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Sears, Roebuck & Co…. The Facebook of 1924

When Sears, the Facebook of its era, launched its IPO it Sold Preferred Shares at $97.50. That’s more than $2,000 today.

Even people who don’t play the market thought about buying stock in Facebook’s initial public offering of shares. One hundred six years ago, Sears was its era’s version of a hot tech company. Like Facebook, Apple or Amazon, it wasn’t just a corporation–it  was a revolution. “the catalog was the internet of the day“, said James Schrager, a University of Chicago business professor. “Sears was Amazon“.  The young Chicago mail-order company selling its shares at more than $2,000 in todays dollars wasn’t for the common man. But the purchase of even one share would have been lucrative. Counting from 1924, when Sears entered the Dow Jones index, to 1996, and adjusting for stock splits, the Wall Street Journal calculated Sears shares soared 434,552 percent. The skyrocketing value was rivaled only by the young Midwesterner who founded it.

Sears retired in 1908 with a fortune estimated at $25 million. He died in 1914 more than a decade before the company he founded opened a single store.

Richard W. Sears was hailed in his Chicago Tribune obituary as a man “whose career typified the romance of Amercian business“. Mix the youthful risk-taking of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the marketing instincts of Apple’s Steve Jobs– that was Sears. It started in 1886, when Sears was a railroad station agent in backwoods Minnesota, wrote historians Boris Emmet and John Jeuck in “Catalogs and Counters: A History of  Sears, Roebuck & Company“.

A shipment of gold watches arrived for a local jeweler, who refused them. The rebuffed wholesaler told the 22-year-old Sears he could have the watches for $12 apiece. he said yes, pivoted, and offered them to agents along the line for $14. With that type of watch retailing for $25, there was room for the agents to profit, and Sears pocketed $2 for every one he sold.

Within six months he had made $5,000, and his watch business started to outstrip his railroad salary. “The tail had begun to wag the dog“, he said in a 1906 Tribune article. Sears moved to Chicago, set up at Dearborn and Randolph streets, and hired a watchmaker “thin to emaciation“, Alvah Roebuck. Their watch company grew rapidly into a general mail-order company that used high volumes to enable low prices.

It was a recipe perfect for the time, when millions of rural Americans were disgruntled with their general stores. A barrel of flour in 1899 was $3.47 wholesale, according to the company, but $7-plus at a country store. Sears, Roebuck used comforting ads to overcome farmers’ fears. “Don’t be afraid  that you will make a mistake“, read one catalog. “We receive hundreds of orders every day from young and old who never before sent away for goods“.  The company adopted a money-back guarantee and “send no money” became a famed tag line. Richard Sears delighted in writing his own ad copy and, typical of the time, often pushed the envelope. One offer advertised a sofa and chairs–“beautiful plush for 95 cents“. (By comparison, a John M. Smyth ad in a 1906 Tribune offered a single chair for $1.50.) Only when Sears furniture arrived did the customer discover it was for dolls. Later, Sears would tone down the ads and was said to have concluded, “Honesty is the best policy. I know because I’ve tried it both ways“.

By 1905, Sears’ sales had surged past $39 million, passing Montgomery Ward, the Chicago company that had invented the mass mail-order catalog. Sears needed more capital to grow. Julius Rosenwald, who had joined Sears as a partner, asked old banker friend Henry Goldman for a loan, according to Rosenwald’s grandson and biographer, Peter Ascoli. Goldman suggested an IPO instead, leading to Sears, Roebuck’s sale of its stock in 1906. It aimed to raise $40 million, which proved crucial for surviving the Panic of 1907. For Goldman, co-managing the Sears IPO is still touted as a landmark for his bank, Goldman Sachs.

Only the rich could afford to buy stock in 1906, but Americans’ disposable incomes was growing, and the company took full advantage. Its catalog the “consumers bible”, made available everything from sewing machines to Encyclopedia Britannica to ready-to-assemble houses. “The story is the coming of the middle class“, Schrager said, “and the desire of the middle class to have more things“.

Sears retired in 1908 with a fortune estimated at $25 million. He died in 1914 more than a decade before the company he founded opened a single store. Sears leapt into the retail store business in 1925, as rural customers moved to the cities. A December 1924 Tribune, in announcing Sears’ branching out into brick and mortar stores, made note that “several mail-order houses have considered” such a move, “but heretofore they have confined themselves to their own method of merchandising“. Sears promoted the new store at Homan Avenue and Arthington Street in the Homan Square/Lawndale area as “easy to shop for men” with a “whole square block of free parking“.

