Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Voices from the Past: South Bend's Customer Service (1921)

The following article appeared in the trade journal The Printer's Ink for October 1921. It covers in enormous detail the customer service department for South Bend Bait Co. of South Bend, Indiana. If you ever wondered why the firm grew so large so quickly, look no further than the manner in which they tailored letters to their prospective customers. Ivar Hennings, South Bend president, had it down to an art form, with different letters for different writers. Note that they, like all makers, asked each writer to notate what magazine they saw the ad in (Dept. G for example, designating Field & Stream) so they could tailor their response accordingly.  History proves this was an enormously successful business practice, and helps explains why companies like South Bend and Shakespeare had so many different tackle flyers.

A mint collection of 1921 South Bend catalogs and flyers that would have been mailed out to responders. (Courtesy of Lang's Auctions).

How to Make Follow-Up Letters Fit the Prospect

South Bend Bait Company Grades Them According to Mediums That Bring in the Inquiries

By C. M. Harrison

DOES an inquiry received through a general magazine advertisement require a different treatment from one gained from a similar advertisement in a class magazine? Or, to put it another way, should a prospect be automatically classified on a mailing list on the basis of the medium which brought in the name?

The South Bend Bait Company, of South Bend, Ind., after much experimentation in letter writing, is prepared to answer "Yes" to each of these questions. It manufactures bait and fishing tackle and advertises its goods in various classes of mediums. It believes that it is just as important to make the follow-up letter fit the prospect as it is to devote the same attention to the matter of individual copy. The letter, therefore, is made to conform as closely as possible to the general tone of the advertisement which produced the inquiry.

When an inquiry is received at the South Bend office it is at once classified by a key number which indicates the particular advertisement and publication that brought it about. Then the reply is sent out on a specially printed letterhead, on the back of which is reproduced the advertisement that caused the prospect to write.

New supplies of the stationery are printed each month so that the advertisements on the back shall always be up to date. The idea behind the procedure is that the prospect will be doubly impressed if he can see on the letter the advertisement which first induced him to write for the catalogue.

When a man writes the company in reply to an advertisement coming from a certain list of general or national publications, the South Bend theory is that he does not take an outdoor magazine and therefore he probably is not a dyed-in-the-wool angler. The letter written him therefore reads like this:

"1921 Fishing Season.

Dear Fellow Sportsman:

You will be interested, we feel certain, in the true-to-life boyhood fishing tale related in the first pages of this book.

As a sportsman—you are no doubt active in several sports which keenly delight you, which take you out in the open, close to nature.

But are you an angler? Do you know the thrill—the excitement—the genuine joy of baitcasting—the sport of casting for game fish? If you do we need not urge you further to carefully read through this book.

If you have never experienced the thrill which a fighting black bass will give you, turn to pages 6 and 7—also pages 16 and 17— of this book. We'll wager that you'll then read it entirely from cover to cover.

Tackle shown in this book is handled by the live sporting goods dealers in jour city. Go to them— ask to see the new South Bend Level-Winding Anti - Back-Lash Reel, which makes every cast a perfect cast. Also—inspect other articles of Quality Tackle. Thenclosed flier on Selected Game fish Lures may further help you If your dealer cannot supply you. we will gladly fill any order direct. Please mention your dealer's name when writing.

Many thanks for your inquiry —hope that we can count on you as another South Bend Tackle booster.

Faithfully yours,

But the man whose request for a catalogue is inspired by an advertisement in a sportsmen's magazine gets a letter like this:

1921 Fishing Season.

Dear Fellow Angler:

The first few pages of 'The Days of Real Sport' will take you back to those good old days when 'goin' fishin" required little preparation outside of a 'can o' worms' and a cane pole.

Nowadays it is different, as you well know. These days are 'the days of reel sport'—the days of game-fishing sport with the proper tackle.

To simply leaf the pages of this book will at once impress you with the extensive variety of South Bend Quality Tackle.

More careful study of this book, along with the enclosed bait folder, will prove of great assistance in selecting the right baits for the species of fish you are going after.

In making selections, of course, we prefer that you patronize your home dealer. Quality Tackle is handled by the live sporting goods dealers in your city. However, if you prefer we will be glad to fill any order direct. Please mention your dealer's name when writing us.

Many thanks for your inquiry —will count on you as another South Bend Tackle booster.

Faithfully yours,

P. S.—Read carefully the green and black folder enclosed, telling about the 'Masterpiece of Casting Reels'—the new South Bend LevelWinding Anti-Back-Lash Reel.


The advertisement which brought the inquiry answered by the first letter tells about the joys of angling and as such is calculated to impress the person who may not be proficient in that kingly sport. The second class of inquiry, however, was produced by a presentation of "Lures They Fight For I" In each case the letter calls the prospect's attention to the advertisement on the back.

