Genaral Articals

THE BIG STORE

Since Timothy opened shop on Toronto's Queen St. in 1869, Eaton's has moved across the road, spread from coast to coast, and reached around the world

JOHN CLARE December 15 1946
Genaral Articals

THE BIG STORE

Since Timothy opened shop on Toronto's Queen St. in 1869, Eaton's has moved across the road, spread from coast to coast, and reached around the world

JOHN CLARE December 15 1946

THE BIG STORE

Since Timothy opened shop on Toronto's Queen St. in 1869, Eaton's has moved across the road, spread from coast to coast, and reached around the world

Genaral Articals

JOHN CLARE

THESE DAYS the crowds begin to gather around the doorways of Eaton’s 12 main stores in 11 Canadian cities about the same time the clerks get to work. That’s about 15 minutes before the nine o’clock opening time.

These early shoppers—housewives (some with children), old women with shopping bags, university girls, men with brief cases or lunch pails—stand in patient groups at the entrances and look wistfully past the uniformed doorman down the long empty aisles of the big store.

Inside the staff makes the store ready for another day. A girl carefully removes protective white cloths from the glove counter, near the door. A few yards away two women—both of whom have worked for Eaton’s since girlhood—talk animatedly as they polish a glass showcase. A department manager gives his displays a final primping. In the jewellery aisle a salesman tenderly lifts trays of diamonds from their dark vaults into the light. A salesgirl holds up a pair of brilliant earrings and turns them slowly to see them sparkle.

Over the public address system, a limpid waltz is followed by the bumpety beat of boogie. The store is friendly and good-natured as the minutes tick off. Girls call to one another, men stop briefly to chat. The whole place is freshly scrubbed, and

bright and gay with music, and it all belongs to the people who work there—until the whir of a bell, that means “open the doors,” cuts through it all like a brisk saw.

“Here they come,” a salesgirl says. The first shoppers break rapidly down the aisles and the customers take over the big store.

Coast-to-Coast Colossus

THEY’VE been coming to Eaton’s since 1869.

That was the year Timothy Eaton opened his first Toronto store on the site now occupied by the Robert Simpson Co., across Queen Street from Eaton’s main Toronto store. Now Eaton’s spans Canada with stores in the cities, order offices in the towns and catalogues in the homes of the nation.

The company has 52 retail outlets. Twelve of these are main stores in Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Toronto (two stores plus an annex), Montreal,

Moncton and Halifax. No main stores, you’ll notice, in Prince Edward Island or British Columbia. There are eight branch stores in towns, and a subsidiary, Canadian Department Stores, has 25 stores in eastern towns and smaller cities.

Eaton’s is also a mail-order business operated from four main branch stores at Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Moncton. Mail-order offices, where a customer orders from a catalogue, are located in 188 smaller centres, scattered over all the provinces. A million copies of the catalogue are printed in each edition, which is run off in French and English four times a year.

Eaton’s has its own factories—Guelph (stoves); Hamilton (knitted goods); Winnipeg (men’s work clothes); Toronto (clothing of all kinds, leather goods); Montreal (men’s clothing). These factories produce for Eaton’s alone. During the war they worked on government orders.

Eaton’s has a life insurance company but no agents ringing doorbells. If you want a policy,

they will sell you one, but most of their business is done with their employees.

The T. Eaton Realty Co. looks after the company’s land holdings and leases floor-space to the firm, in one of those intimate bookkeeping deals in which the landlord collects the rent from himself.

There are other smaller companies formed within the structure of the parent company, such as the delivery organization and a unit which provides insurance for goods in transit to Eaton’s.

The company has 33,000 employees across the Dominion. This Christmas the number is increased to about 48,000. Normally there are more than 13,000 working the company’s rich 83.8 acres of floor space in Toronto alone.

This is one of the greatest buying years Canadian department stores have known. Added to the millrace of customers who have been streaming through store doors all year is a Christmas rush that started early and is now rolling at full tide.

