As in poetry so in flowers: it is not volubility that is highly appreciated; it is the clear-cut gems that immortalize their authors. Longfellow's "Village Blacksmith" is worth a whole library of gush and slush which often passes for poetry.
The interior of your store should be also attractive. Where a rushing business is done there must be some little confusion, but the making up or boxing of flowers can be done in the rear and not at the counter where sales are made. The ice-box is a great feature of the present flower store. Next to the window it is the principal attraction and should not be in a remote corner, but should be conspicuous to every one who enters the store. If a man enters the store to purchase a 5-cent carnation for his buttonhole he may be attracted by the beautiful flowers in the glass case, and if they have not tempted him sufficiently to affect his pocket they have made a favorable impression, and it is by a succession of favorable impressions followed by good and prompt service that fortunes are made, not by sudden leaps into popularity.
The salesmen, and sometimes they are women, should be as neat, clean and, if possible, as attractive as their surroundings. The young men should neither chew tobacco nor the girls chew gum, eat onions, drink beer or anything stronger during business hours. The ability or genius to make a salesman is a gift with birth. Ability can be greatly improved by study and experience and an earnest endeavor to reach the ideal, but a thoroughly accomplished salesman is as much a genius as a great painter or sculptor.
I am by no means one of those who believe that genius is the steady application and industry devoted to a certain object. Such is the definition by some modern philosopher (Carlyle, I think) of genius. My humble opinion is that genius is inherited from an ancestor or ancestors, immediate or remote, and improved and glorified by the chance of environment. So if you have not the gifts that make a good salesman seek other departments of the business. If a man has no faculty behind the counter he may be a good decorator, or in the packing and dispatch of orders he may show great executive ability.
A little book was handed me many years ago by my brother. Its title was " How to Make Money and How to Keep It." As the book came from a fine public library I devoured it with eagerness, confident I had struck a jewel. The first part of the book was devoted to advice in the various mercantile walks of life, and every chapter finished off strongly and impressed on the reader, "Be polite." Over and over again was given the simple instruction, "Be polite." The latter part of the book could be summed up in a few words, which are simply these: After you have acquired a competence in some pursuit you understand, don't go into a business or enterprise you do not understand.
Conservatory of a Back Bay Store in Boston.
Undoubtedly politeness is a great factor in success, and cannot possibly be out of place with any class of your customers. The quantity and quality of the affability shown your customers is pure tact, and too much suavity indiscreetly applied is as bad as none at all. This is the part of the salesman's ability that is a natural gift and so hard to acquire. The hurried man of business, often our most liberal buyer, wants no superfluous chat of any kind. Neither does the aristocratic lady who forgets her grandfather carried a hod. The motherly matron may want to tell you about her sick husband or her injured limb caused by the runaway of her team. For her you have an attentive ear and sympathy, and so you should for the worthy but poor people who want some flowers for a bereavement. To accommodate them with their wants to match their purse is tact. We can no more have all pleasant people to purchase our goods than we can expect all church members to be virtuous people. We must adapt ourselves to our customers' temperament as far as possible without losing self-respect. This is not hypocrisy; it is fitting ourselves to the requirements of our business.
All articles should be just what they are represented or promised. A bunch of roses that will fall to pieces when taken from the box; violets that have been twenty-four hours in the ice-box, or carnations about to close their petals in slumber, will be very disappointing and leave with your patron an impression that takes a lot of good behavior to efface.
There are too many retailers that have only one price, and supposedly only one quality of flowers. If you are only going to keep one quality then it should be the best, and some very high-class stores may find it unprofitable to do otherwise, but the great majority of florists have, and want to have, several grades of flowers in the leading articles. Take carnations, for instance; we have been too much on the one-price system. "What do you charge for your carnations?" "Fifty cents a dozen," or some price, according to season, is the same old answer. It should be more in this style: "These are $1.50 per dozen, these $1.00, these 75 cents, and we have some not so fine worth 50 cents." The same with roses and violets and all other flowers. It is the same with all other businesses, and why not with ours, where quality varies so greatly?
The most important feature in our business, next to quality of goods and polite attention to customers, is promptness. Many an elderly man is worrying to get his orders off promptly on the time promised and agreed for their delivery, while his shopmen are lolling around with the serene manner and thought that the old man need not fret himself, the wedding is not till 7 o'clock, or the party till 3 p. m., or the funeral till tomorrow. When these events occur is no business of yours; you have promised the order at a certain hour and you should never fail to keep your promise. There may be several reasons why the order was wanted at a certain hour, of which you were entirely unaware. No part of the business is more important than promptness, and in no part do I notice a greater inclination to ignore it. A reputation for a late and disappointing delivery is a deplorable handicap to success.
Finally the three great requisites to success are to keep and supply a good article, be prompt and deliver all orders how, when and where you promised, and treat your customers with polite deference and respect. If you are asked for an article which you do not have, procure it if possible to oblige, but never promise what you are afraid you cannot supply. You will never seriously offend a customer by declining an order, but you will have given a great offense by promising and not fulfilling.