Where else will you find… “As my boat sank into the Zambezi”
The J. Peterman catalog is a masterpiece of mixing romance and storytelling, finished off with a dash of practicality and concern with the highest quality product and service possible.
Not too long ago I had written a post about J. Peterman on my own blog.
Just this week, I got a very pleasant surprise and received an e-mail from Jonathan Sexton, Gladiator for the J. Peterman Company (or as he says, drab title Director of Marketing).
He complimented me on the article and we have agreed to do a teleseminar next week discussing J. Peterman’s success… failure… and resurgence in popularity.
I thoroughly enjoyed Peterman’s book, Peterman Rides Again.
If you haven’t read it before… you need to.
His book is packed with exceptional storytelling and a very insightful look into the life of this unusual garment globetrotter.
It all started with an ankle-length duster – a long, simple riding coat that John Peterman purchased during a trip to Wyoming. “I wore that coat and people wanted to buy it off my back,” said Peterman.
As he took his initial purchase and turned it into a mail order company, he found his flair for writing and eye for unusual items was drawing in people who were looking for something out of the ordinary.
The first full year selling J. Peterman Dusters he sold $580,000 worth that year. That led to the J. Peterman shirt… which was another great seller… which led to another… and another.
John Peterman would travel the world looking for unusual items that people normally wouldn’t be able to find, or had romance and stories built right into them.
And he succeeded.
The catalog that started a cult…
As you may know, his catalog, the Owner’s Manual, was a masterpiece
… Using hand-drawn sketches rather than photographs.
… Using long copy to romance the reader, rather than short, typical, catalog copy.
The J. Peterman Owner’s Manual was the secret (and sacred) tool that like-minded people would cherish and read out loud amongst their closest friends on the inside.
It was an odd shape as well… 5 ½ by 10 ½ inches.
The catalog itself became a thing of legend and celebrities quickly became devoted fans and buyers.
A list of just a few J. Peterman fans (and customers):
… To name just a few
Wouldn’t you just love to have a client list like that?
In 1991 The New York Times called him the Merchant Poet.
His success bloomed and his reputation became legendary among the discerning, more affluent crowd.
And then Seinfeld hit in 1995
With no advance warning, J. Peterman became a character on the hit sitcom, “Seinfeld.”
“Seinfeld” caught J. Peterman by surprise – and it took them from having a catalog that was a well-kept secret to having no secret at all.
The growth was phenomenal and debilitating.
The phone lines lit up and people wanted more.
They bought… he expanded.
But something bad started to happen amidst all his success…
The “Seinfeld” show made light of who the real J. Peterman was, and it created the wrong impression in the general public’s eye.
[Note: Offline… the TV J. Peterman, John O’Hurley , said “J. Peterman answers a need for authenticity in a world that is losing authenticity at a catastrophic rate”]
Something to think about: O’Hurley’s statement reflects much of what is happening right now in our economy. People are distrusting, weary of spending money on the same-old, same-old. They are looking for unusual experiences, exciting new product offers, and a GREAT story they can tell their friends and family.
Don’t you think that maybe… just maybe… the J. Peterman style of copy could help YOUR business stand out from the clutter?
I certainly think it applies everywhere!
Headlines or copy that reads like this “As my boat sank into the Zambezi, I watched my luggage float downstream over Victoria Falls. But the day wasn’t a total loss…”compels people to read… and we all need to find new and innovative ways to bring people into our culture.
What happened to J. Peterman and caused the ultimate demise of this icon?
He lost touch with what made his company so great to begin with, and was focused more on investors and retail expansion, rather than the things that he loved so much about his company.
Expansion into retail destroyed all that he enjoyed most about his business. Cash flow issues continued to plague them.
Ultimately, the expansion caused him to go bankrupt, and his dreams were dashed.
He eventually bought J. Peterman back out of bankruptcy with the help of friends and family, and is rebuilding it from the ground up (you MUST get on their mailing list, if you aren’t already).
They are again obsessive about the copy and the catalog… even when he had Don Stanley writing his copy alongside him.
Back in the boom time, the sheer volume of copy needed meant they needed to expand and find other writers who could match their flair for persuasive storytelling through catalog copy.
They were very picky on who wrote for them and how the copy sounded. One writer needed to sound just as appealing as the next… and they all needed to sound just like the infamous J. Peterman wrote it himself.
Some lessons from J. Peterman:
* He created a brand character that developed a life of its own (much like the Tommy Bahama character does).
* Build practical romance into your copy and the experience your buyers have with your company
* Attaching emotional meaning and feeling to clothing and everyday items you may put in your home or business.
* Focus on the best customer service possible. Develop the attitude that your service and guarantees are to be upheld to the point that anything and everything is guaranteed. Make it so people WANT to tell others about how great your customer service is. In his book, they talk about a return they got on a pair of boots that were obviously worn for work on a farm and in the fields. They were worn out and the customer wanted a refund. Most companies would say no. J. Peterman knew that if he gave the gentleman a new pair, word would spread. And it did… quickly.
* Truly think through the experience you give your prospects and buyers … how can you incorporate more Peterman style copy into your business?
* Do you tell the real adventures you go through to find components to your products? Or how you invented your newest creation? Or what the actual experience you provide delivers to the clients?
* Do you use catalogs? Could you? Again, go to www.jpeterman.com and sign up for their newsletter. Read their copy, and think through how you could romanticize your products and services like they do. (It IS possible to do, you have to use your creativity and writer’s voice to find it, and you will). Look at how a jacket and skirt becomes an experience. Or how a cologne can increase your heart rate and make you feel warm.
Harriet and Lord Peter jacket, $285, and pleated skirt, $175:
They met in her cell in the Old Bailey. Had she fed arsenic to her lover? Had she? He proved her innocent. Met again in Oxford. (She wore this outfit.) He courted her; punting on the Cherwell, quail’s eggs, wit, an antique ivory chess set. Proposed in Latin: “Placetne?” Oh, yes. It pleased her.
Shocking rabbit fur hat, $245:
Shocking to see someone this young, this independent, so beautifully dressed. Shocking to find out she was not who she said she was. Shocking to see her walk off the QE2, into the arms of an unsuitable man, just an ordinary bounder.
The other passengers couldn’t stop looking. At what she wore, how she wore it, the way they looked at each other, the way they still do.
Dominica Bay Rum.
The Small Island of Dominica. Columbus discovered it, named it, and left it alone. It’s north of Martinique. And it is the home, since 1907, of a very good West Indian Bay Rum manufactured under the Dominica brand-name.
Bay Rum has a fairly quiet scent, less strong than anything called perfume, less strong than anything called aftershave, but not so quiet as to be boring.
It is, in fact, quite sexy.
It is sexy the way skin begins to smell from strong sun, salt water, steel drums, breaking waves, moving palm branches and giggling coming from somewhere.
Men liked Bay Rum long before 1907, when the Dominica brand started. Men have liked Bay Rum since Spanish Main days. They like it for the least complicated reason in the world: it smells good.
A decent gift which often turns into a lifetime habit.
Dominica Bay Rum (No. 1044), 10 fl. oz. Imported.
Now is the time to use incredible storytelling and copy like this.
People are looking for new experiences and new ways to buy… this approach can easily make your company stand out from any and every competitor you have.
Make sure you read their site, and get a copy of John Peterman’s book.
This article was first published in The Total Package. To sign-up to receive your own FREE subscription to The Total Package and claim four FREE money making e-books go to www.makepeacetotalpackage.com