Some Mercantile Pin-Pricks
BY ALGERNON WARREN IN CHAMBERS’S JOURNAL.
We are here treated to a day’s experience with Mr. Gregson, an imaginary merchant. Several interesting characters are introduced, a successful traveler, a would-be sharp merchant, a golf-playing employe, a man with a friend and other familiar personages in the business world. The little foibles of these people are neatly shown up.
"Is that all you want, sir? Goods by the usual route, I suppose?” “Yes,” answered Mr. Gregson to the commercial traveller, who, after booking his order, had taken the precaution to read it out to him, so as to make sure that each entry was correct. In this particular instance it had been a pleasure to the merchant to dictate it; for he knew that what the other said he meant, and that, unlike some of his kind, he was not the sort of man to impose upon him by means of specious assertions with a
view to working off superfluous stock in total disregard of the buyer’s interests.
“By-the-bye, Jones,” he added, “how are you getting on with my neighbour, young Green?”
“Oh, sir, he is too clever in the wrong place, too foxy altogether to suit me, Always tries to beat one down, and cuts his own throat sometimes. Why, sir, when I was here last journey you know what a state the seal-oil market was in. Now I told him, ‘Mr. Green, the market’s
moving; here’s my to-day’s price for ten tons. I can’t hold it over—not for twenty-four hours.’ Well, he said he’d take the ten if I’d come down fifteen shillings a ton. ‘No,’ I said; ‘can’t do it, sir.’ Then he said he thought he could do better, and he wouldn’t give his order. Well, as you may remember, the next day the price was up a shilling a hundredweight. Then he wires to our firm to send him on ten tons. We weren’t such fools, and wired back that we could only execute his order at the advanced figure. Well, although he was right out, he wouldn’t close then and there, but wrote asking us to split the difference. By the time wTe got his letter there was a further rise on market, and it ended in his having to pay fifteen pounds more for his little lot than he would have had to give if he had closed at once with my first offer. You see, sir, he’s one of those fellows that always think you’ve got some special motive when you say it’s a good time to buy. He wouldn’t believe me, you see, and went trying elsewhere, and so got landed. There’s lots like him, sir, so sharp that they cut themselves. He got himself disliked on the road for that. When the old man was alive he sent this young one out ‘to learn the ropes;’ but he wasn’t a bit of good, so I’ve heard.”
“Talked too much of himself, I suppose?”
“That’s it, sir—just what he always did ; regularly spoilt his chances. I was just beginning to travel when his father was about leaving off; and I can tell you, sir, the old gentleman —well, he wasn’t so very old then, but getting on a bit— was a much tougher customer to have working against you than the young one. Kept
his mouth shut and his ears open, and went head. By giving others a chance to talk, he got a prettÿ shrewd idea when a man was beginning to get a bit “dicky.” But that young my-lord made a thumpiug big bad debt the very last journey he took.
“Well, of course, if he gave himself airs he wouldn’t get on.”
“Quite so, sir. Well, good-morning to you, sir.” And with that, this capable ‘commercial’ departed, knowing better than to spin out chat in business hours and run the risk thereby of wearing out his welcome. Mr. Gregson was just beginning to give attention to a rather intricate form of tender for goods which he had been asked to send in, when one of his senior clerks tapped and entered with a request to be spared if convenient on the following Monday.
“Anything very particular, Mr. Snetham? You know we are close on a time when we are likely to be particularly busy.”
“•Our club has a golf tournament, sir, beginning on Saturday at one, and it’s to last two days, and I want to enter.”
“Can’t they manage these affairs by having them on two or three Saturday afternoons running, instead of taking up whole working days for them?”
“Well, sir, they don’t come very often. ’ ’
“Really, Mr. Snetham, I like my people to get a reasonable amount of pleasure; but, as you know, the length of the regular summer holiday has been increased for every one of you, and if you seniors come asking for extra days for sport I am afraid it will have an unsettling effect on the juniors. Some of them are none too ready to stick to it as it is. The
last two hours’ work on a Saturday morning does’nt amount to much with them. I notice, if I happen to step into the outer office of a Saturday, that the railway time-table is pretty sure to be out of its place, and I know that it isn’t in my interests that it is being referred to. However, that’s not the case with you, and you can have your leave for the Monday; only, I warn you that if I find the business suffering from this continual asking for extra days off I shall have to make a hard-and-fast rule prohibiting them. ’ ’
“There!” soliquised Mr. Gregson after the other had retired, “twenty years ago if a man of eight and forty os so like Snetham had come in to ask for a holiday for such a purpose his employer would, as likely as not, have recommended him to take himself off altogether. Clerks get more holidays than principals nowadays. Leave wouldn’t be so much grudged to them, perhaps, if they hadn’t such a knack of asking for it in busy seasons, and the seniors seem to have caught the tone from the lads. Talk about old heads on young shoulders; it is the other way about at present! What, with veteran cricket and golf champions forty-five seems to be about the acme of friskiness.”
