ARTHUR H. DEUTE
AND now Old Plump was to go. There had been many changes in the sales force throughout the years, but Old Plump was a fixture. He had done his work quietly, effectively, oftentimes sensationally, these many years. His territory had been the model by which younger men planned their efforts and to which the management had over and over again pointed as an example of what conscientious effort and consistent work could accomplish.
Years ago, when the company was small, William Plum had joined the force as a salesman. Because his name was Plum and because he was, even in those early days, given to rotundity of figure, he naturally acquired the nickname of Plump. And then, as he became the dean of the salesmen he gradually became to be known as “Old Plump.” And Old Plump he had been these many years.
The office said Old Plump had to go. He was too old for the selling game—he couldn't stand the pace. So they thought, but they reckoned without Old Plump.
He called on the merchants in the valley territory, up one side of the river, down the other side. To the old timers he was invariably the connecting link between their present day businesses and the early days when many of them had been struggling beginners. Even those merchants whose business life in the valley covered more years than did Old Plump’s regarded him with affection as a friend of their younger days.
It was only a month ago, up in Woodburn, that Johnson, who kept the largest general store, left word that Old Plump was to be sure to telephone him as soon as he came into the store. Johnson had started that store in 1875. In October the Golden Anniversary Sale was to be held. As a young man, in 1875, he had taken his few hundred dollars’ savings and rented a little place on the side street and started his little business with a feeling of fear and trembling.
The week after he had opened his doors a young man of about the same age had come to see him. It was Plump —young Plump in those days—calling for the first time on Johnson.
Y’ear after year—the visits continued. And gradually there developed more than a business relationship between Johnson and Plump. Plump came to Woodburn for Johnson’s wedding. He came again at the christenings of the long line of young Johnsons. And he had come again to Johnson weddings.
And now Johnson was home with rheumatism. But he was planning the Golden Anniversary Sales and he must talk it over with Old Plump. So the sample case was left in the store. Old Plump telephoned to Johnson.
Fifteen minutes later Old Plump had walked up the neat gravel path, under the grape-arbor and around to the side porch. There was old Johnson, propped up on two chairs, and the faithful Lena was arranging a porch table close to his right hand. Of course Old Plump must have a snack.
“Gus was telling me while you’re laid up you’re making the plans for the Golden Anniversary Sales,” said Plump, when he had resisted Lena’s attempt to still further stuff him. “Ought to be a big success. I’m glad I got here just when you started on your plans. Maybe we can work out something nice for the Notion Department.” And Old Plump was unconsciously and naturally drifting into the business that brought him to Woodburn.
“Yes, Plump,” and Johnson hitched himself into a little more comfortable position and accompanied the hitch to the comfortable position with an agonized groan. “Yes, I figured that way. It ought to be possible.”
“Sure,” Plump replied enthusiastically. “You know, Johnson, it’s fifty years for you and it’s fifty years for me, too, right here in your store. So it struck me that
maybe you would like to turn the notion counter over to me for that sale. And just say in your advertising that the specials at the notion counter are from Benson & C ompany from whom you have been buying notions for fifty years.”
“We’ll just do that,” Johnson smiled happily at his wife. “We’ll let Plump have the whole Notion Department and he can fix it up to suit himself. I hope the Notion Department makes us more money in the sale than any other department.”
CO OLD PLUMP had come in with the great news and ^ the great order. He had devoted an entire Saturday afternoon to planning the details and talking it over with the advertising manager and with the other salesmen. A great order it was, running into several thousand dollars. Made up it was of the finest arrangement of specially good sellers. Made up with the loving care of a master salesman looking out for the interests of an old customer but always with the long developed training of the natural born salesman, the order was to show profit for Johnson, as it was undoubtedly showing the house.
And now Old Plump was to go.
Only on his last week-end in the house he had placed his order for Christmas cards. Every year Old Plump ordered Christmas cards. Planned out long in advance, designed thoughtfully and lovingly, the order was talked over with the printer and with his artist. And then each trip in, for several weeks, the proofs were gone over and the little changes here and there were made. Old Plump’s Christmas cards to his friends and customers along the territory were an annual event. His mailing list almost filled the indexed book which he carried in his personal case.
