Let's Get Organized!
Once upon a time, a way long time ago ... That's how this story should begin.
As Gary Parker and I met a way long time ago. At a direct marketing event. Somewhere. Probably at a Mid-America Direct Marketing Club event in Omaha. Where, for part of his life, Gary was president.
Or maybe a similar activity down the road a short distance in Kansas City. Where we have both shown up on occasion ... and have both been on the program. Or possibly at the annual international DMA Conference somewhere in North America.
In any case, we've stayed in touch. And when I have the opportunity to return to the Midwest, we usually talk. Gary has been known to attend several of my seminars.
Why all this background? Because I have been after Gary Parker, owner and entrepreneur direct marketer from Omaha, Nebraska, for at least 3 years to let me tell you his story. Until now, he has backed away ... for many reasons (in my opinion, some good, some not so good).
But Gary made the move this time.
So, how did a radio disc jockey turned insurance salesman become an entrepreneur business owner? And get into the direct marketing industry -- specifically in the business-to-business direct order side? This is Gary's story.
For many unknown and not important reasons, a large number of university students earn extra money to get through school working at radio stations or newspapers. I did. Not exactly sure how Gary got into radio ... early in his life he began to spin records.
Later he changed sides of the desk. From talking "to" his audience via radio (he still has one of those great radio voices), Gary began to talk "with" his marketplace face-to-face. One-on-one. Selling life insurance.
The year was 1979. Gary went to an insurance conference in Denver, Colorado. There he met H. Preston Smith, another insurance agent. Mr. Smith had developed a daily organizer system he was selling.
Thus, Gary Parker was introduced for the first time to PLANNER PADS. And ... he bit.
To Gary, the most amazing thing about the Planner Pad is "The thing worked! It really worked. Better than all the others."
In 1981, Gary reached out to buy the company. Nothing happened. In 1983 he drove to Denver to buy the company and bring it home to Omaha. And he did just that.
In his words, "It was like the Remington Shaver story ... I liked the product so much I bought the company."
What he bought were a few trademarks and copyrights -- and a very limited inventory. Oh, and several shoe boxes of customer cards. Cards with names and addresses.
No database. No records of who bought what. No history. No computer. After dumping the dupes and the very oldest records, he had 3,000 names of customers.
The good news was these customers were everywhere! Because the successful promotions had been in vertical markets ... most were life agents ... it was fairly easy to reach this core marketplace for more.
The agents who had been on the Planner Pad system for a few years loved it. Not only did they re-order each year -- they volunteered testimonials. And because they were located coast-to-coast, Planner Pads had instant credibility in other markets. They looked like a BIG company.
Gary Parker took a company doing less that $100,000 (US) in annual sales and grew it an average of 7% a year since 1982. He has sold in 18 countries and in every state of the Union.
In the beginning, the 3,000 base was key ... Gary knew this. So, he worked and re-worked this group again and again. All customer mail got first class postage -- and same day service. He got in touch and stayed in touch with these key customers ... who renewed that first year at a 90% rate.
To Gary, taking care of the customer was common sense. And although he had no prior direct marketing experience, he did understand customer relationship marketing.
He also knew 3,000 customers would not pay the rent for long. So, he went prospecting. Rotary, Chamber, Country Club directories were his first reach outside the insurance industry.
Gary would pull the list and mail. And hope something happened. One of the better lists was from a life insurance trade publication. He rented the names, mailed ... and the first year was a success. He had a winner. He survived!
"Advanced Mom & Pop" is how Gary describes his operation. "We're doing basically the same thing year after year ... only more of it."
Planner Pads is a cash and carry business. 98% of all orders are pre-paid. Most pay by check -- some by credit card. He does not invoice ... Gary has found he does not need to. Sometimes a check comes attached to a purchase order. It's amazing what happens if you'll but ask!
Partnerships is another key word at Planner Pads. Gary likes to build partnerships with suppliers. He owns no equipment. Just enough to run his office. He buys everything out.
He has been with the same printer since day one. The same lettershop. The same list broker and manager. Even the same bank! All are local Omaha area businesses. He is loyal -- his partners are loyal -- the home town folks like Gary Parker. An interesting side note, less than 1% of his total sales come from his home State of Nebraska. Although over 90% of his take is spent in Nebraska.
Soon after Gary bought the company, he began to diversify. Originally 80%+ of his sales were within the insurance industry. They still make up a significant 15% of total sales ... yet, with a much larger volume, his marketplace reaches into many types of businesses.
From the beginning, the Planner Pad customer base has been made up of individuals instead of companies. He is after the little guy -- he is after the Gary Parkers of the world.
If you ask Gary about competition he'll tell you he doesn't have any. What about Day-Timers and Franklin? Gary's response:
"How can you be in competition with someone who's 40 times bigger than you are? We're not big enough to take on anybody head-on ... so we don't!
"Our strategy has been to pick away at the big guys. We take customers from them every day. They don't miss the small guy ... and it makes a nice business for us."
Anyone with more than a couple of things to do can benefit from the Planner Pads system. And the more you have to do, the more helpful Planner Pads will be to your time management. You will be organized -- because Planner Pads almost "forces" you to get organized.
The product is for more than sales people and management. Gary is finding support staff also benefit greatly from his system. And especially those people working inside, supporting an outside marketing, sales or management team. They find the Planner Pad system extremely helpful.
Gary says, "Essentially, the one thing our customers have in common is they create their own work day."
