This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
The future kings and princes of the Dry Goods trade must come out of the army of clerks and salesmen, and those who prepare and fit themselves to fill high positions of credit and honor to themselves and benefit to their employers are ones that have the best chances of attaining eminence. The clerk who graduates with honor from the country store is well equipped for the large marts of trade in any part of the world. He is possessed of a practical knowledge that can be turned to good account in any department of business, no matter where he may be placed.
This individual, in his capacity as salesman behind the counter, has it in his power to create or destroy trade, and it is for that reason why every employer should exercise the closest scrutiny as to the character of those they employ, particularly as to the temperament and disposition of employees. A man may be an early riser, attentive to business, industrious and sober, and yet a most undesirable salesman. One of the most important matters to be taken into consideration when employing a salesman, is whether or not he is good natured and obliging. If he lacks these two very essential qualifications, then he lacks the principal ingredients that go to make up a successful salesman.
The disobliging, sour-faced and ill-natured clerk will wreck any business if he is employed long enough, and all the advertising in the world will not help matters. If there is one thing more than another that irritates and annoys, it is to be waited upon by an ill-natured clerk. One such experience is enough for the average person, when they invariably go elsewhere for supplies. The majority of persons will never say anything or make any complaint, but they transfer their patronage elsewhere.
In looking through the prosperous retail Dry Goods, stores of any town or city, and meeting the clerks —both ladies and gentlemen —one is impressed by the manner and deportment of the polite, urbane, respectful gentleman or lady salesforce, many of whom have mingled in refined society and largely with the world. This class stand in an attitude of respectful attention when not engaged in showing or selling goods, waiting for you to suggest what they should show you, greeting you with a pleasant smile, and when you did not ask to be shown any goods they would say, "What can I show you ?" in such a cheery, easy manner, that it at once seems to inspire one with confidnece. We often hear ladies remark, "I like to be waited on by so-and-so; they are always so pleasant, agreeable and polite; ready to show me anything, and do not consider it any trouble." On the other hand, one often hears, "I don't like to have such-and-such a man or woman wait on me; they have too much to say; they are sneering; they are above their business, and too quick to give advice as to what I shall buy." In waiting on a customer, a clerk should make every effort to serve that customer properly; if any special bargains are offered, call their attention to the same; if there is a defect in the goods tell them of it; give them the information they require, but do not be too talkative; listen with attention to what the customer has to say, as if you were really interested in the purchase of the goods; when your opinion is asked give it in a frank and honest manner.
Salesmen in dry goods stores have all classes of people with which to deal; some are cranky, some ignorant; others think they know it all, but in all cases a pleasing demeanor, a kindly greeting and a silent tongue will do more to please than anything else. Clerks must be good judges of human nature, must have a thorough knowledge of the goods they are handling. While it is well to be educated, yet politeness and uniform kindheartedness, with a disposition to please, always wins its way and holds a customer. When a customer enters a store you should never be talking about this picnic or that party, or how Smith or Jones danced; never be chattering; it is very annoying to the customer; people, when they are buying goods, care nothing for your personal affairs; their time is valuable; they pay for your attention, and they are entitled to it.