A general outline of the mail order business is given on preceding pages, and following is outlined by O. F. Kohl, the handling of one of the most important parts of mail order work - the following up of inquiries.
Ten years ago the. mail order business was new. It was confined to a few branches of trade; the number of concerns engaged in it was comparatively small, and their profits were large in comparison with the investment. Within the past few years conditions have changed. The number of mail order houses to-day is large; in consequence the profits are smaller. The progress in the business has produced a careful follow-up system for inquiries, which is an ever-present need. It is felt much more to-day than ten years ago, when the writer embarked in the business.
The advertising expense of a mail order concern is perhaps at the outset its greatest item; in consequence the results which are obtained from that expenditure determine, in a large measure, what degree of success is to be vouchsafed to the manager of a mail order business. It is therefore necessary to make as much of these results as possible. It is absolutely necessary that the inquiries be pursued to the time where they produce a sale, or until those inquiries are found to be the result of mere curiosity. Just at what point this is determined is a mooted question with all mail order people, and may not here be dealt with. It is assumed in this business that every inquiry is the offspring of a desire to buy, and is treated accordingly. Everyone in the company's employ follows closely the outline of this system and makes it a point to keep a record of every sale, the source from which it is derived and to keep a record of every inquiry in the same way. If a sale results from subsequent correspondence it is credited to its original advertising source.
A record is also kept of the advertising in the various mediums and of the results therefrom. In this way it is known which is the most productive and what advertising copy shows the greatest returns.
Records of sales are kept by means of cards; and as the same system is used as with inquiries, the illustration serves the purpose of explaining both.
Every mail order house has a list of names of people, obtained from advertising and auxiliary sources. These people are reached with circular letters and printed matter every three months, aside from the general advertising. For each person a card similar to the inquiry card (Figure I) is used, except that it contains only the name and address. These cards are white and the division cards are buff. They are filed in sectional cabinets by states, which are sub-indexed alphabetically for the larger cities.
Whenever an inquiry is received, the white card is taken from the file and also the buff guide for that town and substituted for both cards of a salmon tint. The white card is then stamped across its face "inquiry," that in the future it may not be incorrectly filed if taken out for correspondence reference.
The same procedure is followed in regard to the sale, except that the word "order" is stamped on the white card (Figure II). These cards are then transferred to a separate file labeled "Inquiries" and "Orders." Thus, when circular matter is again sent out to the general list, those who may have inquired or bought are not reached.
The substitution of the salmon-tinted card with the address on it for the general file is to make the list complete, so that when correspondence comes in and the name is looked up, the clerk who looks after this will know at once whether the card is in the sales or inquiry box.
This system of filing separates the cards containing the records of those who have bought or may buy from those from whom no response has been had. To the latter, matter is sent at least every two weeks, and continued until some result is attained, or until satisfied that there is no further use in writing them. They are then transferred to a dead file. To this list are sent only special offers, but for all practical purposes they are on the dead list.
In following up the list in the inquiry and sales box, adjustable tabs are used, or should it be desired to indicate the date of a reply, a ring is placed around it (Figure II). This saves the necessity of removing the cards from their proper places in the file, and the destination acts as a puller for all of the correspondence. It will be noted that only the odd days in the month are used, as for all practical purposes these are sufficient. On the back of the cards is had space for the dates on which letters are written. These cards are then turned over to the stenographer, with the date when a reply is expected, indicated within the ring. The stenographer stamps the date on the letter, which is filed by a girl who has entire charge of this work, and who is held responsible for the errors. This rule is followed in every department and found profitable.
All the correspondence relating to one transaction is filed together, and a separate folder is made for each individual with whom any considerable correspondence is had.
This system saves time and enables the best results to be obtained from letter writing and general advertising. The color system is a valuable adjunct to the card system, and the manner in which this is run enables the keeping of cards in contact at all times, so that there is no difficulty in finding any desired information. If the number of inquiries were not large, the white card would not be removed from the box, but would have "inquiry" stamped upon it.
While this system was originally devised for the mail order business, in the manufacture of watches, jewelry and musical instruments, anyone giving it careful study will see at once that it is adapatable to any mail order business, and those who desire to install it may rest assured that it has had the strong indorsement resulting from long and successful use.