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Richard W. Sears

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Richard W. Sears

"American merchant Richard W. Sears (1863 - 1914) possessed one of his era's shrewdest business minds. As the founder of the Sears, Roebuck & Company mail-order powerhouse, Sears revolutionized retailing in a rapidly expanding, increasingly prosperous nation."(encyclopedia.com)

Richard Sears is considered to be one the greatest marketing geniuses in American history, people often envied him for his intuition and ability to market to farmers in their own language, offering them access to inventions that would make their lives easier and more efficient at a price they could afford. Others considered him a huckster who used a lack of morals to sell less then quality products to poor, unsuspecting country folks by utilizing his mail-order enterprise as a sort of a snake oil medicine sideshow.

Richard Warren Sears was born on December 7, 1863, in Stewartville, Minnesota. He was the son of James Warren and Eliza A. Sears, both of English decent. His father was a blacksmith and wagon maker but led anything but a happy life. He had failed in his quest for gold during the California Gold Rush of 1849 and was a bitter soldier in the Civil War, which he blamed on politicians. Although Sears' father had gained financial success he had lost all of his money, roughly $50,000 in a failed stock-farm venture. Richard's father gave up soon afterwards, and passed away leaving Richard to be the family breadwinner at the age of 16. Feeling obligated to support his mother and sister's Sears' quit school and went to work as telegraph operator for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway eventually becoming a station agent at North Redwood Minnesota. In 1886 a Redwood Falls' jeweler declined a shipment of gold-filled pocket watches made by a Chicago manufacture that had arrived at the station. Instead of returning the shipment to its sender, the 22 year old Sears' telegraphed the manufacture and offered to sell the watches himself. He persuaded the wholesaler to let him keep any profit he made that was over $12, and then went forth selling the watches at $14 to other station agents and customers along the railroad line. The watches were considered to be of urban sophistication and due to the recent introduction of time zones the other railroad agents had no problem selling them to people passing through who mostly lived in rural areas. Over a six month period Sears' earned himself $5000.00 dollars in profits, a small fortune at the time so he quit his railroad job and moved to Minneapolis to found the R.W. Sears Watch Company where he offered a wider array of jewelry, and then silverware. Here he devoted all his time to writing letters to prospective buyers and placing adverts in local newspapers to expand his new mail order business. From the beginning it was clear that Sears' had a talent for writing promotional ads, the personal approach he took in his ads, speaking directly to small town farm communities would entice most people to try whatever it was he had to sell. Sears' also knew that he had to discourage the notion held by many rural folks that city slickers in particular, were untrustworthy and shady. So he enabled the C.O.D (cash on delivery) system and rolled out the famous Sears guarantee to gain the trust and business of farmers who were his target demographics in the 1890's.

In 1887 Sears' moved his company to Chicago, IL a transportation hub, he believed would keep his shipping cost down. Here is where he met Alvah C. Roebuck a self taught watchmaker and repairman who had grown up on an Indian farm. When watches began coming back needing repair he hired Roebuck who not only became the company's first employee, but later became a business partner and co-founded of Sears, Roebuck & Company. It was at this time that the company published its first catalog, offering watches and jewelry, and within a few years everything from saddles to shoes. Sears continued with his salesmanship within his writings of the company's

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