Forty-eight years ago—a machine shop in a shack; today—one of the largest businesses of its kind in the British Empire Such is the record of Moffats, of Weston
A. RAYMOND MULLENS
EDITORS of magazines and publishers of books are always proclaiming that they want to get hold of business stories. Very occasionally the writer of fiction essays to give them one. It follows a fairly well defined pattern. The financier is a stern, silent, ruthless kind of cuss; he barks commands; he ruins adversaries and feels no remorse. Business—that is, his business— is his god and there are no other gods but his.
I rather wonder what such a writer would do with a highly successful business man who confesses that he was born “cursed with the artistic temperament;” a man who has had to face with something like loathing the brass tacks of commerce, the selling of goods, the keeping of accounts and such matters; a man who has built up a great foreign business because as a youngster he was determined to see the world. In short, such a man as Thomas Lang Moffat, president and moving spirit of a firm whose slogan is: “Made in Canada: Sold the World Over”—a slogan as truthfully accurate as it is striking.
Probably there are few Canadians who have not heard of the Moffat stoves—wood-burning, coal and wood, gas, and electric. Moffat stoves have cooked the meals of a not inconsiderable percentage of Canadian families. What is more remarkable, they have performed the same office for residents of such countries as the Fiji Islands, Great Britain, South Africa, China, Brazil, New Zealand, the Federated Malay States, the Irish Free State, and Japan, to name only a few of the many scattered corners of the earth where the Moffat stove has been sold.
The Moffat product is one of Canada’s contributions to the comfort of the world. In order to find out just what was responsible for making it so, I sat in T. L. Moffat’s pleasant office in the very pleasant town of Weston—twelve cents ride from Toronto, Ontario, if you don’t forget to use your transfer—and asked the man who has scattered his stoves abroad in the world just how this desirable condition of things came into being.
Before I try to straighten out the stove magnate’s discursive comment into something resembling a coherent account of the progress of his firm toward leadership in his field, I’m going to attempt a very short picture of him. For to understand the extraordinary success of the firm of Moffat, it is necessary to know something about the personality of its head.
Sinclair Lewis, limner extraordinary of the successful business man, w’ould reject Moffat at once as a com-
prehensible type of financier, perhaps because he isn’t that at all.
In the first place he doesn’t look like a business man. His manner is friendly with a little dash of jauntiness in it. He doesn’t dress impressively. He laughs when he talks of his rebuffs just as whole-heartedly as when he recounts his victories. He wants to talk about scenery that has moved him by its loveliness; or of painting; or of things which the author of Babbitt would deny
his fictional supermen of the marts of commerce.
If he feels that his achievements have earned him the right to any pompous dignity of manner, he doesn’t betray the fact. As you talk to him you realize that when he says that he “was cursed with the artistic temperament,” he is speaking the simple truth. A most likeable man and a man whose story— which is also the story of Moffats,
Limited, and their stoves—deserves the overworked adjective “romantic.”
Now for the necessary historical data.
When T . L .
Moffat was five years old, the Moffat family made the exodus from Glasgow to Canada.
“My father was a w’onderful mechanic,”
Mr. Moffat told me.
“He had learned his trade at Clydebank. When he came to Canada he knocked around a good deal, usually having a rather rough time of it, and finally settled down in Owren Sound, Ontario, as a molder on a per ton basis with the firm of William Kennedy and Sons. Not long after my father had gone to work for the Kennedys it was decided that I also ought to go to work, seeing that I was thirteen years old then.
“I was apprenticed to the Kennedys and went through the usual routine—
machine shop, tool shop, and a good many other things. And I want you to say this about me: I’ve often had nice things said about me as a business man, but the speakers have overlooked the very thing of which I am most proud—I’m a darned good mechanic.
“While I was serving my apprenticeship I made a marine engine in my spare time. My old boss, Matt Kennedy, used to allow the apprentices a certain amount of time in which they could use the firm’s steam. Well, I finished my engine with some assistance from my father, and we put it in a twenty-five-foot boat: a good boat she was, too. Then I rowed our ship out to Squaw Point. I was a sensitive kid in those days and I had my private doubts as to whether the engine I had made would run. It did. Better than nine miles an hour it pushed the Faerie Queen along.
