The Way It Was – Selling shirts


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.

In the summer of 1949, I had a job working at Otte’s clothing store. It was a family-owned haberdashery that had served Marysville customers for years. Their selection of men’s clothing was pretty broad – everything from suits and sport coats, to long underwear and bib overalls. The store’s principal at that time was Bill Otte. His father, Lou Otte, had operated the store for years before Bill took over.
Bill’s dad, who was probably in his early 80s, still worked a bit in the store. He knew just about everyone in town, and he stood near the front of the store and talked with customers as they entered. He was really good at that because he knew so many people, and he was such a soft-spoken and friendly guy.
I did the usual things you would expect a teenager to do. I went in early and swept the floor and dusted the counters. Next I straightened up merchandise on the display tables. A little later, I took garments to Lou’s brother, who operated a tailor shop a few doors north on Main Street. He made the alterations and I picked up the altered garments the next day.
But my favorite part of the job was waiting on customers, selling all sorts of men’s items. I didn’t sell suits or sport coats, for they often had to be marked for alterations. But I became pretty good at selling shirts and ties, thanks primarily to Bill’s dad.
He was watching me one day as I sold a white dress shirt to a customer. Most of the store’s dress shirts were Arrow brand, and they all were priced at $5. When the customer left the store, Lou told me I had done a good job on that sale. And then he added, “But let me show you how to turn those $5 sales into $7.50 sales.”
He said that all of their neckties sold for $2.50. Then he said that the easiest person to sell a necktie to is a customer who just purchased a dress shirt. Next, he placed a white dress shirt on the counter and selected a necktie from the rack. He wrapped the necktie around itself to form a faux knot, and laid it atop the shirt at the collar. By golly, that folded necktie really did make the shirt look better. The two just seemed to complement each other.
The next day, a lady came in the store looking for a birthday gift for her husband. After looking around a bit, she settled on a white Arrow brand shirt. Before ringing up the sale, I laid the shirt on the counter top and selected an attractive necktie. I made a faux knot, just as Lou had shown me, and placed it on the shirt. When the lady looked at the shirt and tie together, she immediately said, “Oh my, that looks nice. I think I’ll take the necktie, too.”
Lou watched the whole thing, and that necktie turned my $5 sale into a $7.50 sale. When I looked at him, he was grinning from ear to ear. That Lou Otte wasn’t just a good shirt and tie salesman; he was also a good teacher.
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