Eaton’s is the country’s largest retail mercantile organization. Just how much its share of current retail business is, the company declines to say. Since the Sir John Eaton Estate owns all but a few shares of the T. Eaton Co. Ltd., financial statements are a family affair. However, at the hearings of the Royal Commission on price spreads in 1934 the company did reveal its sales over a period of years— $22,428,000 in 1907; $225,053,000 in 1929 and $132,500,000 in 1933. Continued on page 66

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For 1946 total Canadian retail sales of all types will probably run around $4,700 millions of which department stores will get about 11%. A reasonable guess at Eaton’s share would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 millions. In the past mail-order business has accounted for about 20% of the total.

Eaton’s is big, but its volume of business is far behind that of other mercantile giants such as Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck in the U. S. A.

“Of course,” say Eaton executives, as they look at Sears Roebuck sales charts crowding the billion mark, “they have more than 10 times as many people to sell to.”

Babies to Horseshoes

Last year a baby was born to a shopper in the emergency hospital in Eaton’s downtown store, corner of Queen and Yonge, in Toronto. Few women go shopping and come home with a baby. But anyone familiar with the range of goods and services available at one of Eaton’s retail stores wouldn’t be too surprised to hear it had happened.

Also, in that Toronto store you can have a meal or send a telegram; get your shoes half-soled or buy a canoe; cash a cheque or buy a bus ticket to San Francisco. You can arrange with a contractor to do your entire house over in puce, with Dali murals in the furnace room. You can plan a motor trip to Nyack and back by any route you suggest.

You can have your other suit drycleaned and plan for a wedding, right down to such details as a woman at the church to fix the bride’s train before she starts up the aisle. You can arrange to have men crate and ship the presents and send them to the new address.

You can buy a packet of pins, or lighting fixtures for the whole house. You can look up addresses in any Canadian city among the battery of directories. The lost and found bureau may be holding a lost handbag or a wandering child for you. You can have a dress made or a pair of glasses fitted. If you’re in Winnipeg at the right time of year you can throw a game of horseshoes, and maybe win a prize, right in the store.

You can buy stamps or have your picture taken, and then finish off what would make a pretty full day by having your car brought to the side door.

But you can’t buy a package of cigarettes or a package of tobacco. This prohibition was dictated by the founder, and it is still in effect. For many years customers were not per-

mitted to smoke in the stores. If they did, they were politely asked to stop. With the opening of store restaurants it became difficult to keep people from lighting up after a meal, and in 1933 the no smoking rule was abandoned. But you have to bring your smokes with you, although you can buy pipes and cigarette holders and lighters and other smokers’ supplies.

The company’s attitude toward tobacco was submitted to considerable patriotic pressure during the war, when the Overseas Tobacco League asked Eaton’s to accept orders for delivery for servicemen and women. The company took the orders, shipped the smokes, and gave the profits back to the league.

For years playing cards were not sold, but they are now. So are poker chips and roulette wheels. Cocktail shakers are sold, but the wedding service will not undertake to arrange the schnapps for the feast.

Some people think there is also moral significance in the ban on the sale of matches. There isn’t any. Eaton’s just don’t want to run the risk of a fire. And neither does the insurance company.

Cracker-Barrel Atmosphere

Eaton’s stores vary in size from the two-story CDS stores to the nine-story building in Montreal. The smaller stores have the informal air that is part of a small town. The counters are crowded; the air is charged with store smell, a rich compost of fresh-ground coffee, linoleum, spices and cloth.

But the show place of the Eaton empire is the College Street Store, in Toronto. Designed on an even more massive scale than it now stands, this jewel in the Eaton crown has the marble grandeur of an ancient temple, although it is really only an auxiliary to the main store at Queen and Yonge, capital of the Eaton empire. The founder moved to the latter site in 1883, and since then it has been the shrine, the hub, the GHQ and the place where it all started.

Like all their kind, Eaton’s department stores are designed for women, their best customers. Women seem to thrive on the competitive atmosphere. They drive through the jammed aisles with the gameness of salmon fighting upstream. They rise to the lure of being able to do all their shopping under one roof, and snap at the price specials dangled before them by a big store’s buying power.

