By Greg Clark, April 24, 1937
“We,” said Jimmie Frise, “should have been salesmen.”
“Heaven forbid,” I stated.
“Selling is the game,” said Jimmie. “That’s where the big money lies.”
“All a salesman needs,” I declared, “is good legs.”
“A lot you know about it,” laughed Jim. “Why, I know a salesman in the refrigerator business–he sells big hotels and packing houses–who made $7,000 yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” I expostulated.
“Yesterday,” said Jim. “In one day, he made $7,000.”
“It doesn’t seem right,” I protested. “Nobody should be allowed to make $7,000 in one day. It doesn’t stand to reason.”
“Well,” said Jim, “he gets ten per cent commission. And he sold $70,000 worth of refrigerating equipment to a chain of packing houses. So there.”
“It still sounds criminal,” I protested. “A guy making $7,000 in one day. No wonder there is unrest in the world.”
“Would you object,” asked Jimmie, “to a man making $7,000 a year?”
“Ah, no.” I admitted, “not in a year. That’s more sensible.”
“Well, in this case,” said Jim, “my friend worked a whole year to get this order. So you might say, while he actually put over the deal yesterday, it was the result of a year’s hard and anxious labor.”
“Now it makes sense,” I agreed. “I can just see the poor devil. Calling day after day, week after week, on these pork packers. Having to drive up, every little while, to the packing house district, into that odor, and sit around half smothered in it, waiting for the big executives to see him. I can picture the slow agony of the weeks and months as they drag by, and this poor salesman, a big shot in his own line, but still just a palooka outside the pork packer’s door, hoping and praying. Having to smile and look full of salesmanship. Having to jump up delightedly and beam all over every time the old pig sticker condescended to see him until gradually he gets to hate the very sight of the cow chopper. I guess he earned his $7.000 all right.”
“I still think selling is the great game,” stated Jimmie.
“You can have it,” I agreed.
“As a matter of fact,” said Jim. “I’ve been reading a very interesting book on salesmanship.”
“At your age?” I cried.
“There are two kinds of selling,” explained Jim. “There is ordinary selling, like in stores and shops, where there is very little sales resistance on the part of the public. The public just comes in willingly to buy. You stand in your store and sell. Some of the drug stores have got pretty scientific at even this kind of selling. For instance, when you go in for bottle of cough mixture, they try to sell you a mustard plaster. Or if you ask for razor blades, they flash before your eyes a swift succession of shaving soap, shaving brushes, face lotion, and that sort of thing.”
“I know it well,” I assured him. “Barbers invented that method.”
The Life-Germ of Business
“The other kind of selling,” said Jim, “is where the science and art of selling comes in. In this case, the salesman goes to the customer, instead of the customer going to the store. All the major selling in the world is handled in this way. The big corporations have purchasing agents who sit in their offices interviewing an endless procession of salesmen who call upon them. But over and above the purchasing agent kind of selling, there is a super salesmanship.”
“Golf links salesmanship?” I guessed.
“Yes,” said Jim. “It is the supreme form of selling. And men who succeed in it are artists. It includes salesmen of all kinds, from door to door men selling screen door stoppers to the giants of salesmanship who sell railroads or banks or pulp and paper mills to unexpecting customers.”
“I prefer,” I confessed, “to just sit down and write. And you should be happy just to draw cartoons. Why read books on salesmanship at this time of year? And why talk about them to your friends? There are some hobbies that are not mutual, and salesmanship is one of them.”
“Listen,” said Jim, intensely, we are salesmen. What is writing a story but salesmanship? What is drawing a cartoon but selling an idea or a smile? I tell you, we are fools to stay in this finger-twiddling business. We have been merely putting in an apprenticeship at learning what people like. Now let us go forth and cash in on what we have learned.”
“Jim,” I warned, “haven’t you learned long ago not to tamper with other lines of business? Haven’t we got into jam after jam, from trying to pick up a little loose change in other ways?”
