The Woman Employer
October 1925 — Conference of Women Interested in Industry, 30th Annual Convention, National Association of Manufacturers, St. Louis MO
MADAM CHAIRMAN, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: — I surely feel grateful to be the first speaker to-day after hearing what Mr. Constantine had to say, and I am very happy to be here to prove to you that there is a Mrs. Snyder.
In my own city many people think the name of “Mrs. Snyder” is a fictitious name, which makes me think of the first little girl I had as a salesgirl. This little girl lisped, and one day a customer came in and said, “Is there such a person as Mrs. Snyder?” The little girl said, Oh, yes.” The customer said, “You know I ha an idea she was ‘Miss’.” “Oh, no,” said the little girl, “she is a Mrs.” And it has been a personal interest with me, that is a personal pride.
I shall never sell my business, or my name, although reports have been current that I receive a million dollars for my business.
My argument has always been that any business could be started with very little capital, providing you had an article of merit. Illness in my family prompted my venture into business, and I have the unique record of starting with five cents capital and never having borrowed a penny to further the business.
I find a successful sales person is one who can smile. I tell my girls that if they haven’t enough smiles to go around, not to give them to me, but to give them to the customers, as they are the ones who make our salaries possible.
Once I had a little girl who could not smile, and I thought perhaps the other little girls in the shop didn’t like her, so I asked her one day if she were troubled, and she said she had no troubles. I said, “You are such a pretty little girl, but you are not pretty often. You could be pretty all the time if you wanted to ; just what seems to be the trouble?” She replied, “Well, I think I worked to long for the telephone company. I was with them three years.” There is a sermon right there. We should have a smile in our voices as well as in our faces.
One girl I had resigned. She said, “I am leaving you Saturday night. I have a position where I don’t have to smile,” and I said, “That is extremely interesting; and where are you going? She said, “Into a ban.” That was her version of the banker. One day I had occasion to tell that to a bank president and the story went through all the banks.
Mr. Snyder’s illness was really what prompted my going into business. When he began to get better, I said, “Why wait for the inevitable? You are working for a corporation. I can’t see how we are doing to get very far.” Our little daughter was then in high school, and could do with out her mother as her grandmother was there. I do not approve of any mother neglecting her family and going into business unless it is absolutely necessary. Her work is to raise her family, and the proudest distinction she can have is to be a mother. I am proud of that.
I have seven shops and am opening another one on the first of December. These shops are not open evenings, Sundays or holidays. We are open from nine in the morning util six at night. In other words, I will not ask any girl to do anything for me that I would not do myself.
In each shop there is a manager, her assistant and her crew of help. The manager is there because of long and faithful service, and is watching her assistants in more ways than one.
Caring For Employees
We have many pretty girls, and if they have too many telephone calls we tap the wire, not only for our own good, but for the little girl’s good. We try her in several instances and le lecture her and try to put her on the right track. We have succeeded in all but two cases in my sixteen years of experience.
I once had a customer come into the shop and insist on whispering over the counter to the little girl behind the counter. I called the little girl away from the customer and said, “I wish you would finish trimming this window while I wait on this gentleman.” He immediately told me what he wanted and went out. When he had gone the little girl turned to me and said, “Mrs. Snyder, that was one of the old customers where I used to work. You insulted him.” I said, “I hope I did. I hope I never have to accept a penny from a man who comes in here for the purpose that he came in her for. Any man who is a gentleman does not have to whisper.”
We do not have the girls wear uniforms in the shop, because I like individuality. So does the customer. Mr. Jones or Mr. Brown is very much pleased to have one of the girls say, “Good morning, Mr. Jones” — or, “Mr. Brown, what selection can I pack for you this morning?” Every customer is given a sample, because we like to have her leave the shop with a good taste in her mouth, literally.
We give away many tons of candy during the year, for I consider this the best form of advertising. I try to bring a little humor into the shop each day. When an employee has a grievance I hear her story and tell her I will take the matter up with her in an hour, thereby giving myself a chance to figure the thing out form both angles. I never display anger.
When a girl applies for a position we ask her to write her name and address. Perhaps she has been downtown shopping. We take particular not of her finger nails. Perhaps this little girl hasn’t the price of a pair of gloves. We ask the little girl to call the next morning. During that time we have purposely lost her name and address, and early in the morning if her hands are not clean she cannot get a position.
Responsibility for Employees
I try placing all the employees on their own initiative and letting each one assume responsibility. I found that one of the hardest problems that I had to overcome was in shifting responsibility. I insist that employees say “Good morning” to each other, and also “Good night.”
Now and then, I have a get-together dinner for the store employees, for instance, and have an experience meeting. One manager is a salesgirl, and another manager is one of her “fussiest” customers. This is the most instructive part and still is a vaudeville entertainment. The girls imitate the “fussing” customer, and in dealing with the public they are not at all amicable.
