Mr. Sams, You Mark My Words

Mr. Sams, You Mark My Words!

As Penney had predicted , Kemmerer's population and commerce doubled and then tripled. In 1903, the growing Penney family could afford a tiny cottage as the store was doubled in size at a new Main Street location.

Now, let us stand back and take a look at this new store of "James" Penney's. [5] You can see by the signs that his neighbors had different agendas than the teetotaling Baptist. There, flanking the Golden Rule on both sides are the town's two busiest saloons. And look at those second-floor window signs right above: lawyers ! Also overhead and accessible by the back stairs was Kemmerer's biggest brothel. But Penney never commented about the building's other businesses as he maintained his "regular" business hours. That meant staying open as long as anyone was on the street, and then remaining in the store for more hours of book and stock keeping. As a result, he was often the last person at work in the building ”despite the nocturnal activities next door and up the back stairs. And in a short while those at work on or above Main Street, men and women alike, became James Penney's best customers, and he and his associates served them all with amiable courtesy and attention to the smallest detail of their needs.

In late 1903 Johnson and Callahan offered Penney a one-third interest in their Rock Springs Golden Rule store, an hour east on the Union Pacific. Recently established, the store had shown only mediocre results. But with Penney commuting to Rock Springs twice a month, he soon had his new store performing almost at the Kemmerer level. In the next year and on the same ownership basis, Penney opened another successful store in nearby Cumberland. By 1906, Penney's profits had been substantial enough for him to buy out Johnson and Callahan's interests in Rock Springs.

A year later, Johnson and Callahan had a falling out. But the former mentors had no quarrel with Penney, and they offered to sell him their interests in Kemmerer and Cumberland for $30,000 plus 8 percent interest. Their protg gave them his personal note and paid the amount in full within two years . Although remaining friends with both men ”and always, ardently grateful for the opportunities they had afforded him ”Penney never again was a partner with either.

That same year, Penney hooked up with the most important man of his career, Earl Sams. Having seen how carefully Johnson and Callahan had recruited talent, Penney made sure that he worked even harder at it. For every single hire, he would interview candidates at length, demand and check references, and then sleep on it for a while. Consequently, almost every clerk in Kemmerer, Rock Springs, and Cumberland was a candidate for a future store partnership. Despite Penney's exacting standards, word spread and applications mounted. He was, after all, a man who appeared to be going places.

Through a Denver employment agency, Penney heard from Sams, a 23-year-old Kansan with five years' retail experience and an eagerness to move ahead. They corresponded, Penney's final letter indicating an interest in meeting the young man. After boasting of his own accomplishments and ambitions, he acknowledged receipt of Sams's impressive reference letters and concluded in his language of the day:

I am corresponding with another very seemingly capable man. I have given you preference. This other party does not like Sunday work ”we are looking for a man who is anxious to work any time of day ”nights, Sundays, Holidays, or any other day ”one who knows no hours, and is not particular about how much work he does. Only this kind of man I consider makes very rapid advancements .

Sams and his wife, Lula, confidently arrived in Kemmerer with several bags. He was hired at the conclusion of the interview with Penney, and the Kansans never returned home. Earl Sams was a natural. No match for Penney's mental agility (almost no one ever was), Sams was quick enough and much more of a warm personality. Although a likable and diligent clerk, Penney was basically distant and formal. Probably not one person ever thought to offer him a drink (and not because he was a teetotaler, which few knew then). Everybody, on the other hand, wanted to buy Earl Sams a drink (and, when he could get away with it, he'd accept). But most important, Sams could work 100-hour weeks without complaint ”one of those people (like Penney) who seemed fresh and spry at the end of the longest days. And Sams also had the heart of a merchant.

Sams started in Kemmerer; went to Cumberland as first man; and started a store in Eureka, Utah. By the time he joined Penney in the new one-room office in Salt Lake City in 1910, the company had 14 stores and was within a year of doing an astronomical $1 million in business. At that point, Earl Sams was the number-two man. And, utilizing the Penney formula and Penney himself as a financing partner, Sams had interests in three additional new stores.

In the sentence above is the phrase "the Penney formula." This, of course, is both a misnomer and a reflection of James Cash Penney's genius. It was Tom Callahan's concept, after all, that Penney was exploiting. He never originated a substantial idea in his entire business life, adopting and adapting the ideas of others and then executing brilliantly. That was Penney's game, execution. He would soon surpass the number of stores held by his mentors ” eventually addressing Sams in his newly formal manner with, "Mr. Sams, you mark my words! One day we shall have a hundred stores!" Although Sams told Lula that night that the idea was daft, at the time he just nodded amiably in agreement.

[5] A more dignified name , he felt, in keeping with his elevated status in the community (but to Berta, he would always be "my Jim").

Celebration of Fools. An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JCPenney
Celebration of Fools: An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JCPenney
ISBN: 0814471595
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 177
Authors: Bill Hare © 2008-2017.
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