Charles N. Crewdson.

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"'Now, gentlemen, as to the last point. Several of you have said that
some merchants wish to think that they buy from you cheaper than other
merchants in neighboring towns. They do not wish to think anything of
the kind. What they do wish to think is that they are buying them
_as cheaply_ as their neighbors do.' Still more of the boys applauded
what I said, and one fellow who traveled down in Missouri yelled like
a coon hunter.

"'The basis of love, gentlemen,' I persisted, 'is respect. Some of you
have had the good sense to marry. To each of these I say: Before the
girl who is now your wife found that she loved you, she discovered
that you had her respect and admiration.

"'And there is not a single one of you who has a customer that does
not have at least a little confidence in you. Confidence is the basis
of business.

"'Now, I want to tell you another thing' - I was getting warm then - 'It
is impossible to tell a lie so that the man to whom you tell it will
believe it is the truth. If a man has a lie in his heart, that lie
will be felt and spotted by the men he talks to while he affirms with
his lips that he speaks the truth. If a merchant asks you if you are
selling him goods as cheaply as you sell them to other people, and you
tell him "Yes" and you are really _not_ doing so, he will know that
you are telling him a lie, and you will lose his confidence and
you will lose his business. The one thing to do then, is to treat
everybody alike - to sell them all at the same price.

"Now, it is possible for a man to mark his samples in characters and
to do a one-price business, but you can bet your life that the
stranger will be leery of you if your goods are marked in characters.
But if you mark your goods in plain figures and you say to a merchant
when you begin to show them to him that your goods are marked in plain
figures and that you do not vary from the price, he will believe you
and will not try to beat you down. Then you will gain his confidence
and he will have more confidence in you, the plain-figure man, than he
will in the character-price man from whom he might have been buying
for years.

"'Judgment is scarcely a factor in business; even many good merchants
are not judges of goods. They are all free to confess this. The best
merchant is the best judge of men. These merchants, therefore, must
and do depend upon the salesmen from whom they buy their goods. Here,
again, is where confidence comes in. This whole thing is confidence, I
say. Many a merchant passes up lines of goods that he thinks are
better than those he is handling - passes them up because he does not
_know_ their superiority and because he does not trust the man who
tries to sell them to him.

"'Merchants themselves - many of them - give baits to their customers.
They know this game full well, and they do not care for baits
themselves. I remember that I once sold a bill of goods in this way: I
had sold this customer regularly for five or six years every season.
This time he told me that he had bought. He said to me: "The other
fellow gave me his price one morning and then he came over to see me
in the afternoon and dropped on the price and I bought the goods then
because I knew I had him at the bottom."

"'Now, do you suppose I went to making cuts to get even with that
other fellow? Not a bit of it. I first showed my old customer that he
did not know the values of goods. Then I told him: "Now, you may buy
my goods if you like; but you will buy them no cheaper than I have
been selling them to you for the last five or six years. Do you
suppose that I would come around here to-day and make an open
confession that I have been robbing you for all of these years? No,
sir; I try to see that my goods are marked right in the beginning and
then I treat everybody alike." Although he had turned me down, this
man bought my goods and countermanded the order of the other fellow.

"'And, boys - you who have been so dishonest so long' - said I, 'don't
know how happy it makes a fellow feel to know that what he is doing is
right, and you cannot beat the right. It is good enough. When you know
in your own heart that you are honorable in your dealings with your
merchant friends, you can walk right square up to them and look them
straight in the eye and make them feel that you are treating them
right. They will then give you their confidence, and confidence begets
business. Therefore, gentlemen, I don't care what any of you are going
to do. I, myself, shall mark my goods in plain figures and sell them
at the same price to everyone, and I only wish that I worked for a
firm that would compel all their salesmen to be honest.'

