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By NATHANIEL C. FOWLER, Jr.
HE salesman was born at the birth of trade, and ever since their dual creation he has been in increasing evidence.
Selling has become an art. Its practice is universal. It is one of the two fundamental elements of business.
It may be said with absolute truth that there is not a wholesale or a retail or a manufacturing house of any kind without a greater or less number of selling representatives.
The tradesman may know what he wants, and he doubtless is aware that he can not do the maximum of business without the proper goods, and yet for some reason, which has not yet been fully explained, the chances are that he will seldom order these goods by mail, or go after them, but will wait until some traveling salesman has called upon him and solicited his trade.
It would appear to be an unnatural condition of trade that makes it necessary for the buyer to be told what he should buy; but whether it be unnatural or not, it remains a fact.
The selling of practically everything, except a part of that which is sold over the counter, is the direct result of solicitation, or of what is known as drumming; and this occupation of solicitor or drummer is one of the foundation stones of commercialism.
The traveling salesman, or drummer, as he is commonly called, is one who solicits outside of the office or store. He usually earns a higher salary than is paid the counterman, who handles the trade which comes to his store or office; and while to be successful the latter must possess the abilities of the solicitor, yet it is not necessary that he be so alert and aggressive as the drummer, who goes from place to place for orders.
1 From "Starting in Life." Copyright, 1906, Little, Brown & Company.
The real difference between the outside and the inside salesman is this: the outside salesman takes the initiative, while the customer, to some extent, makes the first move when buying goods from the inside salesman.
It has been claimed, and with a sufficient degree of truth to make it almost indisputable, that no man can direct the selling of any commodity unless he has actually sold goods himself. I do not recall a single successful merchant or storekeeper who has not, at some time in his career, actually met his trade face to face and personally sold goods.
Probably seventy-five per cent of the successful merchants and storekeepers began as salesmen, and nearly every prominent wholesaler was at one time a drummer.
It is certainly common sense to assume that few men can successfully direct the movements of others unless they have actually done what their employees are called upon to do. True, a man may be an expert at selling, and not make a good manager of salesmen or a good merchant, for some men's selling ability needs the direction of a broader and greater mind. It is also true that some sales managers have little actual selling capacity, and can not successfully meet a customer.
All, or nearly all, of our merchants and storekeepers entered a mercantile life through office work or through the selling department. They began either as office boys or as store boys, and after one or more years of menial work, of little value to any one except to themselves, they became clerks or salesmen. Many boys, particularly the bright ones, jump directly from this boyship into subordinate salesmanship.
The average boy, working in an office or in a store, receives anywhere from two to six dollars a week, four dollars being a fair average.
The young salesman, even at the start, seldom receives less than eight dollars a week, and occasionally he is paid as much as ten or twelve dollars a week. From the twelvedollar mark his advance depends upon his proven ability and the conditions under which he is working.
Ability without the assistance of an encouraging environment will hinder the boy's advancement sometimes; however, not so much as will less ability with a good opportunity. It is therefore extremely important that the boy should start right; that is to say, that he should connect himself with some business which he will not outgrow.
For the first few years the boy will be learning, and really accomplishing very little. This is his apprenticeship, and during these initial years he can not hope to receive more than a few dollars a week. When he becomes a salesman, then he begins to rise, and if he has the right kind of stuff in him, and the conditions are right,, his advance may be rapid.
The rank and file of country store salesmen, that is, inside men, do not receive, on the average, more than ten or twelve dollars a week, even after they have become thoroughly experienced; and the maximum pay has probably never exceeded twenty-five dollars a week. Department-store salesmen in large cities draw salaries of from eight to thirty dollars a week, the average paid to a good salesman of experience being from eighteen to twenty dollars. The average salesman in small city stores, and even in those located in large cities, receives anywhere from eight to twenty dollars a week, comparatively few drawing the latter salary.
There are two reasons why the inside salesman can not expect to draw more than a moderate salary: first, the customer comes to him, and he does not have to go after the customer; and secondly, fully ninety per cent of inside sellers are women, who are willing to do work for much less than the amounts paid to men. The merchant, in business for gain and not for philanthropy, buys his salesmen in the market and pays market prices, although to the credit of business it must be said that there are a few merchants who invariably pay more than market rates, and in return maintain an unusually high grade of business, which is permanent in character.
The demand for bargains and for cheap goods of every class is a mighty factor in the maintenance of low salaries. The customer, more than the storekeeper, controls the situation. As long as the majority of our shoppers are demanding bargains and goods at cut prices, it is evident that a grade of salesmanship suggestive of high salaries can not always be maintained.
Resident salesmen of experience, in wholesale houses, command salaries as high as three thousand dollars a year, and a few enjoy incomes of ten thousand dollars a year; but the average annual salary paid to the first-class resident salesman is probably not more than twelve hundred dollars.
First-class traveling salesmen seldom receive less than two thousand dollars a year. Those of long experience, and of exceptional proficiency, may enjoy annual incomes of as much as five thousand dollars. Comparatively few reach this latter figure, and a very few exceed it, although there are now "on the road" a number of traveling sales