Smoke Detectors

Opening our first electrical supply branch in Columbus, Indiana in 1972, presented me, a novice at understanding electrical products, some interesting challenges. Fortunately, I had a lot of support from our home office in Lafayette and had the wisdom to bring an experienced assistant manager with me when we opened.

Our main product line was controlling devices used in manufacturing, consequently our customer base was mostly industrial manufactures. The Cummins Engine Company had its home office in Columbus. Although Columbus was a town of 30,000, nearly a third of those residents worked in one of the several Cummins’ offices and plants.

Just a few months after our opening, I learned that Cummins celebrated Fire Prevention Week by encouraging fire safety to all its employees. The previous year Cummins had arranged a special deal making the purchase of home fire extinguishers available to its employees. As it happened, one of our product lines, First Alert, had just introduced a battery powered smoke detector. I called on the Cummins purchasing office and asked if they would be interested in a special price on smoke detectors. My inquiry was met with enthusiastic response.

Cummins wanted exclusive credit for the program and asked that the special price—$29.95—only be available to Cummins employees, be strictly cash, run for one week only, and be limited to no more than three detectors per employee. The three-detector limit was Cummins’ idea, perhaps to make the promotion appear more special, but we didn’t care and were very understanding if an employee wanted to buy extras for a relative or a neighbor.

When I contacted First Alert about the promotion, they were extremely excited and arranged to send a box truck loaded with product to be staged in our parking lot.

I don’t know how Cummins built any diesel engines on the Monday the promotion started because we were mobbed by employees lined up to buy smoke detectors. Our cash register was immediately overwhelmed by twenty- and ten-dollar bills and we had to empty the drawers of a file cabinet just to stash the bills. We had five supply company employees working behind the counter taking orders, handing out product, and scribbling handwritten receipts. By the end of that first day it was apparent the box truck of detector inventory was not going to last the week. A hurried called to First Alert requested more product and an overnight semi full of detectors was dispatched for immediate delivery. The detectors were packaged with 9-volt batteries and First Alert ran short of batteries. It had Eveready FedEx an immediate shipment of batteries directly to our store.

That incredible event took place nearly 50-years ago and I can’t recall the exact number of detectors sold or dollars involved, but 12,000 seems to ring a bell; nearly $400,000 in sales. I can’t remember depositing the cash, but can you imagine the look on some teller’s face when I walked into the bank with bushel baskets of money to make the deposit. What a week it was.

5 thoughts on “Smoke Detectors

  1. Jim, Great story. How many of those 20’s ended up in your pocket? Just kidding, of course. Keep those stories coming.

  2. Now if you could just create a book sale like that!
    Keep writing, Jim!

  3. You have such a good memory. I remember when All-Phase was opening branches all over the country and the importance of keeping big manufacturing companies happy with our service.

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