Men Who Make Opportunity Beckon
" THERE may be something more stupid in the world than the old B adage that opportunity knocks but onceat a man's door, but if so, I have not yet found it," said the young man whose eyes were alert for the business of the moment, the prospect of the future and the lessons of the past,-a young man who created opportunity. He knew. He had not waited for it, but had gone out seeking had tostered it, reaped success. "Opportunity lieswherever you find it, or make it, and it knocks just as many times dur ing a day as a man has ears to hear it or mind to grasp it."
The alert young person in question was LeRoy Holman, vice-president of R. T. Holman, Ltd., of the town of Summerside, Prince Edward Island. Since the town of Summerside has a population of less than three thousand, lies in the centre of a strictly rural belt at a point where the island is but three miles wide, and has no large city population for many scores of miles in any direction to give it a push along the highway of success, the business spectacle of Summerside’s big firm is of striking interest to all Canadians.
If you are a retail man in any town with population of 3,000 or thereabouts, you may start right now figuring the best year’s turnover you ever had. Perhaps you think it was good, but are you in the Holman class? For theirs was $2,000,000—in a retail store just like the rest of you.
“Oh, but they must have a wonderful opportunity,’’ somebody says; and they have, precisely the same as anybody else in a hundred-and-one other parts of Canada.
“Farming country all about them,” says another. “Then the farmers must shake the gold from the trees.” Hardly that, for they are not boisterously rich, but just cosy and comfortable like the rest of you.
“Then I’ve got it,” says another gentleman. “There’s a wide strip of country without stores or competition.”
Wrong again, for the town of Summerside has two sides to its Main street, just like the place where you hold your annual reunions; there are some blocks of stores on either side, and of these, Holman’s occupies but one block on the seaward side, and the rest,in some strange and incomprehensible manner, carry on as briskly, apparently, as though the firm of R. T. Holman, Ltd., did not exist. And more than that, there are towns and villages sprinkled about the countryside as upon all other countrysides, and each town and village has its due measure of retail stores of many grades and descriptions. Still further, there is but one city on the island of Prince Edward, and that is Charlottetown, the capital, and Holman’s to date have paid it the compliment of but little attention. In other words, they are the mountain of the province of Prince Edward Island, and Charlottetown is the Mohammed traveling their way.
An Impossibility Comes True
AND all that in a little town of less than 3,000
people snuggling on an island coast down by the sea, separated from the mainland by the wide gap of the Northumberland Straits, and forgotten for the most part by the rest of Canada!
Impossible, you say. Of course it is impossible. It just is. For the reason that the Holman brothers, Messrs. Harry T. and LeRoy, did not happen to be brought up on the old adage that they must sit behind the door and wait timidly until Opportunity chose to knock. Instead, they flung open the doorway, saw Opportunity in the distance, dashed down the pathway, cornered it, threw on the saddle and bridle, and are now riding it like a well-tramed
But how can there be opportunity in or around a town of 3,000 for an annual $2,000,000 turnover?
in this P. E. I. town of 3,000 one store has an annual turn over of well above $2,000,000.
In the first place, the Holman brothers give due credit to a father who had sufficient vision many years ago to see that if separate stores dealing in hardware, groceries, furniture, provisions, harness, farm supplies, hats and caps, clothing, dry goods, and the dozen-and-one other commodities which find their places in the ordinary smalltown store, could make a success of each of these undertakings under individual management, there was no reason why separate successes could not be made of each of them when carried on under the same roof and the same financing. In other words, R. T. Holman, who was responsible for the founding of the present company, caught the idea of the departmental store, and he had the courage to attempt to apply its principles to a limited purchasing population.
That was the germ of it; but one germ is not all, for we all know about the seeds which fall upon barren soil. For facts have demonstrated that this particular germ required careful nourishing. But the result is a country store which is probably the largest of its kind on the North American continent.
And yet, with such a germ planted by the late R. T. Holman and reared to modest growth, and with the
growth increased in a remarkable manner under the management of the sons, there appears to be a single word which is the key to the mystery, and that is “initiative.” Initiative, personal, past, present and future; which is but another way of saying that they keep everlasti n g 1 y at it,
that they never sit down and wait for the beckoning of Opportunity, but that they go out'and create it: that,
coupled with another little word, “Service.”
