William H. Maher.

A Man of Samples Something about the men he met On the Road online

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By Wm. H. Maher

Author of "On The Road To Riches"


"When do you start, Tom?"

"At midnight."

"Well, good-by; sock it to 'em; send us in some fat orders."

"I'll do it, or die; good-by."

And then I sat down to think it all over. Our traveling man was off on
a wedding tour, and I had agreed to take his place for this one trip.
As the hour drew near for me to start, my courage proportionately sank,
until I now heartily wished that I had never consented to go. What if I
failed? I had been stock clerk and house salesman for three years; I
had been successful; my position was a good one, and one that would grow
better; there was nothing to be made by success on the road, as I had no
intention of continuing there, and failure might be the means of making
my place in the house less secure. What an infernal fool I was! If
there had been any way under heaven for me to get out of it I would have
hailed the opening with delight. I would have blessed any accident that
would have been the means of sending me to bed for a week or two, and
I would have taken the small-pox thankfully. But there was no release.
Like an ass, as I was, I had agreed to take Mallon's trip, and I must go
ahead if it made or unmade me.

I ate my supper with a heavy heart, bade my landlady and her daughters
a solemn good-by, then went to the theater to forget my sorrows. At
midnight I was checking my sample-trunk for Albany, and persuading the
baggagemaster that 218 pounds were exactly 120. I succeeded; but it took
three ten-cent cigars to do it.

The reason I call the town Albany is because that is not its name, and
I may as well say here that as I write about actual incidents I don't
propose to "lay myself liable" by giving the name of any town or any
dealer. If I call him Smith it will naturally follow that he was not

If Albany had been a hundred or more miles away I would have taken a
berth in the sleeper, but we were due there at 2 o'clock, so I dozed and
nodded and swore to myself during the two hours' ride. I wanted to get
there, but I dreaded it, too. Stories I had heard traveling men tell
about poor beds, mean men, dirty food, and unprincipled competitors all
came back to me in a distorted fashion, and if I didn't have a nightmare
I must have experienced a slight touch of delirium tremens.

"How much of a town is Albany?" I asked the conductor.

"No town at all; just a crossing."

"No hotel there?"

"Oh, yes; they call it a hotel."

This was exactly what I expected. Probably no one would be up and I
could walk around the town for the next four hours. What an idiot I was!
By thunder, I would break my leg or my arm the first thing I did and get
out of this foolish -


What, so soon! Those were the two shortest hours I had ever known.

No lights anywhere; no one about; nothing but -

"Hotel, sir?"

Good; here was a ray of comfort. "Hotel? Well, I should say so. Where is
your light?"

"Here it is." And a lantern came around a corner as the train dashed off
on its way.

"Don't mind your trunk; that will be taken care of and I'll get it in
the morning. Here, Dan, lead the way."

We walked a square or two and went into a neat appearing office. Bed?
Yes, I might as well get a few hours' sleep. And I was given a very
comfortable room. I lay in bed trying to recall our customer's name, and
preparing my speech of introduction when - . Some one was rapping at
the door. What's up? Breakfast! What, breakfast already? Why, I hadn't
thought I was asleep at all.

As I looked over the register, after breakfast, dreading to start out, I
asked the clerk;

"Been any gun men here lately?"

"None since last week. Layton was here from Pittsburg on the 22d."

"Did he sell anything?"

"I think he did sell Cutter a small bill"

"How many stores are there here?"

"Three that sell guns. Are you in the gun business!"

"Yes. I am from Pittsburg."

I hung back as long as I dared; found out all about the trains; picked
up facts and fancies about the merchants; got my cards and price-book
handy; stuck four revolvers (samples) in my pockets; pulled my hat
down solidly on my head, and started out. And every step I took I,
figuratively, kicked myself for being there, and for being a blasted

This was the legend that attracted my attention, and toward it I took
my way. I stopped at the window long enough to take a hasty inventory of
its contents, and from it I sized up my man. There were some goods there
that came from our store; this cheered me, I took courage, walked in,
and handed Mr. Jordan my card.

"We have done some business with you," I said, in my blandest tones,
"and Mr. Mallon always spoke pleasantly of you [this was a random shot];
he has taken a wife unto himself, and I am making his trip."

