There are two main divisions in the mail order business; first, as carried on by a small dealer giving it his whole attention; second, as transacted by an established house, either as side issue to assist the traveling sales department, or as in case of Montgomery Ward & Co. and other catalogue houses, as a sole business.
The underlying principles of the business are the same in all cases, differing only in application. The requisites for a successful start may be briefly outlined and if conscientiously followed out will bring a degree of success depending only upon the extent of the field and the closeness of the application of the promoter.
First, brain is of importance. The average beginner should employ the best brain talent procurable, some one else's if not his own. For the building of a permanent business, honesty must be an asset as well as brain power. Houses now in the field to stay are noted for the honesty with which they treat all dealing with them. Sales over the counter may be made on account of the locality of the store, even though the goods are not up to standard and the proprietor considered tricky, but a customer who has been victimized by mail can never be depended on for another order.
The smaller mail order journals and a certain class of jobbers as well as some mail order writers hold forth a glowing future for an inexperienced man starting in the business with small capital- as one writer terms it, "a man or woman of average intelligence, with a capital of fifty dollars in cash, no experience, and no influential friends, can start in business and spell success in capitals at the end of one year's labor." "Where one such venture launched at an opportune time by someone peculiarly fitted to the business, comes to success, fifty fail for lack of capital and as many more yield indifferent results. Says W. B. Powell on this subject: "You cannot get rich on a three-line ad in a mail order paper filled with advertising that makes yours look like thirty cents. The mail order business has gotten down to hard-pan basis. You have to have a good article and considerable capital back of you, business sense, and a tenacity of purpose that will not falter within two or three years. You cannot get rich quick on two or three hundred dollars. If you could, there wouldn't be white paper enough to print the ads offered the mail order publications." A beginner should have sufficient capital- actual money in the bank- and a reasonable credit to tide him over in case he needs money temporarily.
Adaptability, as in other lines of business, is a prime requisite. A business suited to one's taste is bound to be a success eventually, and if not suited to it and the promoter cannot adapt himself to its manifold requirements, he should lose no time in changing to one in which he can put forth his full energies.
The advantage of system in the mail order business is fully set forth by Sydney A. Hale, who says: "You must have system in your business, and the best is none too good. In no other business is the routine and detail so great; in no other business is a most accurate and most minute record of every transaction so essential; in no other business is a handy record so necessary. A good system is not necessarily an involved one; on the contrary, inasmuch as system consists in the elimination of labor, time and useless detail, the simplest system is the nearest approach to perfection. It is the writer's experience that no one stock system can ever prove adequate- only a system devised essentially and especially to fill your own particular needs. Whether it fills anybody else's need is not your care; unless it can fill your own needs it should be abandoned. A successful system must always be easy of access; it must be accurate; it must be complete. Money invested in perfecting a system is money saved. Don't try to start business or life without them. It is the man that has a system in both life and business that wins the battles."
The vital part of a mail order business once started is the advertising. Proper mediums must be used, the ads must be well worded, displayed, and placed; advertising effort must be continuous.
Goods advertised should be forwarded the buyer as soon as possible; there should be no waiting on account goods being out of stock or not yet delivered from the manufacturer.
Many beginners and even some established firms underrate neatness in putting out goods. Goods neatly labeled, mailed in a compact package carefully done up, appeal to the recipient at once.