Eaton’s does not follow a standardized physical layout in its stores across the country. This is left pretty much to the individual managers, although there is a conventional pattern which all department stores more or less follow.

As a concession to men, many of

whom sheer away sharply from the big crowded stores, haberdashery, sports equipment and the place where they used to have shirts are spotted on the ground floor, not too far from the entrance, so a male shopper can get in and get out, risking only a shallow penetration.

Departments catering particularly to women are often placed deep in the store, where it requires a stout spirit and some of the attributes of a bulldozer to win through. Restaurants are located according to price; snack bars for the eat-and-run clientele are often in the basement, and the flossier menus displayed among Grecian columns high above the turmoil of the city and the merchandising floors.

Although women are acknowledged to be the best friends a department store has, there is a campaign to interest young people in Eaton’s. To attract the high-school set Eaton’s has set up a Junior Fashion Council for teen-aged girls and a Junior Executive Council for boys. Members are called in as style consultants for Saturday morning meetings, for which they are paid, and are given preference for part-time work. This fall Toronto Eaton’s threw a dance to honor school football champions. The company expects the campaign to work two ways —bring teen-aged customers to the store and also uncover some merchandising talent for the future.

The store is signposted as lavishly and clearly as Number One Highway. There are elevator starters and floorwalkers to guide you. And for those who are baffled by the complexity of the layout, or timorous of the crowds, Eaton’s provides professional shoppers who are trained to have an idea of what would be nice for Aunt Lucy, who is stout, blue-eyed and lives in Carberry, Man.

Little Shops Inside

The advantages a department store gains by offering an almost complete shopping service are somewhat offset by the loss of intimate atmosphere which attracts some shoppers to smaller stores. An attempt is made to duplicate the small shop spirit by setting aside specialty shops and salons within the big store. The illusion is created and maintained until it comes time for the customer to re-enter the main stream through the store and strike out for the door.

Revealing as a person’s eyes, as an index to personality and character, are a store’s windows. Department stores are well aware of this and spend much time and money on their window displays.

In Toronto, at least, their efforts have been repaid by the feeling Torontonians have about their department

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from page store windows. San Francisco has the Top of the Mark; New York has its sky line; Vancouver has Stanley Park and Brooklyn has the Dodgers. But in Toronto . . . “You should see the windows downtown—nothing better in New York.” It might be argued this is because the city’s public architecture is so bad that even loyal citizens wince when they look at it.

Eaton’s are proud of their windows in other cities, too. While each store designs its own displays, the others watch Toronto as Toronto watches New York.

Store windows have changed radically. There was a time when Eaton’s put as many as 3,000 articles, piled in lofty precarious pyramids, in a single window display of drugs. Designers’ hatred of an uncovered spot in a window made nature’s abhorrence of a vacuum look like a mild peeve. Space was precious, and they labored to fill it. But the modern trend is toward dramatic simplicity. A drug display today is more likely to involve a luxuriously peignoired mannikin in a lush setting, reaching languidly for her favorite headache remedy.

Windows often tell a story now. You are supposed to supply the punch line by going inside and buying one like the one in the window.

Eaton’s windows at the main Toronto store told a different kind of a story at Christmas, 1945. It was the story of Christmas carols dramatized by stylized figures. Over a public address system a carillon reproduction of the old songs was carried to the watchers on the sidewalk. Any doubts the display men had—they weren’t sure how the public would react to the treatment of a religious theme in a store window—were set at rest when ministers and teachers urged their listeners to go down and have a look.

Early this fall the Christian Education Council was around to see what Eaton’s planned to do this year, so they could advise the children. The display this year tells the story of “A Journey to a Star.”

A marionette show had an even headier success last year. City officials had to call Eaton’s and ask them to limit the hours of the presentation, so traffic could get through on Queen Street.

Eaton’s windows are planned months in advance, and the decorative motif may be carried throughout the whole store in a series of displays right down to the price cards on the counters. The theme—it might be the “Six Canadian Colors” which the store has been featuring lately—is stated in the windows and developed and embellished until anyone who has been in the store five minutes is dazzled if not overwhelmed by it.

