Where Science Meets Muse

Starting an Empire – Sears’ Eye for Making People’s Lives Easier

Posted by Plish on June 9, 2011

It’s simple.

Observe>>Reflect on the Experience>>Act on the Insights(=Design Solutions).

Richard W. Sears, founder of Sears Roebuck, lived by that process.

His goal was to make life simpler for people and make a profit doing it.

In the 1880’s as the country was adopting and making sense of time zones (from 300 to four), Sears sold watches to rail travellers.  People who before had to calculate the time by looking at the sky and deduct or add a minute for every 12 miles traversed, depending on the direction being travelled.

His focus on making life easier for his customers is epitomized by this blurb in his 1908 catalog which made it clear that people didn’t have to be intimidated by the mail order process. 

Don’t be afraid you will make a mistake (on your order). We receive hundreds of orders every day from young and old who never before sent away for goods. Tell us what you want in your own way, written in any language. We have translators to read all languages.

And my favorite:

Observation: People placed their catalogs and books on coffee tables.  The books were often stacked when the house was cleaned.

Reflection on Experience: The Sears catalog had to compete with the Montgomery Ward catalog for space.  In order to get noticed, somehow the Sears catalog had to differentiate itself in some way.  As printing techniques for the catalogs were relatively simple, Sears took an entirely different route to differentiate his catalog. 

Act on the Insights:  He made the catalog smaller than the Montgomery Ward catalog so that when the catalogs were stacked on the coffee table, the Sears catalog would be placed on top. 

Building an empire is actually quite simple.


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