There have been years of success, but in the whole golden chain of it the Holman brothers refuse to point to any one
thing which is big or spectacular to which they can attach the credit. It has, instead, been an accumulation of unrecorded small things, each of which has been like the typical drop of water which wears away the stone, and which has been but a practical illustration of their theory that business does not come to a man or to a firm, but that it must be sought and the more shy it is, the greater must be the pains in the seeking until it is found.
And they are, above all things, firm believers in advertising; and here is one of the little things, of recent occurrence, which demonstrates their creation of opportunity and their belief in advertising. Word reached Summerside that a government aeroplane was at Charlottetown, that it would fly over the town the next day, and that it would take pictures on the way. So Holman’s, alert even to the minor possibilities, hurried together a gang of men, cut their firm name out of sail-cloth, fastened it in racks and spread it upon the roof of their building. That, spread over the most of a block, meant that any picture which showed Summerside from the air must show the name “Holman.”
“Comparatively small advertising,” you say; and yet here is the answer of LeRoy Holman: “Everything in the world, no matter how large, is made up of small particles; and every success in the world which hopes to be lasting, must be made up by the small particles of effort.”
Dad’s Duty to the Bride
AND every effort, though small in the beginning, may L*grow into astonishing results. For instance, would it mean anything to you, as a furniture retailer, to know that in your particular community there was a local custom which placed upen the father of the bride-to-be the responsibility for seeing that the bed-room was well furnished? Perhaps not. It meant little to Holman’s at first, but now it means much.
For until Holman’s got the germ of an idea, they did what the bulk of the stores do in Canada from coast to coast. They waited under their own roof for the customers to come. Then one day LeRoy Holman saw John Bramblecomb on the street, and he got the flash of the future.
“The daughter Lucy is going to be married,” he said to himself, “and John Bramblecomb has plenty of money. Why not take him by the button-hole and bring him over to the store?”
With LeRoy Holman an idea seems to coincide with action. So the father of the bride fulfilled the duty of custom in the furniture department of the Holman store; and the management arrived at the rapid conclusion that an idea which is worthy of anything is worthy of expansion.
“Now the chances are that the mother would like to make her little gift in the furniture line as well,” they decided, and a little attention was all the mother required to agree with them.
With an idea rolling so beautifully it seemed sinful to stop it there, so the next person to be informed that the bride would undoubtedly appreciate furniture was the bridegroom. And he, in common with the majority of the human tribe, recognized the subtle flattery of a first appeal for his business. His parents felt the same way about it; and the net result was gratifying to Holman’s.
“Furnished the most of that house,” they balanced up the account against the idea. “Missed a few things, but perhaps'the next time we will do better.”
Yes, there had to be a next time, or the idea would have been poor mining. And in the town of Summerside practice improved so rapidly that it quickly developed into a regular thing for Holman’s to keep as close check as possible upon the brides-to-be and to capitalize on that old custom of the fathers. But even that novel reachingout . for business was not totally satisfying.
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“We have done very well in the town,” they checked up the situation finally, “and what works in the town should work in the country.”
Events proved that the theory was sound, and proved, as well, that the expansion of an idea is often more valuable than the idea itself. For in the country, custom often went farther.
“Tim Murdock’s son is getting married, and we have furnished the most of the house,” they discussed matters. “But we have been missing opportunities which have been thrown around in front of us like manna, so thick that we did not see them. For Tim is setting his son up on that farm.”
Ideas That Are Gold Mines
AND a new farm means what? A lot of • old equipment, of course, taken from the old homestead; but a lot of new besides. So much, as a matter of fact, that it became a real mine for the working in the hands of such business-reachers as Holman’s. They were, they explained, quite willing to look after a number of requirements for the smooth operation of young Murdock’s new farm. For instance, being a departmental store catering to the needs of a rural community, they could supply all the harness and stable equipment, the wire fencing, a considerable proportion of the farm machinery, the gasoline engines, an electric light plant if he wanted it, any quantity of tools, the nails and other hardware needed for building or reconstruction; and, in short, they could take a great deal of the preliminary responsibility off the shoulders of the young bridegroom. And they did. They became go-getters instead of mere clerks behind the counter. Judging from results, a rural district likes that sort of thing; for it is mildly flattering to have the representative of a big concern drive up to the door in an automobile and adopt the attitude that Tim Murdock’s business is worth having, even though it is no more than a few pounds of nails for the building of a new driving-shed. That became a deal between business men; and up to that time Tim Murdock had been a farmer who could go to town if he wanted anything and await the pleasure of the clerk who waited upon him but who had no interest in the proceedings or in his affairs.
