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The General Store And Grocer

( Originally Published 1912 )

The General Store differs from the Grocery Store only in detail. The principles of management are the same. Hence the reader can fit his case with the broad facts outlined in this chapter. For example, the average sale in a grocery store doing $30,000 annual business is about 35c. This means that there are upward of 285 transactions every day. A difference of 1/4c in the margin on each sale will make a difference of $213.75 for or against the net results of the year. Suppose the average sale consists of two articles. An extra margin of 1/4c on each of those articles would show you extra net profits of $427.50 a year on a business of this size. This clearly demonstrates the imperative necessity of studying fractional differences of costs and selling prices down to the minutest detail. This also applies to merchants of all sizes and kinds.

Knowledge of All Details

Many a small merchant blames himself for not making a bigger success, when in reality he should blame the system which he uses. One of the many reasons why the "Systemat" Short Credit Accounting System is so popular with progressive merchants, is because with less labor it gives him a complete knowledge of all the details in his business. With the "Systemat" he can keep a close tab on everything. It warns him against overpurchases, too long credits, C. 0. D. transactions, future deliveries, and shows him in three seconds what proportion of his total capital is tied up in outstanding accounts, whether those accounts have exceeded the safety limit, and which particular customers should be seen immediately.

With this detailed, accurate, up-to-date knowledge of your business always before you, you have such a control of your entire business that you do not have to "guess" and "wonder" how you are getting along. You KNOW—and knowing, you are able to act quickly and wisely.

With such practical knowledge the small store will become bigger, innate business ability being conceded. Without such a system of accurate knowledge of detail, even big businesses backed by ample capital, plus much innate ability, will have trouble to hold their own, if they do not actually fail.

Two Other Essentials

Watchful care and rapid economy are essential. This does not mean that the wise merchant is niggardly; for it may be economy of the truest and wisest kind to spend liberally in some directions. A liberal, open-handed settlement of a dispute with a customer is one of the best, most truly economical investments. But it is wasteful, careless and an economical crime to sweep out a handful of prunes.

System will prevent the prunes from getting into position to be swept out—thus not only conserving the prunes but saving the cost of picking them up and cleaning them, ready for sale.

Know the Cost

The basis of all this is the Cost Book, for merchandise, and the Expense Account, for every item of expenditure which is not permanent investment. You must know what goods cost as they lie in your store ready for sale; and you must know, to the uttermost fraction, the cost of doing business. There are various forms for the accurate, time-saving keeping of each of these records. You must adopt that which is best suited to your needs and keep to it rigidly every day.

Conservation of Stock

Given the accurate knowledge of the value of merchandise, you will conserve it and automatically learn to get full value out of each item. You must plan to turn your stock as often as possible; to keep it in salable condition; to prevent deterioration. This will lead to conservative buying—just enough for the requirements of your particular business. It is true economy to buy a case of corn every week and sell it, paying 87½c per dozen for it, if that is your reasonable capacity of sale. It is wasteful to buy ten cases for the sake of saving 21/2c per dozen, except you have abundant capital and ample storage space, or unless you can work your sales up above one case a week.

The idea is to avoid wastes of all kinds, whether of goods themselves, or of time to handle them over and over again, or of rent for the space they occupy, or of the dormant capital locked up in them.

Your Own Work

So far, those matters may have been touched upon which you yourself directly control; but, just as soon as you creep out of the embryonic stage, you must delegate work to others—your clerks and assistants. Many men can work for themselves successfully who cannot get good work out of others. The successful merchant must necessarily be a good organizer.

Effective Organization

Effective organization consists in promoting cordial, intelligent co-operation in the entire force. You must make your clerks work with you, harmoniously, cheerfully, willingly. This can be accomplished not so much by instruction as by close association and helpful guidance. If you are an old merchant your first task when you as a boy entered business, was to learn to wrap sugar, rice, beans, green coffee, etc., in flat papers, making up the pack-age completely. It was a task to set any boy thinking. He could not begin it without realizing that he had something to learn.

