Charles N. Crewdson.

Tales of the Road online

. (page 4 of 19)
Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 4 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

half of the battle."

And so it is! When a merchant goes into a drummer's sample room, he is
on the field of Liao Yang and, if he doesn't look out, the drummer
will prove himself the Jap!

"It was my first trip to the town," continued my friend. "The first
thing my prospective customer picked up after he came into my room was
a sample of a 'Yucatan' hat. You know how it goes - when a merchant
comes into your sample room for the first time he picks up the things
he knows the price of. If the prices on these are high, he soon leaves
you; if they seem right to him he has confidence in the rest of your
line and usually buys if the styles suit him. The way to sell goods is
either to have lower prices or else make your line show up better than
your competitor's. Even though your prices be the same as his, you can
often win out by _displaying_ your goods better than your competitor
does. Many a time he is too lazy to spread his goods and show what he
really has; and his customer thinks the line 'on the bum' when, in
truth, it is not.

"The merchant, Alex Strauss was his name, couldn't have picked up a
luckier thing for me than this Yucatan hat. The year previous, my
house had imported them finished, but that year we had had them
trimmed in our own shop. The duty was much less on the unfinished body
than on the trimmed hat; therefore, the price had dropped

"'How much do you vant for dis?' said Strauss, picking up the Yucatan.

"Nine dollars a dozen," said I, without explaining why the price was
so low. It would have been as foolish for me to do this, you know, as
to play poker with my cards on the table face up.

"Strauss turned to his clerk Morris, who was with him. They both
examined the hat, and Alex said in German to Morris: _'Den selben
Hut haben wir gehabt. Letzes Jahr haben wir sechzehn und ein halb den
Dutzen bezahlt. Das ist sehr billig!'_ (The same hat we had. Last
year we paid sixteen and a half a dozen. This is very cheap.)

"Then Alex turned to me - he was a noted bluffer - and said in English:
'Hefens alife! Nine tollars! Vy, I pought 'em last year for sefen and
a half!'

"I never saw such a bold stand in my life. The expression on his face
would have won a jackpot on a bob-tailed flush. But I was in position
to call his bluff. _His_ cards were on the table face up.

"I merely repeated his own words in his own tongue: _'Den selben Hut
haben wir gehabt. Letzes Jahr haben wir sechzehn und ein halb den
Dutzen bezahlt. Das ist sehr billig.'_

"'Hier, dake a seecar on me,' said Alex, offering me a smoke. He
bought a good bill from me and has been a good customer ever since.

"Just to let you know what a hard proposition Strauss was, I'll tell
you another incident in connection with him:

"'After I had known Alex for two years I went into his store one
morning, when I was on my fall trip. He came from behind the counter
to meet me, wearing upon his face a smile of triumph. He had never
approached me before; I always had to hunt him down.

"I said, 'Hello, Alex, how goes it?'

"'Dis is how choes id,' said he, handing me a card. 'Dot's de way id
choes mit ev'rypody dis season.'

"On the card which he handed me - and to every traveling man who, came
in - were these words: 'Don't waste your time on me; I will not buy any
goods until I go to market. Alex.'

"Reading the card quickly, I said to him: 'Thank you, Alex, may I have
another one of these cards?'

"He handed me another one, saying, 'Vot you vant mit anudder vun?'

"'I want one to hold as a keepsake of the man, of all men, who is
gladdest to see me when I get around; the other I shall pin to the
order I shall take from you today and send to my firm.'

"With a sweeping bow, I said, 'Adieu, Alex; _Auf wiedersehen,'_
and left the store.

"I knew Alex's habits. He always went to dinner when the town clock
struck twelve. A deaf shoemaker in the next block regulated his watch,
they say, by Alex's movements. A few minutes past twelve I went back
to the store and left on the front show case a bunch of samples done
up in a red cloth. On some of them were large green tags telling the
quantity I had of each and the price. I also wrote on the green tags
the words 'Job Lot.'

"I knew that Alex would see the bundle; and I knew that he would open
it - a merchant will always look at samples if you take them to his
store. I also knew that Alex, when he saw the mystic words 'Job Lot,'
would be half crazy. Adam and Eve were not more tempted by the
forbidden fruit than is the Yehuda (Hebrew) merchant by a
_metziah_ (bargain).