"With this, the old man arose. I saw that I had him won over, but I
heard one of the boys who sat near me whisper, 'Now, watch the old man
give it to him.' But he did not. Instead, he said to me: 'This is
surely a case where, although there were ninety-nine against him, the
one is right. I hereby issue an order to every salesman to mark his
goods in plain figures and to sell his goods at the marked price. I
wish you, furthermore, to do another thing. On every sample on which I
told you you might make a cut, _if necessary_, I wish you would make
that cut on the start. I have always wished to do business as our
one-priced friend has suggested but I have never been strong enough to
do so. I had always thought myself honest, believing that business
expediency made it necessary to give a few people the inside over
others; but I am going to make a frank confession to you - I can say
that I have not been honest. "'I feel like a certain clothing
manufacturer felt for a long time. I was talking with him at luncheon
the other day; he is a man who marks his goods in plain figures. If
the salesman, by mistake, sold a ten dollar suit for eleven dollars,
the goods when shipped out are billed at ten dollars. He is the one,
gentlemen, who put this plain-figure idea into my head. One of his
salesmen, as we all sat together at the table, asked him: "Mr. Blank,
how many years have you been doing the one-price, plain-figure

"'"A little over four years," said he.

"'"And how old are you?" the salesman asked.

"'"Fifty-five," was the answer.

"'"In other words," said he, "you have been a thief for over half a

"'"Yes; you're right," said the clothing manufacturer - and this was
the only time I ever heard him agree with anybody in my life!

"'His business philosophy was quaintly summed up in the one word
PERVERSE. "Give a man what he wants," he said, "and he doesn't want
it." "When you find other people going in one direction, go in the
other, and you will go in the right one." He saw nearly every one else
in the clothing business marking their goods in characters, and, true
to his philosophy - "Perverse" - marked his goods in plain figures, and
he is succeeding. Now, gentlemen, I am going to do the same thing.

"'And, another thing - I am not going to mark just part of them in
plain figures. Do you know, I called on a wholesale dry goods man the
other day - the President of the concern. He told me that he marked a
part of their manufactured goods in plain figures and the rest in
characters. I said to him, "You confess that you are only partly
honest; in being only half honest you are dishonest." So, gentlemen, I
am going to mark our goods in plain figures, and I want you to sell
them to everybody at the same price; if you do not, I will not ship

"'Now, I thought I was through, but one more idea has occurred to me.
By selling our goods at strictly one price I can figure exactly how
much money I am making on a given volume of business. Before, this
matter of "cuts" made it a varying, uncertain amount; in future there
will be certainty as to the amount of profits. And another thing, so
sure as I live, if all of you go out and make the same increase that
the one who stood out against all of us has made, our business will
thrive so that we can afford to sell goods cheaper still. Until to-
night I never knew why it was that he took hold of what seemed to me a
big business in his predecessor's territory and doubled it the second
year. His success was the triumph of common honesty, and we all shall
try his plan, for honesty is right, and nothing beats the right.'

"When the vote was taken the second time, every man at the table stood



"Do I like cancellations? Well, I guess not!" said a furnishing goods
friend, straightening up a little and lighting his cigar as a group of
us sat around the radiator after supper one night in the Hoffman
House. "I'll tell you, boys, I'd rather keep company with a hobo, than
with a merchant who will place an order and then cancel it without
just cause. I can stand it all right if I call on a man for a quarter
of a century and don't sell him a sou, but when I once make a sale, I
want it to stick. This selling business isn't such a snap as most of
our employers think. It takes a whole lot of hard knocking; the easy
push-over days are all over. When a man lands a good order now it
makes the blood rush all over his veins; and when an order it cut out
it is like getting separated from a wisdom tooth. Of course you can't
blame a Kansas merchant for going back on his orders in a grasshopper
year; but it is the fellow who has half a notion of canceling when he
buys and afterwards really does cancel, that I carry a club for.

"Usually a fellow who does this sort of funny work comes to grief. I
know I once had the satisfaction of playing even with a smart buyer
who canceled on me.

"I was down in California. I was put onto a fellow named Johnson up in
Humboldt County, who wanted some plunder in my line - the boys, you
know, are pretty good to each other in tipping a good chance off to
one another. I couldn't very well run up to the place - it was a two-
day town - so I wrote Johnson to meet me at 'Frisco at my expense. He
came down, bought his bill all right, and I paid him his expense.
Luckily, I put a clothing man on and we 'divied' the expense. We
treated that fellow white as chalk; we gave him a good time - took him
to the show and put before him a good spread.

