Ann Sawyer: Personal Service Girl: 1920

salesgirl and customer

It Goes Down on the Books as Profit, But It Really Is Capital

Yet Where’s There a Statistician or C. P. A. Who Could Mathematically Dissect and Apportion Such a Personality as Ann Sawyer’s?

She’s a “Personal Service Girl,” of Course

Up on a balcony over the main floor of the department store of Wm. Taylor Son & Co. in Cleveland sits a young woman…This young woman’s nom de commerce is Ann Sawyer. She has jet-black hair, indescribably-blue eyes that crinkle all up at the corners when she smiles—but this is a business story. Of Ann Sawyer more later. She has been introduced.

Taylor Was a Pioneer.

When the late William Taylor, with his partner, established his business fifty years ago on a street facing the Cleveland Public Square, his was the first mercantile enterprise of any kind of Euclid Avenue. Also it was the first one-price store in the Middle West.

Mr. Taylor knew his customers and many of them knew him. Cleveland was then only a “good-sized town.” But the store grew, as successful stores have a way of doing, moved to a location farther out Euclid Avenue where it would have more room to expand, and kept right on growing. To-day it would take an army of a reception committee bigger than the store’s corps of 1,600 employees to greet the customers at the door.

True, there has always been maintained the personal touch with a limited-and somewhat exclusive—clientele of customers who, for one reason or another, have come into closer contact with the store than have the general run. They are the ones that have asked for special service, or special attention of one sort or another. For these special customers the store has always had to provide facilities that, intermittently as the demand required, could be turned to these special applications.

To Restore Personal Basis

The fiftieth anniversary of the store was approaching. Preparations were in progress for the golden jubilee. Automatically, the collective mind of the management turned to retrospect—to the days when William Taylor used to meet his customers at the front door. It was a woman that voiced the question, “Why cannot the store be placed back on a personal basis?”

“It can,” the collective management grandly opined. But how? The store director, C. H. de Acres and the advertising manager, Amos Parrish, conferred on ways and means. Out of that conference there came… the Taylor Personal Service Bureau. The possibilities of the service of such a bureau were roughly outlined. The one thing that was not outlined was the scope of that service. Its limits were left to the imagination—and to eventualities—to define. And now who was to head such a bureau? De Acres and Parrish spoke one name in unison.

Who and What Ann Is

She was the girl that, so far as her mercantile activities are concerned, has been rechristened Ann Sawyer. She had been in the Taylor store for several years. She had sold goods over the counter. She had worked in the offices, where she had seen things from the management’s point of view, and she had had experience in the adjustment department, where she had come into contact with mass personality in the raw—sometimes exceedingly raw. She was blessed with imagination, initiative, tact and personal charm. And she was and is—as has been hinted at—strikingly good-looking.

The name Ann Sawyer was taken out of the telephone directory; that is, its two component parts were so derived. “We wanted a real, honest-to-goodness girl’s name,” Parrish explained. “And so we picked ‘Ann.’ You notice it has no final ‘e.’ And the last name, ‘Sawyer’—it was just made to fit “Ann.’ Our Ann couldn’t possibly have had any other last name.”

She Begins to Be Busy

Ann Sawyer was placed in charge of the Personal Service Bureau. She was given a corner and a desk and a telephone all to herself, and told to go to it. An announcement embossed on expensively simple stationery, went out to the “hundred-thousand-dollar” list of customers. Another announcement, of the same purport but worded differently, went into the Taylor space in the one morning and two afternoon papers in Cleveland. Ann Sawyer settled down to just about the busiest and most interesting job a business woman could want.

This was just before the holidays of 1919. Before the Christmas rush was over the Ann Sawyer bureau had “sold” itself most solidly and most unanimously to the management. The bureau was enlarged until it consisted of seven young women—seven Ann Sawyers including the original. And its work branched out as to variety until it touched virtually every phase that service to the public can include. For instance—

A substantial-looking he-citizen, resembling the gray-mustached banker in the movies, presented himself at Miss Sawyer’s desk one day shortly before Christmas.

One of Her Jobs

“I’m in a pickle,” he announced. “I’ve got to buy Christmas presents for four people. I don’t even know what to get. The presents are to be for my niece over in Pennsylvania, who is eighteen; a maiden aunt who’s about seventy-five and likes lace things; one of the men at the office who bought me a Christmas present last year and the postman on our route. Here’s seventy-five dollars. I wonder if you can, and will, get these things for me, and I’ll drop in for them this afternoon.” Ann Sawyer could and did. “I’m sending my little girl for a pair of pumps for her,” read a note from a mother. “Will you see that she is properly fitted with pumps that look good enough to suit her, and yet are sensible enough not to injure her feet?” Ann Sawyer would and did. Taylor’s happened not to have in stock exactly that compromise between good looks and good sense that she knew to be requisite; and so she took the little girl over to another department store and bought the pumps there.

To the Last Detail

A woman in Warren, Ohio, wrote to Ann Sawyer for a wedding veil, and a suitable wreath, in a hurry. Taylor’s had the veil, but no floral department. The order for the wreath, with definite specifications, was placed with a Euclid Avenue florist. Late in the afternoon of the day the ensemble was to be mailed to the Warren customer, the wreath was delivered to the Taylor store, packed and ready for shipment.

Was it shipped? Well, not until Ann Sawyer had opened the package to inspect the creation for herself. And her erudite vision showed her it was all wrong. There at her desk, working long after the store had closed, Ann Sawyer re-made that wreath with her own hands and to her own enlightened satisfaction. Then she shipped the veil and wreath.

