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- Tales of the Road - 30/44 -
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.'
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