Charles N. Crewdson.

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hundreds of dollars out of my pocket this year by turning down orders
on good people who are worthy of credit. Now, it doesn't make any
difference as to his salary if he turns down good people; in fact, if
he is in doubt about any man at all, or even the least bit skittish,
what does he do but turn him down? This is nothing out of his jeans,
but it's taking shoes away from my babies, and I simply won't stand
for it.'

"The long and short of it was that I didn't sign with the old man that
day but he soon 'caved' after he had talked with a few more of the
boys - one of whom told him point blank that we would all quit unless
he gave the credit man his walking papers. And, you bet your life, the
credit man went and today he is where he ought to be - keeping books at
a hundred a month!"

"It is not alone against the credit man who turns down orders that I
have a grudge," said the furnishing goods man, "but also against the
fellow who monkeys with old customers. If there is anything that makes
a customer sour it is to be drawn on by a firm that he has dealt with
for a long time. Some of the merchants out in the country, you know,
get themselves into the notion of thinking that the house they deal
with really loves them. They don't know what a cold-blooded lot our
houses really are. What they're all looking for is the coin and they
don't care very much for a man when they believe he can't pay his
bills. I know I never felt cheaper in my life than I did last trip. I
went into an old customer's store and what should I see upon his
shelves but another man's goods. I felt as if somebody had hit me
between the eyes with a mallet, for he was a man I had nursed for four
or five years and brought him up to be a good customer. He had a sort
of a racket store when I started with him - groceries, tin pans, eggs,
brooms, a bucket of raw oysters, and all that sort of stuff. One day I
said to him, 'Why don't you throw out this junk and go more into the
clothing and furnishing goods business? Lots cleaner business and pays
a great deal more profit. Furthermore, this line of goods is sold on
long datings and you can stretch your capital much further than in
handling other lines.'

"Well, sir, he talked with me seriously about the matter and from that
time on he began to drop out the tin pan and grocery end of his line.
When I saw he was doing this, I asked him to let me have the hook in
the ceiling from which for so long had swung his bunch of blackening
bananas, so I could have a souvenir of his past folly! I had worked
him up until his account was strictly a good one.

"In fact, he prospered so well with this store that after a while he
had started another one. When he did this he, of course, stretched his
capital a little and depended upon his old houses to take care of him.
He had always discounted his bills in full, sometimes even
anticipating payments and making extra discounts.

"I was tickled to sell him about twice as much as usual, on one of my
trips. It was just ninety days after this when I got around again and
saw the other fellow's goods in the store. When I looked at the
strange labels I felt like some fellow had landed me one on the jaw.
You know it hurts to lose a customer, especially if he is one that you
have fed on the bottle and thinks a great deal of you personally.

"Well, when I saw the other stuff, all I could do was to march right
up and say, 'Well, Fred, the other fellow's been getting in his work,
I see. What's the matter? The sooner we get through with the
unpleasant part of it, the better.' 'Now, there isn't anything the
matter with you, old man,' said my customer. 'Come up here in the
office. I want to show you how your house treated me.'

"And there he showed me a letter he had received from the house
stating that he must pay up his old account before they would ship him
any more goods; and the old bill was one which was dated May 1st, four
months, and was not due until September 1st. They wrote him this
before the first of June, at which time he was entitled to take off
six per cent. He simply sent a check for what he owed them and, to be
sure, wrote them to cancel his order. There was a good bill and a
loyal customer gone - all on account of the credit man."

"Once in a while, though," said the shoe man, "you strike a fellow
that will take a thing of this sort good-naturedly, but they are rare.
I once had a customer down in Missouri who got a little behind with
the house. The credit man wrote him just about the same sort of a
letter that your man received, but my friend, instead of getting mad,
wrote back a letter to the house, something like this:

"'Dear House: I've been buying goods from you for a long time. I have
paid you as well as I knew how. You know I am pretty green. I started
in life pulling the cord over a mule and when I made a little money at
this I started a butcher shop. My neighbors who sold other stuff,
drygoods and things of that sort, it looked to me didn't have much
more sense than I, and they lived in nice houses and had sprinklers
and flowers in their yards. So it looked to me like that was a good
business to go into. I tried my hand at it and have got on fairly
well. Of course, I have been a little slow, you know, being fool
enough to think everybody honest and to do a credit business myself.

