One frequently hears it said, and generally by those totally ignorant of the conditions governing the retail drapery trade, that there can be little difference between a good and bad assistant. "Anyone," they say, "can stand behind a counter and measure a yard and a half of tape, or make a neat parcel of a blouse or a pair of gloves that may have attracted the attention of a customer." If this were actually the case, it would be far better, from every point of view, for the retailer to replace his staff by slot machines, or similar mechanical contrivances, for the disposal of his merchandise. But, surely, the assertion warrants but little consideration. The duties of the saleswoman lie far beyond the capacity of a machine. They are expected, certainly, to supply the demands of shoppers from the stock at their disposal. But that is not all. The value of an assistant to her employer is gauged, not by the quantity of goods sold to customers who have entered the shop with the set purpose of purchasing those goods, but by the amount of merchandise she has disposed of which otherwise would Hot have been sold had it not been for her initiative, diplomacy, and persuasion.
"Advertise," a manager of a large provincial store once informed the writer, " to get the people into your shop. Once they are there, your assistants, if they know their business, will do the rest."
When one understands the undecided manner in which the average woman enters a drapery establishment the meaning of his statement is clear indeed. Ihe successful shopkeeper has no room for the assistant who merely serves a customer with what she asks for, and then allows her to leave without having brought to her attention other articles in which she might be interested. Good Salesmanship
The instinct of good salesmanship should impel an assistant who has sold and satisfied a visitor with a certain article to suggest to her another of which she might probably be in search. It requires no extraordinary amount of intelligence on the part of a saleswoman, for instance, to presume that a customer who asks for yarns will give consideration to knitting materials and articles of a similar nature. It is the art of making the opportune suggestion that distinguishes the successful from the useless assistant.
Words, however, should form but a small part of the stock-in-trade of the smart saleswoman, though naturally an assistant's methods must be adapted to the class of trade her employer is conducting. A voluminous vocabulary frequently leads an assistant into what might be pertinently termed "hot water," especially when she is engaged in a particularly high-class establishment. The majority of women who frequent the exclusive shopping centres know exactly what they require. They will possibly spend 100 in half an hour, during which time the saleswoman simply takes the customer's orders. The assistant may answer her questions with regard to price, quality, and material, and supply her briefly and politely with information, but she would consider it an offence should the assistant tender her advice or opinion before it was asked for.
The employees of Paquin, Ltd., Dover Street W., celebrating the festival of St. Catherine, the patron saint of unmarried women and girls
In an establishment enjoying a middle-class trade, however, matters are somewhat different, though even in this instance a saleswoman may exceed the limits of reasonable pushfulness and the polite attention which the middle-class shopper so much enjoys. Not only does this frequently result in the loss of a customer, but the carelessness and inaccuracy of an assistant has been known to cost an employer a police-court prosecution and the attendant expenses and damaged reputation.
There are various ways by which an assistant may lay the foundation of a successful transaction without indulging in a glowing description of the merits of any particular article. Such methods of effecting a sale are frequently unconvincing, and are apt to arouse suspicion as to the genuineness of the assistant's statements. A lady may have entered the shop with the intention of purchasing a pair of gloves which had attracted her attention, either in the shop window or in the advertisements issued by the firm.
The wise assistant will show her a selection of the gloves she asks for, but will point out that they are French manufacture. Would she like to see some British gloves, costing a shilling or so more per pair? She points out to her that they are just a little superior in quality and finish to those for which she inquired. This method of procedure almost invariably results in the assistant disposing of a better and more profitable article than it had first been the lady's intention to purchase.
The young assistant will find she has much to learn and to benefit from what is technically known as suggestive salesmanship. The more attractive arrangement of her counter is bound to result in a radical increase in her sales, and consequently in her worth in the estimation of her employer. A basket of ribbons, remnants, and similar merchandise prominently displayed is certain to attract the attention of many of her customers.
A vital factor in good salesmanship that is frequently overlooked is the absolute necessity of the assistant acquiring thorough knowledge both of her customers and the stock with which they are to be supplied. Her statements regarding the former must be accurate, whilst in neither case is the knowledge gained a matter of a few months, or even a year. The "rolling stones" among assistants - and there are many - are not so valuable to an employer as an assistant with a lifelong association with one particular house. Recognising this, the majority of employers give every encouragement to their young saleswomen. In view of the fact that practically every house in the trade has now adopted bonus and premium distributing schemes, it will be seen that to excel in salesmanship not only ensures promotion for the future, but a larger income for the present.
The business life of the young assistant will present to her many facilities for most enjoyable sociability. Every house of any importance possesses a social and athletic organisation, which, though supported in most instances by liberal donations from "the firm," are controlled entirely by the assistants themselves. The ramifications of such an institution range from a library to an annual athletic meeting of an elaborate character.
There is usually a splendid sports ground within easy reach, where enthusiasts in tennis, cricket, hockey, etc., are all catered for. Many of the London houses possess lady athletes of great ability; several "drapery" hockey teams, especially, have shown remarkable prowess during recent years. Dances, whist drives, and social evenings are frequently promoted during the winter months, whilst amateur theatricals are undertaken with great success. It will, therefore, be seen that, whatever the drawbacks of living-in may be, everything is done that may tend to brighten the leisure hours of the draper's assistant. She has not, after a long and tiring day, to face a lonely evening in lodgings, as in many cases would be her lot. After all, man is a sociable and gregarious creature, and solitude, especially to the young, is an unpleasant and frequently pernicious state if of long continuance.
As regards the grievances from which assistants undoubtedly have suffered in the past, and in some cases still suffer in the present, it should be pointed out that recent legislation has done much to ameliorate matters. Such Acts as the Shop Hours Act and the Seats for Shop Assistants Act are examples in point, and the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1906 specially included shop assistants in its provisions.