Telephonic Shopping Spree

It is possible to shop satisfactorily in department stores without ever working your way through one of the heavy brass-plated doors. Thousands of women across Canada do it every day. They get their husbands’ breakfasts, trot the children off to school, wipe their hands on their aprons and then sit down with a sigh at their telephone tables and go shopping.

The Toronto calls hit Eaton’s switchboard with all the impact but none of the confusion of a tornado. The tiny lights blink off and on like a sign spelling out a Chinese advertising slogan. The Toronto switchboard, with positions for 48 operators at the main board, is the largest retail “PBX” in the world. The next biggest is across the street at Simpson’s.

A few figures will give you an idea

how thoroughly the big store Ls wired for sound. There are 2,250 telephone instruments in the Toronto buildings; 300 lines for customers’ use; 350 for business administration and 750 intercommunication lines; there are 22 switchboards, and order desks for 60 clerks. Direct lines run from Toronto to the Hamilton and Montreal stores.

The Toronto area has 230,000 telephone subscribers, and on busy days they make 50,000 calls to Eaton’s, most of them in the mornings. Sometimes as many as 95,000 calls are handled in one day.

The board grew like a telephonic Topsy. Bell Telephone engineers, pleased and somewhat amazed at what they have created under the pressure of the store’s demands on their ingenuity, often bring visitors around to see it in action.

Eaton’s has its own leased lines to the suburban area, so customers can call in without paying suburban toll charges, and these extend to a radius of 17 miles from the store.

Last year an observer checked 40,000 incoming calls and found it took an average of 11 seconds for the customer to get the department after getting the board. The objective is 10 seconds, which shouldn’t give anyone time to get impatient.

There are just about as many calls now as there were before the war, but the average duration is less. It doesn’t take long to say “Sorry—there are none left.”

Research and Espionage

The telephone room is part of the Eaton’s you never see. A multitude of other services lurk backstage—the fine furniture shop where period pieces are repaired, and even reproduced, by skilled craftsmen; the assembly line of the delivery system; and the research bureau where a constant scientific watch is kept on the quality of goods sold. Will Junior wear out his new sweater in 12 months—or six? Will that tablecloth launder without fading? How long before the wheels come off that new scooter? How much cereal is there in a new brand of sausage?

Eaton’s two research laboratories in Toronto and Winnipeg answer questions like these about goods sent in for inspection from the company’s stores all across Canada.

The labs make frequent spot checks on the quality of Eaton’s own branded

made of better stuff than any other brand in the same price range, according to Eaton merchandisers.

The mercantile scientists test articles before they are bought from a manufacturer. As the researchers point out, in a small store a merchant can explain why 10 coats came apart at the seams. In a store the size of Eaton’s you can’t explain to 5,000 customers. The best way to keep good will is to pretest articles.

Wherever a department makes a claim in an advertisement—“best quality” or “better than average quality”

-—the research bureau checks their claim with a test tube or one of many wondrous machines, like the fade-ometer. The research bureau has the power to change an advertisement.

In cahoots with the research bureau, the comparison office maintains a staff of trained shoppers, men and women to check up on goods sold by Eaton’s competitors. They become so well known in some rival stores that they sometimes find it difficult to persuade the opposition clerks to go through the stock for their benefit. Comparison shoppers usually try to find a young inexperienced clerk who doesn’t realize that the kind woman who wants to see everything is not a customer but a sleuth. The shoppers are supplied with money and usually buy.

For years these shoppers from Eaton’s and their cross - the - street rivals, Simpson’s, have taken rapid estimates of the size of the crowds waiting to get into each other’s store each morning. Though the shoppers are moved around, they get to know each other, and exchange greetings as their paths cross on Queen Street.

Shoppers are dispatched to buy groceries, lighting fixtures, and one couple has bought engagement rings. The president, John David Eaton, while in the Winnipeg comparison office, was sent on a grapefruit buying mission. In the subsequent juice extraction tests everything but wastepaper baskets was filled with fresh grapefruit juice. R. Y. Eaton was particularly interested in linens, and when he was president of the company, shoppers were required to check the opposition twice a day to see what was happening in rival linen departments.

