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few customers is a very serious loss in itself, as well being fraught with the danger of those few losing many more; for the tradesman is painfully conscious that the rent and taxes and standing expenses of his shop remain about the same with (say) ninety customers as with a hundred; so it is always the last on the list always the customer that is lost-whose account most affects the profits. This is nervous calculation which keeps tradesmen on their guard. It must be a high overcharge indeed which is worth the risk of a customer where a business depends, not on chance custom, but on family accounts. Tradesmen know that the world runs upon cheapness. Men resent a high charge as a reflection on their shrewdness, as well as a damage to their purse. Tradesmen know that nine people out of ten live at the extent of their income--at ‘agony point;' and slow as they are to meet all fair demands, the least overcharge they pounce upon as a grievous offence, sure to be ventilated at morning calls, where "What I pay for this,' and 'What you pay for that,' is the ordinary theme of family people.
This resentment of high prices is limited to no class. It is as rife among persons who draw up in their carriages as among those who step out of 'busses or of cabs. Man-and yet more woman-is a bargainloving animal. Persons with elegant conservatories are not above swapping old clothes for geraniums; and in the Confessions of a dealer in cast-off apparel we once read that he was always prepared for the hardest bargains of all when some door in Belgravia was softly opened by a lady, and he was slipped into the side parlour to do a little dealing on the sly.
While we maintain that in the West End, as in the City, competition rules prices, and keeps them down to the lowest remunerative point, we admit that that point still ranges higher in the West End; because there extra expenses fall upon the tradesmen, owing to the extra services and conveniences they render to the customer. Is there no room, then, for economy by
amateur trading, or by the Co-operative principle here?
The truth is, we little know how much our ease and freedom from distraction is secured by these extra services of the West End trade till we try to do without them.
1. We derive no little comfort from the simple fact that the tradesman books our orders.-We say nothing here of the value of credit to men who live on a salary, we allude only to the fret and worry of having to pay small sums perhaps in the midst of our studies or our business nine or ten times a day. The tradesman's red book, like the banker's pass-book, virtually keeps our accounts for us, and four payments a year comprise all our trouble.
2. The tradesman sends daily for orders. Now, since the time of our servants is money to us, and comfort too, it is no small economy to be saved sending them out. Indeed, so essential is this convenience felt in poorer neighbourhoods, that truck and barrow men have learnt to earn a livelihood by virtually bringing the shop to every man's door.
3. The tradesman delivers goods, at the cost of horses and carts.To dispense with this frequent delivery you must be encumbered with a store in your own house, liable to losses from mould and mice, as well as maids, a loss only to be avoided by locks and keys and weights and scales-too much like a chandler's shop. No doubt one or two commodities may be bought in the gross, but unless you would have your mind running on petty things and small economies, you will find that the very distance of the 'Stores' involves loss in one way as well as gain in another.
doubt many a lady with unremitting care and worry could effect a saving; but had she not better reduce her establishment than sacrifice all her enjoyment of perhaps a thousand pounds a year by hourly fidgeting to save ten?-We quite agree with the remark of the coachman, who was heard to say at the door of the Co-operative Stores, 'Well, if I were a lady, and could afford to spend 300l.
or 400l. a year on a carriage and a pair of horses, I would not turn it into a costermonger's cart to save a shilling.'-We might also observe that the lady who keeps house has always calls and interruptions enough, so to add to their number will be so much lost in the care of her family or the entertainment of her friends.
We speak not without experience of the difficulties and discomforts incidental to all but regular trade. It is the interest of the tradesman to study the whims and ways, and the minutest conveniences of his customers; and all those extra services which he renders originate in his perception of his customers' requirements. Not the least of these services is the promptitude of the supply, and its exact suitableness to the demand.
Mr. Babbage, in his 'Economy of Trade and Manufactures,' points out that no fair comparison of prices can be made without taking into consideration the supply ready for the demand. The shopkeeper, like the innkeeper, is obviously at a disadvantage from the fact that he lays in his stores without any certainty of turning them to account.
