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- Tales of the Road - 40/44 -
bill in my life, so you see a cold blood is all right if he freezes out the other fellow."
The goose that had twirled so long before the pine log blaze was now put before us. The Spanish Senor with his violin started the program, and our tales for the evening were at an end.
HIRING AND HANDLING SALESMEN.
To hire and handle salesmen is the most important work of the head of the house. When a man goes out on the road to represent a firm, his traveling expenses alone are from five to twenty-five dollars a day, and sometimes even fifty. His salary is usually as much as his expenses, if not more. If a salesman does not succeed, a great portion of his salary and expenses is a dead loss, and, further, the firm is making a still greater loss if he does not do the business. In fact, if a poor man, succeeding a good one, falls down, his house can very easily lose many thousands of dollars by not holding the old trade of the man whose place he took. If all the wholesale houses in Chicago, say, which have a good line of salesmen were, at the beginning of the year, to lose all of those salesmen and replace them with dummies, three-fourths of these firms would go broke in from six months to three years. This is how important the salesman is to his firm.
I put hiring and handling of salesmen before having a strong line of goods, because if the proper salesmen are hired and are handled right, they will soon compel the house to put out the right line of goods. Just as a retail merchant should consult with his clerks about what he should buy, so, likewise, should the head of the wholesale house find out from his men on the road what they think will sell best. The salesman rubs up against the consumer and knows at first hand what the customer actually wants.
When the head of a house has a man to hire, the first man he looks for is one who has an established trade in the territory to be covered--a trade in his line of business. A house I have in mind which, ten years ago, was one of the top notchers in this country, has gone almost to the foot of the class because the "old man" who hired and handled the salesmen in that house died and was succeeded by younger heads not nearly so wise.
The _still hunt_ was the old man's method. When he needed a salesman for a territory he would go out somewhere in that territory himself and feel about for a man. He would usually make friends with the merchants and find out from them the names of the best men on the road and his chances for getting one of them. The merchants, you know, can always spot the bright salesmen. When they rub up against them a few times they know the sort of mettle they are made of. The merchant appreciates the bright salesman whether he does business with him or not and the salesman who is a man will always find welcome under the merchant's roof. Salesmen are the teachers of the merchant, and the merchant knows this. Whenever he is planning to change locations, build a new store, move to some other town, put in a new department, or make any business change whatsoever, it is with traveling men that he consults. They can tell him whether or not the new location will be a good one and they can tell him if the new department which he is figuring on starting is proving profitable over the country in general. And, on the other hand, when the traveling man is expecting to make a change of houses, he often asks the advice of the merchant.
One of the biggest clothing salesmen in the United States once told me how this very old man hired him. Said Simon, "When I started out on the road my hair was moss. I almost had to use a horse comb to currie it down so I could wear my hat. Heavens, but I was green! I had been a stock boy for a kyke house and they put me out in Colorado. Don't know whether I have made much progress or not. My forefathers carried stuff on their backs; I carry it in trunks. Although changing is often bad business, the best step I ever made was to leave the little house and go with a bigger one. I had been piking along and while I was giving my little firm entire satisfaction, I was not pleasing myself with what I was doing. I could go out in the brush with my line, riding on a wagon behind bronchos, where a first-class man wouldn't, and dig up a little business with the _yocles,_ but I couldn't walk into a _mocher_ (big merchant) and do business with him. Yet, when I first started out I was fool enough to try it and I made several friends among the bigger merchants of Denver. But this did me no harm.
"One day, when I went in to see one of these big men in Denver, he said to me, 'Look here, Simon, you're a mighty good fellow and I'd like to do business with you, but you know I can't handle any goods from the concern you represent. Why don't you make a change?' I said to him, 'Well, I'm really thinking about it, but I don't know just where I can get in.' He said, 'I think I can give you a good tip. Old man Strauss from Chicago is out here looking for a man for this territory. He was in to see me only yesterday and told me he was on the lookout for a bright fellow. He's stopping up at the Windsor and I'd advise you to go over and get next if you can.'
"'Thank you very much,' said I; and I went over to the Windsor--I was putting up there--and asked the head clerk, who was a good friend of mine, where Strauss was.
