Read CHAPTER XXX of Twenty Years of Hus'ling , free online book, by J. P. Johnston, on


Now that I had made considerable money and had it in cash I determined on doing two things.

The first, was to arrange with some wholesale jewelry house to furnish me with what stock I needed, at a small advance above the manufacturers’ price, to travel on the road and supply the retail trade as I had never given up the idea of some day becoming a wholesale jeweler.

The second, was to return immediately to Bronson, Michigan, and Clyde, Ohio, and pay all of my debts, which had been running a long time. With the first object in view I set out to find headquarters for purchasing my jewelry, and succeeded in finding a dealer who offered me satisfactory prices. After looking his goods over and coming to an understanding with him, I informed him that I was going east for a few days, and on my return would select a stock of goods and start out.

My wife and I then packed our trunks, and had bought our tickets ready for a start, when I happened to pick up a paper and read an advertisement offering four thousand dollars’ worth of goods for two thousand dollars. I thought it a good idea to make a couple of thousand more before starting east, if I could just as well as not, and called on the advertiser.

I first demanded to know if the stock was clear of incumbrance; and when convinced that it was, I looked it over, and although it looked to me like ten thousand dollars’ worth, I laughed at the fellow for having cheek enough to ask two thousand dollars for it.

He asked how much I thought it was worth.

I offered five hundred dollars.

He offered to take eighteen hundred.

“Well, sir, we are only thirteen hundred dollars apart, and I’ll split the difference with you and pay the cash.”

So saying, I “flashed” my roll of money, when he agreed to my proposition.

After I had made the purchase I asked the gentleman (who was a German) why he had sold so cheap. He informed me that his uncle had recently died in Germany, and left him a large fortune; and he was anxious to go there and spend the balance of his life.

His explanation satisfied me, and I began packing up the goods ready for shipment.

We gave up our trip east, and after buying nearly two thousand dollars’ worth of almost all kinds of goods, such as tin-ware, glass-ware, crockery, woolen goods, etc., to put with the miscellaneous line I had just bought, we started out for the country towns with a large stock, and advertised to sell at private sale only, and to remain but six weeks in each town. My reason for giving up the auction sales was this: I had begun to have some trouble with my throat, and was advised by the doctor to do no more auctioneering for at least six months.

We continued on with our large stock of goods and traveled through a section of country where the mud was so deep during the fall and winter that it took four horses to haul an empty lumber wagon.

We tried to get into a country where the farmers could occasionally get to town, but the farther we traveled the deeper the mud kept getting. It usually took about all the money I could take in at one town to pay freights and the expense of moving to the next.

I had established a very good commercial standing with several wholesale houses in Chicago with whom I had been dealing, and felt anxious to make a success, if for no other reason than to sustain my credit. This I realized was an important feature in building up a business of any kind.

After remaining in Illinois and Indiana till spring, I decided to work my way back into Michigan, where I felt certain of finding good roads, if nothing else.

The first day of April found us at Plainwell, Michigan, with a very light stock of goods and a small roll of money. After taking a careful inventory of my stock, and figuring up my liabilities, I at once saw that if I could sell out and receive one hundred cents on the dollar at what I had invoiced, I could just about pay my debts to the wholesale houses, and I decided to make an auction sale and close out immediately, and thus save my credit.

By the first of May I had succeeded in selling out everything I possessed; and after paying up all of my Chicago debts, had but a few dollars left.

Of course my first thought was Furniture Polish. But on the very day when I was about to order some of the preparation put up, I happened into the express office, and there saw on the shelf a package of jewelry addressed to my name.

It was an order I had given before deciding to close out, and when it came I refused to take it, instructing the agent to return to the shipper. He had neglected to do this, and when I asked him why, he laughed and said he thought best to hold it awhile and see if I wouldn’t conclude to take it.

At this simple suggestion it instantly occurred to me that I could make good use of such goods by selling to the people about the hotels where I traveled. I therefore accepted the package, and after looking it over, which in all amounted to less than fifty dollars’ worth, I hired a carpenter to make me a sample case, for which I paid him five dollars. After arranging my goods nicely in the trays, we started on the road. I had with me also two dozen bottles of the “Incomprehensible” as a sort of stand-by.

We visited several towns where I “hus’led” out with the polish, meeting with fair success as usual, and managed to sell a piece of jewelry occasionally, which netted a fair profit.