“I remember I was both proud and amused when I read in the Toronto Globe that the S.S. Faerie Queen had arrived in Owen Sound. I mention this engine because I made another one, and these two engines, made in my spare time, played quite a part in the next step of the Moffat family. “My father wasn’t quite satisfied at Kennedys, so he opened a general engineering and machine shop at Markdale. Our power plant consisted at first of my two home-made engines, to which we afterwards added a ten-horsepower engine for which my father made the patterns. How it was made I can’t imagine now. Our machine equipment was very slender.'We had a broken-down lathe and that was about all. I did all the finishing and shaping, with the assistance of a chisel and píenv of emery.
“We did aH ,Linds of work; on plows, on any kin . of agricultural implement or mach: ery. We did everything that our srr1 plant was equipped to do,
and many things connected with machinery that it wasn’t.
“Good experience for all of us, but we weren’t making any money. Now I had determined that when I had served my time as apprentice I would work my way around the world. I felt that I could do almost anything in the mechanical line; and how I did want to see the world !
“But my father wanted to keep his boys together—it was almost a mania with him—and I knew he needed me. We had a heart-to-heart talk and I told him that this general machine-shop trade wasn’t any good. If we were going to get ahead we must concentrate on the manufacture of some one product that was in general demand.
R. P. Butchart—you’ve seen or heard about the Butchart gardens in Victoria—gave us some good advice. He told us that there was a good chance for any plant that could turn out a good stove.
So we started to make stoves. We made a wood-burning stove which we called “The Ploughboy” because it had a picture of a man at a plough stamped on the door of it. It was a good stove and we sold quite a few around the neighborhood, but we weren’t exactly prosperous.
“Then my father told me I’d have to go out on the road and try and sell the Markdale product.
Father was, as I have said, a wonderful mechanic, but he couldn’t have persuaded a man to take a stove as a gift.
I kicked, but it was no use. And so I became a salesman. The job wasn’t particularly attractive. Moffats didn’t have very much money and I didn’t travel de luxe. I remember being down in Windsor one day. I’d read about the ,
great city of Chicago and the wonders of the Mississippi, but I hadn’t had a chance to see them. So I decided to take a few days off for the purpose.
“My Scotch blood asserting itself, I bought a roundtrip ticket from Windsor to Chicago and back. Lucky I did. I landed in Chicago, after inspecting St. Louis and the Mississippi, with just ten cents in my pocket. I walked all over Chicago for hours and satisfied my healthy appetite with a ham sandwich and a cup of coffee. Then I went to the Wabash station and, having picked out a comfortable seat, had a good sleep. How glad I was, though, to find myself safely back in Windsor again.
“No, selling stoves for Moffats of Markdale wasn’t easy going. My father and I decided that we had to look for a new location—and a bonus to go with it. Which made me an orator. You see, my father couldn’t speak in public and I was the only member of the family who had the gall to try it.
“We tackled Meaford. I explained our proposition at a special meeting of the town council. As a matter of fact, I didn’t have much to offer. We weren’t known; we couldn’t say we were prosperous. About the only thing in our favor was the fact that the people of the town knew we were honest and were doing our best to make a good stove. We nearly got a bonus from Meaford but not quite.
“Next we tried Milton. No better luck. Then we had a shot at Weston. How this came about is quite a story. Perhaps you’ll think it worth telling.
“It goes back more than forty years. We thought it would be a good stunt to exhibit our stoves at the Canadian National Exhibition. I took a carload and a half to the ‘Ex,’ and the only help I had in getting things into shape was the man who did the trucking for me. We had our exhibit in the old Crystal Palace building. I sold the stoves all right.