For years and years, more years than anybody recalled, more years than even Old Plump could tell, this annual practice had been going on. And now the order had been placed, with the cards to contain the verse which Plump Continued on page 53
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himself had taken four months to write and perfect. But this year it was to be different. Old Plump would have to send the cards to friends that he no longer saw. And Old Plump didn’t know it yet.
It was an uncomfortable week in the office. Charles Benson, the president of the company for the last ten years, felt it was his duty to personally talk the matter over with Old Plump. This was no ordinary dismissal. The territory that Old Plump worked was three times as large as that assigned in these present days to any salesman. But nobody had had the inclination to ever cut down the size of the territory that had been Plump’s these many years.
Still, as the years went by, it was more and more evident that there should be three men on that territory instead of one.
AND SO the company was worried.
Sooner or later something would have to be done. And especially, this summer, business did not appear favorable. The company was making a hard and gallant fight under the circumstances, but it would take the best efforts of able-bodied men.
Old Plump was to be told as gently as possible and in the most friendly manner that three younger men would have to undertake to bring more volume, yes, a great deal more volume out of his territory. But Plump was not to be left out in the cold. Oh, no, on the contrary, the
company would always take care of Old Plump because it would always look upon him as one of the real builders of the business. But he had earned a welldeserved rest and a suitable pension would be fixed up for him which he could draw every month.
This had been talked over and over and over. On Saturday morning when Old Plump came into the office everybody was overly friendly.
“Hello, Plump. Have a good trip?”
“Oh, good morning, Mr. Plump. I’ve got the proofs here for your Christmas cards.” And the secretary of the Purchasing agents bubbled effusively and hurried out with the envelope of printer’s proofs. And it was Plump here and Plump there and everybody felt nervous and unhappy and uncomfortable and everybody either pitied Benson for the job he had to do or felt that he was a selfish, cold-blooded ingrate to do a thing like that to Old Plump.
And then the office door to Benson’s office opened and Benson looked out. “Oh, Plump, glad to see you, won’t you come in a minute?”
Later on the door opened quietly and Old Plump came out. He walked over to the little desk where he made out his weekly reports. No one looked up from his pretended job. Old Plump said nothing. He just put on his hat and left the office. It seemed that his footsteps wavered but no one lifted his or her eyes full up and no one saw his face.
So Plump was gone.
THE first week passed without Old Plump and without his daily envelope of orders. Personal mail came to the office for him and it was forwarded to his home address.
“Why don’t any of you boys call him up?” asked Mary Grady—big, kindhearted Mary Grady who for years had made out the pay checks and been the assistant bookkeeper. “You know he’d like to hear from you. And you ought to go around and see him. I bet he’s lonesome out there all by himself after all these busy years.”
“I know we should, Mary. But, honest, we feel kind of uncomfortable about it. You know how we all think a lot of Old Plump and I just can’t quite get around the feeling of embarrassment. And Old Plump would feel embarrassed.”
“Oh, pshaw!” exclaimed Mary. “You boys around here make me tired. I’m going out to-night after work and take his mail out to him and maybe I can break the ice.”
So Mary went out that evening and next morning Mary had something on her mind. Along about eleven o’clock it came out. “Do you know?” she said, “I am afraid maybe the boss was right when he said that Old Plump had to retire. Maybe he saw it coming when we didn’t. You remember how cheerful and strong he looked when he came in here that last Saturday morning, and what a shame we all thought it was that he had to drop out.
“Well, that’s all gone. Old Plump is old. I never realized it before. He seems to have slipped twenty years or more. He’s just a tired old man. He doesn’t seem to be ill, but he’s just old and run down. He looks wrinkled and worn out. Yes, I am afraid he was given his rest too late._ The work must have been telling on him inside and nobody noticed it from the outside.”
With that the ice was broken. Benson was told and he ran out to see Plump. And so gradually, Plump again came to be as nearly as possible one of the organization, but it was in the position of a retired, rather than as an active member.