“I’m writing a fiction story that’s to be located partly in Paris,” said a man’s voice over the telephone one day. “I wonder if you can tell me what the well-dressed men in Paris are wearing to afternoon functions this spring?”

A Competitor’s Curiosity

Ann Sawyer could and did. Later it turned out that the questioner wasn’t writing a fiction story at all, although he had told one over the ‘phone…This particular man, in fact, was an executive of a competing department store and he sought to have a little fun with Ann. But he got the correct information, and that spoiled his fun.

These are but typical cases. A detailed description of Ann Sawyer’s work would burden a five-foot book shelf. The bureau, it almost goes without saying, has been made a permanent institution. There are comprehensive plans for its extension and enlargement.

Her Own Column Every Day

Personally, Ann Sawyer deals with and talks to hundreds of persons in her bureau. Through the Cleveland newspapers she talks every day to hundreds of thousands. In the Taylor advertisement every day in each of the papers she has a column of her own. That column has come to be one of the features of the dailies…Although the column seems to have neither policy nor plan, it really has both. There are certain characteristics that it must have and certain specifications that it is expected to meet.

What the Column Must Have

The column must have life. It must have a cheerful, sprightly style, without ever being “smart-Alecky.” It must have humor, and, what is even more unorthodox—for some department store copy, at least—occasionally it may “kid” the merchandise. It must, of course, be religiously accurate in every one of its statements; and, more than that, it must be informative with advance tips on styles and modes and materials, and in this respect it must “scoop” the weekly and monthly style publications that women read. It must have something of service, for that is the beginning and the end and the middle of its mission. , And, finally, and all the time, it must be human, everlastingly human—as human and as comfortable as an old shoe…

“Even if we had no personal service bureau behind Ann Sawyer, the column would be worth what the space costs us. It makes the page ad, or half-page ad look more attractive, easier to read. Because it runs every day, it has established itself as an institution. We know that readers turn to it with anticipation. Furthermore, we know that the column has real, downright pulling power in itself. For instance, there was the matter of the elephants.

“We’d bought some little watch-charm elephants that were to retail at 75 cents. Ann Sawyer commandeered those elephants and announced them with a little eight-line ‘squib” in her column. On that day, before 10 o’clock, we had two long-distance ‘phone calls from people more than 75 miles from Cleveland, wanting two of those little G. O. P. elephants. The whole lot didn’t last three days. We’ve had similar experiences with staple merchandise.”

Assembling Its Personality

“What we are trying to do is to realize on mass personality. To do this, we must first have a personality of our own…We must show the public that, big as this store is, it’s still human.

“We can’t make over our organization in a day; nor can we make over in a day the public’s conception of a department store. And so we have made our start with the Personal Service Bureau. We maintain that bureau because we want people to come to know that here their wants and wishes and whims are looked after by real, human persons–not by a department. We call Ann Sawyer’s corner up there on the balcony a bureau, but that’s only because we had to have some sort of name for it. We don’t want it ever to become that inhuman, mechanical thing that generally is a bureau.

“At first we had one woman in the Personal Service Bureau, one personality, one Ann Sawyer. Now we have seven persons there, but we still have one personality—Ann Sawyer’s…

What has Ann Sawyer done in the way of sales—in actual figures on the departmental recap? I had expected that question and I had sought to fortify myself by putting it to Mr. Parrish. “Well,” said he, “she’s costing us about $100 a day and she’s not there, exactly, for her health. We don’t object, seriously, to her making a few sales. Her bureau has had to sell itself to a mighty discerning management…made up of business men who aren’t in business for sentiment.

“We definitely know of a number of large orders that have been obtained and sold because we had the bureau. And, I suppose, if we’d do a lot of digging around we’d find another considerable amount of business that should be credited to Ann Sawyer. But, is that the point? When we’re trying to put over this bigger idea of a store personality, is it quite fair to count the profits and losses on the instrument we are using?”

A Personality Hard to Parse.

Can you value personality, either in the mass or in one individual? Can you measure it, or weigh it, analyse or assay it—and reduce it to symbols on your balance sheet? Can you, just as a starter, appraise the personality of one human being?”

If you think you can, I have an excellent subject for your talent. You will find her in the southeast corner of the balcony over the main floor of the store of Wm. Taylor Son & Company, 630 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio.

Her name is Ann Sawyer.

Dry Goods Economist, 24 July 1920

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wonders if this is a notice of the earliest “personal shopper,” although a “professional widow,” who suggested personalised mourning articles is mentioned in the newspapers of 1912. [See The Victorian Book of the Dead for details of this intriguing profession.]  In an advertisement in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of 1935, Miss Sawyer cheerfully offers to do your shopping, “with you or for you.” On 24 December, 1920 she suggests letting her finish your holiday shopping.  In 1923, Miss Sawyer describes a party given to celebrate the store’s 53rd anniversary. “We gave a party for the Taylor Golden Jubilee Babies who were three years old the same day.” Also in 1920 she touts toy automobiles, swagger sticks for children, and the colour “toast.”  It is all very light-hearted and ephemeral. One can see the appeal. Miss Sawyer also narrated fashion shows and spoke to women’s groups and teen organisations, suggesting “what to wear and when to wear it.” She really must have been worth her weight in rubies. Mrs Daffodil had hoped to find a photo-gravure of the lady, but since there were several versions, one expects that photography of the helpful Miss Sawyer was discouraged.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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