than to try his luck with another one. Merchants are conservative. They never put in a line of goods unless it strikes them as being better than the one that they are carrying, and when they have once established a line of goods that suits them, and when they have built a credit with a certain wholesale house, they do not like to fly around because the minute that they switch from one brand of goods that they are carrying to another, the old goods have become to them mere job lots, while if they continued to fill in upon a certain brand, the old stock would remain just as valuable as the new.
One of my old friends had a strong personality but was a noted changer. He is one of the best salesmen on the road but he has always changed himself out. He was a shoe man. I met him one day as he was leaving Lincoln, Nebraska. "Well, Andy," said I, "I guess you got a good bill from your old friend here."
"Ah, friend?" said he. "I thought that fellow was my friend, but he quit me cold this time. Didn't give me a sou. And do you know that this time I have a line just as good as any I ever carried in my life. I got him to go over to look, but what did he say? That he'd bought. And the worst of it is that he bought from the house I have just left and from the man that I hate from the ground up. Now, he's not any friend of mine any more. The man's your friend who buys goods from you." I didn't have very much to say, for this man had been loyal to me, but when I went to Lincoln again I chanced to be talking to the merchant, and he said to me:
"Do you know, I like Andy mighty well. I tried to be a friend to him. When I first started with him I bought from him the "Solid Comfort." He talked to me and said that Solid Comforts were the thing, that they had a big reputation and that I would profit by the advertising that they had. Well, I took him at his word. I used to know him when I was a clerk, you know, and bought from him on his say-so, the Solid Comfort. I handled these a couple of years and got a good trade built up on them, and then he came around and said, 'Well, I've had to drop the old line. I think I'm going to do lots better with the house I'm with now. The "Easy Fitter" is their brand. Now, you see there isn't very much difference between the Easy Fitters and the Solid Comforts, and you won't have any trouble in changing your people over.'
"Well, I changed, and do you know I was in trouble just as soon as I began to run out of sizes of Solid Comforts. People had worn them and they had given satisfaction and they wanted more of them. Still, I didn't buy any at all and talked my lungs out selling the Easy Fitters.
"Well, it wasn't but a couple of years later when Andy came around with another line. This time he had about the same old story to tell. I said to him, 'Now, look here, Andy, I've had a good deal of trouble selling this second line you sold me instead of the first. People still come in and ask for them. I have got them, however, changed over fairly well to the Easy Fitters, and I don't want to go through with this old trouble again.'
"'Aw, come on,' said he, 'a shoe's a shoe. What's the difference?' And, out of pure friendship, I went with him again and bought the "Correct Shape." I had the same old trouble over again, only it was worse. The shoes were all right but I had lots of difficulty making people think so. So when Andy made this trip and had another line, I had to come right out and say, 'Andy, I can't do business with you. I have followed you three times from the Solid Comfort to the Easy Fitter, and from the Easy Fitter to the Correct Shape, but now I have already bought those and I can't give you a thing. I am going to be frank with you and say that I would rather buy goods from you, Andy, than from any other man I know of, but still Number One must come first. If you were with your old people, I would be only too glad to buy from you, but you've mixed me up so on my shoe stock that it wouldn't be worth fifty cents on the dollar if I were to change lines again. I will give you money out of my pocket, Andy,' said I, 'but I'm not going to put another new line on my shelves."
Don't fall on prices!
The man who does this will not gain the confidence of the man to whom he shows his goods. Without this he cannot sell a merchant successfully. A hat man once told me of an experience.
"When I first started on the road," said he, "I learned one thing—not to break on prices when a merchant asked me to come down. I was in Dubuque. It was about my fourth trip to the town. I had been selling one man there but his business hadn't been as much as it should, and I kept on the lookout for another customer. Besides, the town was big enough to stand two, anyway. I had been working hard on one of the largest clothing merchants, who carried my line, in the town. Finally I got him over to my sample room. I showed him my line but he said tome, 'Your styles are all right but your prices are too high. Vy, here is a hat you ask me twelf tollars for. Vy, I buy 'em from my olt house for eleven feefty. You cannot expect me to buy goods from you ven you ask me more than odders.'
"I had just received a letter from the house about cutting, and they had given it to me so hard that I thought I would ask the prices they wanted for their goods, and if I couldn't sell them that way, I wouldn't sell them at all. I hadn't learned to be honest then for its own sake; honesty is a matter of education, anyway. So I told my customer, 'No; the first price I made you was the bottom price. I'll not vary it for you. I'd be a nice fellow to ask you one price and then come down to another. If I did anything like that I couldn't walk into your store with a clear conscience and shake you by the hand. I've simply made you my lowest price in the beginning and I hope you can use the goods at these figures, but if you can't, I cannot take an order from you.' Well, he bought the goods at my prices, paying me $12 for what he said he could get for $11.50.
