Dakota Datebook

Schafer’s Gold Seal Sales

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

On May 1st, 1942, Harold Schafer founded the Gold Seal Company, one of the state’s largest homegrown businesses.

Schafer was born on a farm near Stanton in 1912 and was a junior in a Bismarck high school when his father died. The 15 year-old went to the school authorities and asked to take all his classes in the mornings, so he could go to work the rest of the day. He worked at a clothing store from 1 to 6 p.m. and then went to a second job at a filling station for the rest of the evening.

In 1929, Harold worked three jobs so he could go to the Agricultural College in Fargo. After a year, he tried his hand at farming, but the Dirty Thirties sent him back to Bismarck to sell clothes.

In 1936, Schafer became a traveling salesman for a paint and glass firm, during which he formulated a plan to use his sales experience to work for himself. In 1942, he invested in a few barrels of floor wax, packaged it in a rented store basement and began his quest to sell Gold Seal Floor Wax to North Dakota stores. He grossed $902.02 that year.

Three years later, he decided to expand and chose his wife’s hometown of Aberdeen for his first out-of-state sale. After a whole week, he hadn’t sold a thing. Brooding in his hotel room, he hit on an idea that led to much of his later success: “perform something worthy to be remembered.”

The next morning, his first prospective customer was sweeping before the stores opened; Harold grabbed a broom, helped the man and walked out of the store with his first Aberdeen order. “If the owner was washing windows, I started helping him…” Schafer said. “If the storekeeper was unloading a truckload of flour, I helped him unload the flour. In one lumber yard, I helped unload a couple hundred sacks of cement.” After two days, he had orders from 41 of Aberdeen’s 44 independent retailers.

The experience convinced him that his future salespeople should be “rugged individualists” who could use their personalities in selling. Eight years later, Gold Seal was selling in 45 countries and grossing 7 million dollars a year from products like Glass Wax, Mr. Bubble and Snowy Bleach.

In 1953, the Minneapolis Tribune ran a story titled “North Dakota’s Super-Salesman,” in which Schafer said, “I’ve started a new kind of business. It opens a whole new field of opportunity for young people whose only capital is their ability to sell. You don’t need a store or RFC loan to go into business,” he continued. “Just get hold of a good product and go out and sell it.”

Schafer became a master of what he called “siege-gun” advertising – bigger is better. He got one of radio’s hottest personalities, Arthur Godfrey, to carry “Glass Wax” to national prominence – a brand new phenomena in American advertising.

One of Schafer’s most outrageous promotions was at a supermarket convention, where 423,000 silver dollars were piled in a Chicago hotel ballroom – it equaled the monthly sales of Glass Wax by a major national chain. Surrounded by Brinks guards, pretty models lounged about as people waded through the money – until the floor started buckling from the weight.

It’s interesting to note that Gold Seal didn’t invent or manufacture its own products; the head office was in Bismarck, but the products all came from out-of-state. “We tried (manufacturing) once,” Schafer said. “We didn’t like it.” Now there’s a man who followed his gut…

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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