Every Man for Himself
W. T. WEBB
ROLL UP your sleeves!
This is the day of opportunity for the small business and for individualism!
A good business idea is as valuable today as it was in the booming days of 1928—and it can be exploited just as far. Despite this age of concentration and colossal corporations, of amalgamations and mass production, there are men and women who, because of adversity and in spite of it, have built businesses and solved the joint problem of living and earning a living.
The depression, poison to many, has been an opportunitygiver for many men who, when they found it impossible to get jobs, rolled up their sleeves and started out for themselves. Let me tell you the story of S. J.
I first met S. J. in Edmonton shortly after the war—a young fellow of about twenty-six who thought the world was his. He was travelling out of the Alberta capital selling pickles and olives and essences and a line of candy bars. He made his headquarters at the Macdonald Hotel and had a gang around him every time he came in. Less than two years ago I met him again, this time on Yonge Street in Toronto. He was a Western victim of the depression and had decided to return to the land that raised him. With the talk of the old times over, I asked him what he was doing. “Starting in business.” he said.
“Starting in business?” I echoed, and added: "Boy, but you’ve got your nerve!
“Same line?” I questioned, feeling that if such were the case he was in for a tough time.
“Yes,” he replied with his old confidence.
While Toronto houses were pulling travellers from the road. S. J. got together a line of goods, and with the demon of uncertainty facing him, with an invalid mother and two growing youngsters to support, he drew on his dwindling savings to purchase a car and rent an office in the warehouse district.
Into a field that others were deserting because of the depression drove S. J. He returned after ten days on the road with enough money in commissions to pay expenses— and he had established contacts. I know S. J.’s story now and could go into details, but I won’t. I will state that on several occasions he found his gas tank empty and didn’t have a dollar to buy gas. I could tell you of the awful uncertainty of those first six months when he was selling goods and establishing more contacts. I was with S. J. and his family the other Sunday afternoon. He told me he was “over the bumps,” that he had added half a dozen lines to those he started out with, that he was manufacturing five lines of his own and that each of them was “bringing in the dough.” All this in two years—two of the worst years, we are told, that this country has ever known! His was a victory for small business.
How did he do it? When big business, with big business methods and big costs, found it unprofitable to keep men on the road, S. J. tore into their territory with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Instead of working one, two or three towns a day as the “big house” men were doing, he worked eight or ten and covered two and three hundred miles of territory in a single day. He was working more between daylight and dark than some of the “big house” men were working in an entire week. Let me give you an instance of his determination. He found himself at one point in Ontario with his next town thirty miles away. His watch told him it was six o’clock. The man he wanted to see quit at six. S. J. was working on “fast time.” The town was on standard time. S. J. stepped on the gas and reached his man at a quarter to six, and at six o’clock had an order for “forty boxes of bars.”
That’s hard work—plus. It is the kind of enterprise that is yielding profits upon which these small businesses are being built.
Creating a Job
THERE’S A FELLOW in an Ontario town who worked for a co-operative packing company which “folded up” with the slump. Its overhead was top-heavy. Our friend — we’ll call him A.B.—knew about sausages. He knew what
goes into them and what should go into them. A. B.'s story from here goes to a "basement factory” with himself and his wife as sole employees. But he was making sausages—better sausages than had been made in his town previously. And he was proving to his customers that they were better—not only today but tomorrow and the next day and the next. His customers learned that this was so, and today A. B.’s books are showing a profit after the "fillings and casings” are paid for and he gives employment to three men.
F. B. was an enterprising youngster who used his head in deciding that prunes, figs and similar products coming to this country in bulk form could be more speedily and efficiently merchandised in small packages. And so F. B., in the midst of this “terrible depression,” became an importer of dates and figs and prunes and raisins. There was nothing small about him except the packages he was putting on the market. Today he has a line establishment, is employing a number of girls to do the wrapping, and has built up a business. “Lucky to be able to start such an enterprise,” you say? F.B.’s greatest investment has been his energy, a little cleaning equipment and the necessary tables. But he has pioneered an idea.