There was a something which pulled him to the office of a Saturday morning when the boys were coming in from their trips. _ There was a fascination to him in watching them write out their orders, using the same well known blanks that he had used for so many, many years.
I met him one Sunday evening at the railroad station, watching the boys come down and leave on the 7.05 going South and on the 7.30 going West and on the 8.45 going East. Except for a casual one here and there, he seemed to recognize none of them.
“Good evening, Plump, you’re looking well,” I said.
“Oh, yes, well enough, thank you.” Old Plump reminded me ever so much of an old race horse of which I had read, a race horse retired from competition because of his age but plainly pining away because he was removed from the action of the track and paddock and the activity of competition.
Then for months, we almost forgot Old Plump. Surely, he came and went as of old, drifting in on Saturdays and commenting here and there, but we had our own worries and troubles.
THE business was not going as it had once gone. Competition of one kind and another seemed to cut in on us. The old snap and dash and fire which had characterized the organization seemed gone. Benson seemed to have lost his grip on things. The active group of men which, not so many years ago, had made up the organization, had dropped out or grown old and there was a stagnation which worried those of us who could realize the trend.
Benson realized but seemed unable to cope with it. There seemed to be a softening of the line and a general let-down of effort. There was no great pacemaker. The feeling seemed to be general. The work was being done mechanically.
Then, gradually there came to be ugly rumors about the delay in paying our bills. The house was not discounting as it had discounted. A certain good line which we had controlled for many years changed to a competitor.
There came about long, earnest conferences with the two banks with whom the house did business. Then there was an issue of preferred stock to which Benson subscribed almost everything he had outside the business. We learned that a
heavy mortgage had gone onto his home and the money had been put into the stock. It was his own fight to save his own. Without warning a change was made in the Sales Department. A new sales manager came in during the summer. He was a man with a record for actual accomplishment. He came with a job to do and apparent determination to see it through.
Changes followed thick and fast. Old salesmen left and new ones were put on. Each salesman was put onto a definite quota for each month and it was understood that each man would make that quota or move out of the job. It was known that a certain volume of business had to be done and certain gross profits made in order to keep the house solvent.
Week after week, month after month, the terrific grinding effort went on. Benson worked early and late. He made trips to principal customers. His new sales manager went out likewise. The volume picked up tremendously, but always it seemed to be less than it should be. The business was not coming in at a rate heavy enough to bring the house into the financial condition in which it had to be to suit creditors. Those of us in minor positions knew but little of the details but it was plain to every one that things were not coming on as they should come on.
It was a sad Christmas season. The old time Christmas feeling was not with us. The Christmas tree in the office, the Christmas party on the afternoon before Christmas and the Christmas present for everybody and the Christmas bonus distribution—all were absent.
Then it became known that while the volume of business had shown a great increase, an even hundred thousand dollars stood between the business and satisfaction by the banks and creditors. That hundred thousand dollars not being forthcoming, the business was to be taken over on January 1st by a committee of bankers and creditors. There was nothing more to be done. The men had put forth their best efforts. The sales had been heavy and the men had come in off the road because between Christmas and New Year there was no use working the trade.
Christmas came on Sunday. On Monday morning Old Plump came. We glanced up listlessly as the office door opened. Then every one raised his or her head in surprise. Old Plump didn’t just come in, he literally flew in. He dashed into Benson’s office. The door was left open. It was an excited Old Plump who stood before Benson, who brought his fist down on the desk and shouted: “What’s this talk I hear around town? Group of bankers and creditors coming in here the first of the year and take over the old house.
“Can’t be done. Won’t stand for it. This is too much. This company was my company before you were born. It was my company because my heart was in it. And my heart is still in it. You took me off my job and I had to get off because you happen to own the most stock in the company, but remember that while I don’t own any stock that doesn’t make any difference. This is my company just the same. And I am not going to let it go into outside hands.
THEY tell me it’s all because of a hundred thousand dollars that are needed to satisfy accounts. Well, we’ll go out and get that hundred thousand. Your inventory is too big, anyway. The stock can spare a hundred thousand dollars and more. Turn a hundred thousand dollars of this stuff into money and turn it into money now, right now, before the year is out, and square yourself and the business.”
