ONE MAN'S WAY OF SERVING THE DIRECTTOCONSUMER MARKET
From: How To Write Special Feature Articles
(Category: PART II
By A. L. SARRAN
If you live within a hundred and fifty miles of a city, if you possess
ordinary common sense and have the ability to write a readable and
understandable letter, you may, from September to April of each year,
when other farmers and their wives are consuming instead of producing,
earn from fifty to a hundred and fifty dollars net profit each month.
You may do this by fattening and dressing chickens for city folks, and
by supplying regularly fresh country sausage, hams, lard and eggs.
This is not an idle theory. Last September I began with one customer;
today--this was written the end of March--I have nearly 500 customers to
whom I am supplying farm products by parcel post.
Instead of selling my chickens to the huckster or to the local poultry
house for twelve cents a pound, I am selling them to the consumer in the
city for twenty cents a pound, live weight, plus the cost of boxing and
postage. Not only that, I am buying chickens from my neighbors at a
premium of one to two cents over the huckster's prices, "milk feeding"
them, and selling them to my city customers at a profit of six to seven
cents a pound.
I buy young hogs from my neighbors at market prices and make them into
extra good country sausage that nets me twenty-five cents a pound in the
city, and into hams for which I get twenty-five cents a pound,
delivered. The only pork product on which I do not make an excellent
profit is lard. I get fifteen cents a pound for it, delivered to the
city customer, and it costs me almost that much to render and pack it.
At this writing storekeepers and egg buyers in my county are paying the
farmer seventeen cents for his eggs. I am getting twenty-five cents a
dozen for eggs in thirty-dozen eases and twenty-nine cents a dozen in
two-dozen boxes. My prices to the city man are based upon the Water
Street, Chicago, quotation for "firsts," which, at this writing, is
nineteen cents. If this price goes up I go up; if it goes down I go
I got my customers by newspaper advertising--almost exclusively. It is a
comforting belief that one satisfied customer will get you another, and
that that customer will get you another, and so on, but it has not so
worked out in my experience. Out of all my customers less than twelve
have become customers through the influence of friends.
My experience has taught me another thing: That direct advertising does
not pay. By direct advertising I mean the mailing of letters and
circulars to a list of names in the hope of selling something to persons
whose names are on that list.
I tried it three times--once to a list of names I bought from a dealer
in such lists; once to a list that I myself compiled from the society
columns of two Chicago dailies; and once to a classified list that I
secured from a directory.
The results in these cases were about the same. The net cost of each new
customer that I secured by circulars and letters was $2.19. The net cost
of each new customer that I secured by newspaper advertising was
Not every city newspaper will get such results. In my case I selected
that paper in Chicago which in my judgment went into the greatest number
of prosperous homes, and whose pages were kept clean of quack and
swindling advertisements. I used only the Sunday issues, because I
believe the Sunday issues are most thoroughly read.
The farmer will want to use, and properly so, the classified columns of
the paper for his advertising. But he should patronize only that paper
whose columns provide a classification especially for farm and food
I spent twelve dollars for advertising in one clean Chicago daily with a
good circulation, and got three orders. The trouble was that my
advertisement went into a column headed "Business Personals," along with
a lot of manicure and massage advertising.
