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- Tales of the Road - 6/44 -
"'"I'd rise up in my white cravat and say: "What's that?" And then fall dead once more.'
"W. L. Mason, "Denver, Box --."
Although I sent Mason a check, it seemed that I was ever doomed to be in error with him. I wrote him insisting that he wear a new hat on me and asked him to send me his size.
He wrote back that he was satisfied to get the four dollars; but, since I pressed the matter, his size was seven and one-fourth.
I wrote my hatter to express a clear beaver to Mason. But somehow he got the size wrong, for Mason wrote back:
"Dear Brother: Everything that I have to do with you seems at first all wrong, but finally wiggles out all right. For example, while I stated that my size was seven and one-fourth your hatter sent a seven and one-half--two sizes too big under ordinary circumstances. But I was so tickled to get the unexpected four and a new lid besides that my head swelled and my bonnet fit me to a T."
SOCIAL ARTS AS SALESMEN'S ASSETS.
Salesmanship has already been defined as the art of overcoming obstacles, of turning defeat into victory by the use of tact and patience. Courtesy must become constitutional with the drummer and diplomacy must become second nature to him. All this may have a very commercial and politic ring, but its logic is beyond question. It would be a decided mistake, however, to conclude that the business life of the skilful salesman is ruled only by selfish, sordid or politic motives.
In the early nineties, I was going through Western Kansas; it was the year of the drought and the panic. Just as the conductor called "All aboard" at a little station where we had stopped for water, up drove one of the boys. His pair of bronchos fairly dripped with sweat; their sides heaved like bellows--they had just come in from a long, hard drive. As the train started the commercial tourist slung his grips before him and jumped on. He shook a cloud of dust out of his linen coat, brushed dust off his shoes, fingered dust out of his hair, and washed dust off his face. He was the most dust-begrimed mortal I ever saw. His ablutions made, he sat down in a double seat with me and offered me a cigar.
"Close call," said I.
"Yes, you bet--sixteen miles in an hour and thirty-five minutes. That was the last time I'll ever make that drive."
"Customer quit you?"
"He hasn't exactly quit me, he has quit his town. All there ever has been in his town was a post office and a store, all in one building; and he lived in the back end of that. It has never paid me to go to see him, but he was one of those loyal customers who gave me all he could and gave it without kicking. He gave me the glad hand--and that, you know, goes a long ways--and for six years I've been going to see him twice a year, more to accommodate him than for profit. The boys all do lots of this work--more than merchants give them credit for. His wife was a fine little woman. Whenever my advance card came--she attended to the post office--she would always put a couple of chickens in a separate coop and fatten them on breakfast food until I arrived. Her dinner was worth driving sixteen miles for if I didn't sell a sou.
"But it is all off now. The man was always having a streak of hard luck--grasshoppers, hail, hot winds, election year or something, and he has finally pulled stakes. When I reached there this time it was the lonesomest place I ever saw, no more store and post office, no more nice little wife and fried chicken--not even a dog or hitching post. My friend had gone away and left no reminder of himself save a notice he had lettered with a marking brush on his front door. Just as a sort of a keepsake in memory of my old friend I took a copy. Here it goes:
"'A thousand feet to water! A thousand miles to wood! I've quit this blasted country Quit her! Yes, for good. The 'hoppers came abuzzin' But I shooed them all away, Next blew the hot winds furious; Still, I had the grit to stay. There's always something hap'ning; So, while I've got the pluck-- Think I'll strike another country And see how runs my luck. God bless you, boys, I love you. The drummer is my friend. When I open up my doors again, Bet your life, for you I'll send.'
"Wouldn't that cork you? Say, let's get up a game of whist." With this my friend took a fresh cigar from me, and, whistling, sauntered down the aisle hunting partners for the game. The long drive, the dust and the loss of a bill no longer disturbed him.
The man who grieves would better stay off the road. The traveling man must digest disappointments as he does a plate of blue points, for he swallows them about as often. One of the severest disappointments for a road man is to have the pins for a bill all set and then have some other man get the ball first and knock them down.