At White Cloud, Michigan, I called at the drug store of A. G. Clark & Co. to make a small purchase. When in conversation with Mr. Clark I mentioned that I was in the jewelry business and would be pleased to show him my goods. He said he had never handled jewelry in connection with his drugs, and had no idea it would pay. I persisted, however, in showing him my line, till he at last consented, when I hastened to the hotel for my sample case and returned at once.

When I opened the case, containing about two dozen empty trays and only three trays of goods, Mr. Clark looked rather disgusted, and asked where I hailed from. I reported myself on my way in, and was closing out my samples and delivering on the spot.

“Oh, I see; that accounts for your empty trays.”


He began picking out a few pieces, and kept it up till he had selected what he considered enough for a fair stock, and asked me to make out a bill.

I did so, and billed it on a piece of brown paper, calling to mind my jewelry experience of years before. The amount was twenty-nine dollars, which he paid and I receipted in full.

If Mr. Clark reads this book it will no doubt be the first intimation he has ever had that he was my first customer; and as he is still in business there, and has a large show-case full of jewelry, which he takes pride in keeping replenished often, and always favors me when placing his orders, I take it for granted that he has never had occasion to regret his first investment in that line.

I then called on another dealer and sold eight dollars’ worth.

When I returned to the hotel I made known my success to my wife, and declared my intention of sticking to it. She reminded me that I had always contended that it required large capital; and wondered how I could expect to succeed with a fifty-dollar stock then, when I was unable to get along with several times that amount years before.

I told her I thought she was mistaken about my stock in trade, and assured her that my present stock was fifty times larger than when I tried it before. In considerable astonishment she asked me what I meant.

“I mean that experience should be invoiced as stock in trade; and as I have had lots of it since my first experiment, I am going to fill up two trays in my sample case with jewelry, and in each one of the empty trays I’ll put a card with the word ‘experience’ written on it; and if a merchant laughs at my goods I’ll explain that my stock consists of jewelry and experience, but that I am only selling the jewelry, and keeping the experience for my own use.”

This plan was carried out; and in every instance when I called on a merchant and displayed all of my trays on his counter, he would take the cards up one after the other, and after reading the word “experience” on each and every one, would ask its meaning. I always explained that I had more experience than capital, and as I valued it very highly, I considered it perfectly legitimate to figure it as stock in trade. This generally brought a smile from them, and as a rule seemed to work to my benefit. At any rate, I sold jewelry to almost every dealer I called upon.

As I was then owing my wholesaler fifty dollars for the first bill, I at once ordered several small packages sent on ahead of me C.O.D. to different towns, and as I came to them would take them up.

This gave me a chance for some “tall hus’ling,” and I made the most of it.

I began by showing up my jewelry early in the morning to clerks or porters at the hotel, and in the evening before retiring, to the hotel girls.

As soon as the stores were opened I visited every merchant in town, and sold to Jewelers, Grocers, dealers in Dry Goods and Hardware, Druggists, Restaurants, Milliners, in short, to every one who had a show-case.

At noon I would open up in the hotel office, ostensibly to arrange my jewelry, but for no other purpose than to attract the attention of boarders or guests to my stock of goods.

Whenever they asked to buy I would assume an air of independence and indifference, and quote the price of every article by the dozen, and was sure to mention that it was the wholesale price. Of course almost every one was anxious to buy at wholesale, and I had no trouble in disposing of goods.

When at the depots awaiting trains I always got into the good graces of the Telegraph Operator by convincing him that I could read readily from his instrument, and usually sold him an article of jewelry, and often several dollars’ worth. I might add here that in traveling about the country it was quite entertaining to listen to every telegraph instrument, while waiting for trains, and consequently I kept in fair practice. As I still cling to that habit, I find little difficulty, even now, in reading rapidly.

When going from place to place on the cars, I made it a point to “spot” my man as soon as I entered the car, and managed to either get into the same seat with him or one very near; and before I was fairly settled I would find it necessary to open my sample case, and if possible would ask my would-be victim to hold some of the trays while I arranged a few goods in the bottom of my case. It was never necessary for me to offer to sell to them, as they were usually eager to look through my stock, and very anxious to buy when informed that I was a wholesaler.

It used to amuse me to come in contact with the high-salaried drummers, upon whose personal sales their houses solely depended for success, and see them spend a large share of their valuable time in “getting acquainted” with some prominent merchant prior to inviting him to the hotel to see their samples, which only for the disgrace of carrying their cases from store to store they would have had with them. It was always an easy matter for me to frustrate this class of salesmen in their schemes of getting acquainted, as I always had my sample case ready to spring open at the very first opportunity; and as I usually managed to get the floor, and almost invariably did all the talking, the “box,” as a rule, was opened up to the merchant on short notice; and although I considered a sale half made when this was accomplished, I never quit talking or quit pushing sales, and always hurried my customer through as fast as possible, and as soon as finished bade him good-bye and left his store.

