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Business Career

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The work of distributing the products and manufactures of a country is undertaken by its business men, who buy these products from their producers and sell them to the consumers. All the operations connected with the transfer of goods from their source to the ultimate consumer come under the heading of commerce. The more or less direct transfer of these goods to the consumer through the wholesale and retail business houses is known as "merchandising." The merchant renders the public an incalculable service in assembling goods so that consumers may at any time and in any place be able to obtain them. Without some central depot of exchange, civilized life would be almost impossible. Even the tiniest hamlet has its general store, where such goods as would otherwise not be procurable in the neighborhood may be obtained in exchange for money or its equivalent in produce. Commerce is, then, one of the most important factors in the life of a nation, and merchandising, the definite work of procuring goods and selling them to the great buying public, is its chief function.

The end and aim of all merchandising is the selling of goods to the consumers who want them. But before goods can be sold to the public by the business man, they must be purchased by him. The merchant is a middleman, buying goods to sell at a profit. Every business has its buying and selling departments. The chief man in the buying department is the merchandising manager, who is responsible for the goods bought and the profits they afford the firm. The merchandising manager must be a man of unusual business ability. He must have an extensive and thorough knowledge of merchandising of various sorts, and should know how to carry out large business trans-actions. He is a director of the activities of the men subordinate to him determining and supervising their work. The success of the business is dependent chiefly upon him. If his buying policies are sound and well carried out, the goods bought will readily be disposed of, and this will show in the receipts of the firm; if, on the other hand, his policies are of the wrong sort or his transactions poor ones, a slump in the receipts will betray these facts. The merchandising manager is, therefore, judged by the business his firm does. The great responsibilities of this position make it one to which only an experienced man who has already demonstrated his ability is appointed.

The merchandising manager is, as has been said, a director a man who formulates policies and supervises the work of those who carry them out. The men who do the actual buying for a business house are known as buyers. A buyer is generally a specialist in one line of merchandise—he buys silks, groceries, leather goods or whatever the merchandise of his department may be. He must know his own line of goods thoroughly, and as much as possible of other lines connected with it. He must be a keen judge of values, knowing not only the real worth of the article but also what the market value will be. He must not only be able to discriminate between good and bad value, but should know where and when to buy, and in what quantity. His business ability, his judgment and taste, should be of the best. In order to become a buyer, plenty of common sense, a thorough business training, poise, tact and intelligence are necessary. Usually the buyer rises from the ranks of those salesmen who show themselves to be of unusual ability.

The positions of buyer and merchandising manager are extremely responsible ones and, so, strenuous and difficult. But they offer splendid opportunities to men interested in getting ahead in business. Very often they open the door to partnership or directorship in a large and prosperous concern. Buyers and merchandising managers are usually very well paid. Even when they are employed by small houses, their salaries amount to several thousand dollars a year, and in large houses their salaries are extremely high.

The work of the sales department consists of the care and disposal of the stock. At the head of this department is the sales manager, who occupies a position parallel to that of the merchandising manager. Sometimes, in fact, the merchandising manager fulfils the functions of the sales manager. The latter quite frequently directs the activities of the advertising department, which exists simply for the purpose of increasing sales. If he is employed by a wholesale house, he plans sales territories and directs the traveling and inside salesmen. If he is with a retail firm, he supervises the sales policies, plans the selling campaigns and superintends the work of the selling staff. His ability is also judged by the tangible results in increased business and profits. In order to succeed, he needs about the same qualities as the merchandising manager. A thorough knowledge of merchandise, business ability and the specific qualifications of a good salesman should all be his. The sales manager is sometimes promoted from a position of salesman or buyer, and at times is drawn from the advertising department.

The men with whom customers come into personal contact, and through whom the final transfer of goods is effected, are the salesmen. The principal duty of salesmen is, of course, selling goods, but the care of stock should also be mentioned. The salesman, whether he travels or works behind a counter, is expected to have a systematic method of keeping his stock. He should know all there is to be known about the particular goods he is selling. In this knowledge he will have a valuable asset, for it will enable him to make more impressive arguments than he could otherwise find. Besides this, he should be thoroughly versed in the principles of salesmanship, and should have a good command of English. In the discharge of his duties he will be called upon to offer convincing reasons as to why certain articles should be bought, so he should be an intelligent, effective and ready talker.

One of the greatest assets of the salesman is a pleasing personality. There are many things which go to make this. One of the most important is a good appearance. This means neatness, cleanliness and a quietly cheerful and helpful manner. The man who understands human nature, and who is willing to learn and anxious to serve and please, will usually succeed in making a pleasing impression. Diligence and perseverance are exceedingly necessary qualities also, and honesty is essential in the salesman's make-up. Unless he speaks with sincerity and makes only true statements concerning the goods he is selling, he cannot hope to gain the confidence of the buyer and, though he may sell an article which he has misrepresented, the customer who bought it will undoubtedly never give him another order.

It may seem that a great number of qualifications of which a salesman should be possessed are mentioned. But these many qualifications are all necessary in order successfully to carry out the various steps in making a sale: the approach to the customer, upon which depends a good first impression; the talk concerning the merchandise, in order to interest and persuade the customer; and the close of the sale, which should leave with the buyer an impression of courtesy and confidence in the salesman. There is, of course, some difference in the work of the traveling and the inside salesman, but the principles underlying both are the same.