Training Clerks

To-day you can teach the boys the value to him-self and to you of cleanliness of hands and face, neatness of clothing, of pleasing and accommodating manners toward all customers, of his willingness to help clerks, of his watchfulness to see that deliveries are made promptly and quickly, and otherwise learning discipline which is just as valuable as the old form of discipline acquired through the tedious wrapping of packages.

Be a Leader

Since the way is made so much easier in these days, there is even greater need for you to lead the young fellows, and you will obtain the best results by so leading them. Tell them things again and again, without loss of temper or impatience, so long as they are honestly responsive; and when they are not, seek to find the cause. Maybe it is in yourself. A stream cannot rise higher than its source. Show the new boys how to open boxes, bearing down on the hatchet, not raising the handle up—and show them WHY. If you see that it is not properly done after one instruction, tell them again—and show them again. Remember, if you can, how much time and patience you consumed when you were being taught these things ; and give the boys a show. If one seems dull, or slow-minded, remember that slow-minded men are not always the dullest and try to get into the boy's character—maybe he will prove to be the one you have long been looking for.

Friendly Advice Counts

Be a teacher and guide to these young people. You will find that they respond to fair treatment, honest, serious instruction and friendly advice almost instantly. Then you will have a force on which you can rely for a square deal.


Perhaps the strongest thing you can do in this line is to delegate responsible work to each clerk just a little faster than he seems able to carry it. Shove it on him. If he asks how to do a thing, tell him to go about it in his own way and assure him that he will never learn more thoroughly nor rapidly than by making a few mistakes. Then, if the work be well done, do not fail to express your approval. If it be better done than you could do it—or if it approaches such a standard—tell him all about it.

Be serious and take care not to swell his head; but recognize what he has done so that he will know that you appreciate it. If he has done it badly, lead him into better ways by tactfully showing him how to do it well. Lastly, when you find that one can do a given sort of work half as well as you can do it, make him responsible for it permanently. You will relieve yourself of the job and soon you will find him doing it better than you had done it. Thus you will form an efficient organization—one of the distinctive marks of the successful man in any walk of life.

Every Act an Advertisement

Advertising is so big a subject that it can scarcely be touched upon here. It should be borne in mind, however, that everything you do, from the day you open up until you are "through," is advertising of one kind or another. It may be a display in the store—it may be telling about your store by means of printers' ink, used in your local papers or in your circulars, letters, etc. Read the chapter on "Retail Advertising for Any Store."

Sincerity the Keynote

The keynote of advertising, like the training of clerks, is sincerity. If you respect your calling and have an earnest message to deliver, the form is of secondary importance; for the true message will carry and convince. Avoid anything flippant, "humorous" or funny. Business is serious—you want to accomplish a given result—you cannot afford to risk misunderstanding, which means missed sales or offended customers, for the sake of showing how smart you are.

Window Displays

Likewise, have your displays in the windows, on your counters, or in your show-cases, attractive, clean, neat and provided with price-cards. If you stick out a rack of ringers, see that dust is not al-lowed to accumulate on them. Keep the glass of the show-cases clean by delegating the task of a daily rubbing to one of the clerks.

Adjusting Complaints

Be generous in the adjustment of complaints. Go a bit further than the customer asks you to go. It may be an imposition and it may cost more than you make on that sale; but the good-will of a customer is such a valuable asset that most big merchants have adopted the principle that "the customer is always right." If those men cannot afford to have a disappointed customer, you certainly cannot.

The Planner Will Grow

The man who studies his business this way, growing daily as he digs into it, may be a little merchant in a little store to-day, but he cannot be kept there. He cannot be held down by circumstances or any-thing else. He cannot even hold himself down. He is bound to grow into something better and better, bigger and bigger, so long as he is able to "work at his trade." Read chapter "Planner vs. Plugger."

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