"'Now I really want to thank you for telling me I must pay up before I
can get any more goods. I kind of look on you people as my friends, I
have dealt with you so long, and if you are getting a little leery
about me, why I don't know what in the world the other fellows that
don't care anything about me must be beginning to think. When I got
your letter telling me to pay up before you would ship the bill I had
bought, I felt like I had run into a stone fence, but this lick over
the head has really done me a whole lot of good and I am going to go a
little more careful hereafter.

"'Just now I am not able to dig up all that I owe but here is my check
for a hundred. Now, I want to keep out of the hole after this so you
had better cut down the order I gave your man about a half. After all,
the best friend that a man has is himself, and hereafter I am going to
try a little harder to look after Number One.
"Yours truly,

"Another thing that makes it hard for us," said the furnishing man,
"is to have the credit man so infernally long in deciding about a
shipment, holding off and holding off, brooding and brooding, waiting
and waiting, and wondering and wondering whether they shall ship or
whether they shall not, and finally getting the notion to send the
goods just about the time a man countermands his order. A countermand,
you know, is always a pusher and I would advise any merchant who
really wants to get goods, to place an order and then immediately
countermand it. Whenever he does this the credit man will invariably
beg him to take the stuff. Oh, they're a great lot, these credit men.

"I know I once sold a man who, while he was stretching his capital to
the limit pretty far, was doing a good business and he wanted some
red, white, and blue neckties for Fourth of July trade. I had sold him
the bill in the early part of May. About the 2Oth of June, I received
a letter from the credit man asking me to write him further
information about my man. Well, I gave it to him. I sent him a
telegram that read like this: 'Ship this man today by express sure.
Heavens alive, he is good. You ought to make credits for a coffin
house for a while.'"

"The credit man is usually bullet-headed about allowances for another
thing," said the shoe man. His kind will fuss around about making
little allowances of a couple of dollars that come out of the house
and never stop to think we often spend that much on sundries twice
over every day. I had a man a great while ago to whom I had sold a
case of shoes that were not at all satisfactory. I could see that they
were not when I called upon him and I simply told him right out, 'Look
here, Mark, this stuff isn't right. Now, I wish to square it. What
will make this right?' 'Oh,' he said, 'I don't think these shoes are
worth within two dollars a dozen of what you charged me.' 'No, they're
not worth within three dollars,' said I. 'I will just give you a
credit bill for three dollars and call it square.' It was nothing more
than right because the stuff was bum.

"I came into the house soon after this and, passing the credit memo,
into the office, the credit man howled as if I were pulling his jaw
tooth. It hurt him to see that little three dollars go on the profit
and loss account. 'Well, I won't insist upon it,' said I. 'I will just
ask the man to return the goods.' 'All right,' he said.

"When I wrote out to my man, I told him the truth about the matter, -
that the house had howled a little because I had made the credit
allowance, and to just simply fire the stuff right back, but not to
forget to ask that he be credited with the amount of freight which he
had already paid on the case of shoes. It was just a small item, but
what do you think the credit man said when I showed him my customer's
letter, asking for the freight?'

"He said, 'Well, that fellow's mighty small.'"

"I have never had any of these troubles that you boys are talking
about," said the hat man.

"Lucky boy! Lucky boy!" spoke up the clothing man in his big, heavy

"Yes, you bet," chimed in the others.

