As I mentioned, there were no national or state highways in those days, late spring of 1915. These pioneer cross-country highways were privately promoted with the cooperation of civic bodies. They were merely graded and graveled. A paved highway between cities was as yet unheard of. I do not remember how the funds were provided, but probably by popular subscription from property owners along the right-of-way. I do remember we had to get all the farmers along the way signed up for it.
The South Bend Chamber of Commerce had endorsed this Dixie Highway project. But the promoters had run into a provoking snag. The farmers of the northern township of Marshall County, next south of St. Joseph County of which South Bend is county seat, were refusing to sign up. They were stubborn. One little township might block the entire project from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.
It was my job, among other things, to sign up these adamant farmers.
For some little time, however, probably the first three or four months at South Bend, my activities were bent on selling memberships in the new St. Joseph County Motor Club. This brought me into close personal contact with some of South Bend’s prominent millionaires. I worked fairly closely with Mr. E. Louis Kuhns, a millionaire capitalist. I believe he was vice president of the Chamber of Commerce.
Several times I went out to the Studebaker works to chat with the sole remaining member of the famous Studebaker Brothers. Mr. J. M. Studebaker was then 84 years of age, hale and hearty, still somewhat active, and arrived at his office precisely at 8 every morning. He arrived always with a rose or a carnation in his lapel. Two or three times, on my visits to his office, he removed his carnation from his lapel and stuck it in mine. I remember Mr. Studebaker as a very kindly man, and I always counted it a rare privilege to have been able to spend a while in conversation with him. He and his brothers originally founded the Studebaker Brothers Wagon Works, long before the days of the automobile. But by 1915 they were one of the leading automobile makers.
Also I knew Mr. A. R. Erskine, at that time president of the Studebaker Works. I believe Mr. Studebaker was chairman of the board.
Mr. L. P. Hardy, head of the L. P. Hardy Co., which I believe was the country’s largest sales-book manufacturer, also was very active in chamber work, and I knew him well. The last time I passed through South Bend, driving a new car home from the factory, I looked in the telephone directory and failed to find the L. P. Hardy Co. listed. They must have moved elsewhere or gone out of business.
Most of these prominent and wealthy men bought multiple blocks of motor club memberships, which sold for $2 each.
Frugality of the Wealthy
The one man reputed to be the wealthiest of all South Bend’s multimillionaires at that time was Mr. J. D. Oliver, head of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works. He was reputed to be worth $110 million.
Here, I thought, was a man who could easily afford to purchase even a few thousand memberships. I began to count my commission in advance. As explained previously, Mr. Spaulding had not been able to create a salary job for me, and I was promoting this motor club on a commission basis of 25 percent.
In order to psychologically build up to my one biggest order of multiple memberships, I had planned first to contact all the other prominent men. I felt it would have a good effect on J. D. Oliver to be able to tell him how many memberships the others had taken. He, I figured, would want to outdo them.
I had a nice talk with Mr. Oliver. He listened to my entire explanation of the purposes of the motor club—the need of better roads—the benefit that would accrue to the community and every business in South Bend. He listened to the explanation of how generously the other prominent businessmen of South Bend had purchased multiple memberships. He seemed quite interested. My hopes for a big commission rose.
“Mr. Armstrong, I think this motor club is a splendid activity. It will be a fine thing for the community. Yes, you may surely count me in. I want to join!”
Man! Now my hopes soared!
“That’s certainly splendid, Mr. Oliver. How many memberships shall I put you down for?”
“Just one single membership. $2!” came the businesslike reply.
Did you ever have a bucket of ice water thrown in your face at the moment of greatest anticipation?
It was incredible! A man who had $110 million—and he took one little, tiny, measly membership—just $2—just the poor widow’s two mites! But that’s what he said.
“Maybe,” I thought, as I left the Oliver Chilled Plow plant, “that’s why Mr. Oliver has a $110 million. He holds on to what he gets.” I was a disappointed young man. But I still had a job to do.
Learning to Drive
After selling motor club memberships to most of the important businessmen, I went after those running smaller businesses and even citizens who were employed. I needed to get out into the country and neighboring suburbs.
I suppose the dealers who handled some of the leading automobile makes might have loaned me a car for this civic-betterment work, but they didn’t. It remained for the dealer of the smallest, lowest priced of all to offer me the free use of a car.
No—it wasn’t a Model T Ford. It was a smaller and lower-priced car—a little baby Saxon. Not many of my readers today will remember the Saxon, and my memory of it is pretty dim, but I believe it was smaller than today’s German Volkswagen. I had never before driven a car. This is where I first learned—with a baby Saxon in South Bend, at age 23.
