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Hiring And Handling Salesmen
by [?]

To hire and handle salesmen is the most important work of the head of the house. When a man goes out on the road to represent a firm, his traveling expenses alone are from five to twenty-five dollars a day, and sometimes even fifty. His salary is usually as much as his expenses, if not more. If a salesman does not succeed, a great portion of his salary and expenses is a dead loss, and, further, the firm is making a still greater loss if he does not do the business. In fact, if a poor man, succeeding a good one, falls down, his house can very easily lose many thousands of dollars by not holding the old trade of the man whose place he took. If all the wholesale houses in Chicago, say, which have a good line of salesmen were, at the beginning of the year, to lose all of those salesmen and replace them with dummies, three-fourths of these firms would go broke in from six months to three years. This is how important the salesman is to his firm.

I put hiring and handling of salesmen before having a strong line of goods, because if the proper salesmen are hired and are handled right, they will soon compel the house to put out the right line of goods. Just as a retail merchant should consult with his clerks about what he should buy, so, likewise, should the head of the wholesale house find out from his men on the road what they think will sell best. The salesman rubs up against the consumer and knows at first hand what the customer actually wants.

When the head of a house has a man to hire, the first man he looks for is one who has an established trade in the territory to be covered–a trade in his line of business. A house I have in mind which, ten years ago, was one of the top notchers in this country, has gone almost to the foot of the class because the “old man” who hired and handled the salesmen in that house died and was succeeded by younger heads not nearly so wise.

The still hunt was the old man’s method. When he needed a salesman for a territory he would go out somewhere in that territory himself and feel about for a man. He would usually make friends with the merchants and find out from them the names of the best men on the road and his chances for getting one of them. The merchants, you know, can always spot the bright salesmen. When they rub up against them a few times they know the sort of mettle they are made of. The merchant appreciates the bright salesman whether he does business with him or not and the salesman who is a man will always find welcome under the merchant’s roof. Salesmen are the teachers of the merchant, and the merchant knows this. Whenever he is planning to change locations, build a new store, move to some other town, put in a new department, or make any business change whatsoever, it is with traveling men that he consults. They can tell him whether or not the new location will be a good one and they can tell him if the new department which he is figuring on starting is proving profitable over the country in general. And, on the other hand, when the traveling man is expecting to make a change of houses, he often asks the advice of the merchant.

One of the biggest clothing salesmen in the United States once told me how this very old man hired him. Said Simon, “When I started out on the road my hair was moss. I almost had to use a horse comb to currie it down so I could wear my hat. Heavens, but I was green! I had been a stock boy for a kyke house and they put me out in Colorado. Don’t know whether I have made much progress or not. My forefathers carried stuff on their backs; I carry it in trunks. Although changing is often bad business, the best step I ever made was to leave the little house and go with a bigger one. I had been piking along and while I was giving my little firm entire satisfaction, I was not pleasing myself with what I was doing. I could go out in the brush with my line, riding on a wagon behind bronchos, where a first-class man wouldn’t, and dig up a little business with the yocles, but I couldn’t walk into a mocher (big merchant) and do business with him. Yet, when I first started out I was fool enough to try it and I made several friends among the bigger merchants of Denver. But this did me no harm.