Take M. N. in Vancouver. M. N. had definite ideas about the marketing of butter, milk, cream and eggs, so in the midst of the depression and into the famous English Bay district, where butter and egg men are almost as thick as bathers in summer, he went. With his last few dollars he rented a store, bought a keg of white paint and splashed it all over because his landlord wouldn’t spend the money. He Ixaight his two grown daughters white dresses, white aprons and white caps, and each morning the young women sought orders for the Spotless Egg Shop. While dozens of butter and egg men had been calling on Vancouver housewives year in and year out, this was the first time that neat, pretty, intelligent, smiling young women in s|x>tless w Inte had come to see them. They came again each morning at the same hour, offering “service and quality” instead of merely butter, eggs and chickens.
M. N.’s story is another success story. Today other men’s daughters are assisting his own, each dressed in spotless white, each hunting for butter and egg orders, each returning with enough of them to make M. N. thankful when his business day is done. What has been his secret? A novel idea, a new method of marketing, attention to every detail and, above all, individual treatment of each customer.
Money in Sawdust
YOU WOULDN’T THINK there was money in sawdust —not in these depression days, yet I know of a man who has started a sawdust factory ! A strange business, particularly in view of the fact that a few years ago sawdust was piled up and burned; or, as you may have seen, lumber mills alongside a lake dumped it into the water. But sawdust is used extensively in the preparation of hides and also in cleaning fur. Our friend saw his opportunity, went north, picked himself a stand of timber and began making sawdust. Now, I am informed, he has more orders on hand than he is able to fill. He had an idea and capitalized on it.
Let me tell you of J. H. of Montreal, who occupied a high position with one of the largest firms in Canada. A senior executive, he was drawing a salary well up in the five figures. Two years ago he found himself out on the street. He couldn’t hope to secure a position similar to the one that had collapsed. As a matter of fact he couldn’t get a position of any kind. So he rented a small office downtown, secured a few lines, and began selling. A hard worker, he began immediately to “get by.” The name on an office door adjacent to his own aroused his curiosity. It was that of the Canadian branch of a large American firm. When his curiosity got the better of him, he walked in. The young woman in charge informed him that a few years previously the American company had put a sales staff to work in Canada, but for some reason or other business did not go ahead, with the result that the company withdrew its
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selling force but decided to maintain the office for the convenience of the few customers still remaining on the books.
Yes, you’ve guessed the story. Our former Canadian executive, victim of the depression, saw his opportunity. He decided, if given the chance, to succeed where others had failed. And he decided to make the chance. He communicated with the company’s head office, and after a week or ten days of negotiating became the company’s Canadian manager. Within three months he had doubled the size of his office quarters, and in less than two years he found it necessary to move into entirely new premises which today are five times larger than those he started in. Chalk that up for a depression victory !
There is the case of the printer F. W. N., who couldn’t find enough work at the case to keep him in the necessities of life, so he started a cigar and news stand. Almost every city, it would seem, has too many cigar and news stands. But the erstwhile printer didn't think so. He spent considerable time in picking out a location, and with a small stock started in business. He became so successful that a nationally-known tobacco company made a bid for his store. And the offer was so attractive that F. W. N. sold out, satisfied that what he had accomplished he could accomplish again. He has bought another stand.
It is a long jump from a multigraphing business to that of a coffee shop. But S. W. took the leap and liked it. For years he had been turning out printed sheets until about a year ago, when he found competition too tough to continue at a profit. S. W.’s office was located in a district of manufacturing plants, and his eye was keen enough to see the need for a coffee shop where executives and other office employees could get a meal in pleasant surroundings.
S. W. had been a business man himself ; he knew what kind of service business men require. They want action. They’re accustomed to home catering and they want intelligence and quietness. It may take them only five minutes to “grab a bite,” but S. W. knew that they want all those things crowded into that five minutes. So S. W. sold his multigraphing business and today is making good as a restaurateur. His has been a victory for vision, insight and application.
Always Room for a Good Man
J ET ME REFER to candy bars again. L. Walk into any sweetmeat store and you’ll find a score of different bars made by a score of different manufacturers. What chance would a man have with a bar of his own, just another bar in a wide assortment? Not a chance in the world, you say?
