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- Tales of the Road - 2/44 -
to give your customer. You can do a little scaly work and win out at it for a while; but when you get in the stretch, unless you have played fair, the short horses will beat you under the wire.
The best customer on my order book came to me because I once had a chance to do a little crooked work, but didn't. I had a customer who had been a loyal one for many years. He would not even look at another salesman's goods--and you know that it is a whole lot of satisfaction to get into a town and walk into a door where you know you are "solid." The man on the road who doesn't appreciate and care for a faithful customer is not much of a man, anyway.
My old customer, Logan, had a little trouble with his main clerk. The clerk, Fred, got it into his head that the business belonged to him, and he tried to run it. But Logan wouldn't stand for this sort of work and "called him down." The clerk became "toppy" and Logan discharged him.
But, still, Fred had a fairly good standing in the town and interested an old bachelor, a banker, who had a nephew that he wanted to start in business. He furnished Fred and his nephew with $10,000 cash capital; the three formed a partnership to open a new store and "buck" Logan. Well, you know it is not a bad thing to "stand in" with the head clerk when you wish to do business in an establishment. So I had always treated Fred right and he liked me and had confidence in me. In fact, it's a poor rule to fail to treat all well. I believe that the "boys" on the road are the most tolerant, patient human beings on earth. To succeed at their business they must be patient and after a while it becomes a habit--and a good one, too.
You know how it goes! A merchant gets to handling a certain brand of goods which is no better than many others in the same line. He gets it into his head that he cannot do without that particular line. This is what enables a man on the road to get an established trade. The clerks in the store also get interested in some special brand because they have customers who come in and ask for that particular thing a few times. They do not stop to think that the man who comes in and asks for a Leopard brand hat or a Knock-'em-out shoe does not have any confidence in this special shoe or hat, but that he has confidence in the establishment where he buys it.
So, when I was in Logan's town to sell him his usual bill, his clerk hailed me from across the street and came over to where I stood. He told me that he had quit his old job and that he was going to put in a new stock. I, of course, had to tell him that I must stay with Logan, but that out of appreciation of his past kindness to me I would do the best I could to steer him right in my line of goods. I gave him a personal letter to another firm that I had been with before and who, I knew, would deal with him fairly.
Fred went in to market. When in the city he tried to buy some goods of my firm. He intended to take these same goods and sell them for a lower price than Logan had been getting, and thus cut hard into Logan's trade. But the big manufacturers, you know, are awake to all of those tricks and a first-class establishment will always protect its customers. My house told Fred that before they could sell to him they would have to get my sanction. They wired me about it, and I, of course, had to be square with my faithful old friend, Logan; I placed the matter before him. As I was near by, I wrote him, by special delivery, and put the case before him. He, for self-protection, wired my house that he would prefer that they would not sell his old clerk who was now going to become his competitor. In fact, he said he would not stand for it.
The very next season things came around so that Logan went out of business, and then I knew that I was "up against it" in his town--my old customer gone out of business; Fred not wanting, then, of course, to buy of me. But I took my medicine and consoled myself with the thought that a few grains of gold would pan out in the wash.
Up in a large town above Logan's I had a customer named Dave, who had moved out from Colorado. He was well fixed, but he had not secured the right location. Say what you will, location has a whole lot to do with business. Of course, a poor man would not prosper in the busy streets of Cairo, but the best sort of a hustler would starve to death doing business on the Sahara. A big store in Dave's new town failed. He had a chance to buy out the, stock at 75 cents on the dollar. He wished to do so; but, although he was well-to-do, he didn't have the ready cash.
One night I called on Dave and he laid the case before me. He told me how sorry he was not to get hold of this "snap." I put my wits together quickly and I said to him: "Dave, I believe I can do you some good."
The next morning I went to see a banker, who was a brother-in-law of Logan's and who had made enough money, merchandising and out of wheat, down in Logan's old town, to move up to the city and go into the banking business. The banker knew all about the way that I had treated his brother-in-law, and I felt that because I had been square with Logan he would have confidence in anything I would say to him. I laid the case before the banker. I told him I knew Dave to be well fixed, to have good credit, to be a good rustler and strictly straight.
In a little while I brought Dave to meet the banker. The banker immediately, upon my recommendation, told him that he could have all the money he needed-$16,000. The banker also wired to the people who owned the stock--he was well acquainted with them--and told them he would vouch for Dave.
