Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
7 minutes for reading

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to please people from the hinterland?

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to please people from the hinterland?
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19th century USA/pinterest

At the end of the 19th century, the head of the railway station bought a lot of watches on the cheap and sold them at a considerable profit.

How can he correctly understand what he was doing and what he should do? Not by trading in watches, of course – but by what?

The answer is a little later.




This story, like many interesting stories, begins with the fact that once there was one country, and this country was not doing well. Even those residents who worked honestly and received some money for their labor suddenly found that they could not buy what they needed for them.

At one time, the main reason for this misfortune was that many goods needed by people in this country were not produced at all, and those that were produced were not liked by anyone. If they were on sale, they were expensive, looked creepy, broke down quickly, and worked poorly.

Everywhere there is progress, and the industry of this country began to make better goods, and it bought something quite suitable abroad. But it was easier to find normal goods in the cities than in the rural wilderness, where in small shops there were basically all sorts of blockage …

You, of course, guessed what kind of country it is. That’s right – this is the USA! Have you thought about another country? Some even say that they lived in such circumstances long time.There may be more than one such country … Believe me, the United States was also such a country, and listen to how everything has changed there.




The United States began as an agrarian colony, agricultural settlements, where you can grow rare plants like tobacco that has become fashionable, and at the same time bread for food, so as not to carry it through the Big Puddle, how much in vain – they will manage themselves, but they want meat, and they will go hunting.

Here are the lines from Feuchtwanger’s novel about the work of the envoy of the states struggling with the metropolis: “Congress wanted to get from France … sheep shearing scissors, padlocks, shoe awls, sewing needles, all kinds of medicines, opium, aloe and syringes, horse scrapers and tarpaulins, musical notes and timpani”. It seems – when there is nothing, you always need a lot.

The States nevertheless defended their independence, but for a long time remained a country of patriarchal farmers and semi-wild cowboys, and did not dream of competing in sciences and crafts with enlightened Europe. At any rate, this was definitely the case before the American Civil War.

The face of America was being reshaped by the burgeoning rail network. Telegraph lines were pulled behind the rails – the railway business of this country kept in touch with the telegraph business for a very long time. They somehow fastened a collection of villages into a single country.




In the dynamically developing railway and telegraph business, the son of a blacksmith, Richard Warren Sears, began his career – first as a telegraph operator on the railway, then as the head of a railway station. He coped with the work, so there was time for the incidental business.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to please people from the hinterland?
Young Richard Sears/startribune.com

It all started when Sears, 23 years old, accidentally found out that local jeweler Edward Stegerson had received a shipment of watches he had not ordered. Then it was a popular trick: they sent not ordered goods, allegedly by mistake, and then offered to keep them at a discount – perhaps they would be flattered and taken.

Stegerson knew the trick, said he couldn’t be fooled, and refused to pay for the watches. And Sears thought and thought and took them for himself, having agreed with colleagues at other railway stations so that they would sell them at a tolerable mark-up. Almost no one had a watch, but the trains ran on schedule, and the need to know the exact time was growing among people.

For six months Sears earned $ 5,000 (this is more than the current $ 100,000) and decided not to quit this business. He founded his own company, began to advertise the product and send out flyers to future clients. He clearly had a talent for writing advertising, and the business began to strengthen.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to please people from the hinterland?
Sears watch advertisement/wikipedia.org




Things were going well – high-quality advertising convinced customers to buy watches, mail delivered them to customers and sent Sears money. To repair those watches that required this, he hired a watchmaker Alva Roebuck and worked with him. Alva was his first employee.

Now even a farmer from a remote village (however, in the USA there are no villages and countrysides, if there is no post office – it is a farm, if there is a post – it is already a city, even for 30-40 inhabitants, why not?) could easily buy a watch not worse than a city dweller where the stores had a choice. And for a new plow or bicycle, the farmer had to go to the city himself.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to please people from the hinterland?
19th century pocket watch/antiknsk.ru

In 1893, Sears’s firm issued its first catalog – it contained watches, there were already quite a few brands, but nothing besides watches. But Sears, who himself grew up on a farm, knew perfectly well that farmers and other residents of the towns have other needs, only watches are not enough for them.

If a person has a watch, he already needs a decent three-piece suit with a vest pocket for this very watch. A man in such a suit already wants to sit at a beautifully served table, eat on silver and porcelain, and buy a nice dress and beautiful jewelry for his wife. And where?