"'Why, Simon,' said he, 'he's just gone down to the depot to take the D. & R. G. for Colorado Springs, but you will have no trouble finding him if you want to see him. They're not running any sleepers on the train. It's just a local between here and Pueblo. He wears gold-rimmed spectacles, is bald, and smokes all the time.'
"I called a cab, rushed down to the depot, checked my trunks to Colorado Springs, and jumped on the train just as she was pulling out. I spotted the old man as I went into the coach. He was sitting in a double seat with his feet up on the cushions. I got a whiff of his 'Lottie Lee' ten feet away. Luckily for me, all the seats in the car except the one the old man had his feet on, were occupied, so I marched up and said, 'Excuse me, sir, I dislike tol make you uncomfortable,' and sat down in front of him.
"The old man saw that I was one of the boys and, as he wanted to pump me, he warmed up and offered me one of his Lotties. I shall never forget that cigar. Smoke 'em in Colorado,--smell 'em in Europe! I managed to drop it on the floor in a few minutes so that I could switch onto one of mine. I pulled out a pair of two-bit-straights and passed one over, lighting the other for myself.
"'Dot vas a goot seecar,' said the old man. 'You are on der roat?'
"'Yes,' said I.
"'Vat's your bees'ness?'
"'I'm selling clothing.'
"'Vat? Veil, I am in dot bees'ness myself.'
"'Who do you travel for?' said I, playing the innocent.
"'I'm not on de roat,' said the old man. 'I am just out on a leetle trip for my healt. I am a monufacturer. Who do you trafel for?'
"I told him and then tried to switch the conversation to something else. I knew the old man wouldn't let me do it.
"'V'ere do you trafel?' said he.
"'Oh, Colorado, Utah, and up into Montana and Wyoming,' I answered.
"The old man took his feet off the cushions and his arms from the back of his seat. I thought I had him right then.
"'Dot's a goot contry,' said he. 'How long haf you been in deese beezness?' 'Five years,' said I. 'Always mit de same house?' 'Yes,' said I, 'I don't believe in changing.' The old man had let his cigar go out and he lit a match and let it burn his finger. I was sure that he was after me then.
"I didn't tell him that I had been a stock boy for nearly four years and on the road a little over one. It is a good sign, you know, if a man has been with a house a long time.
"'How's beezness this season?' said he.
"'Oh, it's holding up to the usual mark,' I said like an old timer.
"'Who do you sell in Denver?' said he.
"That was a knocker. 'Denver is a hard town to do business in,' said I. 'In cities, you know, the big people are hard to handle and the little ones you must look out for.' That was another strong point; I wanted him to see that I didn't care to do business with shaky concerns.
"'Vell,' said he after a while, 'you shouldt haf a stronger line and den you could sell de beeg vons.'
"'Yes, but it is a bad thing for a man to change,' said I. I knew that I was already hired and I was striking him for as big a guaranty as I could get, and my game worked all right because he asked me to take supper with him that night in the Springs and before we left the table he hired me for the next year.
"I came very near not fulfilling my contract, though, because after I had promised the old man I would come to him he said, 'Shake and haf a seecar,' and I had to smoke another Lottie Lee."
It is on the still hunt that the best men are trapped. Experienced salesmen--good ones--always have positions and are not often looking for jobs. To get them the wholesaler must go after them and the one who does this gets the best men. Hundreds of applications come in yearly to every wholesale house in America. These come so often that little attention is paid to them. When a wise house wishes salesmen, they either put out their scouts or go themselves directly after the men they want. And the shrewd head of a house is not looking for cheap men; he knows that a poor man is a great deal more expensive than a good one. Successful wholesalers do not bat their eyes at paying a first-class man a good price.
Recently I knew of one firm that had had a big salesman taken from them. What did they do to get another to take his place? The manager did not put out some cheap fellow, but he went to another man who, although he was unfamiliar with the territory, was a good shoe man, and guaranteed him that he would make four thousand dollars a year net, and gave him a good chance on a percentage basis of making six thousand. The experienced man in a line, although he has never traveled over the territory for which the wholesaler wishes a man,
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