RICHARD WARREN SEARS Biography - Bussiness people and enterpreneurs


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Richard Warren Sears (1863-1913) is considered to be one of the great American           
promotional geniuses, although it is generally agreed that he was not a good             
businessman or manager. In addition, his character and sales motivations were             
not without question. Some considered him to be a somewhat unscrupulous huckster,         
using mail order as a sort of medicine sideshow replacement vehicle, selling             
less than quality items to poor, unsuspecting rural folks. Others marveled at             
his intuition and ability to write advertising copy that would speak to farmers           
in their own language, offering them inventions that would lighten their load             
and make their lives more efficient -- and at a price they could afford. Sears           
was a complex person, and his marketing savvy offered Americans the convenience           
of modern, time-saving inventions that made way for the development of twentieth         
century leisure culture. Richard Warren Sears, the innovative, brash genius, has         
had a lasting impact on American history. As such, he got his start in                   
merchandising in an unconventional manner, befitting his unique personality.             
Young Sears Gets His Start                                                               
While working as a station agent for the Minnesota and St. Louis Railroad in             
North Redwood (see above right photo), Sears became the beneficiary of a                 
fortuitous event which would change his life forever and forge a new path for             
the American economy. In 1886, a consignment of gold-filled pocket watches from           
a Chicago manufacturer was refused by a Minnesota retailer. This was becoming a           
common practice. Wholesalers would ship their products to retailers that had not         
ordered the items. Upon refusal, the wholesaler would offer the already price-hiked       
items to the retailer at a lower consignment cost in the guise of alleviating             
the cost to ship the items back. The unsuspecting retailer would then agree to           
take this new found bargain off of the wholesaler's hands, mark up the items and         
sell them to the public, making a small profit in the transaction. But in 1886,           
the savvy retailer flatly refused the watches. Young Sears jumped at the                 
opportunity. He made an agreement with the wholesaler to keep any profit he               
reaped above $12, and then he set about offering his wares to other station               
agents along the railroad line for $14. The watches were considered an item of           
urban sophistication, and the station agents had no trouble selling them to               
customers passing by who generally lived far from any urban center.                       
Within six months, Sears had netted $5,000 and felt so successful and confident           
in this venture that he moved to Minneapolis and started the R. W. Sears Watch           
Company. Eager and enthusiastic, he began trying his hand at writing letters to           
prospective buyers of his watches, but knew that he would need to expand his             
market to make any real profit. His promotional efforts soon developed into               
placing advertisements in farm publications and mailing out flyers to potential           
clients. From the beginning, it was clear that Sears had a talent for writing             
promotional copy that would entice even the most skeptical person to try                 
whatever Sears had to sell. He took the personal approach in his ads, speaking           
directly to rural and small-town communities. He also knew that he needed to             
find a way to counteract the beliefs held by many rural folk that mechandisers,           
and city slickers in particular, were unscrupulous and untrustworthy. The famous         
Sears guarantee and his C.O.D. (cash on delivery) offer enabled him to gain the           
trust and business of farmers who were his most important and largest market             
segment in the 1890s.                                                                     
Sears Hires Roebuck                                                                       
In 1887, Sears hired watch repairman Alvah Curtis Roebuck to handle many of the           
returns that needed repaired. Roebuck was not only Sears's first employee, but           
he later became co-founder of Sears, Roebuck & Company. Roebuck's contribution           
to the corporation was short-lived, however, and due to personal considerations           
he sold his share of the company to Sears in 1895 for $25,000. Sears himself             
clashed with new business partner, Julius Rosenwald, and quit the business in             
1908. He later sold his portion of Sears stock in 1913 and died that same year.           
To this day, Sears's advertising and promotional skills remain legendary, and             
today's most sophisticated marketer's continue to employ the tried and true               
concepts that Sears made famous.