"Do you know that fellow just simply worked us. He wanted to come to
'Frisco, anyhow, and just thought he'd let me foot the bill. How do I
know it? Because he wrote the house canceling the order before he
started back home. I figured up how long it would take to get a letter
to Chicago and back; and he couldn't have gone home and written the
firm so that I could get the notification as soon as I did unless he
wrote the cancellation the very night we took him to the theater. I
never had a man do me such dirt. I felt like I'd love to give him just
one more swell dinner, and use a stomach pump on him.

"But didn't I get beautifully even with Brother Johnson!

"The next season, as a drawing card, I had my packer carry on the
side, in his name, a greatly advertised line of shoes. It didn't pay a
long commission, but everybody wanted it; and it enabled me to get
people into my big towns so that I did not have to beat the brush.

"I had failed to scratch Johnson from my mailing list, so he got a
card from my packer - as well as a letter from myself - that if he would
meet him in San Francisco his expenses would be paid. He did not know
that my packer and myself were really the same man.

"Johnson jumped at the advertised shoe line like a rainbow trout at a
'royal coachman.' It's funny how some merchants get daffy over a
little printer's ink, but it does the work and the man who advertises
his goods is the boy who gets the fat envelopes. I'd rather go on the
road to-day with a line of shoes made out of soft blotting paper, if
they had good things said about them in the magazines and if flaming
posters went with them than to try to dish out oak-tanned soles with
prime calf uppers at half price and with a good line of palaver. It's
the lad who sticks type that, when you get right down to it, does the

"The letter which Johnson wrote in reply to the card of my packer went
something like this: "'My dear sir: In regard to your favor of the 23d
inst., I beg to say that I could use about $2000 worth of your line if
you could come up here, providing that I would be the only one that
you would sell your line to in my town.

"'Hoping to hear from you soon in regard to this matter, I remain,
very truly, - - - - Johnson.'

"'P.S. If you can't possibly come up, I'll come down.'

"What did I do? Well, I thought the matter over and decided that
business was business and, there being no other chance in his town, I
would let him come and try to play even on the old score. I wired him
to come down, and I thought, as I had him on the run, I'd better put
on a pusher. My message read: 'Come down but you must be here to-

"Just after my telegram was off - I told the girl to rush it - I called
at the office for my mail and, bless me! I had a letter from another
man in the same town.

"Now, say what you will, boys, a man's letter reveals his character.
If a man has mean blood in his veins he will spread some of it on the
paper when he writes to you. I've seen the pugnacious wrinkles of a
bull pup's face many a time wiggling between the lines of a letter.
And if there's sunshine in a man's heart that also will brighten up
the sheet he writes on.

"The other man in the town wrote about like this:

"'Your postal received and I must say I regret exceedingly that I have
just sent in a mail order for your goods. I wish I had known that you
were coming, for I always save my orders for the boys on the road when
I can. Now, the next time you come to 'Frisco, let me know a few days
ahead and I will run down to meet you. I want your goods. My business
in your line is steadily increasing. When I started in I just kept
them for a side line, but your goods give first class satisfaction,
and in the near future I shall handle nothing else. It will take a
little time to clean out the other makes, but when I do - by next
season - I shall have a nice order for you. I hope to hear from you
before you get to the next coast - say a month before. Truly yours,

"They say a 'bird in the hand's worth two in the bush,' but that
depends upon the kind of a bird you've got hold of. I'll let go of a
tough old owl every time to take a chance at catching a spring
chicken. Without a second thought, I decided that I'd risk it on the
man who wrote me such a gentlemanly letter rather than deal with the
fellow who had canceled on me. Furthermore, I had half an idea that
Johnson was making me fair promises only to get the line and cut the
other fellow's throat and that maybe he would cancel again. So I
immediately sent Johnson a second telegram:

"'Cannot place the line with you. Do not come down.'

