Scott: A True Merchant Prince
From the Book-Keeper
IT ISN’T often, is it, that a man going quietly about his own business, without making the slightest attempt for public recognition, has thrust upon him honors plus? Yet that is what happened to Scott— George E. Scott, of Prairie Farm, Barron County, Wisconsin.
It was Emerson—and I trust no one will dispute this—who said: “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten track to his door.” But one man whose early education had not been received in colleges, and who had never had the opportunity of reading Emerson in his early days, did not know this. He did not know that if he built a store just a wee bit better than anyone else had ever built one, he would become a marked man, and would ever after have to stand in the calcium light of public interest.
Scott was 23 years old when he happened into Prairie Farm in 1883. He had been a clerk for several years, and—so folks tell me who used to know him—was a quiet, thoughtful youngster, with whom the women and the little children loved to trade. Little Johnnie Jones with his penny would always exchange it for candy if Scott happened around. The candy, somehow, seemed to taste better when Scott smiled as he handed it out.
Scott, as I said, was a clerk, but he was not a common clerk. He was not one of those fellows whose one de-
sire is to get a check on Saturday night. He never spent his time figuring out how little work he had to do in order to hold his job. He wanted to be a partner. He wanted to be his own boss. He was not quite satisfied with the way the manager ran things. He did not know exactly what was wrong, but he knew several places where changes should be made.
In the course of time there came changes. The old lumber firm, which owned the store and the grist mill, went out of business, Scott was given a chance to buy. Having saved a bit of money and possessing that far more valuable asset, a straight-edge reputation, he was able to become owner. The store prospered. Everybody liked George. He always tried to give the square deal to all, thus anticipating in practice what the name of the Teddy bear has since most persistently advertised by preaching; and, when he counted up receipts at the end of the year, he found it had paid. Other years told the same story. Scott was a success.
It came to him suddenly about twelve years ago that the old store was not what his customers deserved. The folks on the outside of the counter were making the man on the inside rich. For a small town he was being made vulgarly rich. His bank account was leaping upward, and little worry lines began to appear in Scott’s face. His money was worth little to him in that small place. He could use only enough for creature comforts—board and clothes and a
house to live in—and there was n,o one around who cared for show. Of course, he might stay there for a fewmore years and annex much more money, and then move to the city and enjoy the “advantages.”
But the advantages of the city did not appeal to Scott. A man who has alwavs lived in the country and who knows the joys of hearing the hearty “Good morning, George,” and' who has felt the honest grasp of a man who works near the soil, does not care much for the veneer of the city. Besides, there was in Scott a certain Thoreau-like quality to which the fresh air and sunshine and the great outof-doors irresistibly appealed. No city could give him those advantages. And so Scott decided to stay.
He promised himself ahvays to make Prairie Farm his home. He promised himself that he would do all in his power to make it a desirable place in which to live. “I'll have to build a new store,” said he; “this old one is a disgrace to the firm. It's a queer thing that some of the owners—some of the customers who are furnishing me the money—do not protest. Perhaps they know no better."
And the customers didn’t. They had never been used to anything else, and the time when the gaily colored mail-order catalogue came in by the sack full was not vet. This was twelve years ago.
“I guess I'll buy that three acres and a half. Charley,” he said one afternoon. as he and one of his clerks were sitting in front of the old building. Scott pointing to the plot across the road. “I’m going to have a nice store put up there one of these days. But I cannot tell what kind of a store it will be. Business is a bit dull just now, so I'll take a little trip around the country, just to get ideas, you know."
And so the Boss went sightseeing. He visited all tire towns round about.
I íe loafed in all the stores, and when the proprietors were not busy he took them off into a corner and told them things and asked questions. For 100
the most part he asked questions. The proprietors always told what finely arranged stores they had. Scott said nothing. But he never left without talking to the clerks. The clerks told him the truth. No one ever thinks of lying to Scott. They showed him where changes could be made, and if they got real chummy, they used to tell what they intended to do when they built their own stores—those stores they were to build a little later on, when they had saved a bit more money, you know.
The man from Prairie Farm absorbed all this. I íe also made notes. His ideas grew larger. The new store he had in mind when he left home dwindled down and soon faded from sight. Scott went back and said to the clerks :
“Building a store that will suit me, suit you, and suit the customers, is quite an undertaking. It is’ more serious than I at first supposed. I guess we won't be in any great hurry about it. But this I want all of you to do: Keep thinking all the time
about building a store that would suit you exactly, and when vou have it clearly in mind tell me all about it. If we work together we will get what we want.”