The first Sears store on State Street between Van Buren Street and Congress Parkway opened to great fanfare in March 1932. By  1950, Sears had 650 stores nationwide, including eight major department stores in Chicago and stores in Joliet, Waukegan and Gary, according to the Tribune.  By the mid-1950s, Sears would be international, with stores in Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Peru and Brazil.

Sears opened mall stores after World War II as customers headed for suburbia, teaming with Marshall Field to build the Oakbrook Shopping center, which opened in 1962. “Rosenwald and others had an uncanny ability to see which way things were going to go“, said Ascoli, who lives in Hyde Park, blocks from the University of Chicago’s Rosenwald Hall. By the 1970s, Sears was still the No. 1 retailer but Wal-Mart and others were on the horizon. Today Sears Holdings is No. 10 and its CEO acknowledged recently that “you change or you die”.

Sears still will probably have fared better than a company like Amazon when all is said and done, said Schrager, who likes to ask his students why Sears built the Sears Tower, which opened in 1973. “Because they could“. he said. “They were unbelievably successful. I don’t know if Amazon is ever going to build the tallest building in the world“.

Footnote to this nostalgic article which ran in the May 11, 2012 Chicago Tribune is that when Sears decided to consolidate all their employees in one location and moved them to a Chicago suburb, the Sears Tower was renamed the Willis Tower after their largest tenant. Another interesting factoid. Sears many years ago started their own radio station which quickly became one of Chicago’s major succesful radio stations with the call letters WLS, which stood for WORLDS LARGEST STORE.

Another true story on a start up company with very little capital chose Mail-Order, as a way to build their business and whose founders became MAIL ORDER MILLIONAIRES. Can it still be done today? One of the largest and most successful On-Line companies still sells only by Mail-Order. Any guesses as to their identity……AMAZON! And speaking of Amazon if you have the desire to start a business of your own, a business you can run from anywhere in the world and one that has little cash requirements, you can get started by ordering a copy of my book HOW TO BECOME A MAIL ORDER MILLIONAIRE from Amazon. Cost is only $39.95 plus s&h, or as a reader of my blog, save $10  and order direct from the publisher. Send check or money order for $29.95 plus $3.50 (total $33.45) to SUPERIOR PRESS 333 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1032, Chicago, Il 60601 Book is sold on a money-back guarantee of satisfaction.

Social Media Marketing Fails To Provide Measurable Value To Advertisers

How do I know that? JUST FOLLOW THE MONEY. Traditional media such as television, radio, magazines, newspapers, out of home, card decks and direct mail are by far the choice of most successful companies when it comes to where they allocate the largest portion of their advertising dollars. And now a new study reported by Steve McClellan in the Nov. 18, 2011 MARKETING DAILY article bolsters that truism. Steve’s report follows.

STUDY: SOCIAL MEDIA FALLING SHORT ON CUSTOMER LOYALTY; TRADITIONAL METHODS ENCOURAGED

“While much of the marketing community is focused on sealing better relationships between brands and consumers via social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), a new study from Pitney Bowes suggests that their efforts would be better spent in other areas.

New study found social media to be one of the least effective engagement techniques

In fact, the new study—based on a survey of 5,000 consumers in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany—found social media to be one of the least effective engagement techniques for encouraging customer loyalty for larger and small businesses alike.

The survey found just 18% of the respondents believed that interaction with a larger company or its brand on social media would encourage them to buy from that business again.

Social media approach was deemed even less effective for smaller businesses

The social media approach was deemed even less effective for smaller businesses, where just 15% of those responding said it would encourage their loyalty to a company.

These findings will give decision-makers pause for thought, the report stated. Businesses can be forgiven for getting swept away by the hype of surrounding social media and wanting to invest in such activity as soon as possible. But results show that those businesses tempted to lead with such techniques find themselves out of step with consumer thinking.

Conversely several other techniques are far more likely to resonate with consumers and encourage them to do repeat business with companies. They include:

  • a home-delivery option
  • having a say in products and services
  • control of channels and frequency of received communications
  • a choice of channels to contact a company

In each case, nearly half or more of the respondents said those tactics were preferred and effective for small and large businesses alike.

All of these practices are aimed at increasing brand loyalty and retaining customers, the Pitney Bowes survey summary states. However, sophisticated social media and Web interaction can be time-consuming and expensive and outcomes are difficult to measure. Businesses are quickly having to learn the ‘customer dance’ when to lead and when to follow—if relationships are to be nurtured.”

