Is There Big Money in Coal Hawking ?
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Further Trenchant Observations on an Informative Article Which Appeared in Our Issue Dated January 15
TN his article in your issue dated January 15, 'entitled " Big Money to be made in Coal Hawking," " B.J.T." sets out to show how, in the winter months, hauliers who live near big towns—but whose services are apparently not required in their own trade—can " build up profitable spare-time business in selling coal from door to door," or, in plainer language, by taking the trade which the regular merchant is much better equipped to handle, and to serve which he has maintained an elaborate equipment all through the slack season.
It is admittedly and unfortunately true that, in the as yet imperfectly regulated state of the retail coal trade, anyone who can scrape together enough money to pay a deposit on a second-hand lorry—even without the scales—can enter the coal trade and call himself a coal merchant. But if he feels tempted by " l3.J.T.'s " article to do so, he would be well advised to clear his mind of some of the illusions under which " B. j.T." himself appears to be labouring.
In the first place, " B.J.T." states that "coal merchants as a whole adopt the attitude that the world is wide and any man who thinks he can make a living at the trade is entitled to try his hand." Coal merchants as a whole think the very reverse. They think it a senseless proceeding that any man should be allowed to enter a trade which is already hopelessly overcrowded, unless there is a real need for his services, unless he has some knowledge of and respect for, the qualities of the coals he sells, as well as the Weights and Measures bylaws and the road transport Regulations with regard to wages and drivers' hours, unless he is also equipped for and prepared to offer the public a regular and efficient service.
Casual Newcomers Not Welcomed.
The coal merchant takes the strongest exception to casual newcomers whose incursion into the trade too often means the foisting of ill or unweighed sacks of coal upon unsuspecting small purchasers, the sale of low-grade industrial fuels as " best house," and a general discredit to the trade, in which the proper merchant is also involved by an undiscriminating public.
It may well be that in some cases the casual trader makes profits of 8d. per cwt.—although " B.J.T." does not make it clear whether these are only gross profits butif he does so it is only because he stays in the trade for a very short period, has no overhead charges in the way of depots, sidings, offices, wagons, etc., which the regular merchant must maintain all the year round if he is to be in a position to supply the public with whatever class of coal they want when they want it, no expenses for advertising, insurance, bad debts, loss on small coal, short-weight, etc., and no capital outlay except the deposit on his lorry or sacks or scales, He makes no pretence of providing any technical service to his customers or of carrying stocks of different grades of coal which the established merchant must maintain. When the cold snap comes in spring or autumn, or the summer for that matter, he is away selling vegetables or carrying furniture, and the housewife turns with relief to the regular merchant—who is expected to be ready with supplies at any moment,
A word of warning about price-cutting is uttered by " B.J.T."—" the only thing against which the newcomer must guard "—(he might also have mentioned the Weights and Measures inspectors, but there are so few of them that perhaps they do not. matter to the nomadic trader). Price-cutting is, however, one of -the chief weapons of the casual trader in his raids on the market, as any coal merchant or dealer will testify, and as is shown by the bad debts left behind by those who, for all their advantages, over-reach themselves. The operations of such " pirates " are unfortunately not confined to their own areas. Frequently, they range long disstances with their coals—picked up often as a " backload " to cover the cost of petrol—and sell them in districts which are already amply supplied with coal merchants and at " knock-down " prices which play havoc with local markets. One cannot dispute the economy of motor road transport for short distances, but for long distances across country the railways are the natural carriers of coal. They are best equipped to handle it and the merchants with depots and the regular dealers are best equipped to distribute it.
Registration Scheme a Remedy ?
I am not suggesting that " B.J.T." is advocating dis honest trading, or the practices referred to above, but the casual haulier by day and coal hawker by night should be fully aware of the attitude of the trade towards him. Indeed, with the growing tendency to the planned • organization of trade and industry it may reasonably be doubted whether the state of affairs which I have outlined can continue indefinitely. The existence of the casual trader and the ease with which he has been able to obtain supplies has for years been one of the chiet obstacles in the way of raising the status of the retail merchant and the standard of service he renders to the public. As a remedy—or rather the beginning of a remedy—the Coal Merchants' Federation, on behalf ot the retail trade, has been pressing for some time for a Registration Scheme which would prevent the indiscriminate entry into the trade of casual and unnecessary traders who have no real knowledge of the coals they handle and are not in a position to render the public a regular service. It is hoped that the organized sale ot coal which has been undertaken by the collieries will bring a better organization of the retail trade.
Secondly, " B. J.T." dismisses the new Colliery Selling
Schemes as relating "mainly to those who supply companies with large tonnages of industrial fuels." That may be their chief effect at the moment, but he overlooks that the schemes give the collieries extensive powers over all distributors purchasing from them—including the fixing of minimum reselling prices and the areas within which the coal may be resold. Further, many of the schemes empower the collieries to compile registers of distributors to whom alone they may supply coal for resale, to fix general conditions of resale which distributors must undertake to observe before being included in the register, to -inspect the distributor's 'iooks to see
that such conditions are observed and to delete him from the list if they are not. These powers have not been extensively applied as yet to the retail selling of coal, but they are there, and it would be folly to ignore them. Indeed, it is difficult to see how the selling schemes can be made fully effective in the interests of the collieries themselves without the better organization of the distributive trade as well—a task in which the trade is willing and anxious to co-operate.
