Marvels of a Modern Department Store
HENRY HARRISON LEWIS IN SUCCESS MAGAZINE
What a stupendous thing is the modern department store, and how rapidly it has developed during the last few years! The investment of brains and of capital in these gigantic enterprises is enormous. Limitless are the conveniences provided. Each working day the largest stores are visited by a vast throng of people, exceeding the population of a city of 100,000 inhabitants.
AMERICAN globe-trotters of extended experience will recall the ancient standing joke of most Englishmen who had occasion to welcome an American cousin to their hospitable shores, ten or a dozen years ago. The joke was generally launched the third or fourth day of the visitor’s stay, and was sand-
wiched in between visits to Westminster Abbey and to the Tower.
'“Aw!” the Englishman would usually say, with an anticipatory twinkle in his bare eye, “aw! I think I will go shopping, this morning. I want—aw !—to buy a package of tobacco and an elephant. We will go to Whiteley’s.”
If the American visitor understood his cue, he would look surprised and highly amused, and then would listen, open-mouthed, to a description of London's famous department store, or “shop," where everything, from a paper of needles to a sacred city, is supposed to be on sale. A visit to the heterogeneous collection of shops known as “Whiteley's" would follow, and the American would have an opportunity to gaze upon the pioneer of the stupendous retail commercial enterprises scattered throughout his own country.
¡Whiteley's, to-day, is only the pioneer. It has been double-discounted in almost every large city of the United States. In fact, there is not a community of any size in the country that does not boast of its aggregation of many businesses brought together through a combination of capital and brains, for the purpose of supplying under one roof all that is necessary for the welfare and creature comforts of the average man and woman.
The modern department store, as you can understand, is a direct evolution of the old-time dry-goods store. This evolution was simple enough. It really represents the survival of the fittest. That element in human nature which leads the average woman—and the average man, also—to frequent the most luxurious places in which are displayed the most attractive articles of need is the direct cause of the present-day department store.
The first proprietor who enlarged his store and offered for sale in one building gowns and dress goods, millinery and shoes, writing paper and furniture, sounded the death knell of the old-time dry-goods shop. From that hour date the present systematic
efforts on the part of retail department stores to provide every possible convenience for their customers, and to erect, at enormous cost, stupendous structures covering acres of ground, in which are collected the arts and treasures, the fruits of the loom, and the innumerable articles of barter and sale from all the world, while the stores themselves are veritable palaces.
It is interesting to the last degree to study the marvelous growth of some of these great stores. There is one enormous shop in Chicago, for instance, now occupying almost a million square feet of floor space, that had its origin in a narrow stairway. Think of it ! An ordinary, unused stairway, not more than twelve feet across and twenty feet deep, in a State Street building, that a keeneyed man chanced to espy while walking the streets in search of a place to locate a sidewalk stand or a push cart! Fancy such a beginning for a business now capitalized in the millions !
One can see the poverty-stricken proprietor, aghast at his own temerity in undertaking the responsibility of a real store at a monthly rental of ten dollars. It is easy to realize his careful buying of the few odds and ends constituting his first stock, and the welcome he extended to his first customer.
This progressive merchant did not carry any particular line of goods. He sold anything that would sell, from flower pots to tack hammers. His was a notion store, and, as it grew, he added dry goods and shoes, and, finally, surprised the neighbors by knocking out a partition and overflowing into the adjacent room. He knew how to buy goods, how to sell goods, how to display goods, and how
to advertise; and he also knew that essential secret of the successful retail merchant, how to train his employees into the same knowledge.
jit seemed as if such things as walls and floors could not check the flood of his expansion, and in time this whilom push-cart peddler found‘himself to be one of the largest retail merchants in the country, a pioneer in the little army of department-store promoters. The story of his success is the story of many prototypes not only in Chicago, but also in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
In one of the larger western cities is a well-known and prosperous department store that had its origin in the failure of a certain man to find household utensils in the principal shop of the town. At that time the man in question was in the paint business, and doing indifferently well. While walking to his office, one day, he stopped at the principal store to order some tinware for his wife. His request was met with the curt reply:
“We don’t keep kitchen things. If you want any pots and pans, why don’t you go to the junk shop down the street?”
“But you keep other things—in fact, almost everything else”—expostulated the paint merchant. “Why don’t you keep biscuit pans ?’ ’
“Because we don’t want to. We must draw the line somewhere.”
“Well, it’s time there was a store that’s not so particular,” retorted the paint merchant. “I think I will start one, and right here in this same block, too.”
The paint merchant sold out his own business, interested the capital of his friends, and opened what was then known as “The Universal Provider.” It changed its name, in time, H
but it is the largest department store between Chicago and San Francisco to-day. It sells biscuit pans, too.