While I was there, Ralph DePalma, then the world’s most famous automobile racing driver, came to South Bend with his famous racing car. I don’t remember much of the occasion, but I do remember DePalma—he made quite an impression on me.
Also while I was in South Bend, two then-famous movie stars came through. They had soared to the top in a serial thriller, The Million Dollar Mystery. It created about the same national sensation in that day that the tv show The $64,000 Question did in 1955. These two actors told me that they had personally made very little money out of it. No one knew how it was going to catch fire with the public before it started, and they were employed on straight salary by contract. It made a big fortune for its owners, not its actors. Then, in an effort to cash in on their popularity, these two actors put all the money they had into promoting the sequel, titled The Hundred Million Dollar Mystery.
But, as they should have known, had they been better psychologists, the sequel was a total dud. They lost all they had. A million dollars seemed like an unheard-of amount of money, and those words in the title coupled with the magic word “mystery” captured the fascination and interest of the American public back in the early “silent” days. But it was like a child with a new toy. Once the glamor and excitement of the toy wears off, it becomes “old stuff.” Give the child another toy just like it, only bigger, and he won’t be interested.
The star of these serials was James Cruze. The other actor was Sid Bracey.
Cracking the Adamant
It must have been about midsummer or a little later that the time came when the Dixie Highway project could not be delayed any longer.
The farmers to the south of us, in the north township of Marshall County, were adamant. The road was approved through Marshall County up to this township line, and again as soon as it entered St. Joseph County. This little three- or four-mile strip of road was the only link incomplete along the entire length of the highway from Mobile to Canada.
It was now my job to crack through that human stone wall.
I had been quite intrigued in watching the strategy Mr. Spaulding had employed in “selling” the motor club idea, and a job for me, to the board of directors of the chamber.
One morning we received a telegram at the Chamber of Commerce from the director of the Dixie Highway project in Atlanta, Georgia. It stated tersely that he would be in South Bend in a few days, and unless we had the highway completed through this county south of us, the entire highway would be rerouted by way of Chicago, and South Bend would lose out altogether.
This was the ammunition I needed.
This was the signal to spring to action, in high gear!
I decided our only chance was to utilize the same principle of psychology Mr. Spaulding had used in putting the motor club through with the chamber directors. But this was tougher. I decided it needed a big show—a real “whoop and hurrah!” The only way to break through the obduracy of those farmers was through their emotions. I had learned, as an advertising principle, that you can move people to action easier and quicker through their emotions than through their reason.
I decided we had to appeal to both—with terrific impact!
Hurriedly I called Mr. Hardy and Mr. Kuhns. I told them I planned to stage a big rally that night at the little town of Lapaz, in the very center of this reluctant township. I asked them if they would come down and make an impassioned speech to the farmers in favor of the Dixie Highway. When they had agreed to this, I asked them if they would approve the expense, to be paid by the Chamber of Commerce, of a big brass band to help get out the crowd at Lapaz. Having agreed to speak, they couldn’t well refuse to approve the expense of the band. Mr. Spaulding agreed to call other board members and get the band approved.
Then I arranged for a big platform to be built during the afternoon at Lapaz. These arrangements made, I borrowed my little Saxon car and drove to Plymouth, county seat of Marshall County. There I arranged with the telephone company to put through a “general ring” on every rural party line in that township, and notify all the people that there was to be a big rally that night at Lapaz—with a big brass band and noted speakers from South Bend.
Excitement of this kind was a very rare thing in such rural areas in those days. I knew this would get all the people out. In Plymouth I went first to the hotel, and wrote out the message I wanted the telephone operators to announce over all their telephone lines in that northern township. You may be sure I put all the advertising punch I knew in that message.
This accomplished, I went to the office of the county attorney. I explained my mission, and what the South Bend Chamber was trying to do, and its value to Plymouth and Marshall County. Then I asked him to draw up for me a legal petition for the completion of the road improvements through this northern township, with several sheets attached for signatures. He dictated the legal document and his secretary typed it while I waited.
Armed with this, I drove back to the vicinity of Lapaz. I had previously obtained the names of four leading farmers in this township, thought to be less hostile than most to the new highway.
Now my real task began. I had to “sell” these four men on the project in person, and I didn’t dare fail on a one. I was armed also with the telegram from Atlanta received that morning. I had facts and figures on how the new highway would increase the value of their farms, bring more trade to the towns of the community, and in every way benefit the farmers.
The Big Show
With necessity as a prod, I succeeded. One by one these four key farmers were won over. I explained that they would have to appear enthusiastic. All four finally agreed to act according to my plan.
Now the stage was all set—and not a bit too soon—it was by that time sundown.
