Lessons from the first Sears wish book catalog


How fan-freaking spectacular is this. I mean, LOOK AT THIS MAGIC.

A page from the first Sears Wish Book catalog published in 1897. Seven hundred and eighty-six glorious pages of… This. The copy is straight wizardry, written by Richard Sears himself.

(Big ups to the internet hero who found and uploaded pages from the original catalog here.)

I started reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson this morning and he talks about how Sears and Roebuck’s began as a mail order catalog company and was an early example of viral marketing.

“Sears was spreading the word among prospective customers with one of the earliest examples of “viral marketing.” In 1905, the company wrote to it’s best customers in Iowa, asking each to distribute twenty-four catalogs among friends and neighbors. These customers sent Sears the names of people who received the catalogs. When those people placed orders, the original customers, in turn, received premiums for their work: a stove, a bicycle, or a sewing machine.”

They had started with watches but quickly expanded into selling anything and everything a rural household or business might need. Instead of having to go to the general store hours away or dealing with middlemen, you could order from a catalog that had literally 1000 times the selection at half the price.

Like, it’s no wonder it took off.

“Thanks to volume buying, to the railroads and post office, and later to rural free delivery and parcel post, it offered a happy alternative to the high-priced retail stores.”

Then came their department stores—27 were opened between 1920 and 1927, which apparently laid the groundwork for the Walmart model—but this is how it started. With a catalog Sears wrote the copy for himself.

I can’t stop smiling. Are you seeing this? Like, really seeing it? Are you imagining what it would be like as a farmer in Iowa to have this thing arrive at your doorstep?

Also, when’s the last time you saw “sanguine” used in a sentence? Just excellent.

It’s at this point most people would offer some sort of analysis or key takeaways, but, I’ve got none of that for you. And I’m certainly not going to get into Sears Canada’s modern day marketing, which includes but is not limited to the slogan WTS “What the Sears.” (I know…)

I just wanted to share something I thought was pretty awesome, in case you find this sort of thing awesome, too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about retail lately (do I say that about everything?). Especially what sort of retail models would better serve makers and artists and smaller brands. So for me, that means not just looking around at the world today or what people speculate it’ll look like tomorrow, it means looking way back at what the world used to look like.

So perhaps that’s the takeaway here…

The thing you’re interested in? The business you want to start? Yes, it’s important to be innovative and future focused, but don’t discount the importance of knowing what came before you. How things started. That doesn’t mean you have to repeat it, but there’s always something to be learned, right?

Read. Accept you know way freaking less than you thought you did and that you’ll never have the time to learn all-the-things and that someone will always be smarter than you… and read anyways.

You never know what lights will turn on.

Alright, that’s it for this weeks episode of Kate Finds Cool Shit That Probably Everyone Else Already Knows About But It’s New to Her and She’s Super Jazzed About it So She Shares it Anyways Offering No Personal Perspective or Actionable Insight.

… Thanks for tuning in.

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Currently #5: Perennial Seller, a crowdsourced music video, and the evolution of retail

You didn’t ask, I answered.


I’M READING…

Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday

Just finished up this dandy and it was a good overall look at what it takes to make and market work that stands the test of time as a creative. He places the responsibility for marketing your work square on you, the creative, which I’m all about.

Sure you can get help/coaching but ultimately you can’t outsource your marketing. You can’t just hand it off all, “Here, you deal with it!” and expect it to be a hit. Why? Because no one knows or cares as much about your work as you do.

And you can’t put something into the world and call it a day. All, I’ve-built-it-they-will-come. Two very important truths we don’t tend to love… but embracing them gives us a huge advantage.

“Marketing is an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself, to beat out other talented folks whose entitlement and laziness holds them back.” 

(Is this sounding harsh? Oops. It’s actually incredibly empowering.)

I’M watching…

Put Your Hands Together by Andrew Applepie

Okay ONE, Andrew Applepie is an absolute musical beat making wizard.  You can’t make up this kind of passion. You can literally feel the joy in everything he makes…

And TWO, this music video is brilliant. He asked his followers to send him clips of them clapping and here we are, a crowdsourced music video. Like! People from all over the world sent in these clips. Amazing.

That’s engagement, that’s community, that’s powerful. And yes, that’s marketing.

I’M listening to…

The Amorphous Evolution of Retail — Rachel Shechtman of Story on the Loose Threads Podcast

Brick and mortar retail’s not dead, the game’s just changed.

Rachel is the founder of Story, a 2000 square foot retail store in Chelsea,  New York that “has the point of view of a magazine, that changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.”

Customers coming in and buying things isn’t really the end goal, it’s more about the experience. They make a good chunk of their revenue through six-figure sponsorships and it’s even turned into something of a scouting ground for the indie brands and artists they carry.

It’s the intersection of content, commerce, and community. Yup, she changed the game.

best money spent…

Headphones

Headphones. Proper over-the-ear-welcome-to-paradise-you-beautiful-introvert-you headphones. How did I go so long without these?!

Are these ones good? I have no damn clue, I’m no audiophile. About an hour into my “best headphones” research I accepted I was way out of my depth and resorted to the ol’… go to stores and try them on strategy.

Decided Bose was too fancy (read: expensive) for me, didn’t like the sound of Beats, didn’t love the Sennheiser ones in my price range, and wireless headphones were a no. I also knew I wanted a removable chord (so I could replace it if it broke) and removable ear pads so I could replace those when needed, too. Not of fan of having to toss something after a year because it wasn’t designed to be repaired, ya know? So I landed on these Audio-Technica ATH-M50x ones and Imma happy.

oh, that’s good…

Stay safe, eat cake

Bunners Bake Shop

SO GOOD. Because, cake.


What have you come across lately that’s stuck with you? Articles, interviews, a really great ad… Comment or Tweet me!