The department stores of the United States can be grouped into three classes: the conservative, that claim quality in their goods, ask the highest prices, and attract the patronage of the people of wealtli and taste ; the freely-advertising stores, that are not so particular about their class of customers, or so slow in adding new features; and the concerns that pride themselves on appealing to the masses, put on no frills, invite everybody to come in whether a purchase is made or not, and which will sell anything—be it a dog or a snake, an automobile or a baby carriage, dried peas or hayprovided it promises a profit. This third enterprise is the departmentstore idea worked out boldly to its limit. But there is method in its boldness, or it would fail.
A thoroughly up-to-date department store is almost a trust. Within the past few years some of the principal enterprises of this nature have gone beyond their home organization and have established regular chains of stores in the larger cities. One department-store promoter, for instance, has recently inaugurated his third store, and now controls colossal retail marts in New York, Chicago, and Boston. This capitalist, when questioned, not long ago, about the possibility of a genuine trust in department stores, replied ;
“It is absolutely out of the question, for the business is colossal, and no combination of capial could control it.” 'He hesitated, then added, with a smile, “But there may be such a thing as a financing arrangement, you know, to reduce and simplify accounts.”
There is no doubting the enormous amount of capital invested in the enterprises, or the vast importance of the business as a business. In New York City alone are almost a score, with a total investment approximating one hundred million dollars. Each working day even the smallest of these stores welcomes and cares for a multitude of visitors exceeding the population of a city of 100,000 inhabitants. This in itself proves the great magnitude of the business of modern department-storekeeping.
It may not be generally known that the average department store is not the result of one company’s investment, or of one man’s capital. Most of the great stores consist of one or more buildings, in which are frequently collected dozens of different departments, some of which may belong to outsiders. In every case, however, the main firm controls and supervises the entire aggregation of departments.
There is a store in Brooklyn, for instance, which has, in addition to its regular department of ready-made clothing a merchant-tailoring department. The ready-made clothing belongs to the main firm, but the custom-tailoring end is divided. A large clothing and woolen house of New York City supplies the cloth on commission and maintains a cutter at its own expense, but the salesmen are engaged and paid by the main firm. In this same store the entire basement is leased to various concerns selling household utensils, sporting goods, etc.
'¡To those of us who remember the modest shops of our childhood, when an entire business was conducted by, at most, two-score employees, and ¡éach particular shop had its parti-
cular line of goods, a visit to one of the enormous modern marts of trade is a revelation. To-day every city has its emporium and its selected quarter of the town, where retail selling is done from early Monday to late Saturday.
These great shops are little different, one from another. It is only a question of the quality of goods handled and the clientele. The arrangement of the great stock is practically the same, and the handling of the vast army of employees shows little variation of policy. Wanamaiker’s, in New York and Philadelphia, Marshall Field’s or “The Fair,” in Chicago, or any of the noted Boston stores seems to follow a general principle of shopkeeping, simply “cutting its cloth to fit the measure.”
The prime object with all is to please their customers, especially the feminine customers. As women form at least ninety-seven per cent, of the clientele, it is only natural that almost every effort should be directed along the lines of feminine taste, with the purpose of attracting women customers.
In every large store will be found certain little conveniences appreciated by women. In Macy’s, in New York, for instance, on one of the floors, the ladies have a handsome parlor to repair to when weary of the strain of shopping, where they can recline on lounges or rock themselves in easy chairs. There is also a writing room, where paper and envelopes bearing the monogram of the establishment and pens and ink galore await those who find it inconvenient to attend to correspondence at home.
All large stores are equipped with first-class restaurants, where food is
served on the same economical plan practiced in other departments. The menus are extensive, and the prices partake of the bargain-counter flavor, being arranged in odd cents, such as “coffee, four cents,”—“with whipped cream and a dainty roll, nine cents.9 9
The manager of a great store on Sixth Avenue, New York, told me that ordinary restaurant prices were charged when the firm first established its dining room, but it was not long before the complaint box was filled to the cover with strenuous objections to paying such even sums as ten cents or thirty cents.
“We soon found that food was regarded by our feminine customers in the same manner as ribbons and perfumes and lingerie,” he said. “We even contemplated, for a while, the bargain-counter idea of having special sales, on certain days, of ham and eggs, coffee cake, or lamb chops, but it did not get down to that, thank goodness !9 9
In each store is an emergency hospital where a salaried physician and trained nurses give aid to those who may feel faint or indisposed. The doctor is one of the busiest men in the building. Every morning the employees who are ill call upon him for examination and medicipe.
In addition to these conveniences there will be found, in the majority of the large shops, telephone booths, telegraph offices, and even savings banks. The last are well patronized by customers, and some of the banking departments have deposits as large as many outside banks. The bank connected with Macy’s is used in lieu of a credit system. This store, as is well known, sells entirely for cash. There are no credit accounts like those generally utilized,
but any customer can deposit money in the bank, which allows the usual four per cent, interest, and pay for goods purchased with the credit checks issued by the firm.
