Chapter 9



The Omnipresent Agent—What He Says and What He Sells—Power of the Successful Drummer—The Five Secrets of the Book Agent—Five Thousand Dollars Commission on a Patent—How Seven Men Carry $7,000,000 Insurance—A Man Who Receives $5,000 a Year and Does Nothing—How Teachers Pay for Their Positions—Searching for a $10,000 Preacher—The Matrimonial is Often a Matter-of-money-all—A New Way to Get Good Servants—The Farm Supply Company.

Few occupations offer such inducements for persons with little or no capital as that of the agent. There are two classes of agencies. In one, as a book or patent agency, the agent works for one or two persons at a fixed commission and needs no capital. In the other, as that of servants and of supply companies, the agent is also in a certain sense a principal; he obeys no one’s orders, fixes his own commissions, and makes his profits directly from the public. Here are a few points for agents:

  1. Book Agency.—The book agency depends partly upon the kind of book, but chiefly upon the kind of man. The right man selling the right book can make enormous wages. An agent selling a commentary on the Bible made sometimes $25 in half a day. An agent for the “People’s Encyclopædia” earned $3,000 in one year, and spent only about half the time in the work. Many agents for “Memoirs of General Grant” earned from $10 to $20 a day. Ordinarily, an agent should be satisfied if he can make from $3 to $5 a day. From this sum must come his expenses. Book agents receive from 25 to 45 per cent., according to the nature of the work. Forty per cent. is considered excellent compensation.
  2. The Patent Agency.—Considerable business is now done in the selling of patent rights. The agent studies the lists that come out weekly in the “United States Patent Gazette,” and sends his circulars to those who have secured patents. The agent will charge from five to ten per cent., if he can arrange with a patentee for the sale of the patents. In other cases, he charges a fixed sum, which is paid in advance, and is considered an equivalent for his services whether or not he is successful in effecting a sale, on the same principle that doctors and lawyers are paid whether they gain or lose a case. In extent and profit, the business varies from the itinerant vender with half a dozen patents in his valise to the established business house with sub-agencies in all parts of the world. What the profits are in the latter situation may be judged from a single case in the former, where a traveling man received as commission on a single patent sold the sum of $5,000.
  3. Commission Merchants.—A vast business is done in the sale of general merchandise on commission. Foreign houses have their agencies in this city. Also much of the produce of the farm and of the products of manufactures are disposed of in the same way. Take a case of the former kind. A man hires an office in New York and storage in a warehouse. Then he sends circulars to Westerndealers, stating that he is prepared to take their stock or grain on commission. When he can make quick sales he saves the expense of storage, but rental in a warehouse is necessary in holding for futures. He receives in one day 100,000 bushels of wheat at seventy-five cents per bushel, which, after paying freightage, he sells at one half of one per cent. profit. Gain of one day, $500. He will not receive so much every day, and some days he will have to sell at a loss; but, taken altogether, there are good chances of wealth in the commission business.
  4. Insurance Agency.—Insurance, both fire and life, is a mine of wealth, and has opened wondrously during the last few years. The present magnitude of the business is shown by the statement that there are $2,500,000,000 invested in life insurance in the United States, while the fire insurance agents last year wrote more than $16,000,000,000. There are seven men who have an aggregate of $7,000,000 on their lives. But the, business is yet in its infancy. The field of life insurance is not nearly covered, and if it were, ten million persons will come to maturity during the next ten years, all of whom may be considered as candidates for insurance, and all the policies will have to be renewed in a short time. Insurance agents receive as commission from ten to twenty-five per cent. Some companies secure to their agents a regular percentage on the premium so long as the policies continue in force. If, therefore, an agent gets fifteen per cent. commission, and the company receives $10,000 per year as premiums from the policies he has written, his share will be $1,500; and thus he enjoys an annuity without any further work for a long period of time. The larger old-time companies, also, have general agents whose positions are still more lucrative. Many of them are in circumstances of affluence, and have very little to do. In fact, it is in the insurance business as in many other occupations, that as one rises the salaries are larger, and the actual work, aside from the responsibility, is smaller.
  5. Traveling Salesman.—In some houses a traveling salesman is allowed a standing commission on all goods bought by firms whose custom was secured through his influence. As the commission continues as long as the customer continues the trade at that house, some agents, after a few years of active work are enabled to retire on incomes of $2,000, $3,000, and in some cases of $5,000 a year. The business done by drummers is immense. Three hundred million tons of goods are shipped by them yearly, and the business amounts to nearly $2,000,000 a day.