He on the farm who proposes to compete with the shipper, commission man
and retailer for the city man's trade should devote his efforts to
producing food of a better quality than the city man is accustomed to
get via the shipper-commission-man-retailer route. Wherefore I proposed
to give the city man the fattest, tenderest, juiciest, cleanest,
freshest chicken he could get--and charge him a profitable price in so
When I wrote my advertisements I did not stint myself for space. An
advertisement that tells no reason why the reader should buy from the
advertiser is, in my opinion, a poor advertisement. Therefore, I told my
story in full to the readers of the Sunday paper, although it cost me
six cents a word to do it. Here is a sample of my advertising:
I send young, milk-fed chickens, ready for the cook, direct to you
from the farm. These chickens are fattened in wire-bottomed,
sanitary coops, thus insuring absolute cleanliness, on a ration of
meal, middlings and milk. The chicken you get from me is fresh; it
is killed AFTER your order is received; is dressed, drawn, cooled
out for 24 hours in dry air, wrapped in waxed paper and delivered to
you on the morning of the third day after your order is mailed; it
is fat, tender and sweet. The ordinary chicken that is fattened on
unspeakable filth in the farmer's barnyard, and finds its way to
your table via the huckster-shipper-commission-man-retailer route
cannot compare with one of mine. Send me your check--no stamps--for
$1.15 and I will send you a five-pound--live-weight--roasting
chicken for a sample. If it does not please you I'll give your money
back. Add 62 cents to that check and I'll mail you in a separate box
a two-pound package of the most delicious fresh-ground sausage meat
you ever ate. Made from the selected meats of young hogs only; not
highly seasoned. These sausage cakes make a breakfast fit for a
President. Money back if you don't like them.
A. L. SARRAN.
Notice that I told why the reader should buy one of my chickens rather
than a chicken of whose antecedents he knew nothing. That it paid to
spend six cents a word to tell him so is proved by the fact that this
particular advertisement brought me, in four days, twenty-three orders,
each accompanied by a check. I repeated my advertisements in Sunday
issues, stopping only when I had as many customers as I could take care
Getting a customer and keeping him are two different propositions. A
customer's first order is sent because of the representation made in the
advertisement that he read. His second and his subsequent orders depend
upon how you satisfy him and continue to satisfy him.
My rule is to select, weigh, dress, draw, handle, wrap and box the
chicken with the same scrupulous care that I would exercise if the
customer were actually present and watching me.
I have another rule: The customer is always right. If he complains I
satisfy him, immediately and cheerfully. It is better to lose a chicken
than to lose a customer.
I am now about to make a statement with which many of my readers will
not agree. It is more than true; it is so important that the success of
a mail-order business in dressed chickens depends upon a realization of
it. It is this: _A majority of farmers and their wives do not know what
constitutes a fat chicken._
I make this statement because of the experience I have had with country
folks in buying their chickens for my feeding coops. If they really
consider to be fat the chickens which they have assured me were fat,
then they do not know fat chickens. A chicken can be fat to a degree
without being so fat as he can or should be made for the purpose of
There is a flavor about a well-fattened, milk-fed chicken that no other
chicken has. Every interstice of his flesh is juicy and oily. No part of
him is tough, stringy muscle, as is the case if he is "farm-fattened"
while being allowed to range where he will.
If you think your chicken is a fat one, pick it up and rub the ball of
your thumb across its backbone about an inch behind the base of the
wings. If the backbone is felt clearly and distinctly the chicken is not
I fatten my chickens in coops the floors of which are made of heavy wire
having one-inch mesh; underneath the wire is a droppings pan, which is
emptied every day. My coops are built in tiers and long sections. I have
ninety of them, each one accommodating nine chickens. I have enough
portable feeding coops with wire bottoms and droppings pans underneath
to enable me to feed, in all, about one thousand chickens at one time.
Chickens should be fed from ten to fourteen days in the coops. I give no
feed whatever to the chicken the first day he is in the coop, but I keep
a supply of sour milk in the trough for him. I feed my chickens three
times a day.
At seven A.M. I give them a fairly thick batter of meal, middlings or
oat flour, about half and half, and sour milk. I feed them only what
they will clean up in the course of half an hour. At noon I feed them
again only what they will clean up in half an hour. This feed is the
same as the morning feed except that it is thinner. About four o'clock I
give them a trough full of the same feed, but so thick it will barely
pour out from the bucket into the trough.
The next morning the troughs are emptied--if anything remains in
them--into the big kettle where the feed is mixed for the morning
feeding. The idea is this: More fat and flesh are made at night than in
the daytime; therefore see that no chicken goes to bed with an empty
About the eighth to tenth day force the feeding--see to it that the
chicken gets all it will eat three times a day.