So the go-getting worked, in a gratifying way; but even yet it was not completely satisfying.
“An idea is complete only when it is worked to the end,” the management decided, “which means that opportunity still beckons. We handled Tim Murdock’s case because we chanced to hear about it in time; but there is Tom Hinton who lives thirty miles away, and suppose his son gets married and it is all over before we hear about it. And suppose a couple of hundred more do the same thing; what about it? Or suppose Hinton built a new barn and it was half up before we knew about it? Opportunity wasted.
“We must hear about it, in time. That’s all. But how?”
That was the next problem. But the solution was simple enough; so now Holman’s have a string of local correspondents scattered all over Prince Edward Island, on the same principle as that of the daily newspaper, and the duty of the correspondents is to keep their ears to the ground and to communicate to the Holman headquarters all items of local changes which might be mines for the gogetters.
Get the Business
AFTER that? They have another branch i*of this principle which is being tried out at this minute; but since the other 3,000 towns must not have too much opportunity-capital to work on at once, they are awaiting results before talking methods.
All of which is but an outworking of the primary slogan—Get the Business. And from one standpoint, a casual study of their methods is somewhat disappointing. Merely because of the fact that there is. nothing spectacular. There is no miracleworking; and they do not even claim to have the type of salesman who can go out and sell fur coats to polar bears.
“Just straight plugging, and that is all,” says Harry T. Holman, president. “We always had to keep after business, and I suppose we always will. But that is what pays—keeping after it in all possible ways. And keeping our own fingers on affairs.” If he had been less modest, he would have said that personal initiative is one of the biggest assets in the world. But while disappointing to the person who wants to write about spectacular things, the career of Holman’s must be gratifying to the retailer who wants to imitate.
What the Brothers Are Like
'ATOR is there anything whatever in the -L ^ outward personality of the Holman brothers which indicates that nature has played unduly into their hands or that they have physical assets which give them a handicap over their competitors in the commercial race. They are not big, redblooded, two-fisted men commonly picked upon by writers of fiction and thrust down amid adverse conditions to fight their way through obstacles to triumphs, nor are they brawny men whom we have been led to believe have some dominating personality to be found in physical strength alone, and who, quite often, are to be found on the top rungs of the ladder of success. They are, on the contrary, just a pair of average-looking citizens, though they have youth fighting on their side; youth and all its ambitions and enthusiasms.
When one walks into the Holman store, he might well see either of them going about the place; but he assuredly would not turn around, under the magnetism of their mere presence, or lured by a wonderful physique, and say to himself that surely there must be a man who has won a way in the world. In physique, both are average citizens, and the elder, Harry T., is under the average build if anything. Yet when one comes to speak to them, they have a pleasing personality which indicates that they possess the secret gift of winning friends; and it is doubtless because of this that they have been able to build up an organization of employment whose keynote is faithfulness. LeRoy, the younger, is around the early thirties, dark, bright-eyed, and keen in all lines of business. Nor does he confine his activities to the success of the Holman store. There are side eddies of interest, and hobbies, all of which demonstrate that he belongs to that type of citizen who has the welfare of the community at heart. His interest in Summerside’s amateur sporting circles is well known. He is, probably more than his older brother, a part of the ordinary life of Summerside; and one illustration of his thought for general affairs may be found in the fact that recently he designed a flag which he believes should be the Canadian emblem.
A Model President
HARRY HOLMAN, who would only appear to be in his thirties, may be seen at almost any time going about the store and keeping a close eye on the shifting needs of the times; and yet, as has been said, one would not turn at the mere sight of him and say that surely there must be the head of a big organization of the ty pe of Holman’s. As a matter of fact, the writer stood just inside the main doorway of Holman’s on a rainy day, waiting for the arrival of either of the brothers, whom he had never seen, and he picked out at least a dozen citizens who carried with them sufficient of the appearance of worldly success to be classed as a leader in commerce; but not one of them walked to the office of Holman Brothers. Then Harry T. came along, and slipped through the doorway so inconspicuously that he might have been an ordinary customer, and it was he who walked to the desk of the president, unsuspected of such greatness. And in such manner do the theories of greatness sometimes, break in the middle.