"I went back to the hotel. After luncheon I sent out my advance cards
and took up a book. My mind was perfectly easy, because I knew just
exactly what was going to happen.

"At a quarter to six, Abie, Alex's boy, disturbed me while I was in
the middle of a chapter and said: 'Papa wants to see you right away.
The store closes at six.'

"I knew that meant business, but I said to Abie: 'Tell your papa if
he'll excuse me I'll not come over. Won't you please say goodbye to
him for me? And won't you, Abie, like a good boy - bring me a bundle I
left on the show case. It has a red cloth around it.'

"Finishing my chapter, I started slowly toward Alex's store. I met
Abie. But he didn't have the red bundle - I knew he wouldn't.

"'Papa says, come over. He wants to see you,' said Abie.

"As I went into the store a minute before six, Alex was pacing up and
down the floor. My samples were spread upon the show case.

"'Eff you vant your samples, dake 'em avay yourself. Do you subbose I
raice poys to vait on draveling men?' said Alex. He was keeping up his
bluff well.

"With this I began to stack together my samples.

"'Vait! Vait!' said Alex, 'Aind you choing to gif a man a jance to puy
some choots?'

"'Sure,' said I, 'if you want to, but I thought you were going to wait
until you went into market.'

"'Vell, you vas a taisy,' said Alex; and in three minutes - he was the
quickest buyer I ever saw - I booked an order for six hundred dollars.

"'Now, I see,' said Alex, as he shook hands and started home, 'Vot you
vanted mit dot udder cart.'"

Strategy will win out in business, but not deception. The traveling
man who wishes to win in the race of commerce, if he plays sharp
tricks, will get left at the quarter post. It is rather hard,
sometimes, to keep from plucking apples that grow in the garden of
deception, especially if they hang over the fence. I sat one night
beside one of the boys who was sending out his advance cards. He was
making his first trip over a new territory.

"Blast it!" said he, tearing up a card he had written.

"Don't swear, or you'll not catch any fish," said I.

"Yes, but I did such a fool thing. I addressed a card to a merchant
and then turned it over and signed his name - not mine - to it. Wasn't
that a fool thing to do?"

"No, not at all," I replied, laughing. "If you had sent that card to
him, he would have read it. Otherwise, he will chuck the one you do
send into the basket."

"Bright idea!" quoth my friend.

A few months afterward I met this same man. "Say," said he, "that was
a straight tip you gave me on that advance card scheme. It worked like
a charm. Half of the men I went to see had kept the cards on their
desks and I had no trouble getting their ears. Some were expecting a
long lost relative. When they showed me my cards with their names on
them I was always amazed at such a queer mistake. There was one
exception. I told one man why I did it, and he nearly threw me out of
his store."

When I was told this I felt ashamed to think I had taught duplicity to
an innocent. I did not know to what it might lead him.

Stolen fruits may look like they are sweet, but taste them, and they
are bitter. I knew a man who sold shoes in the State of Washington. He
was shrewd and sharp. He learned of an old Englishman who, although
his store was in an out of the way town, did a large business. The
shoeman wrote half a dozen letters to himself care of the old
Englishman, addressing them as "Lord" So and So. When he reached the
town the Englishman most graciously handed him the letters, and to all
questions of the shoeman, who commanded a good British accent,
answered, "Yes, my lord," or "No, my lord."

The shoe man explained that, like the merchant, he had hated to leave
the old country, but that America - sad to state - was a more thrifty
country and he had invested in a large shoe factory in Boston. He said
he was merely out traveling for his health and to look over the
country with a view to placing a traveling salesman on the territory.
The Englishman gave him a large open order, supposing, of course, that
a lord would carry no samples. The old merchant was so tickled at
having a chance to buy from a lord that, notwithstanding his reserve,
he one day told his dry goods man about it. This was shortly before
the goods arrived.

"Why, that fellow," said the dry goods man, "is no more of a lord than
I am. He is not even an Englishman." He did not know that he was
"queering" a bill, for this is one thing that one traveling man will
never deliberately do to another. He knows too well what a battle it
is to win a bill, and he will not knowingly snatch from the victor the
spoils of war.

The old Englishman returned the "lord's" goods without opening the

Although the lord did not steal a base on his sharp run, I know of one
instance where a shrewd traveling man sold a bill by a smart trick.