"Why the devil don't you send me the goods I ordered last time from him?
Where are those British bull-dogs? Did he sell them too low, or is my
credit poor?"

Phew! There it was. I must first close up an old sore before I could do
anything else. I might have known it would be just so, but I was such a
pig-headed fool I hadn't thought of this.

"Tell me all about it, Mr. Jordan;" and he told it, with fire in his
eye. But he felt better for having told it. I knew nothing of it till
now, but I took out my book and said:

"Mr. Jordan, the goods will come now. You may depend upon it. How many
bull-dogs do you want?"

"I don't want any. I got some of Layton. The house can't fool me again."

I sat down on the counter and gave him fourteen reasons for his order
not having been filled (I hope some of them were true), and then I
pulled out a "Pet" revolver and asked him if seventy-five cents was not
mighty low for that.

He admitted that it was, but he had bought of Layton five cents lower.
Then I explained wherein Layton's was ten cents poorer than mine (I
hadn't seen his), and why he ought to give mine the preference. What had
he paid for 32-caliber?

"One twenty-five."

I drew out mine at $1.20, and I convinced him that mine was a better
pistol than his, although he said he had already more than he ought to
have and he would not buy more. Then I placed an automatic ejector under
his eyes, threw out the shells, cocked it and snapped it, and explained
how, though it cost us $6.70, I was going to sell him some at $6.

"No, you ain't," said he, "I've got two on hand and can't give them

By this time it struck me I was making but little headway and was
wasting my breath in praising goods he already had, so I concluded
the best plan to go on was to see what he had, and govern myself
accordingly. He seemed to have everything, confound him! There was
nothing he had not bought in the thirty days, and I began to think I
could use my time better somewhere else, when a man came in to buy a
gun, and I stepped aside to watch the subsequent proceedings.

The story told by that retailer about those guns would have made a dog
howl, if it were not for the fact that he believed every word of it.
The farmer wanted a good muzzle loader, but wanted it choke-bored! The
retailer brought down seven different guns, all of them choke-bored! and
expatiated upon their cheapness and good qualities. Some reference was
made to me, as being a gun man, and I was drawn into the conversation.
I explained the merits of guns to that farmer in a way that pleased him
mightily. I could see that, but he finally said he didn't intend to buy
a gun that day, but would some time in the fall, and he passed calmly

I looked at Mr. Jordan, and he looked at me. "Are you mad?" I asked.

"No; I'm used to it."

"Then try a cigar."

As we smoked and discussed mean customers, I put in some good licks for
my house, and by and by heard Jordan say:

"I lied to you about those bull-dogs; I didn't buy any of Layton; you
may send me six."


When Mr. Jordan gave me the order for six "bull-dog" revolvers, I felt
that I had made a conquest; I went carefully through my list, adding
something here and there, until I had made a very pretty bill with
him. So, although he met me as if he wanted to punch me in the head, we
parted on the best of terms. Where should I go next? A sign farther down
the street said "Hardware," so I started down that way.

A man who carries a mixed stock is easier to sell goods to than is the
man who makes a specialty of one line. In the house we always had a
closer price for the dealer who made guns a specialty than for the
hardware man who kept a few guns and revolvers as a small branch of his

"John Topoff" was the name over the door, so I went in, carefully
noticing the stock, the way it was arranged, and the amount, in order to
get some idea of the kind of man the owner was.

"Is Mr. Topoff in?" I asked a young man who was blacking stoves and who
I was sure was not the man I wanted.

"Naw," he said, as he brushed away.

"Will he be in soon?"

"Naw, he's dead. There's Mr. Tucker, he's the boss."

The young man spoke as if answering the questions about Mr. Topoff had
become a burden to him, and if that honest hardware man had been dead
long I didn't blame the boy for getting tired of him.

Mr. Tucker had been studiously keeping his back toward me, as if I was
to expect no encouragement from him, but he turned when I spoke his name
and I introduced myself.

"Don't need anything in your line," said he, as if he wished I would
accept that as a final verdict and get out.

