Twenty Years of Hus'ling - novelonlinefull.com
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"Johnston the fisherman?"
"Johnston from the lumber camp?"
"No sir, Johnston the jewelry-man."
"Yes sir, from Chicago; and I want to sell you a bill of jewelry right away."
"Goodness' sakes! Can't you call to-morrow?"
"No sir; business is too brisk. I must sell to you to-night so I can leave on the morning boat."
The whole family got up and came down stairs in the store, and I finished up with them about five o'clock in the morning, after selling a large bill of goods.
On my arrival at Charlevoix I found several traveling men at the hotel, and among them one who was traveling for a wholesale grocery house.
While I was busy arranging my jewelry before calling on my customers, I heard this man say:
"I had big sales yesterday. I sold a car-load each of rice, nutmegs, cinnamon and pepper, besides three hundred barrels of flour, and as many chests of tea."
On hearing this statement I immediately recognized the voice, and remembered having heard the same story before, somewhere. Upon looking at the speaker I also recognized his face, and turning to those present, said:
"Gentlemen, I know this man sold that many goods, for I heard him tell the same story at St. Mary's, Ohio, about four years ago, and I know it's true or he wouldn't keep telling it."
Of course he was offended and insulted, and denied the charge; but when I recalled to his mind the hat trade I made with him and the dollar he paid me to boot, he laughed, and said he remembered it; but he laughed more heartily when I told him it was a put-up job, and how glad I was to get the dollar. I then gave him a nice rolled-plate vest-chain--an article he very much needed, and which made him feel that his dollar had been well invested.
When the first of January came I found myself in very good shape, with a satisfactory profit for my year's work.
I now began thinking about opening an establishment of my own. About this time Mr. Weil, with whom I still made my headquarters, informed me that he was going to retire from the jewelry business, and offered to sell his large safe, all the office fixtures and a large stock of jewelry, to me, and give me all the time I needed to pay for them. As his prices were low enough, and terms all that could be desired, I jumped at the chance, and in a few days found myself in his debt several thousand dollars.
When I saw his shrewdness in picking me up--a total stranger--and helping to push me "to the front," and to where he could make good use of me himself, I could but admire him for it, and felt more than ever like patronizing him, as it seemed to me like encouraging enterprise to do so. I have never had reason to regret my dealings with him, and as he is a man of large means and wide influence, and has repeatedly given me to understand that he stood ready to back me for any amount, I have reason to believe that he has no complaints to make of my business transactions.
After buying him out I rented an office and store room of my own at 243 State street where I am still located, and began a genuine wholesale jewelry business.
EMPLOYING TRAVELING SALESMEN--DEPRESSION IN TRADE--HEAVILY IN DEBT--HOW I PRESERVED MY CREDIT--I TAKE TO THE ROAD AGAIN--TRAVELING BY TEAM--DECIDING A HORSE-TRADE--MY BOOK-KEEPER PROPOSES AN a.s.sIGNMENT--I REJECT THE PROPOSITION--COLLECTING OLD DEBTS BY STRATAGEM.
While traveling in Northern Michigan I came across a young man clerking in a dry-goods store in a small iron-mining town, who expressed a desire to go on the road for me as traveling agent. His employer said:
"Oh, Bert is thoroughly honest and trustworthy, and naturally a capable fellow; but I think he is rather too unsophisticated to act in that capacity, as I don't believe he has ever visited a town of over three hundred inhabitants in his life."
I replied that he was just the sort of chap I was looking for. I wanted a man who would be likely to listen to my advice and instructions, and a man of wide experience would not be apt to do so.
I made arrangements with the young man to return to Chicago with me. His manner at once convinced me that he meant business, and was determined to succeed. But for all that, and with the most kindly feelings towards him, I must admit that every move he made, after arriving in the city, reminded me of myself on my first trip to New York. In fact, with the exception of the difference in ages, he was a regular Joshua Whitcomb. I felt almost obliged to la.s.so him to prevent him from following off band wagons and chasing fire engines around town. He was particularly fond of dime museums and the "knock-'em-down and drag-'em-out" Wild-western plays; and I saw the necessity of getting him started on the road as soon as possible, before he should become stage-struck. I had two sample-cases made, and took him on the road with me through Michigan. I took particular pains to impress upon his mind the necessity of curtailing expenses, and often reminded him that the occasional saving of 'bus and carriage fares from the hotel to the depot, when he had plenty of time to walk, would be no disgrace to him or his House. I also pointed out the foolishness of spending money with merchants in treating, or in other words, attempting to bribe them by treating, as that was something I had never yet done myself, and would not be responsible for any such expense. I fully believed that the average salesman lost as often as he gained by this practice. (I still believe it.)
