Secrets of the Mail Order Experts (Jan, 1959)

Secrets of the Mail Order Experts

By Edmund Cordon

IF you thought the legendary salesman who sold ice boxes to Eskimos was a sharp character, step up and meet his master. This fellow actually sold imitation shrunken heads to the countries where the real things are made!

He’s E. Joseph Cossman of Hollywood, Calif., who conceived the idea of packaging imitation Sanforized noggins, the kind made for real by South American Jivaro head-hunters, and selling them via mail order as souvenirs.

Joe also threw in a straight-faced set of instructions on how to shrink a head, including such pertinent information as: “The refrigerator is the best place to keep a fresh head.” He printed this gay warning on the cartons: “Fragile. Handle with care. Shrunken head.”

Joe’s gagging ingenuity brought more than half a million orders—including a huge demand from Jivaro country, Ecuador, Peru and Guatemala!

The fabulous mail order business erupted after World War II and is still giving off golden sparks. There are many others beside Joe Cossman proving that money can be made in one of the few remaining major businesses in which a fellow can make a strike with limited capital.

What’s new in this intriguing business? What are the red-hot items these days? Who goes broke and who hits the jackpot? And why?

I put these and many other questions to leading mail order experts in many parts of the country. Here are some of the know-how secrets revealed by these top mail order experts.

What are the most popular mail order items being sold today?

The best-selling items today are unusual automobile accessories, industrial equipment, giftware and novelty items, reports Irvin Graham, one of the top mail order specialists.

Which of these items is the best?

Nobody can definitely predict a hit but the best sellers today are the offbeats, the novelties.

Joe Cossman’s imitation shrunken head is a good example of an offbeat item. A Long Island manufacturer offers left-handed scissors! A New Yorker is marketing a gold toothpick. For sunbathing girls, a Chicago outfit has come up with a beautifully jewelled nose guard.

Are there any “sleeper” fields for mail order selling?

Yes. It’s food. The secret lies in providing deluxe items, gourmet foods and specialties that folks cannot get in local food markets.

What’s being sold? Specialties ranging from Grandma’s gefulte fish to escargots a la francaise (snails). Customers clamor for such tidbits as pickled artichoke nubs, cucumber marmalade, wild pheasant, curried walnuts, almond paste pretzels, a hundred exotic cheeses, canned fried grasshoppers and caviar.

How big is the mail order business and how much has it grown in the last few years?

It’s a fantastically large enterprise. Economic reports reveal that the sell-by-mail business is rapidly creeping up on de- partment stores sales. Total mail order sales for the last recorded year was $1,407,000,000, one-eighth of all department store sales throughout the country.

What have successful mail order men discovered about the price of items?

Although cheaper items (between $1 and $5) are the safest bet, higher priced goods are finding excellent markets.

Four years ago, for example, Charles Schonbrun of New York decided to try selling by mail. Charles was a beginner, so he didn’t know the rules. He didn’t know, for instance, that you weren’t supposed to sell anything costing more than a few dollars. He struck it rich when he decided to sell fine cutlery, ranging up to $26 a set.

Charles’ experience is by no means unique. Mail order businessmen are selling boat kits costing hundreds of dollars, tractors, costly telescopes and binoculars, floor saws, entire electrical plants, lawn-mower sharpeners, plows, even put-it-together-yourself houses costing many thousands!

Are there any new markets to tap in mail order today?

Yes. The GI market. Many experts in the field are convinced that this is a potential billion-dollar market. A few smart chaps have already discovered that they can actually sell new model cars to American soldiers stationed overseas, and deliver the cars when the men are shipped back to this country!

Where can beginners get sound advice on how to start, do’s and don’ts, etc., of the mail order business?

Highly recommended is How To Sell Through Mail Order, published by McGraw-Hill of New York. Other good books are: Help Yourself To Better Mail Order, Printers’ Ink, N. Y.; How To Start Your Own Mail Order Business, Stravon, N. Y.; How To Win Success In The Mail Business, Arco, N. Y.

Are there any final words of advice?

The Department of Commerce points out that experience has shown it’s advisable for beginners to start a part-time business and to operate from their homes. Bear in mind that casualties run high in this line but the jackpot is there. It has been claimed time and again by the quick and alert. It can be claimed by you, too! •

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