What would you have done, respected reader, if you had been in my place?
I would gladly have said "good-day," and gone at once if it were not for
the fact that my present business was to get orders, and the only way
to secure them was to work for them. So I ignored Mr. Tucker's ill-timed
remark and proceeded to be sociable.

I explained as pleasantly as I could why it was our house was sending
out a new man. I got him interested enough to ask a question or two,
which was a point gained, and finally I came round to his stock, but
I carefully ignored guns and talked of nails; something I knew nothing

Don't you know you can pay no one a higher compliment than to place him
in the position of a teacher to you? I picked that idea up somewhere,
and I put it in practice by asking Mr. Tucker for information as to
hardware and hardware houses. He was soon talking warmly and as if he
was enjoying himself, and I was wondering when would be a good time to
get guns started, when a little boy came to the door and shouted: "Pa!
ma wants you to come home a minute, just as soon as you can!"

He started off without a word, and I proceeded to get acquainted with
the young man who said "Naw!"

Of all creatures on the face of the earth the average clerk is the
easiest to pump. The fact that a man is from a wholesale house seems to
be sufficient guarantee that he may safely be told anything regarding
prices, and where goods came from. The moment Tucker went out the door
Bob stopped his work, and for fifteen minutes he kept his tongue wagging
about the cost of goods and all he knew about them. He was so incautious
that I soon learned his cost mark, and then did not need to ask cost

How did I do it? Bless you! Every traveling man does it in spite of
himself. For instance, I pick up a box and notice it is marked L.X.K.,
and I ask the clerk, while I look at the revolver, What did this cost?

He turns the box up to see the mark, and answers, $2.25.

This may be the truth, or may not. If it is, "L" is 2 and "K" is 5, and
"X" means "repeat." So by and by I find a box marked B.L.K., and I ask
the cost of that. He answers, $1.25. I am now sure that B is 1, L is 2
and K is 5, and I can easily guess that A and C are 3 and 4. By finding
boxes with other letters on, and learning from the boy what the mark is,
I soon have "Black horse" as the cost mark in that store. I make a note
of this in my trip book so that I can use it when I am here again, or
when our other man is here.

My way now is tolerably smooth. If he really needs goods the merchant
will be willing to order at prices paid before; if he thinks he does not
need anything I may tempt him by quoting prices a little under what he
paid. In either case I am in good shape to make a fight for an order;
thanks to the clerk's loose tongue and lack of sense.

A customer comes in and wants a file. I listen to the conversation,
trying to get hold of any hint that may be useful to me by and by.
Another man wants a box of cartridges. My ears are wide open now.

"Have you the 'U.S.'?"

"U.S. - U.S. What do you mean?" asks the clerk.

"I want the kind with U.S. on the end."

"What good is that?"

"Good to go. I like that kind. Have you got them?"

"I don't know; yes; no, they ain't either! They're U.M.C."

"Don't want 'em!"

Now I was temporarily selling the U.S. cartridge, so I made a note of
what the man said, to be used on Tucker, but I took up the conversation
and convinced the customer that the U.M.C. make of cartridges was good;
he finally bought a box and went off apparently satisfied.

Just then Tucker came in.

I made some laughing allusion to pig-headed customers, and the clerk at
once opened up on the "fool" who thought one cartridge was better than
another. When the young man was back at his stove I started out to sell
Tucker a bill. He was backward about buying; didn't know our house;
always bought of Simmons; did not like to have so many bills; always got
favors from Simmons, and despised our city on general principles.

I agreed with him on every point, but (Oh! these "buts") I also wanted
an order. I took out my bull-dog revolver that was selling at $2.85; he
had none like it in stock; it was the leading pistol, retailing readily
at $4 to $5, according to locality. "I want to send you a few of these
at a special net price," said I; "the regular price is $3; I will sell
you at $2.85." I said this as if I was making him a present of a gold
watch. "I wouldn't have the d - n things as a gift," said he.


When a man has been on the road a year or two he is never disappointed
because a dealer refuses to buy something he was sure he was going
to sell him. He is prepared for "No" on all occasions rather than for
"Yes." But a man is terribly disappointed on his first trip every
time he starts out to sell a particular article and does not meet with
success. I was sure Tucker would give me an order for some bull-dog
revolvers, but in answer to my low price he had said he wouldn't take
them as a gift!