I believe in praise and insist on punctuality. Many times I try out prospective employees to see how punctual they are, by making an appointment to meet them. It proves much, in my estimation, about their efficiency. Three of my shops are so small that my salesgirls are picked for size. That seems a strange thing but our space is valuable and in these particular shops three large girls could not work back of the counter.
When any of our kitchen girls have proved their worth and wish to be transferred to one of the shops as salesgirls, I am only too glad to give them the opportunity, and I find that they usually succeed.
I always employed women to help me in the kitchen until the batches were too heavy for the women to handle. When I hired the first male help, I placed a blind ad in the paper and when the man appeared and found that his boss to be was a woman he said, “I am sorry, madam, but I cannot take the job. I can’t work for a lady.” And I said, “Well, you know if I prove myself a regular fellow don’t you think we could get along?” He was with me for seven years and is now in the employ of the City of Chicago.
To-day I have three hundred and twenty-seven employees — forty-five men and two hundred and eighty-two women.
My kitchen is a seven-story building opposite Marshall Field’s retail shop, in our Loop district, one of the finest buildings of its kind in the world. My reason for having the kitchens so central is because the candies go to the different shops hourly. All the employees in the kitchens are in uniform.
We have community spirit in our windows. All through the building are curtains that are neat and dainty, and they are kept scrupulously clean, although we are right in the Loop district, in “dirty Chicago,” as everybody calls it, which I dearly love.
Male Help in Uniform
All of our male employees are in white uniforms and occupy two top floors of our building. We do not allow them to mingle with the girls during the day. They come a half hour earlier in the morning and leave a half hour earlier at night, except when we have parties of families and sweethearts. They love that meeting of their families, and I always attend these parties myself. For the boss, to gain her employees’ confidence, to be superior and still be on their level, to gain their respect, is the greatest problem of the employer and employee to-day. We are all servants of the public and we are all equal; every one of my employees is just as good as I am and I am just as good as one of my employees. That is what I preach to them all the time.
A little girl who came to work for me and wo is a university graduate complained that her associates were not even high school graduates. That girl didn’t have any business in my shop and I dismissed her for that very reason.
The work in the candy kitchen, while controlled by an electric motor, is hot, so we provide shower baths for the male employees, and insist upon their taking a bath before they go to work, and, if they wish, when they get through. We also have an old gentleman stationed in the men’s washroom to see that the men do not use bad language and see that they wash their hands before returning to work each time after leaving the lavatory. I have the confidence of the public and I am not going to abuse it. The candy is as clean as if I were going to eat every piece of it myself.
The woman employees, wearing gingham uniforms and caps, are divided into separate units with a forelady in each department. They are also supplied with chairs and work eight hours a day. We may not get efficiency by supplying chairs, but we do have healthier, happier employees who stay on indefinitely, and to my mind it has paid in the end. When they get married they come back to hep us out in the rush time. We have a matron in charge of the rest room. We have a colored girl to see that every woman employee washes her hands before returning to work. We have a lunchroom where we make coffee. We do make coffee and they bring their own lunches. We have a piano and victrola. They have community singing, although we do not allow the boys to mingle with the girls.
The men are not allowed to use bad language. I let one my oldest employees go, because he insisted on swearing. He was one of the finest workmen I had, but the little girls who hear the talk in the halls are all ladies and they shall be treated as such while they are in my employ. We will not employ any one with a ski blemish. They can find work in some other kind of employment.
No Dictation as to Earnings
We do not dictate what they shall do with their earnings. All employees are paid a living wage and can stay on as long as they wish, providing they are honest and clean. I allow no solicitation among the employees. I do not allow the discussion of religion or politics. Wen employees leave of their own accord, not on account of illness, they are never taken back. We invite inspection of our kitchens and have a visiting day each week.
When you go to your place of business daily with a glad heart and are happy to make other [people] happy about you, life is worth while.
I am not going to take any more of your time. I know the program is heavy. I just want to say that this little business is flourishing. I have tried to be conscientious and use only materials that are the best. To-day, my supplies are: one ton of sugar, one thousand pounds of pecans, one thousand pounds of chocolate, one hundred and twenty-five gallons of sweet cream, sixty-five pounds of butter, two gallons of vanilla, sixty dozen eggs, two hundred and fifty pounds of shelled almonds, and I pay $100,000 yearly in rental. I am only telling you this to show you how this little business has developed from five cents to the magnitude of the supplies and three hundred and twenty-seven employees.
If you smile until ten o’clock in the morning, the rest of the day will take care of itself. I say, a smile costs us nothing but pays big dividends. I thank you.
Source: Modern Eloquence: A Library of the World’s Best Spoken Thought, Vol V, ed. Ashley H. Thorndike, (New York: P. F. Collier & Son Corp.) pp. 324-330.