Early in life, Atlee Burpee’s father suggested selling high-class poultry was not for his son. The younger Burpee was intrigued by what his father thought to be a foul profession, though, and he began selling birds by mail. To ensure his clients properly fed their stock, he sent along packets of quality farm seeds with each purchase. And many orders came in…but for the seeds!
Realizing premiums might overtake his main line, Atlee began selling seeds instead. But sales soon foundered, and the entrepreneur tried two promotions in conjunction with his catalog.
The catalog’s first few pages sold seeds for cucumbers, turnips, tomatoes, and the like for a mere 25 cents (regular value $1.00!). The back of the book offered anyone representing Burpee’s company who sold 300 of the 25-cent packages a free $22 sewing machine.
The first successful mass market incentive plan brought over 400 orders per mailbag at one point.
Burpee’s catalog became his primary sales vehicle due to its convenience and Atlee’s home-spun writing style. In fact, the catalog became SO popular that many customers named their children Atlee. Always marketing, he would often stop and visit his namesakes, presenting them with a silver mug.
Burpee never stopped promoting. It was a tactic that helped grow what was, at the time of his death in 1915, the world’s largest seed company.