The deal went through all right and Dave now buys every cent's worth, that he uses in my line, from me. He is the best customer I have; I got him by _being square_.
A great mistake which some salesmen make when they first start on the road is to "load" their customers. The experienced man will not do this, for he soon learns that he will "lose out" by it. A merchant will not long continue to buy from a traveling man in whom he has no confidence. He, in great measure, depends on the judgment of the traveling man as to the styles and quantities he should buy. If the salesman sells him too much of anything it is only a matter of time when the merchant will buy from some other man. When a storekeeper buys goods he invests money; and his heart is not very far from his bank-book.
The time when the traveling man will ram all he can into an order is when the merchant splits his business in the salesman's line, buying the same kind of goods from two or more houses. Then the salesman sells as much as he can, that he may crowd the other man out. But even this is poor policy.
I once took on a new town. My predecessor had been getting only a share of his customer's trade; two others had divided the account with him. I made up my mind to have all of the account or none. The merchant went to my sample room and gave me an order for a bill of hats. He bought at random. When I asked him what sizes he wanted, he said: "Oh, run 'em regular." "Very well," said I, "but will it not be well to look through your stock and see just what sizes you need? Maybe you have quite a number of certain sizes on hand and it will be needless for you to get more of them. Let's go down to the store and look through your stock."
We went to his store. The first item on the order he had given me was one dozen black "Columbias." I found that he had five dozen already on hand. "Look here," said I, "don't you think I would better scratch that item off of the bill?" I drew my pencil through the "one dozen Columbias."
"Now let us go through your whole stock and see if there are not other items you have duplicated," I suggested. We worked together for four hours--until after midnight. It was the biggest mess of a stock I ever saw. When we got through I had cut down my order three-fourths.
"See," said I, showing the merchant my order-book and his stock list-- which every merchant should have when he goes to buy goods--"you have enough of some kinds to last you three years. Others, because they have gone out of style, are worth nothing. All you can get out of them will be clear profit; throw them out and sell them for any price.
"Do you know what has been happening to you right along? Three men-- and the one from my firm is just as guilty as the rest--have been loading you. Why, if I were a judge and they were brought before me, I'd sentence them to jail."
"And I guess I ought to be made to go along with them," broke in my friend, "for participating in the crime."
"That I will leave you to judge," said I, "but there is one thing for sure: You will not see me back here again for a year; it would be a crime for anyone to take an order from you during that time. And when I do come I want all of your business, or none; you haven't enough for three, or even for two. You can buy no more than you can sell to your customers, unless you go broke some day. Your interest and my interest are the same. In truth, I stand on the same side of the counter as you do. It is to my interest to treat you right. My firm is merely the one from which you and I together select your goods. Ought I not to see that they give you the right things at the right prices? If I treat you right, and my firm does not, you will follow me to another; if I treat you wrong I'll lose both your confidence and my job."
That man today gives me all of his business; I got him by _being square_.
By being over-conscientious, however, a salesman sometimes will not let his customer buy enough. This is frequently to the disadvantage of the merchant. To sell goods a merchant must have goods; to have them he must buy them. The stingy man has no business in business. Many a man becomes a merchant and, because he is either too close-fisted or hasn't enough capital or credit with which to buy goods, is awakened, some fine morning, by the tapping on his front door of the Sheriff's hammer. A man may think that if he goes into business his friends will buy "any old thing, just because it's me"; but he will find out that when he goes to separate his friends from their coin he must give them the kind of goods they want. The successful merchant is the man who carries the stock.
One of my old friends, who was a leading hat salesman of St. Louis, once told me the following experience:
"Several years ago I was out in western Texas on a team trip. It was a flush year; cattle were high. I had been having a good time; you know how it goes--the more one sells the more he wants to sell and can sell. I heard of a big cattleman who was also running a cross-roads grocery store. He wanted to put in dry goods, shoes and hats. His store was only a few miles out of my way so I thought that I would drive over and see him.
"How I kicked myself when I drove up to his shanty, hardly larger, it seemed to me, than my straw-goods trunk! But, being there, I thought I would pick up a small bill anyway. I make it a rule never to overlook even a little order, for enough of them amount to as much as one big
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