The merchant now found it expedient to repair to the commercial salerooms to note some latest market reports. Just at the entrance he encountered some of his business friends with a youth whom the other introduced as his son who had just begun work in the city. The three entered the building together and saw a knot of men crowding about a notice board. “Hope nothing’s gone wrong,” said the parent, seeing more and more pressing up towards it. But
when they got near enough to read they found that the excitement arose out of a cricket bulletin—namely, “Visitors all out for 156. County eleven, 48 for 3 wickets. ’ ’
“There, Gregson!” said the father when his son had moved out of hearing—“there’s a thing for my boy to see the very first time I bring him in here. His chief fault is that his mind is a bit too set on games. I’ve been telling him that he’s got to earn his bread-and-butter, and that if he wants to be able to afford to play he must stick to work; and now, what is the youngster to think when I take him to a place supposed to be established for business convenience, and the first thing he sees, there is a I)(Jt of men bustling as if their lives depended on it to read a cricket notice ? Talk about all work; it’s all shirk and go play nowadays ! ’ ’
“Well,” said Mr. Gregson, “you wouldn’t like your boy to have quite so close a sticking-time to business as you had; though I must say I’m inclined to agree with you.”
“Perhaps not; but competition is getting keener and keener, and it is not altogether a question of ‘like.’ It is ‘must’ to an extent, if he is to do any good, what with the fc reigner always trying to creep in. That is the great fault of our public schools in my opinion. They don’t impress this sufficiently. ’ ’
“And you sent your son to one of them, if I remember rightly.”
“I know I did. I’ve seen what a capital moral tone there generally is about them, and what plucky, manly fellows they turn out. But the worst of it is that the masters in these big schools seem inclined, for the most part, to fight shy of pointing out continually to the boys that a large
number of them will have to work hard to earn their daily bread. So, when they pitchforked into commercial life without any preliminary insight, many of them kick at the drudgery of the details they’s got to master, and get restless. They ought to have the dignity of commerce instilled into them from the first, and how we’re going to do it for them I don’t know, when they come and see these “sport notices” stuck up as prominently as they possibly can be in a business place of resort, causing as much commotion as if they notified a heavy drop in Consols or a serious accident with considerable loss of life.”
“I’m afraid you will find yourself in the minority if you raise an objection. ’ ’
“Oh, yes! ] know I should. It infects the whole atmosphere, does this present athletic craze, and we who merely protest against such extremes are called selfish money-grubbing fossils, who, because we don’t care for sport ourselves, do not want any one else to. Well, Gregson, some of them will see the folly of it when it’s too late. You and I were keen enough about volunteering in our time, and put our backs into it when we were at it. But we didn’t clamor about it in business hours. No; and for the matter of that, we didn’t run sport into the Sunday in the way it’s done now. Seems to me in this age of enlightenment that the Englishman thinks that his chance of salvation depends mainly on the size of his bath-sponge. Good-bye; I’ve got a meeting on and must be off.”
Mr. Gregson noted the announcements of market changes, had some business conversation, and was preparing to leave, when he was hailed with “I say Mr. Gregson! just a
moment if you please.” He turned and saw a Mr. Jenkins, with whom he was anything but intimate, although periodically thrown into his company through common commercial interests. He was accompanied by a young man who wore that too obsequious smile so annoying to many because they feel sure that its wearer is about to solicit a favor of them. “Allow me to introduce my wife’s younger brother to you. He has just taken an agency for goods in youfc line, and I hope you will be able to give him a turn. When will it be convenient for him to look in on you at your office ?”
Had Mr. Gregson been in the habit of thinking aloud his immediate utterance would have been, “When I am out of it.” All he could do in self-defence was to say that the buying of the establishment was ; 'customarily conducted between certain hours, but that there was always a good deal of pressure on his time.
“Oh, Jack, here won’t mind even if he has to wait a minute or two. He shall come and see you to-mor row. I knew you would’nt object to my taking this opportunity of saying a word for him.”
“Then you knoAv me better than I nnow myself,” was Mr. Gregson’s inward reflection. “Now, I shall have to spend time to no purpose in listening to this young fellow, who evidently is not up to his work, or he wouldn’t let another speak for him in this way without saying a word to the purpose himself. These agencies are a frightful nuisance when are taken up by youngsters who haven’t had a proper business training, and who come offering goods without understanding how to do it, or knowing what facts ought to be ascertained before hand.”
lie got back to his office, and was immediately presented with a note marked, “Bearer to wait answer.” On opening it he found that it contained an invoice sent two days before by Gregson and Company for some ten shillings’ worth of a certain kind of oil supplied to a neighboring wholesale firm; also, a produce broker’s circular and the following letter.
“Gentlemen,—Will you be good enough to send us a corrected invoice herewith? You will see by the accompanying price list that you have charged us much in excess of the proper value. We want to do as much as we can with you, but must ask you to put us on the best possible terms as regards price.—Yours, etc.”
