Joe Sugarman, once called the “Mail Order Maverick” by The New York Times, is a groundbreaker in every sense of the word. His accomplishments in marketing innovation alone give him the right to be called a legend. Now he wants to share his brilliance with the rest of the world.
Born in the Chicago area, Sugarman began with an education in electrical engineering from The University of Miami. He was drafted into the Army in 1962, eventually living in Germany as a member of the CIA. His first marketing venture involved selling Austrian ski lifts to resorts in the United States.
He used direct marketing to get the world’s first pocket calculator into as many hands as possible. This led to the formation of the JS&A Group, Inc. which led the industry in space-age technology. Sugarman introduced the cordless phone and the digital watch to the public with his marketing techniques.
Sugarman also introduced the concept of using toll-free numbers to take credit card orders over the phone, which was unheard of at the time. After only one year of using toll-free numbers to process orders, thousands of other companies followed suit. This led to a revolution in the merchandising industry.
Switching gears from electronic products to sunglasses may seem like suicide, but Sugarman was up to the challenge. His direct marketing skills led to the sale of twenty million pairs of BluBlockers. How about the BluBlocker rap? One of his lasting advertising innovations is the “man on the street.” This involved a public demonstration of the product to strangers passing by and was completely new at the time. It’s now one of the standard tricks of infomercials.
The factors that motivate buying had long intrigued Sugarman. The scripted dialogue of old-fashioned telemarketing always seemed to leave an awkward feeling by going against the natural flow of conversation. These rigged question and answer sessions failed to motivate him, and Sugarman wanted to find a better method.
From this desire, Sugarman discovered “triggers.” “Triggers” are a phenomenon that activate impulses deep in the brain and turn potential customers into actual ones. This is one of the main reasons he has been so successful with the BluBlocker brand. He has also done well on QVC, selling millions of dollars worth of his product in a single day.
Sugarman was named “Direct Marketing Man of the Year” in 1979 and received the Maxwell Sackheim award in 1991. He’s had his failures, to be sure, but he knows that “the greatest success stories were created by people who recognized a problem and turned it into an opportunity.”
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