The catalog that started a cult

Where else will you find …
“As my boat sank into the Zambezi”

Fellow Business-Builder,

The J. Peterman catalog is a masterpiece of mixing romance and
storytelling, finished off with a dash of practicality and concern
with the highest quality product and service possible.

Not too long ago I had written a post about J. Peterman on my own

Just this week, I got a very pleasant surprise and received an e-mail
from Jonathan Sexton, Gladiator for the J. Peterman Company (or as he
says, drab title ­ Director of Marketing).

He complimented me on the article and we have agreed to do a
teleseminar next week discussing J. Peterman’s success … failure …
and resurgence in popularity.

I thoroughly enjoyed Peterman’s book,
Peterman Rides Again.

If you haven’t read it before … you need to.

His book is packed with exceptional storytelling and a very
insightful look into the life of this unusual garment globetrotter.

It all started with an ankle-length duster – a long, simple riding
coat that John Peterman purchased during a trip to Wyoming. “I wore
that coat and people wanted to buy it off my back,” said Peterman.

As he took his initial purchase and turned it into a mail order
company, he found his flair for writing and eye for unusual items was
drawing in people who were looking for something out of the ordinary.

The first full year selling J. Peterman Dusters he sold $580,000
worth that year. That led to the J. Peterman shirt … which was
another great seller … which led to another … and another.

John Peterman would travel the world looking for unusual items that
people normally wouldn’t be able to find, or had romance and stories
built right into them.

And he succeeded.

The catalog that started a cult …

As you may know, his catalog, the Owner’s Manual, was a masterpiece

… Using hand-drawn sketches rather than photographs.

… Using long copy to romance the reader, rather than short,
typical, catalog copy.

The J. Peterman Owner’s Manual was the secret (and sacred) tool that
like-minded people would cherish and read out loud amongst their
closest friends on the inside.

It was an odd shape as well … 5 ½ by 10 ½ inches.

The catalog itself became a thing of legend and celebrities quickly
became devoted fans and buyers.

A list of just a few J. Peterman
fans (and customers):

Nicole Kidman

Tom Cruise

Clint Eastwood

Tom Brokaw

Paul Newman

Joanne Woodward

Kim Basinger

Tom Hanks

Mia Farrow

Bill Murray

Angela Lansbury

Sidney Pollack

Jerry Seinfeld


… To name just a few

Wouldn’t you just love to have a client list like that?

In 1991 The New York Times called him the Merchant Poet.

His success bloomed and his reputation became legendary among the
discerning, more affluent crowd.

And then Seinfeld hit in 1995

With no advance warning, J. Peterman became a character on the hit
sitcom, “Seinfeld.”

“Seinfeld” caught J. Peterman by surprise – and it took them from
having a catalog that was a well-kept secret to having no secret at

The growth was phenomenal and debilitating.

The phone lines lit up and people wanted more.

They bought … he expanded.
But something bad started to happen
amidst all his success …

The “Seinfeld” show made light of who the real J. Peterman was, and
it created the wrong impression in the general public’s eye.

[Note: Offline … the TV J. Peterman,  John O’Hurley , said “J.
Peterman answers a need for authenticity in a world that is losing
authenticity at a catastrophic rate”]

Something to think about: O’Hurley’s statement reflects much of what
is happening right now in our economy.  People are distrusting, weary
of spending money on the same-old, same-old.  They are looking for
unusual experiences, exciting new product offers, and a GREAT story
they can tell their friends and family.

Don’t you think that maybe … just maybe …
the J. Peterman style of copy
could help YOUR business stand out from the clutter?

I certainly think it applies everywhere!

Headlines or copy that reads like this “As my boat sank into the
Zambezi, I watched my luggage float downstream over Victoria Falls.
But the day wasn’t a total loss …”compels people to read … and we
all need to find new and innovative ways to bring people into our

What happened to J. Peterman
and caused the ultimate demise
of this icon?

He lost touch with what made his company so great to begin with, and
was focused more on investors and retail expansion, rather than the
things that he loved so much about his company.

Expansion into retail destroyed all that he enjoyed most about his
business. Cash flow issues continued to plague them.
Ultimately, the expansion caused him to go bankrupt,
and his dreams were dashed.

If you want to dig deeper into the J. Peterman success story
and learn how to incorporate their techniques into your
own business, join us next week for the Free call


He eventually bought J. Peterman back out of bankruptcy with the help
of friends and family, and is rebuilding it from the ground up (you
MUST get on their mailing list, if you aren’t already).

