Charles N. Crewdson.

Tales of the Road online

. (page 18 of 19)
Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 18 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


called with original designs and prices. The committee refused to
decide until they had received designs and prices from our
competitors, so there was nothing else to do but bide-a-wee. When I
called I made it a point to make friends with the chairman, who hailed
from South Dakota and was all to the good. He was bright and
distinctly wise to his job. By a little scouting I found out when the
last competing representative was to call and speak his little piece.

"The next day I took a 'flyer,' that is, called without making an
appointment. I arranged to arrive at my man's room in the afternoon
when his recitations were over. His greeting was characteristic of the
westerner, - as if we had known one another all our lives. He was a
runner and did the one hundred yards dash in ten seconds flat and was
the school's champion. I talked athletics to beat the band and got him
interested. He was unable to get the committee together until seven
o'clock that evening, which meant that I would have to stay in the
town over night, as the last train went to Boston around 6:30 o'clock.
There was nothing else to do but stay, as you naturally know what bad
business it would be to leave a committee about to decide.

"I saw a platinum photograph of myself sleeping in that third-class
hotel. I kept on talking athletics, however, and the chairman was good
enough to ask me to dine with him. After dinner we played billiards
and he beat me. At 6:45 we adjourned to his room. He and his committee
excused themselves to hold their meeting in a room on the floor below.
I was smoking one of the chairman's cigars, and was congratulating
myself that things looked encouraging. The cigar was a good one, too.
In half an hour the committee returned. The fellows lined up on the
sofa, side by side, while the chairman straddled his chair and
addressed me as follows:

"'Well, Mr. Rogers, we have discussed the matter thoroughly and as
impartially I think as any committee of fellows could do, who had the
interest of their class seriously at heart. In a way we regret that
you took the trouble to call, because, to speak frankly, we would
rather write what we have to say, than to be placed in the somewhat
embarrassing position of telling you orally.'

"My cigar, somehow or other, no longer tasted good, and I was holding
it in an apathetic sort of a way, not caring whether it went out or
not. The bum hotel loomed up in front of me also. Continuing, the
chairman said:

"'We have received something like six other estimates from different
firms, and I must say some of their designs are "peaches." There are
two firms whose prices are lower than yours, too. We like your designs
very much, but I think if you place yourself in our position you will
see we have no other alternative but to place the order with another
house.

"He shifted his position uneasily and added with that final air we
know so well, 'I want to thank you for your interest and trouble and
we certainly appreciate the opportunity of seeing what you had to
offer.'

"This was a nice sugar coat on a bitter pill, but I didn't want to
take my medicine. I stood up, prepared to make a strong and expiring
effort and to explain what an easy thing it was for a firm to quote a
low price, etc., when the chairman came over quickly with extended
hand and said, 'Now, we understand how you feel, old man, but there is
no use prolonging this matter, which I assure you we regret more than
we express. However,' turning to the other fellows, 'I think we are
all agreed on one thing, and that is we are willing to make an
exception in this case, and,' - here the corners of his mouth twitched
and his eyes brightened up, 'we will give you the order on one
condition.' I quickly asked what the condition was. 'And that is,' all
the other fellows were standing up, smiling, 'we will give you the
order if you'll take us to the show to-night!'

"It was well done and a clever piece of acting.

"The show, by the way, held in the town opera house, was a thrilling
melodrama, and positively, it was so rotten it was good. The heroine
was a girl who sold peanuts in one of the Exeter stores, and the
villain was the village barber; I have forgotten who the hero was, but
he was a 'bird.' The best part of the play was near the end. The
villain was supposed to have murdered the hero by smashing him on the
head with an iron bar and then pushing him into the river. At a
critical stage, the hero walked serenely on the scene and confronted
the villain. The villain assumed the good old stereotyped posture and
shouted out with a horrified expression, 'Stand back, stand back, your
hands _is_ cold and slimy!' That busted up the show, as the audience,
composed largely of the Academy boys, stood up as one and yelled. They
finally started a cheer, 'Stand back, stand back, your hands _is_ cold
and slimy!' They repeated this cheer vigorously three times, and then
crowded out of the house. That cheer can be heard at the Academy to-
day.