And they all worked together. Everybody helped. In the winter, when the snow and wind swept over the prairie and kept trade awav, Scott and his clerks used to gather round the stove and the fun thev used to have planning the new store was almost as good as holding Aladdin's lamp in their hands. It seemed as if they had to do no more than rub something and wish, and the store would appear by magic. Tt was heaps of fun. But the fun could not be compared to the good fellowship, the brotherhood, that was then formed. For nine years this planning kept up. Then came the time when the beautiful dream was to materialize. The design had been decided upon. It was something new. something unique. No store building in America was
there to be found that resembled it. The man from Prairie Farm was a pioneer. He was the light preparing the way.
The design selected was copied from one of those old Spanish missions which at one time dotted Southern California. And when Scott selected it he “struck thirteen.” He did not know his building was to be a mission where would be preached a gospel of beauty and utility that would influence a mighty business world. He built wiser than he knew. That he could one day be hailed as the greatest country merchant of his time never for a moment entered h;s head. He
was but trying to give to his friends a building such as they deserved. He did his work as well as he knew how. That is all. Those who came and saw did the rest.
“We have waited many years to perfect our plans,” said Scott one day to his friends, the clerks, “and we’ll not spoil them by rushing the work along. We can wait a year or so longer in order to get the best—the best there is. All of us deserve the best the world can give us—when we earn it. And I guess we have worked well enough and hard enough to deserve what we have coming.”
It took two years to build the new
store, but Prairie Farm folks enjoyed those two years more than they care to tell of new. They had heaps of fun with Scott. They called him a fool, and those not so harsh called him a dreamer. But Scott smiled thar inscrutible smile of his and Kept right on at work.
“The idea,” said the croakers, “of putting up a store like that out here in the country! What is Scott thinking of? Why, he’ll put up such a hightoned place that the farmers won’t go near it. He'll bankrupt himself if he don’t watch out.”
But Scott did not bankrupt himself.
“The store I am building over there,” said Scott to a number of farmers with whom he was talking one morning just after they had unloaded their milk at the creamery—“that -tore I am building is your store. I’ve been thinking a great deal about this matter for a long time. It has come to me forcibly that without you fellows I could do nothing. I have depended upon you all these years and you have depended upon me. We have been useful to one another. I served you as well as I could, and you have paid me well for that service. You have paid me so well that I am able to build a store such as exists in no other small town in the country.
“Now. T am not building this store because I want to erect a monument to myself; I am not building this store because it will enable me to make more money than T have been making; but I am building it in this way because I feel you fellows deserve it. When I started this work I had no such thought in mind, but it has come to me during the days T have been dreaming.”
It was the people Scott had in mind when he made his plans for the best -tore in the state. He was considering their comfort and the comfort of his clerks. He recognized what few storekeepers ever recognize, that his success had been made possible wholly because of the assistance of his cusir
tomers and the help of his clerks. By himself he could have done nothing.
Thus it was he built a store resembling a Spanish mission at a cost of $30.000. It is set in the centre of a three and one-half acre square, and is reached by wide driveways which thread their way between shrubs and flowers. The building is 80 by no feet in size and has a basement ten feet from its cement floor to its ceiling of solid plaster. The ground floor salesroom is sixteen feet in height, with a steel ceiling, a large, well-lighted, airy room, clean as those who love cleanliness can make it. The second storey is finished as if for a child’s nursery. It is all in white. And when it is said that Scott never has to send a clerk ahead of him to clean up when company comes, some idea of the cleaning-up system may be had.
The building has its own gas plant, and the merry gurgle of the steam in the radiators in the cold winter makes the clerks think of the time long ago when they used to gather round the big stove in the old building to dream of the good days in the future. And, it E said, no clerk has vet been found whose dream even approached that of the Boss.
Those who dream of the time when employer and employe will live in absolute harmony, or. better still, when there shall no longer be any distinction between those who lead and those who follow, cannot imagine conditions any more ideal than those prevailing in the Scott store. The clerks are perfectly contented. When Scott planned the store he reached back into his own experience and dwelt upon the troubles he used to have working behind narrow counters. “The clerks have to be here longer than the customers,” said he to himself. “They deserve the greater conveniences. I will see that they have all the room they need back of the counters, so that one may pass another without touching.” And it was so done. There is as much room for the clerks as there is in most stores for the custome''.-. Back of the counter it is
always just as clean as it is in front. There is no hypocrisy about the store of Scott. Everything is on the square, an outward manifestation of the inner make-up of its owner.