The crowd began to arrive. The platform had been erected. The delegation from South Bend arrived, and took its place on the platform. I simply do not remember, now, whether I myself acted as master of ceremonies or who, but it seems that this was done by a leading businessman from South Bend.
The band struck up lively tunes, designed to whip up emotional fervor. We got the crowd to singing, laughing, dancing, shouting. It was a real show. Then the men selected as the best public speakers in the South Bend Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Hardy and Mr. Kuhns, gave their stirring impassioned speeches, reading the telegram, telling the farmers it was their last chance—tonight or never!—and the advantages to them, their community, and probable increased value of their land that the new highway would bring.
“Now, gentlemen, step right on up here and sign this petition right now! Who’ll be the first?” shouted all 6-feet-4 of E. Louis Kuhns.
This was the signal. I shoved my number one farmer forward.
“I want to sign that petition right now!” shouted my first farmer.
“I’m for it! I want to sign it!” shouted out my number two farmer, crowding forward to the platform.
“Me, too!” barked my third man. “This is just what this community has been needing!”
“Hey! Let me through!” roared my number four farmer. “We all want in on this! Come on, men—let’s all sign it!”
And they all did. They all crowded forward and signed to put the highway through! Every farmer who had been bitterly opposed was carried away with the emotion of things, and was convinced that everybody else was for it, so he might as well go along, too!
I had negotiated one more experience in learning to apply the fifth law of success—resourcefulness—in meeting problems and handling obstacles.
The adamant wall was cracked!
The Dixie Highway was built—today known as U.S. 31, now a major paved highway from Canada to the Gulf. And, to my readers who live along U.S. Highway 31, this is the story of how the last link of your highway was put through, and how it finally came into being!
Arriving in Danville ‘Broke’
The two to four months spent in chamber of commerce work in South Bend had been valuable experience as part of the groundwork for later accomplishments—but far from profitable as immediate financial return.
It seemed that I was doing as well as could be expected. Many multiple memberships had been sold. But I was running behind financially. I was living in a small room with an alcove bed in the ymca. I ate mostly either at the “y” cafeteria or the coffee shop in the Oliver Hotel, inexpensively. Yet I was running into debt. And the “cream”—the multiple memberships sold to leading businessmen and chamber members—had all been skimmed off, and it had become a matter of soliciting single memberships at $2 per person. My commission of 25 percent was not sufficient to keep me going.
Finally the decision had to be made to leave. I should have taken this problem up with Mr. Spaulding or Mr. Kuhns, but I was too embarrassed to go to them about a personal financial problem. Actually I took the more embarrassing course, as I was to learn later. It is always best to face a problem and solve it. Running away from it is never the solution. I left debts behind in South Bend. Later, when they became very pressing and I was still unable to pay them, I wrote to Mr. Kuhns.
I had by then learned that the standard rate of commission on activities similar to mine in South Bend was 50 percent. Actually I had been only half paid. I wrote to Mr. Kuhns about this, to see whether the chamber of commerce could rectify the mistake and pay me the additional 25 percent which I actually had earned. He replied that, on investigation, he had confirmed my contention that the commission should have been 50 percent. But he maintained it was then too late. Had I come to him about it before leaving South Bend, he said, something might have been done to adjust the commission properly. Of course he was a millionaire, and without missing the change he could have paid these small debts and cleared the good name of a barely 23-year-old chap who had, in this instance, been the victim of an unintentional injustice. But that did not seem to be the way millionaires get to be millionaires!
A year or more before I had come to South Bend, the chamber had employed an assistant secretary, whose name, I believe, was Vaughn. He had visited South Bend while I was there, was about my age, and I had become acquainted with him. He was now secretary of the chamber at Danville, Illinois.
Why I took the train from South Bend directly to Danville I do not remember. Apparently I had thought, or Mr. Spaulding had thought, that Vaughn might be able to turn up something for me to do in Danville. And I had to get something else to do immediately! I had barely enough money to get me to Danville.
Arriving in Danville one morning, stone broke, not even a dime, I went first to call on Vaughn, but he had absolutely nothing for me—not even any ideas.
I walked back down on the street. I had no money for lunch. I had no money for a place to sleep that night. I was too proud to beg. Actually, that thought didn’t even occur to me—I’m merely stating it now. My experience indicates that no honest man ever begs. I have given to many beggars on the street, and have put many of them to many different tests to see if I could find an honest one. Some had a “line” that sounded real sincere. But not one ever proved honest. I think the police will tell you there is no such thing as an honest beggar.
Perhaps some are like one I knew of in Vancouver, Washington—though most are not as successful. This fellow could throw his body into a pitiful-appearing contortion, put a pleading, pity-arousing expression on his face, hold up his hat with some cheap pencils in it from his squatting position on a busy corner, and wring the hearts of passersby. Then every evening he would get up, limp a few blocks to his Cadillac parked on a back side street, unkink his legs and spine, and gingerly hop into his car and drive home to his wife who wore an expensive mink coat!