While residing in London we once congratulated ourselves on finding a dealer who sold game and poultry at twenty per cent. cheaper, and a baker who sold the farmhouse bread cheap also; while fish at Hungerford Market, and fruit and vegetables at Covent Garden were all to be better and cheaper in proportion. But what was the result? A ready supply to meet the emergencies of the hour proved to be essential to our comfort, and after some of our bargains had been wellnigh wasted because ordered for the morrow, when they proved superfluous, and after we had taken two shillings' worth of trouble to save one, we arrived at the conclusion that West End life had West End necessities, and that these the tradesman had learnt to meet far too conveniently to allow us to supply ourselves.
One day last spring, standing by the new Co-operative Store not far
from the Haymarket, we witnessed the following scene:—
A handsome brougham with a pair of horses, and a lady inside, was standing at the shop door, and the master was rushing backwards and forwards from the brougham to his shop, evidently in a state of mind one half part made up of fussy impatience, and the other half of a violent determination, in spite of the apathy of the coachman and footman, to carry out some great principle on which he had set his mind. Various smaller parcels were first of all handed out by the pampered menial, not without very depreciating looks as to the service not named in his hiring. But last came the great coup of all. Yielding to the energy of his master, who was the actuating spirit of the whole performance, the man in livery is seen with heavy groceries, one piled on the other, till the highest is kept tight by his chin, while the master starts forward to hold the carriage door; but confusion worse confounded the burthen is too much for the bearer - his foot stumbles in the gutter-and, perhaps by one of those accidents done on purpose, lo! the whole pile of groceries, amidst the gibes of the crowd, falls, covering my lady, into the bottom of the brougham! We could not but reflect that, by the time Teakettle Thomas had handed the same burthens out in Belgravia, and the lady had encountered a second edition of sneers from the man, with some more added by the cook, she would feel that she had spent no very pleasant morning in the pursuit of economy under difficulties.
Such are the inconveniences of living at the West End, and dealing at the East in order to save the difference. Whether, after allowing a little extra for these West End conveniences, we want any new institution to lower prices, seems very doubtful. Can commodities first of all be sold cheaper than amidst the keen competition of City shops, and can we obtain the same any cheaper in the West?
We hear that the quality at the 'Stores' is inferior, and such as
persons not prepossessed with their economical plans would soon detect in the goods of any tradesman. Why; how can you expect any salaried agent to buy as scrupulously as the man who buys for himself, well alive to competition in quality as well as in prices?
We hear, also, that the managers of the 'Stores' make a show of cheapness, just as certain advertising shops cheapen some articles as a boast and a bait to win a name of cheapness. Arrowroot and rice may seem wonderfully cheap, but you can hardly eat enough of either to feel the difference.
But, certain sanguine friends reply We are virtually our own tradesmen surely we may expect the profit of other tradesmen, and this profit we propose to share in lower prices.
This brings us to the point at issue. What kind of tradesmen do amateurs make? In what position are we to make a profit in any business which we cannot possibly understand?
Remember Co-operative Stores,' and the subscribers thereto, are neither more nor less than a shopkeeping company, just as we have hotel companies, and various other companies, whose shareholders are said to consist of one half parsons and the other half old maids. one of these companies-being of a kind to compete with private trade, and to manage all its petty details-has ever yet held its ground for much longer time than was required to eat up the capital and tire out the shareholders.
But first of all, how does a new co-operative store arise in any new locality? Amidst the mechanics of Rochdale such a store originates naturally in an obvious demand and necessity, and 'stores' are connected with the encouragement of prudent and ready-money habits: they are also peculiar in other respects, and afford little precedent as to the 'stores' now spread over London.
The presumption is that one of these 'stores' would originate in some landlord who has a shop to let, in some unemployed tradesman who wants a place, or in some clique of
The next step is to form a committee. This, of course, is self-appointed; for, in the early days of a company, there is no one to appoint. And when the said committee begins to act and to choose a manager, any knowledge or qualification for the choice, or even any connections in business to direct us where to look for the right man, on whom all depends, this is of course wholly out of the question-and when this sage committee has made a choice, and they come further to the point of supplies and contracts for stores, it requires little experience in committees to know that nearly every man at the board will have his own favourite trader to commend.-We could name an instance in which a manager was refused because he insisted on buying the best and the cheapest without reference to the dealers who had friends on the board!