"He was anxious for the line and he wired back:

"'Write particulars why you cannot sell me your shoes.'

"Well, wasn't this a chance? My clothing friend was with me again. I
told him the story. 'Soak him good and wet!' said he. Together we
wrote the following letter, and, you bet your sweet life, I mailed it,
signing my packer's name:

"'Sir: You wire me to write you "particulars why" I cannot sell you my
line of shoes. Two of my friends at present in the hotel inform me
that six months ago you met them here at their expense, were royally
entertained by them and that after buying bills of them you almost
immediately cancelled your orders, and that you have never offered to
return to them the $25.00 they spent for your traveling expenses.
These gentlemen are reputable; and, to answer your question
specifically and plainly, I do not care to place my line with you
because in you I have no confidence, sir.'"

"That was getting even with a vengeance," spoke up the furnishing
goods man. "In this canceling business, though, sometimes the merchant
has just cause for it. I know I once had a case where my customer did
exactly the right thing by canceling his order.

"Along the last part of October, I sold him a of ties - this was down
in Mississippi. I sent in a little express order for immediate
shipment, and for December first a freight shipment which my man
wished for the Christmas trade. I also took his spring order to be
sent out February first.

"Now, my man's credit was good. For several seasons he had been
discounting his bills. He had the personal acquaintance of our credit
man and had made a good impression on him. I always like to have my
customers acquainted with our credit man. It's a good thing always for
the merchant to do and it's also a good thing for the house to know
their trade personally. Makes the man out in the country feel that
he's not doing business with strangers.

"There was no reason, then, why there should have been any question in
the credit department about making the shipment. The little express
order went out all right but, by mistake, the credit man placed the
February first shipment and the December first order away in the
February first shipment file. This was a clear mistake - no excuse for
it. Business men should not make mistakes.

"The first I heard about the matter was about New Year. I was struck
dumb when I received notice from the Credit Department that my man had
canceled his entire order. The credit man told me in the letter which
he sent along with the cancellation notice that he had simply made a
mistake in filing the December first order away with the February
first shipment, and confessed that he had made a mistake and begged my

"He was a gentleman with three times as much work on his hands as the
firm had the right to expect from him for the money they paid him, so,
although I was much put out because of the cancellation, I really did
not have any resentment toward the credit man. If things move along
smoothly in a wholesale house, the man in the office and the salesman
on the road must pull in double harness. I couldn't quite agree with
my friend in the office, though, when he said that my customer, when
he failed to receive an invoice soon after the first of December,
should have written in and said so. That wasn't the customer's
business. It was the business of the house, if they were unable to
make the shipment December 1st, to write the man and tell him so.

"Well, there I was! A good day's work had gone to the bad. My order -
and it was a good healthy one, too - was canceled and perhaps all
future business with a good friend and solid customer was at an end.

"The house had written my friend - his name was Morris - asking him to
reinstate the order; but that was like putting bait before a fish at
spawning time. He wouldn't take the hook. I knew if there was any
reinstating to be had, I must get it.

"Now, Morris was a bully good friend of mine. I really liked him very
much, and he liked me. I remember well the first time that I ever
struck him. Really, I went around to see him just for a personal call.
'Look here, old fellow,' I said, 'I haven't come around to do any
business with you; but one of my old friends, Jack Persey, has told me
what a good fellow you are and I've just dropped in to say hello.
Come, let's have a cigar.'

"After we'd lighted our cigars and talked a little, I said, 'Well, I'm
sorry to get off in such a rush but I must quit you. I must be packing
up. My train leaves in about an hour and a half. Now, really Morris
(he was such a whole-souled fellow that I found myself, without any
undue familiarity, calling him by his first name, after a very few
minutes), I don't want to do any business with you. I don't wish to
impose my acquaintance on you, but come on over to my sample room and
keep me company while I'm packing.'