"It's a strange thing to me," chimed in the clothing man, "that credit
men do not exercise more common sense. Now, there is one way, and just
one way, in which a credit department can be properly conducted. The
credit man and the man on the road must work in double harness and
pull together. The salesman should know everything that is going on
between his house and his customer. And when it comes to the scratch,
his judgment is the judgment that should prevail when any matter of
credits is to be decided upon. The salesman should have a copy of
every letter that his customer writes his house, and he should be sent
a duplicate of every line that the house writes to the customer. He
should be kept posted as to the amount of shipment the house makes,
and he should be notified whenever the customer makes a remittance.
This puts the salesman in position to know how much to sell his
customer, and also when to mark the new bill he sells for shipment. At
the time of making the sale, it is very easy for the man on the road
to say to his customer, 'Now look here, friend, as you haven't been
quite able to meet your past obligations promptly, suppose that we
stand off this shipment for a little while and give you a chance to
get out of the hole. I don't want to bend your back with a big load of
debt.' For saying this, the customer will thank his salesman; but the
house cannot write the letter and say this same thing without making a
customer hot.

"And another thing: If a salesman has shown himself strictly square in
his recommendations, the salesman's recommendations regarding a
shipment should be followed. The salesman is the man - and the one man
- who can tell whether his customer is playing ball or attending to
business. Now, for example, not a great while ago, I saw a merchant
that one big firm in this country thinks is strictly good, playing
billiards on the Saturday before Christmas. If there is any time on
earth when a retail merchant should be in his store, it is on this
day, but here was this man, away from his store and up at the hotel,
guzzling high balls and punching ivory. That thing alone would have
been enough to queer him with me and if I had been selling him and he
was not meeting his bills promptly, I should simply tell the house to
cut him off.

"The salesman also knows how much business a man is doing, - whether it
is a credit business and all the other significant details. The
merchant will take the traveling man that he buys goods from, and
throw his books and his heart and everything wide open, and tell him
how he stands. Even if he is in a little hole of some kind, it is of
the traveling man that he asks advice as to how to get out.

"Again, the traveling man knows all about the trade conditions in his
customer's town; whether there has been a good crop and prices high;
whether the pay roll is keeping up or not; whether there is some new
enterprise going to start that will put on more men and boom things.
He knows all about these things, and he is on the spot and has a
personal interest in finding out about them, if he is honest, and most
salesmen are. It is to his interest to be so. And he can give
information to the credit department that nobody else can.

"The report of a salesman to his firm is worth forty times as much as
these little printed slips that have been sent in by some ninny,
numskull reporter for a commercial agency. These fellows, before they
go around soliciting reports from merchants, have usually been lily-
fingered office boys who have never been in a place where a man can
learn much common sense until they have grown too old to get on to
things that have come in their way."

"Yes, you bet," spoke up the furnishing goods man. "They are the
fellows who do us boys on the road a whole lot of harm. If the
agencies wanted to get men who would know how to secure good, sound
reports from merchants, they should hire first-class salesmen and send
them out instead of office boys.

"The credit man," he continued, "should do another thing. He should
not only send to the salesman the letter he writes, but he should
confer with the man on the road _before_ he writes. What he should do,
if the references the merchant gives return favorable reports and the
salesman recommends the account, he should, without going any further,
pass out an order to save himself a whole lot of worry. But it matters
not how bad are the reports from any and all sources, the credit man
should write the salesman if he is near, or even wire him if he is far
away, laying before him the facts and asking for further information
and judgment. I once asked our credit man to do this but he kicked
because a telegram would cost the house four bits. He hadn't stopped
to think that it cost me out of my own pocket from ten to twenty
dollars expenses on every order I took. Oh, they are wise, these
credit men!

"It is strange, too, that credit men do not average better than they
do. If the heads of firms really knew what blunders their credit men
make, I believe that two-thirds of them would be fired tomorrow. There
isn't any way of getting at their blunders except through the kicking
of the traveling man and when he makes a howl, the heads of the house
usually dismiss him with, 'You sell the goods and we'll attend to the

"A really 'broad minded, quick witted, diplomatic, courteous credit
man,' as you say, is worth a great deal to a house. They are almost as
rare as roses on the desert. Now, just to show you how the credit man
and the salesman can pull together, let me give you an example.