“It’s a heck of a life,” muttered Jim, “trying to make people laugh.”
“What would you sell?” I asked him.
“A good salesman,” said Jim. “can sell anything. But a relative of mine is sales manager of an electric clock outfit. They make a new clock that is the most wonderful thing I ever saw. It looks like an ordinary clock but it runs silently, you just plug it into the wall like a light.”
“I’ve seen them,” I said.
“Not this one, you haven’t,” said Jimmie. “It has a little panel on the back with various gadgets. You can set it to ring an alarm at various times. For instance, you want to get up at 7.30 a.m., and you don’t want to forget to call the bank at 10 and the vacuum cleaner people at noon and remind the music teacher that young Greg won’t be to his lesson to-day at three and so forth. That clock rings a bell at those various times as a reminder.”
“Not a bad gadget,” I confessed.
“Ah, but listen,” said Jim, it will also ring a bell automatically when it starts to rain. It will function as a burglar alarm by simply attaching a wire to a small device on the doors and windows. And it can be set to turn off all the lights in the house at a certain hour, so that you can go to bed at night without worrying about the downstairs or the cellar lights.”
“Jimmie,” I cried.
“It’s the most wonderful thing, this clock,” said Jim. “It will sell like hot cakes, all over a certain section of this city. They figure there are 28,000 Toronto homes that will want it.”
“Of course they will,” I agreed.
“It sells for only $15,” said Jim, “with various de luxe models at $25, $50 and $75. And the salesman gets fifty per cent.”
“Fifty per cent?” I gasped.
“I figure,” said Jim, “a man could sell say ten of them a day.”
“A hundred a day, you mean,” I assured him.
“Say twenty a day,” said Jim. “And figure only on the standard model, at $15. There would be twenty times $7.50, which is $160 a day straight commission to the salesman.”
“Great scott, Jimmie,” I cried, “how many salesman has he got yet?”
“He wanted me to take over a few,” said Jim, “and sell to my friends.”
“Why, Jimmie!” I shouted, leaping up.
And the ways and means committee went into session right there. Selling to acquaintances and friends, we agreed, was the coward’s path. Secondly, we agreed to work together, to start with, in view of the many disappointments we had experienced in the past, of various kinds.
“Until we get our sea legs under us.” I explained to him, “we’ll just feel our way into this selling game.”
The relative was most delighted to hear that we were both going to join his sales staff and he wanted to send us a couple of hundred clocks, but Jim told him to keep the clocks and deliver them direct to our customers, as the orders came in.
“The big salesman,” said Jim. “never carries samples, even. But I’ll pick one up from him this afternoon, and we’ll take it with us to-night. We’d better not resign from The Star Weekly until we’ve got a couple of hundred sales to our credit in our spare time, and anyway, it wouldn’t be fair to them to just walk out this suddenly.”
Three blocks west of us is a nice district we call the “butler belt,” where dwell a lot of comfortable people who zing past our neighborhood in their big dark cars. We decided to start our campaign there. Before setting out, Jimmie set the sample clock up. It was a curious looking clock, modernistic to say the least of it. But after all, most clocks are pretty old-fashioned looking, and even a slight departure from the conventional clock is startling. Jim plugged it into a lamp socket and we watched with delight the smooth, silent way the hands moved. We set its alarm and heard its shrill clarion, enough to get a man out of bed and dress him before he knew what had happened. We studied all the various connections for burglar alarms, rain indicators, light-turner-out, and so forth, but decided not to waste valuable sales hours by hooking her all up.
With a cool sense of courage, we drove three blocks and stopped before a large and nicely lighted home where figures within moved against the lights.
Smiling easily and making as if to walk right in when the maid opened the door, Jimmie said:
“Could we see Mr. Mmmffffzzzth, please?”
And in we walked.
The maid hurried away, and presently a stout, baldish man in his shirtsleeves and carrying a newspaper, came into the hall.
“How do you do?” we cried, shaking hands.
“What is this?” asked the gentleman, whose name, we learned, was Mr. McDucky.