By keeping an accurate account of the costs of meal, milk, and so on, I
find that I can put a pound of fat on a coop-fed chicken for seven
cents. When one considers that this same pound brings twenty cents, and
that milk feeding in coops raises the per pound value of the chicken
from twelve to twenty cents, one must admit that feeding chickens is
more profitable than feeding cattle.
Do not feed your chicken anything for twenty-four hours before killing
it. Do not worry about loss in weight. The only weight it will lose will
be the weight of the feed in its crop and gizzard, and the offal in its
intestines--and you are going to lose that anyway when you dress and
draw it. If you will keep the bird off feed for twenty-four hours you
will find that it will draw much more easily and cleanly.
Hang the chicken up by the feet and kill it by bleeding it away back in
the mouth. Let it bleed to death. Grasp the chicken's head in your left
hand, the back of its head against the palm of your hand. Do not hold it
by the neck, but grasp it by the bony part of its head and jaws. Reach
into the throat with a three-inch, narrow, sharp knife and cut toward
the top and front of the head.
You will sever the big cross vein that connects the two "jugular" veins
in the neck, and the blood will pour out of the mouth. If you know how
to dry-pick you will not need to be told anything by me; if you do not
know it will do you no good to have me tell you, because I do not
believe a person can learn to dry-pick chickens by following printed
instructions. At any rate, I could not. I never learned until I hired a
professional picker to come out from town to teach me.
So far as I can judge, it makes no difference to the consumer in the
city whether the chicken is scalded or dry-picked. There is this to be
said for the scalded chicken--that it is a more cleanly picked chicken
than the dry-picked one. The pin feathers are more easily removed when
the chicken is scalded.
On the other hand, there are those feed-specializing,
accurate-to-the-ten-thousandth-part-of-an-inch experts, who say that the
dry-picked chicken keeps better than the scalded one. If the weather is
warmer than, say, seventy-five degrees, it might; under that, there is
I do the most of my selling in Chicago, and my place is a hundred and
fifty miles south of that city; if a scalded chicken will keep when I am
selling it that far away it will keep for almost anyone, because none of
you is going to sell many chickens at any point more than a hundred and
fifty miles from your place.
There is this caution to be observed in scalding a chicken: Do not have
the water too hot. I had trouble on this score, and as a result my
chickens were dark and did not present an appetizing appearance. Finally
I bought a candy thermometer--one that registered up to 400 degrees. By
experimenting I found that 180 degrees was the point at which a chicken
scalded to pick the easiest, but that a chicken scalded at 165 degrees
presented a better appearance after being picked and cooled. Whichever
method you use, observe this rule: Pick your chicken clean.
After my chicken has cooled out enough so the flesh will cut easily, I
draw it. I chop off the head close up, draw back the skin of the neck a
couple of inches, and then cut off the neck. The flap of skin thus left
serves to cover the bloody and unsightly stub of the neck. Next I open
up the chicken from behind and below the vent and pull out the
gizzard--if the chicken has been kept off feed for twenty-four hours the
empty crop will come with it--intestines and liver. I remove the gall
bladder from the liver, open and clean the gizzard, and replace it and
the liver in the chicken.
Then I cut a slit across the chicken just back of the keel of the breast
bone. I cut the feet off at the knee joint and slip the drumstick
through this slit. Then I lay the chicken up to cool out overnight. The
next morning it may be wrapped and boxed, and is then ready for mailing.
Wrapping and boxing must not be slighted. The clean, sanitary appearance
of the chicken when it is unpacked in the kitchen of your customer goes
a long way toward prejudicing that customer in your favor. I buy thirty
pounds of waxed paper, twenty-four by thirty-six inches, and have the
paper house cut it in two. This gives me 1000 sheets, each eighteen by
twenty-four inches, for the price of a ream of the full size--at this
time about five dollars, or a half cent a sheet.
