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- Tales of the Road - 20/44 -



After we had finished dinner, all of the party came back to our "road club room," the smoker.

"The house," said the furnishing goods man, sailing on our old tack of conversation, "sometimes makes it hard for us, you know. I once had a case like this: One of my customers down in New Orleans had failed on me. I think his _muhulla_ (failure) was forced upon him. Even a tricky merchant does not bring failure upon himself if business is good and he can help it, because, if he has ever been through one, he knows that the bust-up does him a great deal more harm than good. It makes 'credit' hard for him after that. But, you find lots of merchants who, when business gets dull, and they must fail, will either skin their creditors completely or else settle for as few cents on the dollar as possible.

"Well, I had a man in market, once, when I was traveling out of Philadelphia, who had 'settled' for 35 cents on the dollar. He had come out of his failure with enough to leave him able to go into business again, and, with anything like fair trade, discount all his bills. I knew the season was a fairly good one and felt quite sure that, for a few years anyway, my man would be good. What was lost on him was lost, and that was the end of it. The best way to play even was on the profits of future business.

"But our credit man, a most upright gentleman, wasn't particular about taking up the account again. However, there I was on a commission basis! I knew the man would pay for his goods and that it was money in my pocket--and in the till of the house--to sell it.

"I had seen my man at the hotel the evening before and he'd said he would be around the next morning about ten o'clock. I went down to the store before that time and talked the thing over with the credit man.

"Don't want to have anything to do with that fellow,' he said. 'He skinned us once and it's only a matter of time until he'll do it again.'

"The head man of the firm came by about that time and I talked it over with him. He had told me only the day before that he had some 'jobs' he was very anxious to get rid of.

"'Now,' said I to him, 'I believe I have a man from New Orleans who can use a good deal of that plunder up on the sixth floor if you're willing to sell it to him. He uses that kind of "Drek" and is now shaped up so that he'll not wish for more than sixty day terms, and I'm sure he'd be able to pay for it. He's just failed, you know.'

"Well, let him have it--let him have it,' said the old man. 'Anything to get the stuff out of the house. If he doesn't pay for it we won't lose much.'

"'All right, if you both say so, I'll go ahead and sell him.'

"This was really building a credit on 'jobs,' for I believed that my man would after that prove a faithful customer,--and this has been the case for many years.

"Well, when he came in, I took him up to the 'job' floor and sold him about five hundred dollars. This was the limit that the credit man had placed on the account. Then came the rub. I had to smooth down my customer to sixty day terms and yet keep him in a good humor. He thought a great deal of me--I had always been square with him--and he wasn't such a bad fellow. He had merely done what many other men would have done under the same circumstances. When he had got into the hole, he was going to climb out with as many 'rocks' in his pocket as he could. He couldn't pay a hundred cents and keep doing business, and it was just as much disgrace to settle for sixty cents on the dollar, which would leave him flat, as it was to settle for thirty-five. So he argued!

"I brought him up to the credit window and said to the credit man-- Gee! I had to be diplomatic then--'Now, this is Mr. Man from New Orleans. You know that cotton has been pretty low for the past season and that he has had a little misfortune that often comes into the path of the business man. He, you also know, has squared this with everybody concerned in an honorable way,--although on account of the dull times he was unable to make as large a settlement as he wished to--isn't that the case, Joe?' said I. He nodded.

"'Yes, but things are picking up with me, you know,' said he.

"'Yes; so they are,' said I, taking up the thread, 'cotton is advancing and times are going to be pretty good down in the south next season. Now, what I've done,' said I to the credit man, as if I had never spoken to him about the matter before, 'is this: Joe, here, has learned a lesson. He has seen the folly, and suffered for it, of buying so many goods so far ahead. What he aims to do from this time on is to run a strictly cash business, and to buy his goods for cash or on very short terms. We have picked out five hundred dollars' worth of goods--I've closed them pretty cheap--and you shall have your money for this, the bill fully discounted, within sixty days. Then in future, Joe, here, does not wish to buy anything from you or anybody else that he cannot pay for within that time. One bump on the head is enough, eh, Joe?'

