Elmer Wheeler

The story behind 'Tested Sentences That Sell'

Elmer Wheeler was a newspaper advertising solicitor and when making his sales presentation to retailers, would point out his newspaper had the largest circulation in town.,Therefore more people who needing the goods sold would see advertisements in his paper and be drawn to their places of business to buy the products promoted.

A convincing sales argument, he thought, but the retailers would always say, “So what?”

The retailers would then point to the hundreds of people in the aisles of their stores and inform Elmer Wheeler that perhaps he did represent a newspaper with plenty of circulation that brought people into his store – but people just didn’t buy. The merchant called them “shoppers,” “lookers,” and “walk-outs.”

This sales obstacle had Elmer Wheeler perplexed for many years, because his only job was to get the people into the stores.

Then one day it occurred to him that maybe this wasn’t the end of his job – but really the beginning.

He set about making a careful analysis of the merchandise sold to the stores by the manufacturers. It was the right merchandise, sold at the right price and at the right season.

On going over the stores advertisements, he found that they were usually pretty effective. He then narrowed down the problem of why people came to the stores and purchased so little to the salespeople themselves behind their counters.

The sales people were the weak link in the setup of the retailer, the manufacturer, and the newspaper.


To get the definite proof of this fact, Elmer Wheeler approached Erwin Huber, then director of advertising for the Baltimore News-Post. Together they selected twenty reporters and gave each of them five dollars with instructions to go to The May Company and buy as many of the men’s advertised dollar shirts as the $5.00 would purchase and the clerks would sell.

When the reporters returned from the store, fifteen of them hadn’t bought a single shirt, informing Mr. Wheeler that the clerks had made no attempt to sell them one. The five reporters who did purchase shirts purchased only one each, explaining that the clerks did not suggest a second, third, or fourth shirt.

It was evident, according to the reporters, that the clerks figured that after all a man wore only one shirt at a time, so if he bought one, why try to “load him up” with several?

Armed with this important selling evidence

Elmer Wheeler then approached Mr. Wilbur May, head of The May Company store in Baltimore at the time, explained what he had done, and produced his findings.

Mr. May was most interested. He realised that he had a million-dollar establishment, with a million dollars worth of merchandise on the shelves – yet the real control of his business was in the hands of his eight hundred sales people.

Mr. May further realised that the most the manufacturer was doing was getting his goods up to the counters, the most the store was doing was teaching the clerks how to fill out checks properly and placing advertisements in the papers, and that the most the newspaper was doing was bringing the people in alive.

In the final analysis, the sales were consummated by the salespeople

Upon hearing this story and seeing the facts, Mr. May suggested that Mr. Wheeler be commissioned by his newspaper to go behind the counters and really make a study of salespeople.

The study went on for ten years and resulted in the formation of the Wheeler Word Laboratory. The purpose of this unique laboratory was to measure the relative selling effectiveness of words and their sales techniques, to determine with a great degree of accuracy what formulation of words and techniques makes the sale more accurate and faster.

With lots of stores and manufacturers supplying the Wheeler Word Laboratory with hundreds of selling sentences to be tested, Elmer Wheeler could get authentic tabulation of the scientific selling ability of words and techniques.

Sales gains were recorded everywhere

Wherever a salesperson was given a “Tested Selling Sentence” with its proper “Tested Technique” to replace a time worn statement, sales gains were noted.

One single sentence increased sales of a manufacturer’s hand lotion at B. Altman’s on Fifth Avenue from 60 per week to 927.

• Another tested combination of words made sales 78 percent of the times used at R. H. Macy & Company in selling their long-profit brand of coffee and tea.

• On another occasion two “Tested Selling Sentences” completely sold Bloomingdales, Saks 34th Street, Abraham & Straus of Brooklyn, and William Taylor’s of Cleveland out of tooth brushes – a staple item – for the first time in the history of these important stores.

Stern Brothers, in New York, had “Tested Selling Sentences” tailor-made to reduce delivery costs, and according to William Riordan, president, the first six months’ use of the sentences showed a relative saving of close to $7,000 over the preceding year.

Ten years of study of salespeople in this fantastic book!

Ten years trying out formulas, rules, and principles – casting them aside for others – have brought forth some sound, sensible methods of salesmanship.

Elmer Wheeler shares them with you in Tested Sentences That Sell.

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