System and Business Management

One Hundred and Thirty Pounds of Ginger

EMERSON HOUGH December 1 1909
System and Business Management

One Hundred and Thirty Pounds of Ginger

EMERSON HOUGH December 1 1909

One Hundred and Thirty Pounds of Ginger

System and Business Management


Suppose we now offer an aestliesis, synthesis and analysis to this gentleman, E. C. Simmons, of St. Louis. That last named city jobs more manufactured hardware than Chicago, New York, Boston and Philadelphia all put together. In simple truth, it was Mr. Simmons who put St. Louis in that place. He represents the answer to 1,800 employes, 400 traveling salesmen, and the largest merchandizing freight station in the world. He explains 24 railroad switch tracks under one roof, where 62 cars may be emptied at the same hour, or laden with goods destined for every corner of the world. For instance, all the corners of the world receive from this single hardware station three axes for each and every minute of the four and twenty hours. And an axe is only one of 80,000 items handled by the firm.

Slight, nervous, with iron grey hair, grey moustache and imperial, and a small fighting terrier eye, Mr. E. C. Simmons weighs only 130 pounds, and admits that 140 is the best weight he ever made. But it did not take two minutes’ talk to tell whether he belonged to the class of the pushers or the pushed. Almost anyone would at once accord him magnetism, salesmanship, energy, confidence, whatever you care to call that particular trait which not all men have and which not all men can gain.

Others have been as economical and temperate as Mr. Simmons; Mr. Rockefeller, for instance. Others as industrious; Senator Aldrich, for instance. The thing which enabled him to win was an untiring nervous system, the same sort of nervous energy possessed by Theodore Roosevelt, restless, tireless, never done with doing things.

This sort of thing is the gift of the 106

immortal gods, and in my belief the immortal gods have it in for anybody on whom they bestow it; because Mr. Simmons admits that in his early business days he used to get on the job at five o’clock in the morning and work until midnight, often without lunch. This, of course, in time ruined his digestion. It did not, however, ruin his energy, and it is in that, in my belief, that there lay always the success of his tremendous system of salesmanship. It is in this man’s fore-ordaitied nervous system, his ability to keep going, to keep up his enthusiasm, and withal, to keep up his cool-headedness and good nature, that there lies the success-secret of this particular house, which has carried the name of one city to the front in at least one important branch of trade.

Ten years ago Mr. Simmons coricluded to take it easy. He went abroad, but did not stay there. He bought him a summer house at Oconomowoc, but did not stay there either. He . undertook to spend his winters in Florida, but he did not stay there. When I met him, he was cheerful, and he was busy, nervously writing on a scratch pad.

“I am just getting out one of the circular letters which we send to our salesmen,” he said. “The boys rely very largely upon me for that, even yet. I know something about salesmanship, and I can help our traveling men. It’s confidence that sells goods.

“Now you ask me why I keep on working,” he went on. “Here is one reason.” He nodded to the cleareyed young son of the house, who had been showing me the cyclometers and other details, and who does not yet spend his winters in Florida. “I want to hand over a great business success to my three sons.

“No, that is not the only reason,’’ he admitted the next moment. “Neither is money the reason,” he added, musingly. “I don’t believe that is the reason most business men keep at it. I give you my word that is not the reason I have worked so hard. It was the Game! Yet, it was the love of winning the Game that kept me at it.” His eyes lit up as he went on. “I play a little golf, but never for money. I like to win when I can. I play a strong game of whist, but I never play that for money. Still, I like to win in anything I go at. I believe any good salesman must feel much that way. Magnetism is a physical quality, without doubt; and it may be inherited, yes. But a fellow must have more than that ; must have the wish to win, the energy to try. What else? Why, confidence. First, the ambition to win ; second, the confidence that you can win. Those are the things.