In Ohio there was a merchant notoriously hard to approach. He was one
of the kind who, when you told him your business, would whistle and
walk away and who would always have something to do in another part of
the store when you drew near him the second time. What an amount of
trouble a man of that kind makes for himself! The traveling man is
always ready to "make it short." When he goes into a store the thing
he wishes to know, and how quickly, is: "Can I do any business here?"
The merchant will have no trouble getting rid of the drummer if he
will only be frank. All he must do is to give a fair reason why he
does not wish to do business. He can say: "I have bought" - that is the
best one, if it is true; it is the index finger pointing out a short
route for the salesman straight to the front door. Or, he can say: "I
have all in that line I can use for some time." "I have an old
personal friend to whom I give my trade for these goods - he treats me
squarely" is a good answer. So, too, is the statement, "I have an
established trade on this brand, my customers ask for it, and it gives
them entire satisfaction - what's the use of changing?" Any one of
these statements will either rid the merchant of the traveling man or
else raise an issue soon settled.

I will let my friend himself tell how he got the ear of the whistling

"The boys had told me old Jenkins was hard to get next to, but I made
up my mind to reach him. It's lots more fun anyway to land a trout in
swift water than to pull a carp out of a muddy pond; besides the game
fish is better to eat. When I went into his store, Jenkins fled from
me, and going into his private office, slammed the door behind him. I
made for the office. I had not come within ten feet from the window
before the old man said gruffly: 'I don't want to buy any goods; I
don't want even to _listen_ to a traveling man this morning.'

"This did not stop me. I walked to the window, took a pad of paper out
of my pocket and wrote on a slip: 'I have some samples I would like to
show you. I will bring them over.' I handed the slip to old Jenkins
and left him. The man who can do the odd, unexpected thing, is the one
who gets the ear.

"When I brought my samples in - I sell a specialty line of baby shoes -
I spread them on the counter. The old man was curious to see what a
'deaf and dumb man' was selling, I suppose, for up he marched and
looked at my line. He picked up a shoe and wrote on a piece of paper:
'How much?' I wrote the price and passed the slip back to him. 'What
are your terms?' he wrote back. 'Bill dated November 1st, 5% off, ten
days,' I replied on paper. 'Price your line right through,' he

"With this I wrote the price of each shoe on a slip and put it under
the sample. Old Jenkins called his shoe man. They both agreed that the
line was exceptional - just what they wanted - and that the prices were
low. But the old man wrote: 'Can't use any of your goods; the line I
am buying is cheaper.'

"I made no answer to this but began packing my grip. The old man tried
to write me so fast that he broke the points off his pencil and the
clerk's. While he sharpened his pencil I kept on packing. He took hold
of my hand and made a curious sign, saying, 'Wait.' But I went right
on until the old man had written: 'Don't pack up. I will buy some
goods from you because I feel sorry for you.'

"'Thank you, sir,' I wrote, 'but I am no charity bird; I want to sell
goods only to those who appreciate my values. Charity orders are
always small ones and a small one will not be sufficient for me to
give you the exclusive sale.' That was a clincher, for when a merchant
sees a good thing he will overbuy, you know, just to keep his
competitor from having a chance at it. I started again packing.

"'I really like your goods and will buy a nice bill if you will sell
no one else in town,' wrote the old man nervously. 'I was only joking
with you.'

"Just as I had finished writing down my order, never having spoken a
word to old Jenkins, a traveling man friend came in and said, in his
presence: 'Hello, Billy! How are you?'

"'Pretty well, thank you,' said I.

"'What! Can you hear and talk?' half yelled the old man.

"'To be sure,' I wrote back, 'but it would have been impolite to talk
to you; because you said, as I drew near the window, you didn't wish
to _listen_ to a traveling man this morning. Thank you for your order.

"The old man never forgot that day. The last time I was around, he
said, 'Confound you, Billy! What makes you ask me if I want any baby
shoes? You know I do and that I want yours. I believe, though, if you
were to die I'd have to quit handling the line; it would seem so
strange to buy them from any but a deaf and dumb man.'"

It is all right for the traveling man to put his wit against the
peculiarities of a wise, crusty old buyer, but it is wrong to play
smart with a confiding merchant who knows comparatively little of the
world. The innocent will learn.

A clothing man once told me of a sharp scheme he once worked on a
Minnesota merchant.

