Charles N. Crewdson.

Tales of the Road online

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"'Well, if you wish to look over the copy, Morris, I can easily run
down to the depot and tear my tissue paper one out of my order book.'

"'Vell, you go down und get it,' said Morris. 'Dere's some off the
Gristmas goots it is too late for me to use, but we'll fix op de
Spring shipment som vay.'

"When Morris and I looked over my copy, he cut out a few items of the
December 1st shipment but added to the February 1st order a great deal
more than he canceled from the other one.

"'Say,' said Morris, 'do you know vy I reinsdadet dot orter. It vas
dot letter you sent me.'

"'Well, I thank you very much,' said I.

"'You know, I don't care so much aboud dose "vorldly hopes" and dot
"sonshine," but vat dit strike me vas vere you saidt: "It's better
fair to bear de ilts ve half don vly to odders dot we know not of."
Dot means, Vat's de use of chanching 'ouses.'"

"You can handle some men like that," said a hat man friend who sat
with us, but I struck one old bluffer out in South Dakota once that
wouldn't stand for any smoothing over. He was the most disagreeable
white man to do business with I ever saw. He was all right to talk
fishing and politics with, and was a good entertainer. He always
treated me decently in that way but when it got down to business he
was the meanest son of a gun on earth. A fishing trip for half an hour
or the political situation during luncheon is a pretty good thing to
talk over, but when it comes to interfering with business, I think it
is about time to cut it out.

"My house had been selling this man for several years. He handled a
whole lot of goods but it worried the life out of me to get his bill.

"Last time I did business with him he had monkeyed with me all day
long, and I had struck him as many as four times to go over to my
sample room. If he had made a positive engagement and said that he
would see me at twelve o'clock that night, it would have been all
right; but he would turn away with a grunt the subject of going to
look at samples, not even giving me the satisfaction of saying he
didn't want anything at all.

"I felt that I'd spent time enough in the town so, after supper, I
brought over a bunch of soft hats under my arm, and about nine o'clock
he looked at them, picked out a few numbers, and said he had to go to
lodge. I boned him about straw hats - I was on my spring trip then.

"'Look at them to-morrow,' he grunted.

"I was beginning to get tired of this sort of thing so next morning
early I went around to see another man in the town. I'd made up my
mind I'd rather take less business from some one else and get it more
agreeably; but, to my surprise, I sold this other fellow $1,300, the
best order I took on that trip. And easy! I believe he was one of the
easiest men I ever did business with; and his credit was A1. He had no
objections whatever to my doing business with others in the same town,
because he wished his goods put up under his own name rather than with
our brands on them, so this really made no interference.

[Illustration: "He came in with his before-breakfast grouch."]

"I finished with him in the morning about 11:30. On going over to my
other man's store I found that he was still in bed. Pretty soon he
came in with his before-breakfast grouch. It was afternoon before I
got him over to my sample room. Meantime I had gone to sell another
man and sold him a bunch of children's and misses' goods - such stuff
as a clothing house has no use for.

"After I'd taken the dogging of the gruff old codger for a couple of
hours - he kicked on everything, the brims being a quarter of an inch
too wide or too narrow, and the crowns not shaped exactly right - I
finally closed the order and handed him his copy. As he put his hand
on the door-knob to go, he cast his eye over a pile of misses' sailors
and growled: 'Well, who bought them?'

"I told him that I'd sold a little handful of goods to a dry goods
store, knowing there would be no interference as he didn't carry that
line of goods.

"'Well, a man that sells me can't do business with no other man in
this town,' he grunted, and with this, slammed the door and left me.
He didn't know that I'd sold his competitor a $1,300 bill.

"When I was about half through packing up, the old growler's clerk,
who was a gentlemanly young fellow, came in and said to me,
hesitatingly: 'Old man, I hate to tell you, but the boss told me to
come over and say to you not to ship that bill of goods he gave you
until he ordered it. He is very unreasonable, you know, and is kicking
because you sold some stuff to the dry goods man down the street.'