King David knew human nature. He said, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). No, honest people just never do beg!
Perhaps I should never have come to realize that resourcefulness is one of the seven laws of success, or to have acquired any of that ingredient, had circumstances not forced it upon me!
If so, I’m grateful for the dilemma!
Here I was, almost 2,000 miles away from my parents, with no place I could call home, just arrived in a strange city, broke!
I had to think!—and think fast!!
One thing came to my mind in this emergency. The surveys of retail business conditions I had made in Richmond, Kentucky, and in Lansing, Michigan, had been sensational in what they had uncovered. They had been of very great value to the merchants of those cities. While I had been in Des Moines, after resigning from the Merchants Trade Journal, Mr. Boreman and I had talked about the idea that there ought to be some way of selling these surveys to merchants so that such investigations might be made everywhere.
But no way to sell the idea had occurred to us. Unfortunately men will not pay money to hire an investigator to find out what’s wrong about them—to discover and show them their faults and mistakes, and to criticize them.
The thought came that Danville was an ideal size city for such a survey. But how could I induce anyone to pay me a fee to unearth the mistakes the local retailers were making?
“I’ve got it!” The idea flashed to mind. “I’ll sell the idea to the local newspaper. Why, this kind of information I dig up in a survey is just the ammunition the advertising department of the newspaper needs to sell bigger advertising space to the merchants! It’s just the information they need to show the merchants how to write their copy—what individual merchants need to do inside their stores to make their advertising bring in better results! Why didn’t I ever think of this before?”
With brisk and confident steps, I walked into the office of the business manager of Danville’s daily newspaper. Enthusiastically I told him of the surveys I had made—the national sensation they had created in the Journal—the value to the merchants—and how this information could be used to perhaps double the advertising revenue of his paper.
“I’ll buy it!” exclaimed the business manager without a moment’s hesitation. “How much is it going to cost?”
He snapped out his decision as if he was afraid I might change my mind about being willing to do the investigation if he delayed.
His answer came so suddenly it caught me flat-footed!
The fee? I hadn’t thought of that! I was so bent on solving my dilemma and getting some money into my pocket before lunchtime that I had not thought the idea quite that far through. I had no time to think.
“Why,” I blurted out, “$50, I guess.”
Again I had far underestimated the value of my services. As I found out later, I should have said $500, and he would have paid it just as readily! Actually I did later put on a number of surveys for $500 fees. These experiences will be covered in due time.
I had outlined to this newspaperman that I proposed to get at least 100 interviews with consumers, so selected as to be representative of the whole population, even out into the country and neighboring suburban towns; I was to obtain as much information as possible from local banks, the express company, post office, freight houses, etc., as to mail-order business and trading in Chicago stores. All my information was to be typewritten in detail, accurately tabulated and summarized, with separate private reports and recommendations for each major local store. The newspaper was to arrange a dinner at which all local retailers were to be invited, and I was to give a talk, revealing what I had found.
So, on blurting out the $50 fee, I added: “I’d like a $10 advance right now, the privilege of drawing another $10 during the survey, and the balance when I turn over to you the complete typed report and summary on the night of the dinner.” This was to be either the third or the fourth night.
Actually I had cheated myself out of $450! Nevertheless, the predicament was solved. I walked out of his office with $10 in my pocket! I ate lunch! And I slept that night at the “Y”!
It certainly could have been worse! What I really did was to pay $450 to learn another lesson. Experience is a dear teacher! But, truly, “the laborer is worthy of his hire!” This experience helped me to learn that it is not wrong to charge a fair and just price for services or commodities, and that an employer should not underpay employees.
The business manager of that newspaper must have realized, at least after receiving my 40- or 50-page typed report and analysis, that the professional effort and “know-how” that went into that investigation was worth several times the little fee I had spontaneously blurted out. But, in the business world, “business is business!” He paid what he agreed. No more!
This world’s way is based on selfishness, greed, competition—getting all you can, giving as little as possible—the profit principle. Our world-girding enterprises of today have been based on the giving, serving principle—and this way of doing things has built a major-sized organization that has been eminently successful—serving and benefiting millions worldwide.
A New Job
The merchandising survey was completed, typed, summarized, data tabulated and analyzed in some three or four high-pressure days.
The dinner given by the newspaper for the merchants of Danville was well attended. My report of the investigation, as had been the case at Richmond and Lansing, was something of a bombshell. It really shook up the merchants to learn existing facts about their own businesses and their own town of which they had been totally unaware.