When committee men are reminded of the difficulties of amateur trading they always reply: We have only to appoint the right manager and all will go well.—Only to appoint the right manager! Why, here is thewhole difficulty. Self-multiplication-that is, placing the right man to represent the master mind in places beyond his own personal control-is the one great difficulty of all great administration. Only do this and you may do anything in commerce. If the rich dealers with their rural retreats could only find the man to take sufficient interest, how gladly would they pay him a salary, and spare their daily labours in the City.
We once suggested to a suc
cessful tradesman, not altogether to retire as he intended, but to leave his confidential foreman and practised staff, and come in to business one or two days a week. His reply throws no little light on amateur trading or shopkeeping by deputy: You are not aware that capital so casually looked after will hardly pay five per cent. The aggregation of little profits, "the pounds made out of pennies" alone make the difference between failure and success.'
Another proof of the same thing is found in this-that the tradesman who tries a second shop generally finds that while the shop within his own personal superintendence answers, the other comparatively fails. The conclusion therefore is, that if amateur shopkeepers do succeed, they accomplish that in which even experienced and practical shopkeepers could expect to fail. To find the man who will feel the same interest as the master is too much to hope for. Some say, Pay your manager in proportion to his success; but you must pay heavily indeed-in short you must give him the profits of a partner before you can expect in him another self. A manager who has proved his fitness by success will hardly serve you for a salary, and without such proof of eligibility what can you expect him to be worth? Besides, if such a manager could be found, your committee are in no mood to find him, for qualification and merit never have and never will be found to outweigh partiality, self-interest, and caprice, when a dozen men in committee come to decide on an appointment.
Now, suppose the manager appointed, can you trust him to buy in the cheapest market? Does not every wholesale dealer offer a commission or some advantage to the agent who gives his firm a preference? So well is this understood, that no sooner does an agent apply for terms of contract, than he commonly receives two letters, one a formal invoice of prices, and the other a private memorandum that there shall be a percentage for himself. Here is at least two and a half
per cent. off the profits of the business; and if we consider that such an agent is in no position to look hard at quality, a loss of five per cent. in all would be a moderate calculation of the first share from amateur profits. Add for waste, deterioration of stock, peculation, and other results of want of interest and neglect -losses which only extreme vigilance can reduce to their lowest terms-and if for the sum total we set down seven per cent. as the dead weight with which every amateur trader starts in the race commercial, we shall be still below the mark.
Some persons, to justify their economical inventions, maintain that tradesmen make good custom pay for bad. They say, Granted that competition rules prices, bad debts being a charge which, like rent and taxes, weighs on all alike, the tradesman adds proportionally to his prices, knowing that his competitor must do the same.
We admit the principle but deny the fact.-If bad debts were a constant amount, and a regular charge on all alike, this conclusion would be true. But the old and cautious tradesman who makes very few bad debts-perhaps not one per cent. -will hardly be ruled by the young and reckless competitor for custom who loses ten. The custom of discount varying from two and a half to ten per cent., according to the nature of the business, is virtually an insurance against bad debts, and one which it is at the customer's option to pay.
Many a retired tradesman has borne his independent witness that a man does not raise his prices in anticipation of bad debts, for the simple reason that he does not mean to make any. He assumes his customer will pay, or he does not deal with him at all. The extra business pays for risk, not the extra prices. When he finds himself committed to a long-suffering account, most persons must have heard of instances where the tradesman indemnifies himself by prices exceptionally high to meet such particular instances. Even Oxford tradesmen in our college days, we remember, had two prices, one for
men who paid every term, the other for the risk and loss of booking, perhaps, till the creditor had taken his degree. The expression of making good business pay for bad, we believe to be a senseless expression. Competition rules the ready-money tradesman and the tradesman who gives long credit both alike. Only cach competes with his class, and, as we said of the tradesman of the City and of the West End-the members of each class stop at the same point, though that point ranges higher with the latter than the former. We contend, therefore, that no amateur trading and no co-operative stores are required on these grounds.
There is one point only in which the co-operative principle can be supposed to succeed.-At present custom is so divided, that instead of one shop supplying a thousand families, we have (say) ten shops, with nearly ten times the cost of carts, horses, servants, rent, taxes, and other fixed expenses, and profit on capital-all which must be a charge on the thousand customers. This is one point in which the Rochdale co-operatives are gainers; but there is so much caprice among private families, that we can hardly hope to see any economy effected by supporting only a few shops on the Rochdale principle.