Doing Business With Relish

The oompah bands of Germany were only a distant memory when young Oscar Mayer rented the dilapidated Kollig Meat Market on the north side of Chicago in 1883. Despite the shop’s condition, Mayer’s determination to become successful and his skill with meat products soon earned him a notable reputation.

Word of his quality and service spread, and the fortunes of the little shop improved dramatically. And when Oscar’s lease came up for renewal, Mayer’s landlord tried to take back the now-profitable venture.

But Oscar Mayer was a tenacious fellow, and he wasn’t about to let anyone take advantage of him. Mayer built a new store nearby – keeping his old following and building a fresh one as well.

Realizing the importance of name recognition and determined to prevent anyone else from pirating away his business as his landlord had tried to do, Oscar began to put his name on every product he sold. This was considered radical, since even major producers sold their goods anonymously at the time. To help promote his line of meats, a bright yellow banner with the company name was put on every fourth wiener sold.

This branding effort, of course, made it possible for customers to ask for Oscar Mayer’s meats outside Oscar’s traditional sales area. Once again word of the Bavarian bockwurst king spread, and within a short time he was servicing 280 grocery stores in two states.

He acquired other companies, promoted heavily and constantly, and opened new markets. Always the ham, Oscar even introduced the “Wienermobile” and “Little Oscar”, a midget spokesman who gave out autographed pictures, wiener whistles and product samples labeled “The wiener with a conscience.” (to persuade consumers that only the finest ingredients were used in the products they were eating).

Oscar Mayer’s determination to only sell quality goods, combined with a constant effort at marketing – even when market conditions didn’t require it – soon made Oscar Mayer’s company a real hot dog in the meat business. At the time of his death in 1955, Oscar’s quality, service, determination and flair for marketing had turned his start-up shop into a $225 million business.