Thirdly, it appears that you, sir, have added to " B.J.T.'s " article a very pertinent note pointing out that his article is " concerned entirely with the ' practical' aspects of entering the coal business and does not refer to the licensing angle," and you refer to the recent decision of the Appeal Tribunal in the case of the Southern Railway v. Lambert. A. study of this decision reveals that the Appeal Tribunal there upheld the contention that " a person who starts a business such as . coal merchant should not be granted a B licence to subsidize his business while he is huilding it tap," and that a Licensing Authority must ascertain that "an applicant for a B licence who bases his case either in whole or in part on allegations that he cannot use his vehicles economically unless he is authorized to carry goods for hire or reward has, in fact, a genuine business which is able to maintain itself similarlyto other sound businesses of its class. Otherwise a person might open a coal merchant's business with no real intention of carrying it on, but merely to use it as a back-door by which he would enter the haulage industry."
The above principle is an obstacle to be reckoned with by those wishing to take out a B licence for the first time or to transfer a vehicle from a C to a B licence. These may, as you suggest, be "licensing" questions only, but they would also appear to be sufficiently " practical " to be worthy of serious consideration by those who think of entering the coal trade merely as a profitable side line.
JamEs W. STEWART , Secretary,
The Coal Merchants' Federation of Great Britain. London, S.W.1.
"COAL TRADE CUT TO RIBBONS."
I would like to make some comment on the article on coal hawking which appeared in your issue of January 15, this being handed to me by a friend to allow me to read the article. Before writing anything more I may say that I have had 21 years in the coal trade, and have been a member of the Manchester Coal Exchange for 20 years, So I am not going to talk through my hat. Now for a few holes in " B.J.T.'s" little scheme.
First let me say that as he does not stipulate the London area, I am assuming that this promise of easy moaey holds in or near any large town, and if that is so, heaven help the' newcomer, for if he thinks the haulage trade is cut, he will think the coal trade cut to ribbons. He will be lucky if he gets any coal to sell unless he can become a member of the local Merchants' Association, and when he does get it and starts to hawk 60 bags every day in the week, he will soon find how easy it is, without " B.J.T." telling him. He will probably have 40 bags left most days, and he will be fortunate if his profit be 4id. to 6d. per cwt., not 8d. The first time we sent a lorry to hawk on a new estate it was away five hours with 60 bags and sold three.
He will also find that buying one kind of coal or cobbles will be worse than useless, and he will have to buy not one, but five kinds at least, as Mrs. Jones wants small nuts, next door large nuts, next large coal, and a44 so on. Prices also come under this item and iill have to range from, say, is. 8d. per bag as the cheapest, to at least 2s. 4d_ for selected, before he will be able to please everyone. He will find that from Tuesday to Friday 50 per cent, of the people have no mcney and will want credit until Saturday, and he will, n many cases, be lucky if he gets it then, even after eiiploying a man specially to collect it, after calling any4liing up to three or four times and finding the person okit shopping, or "dodging," as the case may be. He will find that most afternoons on a new estate nearly veryone is out and he would probably get more custoniers in a cemetery at that time of day.
So much for now ; let " B. J.T." find out the rest for himself, and any poor fool who swallows his advice. He will find coal selling a whole-time job, and a poor one at that, quite as bad as haulage, if not worse. If a newcomer has £3,000 to invest I can give him the names and addresses of good coal firms who twill sell him the lorries and customers thrown in for tha .
Manchester. J. BROCKLE ANK.
MORE INFORMATION REQUIRED.
I have been reading with great interest the critical comments on coal hawking. I am not a coa dealer, but would like to voice my opinion as an ou 'der.
I take it that we buy The Commercial Moor each week to obtain valuable information on all topi4s in the road transport industry, so why not to enlig ten the coal dealers who, perhaps, have not the guts (as I see mentioned) after 30 years of struggle to make which I think speaks for itself.
It would perhaps be better it " B.J.T." put m on the table and told them how it is done, i beating about the bush. After all, the article was for the readers' benefit, so why not an article on where to obtain the coal and how to buy to enable then to sell at this great profit.
I notice that all the comment comes from the north of the country ; perhaps selling coal in the south is a much better job than in the north. Is there more profit to be had and less competition in the south which would account for all the comment?
I asked a dealer last week how he found selling coal ; his reply was: "Selling coal is all right, it is no trouble,
but getting your money is quite another job. ou can deliver all your orders in two days and devote the rest of the week to trying to get your money in." erhaps that accounts for so many people having no re at coal man. There is such a thing as the regular cial man not wanting them. Cash on delivery is hard o find. Cheshire and Lancashire are flooded with c t-price dealers, but we are so near the pits.
Perhaps it boils down to this: Don't. take coal to sell living; e cards tead of A PROTEST FROM SOUTH WALES.
I am instructed to write you on behalf of this Federation registering a strong protest against th article published in your issue of January 15, heade "Big Money to be Earned in Coal Hawking."
So far as South Wales is concerned, the info mation is incorrect, and as such can only mislead lorry owners into a course of action that would result in financial loss and bitter disappointment.
A. H. HonoEs, Secretary, South Wales and Monmouthshire Cardiff. Coal Merchants' Fede tion.