Saturday, March 7, 2015

William Wrigley, Jr.: Gum Magnate and Advertising Genius

William Wrigley, Jr.
William Wrigley, Jr. (September 30, 1861 – January 26, 1932) owned the biggest gum manufacturing company in the world – Wrigley’s Chewing Gum. From an energetic but a mischievous kid, Wrigley started as a labor and rose to become a salesman. His experience as a sales gave him the skills needed to advertise a product. With one his gimmicks he discovered a candy that gave him millions – chewing gum. He then establish himself a major player in the industry, took risk, and became number one. He then used his wealth to various investment and interest. Upon his demise, he left a huge wealth and a prospering company to his son.

William Wrigley, Jr. came from a prosperous business family from Pennsylvania. Born on September 30, 1861, he was the eldest son of Mary and William Wrigley, Sr. Wrigley Sr. became a successful man by establishing a soap factory under the name William Wrigley Manufacturing Company. Perhaps, Wrigley Jr. got the talent of his father as a businessman.

Wrigley Jr., however, proved to be a difficulty to his parents. Wrigley became an infamous mischievous child, doing pranks and making trouble in his school. His father frequently went to the principal’s office to hear reports from his teachers.  At 11, Wrigley ran away from his home along with couple of friends. They found themselves living miserably in New York. The young Wrigley Jr. had to take many jobs to earn a meager living. Worst, he did not have any proper lodgings to go to. At night, doorsteps and wagons served as Wrigley’s shelter. He technically lived as a street children until the warm summer turned into a cold autumn season. When autumn came, Wrigley decided to go back home in Pennsylvania. A year later, Wrigley proved to have remained a troublemaker that led to his expulsion. In a prank, he threw cream pies to his school’s sign board. The school administration lose their patience with Wrigley Jr. and kicked him out.

Obviously, his father felt angry on his son. He wanted to teach him a lesson. He gave Wrigley Jr. a job in his soap factory. The job given was the worst task in the factory. Every 10 hours a day, Wrigley Jr. stirred large vats of soap boiling in a huge pyre with a large paddle. The physical work under hot temperature gave Wrigley Jr. a dollar and a half per week. William Wrigley Jr. endured it and it strengthen him both physically and mentally.

After a year working in the vats, his father transferred him to work as a salesman. Wrigley displayed his natural talent as a salesman. He drove his red wagon across numerous places like New York, Massachusetts, and other surrounding states peddling his father’s soap. As a salesman he showed great charm, courtesy, and care for his clients. He followed the principle: The customer is always right. He provided good customer service. In certain conditions, he adjusted prices in order for his customers to afford his soap but still earn a profit. For few years, he continued to become a successful salesman and when he reached the age of 18, he had a lot of money.

Upon reaching his 18th year, he decided to take a new career path. Mining at that time began to prosper in the west and Wrigley wanted to invest in it. And so he travelled west. However, his travel soon became a misadventure. In a stop in Kansas City, he lose his ticket and became stranded. He had to take numerous jobs once again to survive and save money for a ticket back to Pennsylvania. He went home eventually. For the next decade, he remained a salesman for his father.

In 1891, he wanted again to try to be self-reliant and establish his own enterprise. He went to the booming city of Chicago and establish himself as salesman there. He sought the help of his uncle, William Scotchard, to provide capital for his soap wholesale distribution business. His uncle’s assistance, however, had the condition that his son be a part of the business. Wrigley accept and began operation. Wrigley continued to show his remarkable salesmanship skills. He continued to provide very satisfactory service to his customers.

To boost his sales, he began orchestrating gimmicks. He began to practice giving premiums to his customers. The premiums served as give away to soap buyers under Wrigley’s principle of “giving something for nothing”. He first gave away red umbrellas as premiums to his customers. He bought large quantities of umbrellas at a low price and gave them away. When he ran out of umbrellas, Wrigley began giving away baking powder. His premium eventually become a way to see what his customer’s wants. After starting to give away baking powder, Wrigley noticed that his customers only bought soap in order to get baking powder. After observing it, he shifted from selling soap to selling baking powder. When he began selling baking powder, he used many items as premiums, such as toiletries and even cook books.

However, the chewing gum proved to be his best premium because it change the course of his life. During the time when he sell his baking powder, he once again noticed that customers only buy baking powder for the free gum. He then decided to switch from baking powder to chewing gum in 1892 – the birth of Wrigley’s Chewing Gum. He then contracted Zeno Manufacturing Company to make large quantities of gum for him to sell. Wrigley initial sell two flavors only: Vassar and Lotta. A year later, he came up with his own chewing gum flavor: Spearmint and Juicy Fruit. He sold his gums in a pack containing 5 sticks.