Each chicken is wrapped in one sheet of this waxed paper, and is then
packed in a corrugated paper box made especially for sending chickens by
I buy three sizes of these boxes. One size, which costs me four cents
each, will hold one four-pound chicken when dressed and drawn. The next
size, costing five cents each, will hold two very small chickens, or one
large chicken. The third size, costing six cents each, will hold two
large chickens, three medium-sized ones, or four small ones.
Do not use makeshifts, such as old shoe boxes. In the first place, your
shipment is not properly protected by such a box; in the second place,
your postmaster is likely to refuse to accept it for mailing, as he
would be justified in doing; and in the third place, your customer
receives his chicken in a box that has been used for he wonders what,
and has been in he wonders what places.
It is for this reason that I never ask a customer to return a box to me.
I do not want to use a box a second time. If I were a city man, getting
my chickens by mail, I should want them sent to me in a brand-new box,
made for the special purpose of sending chickens by mail--and I'd want
them in no other box. Then I'd feel sure of them.
The cost of shipping by parcel post is low. I live ten miles from my
county seat, and the postage required to send a five-pound, live-weight
chicken, dressed and boxed, from my place to town is eight cents. The
postage required to send that same five-pound chicken from here to
Chicago, one hundred and fifty miles, is eight cents. The express
company charges twenty-six cents for the same service, and does not
deliver so quickly.
But parcel-post delivery was not always so admirably done in Chicago.
When I began shipping up there last September it was no uncommon thing
for my packages to be so delayed that many chickens would spoil.
I recall the "straw that broke the camel's back." I mailed twenty-six
chickens one day--and in due course I received thirteen letters, each
advising me of the same mournful event. The chicken had spoiled because
of delay in delivery. My wife wanted to quit. I didn't. I made good the
losses to the customers and prepared a label, a copy of which I
forwarded to the Third Assistant Postmaster General at Washington,
asking his permission to use it, and telling him of the vexatious and
expensive delays in delivering my packages in Chicago.
In due time I received the desired permission, and ordered the labels
printed. The scheme worked. Every time a package was not delivered on
schedule time the customer notified me, and I made complaint to the
postmaster at Chicago.
Gradually the service improved until now I have no trouble at all. If I
were to ship two packages today to the same address in Chicago, sending
one by parcel post and the other by express, I believe the parcel-post
package would be delivered first. At any rate, it has been done for me.
The weakness in the parcel-post delivery lies in the fact that
perishable products--such as dressed chickens--cannot be handled in warm
weather. I think that if the Post Office Department would cut some of
its red tape and permit the shipment of air-tight packages in air-tight
conveyors this particular problem could be solved.
You will, of course, have more or less correspondence with your
customers. By all means use your own letterheads, but do not let your
printer embellish them with cuts of roosters, chickens, pigs, or the
like. Not that we are ashamed of them; far be it from such. You do not,
however, need to have a sheet of paper littered up with pictures of
imaginary animals in order to convince your customer that you are
selling the meats of that animal. I like a plainly printed letterhead
that carries my name, my address and my business. That's all.
By all means keep books on your farm-to-table venture, if you undertake
it. Set down on one side of the page what you pay for boxes, labels,
postage, and so on, including what you pay yourself for chickens at your
huckster's prices. On the other side of the page set down what your city
customer pays you. Add up the pages, do a simple sum in subtraction, and
you will know just how much you have made.
If I kept only twenty-five hens I should sell my eggs and my chickens
direct to the city consumer. When the farmer learns to sell direct
instead of letting the huckster, the poultry house, the commission man,
the dresser and the retailer stand between him and the consumer, then
poultry raising will become really profitable.
There are too many folks who sell their eggs and "take it out in trade."
* * * *
_(Saturday Evening Post)_
One large illustration, a wash drawing, made by a staff artist.
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