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Crazy Ideas That Worked (and a few that crashed in flames)
Here's How YOU Can Benefit!
Click on one of these headlines to jump down to the full story below. Or, for a more traditional view of our work, see the page about Strictly Business.

1-- How To Write A National Prize-Winning Sales Letter
2-- They Laughed When I Placed An Ad In The West Virginia Hillbilly!
3-- The Skydiving Rototiller (we TOLD you this was crazy!)
4-- Showmanship Wins At Federal Court
5-- Business Plan For Hugely Successful New Product
6-- How To Do A “Dry” Market Test
(and not get in trouble with the FTC)
7-- The Public Didn’t Have A CLUE!
(The secret truths about consumer research.)
8-- Departmental Warfare
(How the combatants came to the peace table and made history.)
9-- Go Do It Yourself (How getting out of the cozy office turned up a whole new market)
10-- The $100 Million Product That People Bought… But Never Used.

How To Write A National Prize-Winning Sales Letter
(…even though this example was submitted to the judges on the back of a brown paper bag)
If there was a way you could convert additional prospects into clients, would you like to know more? The secret is to treat every communication, whether via letter, ad, phone, email, or in person, as a selling opportunity.

There are numerous books on salesmanship; Dale Carnegie set the standard years ago; Attention, Interest, Conviction, Desire, Close. As a young copywriter, I used his technique to win a contest by the Direct Marketing Association by writing a pure sales letter. Due to the short time allowed (we were given this assignment while at an intensive training seminar), the sales pitch was drafted on the only thing handy: a brown paper bag. I figured content was more important than form.

The judges loved it, and the letter was used to draw attendees to their national annual convention in Los Angeles. My reward was an all-expenses-paid trip to the convention, including airfare and accommodations at a luxury hotel.

This same approach (the content, not the bag) has been successfully delivered by us ever since in selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of products and services. Give us a crack at your toughest challenge and see how this can work for you.

They Laughed When I Placed An Ad In
The West Virginia Hillbilly!
Yes, that was a real newspaper. I was the media buyer at an advertising agency in Connecticut at the time, and my client thought it would be nuts to spend $100 on an ad. But the client’s $500 product had an ad budget of $75 for each new sale. We kept careful track. Not long after, we achieved our second sale as a result of the ad, for a net cost per sale of only $50. I was a hero!

Unfortunately, there was no way to leverage that. The newspaper was terrific, but it was one of a kind. We needed hundreds of sales, so we turned our attention to wider-reaching media that, even at the higher $75 cost per sale, delivered the volume we needed. But it was an interesting experiment and we learned a valuable lesson that you can use: spend most of your efforts on those projects which will deliver the most results overall.

The Skydiving Rototiller
(A Down-To-Earth Publicity Stunt)
Pegasus, the Skydiving RototillerDon’t try this at home. As national retail manager, I was looking for ways to publicize the Troy-Bilt Rototiller. What better way than with a TV commercial showing one parachuting to the rescue of some overworked gardeners and also a series of special demos at county fairs? But before spending big bucks, we tried some experiments first.

Being an experienced expert in such things, I rigged up a skydiving, 200-pound tiller (named Pegasus), provided cameras to my buddies, and launched Pegasus and myself out of an airplane at 7,500 feet. (See, I TOLD you these ideas were crazy!).

Things worked mostly okay (except for an upset farmer who objected to Pegasus landing in his corn field) and after three successful jumps, the idea looked like it had the potential for real publicity. That is, until the company lawyer found out. The list of things which “could” go wrong seemed daunting (the spoilsport!), but as businessmen, we had to weigh all the pros and cons. In spite of the marketing value, we decided to pursue other, more conventional, promotions.

That’s not to say that such events can’t work. Witness everything from car dealers riding white horses through town to sponsorships for NASCAR and numerous skydiving ads for consumer products. If you have the right product, we can give you some first-hand tips about making memorable promotions.