"'Thank you, Gus,' said I to the clerk. I was mad as fire, but not at
him, of course. 'Now, Gus, the old man has sent me a message by you.
I'll let you take one back to him. Now, mind you, you and I are good
friends, Gus. Tell him I say he can take his business, including this
order, and go with it now and forever clean smack back to - well, you
know the rest. Then tell him, Gus, that I've sold not only this dry
goods man a bill but also his strongest competitor over $1,300 worth
of goods. Tell him, furthermore, that I personally appreciate all the
favors he has done for me in the past, in a personal way; that I have
enjoyed visiting with him; that whenever I come back to this town
again in the future, I shall come in to see him; that if I can do him
a personal favor in any way, at any time, anywhere, I shall be only
too glad to do so, but that, absolutely, our business relationship is
at an end.'

"'All right,' said Gus. 'I'll repeat to the old man every word you've
said. I'm glad you've called him down. It'll do him good.'

"And you bet your life I tore his order up without sending it in to
the house and drew a line through his name on my book, and have never
solicited his business since."

"You did him just exactly right," said the necktie man. "While I
squared myself with my friend Morris, I was once independent with a
customer who cancelled an order on me. He came in to meet me at Kansas
City. Two more of the boys were also there then. He placed orders with
all of us. His name was Stone. The truth is he came in and brought his
wife and boy with him just because he wanted to take a little flyer at
our expense. We had written him telling him that we'd pay his expenses
if he would come in. He went ahead and took a few hours of our time to
place his orders. At the time he did so I merely thought him a good
liberal buyer but, as I now look back at the way he bought, he slipped
down most too easy to stick.

"Sure enough, in three or four weeks the firm wrote me that Stone had
cancelled his order, stating that he believed he had enough goods on
hand to run him, that season, but that possibly very late he might
reinstate the order.

"The fellow was good so I thought it wouldn't do very much harm to try
to get him to take the goods. However, I employed very different
tactics from those I used with my friend Morris. I wrote him this way:

"'My dear Brother Stone: I have received a letter from the firm
stating that you have cancelled the order which you placed with me in
Kansas City. You know not how much I thank you for cancelling this
order. It gave me a great deal of pleasure to sell you this bill of
goods, and now that you have cancelled it, I want you to be sure and
make your cancellation stick because then, sooner than I had really
expected, I shall have that same old pleasure over again.

"'It isn't always profit that a man should look for in business. What
good does it do him to make a whole lot of money unless he can feel
good on the inside? The _feel_ is about all there is in life anyway.

"'Now in future, you go right on as you have in the past, buy your
goods from the other fellow. He will not charge you a great deal more
for them than I would and your loss will not be very great in that
regard; but each time that I come around be sure to take a lot of my
time and place an order with me, even if you do cancel it.

"'Don't even trouble yourself about returning the fifteen dollars
expense money that was given you, because the pleasure I had with you
was worth that much to me alone. I shall square this matter myself
with the other boys. No, I won't do that because I'm sure that they
feel in this matter just as I do.

"'With very kindest regards, and ever at your service, believe me,
Brother Stone,
"'Truly yours,
"' - - - - - - '"

"He wired the house to ship the bill and sent the message paid."

"That was what I call a grafter," said one of the boys.

"Yes, you bet your life," said the wall paper man.

"I myself once cured a man of the cancelling habit. You know there are
some merchants over the country who are afflicted with this disease.

"I had heard of a druggist out in Pennsylvania who was noted for
placing an order one morning and cancelling it that very night. He had
done a trick of this kind on me once and I'd made up my mind that I
was going to play even with him. I walked him over to my sample room
early in the morning. I had my samples all spread out so that I could
handle him quickly. There were a lot of new patterns out that season -
flaming reds, greens, cherry colors, blues, ocean greens - all sorts of
shades and designs.

"The druggist picked out a cracking good order. He took a copy of it
himself in his own book. As we were working the wind turned the sheets
of his memo. book and I saw that he had in it a copy of an order in my
line to another firm. This he had given only a few days before. Every
season this druggist would really buy one big bill of wall paper, but
this was his trick: He would look at the line of every man that came
along. Sometimes he would place six or eight orders a season. After
placing an order he would immediately cancel it. At his leisure he
would figure out which order pleased him best and reinstate that one.