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If in his advertising flyers and catalogs he offers clients, in addition to watches, other useful things, why shouldn’t they buy these things from him in the same way as they buy watches?

To do this, it was only necessary to understand that he was no longer only a watch dealer – he started a new business, a mail-order business, and he had excellent prospects!




In the catalog of 1897, Sears already had far more than just watches – he lived on the farm for a long time and was well aware of the needs of people living in the same way. They were so wide and varied that this catalog soon grew to 500 pages and was sent to about 300,000 homes.

It turned out that it was only the beginning. In 1902, Sears’s catalog grew to 1,162 pages, and his customers found so many items they needed that Sears had to fill up to 100,000 orders a day! Of course, not for him alone – in his company, besides Roebuck, appeared a lot of employees.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to please people from the hinterland?
Sears catalogs/travelask.ru

In 1906, Sears and Roebuck opened a mail-order factory in Chicago. It cost $ 5,000,000 to build and equip this largest business building in the world, which included a conveyor belt for assembling individual customer orders.

The catalog proudly reported about it: “Elevators, mechanical conveyors, endless chains, moving walkways, gravity chutes, apparatus and mechanisms, pneumatic pipes and all known mechanical devices for making labor easier, for saving money and for sending orders – they all apply here”.




In 1908, Richard Sears retired and died 6 years later. But the Sears & Roebuck brand he created continued to exist, and its fame grew. The year 1908 was marked by the fact that Americans had the opportunity to buy a house from Sears & Roebuck catalogs and even receive it by mail.

Houses weren’t the most eccentric merchandise that could be bought from those catalogs, though – an important part of the sales was the civilian firearms trade, especially the Colt revolvers, which continue to make all Americans equal.

Sears & Roebuck catalogs began to be mentioned in American literature as everyday reality – I immediately remembered its mention in Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. They were distributed to just about anyone in such quantities that the idiom “Sears-Roebuck” became one of the names for toilet paper.

In 1974, the company erected a huge 110-storey Sears Tower skyscraper, which at that time became the tallest building in the world, taking this title from the Twin Towers that were ruined a little later. The skyscraper bore this name until 2009, after which the insurance group Willis Group Holding bought the right to the name.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to please people from the hinterland?
Sears Tower in Chicago/allrecords.ru

In 1955, the company jokingly posted an ad inviting children to call Santa Claus. But there was a mistake in the phone number, and the children called the US Aerospace Defense Center. In order not to offend the children, the military told them the coordinates of Santa Claus. This is how the NORAD Tracks Santa Christmas program was born, and it still does it today.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to please people from the hinterland?
Colonel Pierre Ruel and General Christian Barabe check the radar screen as they prepare to hunt down Santa Claus/wikipedia.org




But the age of even such successful projects does not last for centuries. Where is the company of Fuggers, the richest merchants half a millennium ago? Where is the East India Company, which was ravaging entire countries even less than two hundred years ago? Where are the rich people of Ancient Rome and Persia? Everything has its own term …

So Sears & Roebuck, whose fame lasted more than a century, came to its end. By properly locating its stationary stores in large cities and rural areas, it fell victim to this policy as wealthy shoppers began to move to the suburbs.

Many companies have borrowed its core idea – catalog trading over communications networks – and started doing it just as well. The modern, powerful and convenient communication – the Internet – emerged, and this area was immediately taken over by new energetic leaders like Amazon.

A number of tactical mistakes accelerated the disintegration process, and in 2018 the company began bankruptcy proceedings. But her non-standard solutions will remain for a long time – they will simply be implemented by her more successful heirs. Not forgetting, of course, those who invented it.




The most important component of any serious project is communication. The higher their speed, the greater the effect of the project itself.

Nothing remains the same for centuries. The dynamic and developed USA was also a patriarchal hinterland. They just wanted to no longer be so and could do it.

Richard Sears had a deep knowledge of the psychology and needs of the American suburbs. There were other such people, but it was he who used this knowledge with tremendous cost efficiency.

Sears efficiently and effectively helped people to fulfill their own desires, which they had been forced to restrain before him. If you do something like this, you will be successful.

If you think that there is not the slightest point in calling Santa Claus, think again. Here the children called – and received an answer that pleases them all. Even despite the offensive mistake in the phone number …

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