Martha Matilda Harper - Compelling Marketing and Sales Techiques

Martha Matilda Harper taught Us Compelling Marketing and Sales Techniques

Martha Matilda Harper was a dirt-poor, born on the wrong side of the tracks, and destined to remain a servant girl, but instead, she created modern franchising and used compelling marketing and sales techniques to build a world-empire of over 500 franchises, especially in Europe.

Her approach was based on over 25 years of pleasing her employers.  She translated that knowledge into concrete steps her franchisees and employees could use to sell effectively and succeed. These included:

  1. Focus on the Customer
  2. Engage the Customer
  3. Seize Opportunity
  4. Think Outside the Box
  5. Celebrate

Focus on the Customer

Make each customer feel valued. Listen to them and NEVER gossip about what they shared or who they are.  Rather, treat each conversation like a sacred pact.  Martha Matilda Harper created quality hair and skin-care franchises, called the Harper Method.  Each employee knew she would be fired if she gossiped about her customers.

Listen to the customer.  Know what your customers value and want, and deliver it to them, informing them exactly what is being done to please them.  Employees were expected to know the family, understand each customer’s needs, and delight them, while introducing Harper’s products, services, and philosophy.

Engage the customer in the business.  Give them a sense of pride for being connected with your products and services.  For Harper, who only believed in organic products, it was important that each customer and employee believe the Harper job was to bring the inner beauty out in each customer.  Health became the Harper mantra, using it provided the rationale for not providing hair dyes in her shops.  (They dyes had dangerous chemicals was the rationale.  Harper was selling products that were pure and organic.)

Use Creative Marketing and Sales Techniques To Serve Multiple Purposes  – Develop services or products that serve multiple purposes, especially with on eye towards new customer bases. Many of Harper’s customers were women with young children.    To make it “easy” for these customers to come, Harper created child-play centers in the parlors to enable their mothers to relax and enjoy the Harper treatments. This served as a convenience to the customer, but also exposed the children to her shop, assuring they would be comfortable as future customers

Engage the Customer

Turn each customer into an advertisement.  Give your customers reason to praise and talk about you.  Harper accomplished this not only through her work, but also through her distinctive values and innovative shop and products.  Her shops were standardized, but inventive.  She designed the first reclining shampoo chair to assure that soap did not get into customers’ eyes.  Her strong beliefs in healthy products ring familiar today, but helped to differentiate her from the pack.

Target particular groups in marketing.   Differentiate your customer base and understand the various niches to be targeted. During the Depression, while Harper did not lower prices across the board, she distinguished by profession, certain days teachers could come for a lower price.  This made them feel recognized and appreciated, which fostered loyalty. A true marketing and sales genius indeed.

Encourage referrals and visitors.  Think longer term about your outreach.  Harper’s shops were always so different, her customer s often brought in out-of-town visitors to show off the shop.  That set up a perpetual system of new cities and towns to expand in, with a contact/prospect base, and simultaneously, reinforced the Harper shops as valued assets to a community.

Seize Opportunity

Introduce New Services With a Photograph. Consider how best to project your products or services to folks who are unfamiliar with them.  When Harper launched her business in 1888, no one in Rochester, NY had heard of a public beauty salon for women.  Harper had to quickly convey her service.  She hung a photograph of herself with long, flowing, floor-length hair on her door to powerfully attract attention. And introduce the hair care concept.

What A Chair Can Do. Be bold and yet, strategic. Next door to Harper’s shop was a piano teacher.  Mothers brought their children for lessons, but there was no reception room for the mothers to wait in.  Instead, Harper, invited those women to “rest their weary feet” in her shop, thereby getting them inside her salon and introducing them to her services.

Think Outside the Box

Dare to be Different. Differentiate yourself. Harper never shied away from being distinctive.  Whether it was her reclining shampoo chair her refusal to carry hair dyes, her commitment to organic products and techniques, Harper viewed each as opportunities to define her business.  Similarly, although she had franchised territory having Harper shops, she sold her products in department stores, recognizing additional marketing and sales opportunities.  In fact, Jordon Marsh of Boston had a huge window display showing off the Harper products and celebrating Harper’s 90thbirthday of business operations.


Promote Success. Embrace and promote success. Harper continued to praise her employees, franchisers and customers using strategic publicity that communicated growth, values, and achievement.  These newsletters, advertisements, and annual reunions of staff and shop owners served to re-motivate all, assuring commitment and consistency.   It helped that British royalty, world leaders, and theatre luminaries were all her customers.

Learn more about Harper.

© By Jane Plitt (

Jane Plitt is an author, entrepreneur, and speaker. You can order her book about Martha Matilda Harper on Amazon and at other bookstores.