CHEWING GUM MOGUL WILLIAM WRIGLEY JR.: HE STUCK TO HIS VISION

 11-11When William Wrigley Jr. hit the road from Philadelphia to Chicagto in 1891, he had just $32 in his pocket.

Yet he wasn’t worried. He’d overcome worse obstacles. For insurance, he’d been kicked out of school repeatedly. Low funds were just one more challenge.

And it was one he rose to. After founding the William Wrigley Jr. Co. that year, he spent the next few building his firm into a powerhouse that became the world’s largest gum manufacturer. He later bought the Chicago Cubs, building championship teams, and developed Catalina Island in California as one of the nation’s top resort destinations.

7-25--William Wrigley 1929Wrigley [1861-1932] didn’t have a smooth ride. As a child, he was adventurous. He ran away from home at age 11 and went to New York City. He wasn’t unhappy at home; he simply wanted to prove that he could take care of himself. He got a job as a newsboy a few hours after he arrived, found a warm place on the street to sleep and stayed the summer.

He returned home and went to school but repeatedly got into scrapes. He was expelled an average of once every three weeks, according to Fortune magazine article published in 1932. Finally, at age 13, he was permanently kicked out for throwing a pie at the school.

Wrigley figured he’d better learn to be good at something. So he threw all his efforts into becoming a salesman for his father’s soap making company. Wrigley proved to be a natural.

He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He sold one customer by asking for sales tips after the guy criticized Wrigley’s technique. Another customer went to work at 6:45 a.m. each day; Wrigley got up early and bumped into him every day for a month as the man was opening his shop. The man finally bought soap from Wrigley.

Persistence 

9781616135614_general (1)“Sticking is one of the big things in salesmanship,” Wrigley said in the book In the Words of Great Business Leaders by Julie Fenster. “Nearly all buyers say ‘No!’ at first. Real salesmen stick until the buyer has used up his last ‘No!’”

It wasn’t just that attitude that carried Wrigley.

“For years there hung a sign over his desk: ‘Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,’” wrote Peter Golenbock in Wrigleyville. 

That enthusiasm made it easy for Wrigley to stay optimistic on his arrival in Chicago. He felt he could accomplish anything as long as he believed in himself.

“A man’s doubts and fears are his worst enemies,” Wrigley said in a company document. “He can go ahead and do anything so long as he doesn’t know he can’t do it.”

He also was smart enough to outwit his rivals.

downloadWrigley’s company in Chicago started out selling his father’s soap. When competitors tried to undercut his prices, he gave free baking soda to his dealers for every box of soap they sold. That kind of incentive became a Wrigley hallmark. Soon enough, baking soda was in such demand, he began selling it.

Then he began offering chewing gum as an incentive. Demand for that grew so fast that Wrigley started selling gum under his own name in 1892. He launched Juicy Fruit and Wrigley’s Spearmint in 1893.

There were a dozen chewing gum companies in the U.S. at the time, but Wrigley wouldn’t be deterred. He kept his trademark optimism through good times and bad.

“I have never seen Mr. Wrigley worried,” a Wrigley executive said in Fenster’s book. “In crises that would have crushed many men, that had me running around in circles, he remained as calm, as cheerful as if he were on a Sunday picnic.”
Wrigley personally visited customers, according to a Wrigley Co. profile. He believed that business, like life, was based on relationships.

Wrigley’ great-grandson, Wrigley Co. Chief Executive Bill Wrigley Jr., talked in a speech about the elder Wrigley’s belief in fairness.

A vendor came into Wrigley’s office one day to sell him a promotional item.

After they negotiated a deal, the man said he’d lose money because Wrigley had made himself such a good deal. Wrigley tone up the contract and said, “We don’t want to do business with anybody who loses money on us.”

f0013_wrigley_gumClearly, William Wrigley Jr. understood that, over the long term, a company cannot win at the expense of its business partners,” Bill Wrigley said.

Wrigley knew the value of building loyalty and treated his employees like family. He started the five-day workweek in 1924, making him one of the first to give his employees Saturdays off. He also gave them medical care, life insurance and shares of stock.

Wrigley trusted his instincts enough to go against the crowd. Most of his rivals slashed costs during the depression of 1907. Wrigley seized the chance to advertise. Twice before, he’d spent $100,000 to launch ad campaigns in New York with few results. Still, he pumped $250,000 into a massive campaign during that depression. He was able to get billboard space cheaply, and the campaign proved successful.

Wrigley’s Spearmint became the most popular brand of chewing gum by 1910.

“Tell’em quick and tell’em often” became his motto. During the 1920s, he placed cards promoting his gum in all 62,000 buses, subways, and elevated train cars in the nation. Twice he sent four sticks of gum to every person in the phone book across the country.

It paid off. By 1922, the company was selling 10 billion sticks of gum a year.

Wrigley took a long-term view, aiming for the bigger pot of gold down the road. He invested at least $7 million in developing Catalina Island after buying it for $3.5 million in 1919.

“Profitability did not interfere with Wrigley’s goals but rather was presumed to follow them at a distance,” Fenster wrote. “‘Eventually,’ he said of Catalina, ‘I’ll make up the cost by taking the smallest possible profit from an increased number of visitors.’”

Long View 

download (2)Wrigley also held that the long-term view was best.

“I have sometimes been asked what single policy has been most profitable in our business, and I have always unhesitatingly answered, restraint in regard to immediate profits,” Wrigley said in Fenster’s book. “That has not only been our most profitable policy, it has been pretty nearly our only profitable one.”

Wrigley also believed that innovation was crucial. As owner of the Cubs, he became on the first in baseball to promote Ladies Day to bring women to the park.

He became the first owner to regularly broadcast his team’s games live on the radio. Other owners feared radio would cause fans to stay home. Wrigley figured it would drum up interest and boost attendance. The Cubs broke the major league attendance record in 1929. 

Source: “BUSINESS LEADERS & SUCCESS – 55 TOP BUSINESS LEADERS & HOW THEY ACHIEVED GREATNESS” (With an introduction from William J. O’Neil, founder of INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004, pages 76-79. 

Jakarta, 23 May 2014 

Frans Indrapradja

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