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Clerks, Cranks And Touches
by [?]

Many a bill of goods is sold on the road through the influence of the clerk. The traveling man who overlooks this point overlooks a strong one. The clerk is the one who gets next to the goods. He checks them off when they come in, keeps the dust off of them every day, sells them to the people and often he does the selecting of the goods in the first place. A merchant usually buys what pleases the clerks in order to get them interested. In this way he puts a sort of responsibility upon them. If the business man neglects his clerks, they neglect his business; if the traveling man ignores the clerks, they ignore the traveling man.

But in this matter the salesman must go just so far and no farther, for the moment that the merchant begins to think the traveling man is influencing the clerks unduly, down comes the hatchet! A hat man once, as we rode together on the train, told me this incident:

“I once sold a small bill of hats to a large merchant down in California,” said he. “The next season when I came around I saw that my goods were on the floor-shelf. I didn’t like this. If you want to get your goods sold, get them where they are easy to reach. Clerks, and merchants too, usually follow the line of least resistance; they sell that which they come to first. If a man asks me where he ought to put his case for hats to make them move, I tell him, ‘up front.’

“From the base shelf I dug up a box of my goods, knocked the dust off the lid, took out a hat, began to crease it. One of the clerks came up. He was very friendly. They usually are. They like to brush up against the traveling man, for it is the ambition of nineteen clerks out of every twenty to get on the road.

“My young friend, seeing the hat in my hand, said, ‘Gee, that’s a beaut. I didn’t know we had a swell thing like that in the house. I wish I’d got one like that instead of this old bonnet.’

“With this he showed me a new stiff hat. I scarcely glanced at it before I cracked the crown out of it over my heel, handed him the hat I had taken out of the box, threw three dollars on the counter and said, ‘Well, we’ll swap. Take this one.’

“‘Guess I will, all right, all right!’ he exclaimed.

“Another one of the boys who saw this incident came up with his old hat and asked, laughing, ‘Maybe you want to swap with me?’

“Crack went another hat; down I threw another three dollars. Before I got through, eight clerks had new hats, and I had thrown away twenty- four dollars.

“Thrown away? No, sir. I’ll give that much, every day of the week, to get the attention of a large dealer. Twenty-four dollars are made in a minute and a half by a traveling man when he gets to doing business with a first-class merchant.

“The proprietor, Hobson, was not then in. When I dropped in that afternoon, I asked him if he would see my samples.

“‘No, sir, I will not,’ he spoke up quickly. ‘To be plain with you, I do not like the way in which you are trying to influence my clerks.’

“There was the critical–the ‘psychological’–moment. Weakness would have put an end to me. But this was the moment I wanted. In fact, I have at times deliberately made men mad just to get their attention.

“‘Hobson,’ I flashed back, ‘You can do just as you please about looking at my goods. But I’ll tell you one thing: I have no apology to offer in regard to your clerks. You bought my goods and buried them. I know they are good, and I want you to find it out. I have put them on the heads of your men because I am not ashamed to have them wear them before your face. You can now see how stylish they are. In six months you will learn how well they wear. I would feel like a sneak had I stealthily slipped a twenty dollar gold piece into the hand of your hat man and told him to push my goods. But I haven’t done this. In fact I gave a hat to nearly every clerk you have except your hat man. He was away. Even your delivery boy has one. You owe me an apology, sir; and I demand it, and demand it right now! I’ve always treated you as a gentleman, sir; and you shall treat me as such.’ Then, softening down, I continued: ‘I can readily see how, at first glance, you were offended at me; but just think a minute, and I believe you’ll tell me you were hasty.’