"I sold a man a fair bill of goods. I knew he was a straightforward,
square, capable man of good character. He was a pusher. I was in a
rush and I took from him just a brief statement of his affairs. I
wrote the house that I thought well of the man but didn't especially
recommend him. You see, if you recommend strongly every man you sell,
it is the same as recommending none. So, unless it comes to a hard
pinch, I say no more than is necessary. Our credit man got the agency
reports on this man, which made him out as no good and having no
capital, and a whole lot of things of that sort and he wrote the man
refusing to ship the bill. It looked to him that this man's condition
was so hopeless that it was unnecessary for him to write me. He simply
turned the order down straight out. When I came in and went over my
list of turn-downs, I simply broke right out and said to the credit
man, 'Here, you've made a bull on this.' 'Do you really think so?'
said he. 'Heavens alive, yes! I know it. Why, this fellow made five
thousand dollars last year on a saw mill that he has. He is in a
booming country. Maybe he had a little bad luck in the past but he is
a hustler and sinks deep into the velvet every time he takes a step
now.' 'Why, I am awfully sorry. What shall I do about it?' 'Leave it
to me,' said I.

"I wrote out to my man and told him the straight of it, that the
agencies had done him a great injustice, and for him to write me
personally exactly how he stood and that I would see things through
for him in the office; that my house meant him no harm; that he was a
stranger to them, but upon my recommendation, if his statement were
anything like what I thought it should be, they would fill the order.
At the same time, I suggested that the bill be cut about half for the
first shipment.

"Well, sir, that man sent me in his statement showing that he not only
had merchandise for which he owed very little, but also over four
hundred dollars in the bank. I remember the amount. His statement
showed that he had a net worth of nearly eleven thousand dollars, - and
that man told the truth. Now, this information he would give me
direct, but the house was not able to obtain it elsewhere.

"Now, this is a case, you know, where there is now good feeling all
around and this is so just because the credit man paid attention to
the salesman."

The outer door of the hotel was opened. In blew a gust of wind. The
green leaves of the big palm rustled noisily as we scattered to our
rooms, thankful we were not credit men.



To win the customer's good will is the aim of every successful

"Ah, but how can I do this?" asks the new man.

The ways must be as many as the men he meets. The dispositions of men
are as varied as their looks. A kind word will win one man and a bluff
another. A generous deed will go right into the heart of one merchant;
another will resent it, thinking that the man who does him a favor
seeks only to buy his good will. The one thing, however, that the man
on the road must do, and always do, is to _gain the confidence_ of the
man with whom he seeks to do business. His favor will as surely
follow this as day follows night. The night may sometimes be long,
like that at the North Pole, but when day does finally dawn it will
also be of long duration. The man whose confidence it is slow for you
to gain, will probably prove to be the man whose faith in you will
last the longest.

Then, the salesman must not only have the knack of getting the good
will of his customer on first sight, but he must also possess patience
and, if need be, let confidence in himself be a slow growth. He must
do business from the jump when he starts out with samples but, to be
truly successful, his business must always grow.

A little group of us, having come back from our trips, fell in
together one day at luncheon in Chicago. Our meeting was not planned
at all, but before the first of us had forgotten the sting of the
tabasco on our Blue Points, so many old friends had foregathered that
we had our waiters slide two tables together. There was quite a bunch
of us. The last one to join the party was a dry goods man. He was a
jolly good fellow.

"Hello! Ed, Hello!" spoke up all the boys at once. "How are you? Just
home? Sorry to hear your old customer out at Columbus finally had to
quit business," said the clothing man.

"Yes; so am I," said Ed. "He was a mighty hard man for me to get
started with but when once I landed him he was one of the most
faithful customers I had. Do you know that for more than eight years
he never bought a sou in my line from any other man? It's too bad that
he had to leave this world. He was a fine old gentleman. I'll never
forget, though, the first time I sold him. I had been calling on him
for three or four years. His town was one of the first ones I made
when I started on the road - I was not quite twenty, then.