I would have been very glad to go straight home and let Tucker get along
without bull-dogs, but my silly head had brought me into this business
and I must keep on. Probably he saw I was a good deal disappointed, for
he added, in a rather kindly tone, "Every pistol of that kind I have
ever sold came back on my hands for repairs, and I swore I'd never buy

"You are making a mistake," said I. "When the double action first came
out they did get out of order easily, and manufacturers were obliged to
take back broken ones and replace them at great expense to themselves.
In self-defense they were obliged to make them better, and they are just
as reliable as any other to-day."

"Well, I don't want any."

"All right, we will pass it. But I wondered what one of your competitors
meant when he said he had the pistol trade; now I understand."

"Does he sell these?"

"Yes, he had some from us not long ago, and gave me an order for more

"What's the best you can do on them?"

How many times a day does every traveling man see men act as Tucker did?
Here was a line of goods he was cocksure he did not want, but the moment
he heard that his competitor had a trade on them he began to feel that
he must have some. Seven-eighths of the goods sold are sold in this way.
Very few men do business on their own judgment. Their competitors make
their prices, select their styles, and force them to carry certain
stock. The drummer's best card is always: This is selling like fire;
Smith took a gross, Brown half a gross, Jones three dozen, and you will
miss it if you do not try a few. Such dealers always have the larger
part of their capital locked up in goods they bought because others had
bought the same goods.

I repeated my price to Tucker, and he told me to send him a few. "By the
way," said he, "what are your terms?"

"Sixty days."

"Does your house draw the day a bill falls due?"

"No; the house is slow about drawing upon customers, and they always
give ten days' notice before making draft."

"Well, I don't like to be drawn on. The house that draws on me can't
sell me again. I can't draw on my trade, and I'm devilish glad to get my
money in six months, but you fellows in the city expect a man to come to
the exact minute. I don't want any drawing on me."

It was an excellent place to have delivered a lecture on the beauties of
prompt payments. I could have told Brother Tucker that if he did not see
his way clear to pay his bill when due he should not buy it, and if his
customers did not pay promptly he should dun them harder or keep his
goods. But the traveling man is not sent out to inculcate business
morals, and he is too anxious to sell a bill to run any risks by
disagreeing with a buyer. I did what all others would have done in
my place. I assured Mr. Tucker I would be as easy with him regarding
payments as any house in the world would dare be, and that point safely
out of the way, I sold him several items quite smoothly. We came to

"What is Parker's worth?"

"Twenty-five per cent, off factory list."

"What! Why, here's a quotation from Cincinnati of 25 and 10!"

"Let me see it, please. I have not heard of any such figures."

"Bob, where is that list of Reachum's?"

"I don't know."

"D - n it, you had it."

"Then it must be in the drawer."

Tucker emptied the drawer, looked through a pile of papers, but could
not find the circular he was looking for He was annoyed by it, and I was

"Well, let it go," said he, "but that was the price."

"There must be a mistake somewhere," said I, "for the goods cost that at
the factory in largest lots."

"There was no mistake," he said sharply; "I know what I am talking
about. The discount offered was 25 and 10."

I hastened to assure him that I had not meant that he was mistaken, but
that Reachum must have made a mistake.

"That's no concern of mine," said he, "and I rather think that Reachum
is a man who knows his business as well as any of you. If you are higher
than he is on guns you probably are on other goods. I guess you had
better cancel that order."

Here was a pretty how-do-you-do! How was I to get out of this box? I
confess I was in great doubts as to what to do or say. I dared not sell
Parker's guns at any such price, yet the man would cancel the order and
probably always have a grudge against the house unless I sold him now. I
could not believe that Reachum had made this price, and yet there was no
telling what that house might or might not do.

"How many Parker guns do you want?" I asked.

"I don't want any. I only asked because it is a leading thing, and if a
house is not low on that I conclude it is high on other goods."

"I was going to say," I said, "that I would meet the price." I wasn't
going to say anything of the kind, but as he didn't want any I was safe
in saying it now.

"Then you may send me two. I think I know a place where I can sell two."