“Well,” muttered Mr. Gregson angrily, “of all the unconscionable people I ever met with in business, I do think these are about the worst. They, a wholesale firm, employing a hundred hands at the least, send us an order for a quantity of oil which any respectable retailer would think miserably petty, and then have the assurance to ask us to charge it at or about the value of the article when sold in two-ton lots, and upwards !—Johnson ! ’ ’
“Just look at this. Haven’t these people been asking for a good many quotations from us of late ? ’ ’
“Oh yes, sir; but they have not ordered anything worth having for some time past. I was referring to their account last week, and they haven’t had five pounds’ worth in the last quarter, and yet I see by the 1 quotation-book’ that they have asked for special prices at least six times within the last two months. They never order ten shillings’ worth of
oil without coming to ask the figure beforehand, sir.”
“Had they asked the prce before they sent us the order for the peddling quantity on this invoice?”
“Yes, they had, sir, and were charged in accordance with the quantity scale quoted by them.”
“Well, I súpose they are too hopelessly thick-skinned to care if we deprecate their conduct in giving us so much trouble with their small orders. Let them be written to saying that they have been charged as quoted, and return them that circular which they know as well as we do contains prices for bulk quantities only. It’s from one of those greedy German firms who are always giving annoyance by scattering their price currents broadcast so that these fall into the hands of men who don’t buy a tithe of the quantities for which the figures are quoted, and who, nevertheless, are always ready to badger us by comparing these quotations for large lots with our, charges for the petty amounts that they buy of us; and they add insult to injury by their confounded tone of patronage, saying that they want to do as much with us as they can. It would serve them right to show them up in a trade journal.”
Further reflections were interrupted by his being told that the junior partner of a competing wholesale establishment was waiting to see him personally to get a special price. This firm perpetually made not overscrupulous efforts to secure some of the trade of Gregson and Company, and he knew that the chances were twenty to one that the inquiry on this occasion would not be bona-fide. He first glanced around his office carefully to make sure that there was
nothing lying about which he should not care to have seen by eyes which formel* experience had taught him were particularly prying, covered over some correspondence on his desk, and then ordered that the party should be shown in.
He entered, and any keen observer of human nature would have commended Mr. Gregson for his caution. There was a look of cunning about the other which could not fail to be particularly repugnant to any straightforward business man.
“Can you give us a special quotation for best refined colza-oil, Mr. Gregson ?11
“What quantity do you want a price for, sir?”
“That depends on how favorably you can offer us,” was the evasive answer.
“Here is our scale price,” said Mr. Gregson, passing him a list of figures.
“•Oh, but won’t you go a bit unclear these for us?”
“Those are our prices, sir, to any one who takes the quantities specified.”
“I don’t think you are sticking finite close to these quotations, Mr. Gregson. Our traveller in the west of England tells us that customers there say you are offering small lots at lower figures than you quote here.’’
“Indeed!” wTas all Mr. Gregson’s disgusted comment. As lie had anticipated, this unscrupulous competitor had no intention of buying from him, but merely wished to ascertain his selling prices so as to underquote him if possbile.
“Then, I suppose, Mr. Gregson, we can tell our traveller that our customers have made some mistake, and
that these are ,the very lowest prices at which you are selling.”
“I understand, sir, that you wanted to see me about a special quotation for yourselves.”
“Well, we’ve got a stock at present, but might perhaps have been open to buy more if you could have quoted us specially low.”
“That’s a lie, and you know it,” was his auditor’s mental reflection; “and it’s you and the like of you that spoil honest trade by your dirty sharp practices.” Long experience, however, had taught him that, if he did not want to listen to a string of prevarications, he had better say as little as possible in a case like this. So he looked the other straight in the face and sair, “Well, good-morning, sir. If we find ourselves later on able to quote you to better advantage we will do so.”
The young man was acute enough to see that Mr. Gregson was not going to commit himself. He had hoped to wring out an asseveration from him, and thereby pin him to a definite statement that he was not going to deviate under any consideration from the selling prices which he had indicated so long as the market value remained unaltered. Then, on the strength of this, the young man would have written to his own traveller straightway, saying: “Messrs. Gregson &
Company’s definite lowest figures are so-and-so; you can offer at a fraction lower to customers of theirs who don’t deal with us at present.” He was nowise abashed at the imputation that he had not come with a real desire to purchase. This, he thought, was rather a compliment to his sharpness than otherwise. Nor did he take exception to Mr. Gregson’s
bidding him good-morning as a suggestion that he wanted to be rid of him. He went out as jauntily as he had come in, prepared to try it on again when opportunity should present itself. As soon as he was gone the merchant turned again to his uncompleted form of tender, the filling in of which these unwelcome inter-
ruptions had hindered. As he did so he bethought himself, “We need something else badly in business besides the passing of the Prevention of Corruption Bill, and that is the universal commercial boycotting of fellows like that. Nothing short of it will drive a particle of conscience into them.77