Nevertheless, a young man barely 23 is still just a “young man” to others of senior maturity. I didn’t realize it then, but even the brilliancy of this report did not conceal the obvious fact that I was a youngster, and probably in need of a job. I do think, however, that this investigation and the revelations it disclosed gave these businessmen the impression that I was a fairly “live” young man who would be a valuable employee, because four or five of them tried to employ me. And I was in no position to turn down a job.
I took the job that appeared, at the time, to be most promising. It was with the Benjamin Piano Co., selling pianos. I devoted a month or two in determined effort, and never sold a single piano!
This perfect goose-egg record reminds me of the “punch line” of old “Lightnin’ Bill Jones” in a play that broke all records on Broadway some 38 or 40 years ago. Old “Lightnin’ Bill” was a likable good-for-nothing old codger who knew all, and had done all.
“Yep,” he exclaimed at the climax of the show, “I was in the bee business once. Drove a swarm of bees clear across the desert, and never lost a bee!”
I managed to get pianos in many houses, on trial, and never sold a piano!
I learned something about the piano business. It was not conducted like other businesses. The method was to work through piano teachers. The piano teachers always had prospective customers—homes where a child was at the age for learning to play the piano. The company had a number of piano teachers working for it in Danville, and over its entire trade territory. The teachers supplied us with the names of prospects they had already approached with the idea of lessons for their children. Then I would call and try to talk the parents into giving the child lessons—which necessitated the purchase of a piano. I would induce them to let me put a new piano in the home on trial—without any obligation to buy. Then I would notify the teacher, and she would “accidentally” happen to be passing by, and drop in for a friendly call—discover the piano, play it, tell the people it had a wonderful tone and a perfect action, and highly recommend that they buy it.
This seemed like a “sure fire” method of selling pianos.
There was just one thing wrong with this setup.
I soon found that our competitors also had piano teachers working for them! I knew, of course, that our store paid a commission to their piano teachers if the sale was made. What I didn’t know was that our competitors paid a commission to their teachers if they could knock the sale of a Benjamin piano, once it had been moved into a home on trial.
When I called back at a home a few days after placing a trial piano in it, I usually found the woman angry.
“Why did you talk me into letting you bring that old tin pan into my home?” she would demand. “I want you to send your truck and get this out of here at once! Miss Anderson is a music teacher, and she happened to call on us, and she tried out this piano and told us it was no good!”
I had been successful selling advertising space, but as a piano salesman I was a total flop. That kind of competition seemed to me so absolutely rotten, foul and unfair I simply refused flatly to try to combat it. Getting a local music teacher to recommend a good piano, which I knew was worth recommending, and paying her a commission, seemed legitimate. But employing a teacher to go into homes and lie about competitors’ pianos was a dishonest method I refused to engage in. Instead I permitted disgust and resentment to discourage me on the entire dirty business. Also I found there was no honesty in pricing pianos. They were usually far overpriced at the start, and the salesman was expected to keep cutting the price until he sold the instrument. This is not necessarily true of the best quality pianos. And I am talking about 1915 practices.
I never believed in price-cutting. A product or a service ought to be fairly and honestly priced in the first place, and then the price maintained.
I have learned that men fall into two classifications, so far as salesmanship is concerned. Some men are born to be salesmen—others are not. Even the man with the hereditary aptitude for it must learn. But salesmen are of two kinds. One can sell a commodity, the other can sell an idea. I was of this latter type. As a piano salesman I was a square peg in a round hole.
Back Into Advertising
Of course I had been keeping in touch with my uncle, Frank Armstrong, by occasional letter. He realized I had become sidetracked again, and came to my rescue.
About the time it became evident to me, and also to Mr. Benjamin, that I was not headed for an overwhelming success as a piano salesman, I received a letter from Uncle Frank saying he had lined up a temporary job for me, putting on a special “bank building” number for the Northwestern Banker. This publication was a leading sectional bank journal, read by bankers in Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Nebraska.
Without delay I landed back in Des Moines. At that time a large number of banks, especially small country banks, had been erecting new bank buildings—some were small bank buildings occupied solely by the bank—some were multiple-story office buildings, with the bank occupying the ground floor.
The magazine had conceived the idea of a special number devoted to the subject of new buildings. I was to sell ads to as many as possible of those banks who had constructed new buildings, showing a picture of the new buildings in the ads.
Newspapers are always working up special issues, with the purpose of selling special one-time advertising space. I did not believe in these special issues—and I detested them, after this experience, to the point that thereafter I always refused to take part in them.