"When I was up in Saint Paul on my last trip," said he, "a country
merchant - what a 'yokel' he was! - came in to meet me. He had written
my house he wanted to see their line. But when he reached the hotel
another clothing man grabbed him and got him to say he would look at
_his_ line after he had seen mine. When he came into my room, I
could see something was wrong. I could not get him to lay out a single
garment. When a merchant begins to put samples aside, you've got him
sure. After a while, he said: 'Well, I want to knock around a little;
I'll be in to see you after dinner.'

"'I am expecting you to dine with me,' said I. 'It's after eleven now;
you won't have time to go around any. You'd better wait until this
afternoon.' I smelt a mouse, as there were other clothing men in town;
so I knew I must hold him. But he was hard to entertain. He wouldn't
smoke and wouldn't drink anything but lemonade. Deliver me from the
merchant who is on the water wagon or won't even take a cigar! He's
hard to get next to. After we finished our lemonade, I brought out my
family photographs and kept him listening to me tell how bright my
children were - until noon.

"When we finished luncheon I suggested that we go up and do our
business as I wanted to leave town as soon as I could. Then he told me
he felt he ought to look at another line before buying and that he had
promised another man he would look at his line.

"Had I 'bucked' on that proposition it would have knocked me out, so I
said: 'To be sure you should. I certainly do not wish you to buy my
goods unless they please you better than any you will see. We claim we
are doing business on a more economical scale than any concern in the
country. We know this, and I shall be only too glad to have you look
at other goods; then you will be better satisfied with ours. I'll take
pleasure even in introducing you to several clothing men right here in
the house.'

"This line of talk struck ten. My yokel friend said: 'Well, you talk
square and I want to buy of you. I like a man who thinks lots of his
family, anyway; I've got a big family myself - seven children - baby's
just a month old and a fine boy. But I promised my partner I'd look
around if I had a chance, and I think I ought to keep my word with

"Luckily there was another salesman from my firm in town and opened up
that same day in the hotel. I sent for him, never letting my yokel
friend get away from me a foot. I saw the other man, at whose line my
friend wished to look, sitting in the office; but I knew he would obey
the rule of the road and not come up to the merchant until I had let
him go.

[Illustration: "I listened to episodes in the lives of all those seven

"My partner was a deuce of a long time coming. I listened to episodes
in the lives of all of those seven children. I took down notes on good
remedies for whooping cough, croup, measles, and all the ills that
flesh is heir to - and thanked Heaven we had struck that subject!
Finally my partner, Sam, came. As he drew near I gave him the wink,
and, introducing my friend to him, said: 'Now, Mr. Anderson is in town
to buy clothing. I have shown him my line, but he feels he ought to
look around. Maybe I haven't all the patterns he wants, and if I can
get only a part of the order there is no one I'd rather see get the
other than you. Whatever the result, you'll bring Mr. Anderson to my
room, 112, when you get through. Show him thoroughly. I'm in no

"Sam marched Anderson up to his room. He caught onto my game all
right. I knew he would hold him four hours, if necessary, and tell him
all about his family history for seven generations.

"When Sam left, I went over to the cigar stand, pulled out my order
book and figured about long enough to add up a bill. I filled my cigar
case and going over to my competitor, at whose line Anderson had
promised to look, offered him one. He had made a sort of 'body snatch'
from me anyway and was ashamed to say anything about Anderson, but he
asked: 'How's business?'

"'Coming in carriages today,' said I. 'My city customer was over early
this morning and, no sooner had he gone than a man from the country
came in. Two clothing bills in one day is all right, isn't it? I just
turned my country customer over to Sam, as he has a few new patterns
in his line I want him to show. Guess I'll go pack up shortly.'

"I hadn't told a point blank lie, and my competitor had no right to
ask about my affairs, anyway. He also went to pack up.

"I let Sam entertain Anderson until I knew my competitor was out of
the way. Then I sent a note up to him. In due time he brought the
merchant down and soon excused himself.

"'That's a mighty nice fellow,' said Anderson, 'but my! his goods are
dear. Why, his suits are two to three dollars higher than yours.
You'll certainly get my bill. I told my partner I believed your house
would be all right to buy from.'

