Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society

Working for Singer, part 1

by Graham Forsdyke
ISMACS News
Issue No. 30

This new serialization is the memoirs of an early Singer salesman, Frank Roberts, who was to eventually head the company's Glasgow operation. Unfortunately our Frank seems a little vague about dates, but I think that we must be looking to the 1880s for this opening installment. We begin after his interview and taking on as a trainee salesman/collector. GF

THE FIRST day in the ranks of the "Red 'S' Brigade" was past. Little did I think the next morning when I stepped into the showroom at 6 High Street, Canterbury, that I should serve so many years under its far-flung banner.

This day was to still further cement my connection in its ranks, for my first sale and my first collection was made on this never-forgotten day.

I was always a lover of animals, especially of horses, so when I was informed that I was to accompany the manager on a round in the country, and saw the smart little dog-cart, and the dear little mare, which I learned in after years to love so well, I felt particularly happy.

We were soon on the road, and after reaching the first village I was introduced to the first customer, and collected my first installment on behalf of the company. What a mighty sum that first five shillings seemed to be at that moment, and as the day went on, and the collections increased, my confidence and importance seemed to grow also.

It was about mid-day when we stopped at a little farmstead, and I was told to make this call myself as the future collector, and to collect the payment due. I was asked into the kitchen, received the payment, and while signing the rentbook the lady looked at me in a motherly way and said: "Well, my boy, you don't look very strong for the work, what made you come to it?"

I certainly was not very robust-looking, and it was mainly the chance of an open-air occupation that had reduced me to take it up. This I explained to her. She then kindly invited me to have some lunch. Shall I ever forget that feed of boiled pork and greens, but alas my enjoyment was not to last long, my experience was not then matured sufficiently to remember my poor hungry companion who was waiting outside and whose patience was about used up.

I was startled by a voice from the doorway: "It's about time you were finished". The kindly housewife, however, invited him also to partake of the pork and greens, which was quickly accepted. This was my first free lunch of many since.

We soon got to work again, and I did quite a lot of canvassing that afternoon, although when I think of it now, the style and address must have been very stiff, for my knowledge and education in the business had been very limited.

It was late in the afternoon and we were nearing home, I was feeling a little bit disgusted and disappointed with myself at not making a sale. We were just passing out of the little village of Chartham, and I suggested as a last trial to call at a large farm house, called Haughton Chapel, on the roadside. With my little black bag and a list in my hand, I went to the back door and was soon in conversation with a rosy-faced maid, appealing to her sympathy and telling her I was quite a novice at the work.

After listening to me for some time, she said although she would not take a machine then she would go and ask the mistress and the governess.

She soon returned and said the mistress did not require one, but the governess was coming down to know the price and terms.

You can guess, dear reader, my excitement and feeling; I had not long to wait, my price-list was soon spread out, but alas for my explanation of terms and machines, the young lady really seemed to know a great deal more about these than I did.

It did not take long, she decided on a hand machine with treadle and stand, and paid my £4 as a first payment, the balance to be paid when the machine was delivered and instruction given.

The victory was won, my first sale was made. I was as profuse in my thanks as I was in my smiles.

When I reached the trap to report my success, I found the horse tied up and no manager to be found; however, after some hunting I discovered him in a cow-shed, admiring some maids milking the cows, and by the look of satisfaction on his face, I guessed he had been sampling the "produce".

When I reported my success he at once wanted to know if the machine would be taken delivery of at once. As I did not understand what he meant, I asked for an explanation, and much to my surprise was told that we had a machine with us, and on going back to our trap I was shewn a box at the back wherein was carried a hand machine and cover.

Returning to the house I explained the situation, saying I had been told that the treadle and stand could be delivered on our next visit, a ready consent was given to bring the machine in.

It was then I got my elementary lesson on the machine, and I determined at that time that I would at once take pains to thoroughly understand it, and in every case where possible to give the lesson myself.

This I carried out, and it was indeed a great factor in helping me to success. The rest of that journey was what we should describe today as a joyride, for my manager was just as elated at my success as I was.

I often thought of the method of obtaining my first sale, and I think even at the present day I could not improve on the salesmanship.

My experience and skill today tell me that the first elements of success are:- obtain your interview, and then the sympathy, following this up with truthfulness and frankness, then if there is the least possible chance of a sale, it is yours.

I have proved this so many times since, although my pathway was not always so smooth and pleasant, as I will tell you later.

To be continued .......