Starting your own business has never been easier or more necessary with the economy continuing to spin out of control and men and women continuing to be laid off in large numbers and not being able to find jobs that pay a living wage.

Take advantage of my current offer to receive a copy of HOW TO BECOME A MAIL ORDER MILLIONAIRE for only $33.45 and that includes postage and handling. The book is always sold with a guarantee of satisfaction or your money back.

Send a check or money order in the amount of $33.45 payable to SUPERIOR PRESS along with your name and address to: Superior Press 333 N. Michigan Ave STE 1032 Chicago IL 60601 and I will promptly ship the book.

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests

That’s the headline to Matt Taibbi’s article in the current issue of ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE. Last week’s post was from a conservative columnist who writes for FORTUNE MAGAZINE. It’s only fair for a progressive view–and there’s few as good as Matt Taibbi. He alone is well worth subscribing to one of my favorite magazines ROLLING STONE. Herein are excerpts:

“I have a confession to make. At first I misunderstood Occupy Wall Street. The first few time I went down to Zuccotti Park, I came away with mixed feelings. I loved the energy and was amazed by the obvious organic appeal of the movement, the way it was growing on its own. But my initial impression was that it would not be taken very seriously by the Citibanks and Goldman Sachs of the world. You could put 50,000 angry protestors on Wall Street, 100,000 even, and Lloyd Blankfein is probably not going to break a sweat. He knows he’s not going to wake up tomorrow and see Cornel West or Richard Trumka running the Federal Reserve. He knows modern finance is a giant mechanical parasite that only an expert surgeon can remove. Yell and scream all you want but he and his fellow Franksteins are the only ones who know how to turn the machine off.

That’s what I was thinking during the first few weeks of the protests. But I’m beginning to see another angle. Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It’s about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street but EVERYTHING. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it‘s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

The right-wing media wasted no time in cannon-blasting the movement with its usual idiotic clichés, casting Occupy Wall Street as a bunch of dirty hippies who should get a job and stop chewing up Mike Bloomberg’s police overtime budget with their urban sleepovers. Just like they did a half-century ago, when the debate over the Vietnam War somehow stopped being about why we were brutally murdering millions of innocent Indochinese civilians and instead became a referendum on bralessness and long hair and flower-child rhetoric, the depraved flacks of the right-wing media have breezily blown off a generation of fraud and corruption and market-perverting bailouts, making the whole debate about the protestors themselves—their hygiene, their ‘envy’ of the rich, their ‘hypocrisy’.

The protestors, chirped Supreme Reichskank Ann Coulter, ‘needed three thing: showers, jobs and a point’. Her colleague Charles Krauthammer went so far as to label the protestors hypocrites for having iPhones. ‘OWS’, he said is Starbucks-sipping, Levi’s- clad, iPhone clutching protestors (denouncing) corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs, corporate titan, billionaire eight times over’. Apparently because Goldman and Citibank are corporations, no protestors can ever consume a corporate product—not jeans, not cellphones and definitely not coffee’—if he also wants to complain about tax money going to pay off some billionaire banker’s bets against his own crappy mortgages.

Meanwhile on the other side of the political spectrum, there were scads of progressive pundits like me who wrung our hands with worry that OWS was playing right into the hands of assholes like Krauthammer. DON’T GIVE THEM ANY AMMUNITION! we counseled. STAY ON MESSAGE! BE SPECIFIC!. We were all playing the Rorschach-test game with OWS trying to squint at it and see what we wanted to see in the movement. Viewed through the prism of our desire to make near-term, within the system changes, it was hard to see how skirmishing with cops in New York would help foreclosed-upon middle-class families in Jacksonville and San Diego.

What both sides missed is that OWS is tired of all this. They don’t care what we think they’re about, or should be about. They just want something different.

We’re all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. People want to go someplace for at least five minutes where no one is trying to bleed you or sell you something.

I think I understand now that that’s what the Occupy movement is all about. It’s about dropping out if only for a moment, and trying something new. It doesn’t need to tell the world what it wants. It is successful for now, just by being something different.”

These are only excerpts from Matt’s excellent article in the November 22nd issue of ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE. To read it in its entirety, pickup a copy or better yet become a subscriber. I’ve been hooked on their political reporting for 25 years and with age, year after year, it only gets better.

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