“Now, it is business to build up that confidence all along the line. I am doing that in this circular letter I am writing. Suppose one of our salesmen should come into my office unexpectedly now. Nine out of ten employers would show surprise or irritation over it. I never do anything of the kind in such a case. I don’t scold him, and I listen to him patiently, and he goes out of my office feeling self respect and not chagrin. Some time during the day I make it a point to find him, and I say, ‘See here, my boy, you know we are anxious to make this a record month, and when you come in this way, without letting us know, you might disarrange our plans. In the future, won’t you please let us know about that in advance? Record month, you know !’

“Yes, I am a great believer in the business philosophy of encouragement. We want every man in this business to have confidence in the business, and confidence in himself.”

Now there began to appear some reason for all these things. Moreover, any student of athletics knows something about the peculiar quality of nervous force which will put one man

across the tape while others apparently as gootl lag far behind. The compact figure of the man before me was little like the plethoric front of the typical old French merchant of St. Louis, wealthy in his day, but belonging to a generation outdone and outrun. Mr. Simmons is 70 years of age. He has taken a lot of punishment, and can take more, for he looks not older than the fifties. I discovered that he was born of a German mother and a father of good old New England stock, at Frederick, Maryland; that he came to St. Louis while young, and was once accustomed to fish for croppies in a pond precisely where his big brick building stands to-day. St. Louis was just one hundred years old when he first went into business there with the firm of Wilson, Levering & Watters. Mr. Levering died, and Mr. Waters went into the oil business, and Mr. Wilson got scared when the business amounted to the sum of $480,-

000 in annual sales. “So I bought him out,” chuckled Mr. C. E. Simmons, modern welterweight. “And now we do that much in a week.”

Satisfied that I had something distinct in natural endow'ment for a success-reason, I next wanted some idea, some differentiation point ; and so asked him about that.

“Well, now,” he answered, “along about 1864, when I was a buyer for our old firm, a man came along and wanted to sell us axes and I didn’t like the axes. He said we’d have to buy of him, because we couldn’t get them of anyone else. He said his axes were good enough for anybody.

1 have always done a great deal of my thinking while in bed. I often get up even now and write something which I think will make a good idea. That night I got up out of bed. and whittled me out a nice model axehead out of wood and I wrote on it in pencil, ‘Keen Cutter.’ That was the origin of our trade mark and our quality-policy—the ideas on which our house has been built.

“We are sellers and not makers of goods. Once in a while, however, we

have to start a factory because we can't get good enough goods to go under our trade mark. Once we took a big order to a factory, different tools we wanted made, and they asked us what price we wanted to pay. I told them to make us the best tools they could turn out, and then figure the price afterwards.

“We kept strictly to that idea with all our goods. That catch line about the ‘recollection of quality’ I wrote a long while ago in one of my letters to the salesmen, but it was only about ten years or so ago that my oldest boy took it up and began to make a lot out of it in a business way. The use of the line in advertising is therefore rather new, counted by years, but the idea back of it is as old as my business life.”

He mused a while before he went on. “I suppose that’s the secret of my success, if I’ve got any. That and confidence, and keeping at it, anticipating conditions as they change, adapting methods and goods to meet them.”

Policies are expressed in acts. Here was another sign on the Simmons success-trail. How had conditions changed? I demanded. What had been done to meet, perhaps to hasten them? The answer sketched the creation of a great business out of confusion—its rebuilding again and again as new factors in its field arose.

“There have been seven distinct eras in the hardware business in the last fifty years,” Mr. Simmons explained. “It's not a little satisfaction to recall that our house has taken an active part in ushering them in and in making the most of their opportunities.

“The first departure from tradition”—the keen eyes sparkled as they ranged back across the innovations that meant progress—“came with the employment of traveling salesmen along about 1865. Previous to that the men who called on the trade were collectors. Their names expressed their function—to get the money in. They took orders when these were thrust upon them, but of creating ms

business in selling as it is understood to-day by hundreds of thousands of sober, earnest, intelligent road men— they knew nothing.”

“We were the first hardware jobbers to recognize that selling is the big end of the business and to send out men with that single object in view. That explains our growth in large measure—we were first in the field with the new tool, and we spend a good deal of time right now polishing, improving, keeping a razor-edge on our instrument.