And the women, too, were provided for. A beautiful toilet room fitted up with all the latest conveniences, including hot and cold water and plenty of towels, is given them. What this means to those hard-working bearers of children of this northern country, after driving many miles over the prairie, may be imagined.
But the place to wash up and make themselves clean is not all that Scott did for them. He remembered how they used to come into his store and sit around on the cracker boxes, trying to get a bit of rest before starting their shopping. And he remembered, also, that many of them brought their lunches with them. Thus, there appeared in his new building a large room fitted up with couches and chairs and tables, a room devoted wholly to the women and children. Here there were all the monthly magazines, and picture books, for the children were not absent. This room belonged to the women absolutely. Only
the women clerks ever entered it. It was as sacred to the women as their own homes. Is it any wonder Scott gets the trade?
For the men there was also a room. This was clean and convenient, but there is lacking those little refinements which make the women’s apartments such a cozy place. Toilet facilities are provided, and there are seats where they may sit and discuss the crops or the countless other things which occupy the thoughts of the farmers.
But it is out in the big salesroom that you would delight in staying. Clean it is as the kitchen of a careful New England housewife. It is finished entirely in birch, and the handrubbed finish makes it shine and glisten like the interior of a parlor-car. The counters were made especially for this room. Nothing was picked out of a catalogue and used because it was expensive. Scott had taste, although he would probably deny that if put on the witness stand.
Mirrors multiply the charms of the place, and unkind folks say Scott placed them there merely to attract the women ! Seats and couches are
to be found in all the little nooks and corners, and there are no signs around the place telling the clerks these resting-places are for customers only.
The absence of signs and advertising matter of all kinds is one of the things that instantly strikes the visitor entering the Scott store. There are no directions to anyone. There are no “Don’t” signs around. The beauty of the place serves as its greatest protection. Not a farmer enters the place but first wipes his feet on the large mat at the door.
Back of the store are the stables. Here are kept the teams of all customers, free of charge. 'These stables did away with the posts which always are to be found in front of country stores. 'They are so large and roomy that one may drive in with large wagons and protect their contents from the rain. Toilet rooms may be found here also.
The grounds are beautifully laid out. Nearly one thousand arbor vital trees line the drives which wind in and out, just as one finds them around public buildings where men of taste
arrange the grounds. In the summer time there are beds of flowers in continual bloom, and out under the shade of the trees are resting places where the mothers and the children may while away the waiting hours.
Of course you will ask: “Does all this pay?” And that was just what I asked Mr. Scott. But there was no need of asking the question after knowing the man responsible for it all. He breathes success. Not the success of the city man who rides rough-shod over his competitors, but the success
of a man who has read “The Law of Love” as touched into English by William Marion Reedy.
Scott loves his fellowmen. Not with a sentimental love, mind you. It is a love which folks do not analyze. It is a love sadly rare in these competitive, commercial days, for it is based wholly upon the Golden Rule, and folks who have tried sav the Golden Rule is the one rule that needs no amendment.
Scott has been a success in more than a financial way. He has been a greater success in making himself and
others happy. He believes much in the preachment of “An Apology for Idlers,” an essay written by one Robert Louis, called the “Well Beloved.” To be happy is the mission of Scott, and he has discovered there is no true happiness outside of service to one’s fellow men. “The greatest among ye shall be your servant,” remembers Scott. And he has served.
His friends have twice sent him to the State Legislature to look after their interests there, and no opposition was offered. Everybody trusts Scott, and few there are who do not call him by his first name—to be called by one’s first name by several thousand persons is no mean honor.
Yes, Scott has been a success. He has taught to the world better merchandising. He has dignified his calling. He has been a pioneer, a Voice crying in the wilderness. Because of his store in Prairie Farm, Wis., Scott
has sent messages of hope throughout the world, and no one will ever know what an inspiration he has been, not even Scott himself.
Pie will continue to live his own life there among his friends in the little country village. And when the Last Invitation comes it will find Scott ready, with the smile of one who has done his work as well as he knew how and who has been more than fairly kind.
Scott is preaching the practical religion, the religion which, we hope, will be the religion of the future. His store has done this weary old world more ■ good, and his unconscious preaching has sent home more truths than many churches, whose business it is to make men better. Scott has raised the ideals of his community until they have overflowed and spread throughout the length and breadth of the land.