"He always treated me courteously - he was a Southerner, you know - but
I couldn't get next to him to save my life. One day as I walked toward
his store, a little German band stationed itself just before his door
and started in to play Yankee Doodle. I didn't pay any attention to
this at the time, but when I went up to shake hands with the old
gentleman, as usual, I asked him if there was something in my line he
wanted. For the first time in his life he was uncivil toward me. He
said, 'No, suh, there is not,' and he turned and walked away. Well,
there was nothing left for me to do but to scoot as soon as I could.

"I made a sneak and went into another store but soon I saw there was
nothing there for me and I thought I would run over to the hotel, get
my traps together and skip town by the next train. I had to pass by
the old man's door again. The little German band was still there. They
had quit playing Yankee Doodle but were going it good and hard on
'Marching Through Georgia.' I happened to look into the old man's
store and he was pacing up and down behind the counter. A bright idea
struck me. I went up to the leader of the band and said, 'Look here,
Fritz, can you play Dixie?'

"'Deekse?' said the big, fat Bavarian. 'Vas iss dass?'

"I didn't know much German but I whistled the air and made him
understand what I wanted.

"_Ja wohl,_' said he.

"'Then, here,' said I, handing him a cart wheel, 'just you stay right
here and give me a dollar's worth of Dixie, - a whole dollar's worth,
mind you!'

"Well, he must have understood me all right, for the band promptly
began to play Dixie. I didn't know that the old gentleman had seen me
talking to the band leader, but he had come to the front door to order
the band to move on shortly after I came up.

"I simply stood there, leaning against the store in the sunshine,
while the German band blowed away. Well, sir, the fellow that played
the clarionet - when he got down to the lively part of the tune -
certainly did make that little instrument sing. They didn't know what
Dixie meant but they played it to a fare-ye-well, just the same!

"After a while the old man came to the front door. He saw me standing
there in the sunshine. There was a smile on his face as broad as Lake
Michigan. Joy spread over his countenance in waves. When he saw me
leaning up against the store, he came right out where I was and said,
'Look hyah, suh; I was pow'ful uncivil to you this mo'nin', suh. I
want to beg yo' pa'don. No gentleman has a right to insult another,
but I was so infernally mad this mo'nin' when you spoke to me, suh,
that I couldn't be civil. That confounded Yankee tune just riled me.
You know, I was an old confed'rate soldier, suh. The wah is all ovah
now and I'm really glad the niggers are free. The country's lots
bettah off as it is now. Since I've been up hyah in this country I've
begun to think that Abe Lincoln was a good man and a fair man, and a
friend to the nation; but, confound it! ever' time I hyah 'Yankee
Doodle' or 'Marchin' Through Georgia,' suh, I put on mah unifohm again
and want to fight. It's pow'ful ha'd fo' a man that has woh the gray,
suh, to forget the coloh of his old clothes, try as ha'd as he will. I
want to be broad-minded, but, confound it! it seems that I cyan't,

"'Well, you are ahead of me just one generation,' said I. 'I was born
in the North and raised up here but my father was a Southern soldier.'

"'What!' said the old man. 'Why didn't yo' tell me this befoh, suh?
Hyah, I've been treatin' yo' like a dog, suh, all this time. And your
father was a confed'rate soldier, suh?'

"'Yes, sir,' said I. 'He was under Jackson.'

"'What! Stomal Jackson? Why, suh, a greater man than Stomal Jackson
nevah lived, suh. He was a gentleman clean to the co'. Come right in,
suh, and sit down. I want to talk to yo' some mo'.

"'Now, you are goin' to pa'don me, suh, fo' my rudeness this mo'nin'.
I want you to say that you will.'

"'Why, to be sure, Colonel,' said I. 'I certainly wouldn't blame you
for the same feeling that I know my father had as long as he lived.'

"The little Bavarian band, according to my instructions, kept on
playing Dixie so long that the fellow who blew the clarionet began to
skip notes and puff. I went out and told them that that was enough of
that tune and switched them onto S'wanee River. To the tune of this
old air, the Colonel marched me up to his house for dinner.

"We didn't say a word about business, of course, until after we had
returned to the store. When we came back there, the old Colonel said
to me, 'Now, look hyah, - let me get yo' first name.'

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Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 13 of 19)