"A few days after that I met a fellow salesman who was selling clothing. He said to me, 'By Jove, my boy, you're going to get a good account over there in Dubuque, do you know that? The man you sold there told me he liked the way you did business. He said he tried his hardest to beat you down on prices but that you wouldn't stand for it, and that he had confidence in you.'
"And, sure enough, I sold that man lots of goods for many years, and I thus learned early in my career not to fall on prices. If a man is going to do any cutting, the time to do it is at the beginning of his trip when he marks his samples. He should do this in plain figures and he should in no way vary from his original price. If he does, he should be man enough to send a rebate to those from whom he has obtained higher prices. If a man will follow out this method he will surely succeed."
Don't give away things!
This same hat man told me another experience he met with on that same trip. Said he, "I went in to see a man in eastern Nebraska. He was the one man on that trip who told me when I first mentioned business that he wanted some hats and that he would buy mine if they suited him. This looked to me like a push-over. Purely out of ignorance and good- heartedness, when he came to my sample room (I was a new man on the road), because he had been the first man who said he wanted some goods, I offered him a fine hat and do you know, he not only would not take the hat from me but he did not buy a bill. I learned from another one of the boys that he turned me down because I offered to make him a present. This is a rule which is not strictly adhered to, but if I were running a wholesale house I should let nothing be given to a customer. He will think a great deal more of the salesman if that salesman makes him pay for what he gets."
A salesman may be liberal and free in other ways, but when he gets to doing business he should not let it appear that he is trying to buy it. Of course it is all right and the proper thing to be a good fellow when the opportunity comes about in a natural kind of way. If you are in your customer's store, say, at late closing time on Saturday night, it is but natural for you to say to him: "Morris, I had a poor supper. I wonder if we can't go around here somewhere and dig up something to eat." You can also say to the clerks, "Come along, boys, you are all in on this. My house is rich. You've worked hard to-day and need a little recreation." But such courtesies as these, unless they fit in gracefully and naturally, would better never be offered.
Don't think any one too big or too hard for you to tackle.
If the salesman cannot depend upon his friends, then he must find his customers among strangers. I remember a man selling children's shoes, out in Oregon, who had not been able to get a looker even in the town. He was talking to a little bunch of us, enumerating those on whom he had called. The last one he spoke of was the big shoeman of the town. He said, "But I can't do anything with that fellow; why, his brother, who is his partner, sells shoes on the road."
"I'm all through with my business," spoke up a drygoods man, "but I'll bet the cigars that I can make Hoover (the shoeman) come and look at your stuff. That is, I'll make out to him that I'm selling shoes and I bet you that I'll bring him to my sample room."
"Well, I'll just take that bet," said the shoeman.
About this time I left for the depot. The next time I saw the drygoods man I asked him how he came out on that bet.
"Oh, I'd forgotten all about that," said he. "Well, I'll tell you. Just after you left I went right down to the shoeman's store. I found him back in his office writing some letters. I walked right up to him —you know I didn't have anything to lose except the cigars and their having the laugh on me—and I said, 'You are Mr. Hoover, I am sure. Now, sir, you are busy and what little I have to say I shall make very short to you, sir. My house gives its entire energy to the manufacture of foot covers for little folks. My line is complete and my prices are right. If you have money and are able to buy for cash on delivery, I should be glad to show you my line.'
"'I have bought everything for this season,' said Hoover.
"'Perhaps you think you have, Mr. Hoover, but do you wish to hold a blind bridle over your eyes and not see what's going on in your business? Do I not talk as if my firm were first class? I have come straight to you without any beating around the bush. I don't intend to offer any suggestions as to how you should run your business, but ask yourself if you can afford to pass up looking at a representative line. You've heard of my firm, have you not? And I made up some firm name for him.
"'No, I have not. I'm not interested in any new houses.'
"'Not interested in any new houses!' said I. 'The very fact that you don't even know the name of my firm is all the greater reason why you should come and see what sort of stuff they turn out.'
"'Yes, but I've bought; what's the use?' said he.
"'At least to post yourself,' I replied.
"'Well, I might as well come out and tell you,' said the shoeman, 'that my brother owns an interest in this business and that we handle his line exclusively.'
"'Then you mean to tell me that for your store here you are picking from one line of goods and are trying to compete with other merchants in this town who have the chance of buying from scores of lines. Now, your brother is certainly a very poor salesman if he can't sell enough shoes to make a living on aside from those that he sells to his own store. Should he not let his wholesale business and his retail business be separate from one another? You yourself are interested in this concern and ought you not to have something to say? To be sure, when it comes to an even break you should by all means give your brother and his firm the preference; but do you believe that either you or he should have goods come into this house from his firm when you are able to get them better from some other place?'