Judge, Jury and Lawyers watch as Choppy shreds the evidence.Showmanship Wins At Federal Court
We shred documents and other stuff in Philadelphia.
This is a true story of standing up for the integrity of your company and having the guts to prove it to a jury.

Hundreds of thousands of our garden shredders had been sold to happy customers. But one user got careless and badly injured his hand. Rather than accept our settlement offer, he and his lawyer decided it was all our fault and we should pay millions. We hired our own lawyer (Joe Pinto, listed in America’s Top 100) and went to federal court in downtown Philadelphia. As Director of Product Innovation, I was the company’s representative and expert witness.

To prove how capable and safe our product was, we asked the judge and jury to come down to the courtyard to see the shredder in action. There was lots that could go wrong and millions were at stake, but I wanted to prove that we were a good company that made a good, safe product.
After ensuring that everyone had on safety goggles and was safely standing to one side, I put the 8hp chipper/shredder through its paces. Old newspapers, garden leftovers and even 3” thick tree limbs were quickly turned into useful organic mulch. It soon became clear that even though this was a powerful machine, it was very safe if run properly.

The judge was convinced. So convinced, in fact, that he stopped the trial, sent the jury home, and awarded us a defense verdict (no money due).

If you have a company or product that needs a strong show of commitment, we can help you succeed, whether in federal court or in the competitive marketplace.

Business Plan For Hugely Successful New Product
(Test showed potential in a “non-existent” market)
Buy low -- sell high. That’s a proven way to make money in our free economy. The problem is, of course, to know WHEN? In the 1980’s, we test marketed a product that went on to sell hundreds of millions of dollars during its life cycle. Here's why.

Chipper/shredders for gardeners had been around for years. They peaked back in the self-sufficiency fad of the 1970’s (Sears even advertised one on the Super Bowl!). By the mid-1980’s, they were dead, buried, and gone forever. Or so everybody thought.

To us, this looked like the bottom of the cycle; a perfect time to “buy”. But before recommending that to the leaders of Garden Way, we proposed a market test that would demonstrate whether or not the sales potential was there. If it worked, then an expensive commitment to development and production could be justified.

We created an aggressive business plan that started with small expenses and then built to higher levels. Pulling together a team, we investigated several small manufacturers around the country. One had a chipper/shredder that could, with a few modifications, do the job. We arranged to have a short production run made and available for shipping from their Wichita factory.

The marketing effort concentrated on select lists of gardeners. Mailings were sent, complete with hard-hitting brochures, letters, photos and reports from actual users. Soon, the phone was ringing and the units were selling. The first batch of several hundred sold out. We ordered 500 more, and then another 500. Now it became apparent that there was real gold here. Garden Way invested in the little company (and eventually bought it). Chipper/Shredder sales increased from just $3 million per year to over $50 million per year.

Do you have a business that looks challenging but could become a winner? We can help you evaluate the keys to success and build a winning plan that will work for you in the real world.

How To Do A “Dry” Market Test
(and not get in trouble with the FTC)
The Federal Trade Commission gets justifiably cranky if you advertise a product that doesn’t exist. Yet, how do you really know if prospects are telling the truth in surveys if it’s not a real buying situation? (“Oh yes, I’d definitely buy the new Acme-Zoomer for $1000; absolutely!”)

Troy-Bilt was thinking of inventing a new garden cultivator but didn’t want to spend two years and a half million dollars developing it if it wouldn’t sell well. Surveys gave mixed results and it was hard to know what to believe.

So, we put together a team that delivered an accurate market test in three months and had a product investment cost of zero.

Here’s what we did. We made 100 prototype cultivators from scraps of other peoples’ products, then sold them to real customers for real money. We bought a hundred of a competitor’s conventional tillers, then rearranged the components to serve as the frame for a cultivator. We bought 100 trimmer/edgers from Sears, kept only the handlebars, and sold the rest for parts. We added 100 sets of high-diameter cart wheels. Finally, we had the model shop make 100 small belt covers and put everything together. Result: instant REAL product for the customer to decide on, send REAL money, and provide REAL feedback on what they liked.

