Gold Seal Strikes It Rich
December 3, 1963
Harold Schafer’s name has become synonymous with words such as super salesman, marketing marvel, and wonder worker. In just five years he turned his Gold Seal Company from a Bismarck basement business into a national phenomenon with sales in the millions of dollars.
Hard work characterized his life from a very early age. Eight years after he was born on a farm near Stanton, he worked part-time in a Killdeer butcher shop for $4 a week. When the family moved to Bismarck where he graduated from high school, he often held down three jobs at the same time. He delivered newspapers, did janitorial chores, pumped gas, ushered at the Capitol Theater, bellhopped at the Patterson Hotel, delivered milk, shoveled snow, worked the harvest, clerked in a clothing store, and was employed at Vantine’s Paint and Glass.
In 1936 he became a traveling salesman for Fargo Glass and Paint, after completing some coursework at the agricultural college. With a wife and young family to support, Schafer was on North Dakota roads six days a week. He came to know storekeepers as personal friends as he traveled thousands of miles a year.
The 30-year-old Schafer decided that he had worked for others long enough. In 1942 he organized the Gold Seal Company. He purchased a quality wax from an eastern supplier, filled his own cans, and typed his own labels which read: “Gold Seal Wax for Floors, Linoleum, Woodwork, and Furniture.” His profit for 1943 was $901.02. Again he went on the road—this time selling his own product. He recalls his first big sale in Williston to a Farmers Union oil station: “It was the largest order of the day. It brought my day’s profit to a hundred dollars. It was the first time I’d made a hundred dollars in one day, and I was so excited I called home.” In 1944 he visited 1,947 stores; the year’s sales stood at $78,000.
The following year, 1945, Schafer hit it big. At an evening meeting in Minneapolis he was introduced to an emulsion that was developed to clean airplane windshields during the war. The demonstration of the creamy emulsion which was available in pink, blue, or green was unbelievable. It really worked! Wipe it on; wipe it off; the glass sparkled. Yet, the North Dakotan had reservations about taking on a costly, untested-in-the-household product. He declined because, in his words, “Floor wax is my business.”
He couldn’t sleep that night, and using a sample bottle of the emulsion, cleaned everything in his hotel room. His room glistened. He envisioned a pink product in a pink can emblazoned with the product name, Glass Wax. Women, he reasoned, loved the color pink. At three in the morning he woke up the supplier and ordered two boxcars of Glass Wax. Pink, of course.
Due to Schafer’s organizational and marketing genius, Gold Seal’s Glass Wax took the nation by storm. By the spring of 1948 most of the nation’s grocery, variety, hardware, automotive, and drugstores were selling Glass Wax. Schafer and his 35 salesmen carried out a well-calculated nationwide campaign. Fortune, the business magazine, reports that the company’s advertising budget for the year was $2.5 million and that after an advertising blitz in Chicago, 84 percent of the city’s housewives were using the product. Sales for 1948 hit $8.5 million.
But Schafer wasn’t done. He was in Seattle for a speaking engagement when a man approached him with a new product—a powdered bleach. Would Schafer be interested in marketing this dry bleach? When he returned to Bismarck, he used the powdered bleach in his own wash. It worked wonderfully.
Snowy joined Glass Wax as a staple product of the Gold Seal Company. In testing the Minneapolis market, Schafer found that Snowy sold so fast that stores ran out of the product. Now the Gold Seal Company has another nationwide bestseller, Mr. Bubble, an inexpensive bubble bath.
Imagination, laced with hard work, has paid dividends for Harold Schafer and the Gold Seal Company.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.