“Trade-marking our goods was the second big advance. I wrote ‘Keen Kutter’ across that model axe of mine in 1864, but it was not until 1870 that we realized the value of branding our goods and making the brand stand for quality. It was starting an endless chain of advertising—the man who used one of our axes or saws insisted upon having our chisels or hammers when he needed such tools. But the trade mark holds so vital a place in production and selling to-day that I need not enlarge on its effectiveness. In the hardware trade it has a peculiar value since it is the dealer’s chief defence against the mail order houses which sell direct to consumers.

“Those were the big creative ideas in our business,” he went on, after a pause to take stock of causes. “The later years brought development and expansion—chiefly along the line of selling methods and service to the retailer. For we have always believed that the interests of jobber and dealer were indentical—that our success was based on the success of our customers and that progress must work backward to us from the advance of the retailer.

“Our assignment of territories to our salesmen and putting them on a commission basis in the late seventies —a great departure then, the accepted method now7—was a development of this twin idea of sales and service. It put our travelers in business for themselves and gave them an incentive for nursing and developing the trade-

of their customers. It supplied a powerful motive for working a full day, for taking the five o’clock train instead of the one at eight, since their earnings increased with their sales.”

“Enlargement of our line,” he said quietly, “had been a continuous process. About this time, however, we took another radical step in the expansion of our own and our customers’ business. We added guns and sporting goods, and put all our resources at the dealer’s command by issuing a complete illustrated catalogue of everything we had to sell. If the retailer hadn’t an article in stock, he could sell from the catalogue and send us the order.

“That book cost us $30,000—an immense sum to spend in advertising in 1880. It was not the first hardware catalogue, but it was the first complete one. How it increased our dealers’ sales was shown by the increase in our own—over $1,000,000 that year.”

He shook his head thoughtfully.

“That catalogue may have helped to bring about the next era in hardware selling—by showing the mail order houses how to arrange and illustrate their own books. Our first effort to meet this competition failed in a measure because retailers would not recognize the coming danger and did not co-operate with us. I had noticed that the mail order houses were using bicycles and sewing machines as their ‘leaders,’ quoting amazing prices in their advertisements and securing thousands of customers.

“To meet these offers, we bought many thousands of excellent wheels and good sewing machines at nine dollars each, furnished them to the trade at flat cost, and urged our customers to sell them at or below the mail order figure of $11.75—warning them of the trouble which growth of the catalogue houses would produce. The plan failed, however. The trade did not respond. Instead, many dealers bought our machines and observing their quality, marked them up, as high as $18, thus defeating our purpose. Since then, this competition has

grown tremendously. It can be met only by quality goods, trade-marked and sold on a margin that gives volume and quick turn-over of stocks.”

“Speed and accessibility to wholesale stocks enter here. Our first effort to facilitate deliveries—to improve service for the effect on sales—was the building in 1895 of our new warehouses over railroad tracks and the organization of our house methods to secure the greatest speed in the filling of orders and forwarding shipments.

“The final development of this service idea and the seventh era in this business, came with the establishment of branch houses at strategic market points in 1905, though this involved complete recasting of the methods and organization with which we had been operating. To save even a few hours in delivery of rush orders may mean the difference between a sale and no sale.

“For that reason we have gone to the trade—have put complete local stocks at their command—have made it possible for them to do two or three times their old volume of business on the same capital—have cut down materially the cost of distribution and put them in a strong defensive position touching their long-distance catalogue rivals. At the same time we have tried to impress the quality of our tools on the customer by widespread advertising. That, I believe, is the final platform on which we will meet the future—Service and Quality. And Quality, after all. means potential service to the consumer.”


In the article in our November number, entitled, “From Mill Hand to Mill Owner: the Life Story of Alexander Gibson, of Marysville,” the statement was made that Mr. Alexander Gibson. Jr., was member of Parliament for York County. N.B. It is true that Mr. Gibson did hold this seat prior to the last genei al election, but he was defeated in that contest bv Mr. Oswald Crocket, the present member.