“There, there, Plump! Don’t excite yourself,” we heard Benson cooling the old man down. “That’s all right. You bet we appreciate your loyalty, but it can’t be helped. Everybody did his best. If you had been here, you’d have done your best to, but just satisfy yourself on that. Nobody shirked. What’s coming may be all for the best. Don’t get yourself all worked up.”
“Worked up, nothing!” Old Plump fairly shouted. We could hear his big, massive body pace up and down. “I’m not worked up. I’m underworked. I haven’t done a lick of work in a year and a half. I’ve got thousands of dollars of orders tucked away inside of me. All I’ve got to do is to go out and write them.
“Now, here’s what you do. As it is, you’re licked. The house is gone. But
there’s no need for that. It’s ten o’clock on Monday morning and a week to go. You ’phone the men to get down before noon and we’ll plan this thing out and by night we’ll be on the road and by to-morrow noon you’ll see the orders coming in by long distance and by special delivery mail.
“Don’t tell me you won’t do it. You don’t know what can be done. You’ve never sold goods, Benson, and you don’t know what a salesman’s heart is. You never did have any sales sympathy, anyway. You’ve always looked at figures, looked at figures, looked at figures. And that’s all. You don’t know what the abstract side of the selling game is. You don’t know what a group of salesmen really working can accomplish. On paper with your damned figures you can prove to me that it can’t be done, but let us out on the territory, out on the trade, and I’ll show you that your figures are a pack of lies.
“You took me off my territory. Of course, you thought it was for the good of the company. Of course, with your pencil and paper and figures you proved it, too, Well, maybe you were right in my ease. But that same cursed figuring and figuring and figuring and overlooking the human side of the business of selling goods has pulled all the life and hope and driving power out of this company. That is all that’s wrong with it. No life, no hope, no driving power. You’ve knocked it out. You knocked it out when you took me off the road. You knocked it out when you took Jones off and when you began to hunt for nickels in the expense accounts and when you did the hundred and one things which made machines of your men instead of living, breaking, going hounds for business. And because there was nobody in the business who could hold that stuff in check and keep a little enthusiasm and hope in thething, you’vebrought it to this.
“Now, it’s all the truth. So let’s not argue. Give it one more fling as it used to be. Get the boys down here before noon.”
There was nothing to be done, nothing to be said. Old Plump was selling again — selling as in the old days when he had been a powerful, dynamic business getter, marching from one end of his territory to the other.
Benson, owner of the business, was nevertheless overpowered, overruled by this old salesman, come again into his own.
In an hour the boys had been telephoned for and were in the office and the entire sales force was grouped in one corner. Fifteen men in the group and some smiling, some worried, all puzzled and anxious. And then Old Plump came out of Benson’s office and faced them.
“This business is in a mess, as you boys know. This mess means that on January 1st the old company changes hands. And it’s all because there are not one hundred thousand dollars more in the bank with which to satisfy accounts. And that’s because you didn’t sell enough goods in October and November and December.
“And that being the case, we’re going out now and get it in the last week of the year—in the week when business is so rotten that no salesman leaves town. It’s a week when the trade will think you are crazy to show yourselves.
“All right, let’s be crazy. Sane men can’t do what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to go out and get a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of business, and it’s got to be in here before the end of the week so that it can be billed this year and go in as perfectly good accounts receivable.
“Let’s not talk about why we can’t get it—about why it’s hopeless to go out and try to sell. That isn’t the point. Now, you fifteen go out and bring in sixty thousand dollars’ worth of business and I’ll go out and bring in forty thousand dollars’ worth myself off of my old territory. You scurry around and go anywhere you like, just so you leave my reservation alone. That territory is mine—been mine for over fifty years—none of you ever had any license to it—-none of you ever got any business off of it. That’s fair enough—the fifteen of you get sixty thousand dollars’ worth among you and I’ll get forty. Now, we’re going out this afternoon and the business starts coming in to-morrow.”
There wasn’t any more talking. There was nothing to be said. Man after man looked scared for a moment, then determined as Old Plump walked up to Mary Grady’s window and said “a hundred dollars’ expense money, Mary, and quick, in real cash, bucks, please.”