So there is no outward sign that the success of Holman Brothers could not be repeated by thousands of people from one end of Canada to the other; and there does not seem to be a single branch of the main idea of the Holman enterprise which
could not be followed through with reasonable success by any retailer in his particular line in any part of the Dominion. Of course, the average retailer, until he has applied a few of the primary principles, could not hope to run a special train from nearby points to bring customers to his doors; but he might at least imitate in the small things.
A Special Train of Customers
FOR instance, Holman’s were not satisfied wdth their sales of fruits, so they found a way. They started with a Banana Day, advertised it, and it became quite the thing, with bananas almost as popular as ke-wpie dolls. Then they took oranges, apples, figs, and even the shrinking prune and put them upon the commercial map of Summerside and district in the same way. In the way of results, banana sales leaped to eighteen bunches in one day, compared with a normal two.
That was one of the small things; and perhaps the biggest thing they ever had in the way of a near-spectacle was the special trains. They do not run them now because railway regulations forbid; but there is something of grim humor in the thought of a special railway train running from the city of Charlottetown, the capital of the island, with a population of 15,000, to carry customers forty-eight miles to do their shopping in Summerside, a town of 3,000. And the amusing part of it all is that the thing was a commercial success. It was not merely a stunt to attract attention, for the trains were packed and the deal was able to stand on its own feet. Other trains, run from other parts of the island, were less amusing, for those leaving Tignish to pick up shoppers over the sixty-mile run from the northern tip of the Island to Summerside lacked the entertainment of passing through a city on the way. They were, however, of equal success.
The words “special train” may not mean much at first glance; but sit down calmly and think of the advertising it means. It is almost as though one were to drop into any rural community in Old Ontario and whisper “Toronto Exhibition,” and in the doing of it he would waken even the children from their sleep.
Of late, it is admitted, Prince Edward Island has been struggling to hold its population, and there are some who will claim that it has shrunken since the last census; but Holman’s have not retrenched. As a matter of fact, they have more than doubled their business in the past ten years. But it must be the spirit of enterprise which accounts for that. For instance, up to 1906 they were doing very well on ideas which at that time seemed modern, but 17 years ago their turnover was considerably short of a million.
Then came the big Summerside fire which wiped out a third of the town.
At that time they had not developed the art of cultivating the rural district to the full, so the loss of a third of the town was
a serious matter, though they themselves escaped the flames.
“Now, with the local market hit, something must be done to counteract the blow,” they reasoned. “The conventional thing would be to retrench in the face of adversity; but we must expand. How?” So they started their mail order business. Out of adversity came a new line of endeavor, and a profitable one it has been, for now it covers Prince Edward Island from tip to tip, and it reaches across the Straits of Northumberland and takes in a swath of New Brunswick and the shores of Nova Scotia. Now the mail order end does approximately thirty per cent, of the firm’s business.
Some Special Stunts
THE little things which have gone to make up the success of Holman’s goafter-the-business theory are beyond counting, but from time to time they have included such events as Popular Boy and Popular Girl contests, trophies for various athletic events, Holman picnics, and Holman advertising with every turn of the wheel.
For the most part, their pinnacle of success appears to be but a pyramid of little things, and there are things which are flashing up constantly for the swelling of the pyramid.
For example, when the pipeless furnace was first introduced, Holman’s sent a man to the foundry to study the manufacture, fueling and operation, and when they sent out a salesman on any definite mission they sent a mechanic with him. And results demonstrated that the expense of the extra man was profit in the end; for not only was there a saving of time, but there was a building up of fresh confidence.
Then there was the radio.
Had Holman’s been ordinary retailers, they would have stocked a few catalogues on the shelf; they might even have put in a demonstration set and have become the agents for some city firm.
But Holman’s are not ordinary.
“What other people can do, we can do,” they said.
So they turned their electrical experts and their cabinet makers on the job, and now they are turning out their own sets to meet the full requirements of the district. And that is the way it goes, in the small things and the big.
“How do we do it?”
LeRoy Holman appeared surprised that any person should ask.
“We meet conditions, that is all. We broadcast for business. We do not sit down and wait for it to come to us; but we are constantly looking about in every direction for openings which will let us run just a little ahead of the times. The past does not amount to much; it is the
future which counts......And that reminds
me. Tim Stivers is building a racing yacht. He’ll want some special paint for that. I’ll make a note of it.”