“One of my customers was Mrs. Lyons, of Weston; she’s still living in the town. Mrs. Lyons wrote to Markdale and said that her stove wouldn’t work. So I went down to Weston. I told Mrs. Lyons that I knew there was nothing the matter with the stove and that I’d fix the trouble in short order. There wasn’t. It hadn’t been installed properly, but a couple of hours hard work had it going like a house afire
“Mrs. Lyons was much impressed and invited me to
stay to supper. I told her all my troubles and she introduced me to some of the leading men of the town, including G. S. Lindsay, a relative of Mr. Mackenzie King, Frank Fleming, son of Sir Sandford Fleming, and Sanderson Pearcey.
“These three gentlemen got busy and I asked Weston for a $10,000 bonus. I’d have got it, too, if it hadn’t so happened that just as negotiations were coming to a head the Provincial Government passed some legislation forbidding the granting of bonuses to factories desiring to locate in any community.
“However, my friends—for they were friends by now —urged me to form a stock company, get out among the Westonians, and raise the capital I needed.
“I worked like—well, like Hercules—and I got some money. Lindsay, Fleming, and Pearcey subscribed $500
each and other members of the community smaller amounts—$100 as a rule, sometimes the odd fifty. When I had exhausted all the capitalists of Weston I found I had something in the neighborhood of $4,000; quite a bit of it in notes.
“I decided to stay in Weston rnd superintend the erection of a factory. Labor was cheap and I got the stone from the shore, so I managed to put up a 300-foot building. Don’t ask me how I financed the building operations. I don’t remember. I wouldn’t do it again for the throne of England.”
Off to “Furrin”
Limited, settled in Weston.
The wood burner was superseded by a coal and wood burner, which in turn made way for a gas range.
Moffats wasn’t very successful with the gas range at that time; which was partly responsible for the advent of what is said to be the first electric cooker to be made in Canada.
Frank, T. L.’s brother, was a magnificent mechanic, and his study of Canada’s water powers had convinced him that the time was not far distant when Canada’s cooking would be done electrically. So it was decided to make an electric range.
This proved to be a costly operation. The designer of the first range received $100 a day for his labors and took his time about turning out the completed design.
Which wasn’t the worst of it. Up to this time Moffat stoves had been sold through hardware merchants and these retailers flatly refused to have anything to do with an electric cooker.
“For twro years,” said Mr. Moffat, “it looked very much as if we were going under. We’d had plenty of warning, too, from other stove manufacturers. However, salvation was in sight.
“We had tried our darndest to get a stove sold in Toronto but without success. The Hydro would have nothing to say to us, and I knew why.
“Then Couzens took hold of the Hydro: he’s looking after the Brazilian Traction Company now. I went to him and explained our proposition, told him that the Hydro’s purchasing agent wouldn’t look at our product despite the fact that we were selling a cheaper stove
than was being imported from the United States and, we believed, a better one.
“Why?” I asked. “Well, the other people had the inside track. So much so, that the Hydro was not a free market. We had objected before but had got nowhere. However, once Mr. Couzens became aware of the situation we got an even break—and the Ontario Hydro became our first big market. In fact, we owe our salvation to the Hydro.”
It wasn’t long before the Moffat company had warehouses at V a n ^ couver, Halifax, Winnipeg, and Montreal. In fact, it was doing a very nice business indeed.
Then T. L. Moffat felt the urge of “furrin” parts working within him. He decided that there was a lot of competition in the stove business in Canada and that foreign outlets were desirable. Also, he had not forgotten his early ambition to travel and see the world.
Not that Moffat stoves had not been sold abroad. As a matter of fact, a wood-burning stove had once been hauled two hundred miles across the Soudan to fill an order, and another stove was doing sovereign service in the Fiji Islands. But T. L. wanted to go into the foreign trade with a bang. His brothers and associates thought otherwise. Which didn’t deter T. L. a little bit.
He made a good start by taking a trip to New
Zealand, his objective being Wellington, from which city a goodly number of enquiries had come. His first impression of the foreign trade proposition was not so good. When he arrived at Auckland he located the office of the Canadian Trade Commissioner. He found a sign which said something about not entering without ringing the bell. This admonition he disregarded and walked into the commissioner’s office.
