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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edward Stephenson, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Need to cultivate relationships on the tobacco warehouse floor

Stephenson describes the relationships on the warehouse floor. An auctioneer should cultivate good relationships with buyers, who can punish auctioneers by manipulating the flow of an auction. The warehouseman protects auctioneers from disruptive practices, and helping farmers by securing high prices is the most important element of the job.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edward Stephenson, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Getting back to when you were learning, your dad helped you with the chant, to get your voice so you could carry it with out straining and be heard, did he help you with learning how to catch the bids and how to keep people happy on the sales.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, he taught me that . . . . . . as I said, it was better to keep a good relationship with your buyer. If you and I are going to be on sale all day, we need to try to get along. The happier and more better relationship we got the more you are going to try to make the sale flow. Where as, if I'm not very nice to you or try and give you a hard time or curse you, or what ever, you're not going to be as apt to help me, or . . .. Help me when I say, Hey, this is my buddy here. Can you help him with his tobacco? Well you know, Naw, I can't. He might not say that, but if me and you are on a . . . . . . have a good working relationship and I ask you to help me you probably will.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
That's an interesting point. What do you do to cultivate a good relationship with the buyer. It's a broad question so .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, you know, they have their supervisor that comes in too. They have a supervisor that comes in and monitors them.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
The "circuit riders?"
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah. Obviously, when he comes in you want to make you look good. Like, if your circuit rider comes in I don't want to miss your bid and I want to make sure you get plenty of tobacco. Now when he leaves it's different, you know. But when he's there, I want to make you look good. 'Cause we want to get him in and out and gone. You don't want him gnawing on you, saying, Hey you missed this. Why come he's not giving you . . . . . . Why aren't you buying 30%? What's wrong? I want to make you look good when your circuit rider comes in. If I do that, we'll be OK. And in return you can make my day a whole lot easier too.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
How can I do that?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Instead of bidding, say they started at 85 and somebody says [in a tone of voice expressing drudgery he chants] 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92 . . .. . . .. Well, if he starts at 85 and somebody says 86 and you've got 90 on it, you can just go ahead and throw and save me all that work, from 84, 5,6, 8, 9, 90. from 86 you can just say 90. You can make it hard on me also. You can drag it out, a penny at the time. You can work me to death if you want to.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Does that ever happen, where they just sort of work you to death out of spite?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah. I've had it to happen. But a good warehouseman will protect you there. The warehouse can also bid and if sees they're trying to pull it back the warehouse can buy it also. A good warehouseman will protect his auctioneer.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, you own your own warehouse but you also auction tobacco, so you auction in your own warehouse, I guess?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yes.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
How does that complicate . . . . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I have a sales leader. Someone that starts the sale.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Ok.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
But, I don't see . . . . . . It's no different than . . . . . .. When I started auctioneering I'd sell for five different concerns a day. And I didn't work any harder at your warehouse than I did the one down the street. My job was to sell it as high as I could, you know? And try and help the farmer. I never really . . . . . . I felt like I was working for the farmer all the time. Even though if I worked in your warehouse, you were paying me. But still I felt obligated to the farmer to try and get the most money for it. That was another thing my daddy taught me. Always try to get the most money you can for the farmer. 'Cause when the farmer does good we all do good. When the farmer doesn't do to good, don't any of us do to good. That's if you live in a tobacco town like Smithfield [NC]. When the farmer did good, everybody did good. The oil-man, the fertilizer-man, the drygoods-man, the car-man, the tire-man, the tractor-man. Everybody did good when the farmer did good.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
You talked about cultivating a good relationship the tobacco buyer, what do you do to cultivate a relationship with the farmer?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well, you treat him honest. You tell him the truth and you treat him the same as you do the next farmer. In other words you don't let . . . . . . you don't let, in other words you try to tell him the truth and be fair and level with everyone. You know some people . . . . . . . . . at one time when we used to have to book tobacco. There would be so much tobacco that we actually had to say, You can't bring but 5,000 pounds. You know, depending on how much . . . . . .. And you would have to be fair to everyone. Instead of letting you sell, I had to say, One can only sell once[a week], just like your neighbor there. You can only sell once. If I told you, you can't sell but once and then you saw your neighbor come by three times that week you're going to come to me and say, Hey! You told me I could only sell once. Why is John selling three times? You don't want to do that. You don't want to tell him a lie. You want to let him know that when he leaves his tobacco there, that you're going to try and get every dime for it that you can. 'Cause if you're on commission, obviously, the more the farmer makes the more you make. So I would say being honest to him and fair. You know, straight across the board with everyone, the same way. There are some people that would, if they could sell everyday, they would sell and don't give a flip if you sell or not. But you don't want that to be. When I tell you what you can bring, I want you to be confident that I'm being as fair with you as your neighbor or anyone else.