"I really didn't intend to do any business with him. Some of the very
best friends we all have on the road, anyhow, are those to whom we
never sell a sou. Morris saw very plainly that I wasn't trying to work
him - you can always pick out, anyway, the ring of truth in words you
hear. I started to pack up without showing an item or even talking
business. My line was displayed, however, and it was really a bird.
Morris himself picked up a few samples and threw them down on the

"'Say, dos are pretty ennyvay. Sent me a dotzen of each von of dese in
the color dey are dere, ant also in black. I vill just gif you a
leetle gomplimentary orter on account of Chack. There is no reeson
anyvay vy I shouldn't do beesness mit you. You're de first man on de
rote dot efer struck me and didn't ask me to buy goots. I don't like
the fellow, anyvay, dot I'm buying ties from and his house is not'ing
to me. I vill gif you a goot orter next season.' And, sure enough,
Morris did give me a good order next season, and for several seasons
after that.

"So you can see how I was put out when I got a letter telling me that
Morris had canceled the order. I really cared less about the amount of
the order than I did about losing his friendship. So I sat down and
dictated a letter to him that ran something like this:

"'Dear Morris:

"'"The wordly hope men set their hearts upon
Turns ashes - or it prospers - and anon,
Like snow upon the desert's dusty face,
Lighting a little hour or two, is gone."

"'Our business relationship, Morris, has always been so pleasant that
many a time I've hoped it would last always. I cannot forget the kind-
hearted and friendly way in which you gave me your first order. I had
hoped that the firm I was with would give you the good treatment which
your friendship for me deserved; but here they are making a mistake
with the very man who, last of all, I would have them offend.

"'Now, Morris, I want you to feel that this is not my fault. I am sure
it is not yours. It can be nobody's fault but that of the house. They,
like myself, are also really very sorry for this mistake.

"'I enclose you the letter which I received from them in regard to
this. Can you not see that they regret this sincerely? Can you not
even hear the wail that our office man must have uttered when he
dictated the letter? Now, Morris, I really know that my firm holds you
in high esteem - and why should they not? You have always patronized
them liberally. You have always paid your bills and you have never
made yourself ugly toward them in any way.

"'As I say, there is no excuse for this mistake but, if you are
willing to pass that all up, Morris, I am sure you would make our
credit man, who has made this error, very happy indeed if you would
merely wire the house, "Ship my goods as originally ordered."

"'And, after all, Morris, think this thing over and maybe you will
conclude that "'Tis better far to bear the ills we have than fly to
others that we know not of."

"'"Can't be always sunny
Dat's de lesson plain;
For ever' rose, my honey,
Am sweeter fer de rain."
"'Your friend,
"' - - - - - - '"

"A good deal of poetry for a business letter," spoke up one of the
boys. This pricked the necktie man, who flashed back, "Yes, but if
there were more poetry in business, it would be lots more pleasant
than it is."

"Well, how did it come out?" I asked.

"It so happened that I had to pass through Morris' town about ten days
afterwards. I didn't care anything about reinstating the order for the
amount of it, but I really did wish to go in and see my old friend and
at least square myself. So I dropped off one day between trains at
Morris' town, and went up to see him.

"'Hello,' said he, 'How are you, old man? I'm glad to see you. Say,
but dot vas a tandy letter. I've ortered a seventy-five-cent vrame for

"'Well, Morris,' said I, 'you know I'm really very glad that a little
difficulty of this kind has come up between us as I like you to know
just where I stand. Now, I haven't come here to do anything but just
see you. Cut the order clear out - I wish you would. It would teach the
house a lesson and make them more careful hereafter. Come on down with
me now. It's about supper time and we're going to have a little feed.'

"I really meant every word I said. After we had finished a fried
chicken or two, we started back to Morris' store.

"'Say,' said he, 'Haf you got the copy of dot orter I gafe you?'

"I said, 'Why no, Morris, I haven't a copy of it. You have one. Don't
you remember that I gave you one?'

"'Yes, but ven I didn't get my goots on time - I kapt vaiting, und
vaiting, und vaiting, und still dey ditn't com, I took dot copy and I
vas so mad dot I tore it op and trew id in der stofe.'

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Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 11 of 19)