A clothing salesman told me this story:
"I have been chasing trunks for a long time but last season I got into the worst scrape of all my life on the road. I was a little pushed for time, so I wrote one of my irregular country customers that I would not be able to go to his town, but that I would pay his expenses if he would come in and meet me at Spokane.
"When he showed up he brought along his wife; and his wife rolled a young baby into my sample room. It was a pretty little kid, and struck me as being the best natured little chap I had ever seen. Of course, you know that to jolly up my customer a little I had to get on the good side of the wife, and the best way to do this was to play with the baby. After I had danced the little fellow around for a while I put him back into the buggy and supposed that I was going to get down to business. But the father said he thought he would be in town for a week or so and that he thought he would go out and find a boarding house.
"As we were talking, a friend of mine dropped in. He directed my customer to a boarding house, and then, just for fun, said: 'Why don't you leave the baby here with us while you're making arrangements. Mr. Percy has lots of children at home, and he knows how to take care of them all right.' Imagine how I felt when my country friends fell in with the shoe man's suggestion!
"Both of us got along first rate with the baby for a while. I really enjoyed it until my friend left me to go down the street, and a customer I was expecting came in. I thought the baby would get along all right by himself, and so I started to show customer No. 2 my line of goods. But the little chap had been spoiled by too much of my coddling and wouldn't stand for being left alone. At first he gave a little whimper. I rolled him for a minute or two with one hand and ran the other over a line of cheviots and told my customer how good they were; but the very minute I let go of the buggy, out broke the kid again. I repeated this performance two or three times, but whenever I let go the buggy handle the baby yelled. In a few minutes he was going it good and strong, and I had to take him out and bounce him up and down. Now, you can imagine just how hard it is to pacify a baby and sell a bill of clothing. Try it if you don't. I soon began to walk the floor to keep the kid from howling, and presently I decided I would rather keep that child quiet than sell a bill of goods. Finally, customer number two went out, saying he would see me the next morning; and there I was left all alone with the baby again.
[Illustration: "Whenever I let go the buggy handle the baby yelled"]
"I tried to ring a bell and get a chambermaid to take care of him, but the bell was broken. Then I began to sing all the songs I knew and kept it up until I nearly wore out my throat. It seemed as if the baby's mother never would come back, but I had the happy satisfaction of knowing, though, that the baby's mother and father would certainly have to come back and get the little fellow, and I felt sure of getting a good bill of goods.
"Well, what do you think happened? After two hours the mother came back and got the baby and I never saw her husband again! A competitor of mine had 'swiped' him as he came in the hotel office and sold him his bill of goods."
Although my friend Percy who rolled the baby carriage back and forth lost out by this operation, I would advise my friends on the road to roll every baby buggy--belonging to a possible customer--that they have a chance to get their hands on. When the merchant gives the traveling man an opportunity to do him some sort of a favor outside of straight business dealing, he then gives the drummer the best possible chance to place him under obligations which will surely be repaid sometime. But don't go too far.
Down in Texas in one of the larger towns, just after the Kishinef horror, the Hebrew clothing merchants held a charity ball. If you were to eliminate the Hebrew from the clothing business the ranks of dealers in men's wearing apparel would be devastated. One of my friends in the clothing business told me how he and a furnishing goods friend of his made hay at that charity ball:
"The day that I struck town, one of my customers said to me, 'We want you to go to the show tomorrow night and open the ball with a few remarks. Will you?'
"Just for fun I said, 'To be sure I will, Ike.' I did not think I would be taken in earnest, but the next day I received a program, and right at the head of it was my name down for the opening speech. Well, I was up against it and I had to make good. You may take my word for it that I felt a little nervous that night when I came to the big hall and saw it full of people waiting for the opening address. I needed to have both sand on the bottoms of my shoes and sand in my upper story to keep from slipping down on the waxed floor! But, as I was in for it, I marched bravely up and sat down for a few minutes in the big
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