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- Tales of the Road - 4/44 -
influencing the clerks unduly, down comes the hatchet! A hat man once, as we rode together on the train, told me this incident:
"I once sold a small bill of hats to a large merchant down in California," said he. "The next season when I came around I saw that my goods were on the floor-shelf. I didn't like this. If you want to get your goods sold, get them where they are easy to reach. Clerks, and merchants too, usually follow the line of least resistance; they sell that which they come to first. If a man asks me where he ought to put his case for hats to make them move, I tell him, 'up front.'
"From the base shelf I dug up a box of my goods, knocked the dust off the lid, took out a hat, began to crease it. One of the clerks came up. He was very friendly. They usually are. They like to brush up against the traveling man, for it is the ambition of nineteen clerks out of every twenty to get on the road.
"My young friend, seeing the hat in my hand, said, 'Gee, that's a beaut. I didn't know we had a swell thing like that in the house. I wish I'd got one like that instead of this old bonnet.'
"With this he showed me a new stiff hat. I scarcely glanced at it before I cracked the crown out of it over my heel, handed him the hat I had taken out of the box, threw three dollars on the counter and said, 'Well, we'll swap. Take this one.'
"'Guess I will, all right, all right!' he exclaimed.
"Another one of the boys who saw this incident came up with his old hat and asked, laughing, 'Maybe you want to swap with me?'
"Crack went another hat; down I threw another three dollars. Before I got through, eight clerks had new hats, and I had thrown away twenty- four dollars.
"Thrown away? No, sir. I'll give that much, every day of the week, to get the attention of a large dealer. Twenty-four dollars are made in a minute and a half by a traveling man when he gets to doing business with a first-class merchant.
"The proprietor, Hobson, was not then in. When I dropped in that afternoon, I asked him if he would see my samples.
"'No, sir, I will not,' he spoke up quickly. 'To be plain with you, I do not like the way in which you are trying to influence my clerks.'
"There was the critical--the 'psychological'--moment. Weakness would have put an end to me. But this was the moment I wanted. In fact, I have at times deliberately made men mad just to get their attention.
"'Hobson,' I flashed back, 'You can do just as you please about looking at my goods. But I'll tell you one thing: I have no apology to offer in regard to your clerks. You bought my goods and buried them. I know they are good, and I want you to find it out. I have put them on the heads of your men because I am not ashamed to have them wear them before your face. You can now see how stylish they are. In six months you will learn how well they wear. I would feel like a sneak had I stealthily slipped a twenty dollar gold piece into the hand of your hat man and told him to push my goods. But I haven't done this. In fact I gave a hat to nearly every clerk you have except your hat man. He was away. Even your delivery boy has one. You owe me an apology, sir; and I demand it, and demand it right now! I've always treated you as a gentleman, sir; and you shall treat me as such.' Then, softening down, I continued: 'I can readily see how, at first glance, you were offended at me; but just think a minute, and I believe you'll tell me you were hasty.'
"'Yes, I was,' he answered quietly. 'Got your stuff open? I'll go right down with you.' After Hobson had, in a few minutes, given me a nice order, he said to me: 'Well, do you know, I like your pluck.'
"It sometimes happens that a traveling man meets with a surly clerk, a conceited clerk, or a bribed clerk who has become buyer," continued my friend. "Then the thing to do is to go straight to the head of the establishment. The man I like to do business with is the man whose money pays for my goods. He is not pulled out of line by guy ropes. It is well to stand in with the clerks, but it is better to be on the right side of the boss. When it gets down to driving nails, he is the one to hammer on the hardest.
"I once took on the territory of a man who had quit the road. About this same time one of his best customers had, to some extent, retired from business activity and put on a new buyer in my department. Now, this is a risky thing, you know, for a merchant to do unless the buyer gets an interest in the business and becomes, in truth, a merchant himself. It usually means the promotion of a clerk who gets a swelled head. The new buyer generally feels that he must do something to show his ability and one of the ways he does this is by switching lines.
"During the illness of my predecessor, who soon after quit the road, another man made for him a part of his old trip. In one of the towns he made he struck the new buyer and, of course, got turned down. Had I been there, I would have received the same sort of treatment.