"Well, sir, when I finished with him it was close onto luncheon time,
but I didn't do anything but go hungry for awhile. I took my notebook,
made out his order, as quickly as I could, wired it into the firm (it
cost me twelve dollars to do this), and told them to be absolutely
sure to put all hands to work on that order and ship it on the four
o'clock fast freight that very day. I had to be in town the next day.
Soon after breakfast I went into the druggist's store. I caught him
back at his desk. I saw him blot the ink on an envelope he had just
addressed. About this time a lady came in to get a prescription
filled. As the druggist turned his back I quickly lifted the blotter
and, seeing that the letter was addressed to my firm, let it cover the
envelope again. I knew this was a cancellation letter.

"After the lady had gone out with her medicine, I asked the druggist
to show me some hair brushes which were in the case at the other end
of the store from the desk. I made up my mind that it was going to
take me longer to buy that hairbrush than it did the old man to buy my
bill of wall paper. I was getting his time. But I didn't rub my
fingers over many bristles before up backed a dray loaded to the
guards with the goods from my firm. The drayman came in and handed the
druggist the bill of lading.

"'What's this?' said he.

"'I'm treed,' said the drayman. 'They're as heavy as lead.'

[Illustration: "I'm treed," said the drayman, "they're as heavy as

"With this the drayman rolled the cases into the druggist's store.
Well, sir, he was the cheapest looking fellow you ever saw, but he
kept the goods, all right, and this cured him of _cancelitis_."



The credit man was the subject of our talk as a crowd of us sat, one
Sunday afternoon, in the writing-room of the Palace Hotel at San
Francisco. The big green palm in the center of the room cast, from its
drooping and fronded branches, shadows upon the red rugs carpeting the
stone floor. This was a peaceful scene and wholly unfitting to the
subject of our talk.

"I would rather herd sheep in a blizzard," blurted out the clothing
man, "than make credits. Yes, I would rather brake on a night way-
freight; be a country doctor where the roads are always muddy; a dray
horse on a granite-paved street; anything for me before being a credit
man! It is the most thankless job a human being can hold. It is like
being squeezed up against the dock by a big steamship. If you ship
goods and they're not paid for, the house kicks; if you turn down
orders sent in, the traveling man raises a howl. None of it for me.
No, sir!"

"I have always been fairly lucky," spoke up the hat man. "I've never
been with but two houses in my life and I've really never had any
trouble with my credit men. They were both reasonable, broad-minded,
quick-witted, diplomatic gentlemen. If a man's credit were doubtful in
their minds, they would usually ask me about him, or even wire me,
sometimes, if an order were in a rush, to tell them what I thought of
the situation. And they would always pay attention to what I said."

"Well, you are one in a hundred," spoke out the clothing man. "You
ought to shake hands with yourself. You don't know what a hard time
I've had with the various men who've made credits on the goods I have

"The credit man, you know, usually grows up from office boy to
cashier, and from cashier to bookkeeper, from bookkeeper to assistant
credit man and then to credit man himself. Most of them have never
been away from the place they were born in, and about all they know is
what they have learned behind the bars of their office windows. You
couldn't, for all sorts of money, hire a man who has been on the road,
to be a credit man. He can get his money lots easier as a salesman; he
has a much better chance for promotion, too. Still, if the salesman
could be induced to become a credit man, he would make the best one
possible, because he would understand that the salesman himself can
get closer to his customer than any one else and can find out things
from him that his customer would not tell to any one else and, having
been on the road himself, he would know that really about the only
reliable source of information concerning a merchant is the salesman

"When a merchant has confidence enough in a man to buy goods from him
- and he will not buy goods from him unless he has that confidence - he
will tell him all about his private affairs. He will tell him how much
business he is doing, how much profit he is making, how much he owes,
what are his future prospects, and everything of that kind. The credit
man who was once a salesman would also know that these commercial
agency books - the bibles of the average credit man - don't amount to a
rap. For my own part, I wish old Satan had every commercial agency
book on earth to chuck into the furnace, when he goes below, to roast
the reporters for the agencies. A lot of them will go there because a
lot of reports are simply outright slander. Commercial agencies break
many a good merchant. The heads of the agencies aim to give faithful
reports, but they haven't the means.