Actually there was no benefit to be gained in buying a page or a half-page in this special bank building number, except to enjoy the vanity of seeing a picture of their new building in this trade journal, with the knowledge that most of the other bankers in these five states would see it also. But, that’s the way business is done. One of the strongest advertising appeals is vanity. You’ll see it constantly on tv commercials, and especially in all the women’s magazines and the newspapers, utilized by cosmetics manufacturers, automobile and cigarette companies, and many other industries. Advertising men appeal to human weaknesses a great deal in order to sell goods.
I started with a trip through the southern half of Iowa. I was making very disappointing headway. The truth is, my heart wasn’t really in it, for I realized I was selling nothing more valuable than flattery.
Selling a Sales Manager
One incident occurred on this trip which might contain some interest. At Red Oak, in southwestern Iowa, was a nationally prominent calendar factory. What idea I had in mind as to how they could profitably use advertising space in a sectional bank journal I do not remember. But I do remember that I called to see the sales manager. He refused to see me.
This only made me determined. Of all people, I felt a sales manager had no right to refuse to see a salesman.
I went to my hotel room, and wrote him a brief and very pointed letter. I reminded him that he sent salesmen all over the United States to call on customers and sell his company’s product. Also I reminded him that if his salesmen met with the kind of treatment he accorded me, his factory would soon be covered over with rustimania instead of the beautiful green ivy vines that covered it then. I didn’t mind being turned down if what I had to sell did not fit in with his program or prove profitable to use. But I did demand at least a hearing!
I rushed with the letter to the post office, registered it and mailed it special delivery, to be delivered to and signed by addressee only. I knew the special delivery mail carrier would get in to him.
This strategy got me the interview. As I remember it, I did not sell him any advertising space. But I did have the satisfaction of gaining the interview. That cockiness and conceit that pervaded my personality in those days was full of persistent determination, and a difficult thing for another to turn down.
I guess the lesson that came to mind on Goat Island at Niagara Falls on December 25, 1913, had its effect. Obstacles were things to find a way around, or over, or through, or under. Resourcefulness, coupled with determined drive, remember, are two of the seven laws of success. “Where there’s a will there’s a way!” I hope some of this will rub off on my readers. Not the egotistic conceit—but the determination, resourcefulness and right principles of true success.
Success out of Failure
This swing through southern Iowa was anything but a success.
Clifford DePuy (pronounced DePew), publisher of the Northwestern Banker, was discouraged. I think he was willing to call it “quits” and write off the expenses and advanced drawing account of my efforts so far as a loss. But again Uncle Frank came to the rescue.
“I’ve always noticed,” he said, “that salesmen who fail in southern Iowa usually succeed in the northern part of the state. I don’t think you’d better give up yet. My advice, Cliff, is to send Herbert up into northern and northwestern Iowa, and see if the results are not different.” Mr. DePuy agreed to one more trial.
In the northern half of the state I began to sell ads, and it soon became apparent that we would publish the special bank building number after all.
Several of the new bank buildings I visited had been constructed by The Lytle Co., of Sioux City. I was especially impressed by the fact that officers of these Lytle-built banks were far more than ordinarily enthusiastic about this company and its methods. They worked on the cost-plus basis. Most bankers told me they considered this the most economical way to build, provided one is certain he is dealing with a fully competent and thoroughly honest contractor. This construction company was headed by Mr. J. A. Raven, and all bankers who had dealt with the company spoke highly of him. I jotted down their comments.
An idea was beginning to perk in my mind.
Arriving in Sioux City, I waited outside the Lytle Co. office building at noontime until I saw Mr. Raven go out to lunch. I was not ready to see him—yet! Then I walked in, and from his secretary obtained all his catalogs, circulars, printed matter and especially photographs or cuts of several of these bank buildings I had visited.
Next I proceeded to a stationery store and procured a large sheet of good quality drawing paper, somewhere near 14 x 26 inches in size. The next three days were spent in my hotel room.
Down in Des Moines, Cliff DePuy was getting gray-haired wondering what had happened to his new salesman. I had nothing to report, until I had completed my idea. I did put on the pressure, but it had to be just “right,” and it took time.
At the end of three days, I had produced a very forceful complete four-page advertisement, with attractive layout sketched and carefully designed on this large sheet of drawing paper, replete with cuts of several bank buildings. It contained statements from these bankers, which I had jotted down while in their banks, expressing their full satisfaction with Mr. Raven’s system of building construction. It even contained the endorsement of the Northwestern Banker, which I felt safe in offering, based on such unanimous approval from so many banks. The ad, of course, invited banks and bankers to write for catalog and a consultation with Mr. Raven with a view to constructing a new bank home for them.
Selling a BIG Ad
At last I was ready to see Mr. Raven. When I walked in and showed him this big layout of a four-page insert, he almost fainted. It happened he was a regular advertiser in the Northwestern Banker—he ran a tiny 16th-of-a-page card every month!