  6. Supply Companies.—A supply company differs from an ordinary merchants’ firm in that it does not keep goods in stock. It is a mammoth general agency for procuring whatsoever you desire. Specimens only are kept in the store, and from these the customers make selections. The advantage of supply companies is the saving of large rentals, of expensive clerk-hire, and of loss or damage in the long keeping of goods, and, most of all, of risk in unsalable articles, and in the fall of prices. Thus, a supply company can undersell an ordinary dealer, and if alert and prompt can make vast profits. Another great advantage is the smallness of the capital required. Here are great opportunities for bright young business men of limited means.
  7. Agencies for Teachers.—The number of teachers in the public schools in the United States is 400,325. The matter of engaging school teachers varies in different States, and often in different parts of the same State. Sometimes it is done by county superintendents, often by the Board of Education, but most frequently by the school trustees, commissioners, or committees. One going into the business of a Teachers’ Agency must ascertain the particular method in every part of the country, and learn the name of the persons authorized to act in that capacity. Then he should issue circulars by the hundred thousand. For the eyes of applicants, he should use the advertising pages of the newspapers. Teachers should be charged a commission upon their salaries in something like the following order: Five per cent. on first year’s salary, three per cent. the second year, and one per cent. the third year. After that it may be allowed to lapse. The contract should be rigorously drawn, and, where possible, payments should be collected in advance. There are great profits in the business when systematically and vigorously conducted. One agency in the eastern part of the United States is receiving commissions from ten thousand school teachers. Owing to frequent changes, the majority of these are paying five per cent.; but if we suppose the average to be only the amount payable the second year—$3 commission—the income would be $30,000.
  8. Clerical Agency.—Here is an opportunity for an unoccupied clergyman of wide clerical acquaintance. There are thousands of vacant pulpits and other thousands of ministers, anxious for calls. Establish an agency through whose medium the supply shall meet the demand. Your list should comprise the names of all churchless pastors, together with those desirous of change; and their experience, qualifications, education, family, age, personal appearance, together with other interesting information, should be properly tabulated for the inspection of church committees. Candidates should be graded according to the catalogue, and sent out in order as pulpit candidates. As clerical engagements are commonly much longer than those of teachers, it is right that you should receive a larger per cent. for your services. If a church pays its pastor a salary of $10,000, and you are successful in the search for an available man for its pulpit, it would hardly be a presumption for you to charge $500 for your services.
  9. Matrimonial Agencies.—These should be conducted with the greatest care, and only by the most conscientious persons, on account of the great responsibilities involved. They are, however, capable of vast development, and of immense good. In Massachusetts alone there are seventy thousand females in excess of the males, while in Illinois the men preponderate to the number of fifty thousand. Your task of bringing together the unmated is a most delicate one, and you should accordingly be well compensated. Where there is much wealth on either side, your commission may be expressed in three figures, and even in four. One thousand dollars is a small sum for a man to pay who secures an accomplished wife and a happy home. We have known several marriages made in this way to turn out exceedingly well.
  10. Agency for Servants.—This is not new, but you might revolutionize it by a new plan. Written recommendations are worthless, because almost every one will compensate the disappointment of the discharged servant by a certificate of good behavior, in the writing of which the elasticity of the conscience is more or less drawn upon. Instead of accepting a valueless paper, let an employee of the office personally visit two or three of the places where the servant has been employed. The lady of the house will tell you many things she would not write in the letter. This will consume time, but the compensation is in the better class of service you will be enabled to offer. When it is known that you make personal investigation, sifting out the useless and offering only first-class help, your patronage will be vastly increased, and you can charge much higher commissions. Tell your patron that at the end of a month she may pay you $10 if satisfied; and most people would prefer to do that than to pay a half or quarter of that sum in advance with small guarantee of fitness.
  11. Agency for Farm Hands.—There are thousands of idle people in the great cities who would gladly go on farms for a portion of the year. If they make personal application, they are commonly regarded by the farmer as tramps. Besides these, there are thousands of emigrants arriving in search of work. Many of them are valuable as farm help, having tilled the soil at home. An agent who has a keen knowledge of human nature, and knows how to ask questions, sifting out the useless and the vicious from the valuable and the virtuous, can through proper advertising in agricultural papers, send at least a thousand of these men into the country every summer. Through an arrangement with the farmer by which $5 of the first month’s wages shall be withheld and forwarded to the agent, the sum of $5,000 as commission for these one thousand laborers is secured. But the energetic agent ought to do far better than this.

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