Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Story of WALL DRUG

Some ten years ago we visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.  There was an advertisement  board near Taj Mahal which read:  "It is only 10,728 miles to WALL DRUG".   We wondered what it was and why was somebody advertising to a place over 10000 miles away!  We never imagined that we would travel that long and actually eat ice cream in Wall Drug one day.

During our visit to USA in 2005 we were traveling from Minneapolis to Rapid City, South Dakota.   Since we left Chamberlain in the morning, we could see boards displayed along the road advertising "Coffee for five cents – visit Wall Drug".  The boards could be seen for over one hundred miles and made curious reading. Who would advertise a cup of coffee being sold at five cents for as far as over a hundred miles?    We realized the truth after taking an exit on highway I-90 and driving for two blocks.  The advertisements were put up by the Wall Drug store. The story of  WALL DRUG makes very interesting reading.  It is the ultimate example of advertising and how far entrepreneurship can go.

In the year 1931, Wall was a small town in the South Dakota region with a population of only 326 people and all of them were flat and broke busted due to the great depression and drought.  Ted Hustead moved into the town from Philips in Nebraska and purchased a drug shop in the town.  Son of a doctor and a pharmacy degree holder, he had his wife Dorothy and four year old son Bill with him.  When he moved into Wall, his well wishers warned him about moving to a "place which is in the middle of nowhere" and no chances for survival.  Having started his business with his three thousand dollars, he found that business was next to nothing and set up a time limit of 5 years to move out if the trend continued.  The situation remained the same after four years.  In the fifth year, one summer afternoon his wife went to take a nap as there were no customers in the shop.  She returned after a few minutes and told Ted that she could not sleep due to heavy traffic on the nearby highway 16.  She had a suggestion – somebody traveling in the hot summer desert needs water, ice cold water.  If only they could let them know that ice cold water is one and a half blocks away……

She had also prepared a board reading "Get a soda….. Get a root beer…… turn next corner….. Just as near….. to highway 16 and 14….. Free ice Water …..WALL DRUG".   Ted liked the idea and with the help of a hired boy he prepared many such boards during the next week.  He then went with the boy and put up the boards on either side of the road and returned to the shop.  Even before he returned to the shop there were visitors asking for ice water.  After receiving ice water they thanked him and went.  Some of them wanted ice water to be given in their cans for use on the way.  One of the visitors asked him to sell some ice cream also.  That is how it started and the Wall Drug sales soared day after day.

The shop went on distributing such boards advertising its existence.  A wall poster was put up in the London underground subway station – in the "Tube" as it is called.  The board said  "Visit Wall Drug …. Only 5,160 miles away"!   A representative of BBC interviewed Ted Housted and many British tourists actually visited his shop when they traveled to the United States.  Boards in English were put in Paris.  Someone commented as to why English boards were put up in Paris!  Someone else replied that if the French could not read the board they would ask some one else who knows English to read it to them!  Boards were also put up in transit stations in far away Kenya in Africa.  Even today Wall Drug gives away 14,000 small posters and 8,000 big posters to the visitors to put up the boards wherever they want and it spends over 300,000 dollars every year  on advertisement even now.

The shop has been expanded from time to time and today is spread over 76,000 square feet of Western Wonderland ad resembles a wild west town.  The shops today have a collection of western art, over 1,400 historical photographs, beautiful black walnut peeled dining rooms, native American artifacts, animated attractions, a six foot rabbit and giant jack-pole.  Abundant shopping opportunities bring 20,000 visitors every day to Wall Drug and annual sales exceeds 10 million US dollars.  The shop is located 50 miles to the west of Rapid city and nearly 75% of the traffic on I-90 highway turns to Wall Drug.  A small drug store in a semi arid desert town has been converted to a tourist spot and shopping mall.

Started by Dorothy and Ted Hustead in 1931, their son Bill joined them in 1951.  Ted's grandsons Rick and Ted Jr joined the business in 1981 and 1988 respectively.  Dorothy died in 1994 and Ted himself died at age 96 in 1999.  The business is carried on by their daughter-in-law and grandsons.  We could not violate the unwritten rule on I-90 highway and went to Wall Drug. It was very hot on the summer afternoon. We visited the different areas of the shops and had ice-cream as most of the visitors do.   Dorothy and Ted Hustead were no MBAs, but made us go all the way to wall drug

The above picture is taken from the wall drug website.   You may visit   http://www.walldrug.com  for further details, if you are anywhere in South Dakota to visit the place, relish the ice cream and enjoy many other rare collection of photos and artifacts in Wall Drug.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent One...

    Great Dreamers' dreams are never fulfilled, they are are always transcended. - Alfred Lord Whitehead