Many a good sale I made in this way while my modest, sleek, forty-dollar-a-month friend stood by and wondered how long I had been acquainted with the proprietor.

We traveled through Michigan, visiting the same towns we had sold auction goods in the year before; and wherever I traveled, the moment I would step off the cars I would hear such remarks as these from men and boys:

“There’s the auction man. We’ll have a circus to-night; he can talk a man to death in five minutes. Wonder what he’s got in that box.”

In about thirty days from the day I made my first sale of jewelry I arrived at Cheboygan, Michigan; and upon taking an inventory of stock and cash, found I had cleared just six hundred and twenty-five dollars over and above all our expenses.

On calling for my mail at this place I received a letter from the proprietor of the wholesale house I had been dealing with, requesting me to come to Chicago at once, as they had a very important proposition to make to me. When I returned to the hotel I met my wife in the hall and said: “Flo., I guess G. & S. want to take me in partnership with them; at any rate they have written me to come to Chicago, and I think we’d better start at once.”

We boarded a small steamer for Traverse City, where we took the steamer “City of Traverse,” and after about forty-eight hours’ ride arrived in Chicago, and I immediately called on the firm with a feeling of almost absolute assurance that thirty minutes later would find me a member of the concern. After shaking hands and passing the time of day, one of the firm called me into his private office and informed me that they had concluded to put me on the road at a stipulated salary.

“But I never work on a salary. It’s against my principles and ideas of business.”

“Yet you would certainly prefer a sure thing, wouldn’t you, Johnston?”

“No, sir; not a bit of it. I wouldn’t snap my finger for a sure thing. There is no fun, excitement or satisfaction in a sure thing, and worse still, no money in it.”

“Well, you wouldn’t refuse an extra good offer, would you?”

“Yes, sir, I think I would.”

“Do you mean to say that money wouldn’t hire you?”

“Oh, no. I don’t say that.”

“Well, now just stop to consider, Johnston, how many years you have been working for yourself; and how much are you worth?”

“Indeed, Mr. S., I am worth more than you are, to-day.”

“How so?”


“Experience? Do you claim that as capital?”

“Indeed I do, sir, and worth more than all your store. I have been several years getting ready to make money, while you have been making it before you got ready. I have had too many ups and downs in my early life not to be able to profit by at least some of them sooner or later; and I can’t afford now to go to work for you on a salary, and give you the benefit of all these years’ experience. Not much, sir, and I’ll just keep ‘hus’ling.’ If I can’t win, I can die in the cause.”

“But the probabilities are, you will never get enough ahead to start a business of your own, and will always keep in the same old rut.”

“But I am not the ‘rutty’ kind, Mr. S. Besides, I dislike to work for any one but Johnston.”

“Well, let’s see how much it will take to hire you for a year.”

“Very well; you mark on a piece of paper how much you will give, and I’ll mark how much I’ll take.”

He agreed, and assured me he was going to make me an extra good offer for a new-beginner. When we had both put down our figures we threw our papers on the desk. He had marked six hundred dollars a year and expenses, and I had put down thousand dollars and expenses.

I asked, with much astonishment, if he didn’t mean thousands, and he, with equal astonishment, asked if I didn’t mean hundreds.

On my assuring him that I meant just what I had put down, he asked on what basis I figured. I answered, on the basis of having cleared over six hundred dollars the first month, on a capital of fifty dollars’ worth of goods and one million dollars’ worth of experience.

“Great Heavens! have you cleared that much since you commenced?”

I convinced him by showing my stock and cash on hand. He said he knew, of course, that I had been selling a great many goods, but he supposed I had done so by cutting prices.

I at once made arrangements to start out again.

The firm offered me a limited credit of one hundred dollars, which I accepted, realizing that some day I would find it convenient to have some one to refer to in case I should get in shape to begin business for myself.

My wife again accompanied me, and we returned to Northern Michigan and began with excellent sales. I delivered all my goods on the spot, and sold exclusively for cash.

We continued on in this manner till fall, visiting almost every town in Northern Michigan and Wisconsin, when I had increased my stock to several hundred dollars, and was making money fast.