Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on November 13th, 2012

Stan Avery: How with just $100 he started a multi-billion dollar global company.

Today, Pasadena, CA based Avery Dennison has 30,000 employees in more than 50 countries. Its revenues last year were about $6 billion.

Yet it all started so simply, as Stan created the first easily removable adhesive label. While today adhesive labels are a staple everywhere and come in many varieties, at the start, no-one knew if there was a market for adhesive labels.

But that did not stop Stan. Born in 1907, as a young man Stan attended Pomona College. There he studied many topics, rather than focus on any one. Not knowing what to call his studies, the school awarded him a degree in what it called, “Cultural Synthesis.”

But what Stan didn’t study was business, which would have helped him in starting a company. When Stan graduated, Los Angeles and the rest of the world were suffering through the Great Depression and jobs were scarce.

Fortunately, in his last year of college, Stan landed a night job at The Midnight Mission in skid row helping to check in and feed as many men as the Mission could care for. After he graduated, this experience helped him secure a job with the Los Angeles County Department of Charities, which meant he had the safety of a stable government job and a guaranteed paycheck and benefits.

But in 1933 Stan left that secure job to join some friends in a start-up business, making adhesive labels, a business that soon failed.

Fortunately, Stan was hired by a friend to join the family flower business. He would get up in the wee hours of the morning and from 4 am to 11 am, he packed flowers for shipment. Afterwards, Stan kept tinkering with adhesives, renting a space in the flower warehouse on a loft above a refrigeration unit.

In 1935, after extensive trial and error, Stan created an odd looking device using an old washing machine motor and a spare sewing machine clutch and it stamped out labels. In that loft, a huge industry was born.

But not knowing this at the time, Stan borrowed $100 from his fiancée, Dorothy Durfee, a 4th grade school teacher, to find out if there was a market for these easy to use adhesive labels. That $100 paid for letterhead, envelopes and postage.

Using the Los Angeles phonebook, Dorothy made a list of gift shops and sent them a mimeographed letter with a sample sheet of easily removable adhesive labels. If they liked those adhesive labels, they could order 1,000 more for just one dollar.

When large numbers of one dollar bills began arriving in the mail, the couple knew they had a business, and expanded their mailings to other cities, as the dollar bills kept coming in. Soon their mailings grew to include furniture and hardware stores, drug stores and other retailers and more dollars flooded in.

Stan and Dorothy became confident enough in that business to get married.

In the early days, it was just the two of them, as they did the mailings and Dorothy printed the labels and packaged them for shipment. As the business grew Stan moved it to a larger facility nearby and began to hire employees, paying them $15 a week and himself $20 a week.

What would later become Avery Dennison was born.

In their personal lives, Stan and Dorothy would have a daughter and two sons and would remain married until Dorothy’s passing in 1964, after 29 years of marriage. Later Stan would remarry and remain married to the former Ernestine Onderdonk, until her passing in 1997, the year Stan also passed away at the age of 90.

By that time, Stan was a well-known philanthropist, whose many causes included The Midnight Mission, the California Institute of Technology, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Huntington Library, as he was determined to make Los Angeles and the world a better place.

Success Tip of the Week: If your dream is to own your own business, even if you have no money, no business knowledge and the economy is bad, do as Stan did, test your idea and if it works act on it to make your dream a reality.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to David Frail, Director, Global Corporate Communications, for Avery Dennison Corporation for providing a compelling book in which Stan was interviewed at length, “Avery 1935 – 1985: The First Fifty Years.” To learn more about Avery Dennison, please visit http://www.averydennison.com/en/home.html

In the next KazanToday: A man who rose from a ditch digger to become a famous actor.

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Many of these short, inspirational success stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!
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