To show the length to which the large department stores go in pleasing their customers, one of the principal rules is that permitting the exchange of undamaged goods, and even the repayment of the purchase price. Abraham and Straus, of Brooklyn, for instance, will refund money even after the article purchased has been held by the customer for a period of weeks. If the article is returned undamaged, no questions are asked. This is the acme of consideration. It is only natural, apparently, that such a hospitable privilege should be abused in some cases. In fact, stories are told of customers who, feeling the need of a new opera cloak or a costly trimmed bonnet for some function, have bought the article for one night only. A certain New York store probably holds the record in this line.
Several months ago, two certain sales were recorded in the store, one of a complete wedding outfit consisting of frock suit, shoes, hat, gloves, shirt, underwear, and even a cane, and the other a wedding outfit consisting of gown, bonnet, lingerie, and all that is considered .necessary in the correct trousseau. Ten days later the man, whom we will call Mr. Jones, returned his purchases with a request for a cash credit. The same afternoon, the woman, whom we will call Miss Brown, returned her outfit with a similar request; but here is where the fatal mistake was made. Although the woman made her purchases under the name of Miss Brown, she returned them under the name of Mrs. Jones. Thé cat was out of the bag. It is
unnecessary to say that Jones and Brown were unsuccessful in their little scheme to make a department store furnish their wedding outfits without cost.
Joke writers have for years made much capital out of what th,ey are pleased to call the “modern towers of Babel/’ but this humorous reference does not slur the great departmental store enterprises. Each is literally a city under one roof, and one has only to inspect such a wonderful combination of cleverness and capital as Wanamaiker’s, Siegel and Cooper’s, Jordan and Marsh’s, or Marshall Field’s, to appreciate the fact. From the lowest sub-cellar to the roof there are marvels innumerable.
In the former will be found a colossal battery of boilers, a score of dynamos, and a great switchboard, by which the wonderfully intricate electrical apparatus in the building is controlled. Here it is that power is generated and applied for the halfhundred passenger and freight elevators and the thousands of ;electric lights. iThe telephone batteries are supplied with current, the carpenters and machinists assisted in their work of repairing, and even such machines as butter churns and coffee mills operated.
On the roof, which, in the old days, was entirely unused, are encountered great conservatories, with tiers of flowers and potted plants, white azaleas, gorgeous tulips, graceful pinks, stately roses, and immaculate Easter lilies, all showing a riot of color very graceful to the eye wearied by the sights and scenes below, dip there, where the light is good, the photograph seeker finds a charmingly appointed gallery, where he can secure the best class of work.
Between the roof and thç sub-basement are many floors—ten, twelve, or sixteen of them,—filled with all classes and degrees of articles, from shoes to garden rakes. There are great spaces devoted to art and plain furniture; well-equipped picture galleries, where paintings valued at many thousands of dollars are on exhibition; a floor devoted to the sale of groceries, meats, and even fish, where the average daily purchases exceed the entire consumption of a towTn, and incidental departments where are shoes and hats, goldfish, squirrels, monkeys, dogs, cats, rabbits, china and glassware, gloves, perfumes, drugs, candy, soda water, harnesses, and even horses, silks, cottons, leather goods, trunks, automobiles, carriages, paints, hardware, and town lots. In these great emporiums, a wealthy man can enter the door with a list of his particular wants, and can emerge many thousand dollars poorer in his bank account, but with everything necessan7, to insure his comfort and welfare in life.
It is not the display of a multitude of articles that would interest the casual visitor whose memory of the tiny shops of his childhood is keen, but the manner in which these colossal emporiums are conducted. What of the business end,—the highly systematized receiving and delivery of goods and the training and management of the army of employees? The visitor realizes that a vast gulf separates the methods utilized in controlling the modest outposts of his early days and those found essential by the proprietors and managers of the modern department store, but he does not appreciate the actual width of the gulf until he inspects one of the newer stores.
-The hiring and training of employees is a task of the first magnitude. The stores noted for efficient service give all of their inexperienced salespeople some training. After appointments are made from a carefully selected list of available persons, the newcomers are taken in charge by a floor manager and a regular school session is held. The manager instructs them in the handling of the various sales tickets and tags. The business methods of the store are explained to them, and its policies and customs. Addresses are also delivered on courtesy, energy, salesmanship, observation, and even general arguments and the best manner of handling dissatisfied customers.
¡The welfare of employees is not neglected. Some stores—in fact, the majority—have a regular department of welfare. Six months’ service entitles a clerk or salesman to a week’s
vacation. In case of sickness half a week’s salary is paid. One of the largest of the New York stores maintains a cottage at the seaside for the benefit of its employees during the Summer months. This is not entirely benevolence; it is good business. Consideration and fair treatment make satisfied employees.
Almost every store has its employees’ association, to which one per cent, of the salary is paid each month. In return for this, the employee receives medical attendance, and, in an emergency, could obtain a loan from the treasury, returnable in small installments. Burial expenses are paid, when necessary. It is very often the case that the expenses incurred by the association exceed the receipts. The deficit is made up through the medium of an annual ball and in many cases by checks from the firm.