One Saturday morning a request was made to shop on blankets on sale at another Toronto store. An Eaton comparison shopper bought a pair of the heavy blankets and started to carry

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them out of the store. They were pretty heavy.

Couldn’t they be delivered, the clerk asked solicitously? No, they were needed at a cottage that week end, the shopper parried. Well, at least he could carry the heavy bundle to her car, the clerk offered. No, thank you, she "liked” carrying heavy bundles, insisted the shopper. At this the clerk gave up, but if he had looked out the window, he could have seen his customer staggering up the street to the Eaton research lab.

Eaton’s will meet any competition, they say—won’t let anyone undersell them.

Eaton advertising is subject to detailed rules and restrictions. You never find “phenomenal,” “originally sold for,” “sensational,” “worth double,” “ridiculously” or “colossal” in Eaton’s copy. Only after a check with the research bureau may articles be referred to as our best, safe, rustresisting, tubfast, or efficient.

Merchandise must be in the department stock room before the copy for advertising is sent to the advertising office. To qualify as an antique in an Eaton ad the article must be 100 years old. Advertising illustrations (drawn from merchandise by Eaton artists in store studios) must be as authentic as photographs.

This elaborate system of precautions and checks has been designed to promote the sale of the big store’s most important commodity—Eaton’s. It started with the founder, who decided, almost 80 years ago, that if he could sell the name Eaton’s in terms of good will, he wouldn’t have to worry about moving the stuff on his shelves. Buttressing that policy is the company’s slogan: “Goods Satisfactory or Money Refunded.”

Refunds and exchanges cost money. To write off a sale means bookkeeping in addition to the loss of the sale itself. And there are people who take advantage of the policy. They know if they want to press claim, even though it is palpably flimsy, the chances are they will win their point, because the company would rather be cheated than criticized.

A man recently brought a suit back to Eaton’s. He said it hadn’t stood up. After an examination—one sleeve was almost pulled from its roots, the jacket was cut and torn—the clerk suggested courteously that a suit of mail wouldn’t have stood up to the beating the garment had taken. The customer demanded his money back. He got it by going to the manager.

Eaton’s used to question customers asking for refunds, in order to find out if any of their goods were faulty. Now refunds are usually made without question, except in cases of a dubious claim. These backfires make up about 2x/2 to 3% of total sales, a percentage which Eaton’s regards as small.

Meet the Brass

The chain of command at Eaton’s is roughly parallel to an army’s. At the top is John David Eaton, 37-year-old grandson of the founder and second son of Sir John Eaton.

He is flanked by three vice-presidents: O. tD. Vaughan, Toronto; R. S. McCordick, Winnipeg, and F. B. Walls, Montreal. These three executives are, in effect, general managers of the main stores in their three cities. In addition to his general managership of the Winnipeg store McCordick runs western operations of the company, both the mail order and retail, and in this he is assisted by Gilbert M. Eaton, a director who is a younger brother of the president.

The president and three vice-presidents are directors. In addition to Gilbert Eaton there are seven other directors located in Toronto. Together they form a board of 12. These men are the high command of Eaton’s and they formulate the firm’s policy. Each director, following the military command pattern, is responsible for a phase of the company’s business.

A. N. Sands supervises the mailorder and CDS activities; Ivor Lewis takes care of personnel matters and C. M. Leishman heads general merchandising, a function which correlates the company’s buying on a national scale.

The directors meet once a week, although executives from Montreal and Winnipeg stores do not necessarily attend all the meetings. The company’s operations are kept close-knit by these meetings and by frequent business trips by the directors and their assistants. Each day Eaton executives get a list of who’s where so they can keep track of the fast-moving men from headquarters.

Within the stores the executives do considerable leg work. The president * himself usually devotes part of each afternoon to touring the plant, mail order, retail or factory, with his aides.

The physical operation of each store — that is, such services as delivery, cleaning, and personnel matters—are handled by a store superintendent. The departments are grouped, along what might be regarded as natural divisions of kindred commodities, with a supervisor, assisted by a manager in charge of each group. Within the group are several supervisors as well as a manager for each department.