The audacity of trying to jump him from a 16th of a page to four full pages seemed incredibly preposterous! Of course, I knew it would. I was prepared for that.
Mr. Raven was a calm, steady, conservative type of man.
“Why!” he exclaimed. “We couldn’t afford to run an ad anywhere near that big!”
“On the contrary, Mr. Raven,” I rejoined, “you can’t afford not to run it. Now let me read this ad to you. I want you to hear it, before you decide. Here! You hold this layout, and see with your eyes where each bit of text matter will be printed, among these big headlines and pictures of banks you’ve built.”
Of course, he wanted to hear it. But he was convinced he didn’t want to buy it.
One thing I had learned at the Merchants Trade Journal was the effective method of selling advertising copy. There must be a well-designed and very attractive dummy, or layout, with the headlines sketched in, the pictures or illustrations showing, and boxes or horizontal lines showing where the smaller text matter will be printed. The idea was to let the prospective advertiser hold and look at this attractive dummy, while I held and read the typed text matter, putting into it all the emphasis where it belonged, and the proper tone of enthusiasm and drive.
This layout was very attractive—Mr. Raven had to admit that! The ad certainly sounded convincing! He admitted that! Running in this special number, devoted to new bank buildings, it ought to have a terrific impact. He couldn’t get around that!
“Yes,” he said, “that’s all true enough. But—four pages! Why, that’s unheard of! We can’t afford anything like that!”
“Yes,” I agreed, remembering John R. Patterson’s sales strategy, “it is certainly unheard of! The bankers of these five states have never seen anything as audacious, as important looking, as a four-page ad! And that’s the very reason you can afford it, Mr. Raven! Now look! This entire four-page ad is going to cost only $160. The very smallest country bank jobs you get run around $8,000, and your bigger jobs into the hundreds of thousands. You construct on a 10 percent fee basis for yourself. Your profit on just one tiny little $8,000 country bank building is $800. If this big ad results in bringing you only one little $8,000 job, it will have paid you, won’t it?”
“Well, yes, I suppose it would,” he replied thoughtfully. “I never thought of advertising in that way, I guess.”
“And, be honest, now,” I pursued. “How many new construction jobs do you think you really ought to get as a result of a dominating ad like that?”
“Why, I should think it ought to bring us several new jobs,” he admitted. “Mr. Armstrong, I guess you’ve shown me a new and more effective way to advertise. But I, myself, could never have designed and written an ad like that. Yes, I think that ad will really pay! All right, we’ll run it, and see what happens!”
Paying for Vanity
Leaving the Lytle Co. office, I literally ran back to the Hotel Martin, and from my room called Cliff DePuy in Des Moines.
“Where have you been? What in the world’s happened to you?” he demanded on hearing my voice. “Have you sold any space yet?”
“Have I!” I exclaimed. “I’ve spent the past three days writing up an entire four-page insert for this special number, and I sold it to Mr. Raven of the Lytle Co.!”
“What!” he gasped, unbelievingly. “Say that again!”
I learned later that Cliff forgot momentarily that he was a grown man, all 6 feet, 3 inches of him, and all 28 or 30 years of him, as his age was at that time, and that he jumped up and down for glee like a little boy, and then took off a half holiday and ran out to tell every banker in the city that we were running a whole four-page ad in the next issue! Never had anything that big been heard of!
Before describing the result of that ad, I must recount, here, an incident that occurred at this same time while I was in Sioux City.
Mr. Raven told me he knew where I could sell a full page to a bank. He grinned as he explained. Up in Royal, Iowa, a little town of perhaps less than 500 population about 80 miles northeast of Sioux City, he had built two small bank buildings. On completion of the first one, the bank across the street called him in. The president said he had watched the Lytle Co.’s work, had checked up on them and was convinced of their reliability and honesty, and had decided to employ them to build a new building for his bank.
“Now, can you tell me how much that little new building across the street cost?” he asked.
Mr. Raven said it had cost $8,000. (Remember, this was 1915. The same building would cost immensely more today.)
“Well, Mr. Raven, we want you to draw up plans right away to build a $16,000 bank for us.”
It was going to take an entire day to go to Royal and back, on the slow branch line railroads in that country. But I decided a surefire page ad was worth it.
I arrived in Royal and went immediately to this larger bank. I had a full page ad designed, with a picture of the building, which I had obtained from Mr. Raven. Also I had a layout of another full page with a picture of the smaller bank across the street, which I managed carelessly to permit this banker to see.
“Well, that ad looks nice,” commented this bank president, “but Mr. Armstrong there’s no reason for us to advertise in the Northwestern Banker. We have nothing to sell to other banks.”
