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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sears Roebuck or Facebook?

Monday, June 4, 2012

In the 1860s a young Chicagoan, Aaron Montgomery Ward, began undercutting rural retailers by selling directly to farmers via mail-order. The Great Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed his inventory, but by 1874 his spring catalog, of "Good, Better, and Best" merchandise had 32 pages. Many years of ups and downs followed, with Sears Roebuck becoming the major mail order competitor.

In 1925 Sears began opening retail catalog stores that exhibited merchandise, and Wards followed suit the following year. In 1932 after closing 147 poorly performing stores, Montgomery Ward would have sales of $176.4 million, but lose $5.7 million.

Remember those Fair Trade laws? They allowed manufacturers to name retail prices, preventing big stores like Wards from getting better deals than small stores. Wards tried to get around this by selling house brands, a practice that is widespread today.

At its height, 'Monkey Wards' was one of the largest retailers in the United States, but they had stopped distributing catalogs before its 2001 demise. In 2004, Direct Marketing Services Inc. (DMSI), a Cedar Rapids, Iowa catalog marketer purchased much of Wards intellectual property . DMSI was later sold to Swiss Colony. That retailer is in operation today and might resurrect Wards' Signature and Powr-Kraft store brands .

Wards is responsible for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In 1939 an in-house copywriter wrote a booklet about Rudolph, which became a Christmas classic. The booklet was included in millions of catalogs.

During WW2 President FDR and his cronies used the urgency of the war effort as an excuse to further Unionism -- but that is another column.

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The Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Facebook wasn't the roaring success that backers had hoped for, and after opening at $38 share, it tanked, falling to as low as $33 a share in the first week, and continuing the freefall to $28 as this is being written.

At least three lawsuits have been filed citing misrepresentations, favoritism and/or inanity (OK, I added the last one), surrounding the offering and initial sale of shares.

Facebook was the 29th richest person on Earth a couple weeks ago, but is now only 41st. I guess that is what marriage can do to you -- he was married the day after the IPO. I guess they waited to see if they could afford it. Bride Priscilla Chan was walked down the aisle by their Hungarian Sheepdog.

Zuckerberg did unload 30.2 million shares at $37.58 a piece on the first day of the IPO, bringing him a cool $1.1 billion, but he was planning to use most of it to cover taxes, according to a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

IPO's are often an unwise investment. Of 124 companies that went public the past 12 months, 50 are trading below their opening.

Facebook's problems might be related to the hex I placed on it. After finally successfully removing my name from that program, a week later I received this email; "The Facebook account associated with 2carpenterdon@gmail.com was reactivated by a recent login to the application LivingSocial." I hope their stock price plummets below zero - and then gets worse.

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It was called a 'revolution' when in 1906, Sears, Roebuck and Co. went public. One share sold for $97.50, which grew by 435% by 1966. Facebook won't be here in 60 years! The Chicago Tribune recently ran an interesting article on Richard Warren Sears. Born in 1863, he was employed by the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad as a station agent at North Redwood, Minnesota in 1886. When a local jeweler refused a shipment of gold watches, Sears purchased them for $12 each, the story goes.

Since $12 would be $292 today, I can imagine why a jeweler in tiny North Redwood (now merged with Redwood Falls, a very pretty area) would have refused the shipment. Not many Sven's or Ole's had that kind of money for a pocket watch in rural Minnesota.

Sears resold the watches to fellow railroaders for a two dollar profit, and within months had amassed $5,000. That part sounds fishy, even for MN land whoppers.

Sears joined forces with watch repairman Alvah C. Roebuck in 1887 and then with financier Julius Rosenwald in 1895. The headquarters of Sears, Roebuck had been established in Chicago in 1893.

A well stocked outhouse in my day had both catalogs. I liked Wards best because the paper was softer. Boys studied their spelling -- on words like, shotgun, you know, and girdle and such.

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Never argue with a fool - they will drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience.

Don Paulin, 2carpenterdon@gmail.com, 7557 30th Av, Norwalk, IA 50211 - 515-201-7236

By Don Paulin
Been There, Done That