HIRE'S ROOT BEER EXTRACT A SUCCESS STORY
Charles E. Hires made millions on his Hire's Root Beer Extract. By the turn of the century his success had spawned dozens of imitators. His bottles were embossed with his name and his famous slogan, "Makes Five Gallons of a Delicious Drink". In the story that follows, Mr Hires, in his own words, tells how he got started.
AMERICAN DRUGGIST AND
How Charles E. Hires Laid the
Foundation for His Commercial Success-Opportunities Come
to All-The Philosophy of a Successful Merchant
BY CHARLES E. HIRES
HIRES' Root Beer is known all over the world. It has been the prototype of a whole series of imitations and substitutes, but still retains its precedence. The maker, Charles E. Hires, began life as a drug store boy in a country town at the age of twelve, went to Philadelphia at the age of sixteen, by industry and economy accumulated a capital of $400, with which he engaged in business on his own account, and now carries on a business which is the envy and admiration of half the drug world. At the solicitation of the editor of the AMERICAN DRUGGIST, Mr. Hires describes below the typical old fashioned Philadelphia drug store in which he laid the foundation of his fortune and describes his first opportunity and how he took advantage of it. He still believes that business life is full of opportunities for those who are shrewd enough to see them and energetic enough to grasp them. Many thousands of men had passed the workmen excavating the cellar. Thousands of those who passed lingered to watch the busy scene. But only one-Mr. Hires-really saw what the thousands looked at. They only saw men carting dirt. He saw the dollars in the dirt.
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I was not a registered college of pharmacy student, but after serving my apprenticeship of four years in a country store, from the time I was twelve until I was sixteen, I came to Philadelphia and after obtaining a situation as clerk here, I attended lecture occasionally at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in the winters of '67, 68 and '69. It was at the time customary to extend an invitation to drug clerks whose preceptor were interested in the College of Pharmacy to attend lectures during their nights off, and this was about the extent of my attending the College of Pharmacy. About the year 1872 a state law was passed that all druggists should undergo an examination and be registered. I took this examination and was given a certificate of efficiency to carry on the drug business.
When embarking in business at Sixth and Spruce, I had less than $400 and did a great deal of work in assisting the carpenter in fitting the place up, and it was through the good offices of my wholesale drug friends that I got started. Mr. Crenshaw, of Bullock & Crenshaw, Valentine H. Smith, Clayton French and Robert Shoemaker-these good friends gave me all the credit I asked, and to them I owe a great deal of my success.
Perhaps an incident of my first conspicuous success would be interesting. This occurred about a year after embarking in business at Sixth and Spruce. It came about in this way:
I have always been active and energetic, and the time spent behind a prescription counter, especially in the dull part of the day, often became irksome and I longed for greater things to do. One day when walking out Spruce street, I noticed a cellar being dug and from this excavation I noticed a lead colored clay like substance which attracted my attention, as it seemed almost of the consistence of putty. I picked up some of it and took it back: to the store and after drying it and examining it I found it was fullers' earth or potter's clay. I returned to the place the next day and saw the contractor and asked him if I could have some of this clay. I only wanted the clay from this certain strata. As they had some distance to cart the dirt from this excavation, he very gladly, when he learned where to deliver it, assented to my having all I wanted of it, and was glad to give it to me. I had him bring it to my place, and after boarding up a passage way along the side of my cellar, I filled the entire balance of the cellar, up to the ceiling, with this clay.
It occurred to me that I might put up potters clay in convenient sized cakes that would be handy to retail and more convenient for people to use, as at that time potter's clay was sold in a loose way in broken clumps and powder which caused a great deal of dirt and dust in handling.
At this time I was boarding next door, or taking my meals there, as I slept over my store, and I recalled having seen the women folks using an iron ring on which to stand their irons on ironing day. It occurred to me that this would be the proper instrument to cut out or mold these cakes of clay,, so I borrowed from my landlady a couple of these rings, after being charged very particularly to take care of them and return them in good order.
I then wet the clay,, working, it into a paste, from which I moulded a dozen or two round cakes about one inch thick and about three inches in diameter, and put them on a board out in the yard in the sun to dry. These after a day or two became thoroughly dried, and I found them to be a very fine texture of fuller's earth or potter's clay, and was very much elated over my project and the possibility of selling quantities of it.
I then went down on Third street to a stencil and letter place and bought some lead letters, and after cutting out a round block, I glued these letters on to the block, spelling out the words "Hire's Refined Potter's Clay" in a circle. My thought was that these cakes could be sold for five cents.
While the cakes were soft, I pressed these letters in, which made a very distinct impression. After doing a few, however, I found that the moisture soon melted the glue and the letters would fall off. Then I had to have a cast iron one made with which I could work much more rapidly and which made a very neat impression.
Together with a boy and my assistant in the store at leisure times we worked up several gross of these cakes. In fact I first made up enough to fill a barrel and I found that a barrel would hold about ten gross. Having everything ready and with two or three nice samples done up in tissue paper, I started out to visit the wholesale drug trade. I remember I called on Mr. Crenshaw first and told him of my project and showed him my sample. He thought it was a most excellent idea and would take because it saved a great deal of weighing out and dirty work that the old method of dispensing Fuller's earth necessitated. At that time Fuller's earth was used quite extensively for taking out grease spots and cleaning woolens and flannels and had quite a large sale. I concluded to put the price of $3.50 a gross on the cakes to the wholesale trade and they could sell them for 35 or 40 cents a dozen. Mr. Crenshaw took hold of it at once and said: "You may send me ten barrels." I then visited Valentine H. Smith, who also took ten barrels. Robert Shoemaker, John C. Hurst & Co., _McKeon, Bowen & Ellis, Mahlon K. Smith & Co., afterwards Smith, Kline & Co., and I believe every wholesale druggist took three to five barrels. Clayton French took twenty-five barrels.I sold this mostly with the understanding that the amount was to be taken out in drugs or sundries as I should want. In this way I suppose it was much easier to sell the quantity I did. Front these sales I was enabled to better stock my store, and after selling this supply of clay, I renewed it several times from, cellar excavations, because I found that nearly all Philadelphia is underlaid with a strata of three or four feet of potter's clay.
After supplying Philadelphia, I went to New York and sold quite a lot in exchange for goods. In this way I had quite a revenue from my drug business, having to pay but little out for merchandise. But in the course of a year or two I soon had competitors; others finding out about commenced to put it up in a large way and it was very soon sold at prices that hardly made enough profit for the labor.
I have often thought when I have heard of the difficulties of a young man in getting along, that surely the reason for their not getting along is because of their lack of initiative or the lack of making or seizing opportunities when they come, because I think a business life is continually full of opportunities if one can grasp and utilize them.