This was only too true. Today my conscience would not let me sell such an ad. There was only one reason for him to buy it—vanity. And, perhaps, spite, or competitive spirit to prevent his competitor across the street from getting it. But I was prepared with the answer.
“Well,” I said, “in that case, I suppose I’ll have to see the bank across the street. You see, this is an exclusive proposition. Just one ad is sold in each town. If you take it, the other bank can’t run their ad. If they do, then you can’t. And it really is too bad—for now I suppose all your fellow bankers you know and meet at the group meetings and state conventions will see the picture of that little bank across the street, and they won’t even know that you have a building twice as big and fine.”
I emphasize, I would refuse to use such a sales appeal to vanity and jealousy today. It was almost pitiful, when he asked, like a whipped dog, “How much did you say this page is going to cost?” as he reached for a pen and signed the one-time space contract without another word.
Yes, I learned that there is jealousy and a spirit of competition among dignified and conservative bankers, just as there is between other humans.
After this Sioux City episode, I worked my way, selling a few page and half-page ads to banks which had constructed new buildings along the way, on over to Charles City, Iowa. In Charles City was another company which ran regular but small ads in the Northwestern Banker, the Fisher Co., manufacturers of bank fixtures and interiors.
They worked to some extent with the Lytle Co., since they installed most of the interior of a bank, including the cages and counters.
Here, again, I took a couple days or so, first getting their catalog, with illustrations of many of their interiors of banks, and designed and wrote a double-page spread for them. By the same method used with Mr. Raven, this double spread was sold to Mr. Fisher.
Both this two-page ad and the Lytle Co. four-page ad produced unexpected results, and each sold a number of new jobs.
Before the next issue of the trade paper went to press, I called again at both Sioux City and Charles City, and each company signed up on a yearly basis: the Lytle Co. for a full page or more each issue, and the Fisher Co. for a half page or more each issue.
Actually, through the following seven years each company never used less than this minimum space, but many, many times the Lytle Co. used double pages, and the Fisher Co. full pages, and, I believe, a few more double-page ads. These ads, which I continued to write for them over a span of the next seven years, proved very profitable to them, and expanded their businesses.
For a few months I continued to work around in Iowa, using the procedure of selling advertising space for ads I had already written before calling on prospective advertisers.
Developing a Business
By this process a temporary one-month special-issue job was converted into not only a steady job, but a developing and growing business of my own.
I had taken this special issue job on a commission basis, with a drawing account of, I believe, $40 per week, as an advance from the publication to cover expenses. This drawing account was deducted from commissions earned. The commission basis, common for all publications of this class, was 40 percent.
In other words, publishers of bank journals and similar publications had found that it actually cost them 40 percent of the sell space, regardless of the method used in paying—whether salary and expense, commission, or what.
Clifford DePuy had, at that time, been the publisher of the Northwestern Banker only a comparatively short time—possibly two or three years. His father had been editor and publisher before him. But when the elder DePuy had died suddenly, the entire responsibility came crushing down on Cliff’s shoulders. His father had been most highly respected by the bankers of the Central Northwest, and very popular personally.
Clifford DePuy had been attending an art school or something of the kind. He had not established any great reputation as a success. But now he held a serious and a frank conference at the bank which held the publication’s account.
Actually he and the elder DePuy’s family were shocked to learn the magazine had been left heavily in debt. But on condition Cliff would make a real fight to save the publication, the bank offered to back him as long as his efforts remained promising for the future. He agreed to roll up both sleeves, plunge into the business, do everything in his power to preserve the publication. The bankers of the Northwest had a real love for this journal. They didn’t want to see it suspend publication. Although Cliff was inexperienced in this field, they agreed to back him.
I recount this experience here because it is one that frequently occurs and it illustrates a principle. The sudden plunging of heavy responsibility on one often brings him to an awakening, provides heretofore lacking incentive, arouses dormant abilities. This new responsibility suddenly descending on Clifford DePuy stirred him to intensive and dynamic action, and brought out dormant qualities and abilities. In a few short years he had developed the publication into a very profitable enterprise with adequate reserves. Later he expanded, purchasing other publications. He became a successful publisher.
Cliff and I had a business relationship together for the next seven years. He was tall, about 6 feet, 3 inches as I remember, aggressive—a human dynamo. I respected his abilities, and I’m sure he respected mine. Later, in Chicago, he periodically came in, once or twice a year, and we would spend a couple or three days calling on prospective advertisers together. We flattered ourselves in those days that we were an unbeatable team. We both worked at a terrific pace, and we fancied prospective advertisers found us almost impossible to turn down. I think we did pack quite a persuasive wallop at that!
After a month or two of soliciting advertising accounts for the Northwestern Banker over the state of Iowa, it seemed advisable for me to go in to Chicago.