"Now, just for example, let me tell you what they did to a man who did
one of my customers when he first started in business. This man had
been a clerk for several years in a clothing store over in Wyoming. He
was one of the kind that didn't spend his money feeding slot machines,
but saved up $3,500 in cold, hard cash. This was enough for him to
start a little clothing shack of his own.

"Now, Herbert was a straight, steady boy. I recommended him to my
house for credit. He didn't owe a dollar on earth. He bought about
five thousand dollars' worth of goods and was able to discount his
bills, right from the jump. Now, what do you suppose one of the
commercial agencies said about him? Mind you, he had for four or five
years run his uncle's store. The uncle was sick and left things really
in the hands of Herbert. The agency said he was worth not over five
hundred dollars and that he was no good for credit.

"I, of course, learned of this through our office and I told Herbert
all about it and insisted that he ought to get that thing straightened
out. He said, when I spoke to him of it, 'Why, I did fill out the
blanks that they sent in to me - told them the straight of it, exactly
what I had, $3,500, and they surely reported it as I gave it to them.'
'No, they haven't done any such thing, Herbert, because I looked into
the matter myself when I was last in your office.'

"Well, Herbert had no trouble in getting goods from the houses whose
salesmen he knew real well, but he had to suffer the inconvenience of
having a great many orders turned down that he placed - either that or
else he was written that he would have to pay cash in advance before
shipping. It caused him a whole lot of worry. The boy - well, he wasn't
such a boy after all, he was nearly thirty years old and strictly
capable - was worried about all this, and I saw it. I told him, 'Look
here, Herbert, you must get this thing straightened up. You write the
agencies again and tell them just how you stand and that you want them
to give you the proper sort of a report.'

"It wasn't a great while before the representative of this agency came
around. Herbert went at him hammer and tongs for not doing him
justice - then what do you think that fellow did? Nothing!

"In spite of all this Herbert paid up all his bills all right and soon
established his credit by being able to give references to first-class
firms who stated that he paid them promptly. So, he became independent
of the agencies altogether and when they asked him for any statement
after that, he told them, 'Go to - - .' Now, of course, this wasn't
the thing for him to do.

"A merchant should see that the commercial agencies give him a good
report because, if he doesn't, he is simply cutting off his nose to
spite his face. If he ever starts to open a new account with some
house, the first thing the credit man of that concern will do, when he
gets his order, will be to turn to his 'bibles' and see how the man is
rated. These commercial agencies are going to say something about a
man. That's the way they make their living. If they don't say
something good, they will say something indifferent or positively bad.
So, what's the merchant to do but truckle to them and take chances on
their telling the truth about him?"

"Yes, you're right," chimed in the drygoods man, "but even then, try
as hard as he will, the merchant can't get justice, sometimes. One of
my customers, who is one of the most systematic business men I know
of, for years and years had no report. Half the goods he bought was
turned down simply because the agent in his town for the commercial
agency was a shyster lawyer who had it in for him. And he had all he
could do to retain his credit. Just to show you how good the man was
in the opinion of those with whom he did business, let me say that
right after he had had a big fire and had suffered a big loss, one
firm wired him: 'Your credit is good with us for any amount. Buy what
you will, pay when you can.'

"Well, sir, this man was mad as fire at the agencies, and for years
and years he would have absolutely nothing to do with them, but I
finally told him: 'Look here, Dick; now this thing is all right but
there's no use fighting those fellows. Why don't you get what's coming
to you?' And I talked him into the idea of getting out after a right
rating, and told him how to go about it.

