Friday, April 5, 2013

So You Want to Be A Canned Fruit Salesman?

Now, I'm interested in canneries and packing houses primarily for building my model buildings and detailing the scenes around the canneries.

But there's so many more reasons to learn about canning: understanding what San Jose was like in the 1920's. Knowing a bit of the history of the places I'm building. Creating a "canned fruit wholesaler" costume for next Halloween.

Luckily, there's occasional gems out there on the Internet to help us understand how industry worked a hundred years ago and provide details for costume parties. For example, there's John Adam Lee's book, Canned Foods: How to Buy, How to Sell that can give some of the background of what the business side of the cannery business was like.

What's the right way to open a can of fruit? Along the side, to better show off the contents. Reserve those samples for the big customers, too, for the sample cans are expensive, and the retailers only buying a few cases aren't worth the time.

Why use a broker?

"The broker is the philosopher, guide, and friend of the packer-telling him what to pack and how to pack it, and selling it for him to responsible people even before it is ready for market. His small percentage or brokerage can well be afforded by the packer and should be cheerfully paid. It is paid only when earned and upon actual sales, and the system is far cheaper than any other sales methods so far found."
Well, that's the positive side. He's got a separate chapter on how brokers can fail you.

There's also some nice advice on limiting pilferage at your cannery, should the need arise. He also teases with colorful outbursts you'd find nowhere else, like

"There are hundreds of irresponsible and incompetent packers in the canned tomato business."
That sentence on its own says more about the freewheeling cannery life in 1915 than anything I'll seen in history books. He also gives charts and tables of canned fruit and vegetable production that's a better way to test for obsessive-compulsive tendencies than anything else I know.

John Adam Lee's book must have been successful, popular, and helpful, for I've seen several editions cited on Google. A later addition did have a few new stories about the games buyers play. None of his wisdom will help me with my model building, but it'll give me some conception of the freewheeling and busy cannery days in the Santa Clara Valley.

Now excuse me, for I need to paint some salesmen figures.

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