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“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927 — part 3: The Salesgirl

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 19, 2011

“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927

Agnes Lovendahl Stewart

The introduction to this series is posted here.

III. – The Salesgirl

Salesmanship is a popular line of work! And one which has splendid possibilities for advancement and growth if one is efficient, and works with a determination to reach the goal in view.

A young girl starting at the bottom in department store work usually begins as a “messenger” or “cash girl” to run various errands in the store. Her beginning salary is usually $1.50 per day.

A beginning salesgirl without experience, or with just a little experience will receive $1.75 per day, and her salary will advance according to her ability, and her length or “seniority” of service. As she progresses she may attain a salary of $3 per day or as high as $100 per month if she is given charge of her particular department and perhaps made assistant to the department buyer.

Of course this is not the limit of her progress. She may become a buyer with a salary ranging from $200 or $250 and upward. In the larger stores her salary as buyer may go very much higher, depending on her executive ability, and her shrewdness in selecting merchandise which will sell quickly at a good profit. The buyer for a department is sent to the eastern market usually at least twice a year, with her expenses paid. In some of the eastern stores which are larger, women buyers for ready-to-wear and other fashion goods are sent each year or oftener to Paris and London, and there are two women buyers in the lace departments of two of the big stores who make each year a trip to China and the Orient to buy merchandise.

But if the buyer has these advantages of travel to add interest to her work, she has also a great responsibility, for it is her task to spend thousands of dollars for things which the customers of her store will buy, and if she buys things which stay on the shelf year after year – !

The salesgirl also has the opportunity to work up to other executive positions in the store in which she is employed. In many stores they have educational departments for training the salespeople, and women are often in charge of this training. Some stores have women superintendents. Usually special training is needed to secure these positions, and this training is supplied by schools, the best known being the Prince School in Boston, where one may study any phase of department store work.

Perhaps you would like to know how you are judged when you apply for a position. The following are some of the points given me by the superintendent of a large department store who employs several hundred girls and women:

When a girl appears at his desk to apply for a job, he can judge her almost instantly by her manner and her dress. Most of those who have charge of the business of selecting new employees are so experienced that they see characteristics very quickly. They notice whether a girl steps up alertly, as if she were confident in herself. Slouching or half lying down in a chair while waiting never got anyone a job yet. That business-like air is of very great importance.

Her appearance is another important thing. She must look neat and well groomed. Her clothes must be smart but not conspicuous or gaudy. She must not be dressed as if for a party. She must be clean. She must look attractive – not necessarily beautiful of feature, but with that pleasant, happy expression which makes folks like her.

Another important thing by which a girl is judged is the way she makes out her application blank.

If she fills in the blanks quickly, without undue hesitation, and gives all the information desired accurately and fully, she is often hired on the spot, if someone is needed at the time she applies. If her writing is neat and easily read, that is another point in her favor. Accuracy and neatness of writing combined indicate that there will be no trouble with her sales checks – no wrong addresses, or prices so sloppily written that it is impossible to tell whether a 7, 1 or 4 is meant by a certain wiggle stroke.

All other things being equal, the girl with the most education will be given the job in preference to the others. Usually, this superintendent says, girls can obtain an education nowadays if they have ambition enough to do so. Poverty used to prevent them sometimes, but now if a girl wants to work her way through school, there are usually opportunities to be arranged for her. So, while he does occasionally find a “diamond in the rough” who will, by her natural selling ability, be much more efficient than the girl with the best college training, this is the exception rather than the rule.

Girls with a certain polish and refinement are the ones who win most quickly, because these characteristics add to the prestige of the store they represent.

After you have obtained a position, which are the qualities that help you most to gain promotion?

First, courtesy. When a customer, on a busy “before Xmas” shopping day, sits at her ease in front of the counter, while you drag down bolt after bolt of material and display all your stock, and then says “Thank you. I am just looking” – can you smile then, and say, “No trouble at all! Come in again, it is a pleasure to show our merchandise.” Yes, you can! You must! And you must make that smile genuine.

If you are going to be successful as a salesgirl you must train yourself to smile and smile beautifully when your shoes pinch and your back aches, and customers are unreasonable and the head of your department has a grouch.

Second, you must know your merchandise. You must be able to tell a customer whether it will wash or not, and if it will shrink. You must be able to advise about colors. If you are in the china or silverware department, you must know how to set a table properly. You must know the difference between porcelain, semi-porcelain and china. You must tell the quality of glass by the ring. Wherever you are, there are plenty of things to learn about your department which will make you more efficient, and make the total of your sales greater at the end of the day.

Third, you must be unswervingly loyal to the store by which you are employed.

Fourth, you must keep your stocks well, so that you will have neat appearing counters, and will know instantly exactly where to find any piece of merchandise. You must also know the prices and values.

You must be alert to meet competition.

And if you can discover new ideas for the improvement of your department – so much the faster will be your progress!



2 Comments »

  1. Eeek, I think I’d be terrible at being a salesgirl! I do like how this article talked about an exciting and demanding career path, rather than being a salesgirl just to mark time before marriage.

    Comment by kew — January 19, 2011 @ 7:24 am

  2. Interesting article in that it both promotes more education for girls and career opportunities without any overt gender restrictions, but then also talks about selling fabric, china, silverware, and other items that would be assumed to be primarily the domain of women.

    Having worked in technology sales most of my life, I’d agree with just about all of the advice she gives to girls about knowing the product, putting up with crappy customers, and having a good positive attitude, which is not always easy. And, for better or worse, those first impressions in an interview are key to whether or not the person who is looking to hire will even listen to anything you have to say. Sales is all about first impressions.

    Nothing said here about commissions, however, which is an integral part of sales, and a moral dilemma on frequent occasions for salesgirls and salesguys alike.

    Comment by kevinf — January 19, 2011 @ 11:50 am

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