“He was lolling back in a chair with his feet on a desk,” so Mr. Moffat described the meeting. “He looked — well—as if he’d been up very late at a dance the night before. I told him who I was, and started to ask him a string of questions about Canadian goods coming into New Zealand.
“He stared stonily at me for a few minutes when I paused for breath. ‘Look here, Mr.—er—Moffat. You’re coming altogether too fast. Just send me a list
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of questions and I’ll do my best to see that they are answered.’
“I had come 10,000 miles from home to do business in the country for which he was Canada’s representative. I felt mad. ‘Well, answer me one question,’ I said. ‘Are any electric stoves coming into New Zealand?’
“He looked at me rather blankly again. ‘Er—no, as a matter of fact.'
"That’s all I want to know,” I answered, and walked out of his office. “He doesn’t occupy that office any more.”
The Truth About Batavia
MOFFAT moved on to Wellington.
There, remembering his experiences with the Hydro in Canada, he made arrangements for his product to be handled by public utility corporations. He did something else, too. He said to the head of one of these enterprises: “I’ve come a long way to do some business in New Zealand. I want to see your country; I want to see a lot of it. How do I go about the business?”
The head of the corporation was decidedly interested. Here, indeed, was a strange type of commercial traveller; a man who not only wanted to find a market for his goods but who wanted to see the country in which they were to be sold. He at once suggested that he should give the Canadian stove manufacturer one of his best men, a native of Christchurch, and, incidentally, pay the expenses of both of them while they saw all that Mr. Moffat wanted to see. To this, of course, Canada’s Australasian pioneer demurred. He would be willing to pay the expenses. In the end they agreed to split the difference.
“I saw very nearly all of New Zealand on that trip,” Mr. Moffat laughed. “To do it, the chap from Christchurch and myself had to use the railroad, the flivver, and the lowly equine. But we saw a lot. When we got back to Wellington my cicerone said, ‘Well, Mr. Moffat, it took a Canadian to show me my own country.’ “One of the high spots of the trip for me was a trip we made in company with a Maori chief. He was electioneering at the time and I got to know a lot about the Maoris, that way.”
A waste of good money and time the average business man would think this jaunt of Moffat’s had been. But the sober fact is that it paid handsomely in dollars and cents. Moffat got to know the New Zealanders, their viewpoint and their prejudices. Today, Moffats, Limited, sell from fifty to sixty per cent of all the electric stoves sold in New Zealand.
Ever since that first trip to New Zealand, T. L. Moffat has been trotting over a goodly portion of the earth’s surface preaching the merit of goods made in Canada. His Odyssey really deserves a book. In an hour or two he can tell you dozens of good stories about all kinds of people in all kinds of remote places of the earth; stories that fairly cry aloud for recording. However, space being the precious thing it is in a magazine, only a few typical stories must suffice.
I like the tale of T. L. arriving in Batavia, Java, and asking the trade commissioner what prospects there were for doing business in that part of the earth.
For answer the commissioner handed him a letter from one of his competitors asking precisely the same question. “They keep after me like fleas on a dog’s back,” Mr. Moffat commented a little ruefully.
“What are you going to tell him?” asked the stove man from Weston.
“Nothing doing here at all,” said the commissioner.
“I told him,” said the globe trotter with a laugh, “that I believed him implicitly. Just the same, I thought I’d like to have a look around, seeing I’d come a long way. Well, here’s the sequel. I contracted fever in the lowlands and went into the mountains to recuperate— lovely country those Javanese highlands —and in due time I got back to Toronto.
“One day, not long after my arrival, I was sitting in the National Club when who should walk in but the head of the concern who had written to the commissioner at Batavia. I hailed him.
“ ‘Here’s a letter you wrote to Batavia,’ I said. T promised to give you the information you asked for by word of mouth; it cost me several thousand dollars and a bad attack of fever to get hold of it. There’s nothing doing in Canadian stoves in Java. Every stove
you see there is stamped Hamburg or Bremen. No, don’t thank me. Only too glad to be of service.’”