There are numerous other positions in the buying and selling departments, and it is not unusual for boys to start work as cash boys or stock boys, and then to rise to positions as salesmen, heads of stock, credit men, department managers, traffic managers and buyers. Salesmanship is frequently strenuous and trying work. For the traveling man, especially, it has several disadvantages. He is frequently away from home for long periods at a time, and is often subjected to much discomfort while traveling about, especially in rural districts. However, men of ability, whose talents lie in the field of business, find many opportunities in the work of selling, enjoy its competitive aspects and find a certain fascination in their daily work of influencing the minds of the men with whom they come in contact. The salaries in this field vary greatly. There are salespeople who earn $15 a week, and others with an income of $15,000 a year, or more. Financial returns depend upon ability, for most sales-men are paid on a commission basis.

Connected with the buying and selling departments of a business are the offices where the clerical work is done. At the bottom of the ladder of office employment is the office boy. He does all kinds of small tasks which are allotted to him, and if he is a bright, intelligent and diligent fellow, willing to learn and work, he can easily rise to a higher place. Everyone knows some stories of now wealthy and influential business men who began their careers as office boys. Every office boy cannot, of course, attain great things, but he has an excellent opportunity to learn a good deal about the business in which he works, and so to prepare himself for promotion. Office boys earn from $10 to $15 a week.

The next step up is a clerkship. There are clerks who attend to the filing system, clerks who operate calculating machines and mailing machines and clerks who perform various other such duties. A clerk should be neat, accurate, quick and conscientious in his work. If he has a high school education or its equivalent, and is an intelligent worker, he should have no difficulty in rising to a higher position, as, for instance, that of chief clerk. The chief clerk must be thoroughly familiar with all the details of office practice and must be of the executive type able to see that the work is done and done right. A clerk's work is usually done in pleasant surroundings, is not difficult and generally offers good chances for advancement to the ambitious worker. A be-ginner may earn from $12 to $18 a week, more experienced clerks earn from $18 to $25 and chief clerks between $25 and $40.

Stenographers and typists are also needed in the work of the office. Many young people start in these positions, working themselves up into appointments as private secretaries, advertising men or salesmen. Stenographers should, of course, be able to take rapid dictation in shorthand, should have a good knowledge of the English language, a good memory and the ability to attend to the details of office work without continuous supervision. Typists should be neat, accurate and quick workers, with the power of concentrating upon their work even in the midst of the noise of a large office. The more a stenographer or typist knows of the details of the office routine, the more efficiently he will be able to do his work. Stenographers and typists receive varying salaries according to their education and ability; they are paid anywhere between $12 and $35 a week, and if they have a knowledge of bookkeeping, or some other important subject, or sufficient executive ability to supervise the work of some other people, they often earn more.

Bookkeepers keep an accurate record of all the transactions of the business or of some one of its special departments. They must have a thorough knowledge of single- and double-entry bookkeeping, their penmanship must be clear and legible and they should have a good memory. The bookkeeper's position may lead to a position as an accountant, if he is willing to study in his spare time. Bookkeepers earn from $25 upward.

The general work of the office is supervised and directed by the office manager. He attends to the employment and discharge of the office help, and sees that their work is thoroughly and efficiently done. He should understand the work not only of his own department but of any others connected with it. He must, of course, be a man of good executive ability, and should be resourceful, diplomatic and energetic. He should be a forward looking type, with progressive ideas, for the efficiency of the office force depends upon his methods. An office manager's work is well paid, the minimum usually being in the neighbor-hood of $3,000 a year.

Up to this point the educational preparation necessary for the successful pursuit of the various business occupations has not been mentioned. In all of the higher positions a high school education, at the least, is almost essential. It is exceedingly useful to have gone through high school in any case, however. For the positions as clerks, stenographers, typists and bookkeepers some definite commercial training is also necessary. There are, in every city, commercial high schools offering day and evening courses free of charge, and private business schools in which tuition fees are not very high, and where day or evening classes may be attended.

For positions as office managers, salesmen and buyers, the more education one has the better. Many high schools give courses in merchandising and related matters, but probably the most thorough courses in business practice are to be found in the business schools of the large universities. These courses may either be taken in connection with college studies, or separately, during the day, and in some cases in the evening. The tuition is higher than in a commercial school, amounting to from about $300 to $500 a year for two, three or four years.

Education will be a great help to the boy who enters the business world, but initiative is even more important. With-out this he will probably be lost in the swirl of competition for advancement. Initiative, training, ability and hard work will, however, open wide the doors to success. And the man in a business position, who serves well in it, may feel that he is doing an important public service, because of the close interrelation of business with our daily life.


ALLEN, FREDERICK J.: "Business Employments," Ginn & Co., Boston, 1916. DOUGLAS, ARCHER WALL: "Merchandising," The Macmillan Co., New York, 1918.

GALLOWAY, LEE: "Office Management: Its Principles and Practice," The Ronald Press Co., New York, 1918.

MCCLELLAND, FRANK C.: "Office Training and Standards," A. W. Shaw Co., Chicago, 1919.

MASON, W. L.: "How to Become an Office Stenographer," Isaac Pitman & Sons, New York, 1919.

MAXWELL, WILLIAM M.: "The Training of a Salesman," J. B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1919.

SCHULZE, J. W.: "Office Administration," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1919.

TAINTOR, S. AUGUSTA: "Training for Secretarial Practice," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1923.

U. S. Department of Labor Statistics: "Descriptions of Occupations: Office Employees," Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1918.


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