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Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, March 1-2, 1960

March 2, 2010 |  2:00 pm

March 2, 1960, Mirror Cover

Newcomers to U.S. Learn of Clippolas

Paul Coates

    The Govaars family's introduction to the uniquely American art of the gimmick ad came last August in the form of a small handbill on their front doorstep.

    The handbill extolled the quality of what was described as an ortho-construction mattress, made by the Health-Aid Bedding Co.  Why toss and turn uncomfortably in your sleep --  it asked -- when you could get a good night's rest on a Health-Aid?

    The price of the mattress,  for three days only, was an amazing $24.95.  A savings of more than $40 off the regular cost.

    The Govaars --  who had immigrated to the United States from Holland just eight months before -- were in the market for a new mattress.  Besides William Govaars and his wife, there were their two daughters, Inga, 17, and Maja, 7.

    When Govaars returned home from work that evening his wife showed him the circular.  He was impressed by the bedding company's claims.  It wouldn't hurt to investigate.  So he dialed the phone number printed on the handbill and requested that a company representative drop by.    

March 2, 1960, You and Reincarnation

image The next day, a glib, suede-shoed salesman was at the door.

    Her husband was at work, so Mrs. Govaars listened to the pitch.  She felt the sample.  it appeared to be a bargain so she wasted no time in saying that she'd take it.  She wrote out a check.

    Then the salesman. with check in hand, gave her some rather disappointing news. 

    "You understand," he said blandly, "that this mattress will develop a sag in a matter of days."

    Mrs. Govaars said that she didn't understand.

    "What I mean is," he continued, "you can't expect to buy a mattress of good quality for just $24.95.  About the only way to keep this cheap mattress in good shape would be to bring it in to the factory every three months to have it re-stuffed and re-conditioned.

    "That," he added, "will run you $8 each time you bring it in."

    "But if it's no good," protested Mrs. Govaars, "why did you sell it to me?"

    The reply to that one was obvious.  "Because you said you wanted it."

    Before the salesman could say much more, Mrs. Govaars ushered him to the door, saying that she'd have to talk the matter over with her husband.  The salesman, of course, hung on to the check.

    It was two days later when a company representative contacted her by phone.  He asked her if she would take the cheap mattress, or care to see samples of some better-constructed ones.  She answered that she'd like to see the samples.

    The next day, a truck arrived with the mattress she was told was no good.  She explained to the driver that a representative was coming to show her more samples, so he left.

    The following day, the representative appeared.  His "line of samples" turned out to be one mattress, priced at $280.  She said no.  So he offered her the special direct-from-the-factory deal on the same mattress.  $160.  She said no again.  She obviously meant it, too.  So he left.

    Over the next week, there were a few more phone calls from the company, asking her what she wanted.  By now, Mrs. Govaars was completely confused.  Finally, one of the callers said he'd arrange to get her money back for her.

    The Govaars waited.  No money came.  They began calling the company's answering service and leaving messages.  But no one ever returned their calls.  Mr.Govaars sent a registered letter.  It, too, went unanswered.

    They learned, in the interim, that they would have made a pretty good deal if they had insisted on taking the advertised mattress, which the salesman kept warning them was no good.

Suede Shoe Persuaders

    It was the come-on, the lure, the foot-in-the-door.  In the suede shoe circuit, the procedure is to offer something at a ridiculously low price, and once you're in the customer's living room, tell him the product is no good.  Then, you give him the hard-sell on a similar product at three or four times the price.

    Now, seven months have passed fro the Govaars.  Still, they're waiting.

    It's too bad that their introduction to American commerce had to come through the tawdry channels of the pitchman.

    It's too bad but it's not surprising.  The "switch" artists are so thick in sunny California, that they step on each other's suede shoes in their rush to corral suckers.


The Mattress Deal Exceptionally Lumpy

March 2, 1960

    He's a businessman.  He sells bedding.  I told you about some of his clients yesterday.

    He buys wholesale from the manufacturer.  His cost for an inexpensive box spring and mattress is $25.95, twin size, $28.95, full size.

    He pours money into TV advertising.  He pays for printed handbills and pays men to drop them at people's doorsteps.  He hires telephone girls to take down the names of interested prospects.  He enlists salesmen and pays them a  commission. 

    He offers, free, to those who "act right now," two full-size pillows.

    Then, he prices his product at $24.50.  For either the twin-size or full-size sets.  That's the full price.  Easy terms.

    His retail price is from $1.45 to $4.45 under his actual basic cost.  He takes a loss even before he adds in his operating expenses, which are considerable.

    He's a fool, you say.  Destined for bankruptcy.

    Shows how much you know. 

    He's a promoter, polished in the art of switched salesmanship.  He's staking his bankroll on the fact that you're going to end up being the fool.

    And chances are, he's got a sound bet.  If his operation goes according to plan, he'll fill his pockets with your money before anyone figures out what's happening.

    The costs and prices which I quoted above are the actual costs and prices which the bedding concern began blanketing the town with in its "giant sale" propaganda last fall.

    The handbills used the phrases "1st quality," "fully guaranteed," and "ortho-construction."

    But the friendly company representative who answered your inquiry gave  a different story.

    Yesterday, I cited the instance of a Lynwood housewife who tried, last August, to buy the advertised box spring and mattress set.

    She was told by the salesman who visited her that the mattress "would develop a sag in a matter of days."  That it was no good, that it would have to be re-stuffed and reconditioned every 90 days.  The company took her money, but she never got her mattress.

    Other prospects heard similar lines.  One was told, "It's much too delicate for a grown man to use.  It wouldn't last a day."

    That's part of the "switch" sales technique.

    Shame the customer out of buying the advertised article.  Make it virtually impossible.  Then hard-sell him into buying a similar product -- ridiculously overpriced.

    It's worked in sewing machines, vacuum cleaners -- just about any item that's likely to catch the housewife's eye.

    The particular outfit whose operations I described used a  mattress and box spring set which wholesaled for $39 as their "switch."

    It was a mattress which retailed in stores for prices ranging from $60 to $90.

    But they stitched a pretty label on it, bearing the picture of a nurse, and the words, "Scientifically designed with your health in mind.  Now, only $239.95."

    Quite a bargain:  a $39 mattress and box spring for only $239.95.

    Of course the price isn't a firm one.  A check with customers of the company shows that some paid as high as $250, others as low as $150.  Get what the traffic will bear.

    But whatever you do, talk her out of buying the advertised set.

The 'Switch" Gimmick

    Yesterday, I talked with one woman -- the wife of a bed spring company executive -- who figured the "switch" gimmick out right away.  She answered the $24.50 come-on, determined to make them sell her the advertised set.

    "The two of you can't sleep on it together," she was told.  That was all right, she said.  She still wanted it.  "In fact, if your husband sleeps on it one night, it won't be any good the next day," the salesman persisted.

    She still wanted it, she told him firmly.

    Finally, reluctantly, he gave her the address of a warehouse where she could pick it up.  She went there, but was informed that she had come to the wrong place.

    She was sent to another warehouse.  She got the same run-around.

    She never did get her mattress.

    I know that some of you aren't going to believe me -- but I'll tell you anyway: Nobody gets something for nothing.