Just so! I was in for it again, and in for it bad. Sometimes it pays to
be smart, and sometimes it does not. This was one of the latter times.
As a matter of fact I had no business to quote a discount greater than
20 per cent, but I had said 25 so as to make a good impression on him,
and at 25 and 10 I was sure to catch Hail Columbia from the house.

Just then Bob, who had come over when appealed to about the list, said:

"There's that list you wanted," and drew one out of a pile of papers on
the desk. Tucker opened it with an air of satisfaction, but I could see
his face grow black.

"D - n it, this isn't it."

"Yes, it is; it's the one that came in yesterday, and there's the
figures on it you made for Utley," persisted Bob.

I did not wait on ceremony, but looked over Tucker's shoulders, and to
my astonishment and delight, there was, in plain figures, discount on
Parker guns, 15 and 10 per cent.

"How in thunder did I make such a mistake!" said Tucker, with a somewhat
downfallen air.

"We all do it," said I, anxious to help him out the best way I could.
"Fifteen and 10 is low enough, but if they were offering 50 and 10 I
would meet them."

Don't you think, good reader, that this was a proper thing to say? It
seemed so to me, and cost nothing, so I said it. I added, "You see,
Mr. Tucker, my price of 25 per cent, straight was a better one than
Reachum's. Shall I send the guns at 25?"

"Why, you just now said you'd sell at 25 and 10!"

"I said that because you said you were offered at 25 and 10, but as that
was a mistake I take back my figures."

"Well, let the Parker guns go."

I was quite glad to do so. But it made it up-hill work for a few
minutes, until Tucker had got over his chagrin about the guns. But we
managed to get in smooth water again, and when we were through I had
taken a fair order from him, and much of it was for little odds and
ends that paid us a good profit. I bade him good-day with a feeling of
gratitude, and assured him of my hearty thankfulness.

After dinner I tackled a general dealer. The hotel clerk told me the
Pittsburg man, who was there a week before, had sold Cutter a bill, so I
had no hopes of doing much with him, but I had two hours yet, and might
as well improve them.

"Martin Cutter" was over the door, and I got an idea in my head that
he was a long, thin individual, with black hair and whiskers. But he
wasn't. He was of medium size, well built, and had an air of shrewdness
and of business about him. He was waiting on trade, so I sat down and
watched him and took notes of the stock. When he was through with his
customer he came forward and met me pleasantly, spoke well of our house,
but said he was just getting in a bill of revolvers and cartridges, and
needed nothing in our line.

There was something about him that made me like him at once, and I had
the feeling that I was making a pleasant impression upon him. We chatted
about Pittsburg, about gun houses, about the cutting going on in prices,
and the general dullness in all business. I think that when I went out
of the store I had more respect for him as a man and as a merchant than
I had for the two who had bought of me. Had he needed any goods, I would
have given him my lowest prices at the first word. As I was walking back
to the hotel I suddenly remembered that he was just the man to buy a
certain pocket-knife that we had lately taken hold of, and I went back
to speak about it to him.

"Are you sending goods here to any one?" he asked.

"Yes, two bills."

"Then send me a dozen."

I thanked him, and went off feeling better. The chances are always
decidedly in your favor of selling a man whom you have sold before. The
dealer who lets you leave town without an order this trip will let you
go twice as readily the next time. I like to get him down in my order
book even though it is for some very trifling thing, because of the
influence it will have on the future.

I went to the hotel, copied off my orders, and mailed them, feeling that
I had done extra well, and then sauntered leisurely to the depot. On the
train a man behind me heard me ask the conductor about Rossmore.

He leaned over and asked, "Are you selling goods?"


"Then we'll go to Rossmore together. What line are you in?"

"Guns and revolvers."

"The devil you are! So am I."


I didn't fancy going to a town with a competitor. I have now been on the
road a good many years, and I do not fancy it to-day. If I can get in
there one train ahead of him I will strain every nerve to do it, but
rather than go in on the same train I would hang back and let him have
the first "go" at the town and take my chances for what he leaves.

When two men selling the same goods are in a town together the dealers
usually take advantage of it. They tell the first man that they may want
this or that, "if they can buy it right," and, after getting his

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Online LibraryWilliam H. MaherA Man of Samples Something about the men he met On the Road → online text (page 1 of 11)