"My chairman friend insisted upon putting me up for the night in a
spare room in the dormitory; this saved my life.

"The next morning I joined the boys in chapel, and was very much
surprised to find the entire student body and faculty clapping their
hands when I became seated. This was certainly a new one on me. I
turned to my chairman friend; he was grinning broadly as if he enjoyed
the situation. What was I expected to do, for Heaven's sake - get up
and make a speech? My mind was relieved by the President addressing
the boys about alien topics. I learned afterwards that it was an old
custom with Phillips-Exeter to applaud when a stranger entered the
chapel. This is especially appropriate in the case of an old 'grad'
returning, but certainly disturbing to an outsider.

"I did further business with my friend, also, when he was at Harvard.
He did such a smooth job on me that when I became manager of my house
I sent for him when we had the first opening on the road. I asked him
how he would like to come with us. He came. He has been with our
company now for two years and is getting on fine."

College boys as a rule are not looking for positions on the road, but
if more of them would do so there would be more college graduates
scoring a business success and more traveling men with the right sort
of educational equipment. But they should begin young. While traveling
on the road they would find many opportunities for self-advancement.
The traveling man who will try can make almost anything he wishes of
himself.

The head of the house must be on the lookout for the floater. In every
city there are many professional job finders. About the only time they
ever put up a good, strong line of conversation is when they talk for
a job. After they get a good guaranteed salary they go to sleep until
their contract is at an end, and then they hunt for another job. These
are the chaps that the "old man" must look out for with a sharp eye.

When it is known that a good position in a house is open, scores of
applications, by mail and in person, come in for the place from all
kinds of men. I knew of one instance where a most capable head of a
house thought well of one salesman who applied by letter. Before fully
making up his mind about him, however, he sent a trusted man to look
him up. He found that the man who made the application, while a
capable salesman and a gentleman, was unfortunately a drunkard and a
gambler.

Of this kind of man there are not so many. A man on the road who
"lushes" and fingers chips does not last long. To be sure, most men on
the road are cosmopolitan in their habits and they nearly all know,
perhaps better than any other class of men, when to say, "no."

No less important than hiring salesmen is the _handling_ of them.
The house spoils for itself many a good man after it gets him. The
easiest way is by writing kicking letters. The man on the road is a
human being. Generally he has a home and a family and friends. He is
working for them, straining every nerve that he may do something for
the ones he cherishes. He takes a deep and constant interest in his
business. He feels that he is a part of the firm he works for and
knows full well that their interest is his interest and that he can
only succeed for himself by making a success for the firm. When,
feeling all of this within himself, he gets a kicking letter because
he has been bold enough to break some little business rule when he
knows it should have been done, he grows discouraged.

And, alas, for the comfort of the traveling man! there are too few
houses that have due respect for his feelings. The traveling man is on
the spot. He knows at first hand what should be done. His orders
should be supreme. His work for a year should be considered as a
whole. If, at the end of his contract, what he has done is not
satisfactory, let him be told so in a lump. Continual petty hammering
at him drives him to despair.

For example: I know of one firm in the wholesale hat business, that
raised hob in a letter with their best man because he would, in
selling dozen lots to customers, specify sizes on the goods that his
customer wished, - a most absurd thing for the house to do. The
merchant must, of course, keep his own stock clean and not become
over-stocked on certain sizes. If he has been handling a certain
"number" and has sold out all of the small sizes, only the large ones
remaining, it would be foolish for him to buy regular sizes and get in
his lot the usual proportion of large ones. All he needs and will need
for several months, perhaps, will be the smaller run of sizes. Now,
the salesman on the spot and the merchant know just what should be
ordered, and if the house kicks on the salesman on this point, as did
this house, they act absurdly.

