As mentioned in my previous blog, Richard Warren Sears was my hero, and he really was a marketing genius.
Here’s my #1 favorite story that showcases his brilliance:
Knowing that many households would have both his catalog and the Montgomery Ward catalog, Sears purposefully designed his catalog a little shorter and narrower than the Ward catalog. He knew that when the housewife was tidying up the home, the Sears catalog, being smaller, would be stacked on top of the Wards catalog.
The book Sears Roebuck and Company: 100th Anniversary relates that a Sunday School pupil was asked,”Where did the Ten Commandments come from?” The child innocently replied, “From the Sears, Roebuck catalog.”
Local merchants and owners of general stores were up in arms at the low prices Sears offered in his catalog and the bold promises that buyers could save money by eliminating the middle man. Of course, the middle man that Sears wanted to eliminate was the owner of the general store! In more than a few towns, children were promised a free movie ticket for every Sears catalog they brought into the local store. The catalogs were then piled high and ceremoniously burned in a massive bonfire.
In 1896, the annual sales for the mail order firm of Sears and Roebuck were $1.2 million and by 1914 they hit $101 million. At its peak in 1915, the general merchandise catalog contained 100,000 items in 1200 pages and weighed four pounds.
During World War I, the Sears Roebuck catalog was the book most requested by American soldiers recovering in overseas hospitals. Julius Rosenwald sailed to France in the midst of the Great War (WWI) with four huge wooden crates, each filled with Sears catalogs, for distribution to the American boys lying in a hospital. (The Good Old Days; A History of American Morals and Manners as Seen Through the Sears Roebuck Catalogs.)
According to Sears, Roebuck, USA: The Great American Catalog Store and How It Grew a Sears customer wrote and asked to return several bottles of patent medicine shed purchased from Sears, explaining that the medicine had originally been intended for her husband and he’d since passed on. The clerk who received the inquiry responded by asking the woman if shed like to see a copy of Sears Tombstone Catalog.
The famous Chicago radio station, WLS, actually began as a promotional tool for Sears. In fact, WLS stands for Worlds Largest Store. The station signed on in 1924 with farm reports and weather information. Sears sold the radio station in the fall of 1928.
In the 1930s, Sears sold live baby chicks through their mail order catalogs. The chicks cost ten cents each and safe, live delivery was promised.
In November 1952, Sears announced it would sell the Allstate – a small car with a 100-inch wheelbase, capable of 35 mpg. It was an incredibly “basic” ride, and the first models lacked trunk lids and glove compartments. The little car with a four or six cylinder engine cost $1395 – $1796. Two years later, Sears stopped selling the cars, having sold about 1500. The reason: Sears was ill-prepared to handle the problem of trade-ins.
To see several beautiful photos of this 1950s Dream Machine, click here.
To see a video of the Henry J (the Sears Allstate), click here.
To order your own Henry J, click here.
To read more about the mill in Cairo, click here.
To read the prior blog about Richard Sears, click here.
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