The departments are divided into sections. A section is a group of counters or a section of the floor and each is run by a section head. The clerks are the private soldiers, the infantry.

Unlike most department stores, Eaton’s gives a high measure of responsibility to department heads. Each department is, in effect, a separate store paying rent for its floor space, paying its share of the advertising, doing its own buying and handling its own personnel matters, all subject to the general policy of the company.

Ears to the Ground

Throughout its spreading mercantile body Eaton’s is hypersensitive to what the public wants. Every day reports from across Canada come to the desk of the merchandising directors. These figures are considered together with the stimuli flowing to GHQ from Eaton’s scores of contacts with the shoppers of Canada. Then Eaton’s decides what it is going to buy, what lines it is going to push. The study might indicate that what appeared to be a buying trend in one commodity has not materialized, and the emphasis of sales promotion would be shifted to another line.

A few years ago, acting on the advice of the fashion oracles of Paris, an advertising campaign was begun to try and foist a modified bustle on the women of Canada. After a short time sales figures and reports on customer reaction indicated that the bustle was going to stay in the same limbo as the mustache cup. Eaton’s dropped the national promotion of the style and started boosting something else.

No merchandising secrets are guarded more closely by Eaton’s than its buying plans. With consumers’ goods short to nonexistent around the world, rival buyers in a foreign capital watch each other like newspapermen afraid of being scooped.

To find goods, make a deal and get

them baled and on their way to the store is a scoop these days—a scoop that pays off not only in profits but in prestige.

Most department stores have a separate staff of buyers. They are specialists who do nothing else but buy. Uniquely, Eaton’s buying is done by the same people who do the selling.

While all Eaton buying is coordinated, orders are actually placed by the supervisors, managers and their assistants. The department manager, who is sometimes referred to as the buyer, usually makes the trips, but where feasible, as in the case of a traveller coming to town, section heads and clerks are called in to give their opinion and advice.

Since people who buy have to sell, their interest in a purchase tends to become more personal. If they exercise faulty judgment or customers’ tastes turn fickle, they know the slowmoving line is going to mock them from their own counters.

Speed is one of the essentials of buying. Getting there firstest with the mostest is an adage that applies to trade as it does to war. A few weeks can mean the difference between hitting a market at the top of a mode or getting caught on the down curve, which means goods left on the shelves.

Eaton’s gave a demonstration of this last spring when they flew models of the latest fashions of the Rue de la Paix from Paris to Montreal, and later across Canada. They were the first Canadian store to show postwar Paris styles.

All Over the World

On important overseas buying trips the company usually sends senior men from at least two of the main stores. They travel together. They will sometimes buy for the whole company. Often they will have a long shopping list provided by the buyer-sellers in the other stores.

Eaton’s buys 87% of its goods in Canada. Much of this comes from the company’s own factories; more from factories tooled to make Eaton’s branded lines.

Buying offices are maintained in New York, Leicester, Lopdon, Manchester, Belfast and Paris. Before the war there were offices in Berlin and Zurich.

Since the war ended, buyers from Eaton’s have been fanning out all over the world, the way they did before the shooting began. They have found the going tough.

One of the most ambitious postwar trips by Eaton buyers was made this summer by B. E. Mercer of the Toronto College Street rug department and S. K. McBirnie of the same department of the Montreal store.

They flew 20,000 miles on an expedition to Iraq, Persia, India and China, buying rugs for the stores across Canada. They made side trips by river boat and slow train and on their way scoured Europe for carpets.

The first Eaton buyer was Timothy Eaton himself. At the turn of the century he was making regular trips to Europe to buy for the fast-growing store in Toronto. Now the bazaars of Cairo and Delhi know Eaton buyers well. They are no strangers in the spiceladen air of the warehouses along Amsterdam’s canals. They are familiar visitors in Parisian salons and in the silk-hung offices of Shanghai merchants.

And even in the more remote places of the world people show no more surprise at the arrival of Eaton’s buyers than Stanley did when he saw Livingstone.

(A second article on Eaton’s will be published in the next issue.) ★