Not only do too many houses write kicking letters to their men on the
road, but fail to show the proper appreciation for their salesmen's
efforts to get good results. When a salesman has done good work and
knows it, he loves to be told so, craves in the midst of his hard work
a little word of good cheer. And the man handling salesmen who is wise
enough to write a few words of encouragement and appreciation to his
salesmen on the road, knows not how much these few words help them to
succeed in greater measure. It is a mistake for the "Old Man" to feel
that if he writes or says too many kind words to his salesmen, he will
puff them up. This is the reason many refrain from giving words of
encouragement. The man on the road, least of all men, is liable to get
the swelled head. No one learns quicker than he that one pebble does
not make a whole beach.

Another way in which a house can handle its salesmen badly is by not
treating his trade right. Many firms that carry good strong lines
persistently dog the customer after the goods have been shipped.
Whenever a house abuses its customers it also does a wrong to its
salesmen. I know of one firm, I will not say just where, that has had
several men quit - and good salesmen, too - in the last two or three
years, because this firm did not treat its salesmen's customers right.
For this reason, and this reason only, the salesmen went to other
firms, that knew how to handle them and their customers as men. With
their new houses they are succeeding.

Too many heads of wholesale firms get "stuck on themselves" when they
see orders rolling in to them. They fail to realize the hard work
their _salesmen_ do in getting these orders. I know of one firm
that almost drove one of the best salesmen in the United States away
from it for the reasons that I have given. They dogged him, they
didn't write him a kind word, they badgered his trade, they thought
they had him, hard and fast. Finally, however, he wrote to them that,
contract or no contract, he was positively going to quit. Ah, and then
you should have seen them bend the knee! This man traveled for a Saint
Louis firm. His home was in Chicago, and when he came in home from his
trip his house wrote him to come down immediately. He did not reply,
but his wife wrote them - and don't you worry about the wives of
traveling men not being up to snuff - that he had gone to New York.
Next morning a member of the firm was in Chicago. He went at once to
call upon their salesman's wife. He tried to jolly her along, but she
was wise. He asked for her husband's address and she told him that the
only address he had left was care of another wholesale firm in their
line in New York, - she supposed he could reach her husband there. Then
the Saint Louis man was wild. He put the wires to working at once and
telegraphed: "By no means make any contract anywhere until you see us.
Won't you promise this? Letter coming care of Imperial."

Then he was sweet as pie to the salesman's wife, took her and her
daughter to the matinee, a nice luncheon, and all that. In a few days
the salesman I speak of went down to Saint Louis. The members of his
firm took off their hats to him and raised his salary a jump of $2,400
a year.

[Illustration: "He tried to jolly her along, but she was wise."]

How much trouble they would have saved themselves, and how much better
feeling there would have been if they had only handled this man right
_in the beginning!_

There are some heads of firms, however, who do know how to handle
their salesmen. One of the very best men in the United States is head
of a wholesale hardware firm. He has on the road more than a hundred
men and they all fairly worship him. I remember many years ago seeing
a letter that he had written to the boys on the road for him. He had
been fishing and made a good catch. He sent them all photographs of
himself and his big fish and told the boys that they mustn't work too
hard, that they were all doing first rate, and that if they ever got
where there was a chance to skin him at fishing, to take a day off and
that he would give prizes to the men who would out-catch him. This is
just a sample of the way in which he handles his men. Occasionally he
writes a general letter to his men, cheering them along. He never
loses a good man and has one of the best forces of salesmen in
America. They have made his success and he knows it and appreciates
it.

Another head of a firm who handles his salesmen well is in the
wholesale shoe business. Twice each year he calls all of his salesmen
together when he is marking samples. He asks them their opinion about
this thing or that thing and _listens to what his men have to
say._ He has built up the largest shoe business in the United
States. After the marking of samples is all over, he gives a banquet
to his men and has each one of them make a little speech. He himself
addresses them, and when they leave the table there is a cordial
feeling between the head of the house and his traveling men.

