Build-A Products paid for groceries but little else. Mom and Dad, now in their early thirties, wanted to create something with a future. Mom had proven to be a guru full of ideas for turning empty boxes, egg cartons and plastic bottles into gifts, games and toys. Could they make a living from that?
Yes. A magazine. Full of low-cost or no-cost things to make and do. A mimeograph, a few reams of paper, silk screen printing for color, a sewing machine to sew the pages together and they were in business … sort of.
Their first issue was twenty pages – four pages on each sheet. The agonizing process of pulling this together is described in the post, Pack-O-Fun at 25 years.
When the pages were all printed, they had to be stitched together on Mom’s sewing machine, then folded in half. Ever tried folding five pieces of paper at once? The first time is tough. By the fourth, there’s no skin left on your fingers. The manufacturing solution from engineer Dad – a teaspoon. It protects the thumb and puts a nice crease in the wad of paper.
But simply creating the magazine wasn’t a business. They had to have subscribers. Remember, this was the product of an engineer and a nurse. Neither one had ever heard of Marketing 101, much less taken the course. So they tackled this the same way they did everything else – get creative:
- Borrow a few out of town phone books from neighbors.
- Randomly select 300 names.
- Hand address envelopes and mail sample copies.
- Include a subscription order form: Send one dollar for a year’s subscription to Pack-O-Fun, the only scrapcraft magazine, filled with low-cost or no-cost things for kids to make and do.
They hoped recipients would like the magazines.
And Tommy Chumly from Jacksonville, Illinois did. As well as a few others. But they still needed to feed us kids and fill the coal bin every once in a while, so some income was essential. Fortunately, losing our home wasn’t likely – Grandpa held the mortgage. My brother Larry and I each had paper routes – our earnings kept us all well fed.
Every day Mom or Dad would go to the post office and check the box for more mail. On the last day of November of that year, a Cubmaster ordered a subscription for each of his five den mothers. It put them over $100 for the month. It still wasn’t a thriving business … but enough to keep them going.
The following summer, they received a curious inquiry from someone who had seen an article in Scouting Magazine*. At the bottom of the page, in type smaller than a lawyer’s fine print, it read “Get more ideas in Pack-O-Fun, send $1.00 for one year or 10 cents for a sample to P.O. Box 185, Park Ridge, Ill.” The response was staggering – 100 subscription plus 100 samples. And the 100 samples produced an additional 100 subscriptions.
Hearing this, a friend in advertising exclaimed, “You’re in business!” And they were. In the second year, circulation grew to 4,000; the third 10,000.
Larry and I continued with our paper routes, but the money was no longer needed for groceries.
Next: Explosive growth in the fifties.
*Quirky aside. Eight years later, as freshman in college do, I was chatting about home, family and what our parents did. “Has anyone ever heard of Pack-O-Fun?” I asked. I had only one response. Jim Lueck from Rochester, NY remembered seeing it at home. When I mentioned his name to my parents, it triggered an itch that begged to be scratched. Of course they immediately looked it up … and a light bulb flashed. Jim’s father wrote the story that put Pack-O-Fun in business.