“Wait till you see it?” said Jim, laying his hat down and carrying the parcelled clock into the living room. Mr. McDucky and I followed, all eagerness.
Jim untied the package, and set the clock on the mantel. Smiling in excitement, he smoothly and without hesitation ran the cord to a wall plug, and set her in motion.
“Now,” said Jim, “to look at, you would think this was just an electric clock.”
And before Mr. McDucky’s speechless gaze, he standing there still holding the open newspaper hanging in his hand, Jim put the clock through its marvellous paces. It rang various alarms, short and long, which brought Mrs. McDucky and three daughters from all parts of the house to look. Jim explained the rain indicator, the burglar alarm, the light-turner-out, and all the many useful attachments of this wonder clock of the age.
“Hook her up,” said Mr. McDucky.
So Jimmie and I, taking off our coats, and going by the sheet of instructions enclosed, ran wires and clamps to window fasteners and door locks. Mr. McDucky sent over to the hardware store for more wire. We unscrewed electric light push-button plates and did exactly as the directions told us with the wires attached to the gadgets inside the fixtures. But something was amiss, and despite the help of Mr. McDucky, who was quite interested and got himself as mussed and dusty as either of us, we could not make it turn off the lights or ring the burglar alarm or indicate rain, though it was raining cats and dogs.
By the time we folded it all up and packed it back in its cardboard box, it was getting towards bedtime, and Mrs. McDucky and the girls brought in coffee and sandwiches and we sat around the living room while Mr. McDucky told us about his business which was the mining business.
With Heads Ringing
“I deal,” he explained, “in futures. I work, you might say, with those real heroes of the great mining industry the pioneer prospectors. So many times a year, I go north and actually visit the ground where these men are toiling, doing the genuine and most deserving part of the whole mining game. Yet how little they get out of it.”
“True,” we agreed, via ham and pickle sandwiches.
“I’ve been in the mining game all my life,” said Mr. McDucky, “yet I never owned a share of stock. I buy properties. Straight from the prospectors.”
And he told us about the romance and thrill and, what interested him less, but interested him just the same, the fortunes to be made in thus dealing with the raw materials, you might say, of Canada’s greatest industry.
After his wife and daughters had gone upstairs, Mr. McDucky after thought of silence, finally laughed and said:
“It’s funny you dropping in this way to-night! I was just sitting here running over in my mind who I would let is on a few units of what appears to be the greatest finds of my life and one of the greatest gold mines in the history of the whole country.”
And there, before our astonished faces, Mr. McDucky brought out and laid, rows and rows of samples of ore rock, and some pieces that appeared to be solid gold. Photographs of wild north country, prospectors working in rocky trenches, shacks, trestles, drilling outfits.
“You see,” explained Mr. McDucky, flushed like a child, “I couldn’t let the whole gang in or this. They’d crowd me out of it in a week. But as I always say, I like to let new blood into the mining game.”
And before we knew where we were, Jimmie and I were the proud possessors of ten units each of McDucky Syndicate, having merely signed our names and not a cent of cash changing hands, it being, as Mr. McDucky said, unlucky to pay cash after business hours.
And we drove home, our heads singing with golden chimes and the songs whippoorwills and the clang of prospectors picks upon the vast igneous rocks of Canada fabulous north.
“Hey,” said Jimmie, as he let me out at my house, “how about the clock? You take it, will you?”
“I really don’t need it,” I said, “I have clocks all over the house.”
“But not electric clocks,” said Jim. “You take it, I can get another one.”
“No, no,” I insisted, “not at all, Jimmie. If I need one, you can get it for me sometime.”
“It’s a great clock,” said Jim. “You ought to have one. Wholesale?”
“No, no,” I assured him, “It’s yours, by rights.”
But I saw it, on the back seat under the rug, when we drove down in the morning.
Editor’s Notes: $7,000 in 1937 would be roughly $120,000 in 2019. $15 is $256.
This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise (1977)