He also puts wonderful enthusiasm into his men. Here are some of his
mottoes: "Enthusiasm is our great staple," "Get results," "No slow
steppers wanted around this house," "If this business is not your
business, send in your trunks," "All at it, always at it, brings
success." He has taught his salesmen a college yell which runs like
this: "Keep-the-qual-ity-up." Only a few years ago the watchword of
this house was: "Watch us - Five millions" (a year). Now it is: "A
million a month," and by their methods they will soon be there.

This same man has the keenest appreciation of the value of a road
experience. Some time ago he was in need of an advertising manager. If
he had followed the usual practice he would have gone outside the
house and hired a professional "ad manager." But he had a notion that
the man who knew enough about salesmanship and about his special goods
to sell them on the road could "make sentiment" for those same goods
by the use of printers' ink. Therefore he put one of his crack
salesmen into the position and now pays him $6,000 a year. And the man
has made good in great shape.

Nor does he stop with promoting men from the ranks of his
organization. If a salesman in his house makes a good showing, he
fastens him to the firm still tighter by selling to him shares of good
dividend-paying stock.

He knows one thing that too few men in business do know: That a man
can best help himself by helping others!




CHAPTER XVIII.

HEARTS BEHIND THE ORDER BOOK.


With all of his power of enduring disappointment and changing a shadow
to a spot of sunshine, there yet come days of loneliness into the life
of the commercial traveler - days when he cannot and will not break the
spell. There is a sweet enchantment, anyway, about melancholy; 'tis
then that the heart yearns for what it knows awaits it. Perhaps the
wayfarer has missed his mail; perhaps the wife whom he has not seen
for many weeks, writes him now that she suffers because of their
separation and how she longs for his return.

I sat one day in a big red rocking chair in the Knutsford Hotel, in
Salt Lake. I had been away from home for nearly three months. It was
drawing near the end of the season. The bell boys sat with folded
hands upon their bench; the telegraph instrument had ceased clicking;
the typewriter was still. The only sound heard was the dripping of the
water at the drinking fount. The season's rush was over. Nothing moved
across the floor except the shadows chasing away the sunshine which
streamed at times through the skylight. Half a dozen other wanderers -
all disconsolate - sat facing the big palm in the center of the room.
No one spoke a word. Perhaps we were all turning the blue curls of
smoke that floated up from our cigars into visions of home.

The first to move was one who had sat for half an hour in deep
meditation. He went softly over to the music box near the drinking
fount and dropped a nickel into the slot. Then he came back again to
his chair and fell into reverie. The tones of the old music box were
sweet, like the swelling of rich bells. They pealed through the white
corridor "Old Kentucky Home." Every weary wanderer began to hum the
air. When the chorus came, one, in a low sweet tenor, sang just
audibly:

"Weep no more, my lady,
"Weep no more to-day;
"We will sing one song, for my old Kentucky home,
"For my old Kentucky home far away."

When the music ceased he of meditation went again and dropped in
another coin. Out of the magic box came once more sweet strains - this
time those of Cayalleria Rusticana, which play so longingly upon the
noblest passions of the soul.

The magic box played its entire repertoire, which fitted so well the
mood of the disconsolate listeners. The first air was repeated, and
the second. This was enough - too much. Quietly the party disbanded,
leaving behind only the man of meditation to listen to the dripping of
the fount.

Not only are there moments of melancholy on the road, but those of
tragedy as well. The field of the traveling man is wide and, while
there bloom in it fragrant blossoms and in it there wax luscious
fruits, the way is set with many thorns.

During the holidays of 1903 I was in a western city. On one of these
days, long to be remembered, I took luncheon with a young man who had
married only a few months before. This trip marked his first
separation from his wife since their wedding. Every day there came a
letter from "Dolly" to "Ned" - some days three. The wife loves her
drummer husband; and the most loved and petted of all the women in the
world is the wife of the man on the road. When they are apart they
long to be together; when they meet they tie again the broken threads
of their life-long honeymoon.

As we sat at the table over our coffee a bell boy brought into my
friend letter "97" for that trip. His wife numbered her letters.
Reading the letter my friend said to me: "Jove, I wish I could be at
home in Chicago to-day, or else, like you, have Dolly along with me.
Just about now I would be going to the matinee with her. She writes me
she is going to get tickets for to-day and take my sister along, as
that is the nearest thing to having me. Gee, how I'd love to be with
her!"

