Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CLIENTÈLE AND CUSTOM. The word clientèle is used to designate a number of persons having confidential relations with a counselor, an attorney, a notary, or a physician. A clientèle may be considered capital. It grows gradually by industry, and once obtained, it yields, to speak in the language of political economy, a certain product.


—The counselor, for instance, endeavors to extend his acquaintance by writing good works on law. He pleads in the courts, and strives to convince those who may need his services, of his merits. As soon as he is retained in a case he devotes to it all his attention, studies it with care, and if he displays talent in pleading it, he secures a client, that is, a person who has confidence in him and will always return to him in case of need. One client brings another, the lawyer's name becomes known, his fame spreads, a greater number of people intrust their business to him, and thus his clientèle is formed. From that time he possesses an amount of capital, so to speak, which he can use and which repays him for all his past trouble, with interest. It is true that he can not convey it to another, for he alone can use the labor he has, as we may say, saved. But he can turn it to account, and this fact proves its value. The young lawyer whom another and older one has trained to the bar, and to whom he intrusts the simple cases which he has no time to attend to himself, who will perhaps succeed his teacher in public favor, and is perhaps as diligent and painstaking, has, let us suppose, the same talent and eloquence. What he has less than his teacher is a clientèle.


—In like manner, and by hard work, a physician or a surgeon makes a name for himself. He serves in the hospitals, and devotes himself to the care of the sick during epidemics. He gradually inspires confidence and obtains a clientèle. What has he more than another who has just commenced his career, and has the same learning and skill? A clientèle.


—A clientèle in any form, whether transferable or not, is the result of an accumulation of services rendered, of labor past. It is capital. Like all other capital, but in a greater degree, this kind of capital tends to extinction by inaction. To maintain it in its full value, it is necessary to devote to it a large share of the care which was taken to form it. Otherwise, clients depart one after another; confidence is lost; the name of the lawyer or physician relapses into obscurity, and the clientèle is gone.


Custom is, in commercial and industrial pursuits, what clientèle is to the liberal professions. The custom of a store or shop is the aggregate of those who patronize it. In such custom there is a value which the manufacturer, for instance, has created by unremitting work, and by a long course of honesty. The public has confidence in him, and goes to him. If a merchant sells out his business he will be paid not only for the value of the material, the stock and the fixtures, but for something more, for his custom. The value of this custom is sometimes considerable, though very uncertain. The patronage of a business always depends upon real merit. It arises from favorable location, good faith and low prices. Although more easily preserved than acquired, it must always be deserved.


—To resume: Clientèle and custom are capital, since those who possess them derive from them a revenue which other persons of equal talent can not obtain without a clientèle or custom. Besides, in many cases, the value of this capital may be so exactly determined that it may be purchased for a definite sum.


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