A little more than a year ago in the east end of Toronto, P. P. started making another bar —a different bar. He became maker and salesman at the same time because he didn’t want to take a chance on a salesman. No one had the confidence he had. It was his own product and he knew
that he could make it and sell it. He did. He made and he sold until repeat orders kept him busy manufacturing. Today he has a sizeable establishment and considerable help. The repeat orders are still coming in —and a sales staff is busy introducing the line not only in Ontario but elsewhere. Which proves that the field, no matter how crowded, can always accommodate another, whose products and principles are different.
F. R. S. was an engraving salesman who found himself without anything to sell and no prospect of securing anything. He hit on the idea of establishing a central agency where freelance artists would be given desk space and where the results of their labors would be sold for them on commission. Now we all know that artists and writers have a very poor reputation for business acumen. But F. R. S. was a salesman and a business man with ideas, and today both F. R. S. and his freelance associates are happy.
A publishing house in a Western city had in stock several thousand copies of an illustrated book containing copies of the works of Old Masters. Originally the book sold well, but with the depression sales dwindled and finally ceased entirely. Much money was tied up in the stock. What could be done about it? The manager of the publishing house was relating the story to a friend of mine who happened to be without work at the time. He had been employed for some years by a large picture-molding firm, and immediately he fused the publisher’s stock with his own ideas and ability. An agreement was effected whereby the publisher was to cut the pictures from the books and my friend was to frame them. Within a short time the idle stock was turned into money and another business was established. It has been steadily growing. It was a good idea that won in this instance.
New Ideas Win
“THEN WE HAVE the grocer who found
I himself without employment. He had to live. He conceived the idea of renting an empty store, stocking it with groceries which he piled in iheir cases about the walls. He painted the price tickets himself and rented a cash register, and opened his doors without the burden of heavy overhead—without the noose of debt that would have been his had he attempted to furnish his store with expensive cases, shelves and trimmings. The idea clicked. The first week his sales showed that he had served more than 10,000 customers, that he had established a business for himself, that he was giving the people something they appreciated and, most important of all, that he was on the road to success. Since then other grocers have followed his lead and the “case-tobasket” plan of merchandising is rapidly becoming known to everyone.
W. M. had been employed for many years by a firm that manufactured furnaces, and hence he was well schooled in the way of
furnaces, both stubborn and well-behaved ones. Now he was out of work. He started a systematic campaign, and within a week had lined up about a dozen homes wherein he acted as furnace man, handy man if need be, and general supervisor of cellars. But W. M. went the usual type of furnace man one better. He saw other things that needed doing. He did them then, closed the basement door, and slid off to his next furnace without telling the lady of the house about the extra job. But the lady soon discovered it, and before long W. M. found himself busy from morning to night and finally well into the night. So he hired himself a helper. Spring came and our enterprising furnace man tabulated the jobs that should be done and presented his suggestions to his employers. Today he has two more helpers and they have added a power lawn cutter to their outfit.
A few years ago good newspapermen— meaning reporters and desk men—seldom found themselves without the opportunity of choosing their jobs. There was always an opening for a good man, and there was about the newspaper profession a spirit that took men from one city to another, with the result that the editorial staffs of most newspapers saw many changes in the course of a few years. The depression has changed all that. Desk men and reporters have clung to their jobs like flies to molasses, and because newspapers have also felt the financial pinch, top-heavy staffs have been pared and only essential services have been maintained. The result, of course, is that many newspapermen have found themselves without work.
P. J. had been an assistant financial editor. The depression hit his department worse than any other, so he lost his job and realized he was in for a tough time. He didn’t make the wires hot with job-seeking queries to other newspapers, nor did he wear out shoe leather in going the rounds. He had faith in himself and the services he could give. He rented an office and started a publicity service for financial firms, which, he realized, needed a real campaign to restore lost faith. He gave special attention to the preparation of reports, and extended his service to the writing of booklets for any company desiring promotion. Today P. J. has a staff of three.
The small company, with its flexibility and a few constructive ideas, faces the opportunities of an epoch right now. I could continue indefinitely to give instances of men who have made good in small businesses during the past four years, but I think I’ve given sufficient to justify my claim that the day of the small business is here again and that a good idea can be exploited just as far today as it could five years ago.
Most of the largest businesses in the country started in a smaller way than some of the men I’ve told about. Many of them started decades ago, when the country was “going to the dogs.” The man who can turn his back on what he is accustomed to do, and throw himself wholeheartedly into something else, seldom fails.