Wrigley took great steps to promote his new flavors. In 1893, he went to a 187 day trip across the United States by train selling and promoting his chewing gum in every stop. He continued also to give premiums to retailers of his gum. He gave away cash registry, display casings, and coffee makers.
Wrigley appeared to have a powerful skill of observation. He noticed that customer buy gum because of sudden impulse. He capitalized on this impulse and started retailers to display Wrigley’s Chewing Gum in next to the cash registers. It became a success and Wrigley became a major player in the gum industry. Because of this scheme, sales of Juicy Fruit and Spearmint increased and Wrigley decided to drop Vassar and Lotta in favor of the two flavors.

Caring for his customers, Wrigley didn’t show the same attitude towards his competitors. In 1899, six companies formed a collusion and invited Wrigley to join. Wrigley, however, thought that it might undermine his company, and rejected the offer. He then launched an aggressive advertisement campaign to increase his market share in the United States. His competitor followed suit. For years, the advertisement war raged until the 1907 recession hit the industry hard.

With the economy in a recession, consumers began to save money and cut on spending in non-essential goods, like chewing gum. Sales began to drop. Budget for advertisement fell as well. Wrigley also became affected by the crisis with company being on the brink of bankruptcy.

In order to save his company, Wrigley decided to take a gamble. He decided to go against the trend of his competitor- decrease in advertisement. Wrigley once again observed a trend that he saw as an opportunity. First, Wrigley saw that gum companies decreased their advertisement and became rarely seen. Second, with the falling advertisement spending, demand for advertisement space became sluggish as well and price for the space began to fall as well. Wrigley used both to his advantage. He took a $250,000 from the bank in order to launch a massive campaign to jumpstart his business. Wrigley believed in the advertising principle of “tell’em quick and tell’em often”. He used the low prices of advertisement space and bombarded the masses with his chewing gum ads. Because of the low presence of his competitor many took attention of Wrigley’s Chewing Gum. Wrigley combined his ads with a new style of premium. He gave coupons to retailers which allowed them to acquire one free box of Wrigley’s Chewing Gum. After two years, the gamble paid off. Spearmint became the number one gum in the market along with Wrigley’s Chewing Gum dominating the industry. Sales went up from a mere $170,000 to a huge $1 million.

The increase of presence, market share, and profit allowed Wrigley to expand his company. In 1910, he established a chewing gum factory in Canada. In 1911, he bought his longtime partner, Zeno Company and establish the William Wrigley Jr. Company. In 1915, he expanded to Australia, and in 1927, to Great Britain. In 1914, he introduced a new flavor in his line – Doublemint. He used twins in the commercials of the product and became a sensation. In 1919, he made Wrigley’s public and began trading stocks in Wall Street. In 1921, as a testament to his success, he built the Wrigley’s Building in Chicago and made it into his headquarters.

Even with his success, Wrigley never stop making giant advertisement campaigns. In 1915, he sent 4 sticks of Wrigley’s Chewing Gum to every 1.5 million addresses across the United States from a phone directory. In 1919, he did again in a larger scale, sending gums to over 7 million homes. In the same year, he also studded a mile long of railroad between Atlantic City and Trenton with billboards showing Wrigley’s ads. His ideas helped to increase the sales of his gum, in addition to keeping it cheap – 5 cents.

Although, Wrigley’s Chewing Gum continued to grow, some problems came. Such as, in 1928, a certain L.P. Larson sued Wrigley for using his trademark in an advertisement. Eventually, the lawsuit resulted to Wrigley paying Larson $1.5 million. But even with this lawsuit, Wrigley’s company continued to grow.

With a huge income, Wrigley spent it to other things. For example, he became politically involved when he donated $25,000 to Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party. He also invested in real estate. He bought most of the Catalina Island, in California, for about $3 million. He then built a spectacular resort. Moreover, he also invested in various hotels and mines in the booming and growing city of Los Angeles.

But Wrigley spent also in one of his favorite sports – baseball. In 1916, he bought stock of the Chicago Cubs and in 1921 acquired a controlling interest on the team. He also bought other baseball teams and clubs. He purchased the Los Angeles Baseball Club and the team of Readings, Pennsylvania. In 1926, the stadium of Chicago Cubs, later known as Wrigley Field, constructed as an edifice of Wrigley’s enthusiasm on baseball.

On January 26, 1932, the great advertisement genius and king of chewing gums, William Wrigley, Jr. passed away, leaving his confectionary empire to Philip Knight Wrigley.

See also:

Aaseng, N. Business Builders in Sweets and Treats. Minneapolis: Oliver Press, 2005. 

Ingham, J. Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1983.

"Wrigley, William, Jr. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: William Wrigley, Jr. - Gum, Company, Chewing, and Wrigley’s" JRank Articles. Accessed May 22, 2013.

"Business & Finance: Gum  to Gum". Time Magazine. Accessed May 22, 2013.

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