Benson was out of it all. He had drifted back and was merely the owner, merely the son of the old founder. This was something that was beyond him. Beyond his training—beyond his experience—beyond his mentality.
And Old Plump marched out. He strode down the street, a martial old figure going out to do battle.
THE next few hours were hours of suppressed excitement. All the men had gone inside of a few minutes. Every rra 1 had gone out silent but it was plain that Old Plump had fired them to a new determination.
A hundred thousand dollars’ worth of business to be dug up between Christmas and New Year. It was unheard of. On the face of it it seemed impossible.
And then on Tuesday morning long distance calls began to come in.
“I just wanted to ’phone one in,” said Minor, the youngest of the salesmen, “and tell you the ball is rolling. Anybody else ’phoned in any yet? No! Well, I’m glad I got the first one, but you can count on their coming fast.”
Before noon Old Plump ’phoned from Woodburn. “Got three thousand dollars’ worth of business from Johnson,” he shouted over the phone so that one might almost have heard him without a ’phone. “Dug the fossil out of bed. He’s still stalling around with the rheumatism. We’re going to have a January sale that will be a knockout up here and he’s going to sell notions for us from New Year’s to February 1st.”
By night every man had been heard from.
The next morning sixteen big fat envelopes were in the office, all with special delivery stamps on them. Every man was working fast and telling his story in his own way and getting business.
Salesmen were selling as they had never sold before to merchants who listened to a strange story of a sales force doing the impossible. Merchants listened and admired those men and then said, “But, man, you can't expect me to load up now at this time of the year.”
“Sure, we do. We don’t only expect it we’ve got to have business right now You’ve got to buy right now and help put this over. And you’ve got to buy a big order and you’ve got to put on a January sale that will be a knockout to get rid of it.”
Benson began to perk up. Maybe it could be done after all. Maybe the facts and figures and statistics wouldn’t hold good. Maybe the impossible was going to happen. Orders were going out and being billed. We kept a big paper thermometer in the office and marked up the dollars as fast as they were totaled. Ten thousand, twenty thousand, twenty-five thousand, up and up, and as the days moved on the figures crept up. It was within striking distance.
And then the blow fell. The big snowstorm came. The snowfall was beyond all past records. The street car lines couldn’t move. Motor buses were stalled in their tracks. Railroad trains were not leaving their stations. Telephone and telegraph wires were down. The Northwest was tied up. Business was at a standstill. Here was fate playing her hand against us. Was this snow-storm, this blizzard going to prove our undoing when sixteeen men had gone out and done the impossible?
The evening of the next to the last day every dollar’s worth of orders had been packed and billed out. We stood eleven thousand dollars short of the mark. The day was bright and clear but the Northwest was standing still. It would be days before salesmen could travel.
And then telephone connection was re-established. Old Plump called up.
“How much do we need,” he fairly yelled.
“Eleven thousand dollars, Plump. And we can’t hear from the men and the mails are not coming in from the country.” “All right, I’ve got an idea. They’ve at least got the ’phones going around here. I’ll stay up all night and I’ll get those old customers of mine out of bed, and I’ll sell them that much by ’phone. I’ll cover those first that I’ve not seen and then I’ll raise those that I’ve called on and I’ll make them boost their orders.
“And there’s a crazy aeroplane here with a crazy war-time pilot and he and I and the orders are coming down tomorrow. Keep the gang in the office and the shipping-room because we’ll need them all.”
Nine o’clock in the morning came, ten
came, eleven came, and then came Old Plump. Sure enough, there was the seventy-eight-year-old giant in the crazy old plane with the rough looking pilot, and Old Plump had the eleven thousand dollars’ worth of orders in his pocket!
“How’re you feeling, Plump?”
“Gee, you look great!”
“Did things up brown, didn’t you, Plump? All the boys came through. This eleven thousand puts us over.”