He was rather inclined to rebel against this, and said he was certain that it would often become almost necessary to spend a little money in that way in order to hold trade. I persisted that business should be conducted on business principles only, and not socially or on the strength of friendship; and it would only be necessary to call on a merchant, introduce his business at the very earliest possible moment, get through as soon as possible, and immediately take his departure; and if he had any loafing to do, do it at the hotel; and above all, to spend very little time in trying to become better acquainted. By these methods, if he didn't make a good impression he would be quite certain not to make a bad one.
His _penchant_ for telling funny stories made him known to those with whom he came in contact as "the man of infinite but unpointed jest," so as a matter of precaution I requested him to always defer telling stories till his next trip.
I convinced him that all successful salesmen worked from early morning till late at night, and that a dollar-a-day hotel, in a small country town, would not be a disgraceful place to spend a Sunday. The result was, he traveled the first year at a wonderfully light expense, and sold more goods than the average high-salaried salesman.
He was not long, however, in becoming sophisticated, and was soon able to roll up as nice an expense account as any of the boys.
The second year after I began business for myself who should call at my office one day and apply for a position as traveling agent but my old friend, Dr. Frank, who, it will be remembered, traveled through Ohio with me selling the "Incomprehensible," and whom I dubbed Doctor after we set the old lady's ankle. I had not heard from him for years, but he had been in Michigan all the time since he left me; and in consequence of having received a letter from me addressing him as Dr. Frank he had been called Doctor by every one, and so concluded to become a physician, and had spent one winter at Ann Arbor, in the Medical College, attending lectures. I hired him at once, and sent him on the road. I also engaged five other men, later in the season, and sent each of them out with a large stock of goods. They were all certain of an immense holiday trade, and were extravagant in their demands for a large stock to supply it.
I had been prompt in the payment of all bills, and had become quite well acquainted with all the manufacturers. They called on me in large numbers, urging me to buy, and wouldn't take no for an answer. Each was positive that I could not run another month without their special styles, and as I could buy on long time and sell on short time I could easily see my way out.
About two months before the holidays, the bottom fell completely out of the fall trade. My agents began to complain, and each advised me not to buy any more goods. They were too late, however, as I had bought goods enough to supply a dozen agents. Their sales amounted to simply nothing.
A day or two before Christmas they began straggling in, one after another, with their trunks and sample-cases full of goods.
My safe, and every nook and corner of my office, were all filled with goods; and when my bills became due I had nothing _but_ goods. Two weeks after the holidays I sent my men out again and kept them hus'ling.
Of course they were bound to sell more or less goods, but it was up-hill work.
I gave my particular attention to satisfying Eastern creditors, and managed to do so more by writing letters and acknowledging my indebtedness, and promising fair dealing, than by making remittances. As fast as any one of the last five agents I had hired would sell off his goods I would order him in and discharge him. In this way I reduced my stock without having to buy but few new goods, and very soon had but two men on the road. These two were Dr. Frank and Bert, who were both good men, and perfectly reliable.
On the seventeenth of January, this same year--1884--I was married to Miss Anna H. Emmert, of Chicago, (my present wife), having long since been legally separated from my first, and she already married again.
My second wife had received a thorough business education, although but eighteen years of age, and immediately began taking an interest in the management of my office affairs; and from that time until the present has been of incalculable help to me.
I had no knowledge whatever of book-keeping, while she was an expert; and since my force of clerks, book-keepers and type-writers has run up to between thirty and fifty, there has never been a time when she couldn't more than acceptably fill any of their positions; and during our last holiday trade in our busiest season she took the place and kept up the work of three different employees during their temporary absence.
And this in addition to a general oversight of the entire force, which she makes her regular line of duty.
The summer following our marriage my wife's health began failing. As I had already become convinced that it was necessary that I should again go on the road, I decided to buy a pair of horses and carriage and travel with them, and let my wife accompany me. Our physician said nothing could be more beneficial to her than such a campaign.
So after employing competent help to take charge of our office, we were ready to start out. Soon after our decision to travel I traded a diamond ring for a horse, harness and buggy, and not being able to buy a mate to the animal in Chicago at a satisfactory price, we shipped our stock of goods and horse and buggy to Grand Haven, Michigan, by boat. I also bought a double harness in Chicago and shipped with the rig, and we crossed on the same boat.
On our arrival there I began searching for another horse, and succeeded in finding one to suit me, which I bought in less than ten minutes after the owner showed him to me. I then had a pole fitted to my carriage, and by noon of that day we were under full sail for Northern Michigan.
[Ill.u.s.tration: DECIDING A HORSE TRADE.--PAGE 606.]
The first excitement I furnished my wife on that trip occurred about an hour after our departure from Grand Haven, and, was in the shape of a horse trade. We were traveling through a thick, heavy wood, when we met a sewing-machine agent. I saw at once that he was driving an animal that exactly matched the one we brought from Chicago.
I bantered him for a trade.
He stopped, and after looking over the horse I had just bought, said he'd trade for seventy-five dollars.
"I'll give you fifty dollars."
He then offered to trade for sixty. I still offered fifty.