"'Yes; you bet your life. I've learned a lesson.'

"'That'll be very satisfactory, sir,' said the credit man, and everything was O. K. You see, I had put the credit man in the position of making short terms and I had tickled Joe and given him something that he needed very badly at that time--credit. This was about the smoothest job I think I ever did. I really don't believe that either the credit man or my customer was fully onto my work. Joe, however, has thanked me for that many a time since. He's paid up my house promptly and used them for reference. They could only tell the truth in the matter, that he was discounting his bills with them. This has given him credit and he's doing a thriving business now, and has been for several years. He is getting long time again from other houses."

"Smooth work all right," said one of the boys, touching the button for the buffet porter.

"Once in a while," said the book man, "you have to pull the wool over a buyer's eyes. I never like to do anything of this sort, and I never do but that I tell them about it afterwards. The straight path is the one for the traveling man to walk in, I know; but once, with one of my men, I had to get off of the pebbles and tread on the grass a little.

"We really sell our publications for less than any other concern in the country. We give fifty off, straight, to save figuring, while many others give 40-10-5, which, added up, makes 55, but, in truth, is less than fifty straight. Once, in Chicago, I fell in on a department store man. I put it up to him and asked him if he would like certain new books that were having a good sale.

"'Yes,' he said, 'but I tell you, John (he knew me pretty well), I can't stand your discounts. You don't let me make enough money. You only give me 50 while others give me 40-10-5.'

"'All right, I'll sell them to you that way,' said I. 'We won't worry about it.'

"'Very good then,' and he gave me his order.

"Next season, when I got around to him, I had forgotten all about the special terms that I had made this man. But after he said he would use a certain number of copies of a book, he jogged my memory on that score with the question:

"'What sort of terms are you going to give me--the same I had last year?'

"'No, sir; I will not,' said I. 'I'm not going to do business with you that way.'

"'Well, if you've done it once, why don't you do it again? Other people do it right along, and your house is still in business. They haven't gone broke.'

"'Yes, you bet your life they're still in business!' said I, 'and they'd make a whole lot more money than they do now if they'd do business on the terms that you ask. Do you know what I did? You wouldn't let me have things my way and be square with you, so I skinned you on that little express order out of just ninety cents, and did it just to teach you a lesson!' I said, planking down a dollar. 'I don't want to trim you too close to the bone.'

"'Well,' said he, after I'd figured out and shown him the difference between 50 off straight and 40-10-5, 'This dollar doesn't belong to me. Come on, let's spend it.'"

"That's pretty good," chimed in the shoe man, who was sitting on a camp stool. The smoking compartment was full. "But it was dangerous play, don't you think? Suppose he'd done that figuring before you'd got around and shown him voluntarily that you skinned him and why. I know one of my customers, at any rate, who would have turned you down for good on this sort of a deal. He is a fair, square, frank man--most merchants, I find, are that way anyhow."

"Yes; you're right," said John.

"I got at the man I speak of this way," said the shoe man. "I had called on him many times. He was such a thoroughbred gentleman and treated me so courteously that I could never press matters upon him. There are merchants, you know, of this kind. I'd really rather have a man spar me with bare 'knucks' than with eight-ounce pillows. This gives you a better chance to land a knock-out blow. But there is a way of getting at every merchant in the world. The thing to do is to _find the way_.

"As I stood talking to this gentleman--it was out in Seattle--in came a Salvation Army girl selling 'The War Cry.' When she came around where I was, my merchant friend gave her a quarter for one, and told her to keep the change. Do you know, I sized him up from that. It showed me just as plain as day that he was kind hearted and it struck me, quick as a flash, that my play was generosity. People somehow who are free at heart admire this trait in others. When a man has once been liberal and knows what a good feeling it gives him on the inside, to do a good turn for some poor devil that needs it, he will always keep it up, and he has a soft spot in his heart for the man who will dig up for charity.

"I didn't plank down my money with any attempt to make a show, but I simply slipped a dollar into the Salvation Army Captain's hand, and

Tales of the Road - 20/44

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