"One day, in another town where he had started a branch store, he met
one of the representatives of the agency that had done him dirt, and
said to him: 'Now, Mr. Man, I sometimes have occasion to know how
various firms that I do business with over the country stand, and if
it doesn't cost too much to have your book, I'd like to subscribe.'
'Well, that won't cost you a great deal,' said the agent. My friend
subscribed for the agency book, and in the next issue he was reported
as being worth from ten to twenty thousand dollars. Another agency
soon chimed in and had him listed as worth from five to ten thousand
and with third-grade credit. Now, one or the other of these wrong - and
the truth of the matter is that both of them had slandered him for
years; he hadn't made ten to twenty thousand dollars in ninety days.
And just to show you how much good that rating did my friend, he soon
began to receive circulars and catalogues galore from houses which,
before that time, had turned him down."

"The worst feature of turning down an order," said the drygoods man,
"is that when you have an order turned down you also have a customer
turned away. I was waiting on a man in the house. He was from out
West. He was about half through buying his bill. The account was worth
over twelve thousand a year to me. He thought so much of my firm that
he had his letters sent in my care and made our store his headquarters
while in the city. One morning when he came in to get his mail I saw
him open one of his letters and, as he read it, a peculiar expression
came over his face. When he had read his mail I asked him if he was
ready to finish up. He said to me, 'No, Harry, I want to go over and
see your credit man.'

[Illustration: What explanation have you to make of this, sir?]

"I went with him. One of the old man's sons, who had just come back
from college, had taken charge of the western credits. The old man
would have been a great deal better off if he'd pensioned the kid and
put one of the packers in the office, instead. My customer went up to
the credit _boy_ and said to him: 'Now, Mr. - - , I've just received a
letter from home stating that you've drawn on me for three hundred and
eighty-five dollars. What explanation have you to make of this, sir? I
have always, heretofore, discounted every bill that I have bought from
this establishment, and this bill for which you have drawn on me is
not yet due.'

"'I'll look the matter up,' said the young credit man. He looked over
his books a few minutes and then tried to make some sort of an
explanation in a half-haughty kind of a way. My customer interrupted
him right in the midst of his explanation and said, 'Well, you needn't
say anything more about this, sir. Just see what I owe you.'

"This was looked up and my customer right then and there wrote his
check for what he owed and said to me:

"'Old man, I'm mighty sorry to have to do this, but I cannot interpret
this gentleman's conduct (pointing to the credit man) to mean anything
but that my credit is no longer good here. I shall see if there is not
some one else in the city who will trust me as I thought that this
firm was willing to trust me. This thing hurts me!'

"I couldn't explain matters in any way, and my customer - _and my
friend!_ - walked out of the store and has never been back since.
That piece of Tom foolery on the part of our snob of a credit man lost
the house and me an account worth over twelve thousand dollars a

"That fellow," broke in the clothing man, "should have got the same
dose that was once given a credit man in the house I used to work for.
He had been turning down order after order on good people, for all of
us boys. When we came home from our fall trip we were so dissatisfied
that we got together and swore that we would not sign a contract with
the house unless the credit man they had was fired. We all signed a
written agreement to this effect. Also, we agreed, upon our honor,
that if one of us was fired for taking the stand, we would all go.

"Now, you know, boys, it is the salesmen that make the house. The
house may have a line of goods that is strictly _it_, but unless
they have good salesmen on the road they might as well shut up shop. A
salesman, of course, gets along a great deal better with a good line
than he does with a poor one, but a wholesale house without a line of
first-class representatives cannot possibly succeed. And the house
knows this, you bet.

"Well, sir, I was the first salesman the old man struck to make a
contract with for the next year. I, had been doing first rate, making
a good salary and everything of that kind, and when the old man called
me into the sweat-box, he said to me:

"'Well, I suppose we haven't very much to talk over. What you have
done has been satisfactory to us, and I hope we've been satisfactory
to you. If it suits you we will just continue your old contract.'

"'There will have to be one condition to it,' said I to the old man.
'Well, what's that?' 'I simply will not work for this establishment if
the fool credit man that you have here is to continue. He has taken

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Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 12 of 19)