The results from this test were 100% believable. The test products were sold for $300 apiece, which was just about what the collection of parts had cost, so there was no net product cost. We proved that people wanted this new product, so the company now had the confidence to invest its time and money. The product went on to make about $10 million in sales as a result of this test.

How about you? Unsure about how to get started with a new product introduction? We’ve been there before and can show you the path.

The Public Didn’t Have A CLUE!
(The secret truths about consumer research.)
I’m a big fan of consumer research. It can help you quickly choose product features, benefits, and pricing, plus show you where to best place your marketing and production dollars. But here’s a case where we gave the public exactly what they wanted -- and they didn’t like it after all.

I had invented a nifty little machine for Garden Way that you pushed around your yard. Powered by a 3hp motor, it sucked up leaves, shredded them to a fine mulch, and bagged them. It even had a chipper, to turn 1-1/2” branches into landscaping chips. We called it the Chipper/Vac. Tens of thousands were sold, including through Sears, at a price of $299.

Surprisingly, a few customers returned them in disgust, claiming, “It doesn’t mow well at all!” Um…, yeah! It looks kind of like one, but it isn’t a lawn mower; doesn’t even have a whirling blade under there. Nevertheless, the cry went up for a “Chipper/Vac that mows”. More customers and dealers piled on. Our customer surveys said it would be a great idea. But for several years, I was stumped: putting a lawn blade under there would be a hazard to your toes if you used the chipping function.

It was only after the chairman of the board asked me to give it one more shot that a technical solution was found. In a burst of midnight madness, it came to me: a clutch and belt which would disengage the whirling blade whenever you left the handlebars, but would leave the chipper, shredder, vacuum and bagger still working. I finished the working prototype a week later. Surprisingly, the thing turned out to be the world’s best bagging mower, due to the huge blower fan. It was a terrific product!

Only one problem: we now had a 3hp mower that cost $500, weighed a ton (or so it seemed) due to the chipper flywheel, and didn’t even have self-propelled wheels. Since the chipper/vac functions were used only 20% of the time, and the mower 80%, it just didn’t make sense to be pushing around that expensive weight all summer.

We shelved the project. The little Chipper/Vac lived out the rest of its life cycle, earning good profits until the market got its fill, and competition jumped in.

So, is market research a dirty word? Not at all. But just like computers, you only get out what you put in. Had we asked the RIGHT question ahead of time (“Would you buy a Chipper/Vac that mows if it cost 60% more, did a great job, but was a bear to push around all summer?”), we would have saved ourselves a lot of trouble.

As with this and dozens of other cases, many valuable lessons were learned. Do you have a research question or project? I’ll be glad to pass these lessons on to you.

Departmental Warfare
(How the combatants came to the peace table and made history.)
Every company that has hardworking, energized employees has some interdepartmental rivalries. But when I was appointed to the role of Director of Product Innovation at Troy-Bilt (a $100 million company), the situation was fearsome: a street divided the two main buildings, with Marketing on one side and Engineering and other manufacturing functions on the other. The marketers were brilliant, but saw the engineers as obstructionist. The engineers were outstanding, but saw the marketers as blue-sky dreamers. Combined, development was at an acrimonious standstill.

The first thing I did (being a true-blue marketer but with some technical savvy) was go across the street and make friends with all the engineers. Then, their VP and I formed a select committee that reviewed and encouraged all new development. The group got executive backing and soon it was the hot place to be. All sides came together in a team environment where each person understood the desires, capabilities, and limitations of the other. The atmosphere changed to one of “Yeah, we can do that!” and a string of $10 million additional products soon were developed.