"I took the order from Anderson, but I was half glad when I heard that
he had died a few months afterward; for if he had lived he would have
been sure to catch up with me when Sam and I were both in market. And
then my goose would have been cooked for all time with him, sure."

And so it would.



The helping hand is often held out by the man on the road. Away from
home he is dependent upon the good will of others; he frequently has
done for him an act of kindness; he is ever ready to do for others a
deed of friendship or charity. Road life trains the heart to
gentleness. It carries with it so many opportunities to help the
needy. Seldom a day passes that the traveling salesman does not loosen
his purse strings for some one in want - no, not that; he carries his
money in his vest pocket. Doing one kind act brings the doer such a
rich return that he does a second generous deed and soon he has the
habit. The liberality of the traveling man does not consist wholly of
courting the favor of his merchant friends - he is free with them, but
mainly because it is his nature; it is for those from whom he never
expects any return that he does the most.

A friend of mine once told this story:

"It was on the train traveling into Lincoln, Nebraska, many years ago.
It was near midnight. It was, I believe, my first trip on the road.
Just in front of me, in a double seat, sat a poor woman with three
young children. As the brakeman called 'Lincoln, the next station! Ten
minutes for lunch!' I noticed the woman feeling in her pockets and
looking all around. She searched on the seats and on the floor. A
companion, Billie Collins, who sat beside me leaned over and asked:
'Madam, have you lost something?'

"Half crying, she replied, 'I can't find my purse - I want to get a cup
of coffee; it's got my ticket and money in it and I'm going through to

"'We'll help you look for it,' said Billy.

"We searched under the seats and up and down the aisle, but could not
find the pocket book. The train was drawing near Lincoln. The poor
woman began to cry.

"'It's all the money I've got, too,' she said pitifully. 'I've just
lost my husband and I'm going out to my sister's in Colorado. She says
I can get work out there. I know I had the ticket. The man took it at
Ottumwa and gave it back to me. And I had enough money to buy me a
ticket up to Central City where my sister is. They won't put me off,
will they? I know I had the ticket. If I only get to Denver, I'll be
all right. I guess my sister can send me money to come up to her. I've
got enough in my basket for us to eat until she does. I can do without
coffee. They won't put me off, wi - ll - ?'

"The woman couldn't finish the sentence.

"One of the boys - Ferguson was his name - who sat across the aisle
beside a wealthy looking old man, came over. 'Don't you worry a bit,
Madam,' said he. 'You'll get through all right. I'll see the
conductor.' The old man - a stockholder in a big bank, I afterward
learned - merely twirled his thumbs.

"The conductor came where we were and said: 'Yes, she had a ticket
when she got on my division. I punched it and handed it back to her.
That's all I've got to do with the matter.'

"'But,' spoke up Collins, 'this woman has just lost her husband and
hasn't any money either. She's going through to Colorado to get work.
Can't you just say to the next conductor that she had a ticket and get
him to take care of her and pass her on to the next division?' "'Guess
she'll have to get off at Lincoln,' answered the conductor gruffly,
'our orders are to carry no one without transportation.' All railroad
men have not yet learned that using horse sense and being polite means

"The poor woman began to cry but my friend Billie, said: 'Don't cry,
Madam, you shall go through all right. Just stay right where you are.'

"The conductor started to move on. 'Now, you just hold on a minute,
sir,' said Collins. 'When this train stops you be right here - _right
here, I say_ - and go with me to the superintendent in the depot. If
you don't you won't be wearing those brass buttons much longer. It's
your business, sir, to look after passengers in a fix like this and
I'm going to make it my business to see that you attend to yours.'

"The conductor was lots bigger than my friend; but to a coward a mouse
seems as big as an elephant and 'brass buttons' said: 'All right, I'll
be here; but it won't do no good.'

"As the conductor started down the aisle, Ferguson turned to the woman
and said: 'You shall go through all right, Madam; how much money did
you have?'

"'Three dollars and sixty-five cents,' she answered - she knew what she
had to a penny - three dollars and sixty-five cents; And I'll bet she
knew where every nickel of it came from! A cruel old world this to
some people, for a while!

"The train had whistled for Lincoln. Ferguson took off his hat,
dropped in a dollar, and passed it over to Billie and me. Then he went
down the aisle, saying to the boys, 'Poor woman, husband just died,
left three children, going to hunt work in Colorado, lost her purse

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 4 of 19)