The First Hundred Years Are the Toughest
IN THIS SUMMARY
The mail order business resulted from improved mail service that served the needs of farm families living away from major cities. When Aaron Montgomery Ward settled in rapidly growing Chicago after the Civil War, stores such as Macy's in New York, John Wanamaker's in Philadelphia, and Marshall Field in Chicago were revolutionizing retailing by bringing together general merchandise in huge department stores. In 1877, Ward appropriated the efficiencies of mass retailing for use in the mail order business. Delivery was easy because of improved railroads, and Ward's prices were lower than those charged in rural general stores because the middleman was eliminated. Although specialized mail order companies already existed, none provided one stop shopping via catalog to the farm families. Ward cultivated the powerful Grange movement because he saw Grangers as his main customers. As his business slowly but steadily grew, he added more items to his catalog. His customers were fiercely loyal, and he regarded his role as paternalistic, the kind father providing the farmers with the best possible goods at the best possible prices. Richard Sears, a railroad freight agent, began selling watches by mail order in 1886. He trained himself in mail order retailing as his business grew. Because Ward had started several years before Sears and because of his reputation for high quality, Ward's business was for several years far greater. Both businesses, though, continued to expand.