When Miles Kimball set out to start his own business, he created Christmas cards which included the sender’s name in the design. He borrowed cash to print and send his personalized cards to every Johnson home in the Minneapolis area using a phone book. The response was so successful that Mr. Kimball had enough money to make the first Miles Kimball catalog.
The year was 1934 when Miles Kimball and Dean Geer founded Direct Mail Associates. The shop had seven employees working in one room, and they sold those now-famous personalized Christmas cards. Six years later, Dean Geer sold his interests in the company and it becomes renamed as the Miles Kimball Company. It didn’t take long for it to be recognized as a pioneer in the catalog gift order industry. When Mr. Kimball died in 1949, he was just 43 years old, and his wife Alberta became President of the company. Just one year later, the company had reached 1 million customers.
Through the decades, there were several key factors which kept the company profitable and in the public eye. During the busy 1953 Christmas season, the company hired nearly 1,900 people. Providing jobs has always been one measure of success. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, many of the orders placed with the company came from Hollywood stars including Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, Marlon Brando, and John Wayne. Success also often comes when people learn that their favorite stars shop with a specific company.
Alberta Kimball must have been as innovative as her husband, because she opened the first enclosed shopping mall in the nation. It opened as Park Plaza, in downtown Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In fact, years after Mrs. Kimball died, the company opened its new Operations and Distribution Center in Oshkosh, with 288,000 square feet. During 1970, when Park Plaza opened, and 19999, when the new distribution center broke ground, 46 million catalogs were mailed, and 2.8 million orders were fulfilled.
It never hurts to have a direct connection to Santa Claus, either. Miles Kimball was the first to introduce its Letter from Santa, and this item becomes a top-seller. Along the way, Mrs. Kimball helped to establish the Alberta Kimball Charitable Foundation and the Miles Kimball Foundation. Giving back to the communities which support a business is one of the top reasons that keep successful businesses successful. People understand that charitable giving is of utmost importance and will support the companies that practice sharing their good fortune with others.
On May 10, 2000, the first Internet order at mileskimball.com was placed, ushering in a new era of connectivity with even more consumers. In 2006, the new catalog, Mrs. Kimball’s Candy Shoppe debuted. In 2008, the company mailed its catalogs to Canada for the very first time. The company was on track to keep Mr. Kimball’s founding vision alive. The company sought, and still seeks to provide its customers with “the unique, the unusual, and the unexpected”. What’s contributed to company profitability is that the direct merchandise offered is at an affordable price.
Today, the company still is a direct merchandise leader. The product offerings have expanded to include helpful household products, gifts, cards, and unique food items. The parent company has also expanded to take on several other brands including Exposure, Easy Comforts, As We Change, and Walter Drake, which are under the new corporate name of Silver Star Brands. A full range of products for the kitchen, patio, garden, bedroom, bathroom, laundry, hobbies, books, health and beauty, kids, and office have taken their places alongside the original cards, foods, and candy offered in the earlier years of the company. The products are practical, attractive, serviceable and reasonably priced.
There’s not much that could be called trendy, but rather traditional items which most people would be comfortable with in their homes. There are many options and the online catalog rivals the offerings and prices of their giant Internet competitors. High quality products are offered at reasonable prices next to serviceable items at sale prices. The focus on mainstream, popular color choices is evident, as are the styles available. Many of the items would find perfect places in homes which may have traditional fixtures and difficult to fit window sizes and spaces and have been in families for generations.
The Miles Kimball Catalog is a welcoming place. There’s an attractive sensibility about it all. These are well-made items which most people need, in practical colors and styles. It’s practicality most likely draws many to shop. Those personalized Christmas cards and gift items are still there, with designs that reflect earlier times; when things were gentler and easier among people. The products really do tug at the heart in unexpected ways, but that’s what Miles and Alberta planned all along. How nice to find it’s still the same today.
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