May 01, 2015

In the 1870s, out in the great woods of Minnesota, a teenager named Almanzo Wilder befriended a boy a bit younger than him.

Almanzo - the elder of the two - would go on to become famous by marrying the author of Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls.

But his friend, Richard, is even more well known to us today than Almanzo Wilder.

Richard had been born in Minnesota, just after it became a state, and he knew what it was like for farmers, frontiersmen, and odd jobbers trying to scrape together a living.

Richard’s family lost everything they had when his father made a bad investment. He was a young man in search of an income - which led him to a job with the railroad. 

But his real break came when, by chance, he got the opportunity to buy up a bunch of watches that had been rejected by a jeweler. 

The first extraordinary thing he noticed was that he was able to sell each and every watch.

Second, he realized that most farmers and small businessmen had no reliable access to luxuries

OR even the kind of day-to-day necessities you could easily get in the big city.

So, ultimately, Richard - and his partner, Alvah - came up with a grander vision: a directory of goods that could be distributed to hundreds of thousands of people.

The catalogue sold just about everything - tractors and sewing machines, guns and bicycles, eyeglasses and baby clothes. 

Richard was obsessed with making customers feel like part of a community. He proclaimed: “We Can’t Afford to Lose a Customer,” and the catalogue would regularly highlight devoted fans.

Long before the Internet revolutionized commerce by bringing everything to your door, Richard Warren Sears and his partner, Alvah Roebuck, connected hard-working, rural Americans to conveniences and delights that came from thousands of miles away.

Which is how Sears, like Almanzo Wilder, became an iconic name to those in little houses on the prairie.

innovation hub, Business, agriculture, Rural, Sears

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