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From Small Business To Big Business: Sears, Roebuck and Co

Aug 22, 2008
Often a person is led onto the path of a becoming a successful businessman by a series of fortunate events that transpire. It could be said that Richard Warren Sears stumbled upon just such a path. But once he was on that path he did everything he could to not fall off. In the end he left not just a company but a legacy. So how exactly did it all begin? Amazingly enough it started with a failed scam.

You see apparently in 1886 there had developed a fairly common scam of wholesalers shipping items to retailers in other parts of the country. But the retailer that it was shipped to would never have actually ordered the merchandise. So of course the retailer would refuse the item. Well the wholesaler who had already hiked the price above normal would then offer the items on consignment at a reduced price. He'd justify this by telling the retailer that the cost of shipping these items back would be even worse for the wholesaler. The retailer suddenly thinking he was getting a deal would then agree to the new price and accept the merchandise.

This is how Richard Sears got lucky indeed. A Chicago jeweler was trying to pull just such a scam on a retailer by the name of Edward Stegerson. But Mr. Stegerson was aware of the scam and wasn't about to get taken. So he flatly refused to accept the order. Richard Sears though had learned of the watches and he jumped at the chance since he was able to get them on consignment. After agreeing to pay a price of $12 per watch he then turned around and began to sell them at $14 per watch. By the time he was out of watches he'd made a profit of about $5,000. And with that the R.W. Sears Watch Company was born.

By 1887 Richard Sears found it necessary to move his watch company to Chicago, Illinois. That same year he decided to hire his first employee. A watch repairman by the name of Alvah Curtis Roebuck. By 1893 it was decided that the two should become partners and Sears, Roebuck, and Co. was officially born. That was also the year that the company published its first ever catalog. Previously they had bought ad space in other catalogs of the time. Within four years of that first catalog which had only offered watches they were offering a variety of other goods. Items such as clothing, farm plows, bicycles, silverware and much more could be found inside their catalogs.

Eventually their catalog would grow to 500 pages and be offered to a number of rural customers across the United States. Long before they had department stores they had the catalog which would be eagerly awaited by many of the company's customers. By 1906 they had opened their first catalog plant inside the original Sears Tower.

Richard Warren Sears who would amass a sizable fortune during his lifetime passed away in 1914 at the relatively young age of 50. Alvah Curtis Roebuck who for health reasons left the company for a number of years but eventually returned would live to be 84. He passed away in 1948. When asked to compare his wealth to that amassed by Richard Sears after Mr. Sears had already passed he was quoted as saying. "He's dead, me I never felt better".

It's important in business that we remember our own health. You can have the wealth of a world but if you are not around to enjoy it then it means nothing. Entrepreneurs often work in stressful environments but they fail to pay attention to their health even though a look in a mirror would reveal the truth. Mr. Sears would be proud of the legacy he left but would have probably liked to have enjoyed it longer. You need to make sure you do not sacrifice your health for your business. You want to be around to enjoy your success.
About the Author
Cash Miller is an experienced entrepreneur and speaker who has spent over a decade as a small business owner. His years of experience in small business cover a variety of topics. If you are looking for more small business help please check out http://www.smallbusinessdelivered.com
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