Whatever Works: Where Product is King
The partners opened a Canadian branch of the company and invited Brown in as a partner. He left Jay Norris and, working out of his home, was responsible for merchandising and copy. He found he liked working at his own pace, and the job enabled him to focus on the areas he enjoyed most.
The First Catalog
The Canadian company was sold after a year, and for a short while, Brown was unemployed. Then one of Jay Norris’ merchandise suppliers, Len Feldman, devised the idea for a healthcare catalog and invited Brown to join him.
From his warehouse and offices near the Brooklyn docks, he was supplying many products in that field and knew the foibles of older people and the ways they deal with pain, skin problems, sore feet—the gamut of ills that plague senior citizens. At the time, only Sears had a healthcare catalog and, in Larry’s words, “By page 3 you were nauseous, what with pictures of a guy with tubes in his nose and somebody else in a wheelchair.”
Several obstacles had to be overcome. Feldman was a major supplier of health-related products to the low-end catalogers of the era—Sunset House, Foster & Gallagher and Spencer Gifts, as well as the giant Hanover House family of catalogs. The partners went to the four catalogers and announced their plan to start a healthcare title with the promise that they’d make available any successful items on a wholesale basis. This was a win-win proposition. Hanover President Harold Schwartz warned the fledgling entrepreneurs that no lists were available, as these were the days before sophisticated list segmentation. The solution was to build lists using space advertising.
Their philosophy was simple: They’d show products that people didn’t know existed and make them want the items. These were not products found in Wal-Mart, Kmart or the local drug store. Rather, the catalog would offer products to accomplish something that was immediately obvious from the headline and the illustration. “If the prospect has to read the copy to find out what a product does,” Brown says, “you’ve lost the sale.”