Business ln Tokio and Buluwayo
T. L. MOFFAT took his son, Don, with him on one trip to the Orient. They were in Tokio, Japan. They didn’t know a soul. Strolling through the city, it dawned on them that the Tokio Gas Company was a big concern. Their impression was confirmed when they saw in a store window a display of United States stoves.
“Here, son,” said Moffat, Senior, “is where we bust into the Tokio Gas Company and tell ’em that they ought to buy Moffat stoves made in Canada.” They went to the general offices. They were received with every courtesy, but, alas, the Tokio Gas Company’s employees’ knowledge of English seemed singularly limited, and if the visitors would just move over to some other place . .
This went on for four days. Then T. L. decided that a first-class interpreter might help. He did.
“I saw American stoves in your store windows,” said T. L. M.
“They will not be there long,” answered the Jap purchasing agent through the interpreter, “and they will be the last. From now on we sell German stoves.” This firm and decisive reply didn’t upset Moffat a bit.
“Why go all over the world for your stoves?” he asked. “Canadians are British, and there is a straight route from which to ship Canadian goods—Toronto, Vancouver, Yokohama.”
After a good deal of discussion the Nipponese said that he would think the proposition over. If he could do business
with Moffat of Canada he would send an order on to their next resting-place.
This proved to be Shanghai. Sure enough, a healthy order was waiting there for the adventurous Canadians.
When he had finished this story Mr. Moffat looked at me gravely.
“I learned a lesson right there,” he said. “I went to Japan thinking that the Japanese were a tricky sort of people. Well, I’ve learned to like them a whole lot. in all my dealings with them I’ve found them the soul of honor. And courteous!”
The Irish Free State is another market that T.L. has prospected successfully. In consequence of the great development on the River Shannon, Ireland is becoming electricity conscious. Due to the sterling work of the trade commissioner in Dublin, the Moffat Stove Company has just
received an order for 800 stoves. When you consider that the Shannon development was undertaken by the German Siemens Cartel, you can realize what a triumph for a Canadian product it was when the Moffat stove was selected by the Irish Free State as the only stove to be sold in that Dominion.
“And,” said Mr. Moffat, “the good work was entirely due to the trade commissioner. And his name, of all names, was English. A great fellow', though.” Just two more stories of the glamor of trading in foreign countries.
On the Cape to Cairo trip, a South African engineer and a Greek merchant got into conversation. This sounds like Conrad but it happens to be true.
The Greek—his name was somethingor-the-other Thaddeus—was explaining that Palestine, since the Balfour note, had made amazing strides. The River Jordan’s waters had been harnessed, agriculture was proceeding apace, the country bade fair to be a paradise. “I, myself ” said the romantic Aegean, “am building a home on the banks of the Jordan. It will be u . nique. It will be completely electrified. All the electrical apparatus that can help to make life comfortable I shall install there.” “W’hat kind of cooker are you going to put in?” asked the practical African engineer.
“Cooker?” echoed Mr. Thaddeus somewhat dubiously. “I don’t know of any electrical cookers. Do you?”
“Well,” said the engineer, “in South Africa I’ve only run across one. It’s the Moffat stove and it’s made in Canada.” The engineer wrote to T. L. Moffat, telling him of the conversation. Not long after, a letter came from Mr. Thaddeus saying that he was interested in hydro
developments and would like the agency for the Moffat stove for Syria, Palestine and Egypt.
“We haven’t a trade commissioner in those countries,” commented Mr. Moffat. “But there’s a young chap in Cairo who knows something about conditions. So perhaps Moffats will be represented in a part of the world I certainly hadn’t thought of invading.”
I offer the last story for two reasons. First, because it shows the scope of the Moffat business, and secondly, because it illustrates a very delightful phase of T. L. Moffat’s character.
“A few months ago,” said the Weston manufacturer, “I received a letter from a man who had been appointed to a post in Buluwayo, South Africa. In it he said where he was going, that he had a Moffat stove now, and wanted to know to what port in South Africa a Moffat stove could be shipped and how it could be transported to Buluwayo.