Does this sound familiar? If you have good people who just don’t seem to mesh well together, we can help you build a winning team. Once the team is in unison, their great ideas can come to fruition quickly and profitably.

Go Do It Yourself
(The saga of how a young marketer got his hands dirty and discovered a profitable new segment.)
If you’re a gardener, you may have had your garden tilled in the springtime by a commercial “Custom Tilling” operator who created for you a beautiful seedbed for $25-$50 (or more, these days). That notion started over 30 years ago with a small book I wrote called, logically enough, Custom Tilling. But it never would have happened if I’d been sitting on my duff in a cozy office.

The Troy-Bilt company had been making wonderful (and very expensive) gardening tillers for years, selling them to serious home gardeners; they had rear-mounted tines, powered wheels and were so easy to use, you could guide them with just one hand. This was back when most other tillers were the front-tine variety which were very cheap and devilishly hard to run; people called them “Torture Machines”.

Back at the cozy office, we were looking for ways to sell more. Most of Troy-Bilt’s customers were older or retired and had no desire to till for hire. Why not, we reasoned, discover if it’s possible to earn money by custom tilling. Discover all the tips, tricks and pitfalls, then write a book and create a whole program. I was nominated. For six weeks of that spring, I set up a part-time business, bought my own tiller and trailer, advertised and did the work. By the end, I was tanned, fit, bug-bitten, and (in today’s dollars) about $5000 richer. Now we knew it could be done. The next step was to convince others to do it.

The book was published, ads were placed in national magazines, mailings were sent to existing customers and prospects, and before long we had about 10,000 people (mostly guys and gals in their 20’s and 30’s) who were doing this for extra income each spring. The loved their Troy-Bilt tillers, bought some extra ones as their businesses expanded, and bought lots of replacement tines and other parts. We encouraged them with a newsletter and offered them incentives to pass along to their friends.

The industry has tapered off since then, with fewer people gardening and cheap rear-tined imitation Troy-Bilt tillers now available at every home center and hardware store. But you’ll still see ads each year: “Have Tiller, Will Travel”, and many of our old custom tilling friends now have full-service lawn maintenance contracts doing summer chores for businesses just like yours.

Moral of the Story: One great way to make your business grow is to go get your hands dirty and learn the marketing truth for yourself. Become the world’s expert on how to make, sell, and help the customer with your product or service. Then take that knowledge and leverage it so that many other people can spread the business in a chain reaction. Then you can go back to your cozy office (but only for a little while). It’s easy; you can do it; I can show you how!

The $100 Million Product That People Bought… But Never Used.
(Actually, it was fifty thousand, $2000 products, but the principle is the same.)
You’ve heard it said that it is steak which people eat, but it’s the “sizzle” that stimulates their appetite. As a marketer, this explains why the car companies use fancy convertibles to attract buyers to the showroom, even though most people end up buying the sedans (okay, they buy minivans and SUV’s, too).

Troy-Bilt made a darned good garden tiller, but most people really only used the equipment once a year, to till up the garden for planting (plus some cultivating and tilling under residue later). $2,000 for a once-a-year job just didn’t make sense to many.

My task was to broaden the appeal.

Working with my new-found buddies in Engineering, we developed a multi-purpose tiller that could also split firewood, generate electricity, pump water, drag agricultural implements, and tow carts and other wheeled equipment. Each attachment was reasonably priced and market surveys indicating good sales turned out to be true.

But the real surprise was that while thousands of additional basic tillers were sold at $2,000 each, only a few hundred attachments (average $400) were sold each year. Why? Because we were selling the sizzle -- the idea that this tiller COULD be used all year around for many things. That notion removed the objection to buying and using the Troy-Bilt , even though it was still used just once a year for tilling.

Can this work for you? Let’s talk it over and take a look. You may be able to use a little more sizzle to sell a lot more of your steaks.

A Little Too Wild For You? See our "conservative" side on Strictly Business.
 
 
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