All inquiries brought in from boys' magazines are answered by a special letter which is changed each month to correspond in spirit and in fact with the advertisement printed on the back. It reads like this:

1921 Fishing Season.

Dear Friend:

Instead of sittin' still waiting for 'em to bite—instead of being contented with 'nibbles' and a string of little five-inch 'punkin seeds' or blue gills—the boy of today is getting the thrill and excitement of going after the 'big ones.'

It used to be that casting with reel and rod was the sport of onlydad and the older fellows. Nowadays it's the sport of real, redblooded, regular boys.

When you've read the story about the boy and his dad, on the first few pages of this book— turn to pages 6 and 7 and learn why angling is a hobby which every boy and man should have.

Then turn to pages 16 and 17 —learn about the art of casting. Then read on page 19 about the South Bend Anti-Back-Lash Reel —the reel which makes every cast a perfect cast.

You can learn a mighty lot about bait-casting for game fish by studying this book—and it's sure real sport that a real boy should have.

Ask the sporting goods dealer in your town .to show you the South Bend Reels and Tackle you see Here pictured. Show this book to your dad—ask him how you can earn money to get an angling outfit. Then go out and enjoy the sport of all sports—bait-casting for game fish. Make it your hobby now—and it'll be your hobby always.

Here's luck to you—we'll be glad to hear of your catches.

Faithfully yours.

The letters are varied in accordance with the subject advertised. The advertising department does this on the basis that an interesting letter is just as important in making a sale as is an interesting presentation in paid space, and that it is a costly mistake to devote much effort and expense to good copy and illustrations and then have the effect minimized by faulty form letters.

All of which is saying nothing against form letters. The South Bend letters are exactly that kind. But they are constantly changed to keep them absolutely in step with the advertising.

When a magazine advertisement tells about bait that can lure to his doom the mighty muskallunge, the resulting inquiries are answered by what is known as a "muskie letter." This gives an up-to-date message about the joys of muskie fishing and refers to certain pages in the catalogue where that grade of bait is listed.

In some of the February magazines the South Bend copy told about its four types of flies especially suitable for trout fishing. The inquirers got this trout letter:

1921 Fishing Season.

Dear Fellow Angler:

A noted English angler very fittingly describes the appetite of the wily trout as being 'a bit particular and most discriminating.' As an enthusiastic trout angler you will no doubt agree with him.

Fly-rod fishing for trout requires, first of all, skill—but of equal importance is the selection of the proper light lures to appeal to the trout's fastidious taste.

The Fuzz-Oreno (formerly Fuzzy-body) Buck-tail Flips have proven mighty killing. Also the new Fly-Oreno and Trout-Oreno baits are wonderfully effective lures. They are designed for flyrod use, are of the wobbler type, and dive, dash and wiggle the same as the famous Bass-Oreno.

Other lures, to which we wish to call your attention, are the well-known Emerson Hough Buck-tail Flies and the Pacific Coast Bucktail Fly. They will be found unusual killers and very enticing lures for fly-fishing.

Tackle shown in this book is handled by the live sporting goods dealers in your city. Patronize them. However, if they cannot supply you, we will gladly fill any order direct. Please mention your dealer's name in writing us.

Many thanks for your inquiry. Will count on you as another 'South Bend Tackle' booster.

Faithfully yours,

There is a "salt water letter" sent to those answering advertisements relative to salt water fishing. Christmas advertisements feature the use of reels and lures for gifts and invite inquirers to send for "The Days of Real Sport" in order that full information regarding such useful and welcome gifts may be had. A special Christmas letter goes to all inquirers. It is written so as to bring out the Christmas spirit and on the back of it is the advertisement which inspired the request.

The company regards a form letter as just that and nothing else. Consequently all the letters are printed in ordinary type. There is not the slightest attempt made to make them look like typewritten messages.


But the personal touch which is of the greatest use in all business-getting letters is there just the same. It is in the letter's wording and in its general atmosphere rather than the physical form of its presentation.

Some of the coldest, dreariest, driest, most stereotyped letters in the world are sent out in proper typewritten form with the addresses matching up nicely and the signature correctly appended.

There is no occasion or inclination here to discuss the relative pulling power of typed letters as against the printed kind. But it certainly is not amiss to suggest that the personality, the selling force, must be in the wordinq of the letter.

"We believe," Ivar Hennings. president and general manager of the company, said to Printers' Ink, "that the letter is one of the most sadly neglected phases of advertising. When a person answers one of our advertisements we have in him a potential customer who may have a realiy great effect upon our business in years to come. We either must see him personally and thus clinch the good effect of the work the advertising has done or we must attempt the thing by mail. Obviously the mail is what we use.

"Therefore we cannot take any chances. Each and every letter must be highly personalized— something which is absolutely practical and possible even though letters be of the form variety. If a form letter is highly personalized after this manner it does as much good as a letter dictated to a prospect personally and signed by me as president of the company."

The South Bend company regards its mail so great an asset that it makes full use of the enclosure idea. Little pamphlets go out with every letter and with every box of goods.

-- Dr. Todd

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