“I answered this letter myself.” There was a sly satisfaction in his voice and smile as he told me this. “I said, in substance: ‘Just you walk down the main street of Buluwayo until you see a Moffat stove in a window. Go into the store and you’ll have your stove installed the same day.’”
I mustn’t forget “Bob” Butchart, one time of Owen Sound. Not long ago Mr. Moffat received a letter from this same Butchart in which he reminded the active head of Moffats, Limited, that he had bought the first stove that they had ever made. “I’m here in Cape Town now,” he went on, “and I’m delighted to see the old Moffat stove so prominently displayed and enjoying so deservedly a good reputation.”
The Secret of Export Business
A LOT of water has flowed under the bridges since the clan Moffat put up their little shack at Markdale forty-eight years ago. Today, sixty-two per cent of the business is foreign business. Moffats, Limited, are acknowledged to be one of the largest exclusive electricand gas-range builders in the British Empire; the little handful of workers at Markdale has grown to a force of between 250 and 300 skilled workmen.
It is this matter of export trade that seems to puzzle so many business men, yet to listen to T. L. Moffat the thing is as plain as the nose on your face. If you want to beat your rivals in the clash for foreign markets, merely go to the countries in which you wish to sell, find out what is wanted, make it, and then sell it as cheaply as possible.
Naturally I wanted to get an opinion concerning the future of Canada’s export business from a man who has developed his own foreign business so successfully. He gave it quite readily.
“Canadian manufacturers ought to be selling foreign countries twenty times what they do. Think of the difficulty of doing business with such a product as ours—a contrivance of delicate switches, art enamelling, everything that can easily get damaged in transit. And yet we do it. As a matter of fact, only some thirty to forty per cent of our business is done in Canada. The more foreign business we get, the lower the production costs.
“Why doesn’t the Canadian manufacturer get his share of the world’s business? I’ll tell you. Because he sits comfortably at his desk and waits for it to come to him. He relies on the trade commissioners.
“Don’t think that I mean to knock the Department of Trade and Commerce. It has a fine body of men in the trade commissioners who represent Canada. But,
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after all, a manufacturer shouldn expect a trade commissioner actually to get out in the field and sell his goods for him. Nor should he expect that a commissioner should understand all the inside working of his business as the manufacturer does himself.
“No, the answer is: get out into the countries yourself. I don’t mind telling you that it has made me sick and ashamed to go into such a city as Shanghai, for example, and find it swarming with English, German and French business men and not a Canadian in sight. You can’t do business successfully
Cy/ou have energy enough to mix with »eople. How can you? Let me give „ „ two examples.
“When we were making gas stoves I rincipally, we found that we couldn’t sell them in South Africa. Nor could we smell out the reason. Well, I soon found out when I reached the country. The South Africans didn’t like our burner. It was constructed to minimize the danger from carbon-monoxide gas and was a little low in the heat it delivered in consequence.
“Most of the cooking in South Africa is done by natives. And the natives wanted a different kind of burner. They
got it. We designed a new one for them.
“A good many years ago, w’hen we were making the coal and wood burner, we found this wasn’t moving very rapidly in Africa. Reason: the native wouldn’t believe that a stove would cook something unless he could see the flame, and in the stove we made this was concealed. So we built one in which the flame could be seen.
“Canada has hundreds—I was going to say thousands—of things she can sell profitably abroad. But her business men have got to get out into the countries where they expect business and get to know the people before they can expect
to make sales. Canada had the finest opportunity of any nation in the world during the war She did not take advantage of it.”
As I walked away from the Moffat factory and its dynamic head I put the thing to myself a little differently.
“What Canada needs,” I thought, “is a revival of the gentleman adventurer; the man who discovered and developed Canada, not altogether because he was intent on piling up a fortune but because in his blood were the stir and fever of all the great adventurers—such a man, for instance as T. L. Moffat, Maker of Stoves, Weston, Ontario.”