By Sarah Allison, archives student worker & Public History graduate student
The Rike-Kumler Co. held it’s “A Million in December” campaign December 1st, 1922, at its downtown Dayton location. It was a feat that had not been matched in the company’s history. The ultimate goal for the campaign was to make a million dollars in the month of December. The campaign had been in the making for over a year and with salesmen traveling across the world to have unique inventory for the customers. The store itself had over 3 million dollars in merchandise unlike other local department stores of Dayton. Other competition for the era included Troxell’s, Elder’s, and Johnston, which were upscale department stores.
The department store had been a staple in downtown Dayton since 1853 for its atmosphere, the traditional department store setting that gave the customer an experience while shopping. At its last construction the building had 6 floors. The floors included from fine jewelry to furniture, but also included the mezzanine area, a photo studio on the 3rd floor, the Coin Room Restaurant on the 4th floor, and the employee cafeteria on the 9th floor.
The “A Million in December” campaign was the brain child of Frederick H. Rike, the President of Rike’s. It had been a year in the making for the company and had been in planning stages since the December of 1921. On November 27th the Rike-Kumler Company held a luncheon, inviting 26 editors of newspapers in the Miami Valley and eight representatives of Dayton papers to make the announcement of the sales promotion for December. Early on in November letters were sent to preferred stockholders announcing the intentions of the promotion. The letter stated that the stockholders were part of the campaign by supporting them through word of mouth promotion and that the store was capable of achieving their goal of a million dollars. It however reassured the stockholder that the service and respectability that Rike’s was known for would not be sacrificed in the process. On December 1st there was a ceremony opening the campaign at Rike’s with an opening prayer by Rev. D.G. Batdorf.
Frederick Rike also valued every employee’s individual effort and acknowledged that the million would not be accomplished by a single person. The store had at this time 51+ departments and 1,000+ employees. There were initiatives during the month of December for the workers. One such contest included guessing how much Rike’s would go over a million. At the beginning of the month, people wrote a figure down on how much the store would go over its quota. At the end of the month, whoever got the closest to the quota that was raised received a bonus and was mentioned at their “Million Dollar Reception” in January of 1923. Another competition that Fredrick Rike did for the employees was a Christmas suggestion contest. Suggestions could include what could be better done to help the campaign, general suggestions for the store or how Rike’s could be improved. The winners of the contest would receive $50 in bonus. In today’s money $50 for Christmas was equivalent to $700 bonus.
Frederick Rike wrote his employees:
I am proud of you and have a sincere affection for you and I realize that in all we do we are dependent on you. All right- let’s go! – A Million Dollars Sales in December – Everybody doing all they can in the store and outside among their friends to put it over. And in it all we shall not forget that we are to maintain our high ideals of honest and courtesy and kindness and that every contact gives us the chance to make a new friend. By so doing we help the store, we help ourselves and we do good to the community and at the same time we have a lot of fun.
The daily newsletter PEP was addressed to the “Million Dollar City” and was circulated through the departments as a way of motivation and an update of sales. It included what departments were reaching quota, anecdotes, and songs. During the month of December the first to reach quota was the decorating department and the last to reach quota was watch repair. At the time of the opening Rike’s had over 3 million dollars in stock to sell. Rike encouraged workers to send letters inviting their friends to come in. December 16th, 1922, alone broke records with 40,068 shoppers. A letter to NCR stated that through their National Electric O.K. System there were 4,269 charges made that day.
Frederick Rike, a promotion genius, was the person who came up with the trademark logo of the red bell with the neon thermometer that read “A Million in December.” In the December plans he notes: “A definite symbol or so-called trademark should be adopted to be carried out thru all of December. Inasmuch as it is our aim to enlighten the public daily of our progress.” Through merchandise preparation there would be gift offerings and “RK Specials” in every department, 15 of each resulting in over 1500 specials during December. There would be the creation of the third floor gift bazaar in the theme of a street fair, at the cost of $120.00. Bargain tables were to be far in the back from the gift tables to “having volume of business always in mind.” Other promotions included store trucks with banners, 36,000 special seals on all packages, and correspondence with letterhead. Fifty-two billboards in the Miami Valley area covered the teasers and the announcement during December. The store windows included Christmas trees sporting bulbs with “million” written on them. The Christmas traditions of the Rike-Kumler Co. dates back to the 1920’s decorating the interior of the store as well as outside. The animations of the Christmas windows that are familiar to the Baby Boomers of Dayton have been around since the mid 1940’s.
Newspaper publicity was a large expense for the company but the widest reach of people was through large spreads featured in the Dayton Daily News, which cost the company $15,000. The store offered personal shoppers for men, gift suggestions booth, gift wrapping, and mailing services. Santa Claus this year arrived by airplane at McCook Field and then arrived to Rike’s Toyland by special escort. Santa Claus could also be called by telephone, and every letter to him was answered, along with a toy circular for the parents.
After the campaign reached a close Frederick Rike planned his own Million Dollar Banquet for the employees. A $10,000 bonus was to be given out to the employees, along with announcing the sales totals of every department, and the certificate of membership of the participation of the drive given to the employees. Rike’s spent $27,439.00 in expenses, which in today’s money reaches $388,454.58.
Announcing in the January 1st, 1923, Dayton Daily News paper that Rike’s had reached their goal of the million dollars was in a full page spread. A total of $1,006,435.40 was purchased, which in today’s money with inflation is $14,248,132.47.
For more information, see Rike’s Historical Collection (MS-189), Box 4, File 7: A Million in December; and Box 52 Christmas photographs. Newspaper advertisements are from Dayton Daily News, December 1922 and December 1923.