A large percentage of new business comes from referrals. Customers recommend others. Getting customers at basically no cost is hard to beat.
"About 20% of our sales come from referrals ... together referrals and renewals make up nearly 80% of our business. After a customer buys for 3 consecutive years, we've got 'em forever!", Gary says.
Still, every year there is a search for new business. Most prospecting is done with direct mail. Twice a year major mail drops are scheduled. A total of a million pieces a year.
List testing is key to success ... so Gary tests new lists each year, too. And stays with the proven winners.
Basically, the same letter, the same 2-color brochure, and the same mailing envelope have been doing the job since 1982. Yes, response rates have dropped. So, one small change: Gary added a collection of short testimonials in a Lift Note format. The single addition raised response 20%!
Once a year they exhibit at the Million Dollar Round Table (an international insurance industry association). This is a group of highly successful insurance sales reps. Every year Planner Pads picks up new customers at the show. Many who are brought to his stand by a current customer. It is almost "family".
If there is an area where Gary is uncomfortable, it is new product development. He knows he needs to stay ahead if he is to continue to grow.
Gary sees new products as an additional reason to communicate with his customers between selling cycles. So, the product line has become diversified. From a single product to a broad selection. Planner Pads are available in various sizes ... legal, letter, pocket.
They come pre-dated ... and "start-anytime". They are designed so you can begin using a Planner Pad when you are ready to begin. In the middle of July just as easily as the first of the year.
Planner Pads also come in a desk version. And a wall calendar (personally, my favorite ... somehow seeing the next few months at a glance works well for me and the team in the office).
Half a dozen years ago Gary began offering accessory items. Such as lambskin leather cases. Cases with handles. Cases with zippers. Cases without zippers or handles. Big cases. Little cases.
The cases are designed to be flexible. For sales people and others on busy travel schedules, there are places for business cards, sales brochure, expense receipts and other documents and literature.
Your case can also be personalized with your name -- in gold leaf. Obviously, if you're offering Planner Pads as a gift, this is a nice gesture ... to personalize with the recipient's name.
There is also a limited time offer of Leather Care, a leather protector, cleaner, and general care product. It comes FREE when you order within a certain time.
The leather goods line is now as important to the bottom line as the "basic" product.
Planner Pads offer much more than an appointment diary. Or calendar. It has 3 main horizonal sections:
"Time management is choice management" Gary says. "What the Planner Pad offers is a visual walk through the cafeteria line of things to do."
Choice Management! I think Gary should copyright that phrase. It is "choice" ... either we elect to get organized and do things against a timetable of categories and priorities we set ... or we don't.
Gary is 100% honest when he says Planner Pads offers you the opportunity to be on top of your activities. The product cannot do it for you -- only help you do it better.
To that end ... doing it better ... each Planner Pad has a time zone and telephone area code map. A list of all the US holidays. It comes with a 53 week calendar in 106 pages.
Each Planner Pad has a place for telephone numbers and key addresses. Colored pages in the back ... to list goals. And index tabs, for you to separate pages or sections just the way you want to do it.
Thinking back to his radio days, Gary went into the studio to record an audio cassette. Why? Because he learned his customers were not always gaining full value from Planner Pads. He learned this because they called and wrote with countless suggestions ... most of which were already built into the system.
So, Gary put together an easy to listen to simple to understand 25 minute walk-through of the product. On audio cassette. Even I understood it ... so you know it does the job!
"We learned the value of a cassette is tremendous" Gary said. "By sending one with each order we didn't increase our sales one bit ... but letters and suggestions for improvements stopped completely."
Yet, unless YOU live in the States or Canada, you will NOT enjoy the products and services of Gary Parker and PLANNER PADS. Why? Because Gary has found most international orders to be unprofitable. And extremely time consuming.
Not long ago, Gary received such an order. Here is the back end result, in his words:
"A customer from England calls. She said she didn't get her Planner Pad, yet. We shipped November 20, surface (her choice). She's insisting we send another, Next Day Air. Everything at our expense, of course.
"Yes, it's like all business, only a small portion is a problem. What's different for us is, the fix is always expensive in time, money and energy!"
So, now that I've told you the story of Gary Parker and PLANNER PADS, and maybe have you interested in his product, service and concept of organization -- you must live in North America to take advantage. Sorry!
The P.S. for me to this story is I placed an order for a 1996-97 wall calendar. One of those large items, where the entire year is visible at one time. One on which you write with felt tip pen, and then erase, when a change happens.
The year at a glance, with room to write on each date, is something I find extremely useful when planning my seminar and consulting trips around the world. And since I'm working 4 to 6 and sometimes 8 months out, I need a long term view.
Well, the service from PLANNER PADS was good. Gary did not, handle the order personally -- yet he did know about it. As he sent a "thanks" and comment about how well this product is selling.
Later, when others in my office saw my calendar -- they wanted one, too. So, I ordered again ... and I will again -- when it is time.
"There is no such thing as one best way to do anything. I can think of at least 5 other ways we could have marketed Planner Pads. It's likely in the future we'll be doing things much differently from today. We've built a solid past ... and the future looks great!"
So says Gary Parker, President, Owner, Entrepreneur and Direct Marketer -- Planner Pads, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.A.
Once upon a time -- a way long time ago -- that's how this story ends, too.
by ROCKINGHAM*JUTKINS*marketing, all rights reserved.