"My immediate predecessor, who was turned down, posted me; so when I went to the town, I knew just what to do--go direct to the proprietor. I knew that my goods were right; all I needed was unprejudiced attention. Prejudice anyway buys most of the goods sold; merit is a minor partner. Were merchandise sold strictly on merit, two-thirds of the wholesale houses and factories would soon lock up; and the other third would triple their business.
"When I entered the store, I went straight to the proprietor and told him without introducing myself (a merchant does not care what your name is) what my line of business was. It was Saturday afternoon. I would rather go out making business on Saturday than any other day because the merchant is doing business and is in a good humor, and you can get right at the point. Of course, you must catch him when he is not, for the moment, busy.
"'Can't do anything for you, sir, I fear,' said he. 'Hereafter we are going to buy that line direct from the factories.'
"I saw that the proprietor himself was prejudiced, and that the one thing to do was to come straight back at him. 'Where do you suppose my hats come from?' said I. 'My factory is the leading one in New Jersey.' I was from Chicago although my goods, in truth, were made in Orange Valley.
"'Will you be here Monday?' he asked. This meant that he wanted to look at my samples. The iron was hot; then was the time to strike.
"'Sorry, but I cannot,' I answered. 'But I'll tell you what I'll do. My line is a specialty line--only fine goods--and I'll bring in a small bunch of samples tonight about the time you close up.' Merchants like to deal with a man who is strictly business when they both get to doing business. Then is the time to put friendship and joking on the shelf.
"That night at ten o'clock I was back at the store with a bundle under my arm. The man who is too proud to carry a bundle once in a while would better never start on the road. The proprietor whispered to the hat buyer--I overheard the words--'Large Eastern factory'--and together they began to look at my samples. The new buyer went to the shelves and got out some of the goods which had come from my house to compare with my samples,--which were just the same quality. But, after fingering both, he said right out to the proprietor: 'There's no comparison. I've told you all along that the factory was the place to buy.'
"I booked my order--it was a fat one, too--solid case lots.
"'Shall I ship these from Orange Valley or Chicago?' I asked.
"'Why do you ask that?' asked the proprietor.
"'Because you have bought a bill from a firm you have dealt with for twenty years, Blank and Company of Chicago, that I represent, and I do not want one who has favored me to pay any extra freight. You will pardon me, I'm sure, for not telling you the whole truth until now; but this was the only way in which I could overcome your prejudice.'"
"That's one on me," said the merchant. "Come--boys, you are in on this too--I'll buy the smokes."
Many traveling men make mistakes by steering shy of cranks. The so- called crank is the easiest man to approach, if only you go at him right.
Once I sat at dinner with two other traveling men who were strangers to me--as strange as one traveling man ever is to another. This is not, however, very "strange," for the cosmopolitan life of the road breeds a good fellowship and a sort of secret society fraternity among all knights of the grip. My territory being new, I made inquiry regarding the merchants of a certain town to which I intended to go.
"Don't go there," spoke up one of my table companions. "There's no one there who's any good except old man Duke and he's the biggest crank on earth. He discounts his bills,--but Lord, it's a job to get near him."
Some men on the road are vulgar; but will not this comment apply to some few of any class of men?
"My friend," said companion number two, looking straight at the man who had just made the above remarks, "I've been on the road these many years and, if my observation counts for anything, those we meet are, to a great extent, but reflections of ourselves. True, many call Mr. Duke peculiar, but I have always got along with him without any trouble. I consider him a gentleman."
I went to the "old crank's" town. As I rode on the train, louder than the clacking of the car wheels, I heard myself saying over and over again: "_Those we meet are, to a great extent, but reflections of ourselves._"
When I went into the old gentleman's store, he was up front in his office at work on his books. I merely said, "Good morning, sir," and went back and sat down by the stove. It's never a good thing to interrupt a merchant when he's busy. He, and he alone, knows what is most important for him to do. Maybe he has an urgent bill or sight draft to meet; maybe he has a rush order to get off in the next mail; maybe he is figuring up his profit or his loss on some transaction. Then is not the time to state your business if you wish to make your point. The traveling man must not forget that the merchant's store is a place of business; that he is on the lookout for good things and just as anxious to buy good goods advantageously as the salesman is to sell them; and that he will generally lend an ear, for a moment at least,--if properly approached--to any business proposition.
After a while, the old gentleman came back to the stove and, as he
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