“Sure, sure, fine stuff,” Old Plump beamed happily. “Great business going out and knocking them over the head for a good bunch of business. They didn’t want that much, but they gave their orders to Old Plump. Wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Told them I’d reverse the long distance tolls if they made me talk any longer. Well, they’ll make money with that stuff in January. Next winter it will be_ easier. We’ll have them trained after this and they’ll like the idea of an order between Christmas and New Year. Now, let me get something to eat and I’ll behack and check the orders as they are packed.”
By Wednesday of the following week the men were all in. The big job had been done. Creditors had been satisfied. The banks had expressed their utmost admiration and pleasure and satisfaction.
And so there was to be a dinner. Of course, Old Plump was to sit on Benson’s right hand. He had been around the office all day, arranging his sample cases because he was to leave early Thursday morning to cover the Western side of the valley. With his hat on the back of his head, with his pencil stuck behind his ear and his huge cigar of the old brand cocked in the right hand corner of his mouth, Old Plump was literally making the fur fly.
And then the dinner, with some fifty men seated around the big table. And Benson sitting at the head. With Old Plump at his right. And then the speeches, patting Old Plump on the back. Benson telling him that he would be on the old territory for many years to come. Then Old Plump’s speech, as amid cheers and clapping he rose to his feet.
“They talk about men who have saved their pile and then retire to the old farm' to sit in a heap and rest,” Old Plump continued. “That’s all right for the man who would rather sit on the side lines or in the grandstand and watch the others play the game.
“We’ve read about the men who have ‘learned to enjoy life’ and by that we mean that they have come to the point where the business game of their younger days and their middle age has lost its flavor. They have come to that sad stage in life where they go from one mineral spring to another. People say they are enjoying a well earned rest—that they have learned how to play. That is just the talk of the man who wants a little change for a few days or a few hours from his day to day pleasure.”
Old Plump wiped his brow. He took a drink of water. He was supremely happy.
“But you get any one of those retired chaps off into a corner where his wife and daughters aren’t listening in,” Old Plump went on, “and give him his choice between that retirement stuff and a real chance toplay his business game all over again, and listen to him say: ‘Bring ’em on. I want one more good crack at a hard fighting competitor.’
“And here's my story, boys. The boss here asked me to quit because in years I may be a little older than the rest of you. But it can’t be done. I am here on this earth because God is leaving me here. I feel strong and active and competitive and combative and the old fight is in me strong. And so long as I’m here, I’m going to assert my right to my place in the game. I don’t want to quit. Never did want to quit. Made me sick to have to s:t around. Mighty nearly died from inactivity. My fun isn’t to be had in an easy chair. It isn’t to be had swapping stories with the boys. It isn’t in watching the boys come in on Saturdays and in listening to the trains pull out Sunday nights. God knows I haven’t had my fill of selling goods yet. He’s leaving me here to work my trade and every Sunday night I’ll be starting off onto the territory.
“And I’ll be at it up to the time the Big Boss up there reaches down and taps me on the shoulder and says: ‘Plump, I've got use for you’ and then I can say ‘All right, I'm ready. My sample cases are in shape and I've got some order blanks that have not been filled out yet and I’m ready for the bigger job’.”
Old Plump sat down.
There were tears in the eyes of those
men there. No one thought the less of Old Plump because he, too, seemedjovercome, and while the applause continued he bowed his head.
It was a dramatic moment when the president rose to his feet and in a broken voice said the words, “All right, Plump, you’re on.” And he reached down to pat him on the back.
SUNDAY evening came. The railroad station was gathering in the group of salesmen who took the up-country train to be on hand for early Monday business. The newer salesmen were earliest on the scene. And gradually the old timers drifted in. There was a buying of papers and magazines and cigars and tickets and then the gateman called the train.
The group filed through. It was two minutes before the train was due to leave.
Then, casually strolling through the waiting-room, heading for the gate, came Old Plump, cigar uptilted in his mouth, sample case and personal casein his hands, newspaper rammed into his pocket.
Several of the men turned and saw him come through the gate. They stood and waited.
Old Plump passed through the gate. With a crash it slammed shut behind him. “What’s the matter with you boys! When you’ve been on the road awhile and know the ropes, you’ll learn how to make a train without wasting half the day waiting for it to leave. How about a little pinochle in my section?” .