When you want to buy groceries, a present, or a new coat, you visit local shops and probably online retailers. This wasn’t always the case. For years, receiving something by mail wasn’t an option. Albert Loeb, founder of Loeb Farms, now Castle Farms, made his first association with Sears and Roebuck company in 1895, eventually becoming the Vice President of Sears and Roebuck, and finally the acting president. Loeb became the “Modern Mail Order Marvel” of his day. He was named by Forbes in November 1917, as the party responsible for building up Sears and Roebuck from “a small concern to $2,500,000 in mail order business per week.”
Loeb had a new vision for the company which included the rural farm market and a 1600 acre parcel of land in Charlevoix County that he planned to transform into a dairy farm. The farm was intended to serve as a modern showcase to promote cutting-edge farm equipment sold by Sears and Roebuck. In rural areas, including Northern Michigan, farmers were isolated from resources of the cities. Loeb knew that providing for the needs of this market would help Sears business expand quickly. And just like a connected global network has helped Amazon become king of today’s $100 billion e-commerce industry, Albert Loeb was about to become king of his own mail order industry, using a well-connected railroad network to move “full steam ahead” in the development of Sears and Roebuck’s massive mail-order houses.
Sears’ mail order relied on the innovative technique of selling products directly to the consumer at appealing prices. They had the ability to sell a variety of merchandise to farmers at comparatively low prices, cutting out the wholesaler and any other middlemen. But yet another major development was on the brink that would catapult the mail order business into a new era of expansion…the establishment of the parcel-post system.
This allowed for mail that was too heavy for normal letter post. The first parcel post, established in 1913, enabled parcels to be carried in bulk by the railway, on a regular schedule and at economic prices. This new development was the bridge that Loeb needed to reach his rural farm markets. Now Loeb could further expand his customer base and the business as well. Additional buildings were needed in various areas of Chicago including a newly built mail order plant. With more than 3 million square feet of floor space, it would open as the largest business building in the world. Sears and Roebuck, with Loeb at the helm, would become the “Amazon” of the last century.
So with the logistics in place, Loeb began the next phase of his marketing campaign to the farmers… education. For the rural farm market to realize they needed the modern technologically-advanced farm equipment that Loeb advertised for sale in the Sears and Roebuck catalog, they would need education. And a whole lot of good publicity to get the word out.
Publicity was easy. When the area newspaper learned of Loeb’s acquisition of the Pine Lake property, the Charlevoix Courier wrote,“Mr. Loeb is to be congratulated upon his selection of this site, Charlevoix is favored by the passing of this long recognized beautiful pointe into such hands.” The community embraced the news, little knowing the educational farming enterprise that was soon to be. In addition, the Loebs poured into the community a wealth of information, resources, and of course the largest opportunity for employment ever seen by those area residents. They would put the county on the map with the record-setting producing animals that would come to be known worldwide.
Loeb would even eventually create his own mail order business selling Golden Leader Cheese, cooking apples, butter, and also maple syrup. He hired Forest F. Fowler to supervise the mail order business of Loeb Farms. Of course, the products were shipped parcel post direct to consumers.
From mail order to parcel post, Loeb grew Sears and Roebuck to a multi-million dollar enterprise. Today, online shopping is on the rise, and delivery by drone is being explored. Modern business men and women like Loeb will always be looking for innovative ways to bring their products to consumers. What do you think is in store next?