"If not fully satisfied, your money cheerfully refunded." We take statements like this for granted today, but when twenty-eight-year-old entrepreneur Joseph Ray (J.R.) Watkins of Plainview, Minnesota, put that message on a bottle of his Red Liniment, he was a trailblazer. In 1869, a year after Watkins first sold his patented combination of Asian camphor and red pepper extract, he bottled it in patented Trial Mark bottles, which showed how much of a product could be used before returned for a refund.
The secret to Watkins's success lay not only in his money-back guarantee but also in his sales force, a well-trained, highly motivated bunch that sold his products door-to-door. In 1885, the rapidly expanding company moved its headquarters to Winona, Minnesota. Ten years later, the company expanded its line of natural remedies to include gourmet cooking items: vanilla extract, black pepper, and cinnamon. In 1913, Watkins went international by opening a branch office in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and within two years, it had become the world's largest direct-sales company.
By 1940, Watkins's 10,000 sales associates—more than those employed by the better-known Fuller Brush Company—were offering 200 products, including vitamins, herbal remedies, and a range of baking goods. In 1978, multimillionaire businessman Irwin Jacobs bought the company from the Watkins family. In the early twenty-first century, Jacobs's son Mark was president of Watkins, Inc., and sales were good. And what of J.R. Watkins's Red Liniment? It was still available, through the company's website as well as from sales representatives. It was still sold in a Trial Mark bottle.
Serres, Chris, "Winona's Watkins Takes Leap from Door to Store," Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 19, 2005.
In 1885, J.R. Watkins Company moves from Plainview, Minnesota, to Winona, where easy access to both rail and water shipping lines allows the business to grow.