They are again obsessive about the copy and the catalog … even when
he had Don Stanley writing his copy alongside him.

Back in the boom time, the sheer volume of copy needed meant they
needed to expand and find other writers who could match their flair
for persuasive storytelling through catalog copy.

They were very picky on who wrote for them and how the copy sounded.
One writer needed to sound just as appealing as the next … and they
all needed to sound just like the infamous J. Peterman wrote it

Some lessons from J. Peterman:
* He created a brand character that developed a life of its own
(much like the Tommy Bahama character does).

* Build practical romance into your copy and the experience your
buyers have with your company

* Attaching emotional meaning and feeling to clothing and
everyday items you may put in your home or business.

* Focus on the best customer service possible.  Develop the
attitude that your service and guarantees are to be upheld to the
point that anything and everything is guaranteed.  Make it so people
WANT to tell others about how great your customer service is.  In his
book, they talk about a return they got on a pair of boots that were
obviously worn for work on a farm and in the fields.  They were worn
out and the customer wanted a refund. Most companies would say no.  J.
Peterman knew that if he gave the gentleman a new pair, word would
spread. And it did … quickly.

* Truly think through the experience you give your prospects and
buyers  … how can you incorporate more Peterman style copy into your

* Do you tell the real adventures you go through to find
components to your products? Or how you invented your newest creation?
Or what the actual experience you provide delivers to the clients?

* Do you use catalogs?  Could you?  Again, go to and sign up for their newsletter.  Read their copy,
and think through how you could romanticize your products and services
like they do. (It IS possible to do, you have to use your creativity
and writer’s voice to find it, and you will).  Look at how a jacket
and skirt becomes an experience.  Or how a cologne can increase your
heart rate and make you feel warm.

Harriet and Lord Peter jacket, $285, and pleated skirt, $175:

They met in her cell in the Old Bailey. Had she fed arsenic to
her lover? Had she? He proved her innocent. Met again in Oxford. (She
wore this outfit.) He courted her; punting on the Cherwell, quail’s
eggs, wit, an antique ivory chess set. Proposed in Latin: “Placetne?”
Oh, yes. It pleased her.


Shocking rabbit fur hat, $245:

Shocking to see someone this young, this independent, so
beautifully dressed. Shocking to find out she was not who she said she
was. Shocking to see her walk off the QE2, into the arms of an
unsuitable man, just an ordinary bounder.

The other passengers couldn’t stop looking. At what she wore, how
she wore it, the way they looked at each other, the way they still do.


Dominica Bay Rum.

The Small Island of Dominica. Columbus discovered it, named it,
and left it alone. It’s north of Martinique. And it is the home, since
1907, of a very good West Indian Bay Rum manufactured under the
Dominica brand-name.

Bay Rum has a fairly quiet scent, less strong than anything
called perfume, less strong than anything called aftershave, but not
so quiet as to be boring.

It is, in fact, quite sexy.

It is sexy the way skin begins to smell from strong sun, salt
water, steel drums, breaking waves, moving palm branches and giggling
coming from somewhere.

Men liked Bay Rum long before 1907, when the Dominica brand
started. Men have liked Bay Rum since Spanish Main days. They like it
for the least complicated reason in the world: it smells good.

A decent gift which often turns into a lifetime habit.

Dominica Bay Rum (No. 1044), 10 fl. oz. Imported.

Now is the time to use incredible storytelling
and copy like this.

People are looking for new experiences and new ways to buy … this
approach can easily make your company stand out from any and every
competitor you have.

Last: if you want to dig deeper into the J. Peterman success story
and learn how to incorporate their techniques into your own business,
join us next week for the free call

What would be the TOP question you would like to ask their Director
of Marketing?

Leave your best questions below and we will see how much quality
information Jonathan Sexton can give us.

Make sure you read their site, and get a copy of John Peterman’s

Thanks again.

To your success,

Troy White

PS: Don’t miss the call next week. If you want to dig deeper into the
J. Peterman success story and learn how to incorporate their techniques
into your own business, join us next week for the free call

PPS: This article was originally written for Clayton Makepeace and his
Total Package blog.  Every Thursday you will find one of my articles,
along with a daily post from other contributing editors.  You can get those


  1. […] The J. Peterman catalogue is a masterpiece of mixing romance and storytelling, finished off with a dash of practicality and concern with the highest quality product and service possible. Not too long ago I had written a post about J. Peterman on my own blog. […]