When in the winter season I see skates prominently exposed for sale in our shop windows I am reminded of another of the odd or rather side industries of Birmingham. I refer to the steel toy trade. The word toy seems appropriate enough when applied to skates and quoits, but seems a curious word to designate such articles of distinct utility as hammers, pincers, turnscrews, pliers, saws, and chisels, yet these articles and many others of a similar kind are included in the words “steel toys.” This steel toy trade, if not a great industry in Birmingham, is an old-established one, and has been carried on for years by good well-known local names, such as Richard Timmins and Sons, Messrs. Wynn and Co., and others.
NEW AND OLD STYLE TRADING.
In an earlier part of these chapters I referred to the new style of shopkeeping that has developed in Birmingham with the growing size and importance of the town and city. I now return to the subject again for the purpose of showing that although Birmingham seems to be much to the fore in the matter of up-to-time shopkeeping, there are still a limited number of traders and shopkeepers who keep pretty much to the old lines, and evidently desire to carry on their businesses in the way that their fathers did before them.
And in touching this question it is worth while considering for a moment how differently two men or two firms in the same trade will carry on their businesses, and yet both succeed. To put it more plainly, one firm will bombard the public with “fetching” advertisements, and get business, so to speak, at the bayonet’s point. Another firm in the same line of trade lays siege to its customers in a quiet, systematic way, does its best to prevent any sorties in the direction of rival camps, and is content to keep its connection well guarded and do business in a quiet, undemonstrative way.
Of course the man who goes in for publicity—wide publicity—and assaults the public with “loud” advertisements in all directions, drives the roaring trade, or the trade that roars loudest. He gets larger returns, and if his business is well managed he should secure larger profits. Beside these trade Dives’s the humble, quiet, unostentatious Lazarus seems quite out in the cold. Not so, however. The latter picks up some good crumbs, if not some pretty substantial crusts, which he puts into his wallet with a gentle, unostentatious satisfaction which quite contents him.
I could give chapter and verse for what I am now saying, and without hesitation or difficulty could name two firms in Birmingham that are carrying on the same trade, making the same everyday articles of consumption; yet, while the name of one firm is in everybody’s mouth and is known to the ends of the earth, the name of the other is hardly ever seen save upon the productions they turn out. Yet I know for a fact that this latter firm make some nice solid profits out of their quiet business, though nothing perhaps at all comparable with their more enterprising rival. It is a case of thousands in one case and tens of thousands probably in the other. But enterprise should, of course, bring its own reward.