Dear Sir:

Postal survey card from Mesker Brothers Iron Works to Bernhard Baker, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, July 21, 1909.

The immense catalog printing and distribution of the Mesker companies and especially of Mesker Brothers Iron Works is well recognized as a linchpin of their success. But what other marketing was used? How did they know who to send the catalogs to? Who and where was their competition? Were their prices competitive? A recent eBay find and subject of this blog post sheds some light onto these previously unanswered riddles.

To follow up on the status of their quoted estimates and to gauge the interest of prospective customers, Mesker Brothers employed a rather conventional tactic—a post card. Such cards, often with a detachable prepaid return card, were a common practice by businesses of the era. One such note postal note from Mesker Brothers to Mr. Bernhard Baker of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, dated July 21, 1909, read:

Dear Sir:
Some time ago we quoted prices at your request on show sash and doors.
Kindly inform us on the attached postal card, whether our prices are satisfactory, and if so, when we may expect to receive your order. If you have purchased elsewhere, or intend to do so, please give your reason for this.
Please send us this information by return mail, so we need not annoy you with unnecessary correspondence regarding this matter.
Yours truly,

Mesker & Bro.

The attached survey card, with return address and prepaid postage, asked the following questions:

Are Prices quoted Satisfactory?
When will you be ready for purchase?
Have you purchased elsewhere?
How much lower was price than ours?
From whom did you purchase?
If you know of any who intend to put up store buildings, kindly give names.

Answers to these questions would have been invaluable in further solicitation with the specific customer such as Mr. Baker, but more importantly towards development of a larger marketing strategy, which seems to have included undercutting regional competitors and targeted direct correspondence with other business owners, architects, or builders. Since such a specific marketing list was not available for purchase, Mesker Brothers had to create their own and the postal survey card was just the means towards that end.

The postal card to Mr. Baker wasn’t a one-off. The printing mark indicates that 1,000 copies were printed in June of 1909. An earlier card with the same content (also to Mr. Baker who obviously didn’t respond to it) was printed in January of 1909 in an edition of 2,500. There is an even earlier example, from 1893, requesting similar information from prospective customers to whom Mesker Brothers mailed catalogs.

To be reliable, these surveys needed a certain volume of responses, which in turn would drive up the volume of estimates and eventually sales. How many were received and how they were tracked will never be known. Although Mr. Baker never completed nor returned his reply cards to Mesker Brothers, one can imagine that at least some of the other thousands of customers did. After all, Meskers didn’t sell countless of building fronts across the country by chance.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Dear Sir:”
  1. David Habura says:

    An interesting insight into the marketing practices of the time!

    I think I might have used printed letters and added a hand written comment such as “Looking forward to earning your business,” or a personal note if I knew the prospect. The post card seems a bit cold.

    But very interesting….and a lucky find on Ebay!! And your description is excellent. Great analysis!

    Dave

    • Thanks for your feedback David! While a hand written/personal note is not an unreasonable expectation, considering the volume of estimates and responses they were dealing with, this was far more expedient and cost effective. And again, very comparable to what other businesses were doing.

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