After luncheon we went to our sample rooms, which adjoined. Late in
the afternoon I heard the newsboys calling out: "Extra! Extra! All
about the * * *" I know not what. My friend came into my room.

"What is that they are calling out?" he said.

We listened. We heard the words: "All about the Great Chicago Theater
Fire."

Three steps at a time we bounded down stairs and bought papers. When
my friend saw the head-lines he exclaimed: "Hundreds burned alive in
the Iroquois Theater. Good God, man, Dolly went to that theater to-
day!"

"Pray God she didn't," said I.

We rushed to the telegraph office and my friend wired to his father:
"Is Dolly lost? Wire me all particulars and tell me the truth."

We went to the newspaper office to see the lists of names as they came
in over the wire, scanning each new list with horrified anxiety. On
one sheet we saw his own family name. The given name was near to, but
not exactly, that of his wife.

May a man pray for the death of his near beloved kin - for the death of
one he loves much - that _she_ may be spared whom he loves more? Not
that, but he will pray that both be spared.

Back to the hotel we ran. No telegram. Back to the newspaper office
and back to the hotel again.

A messenger boy put his hand on the hotel door. Three leaps, and my
friend snatched the message from the boy. He started to open it. He
faltered. He pressed the little yellow envelope to his heart, then
handed it to me.

"You open it and pray for me," he said.

The message read: "All our immediate family escaped the horrible
disaster. Dolly is alive and thankful. She tried but could not get
tickets. Thank God."

All do not escape the calamity of death, however, as did my friend
Ned. The business of the man on the road is such that he is ofttimes
cut off from his mail and even telegrams for several days at a time.
Again, many must be several days away from their homes utterly unable
to get back. When death comes then it strikes the hardest blow.

A friend of mine once told me this story:

"I was once opened up in an adjoining room to a clothing man's. When
he left home his mother was very low and not expected to live for a
great while; but on his trip go he must. He had a large family, and
many personal debts. He could not stay at home because no one else
could fill his place on the road. The position of a traveling man, I
believe, is seldom fully appreciated. It is with the greatest care
that, as you know, a wholesale house selects its salesmen for the
road. When a good man gets into a position it is very hard - in fact
impossible - for him to drop out and let some one else take his place
for one trip even. Of course you know there isn't any place that some
other man cannot fill, but the other man is usually so situated that
either he will not or does not care to make a change.

"My clothing friend was at Seattle on his trip. His home, where his
mother lay sick, was in Saint Louis - nearly four days away. The last
letter he had received from home told him that his mother was sinking.
The same day on which he received this letter a customer came into his
room about ten o'clock - and he was a tough customer, too. He found
fault with everything and tore up the samples. He was a hard man to
deal with. You know how it is when you strike one of these suspicious
fellows. He has no confidence in anybody and makes the life of us poor
wanderers anything but a joyous one.

"Under the circumstances, of which he said nothing, my clothing friend
was not in the best mood. He could not help thinking of home and
feeling that he should be there; yet, at the same time, he had a duty
to do. He simply must continue the trip. He had just taken on his
position with a new firm and needed to show, on this trip, the sort of
stuff in him. He had been doing first rate; still, he must keep it up.

"I happened to drop in, as I was not busy for a few minutes, while he
was showing goods. I never like to go into a man's sample room while
he is waiting on any one. Often a new man on the road gets in the way
of doing this and doesn't know any better. Selling a bill of goods,
even to an old customer, takes a whole lot of energy. No man likes to
be interrupted while he is at it. When it comes to persuading a new
man to buy of you, you have, frequently, a hard task. There are many
reasons why a customer should not leave his old house. Maybe he is
still owing money to the firm he has been dealing with and needs
credit. Maybe the salesman for that firm is a personal friend. These
are two things hard to overcome - financial obligations and friendship.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18

Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 18 of 19)