The LifeTools story

Under Chris’s guidance, LifeTools became Europe’s largest mail order supplier of light and sound devices; lucid dreaming machines; and other devices, CDs and CDs for exploring and developing your inner mind, relaxing you deeply, helping you sleep better, boosting your energy, improving your memory, lifting confidence, and much more!

The following article appeared in a UK direct mail newspaper called Catalogue And Mail Order Business, now called Catalogue and e-business… Catalogue-and-e-business-covers.jpg (The article has been expanded to be more detailed, with photos added.)

It seemed like the end of the world for Christopher Payne from Stockport when he was made redundant in August 1992. He had been the Managing Director of Europress Software Ltd, and had masterminded the launch of a range of educational software called Fun School which sold 150,000 units while Chris was there, and went on to sell more than half a million copies in the UK since then.

The parent group, Europress Ltd, was going through financial challenges and needed to cut costs fast. Chris, and and a number of other senior executives, suddenly found themselves without a job.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself at first, and I felt very down. Europress agreed to pay me a good salary for the next two years as long as I kept out of software publishing, so I wouldn’t compete directly with them. However I’d only ever worked in software publishing; it was the only business I knew. And I didn’t know if Europress as a company would still be in business two years later to continue paying me my salary with the way things were going there.

“However I’d seen an amazing device called the MC2 (“the MC-squared”) at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas several months earlier. It used pulsing light and rhythmic sound to induce deep states of consciousness. I had a sample shipped over and tried it at home. I’ve never felt so relaxed in all my life. I decided that if I could do anything I’d set up a mail order business selling them in the UK.”

So a few months after Chris was made redundant he flew back to the States to research light and sound technology in more depth. In May 1993 he formed LifeTools and put a small ad in the Manchester Evening News. He got no response.

Chris was a member of an activity organisation called Spice so he inserted a leaflet in the club newsletter, which went out to 2,000 people in the Manchester area of England, and the first orders started to roll in.

A small £125 advert in Kindred Spirit, a New Age magazine, brought in £2,000 (US$3,000) in business.

Chris doubled the size of the ad…

 

Early-LifeTools-MindLab-advert

…which brought in even more revenue, so he put the ad in other New Age-type publications, like this one in a magazine called I-to-I…

I-to-I-MindLab-advert

Eventually he took the plunge and placed a full-page colour advert – and hundreds of enquiries poured in.

“At last I knew the business was really taking off. It was so exhilarating. I was running LifeTools from the box room of my house, with stock stored in the main bedroom. Not ideal! Every night I’d drive to the post office with big parcels in Tesco shopping bags and stand in the queue with everyone else. Soon we were big enough to have Parcel Force come and collect parcels from home.”

Soon afterwards Chris moved the business out of his home and into a business centre which charged £50 a week (US$75) for rent, and he took on his first member of staff. About the same time Chris contacted an old friend called Carol Ellison who was on the same Business Studies degree at Leeds Polytechnic. She had recently set up a media booking company in London.

“We got together and she booked an advert in Viz comic with the headline “Blow Your Mind”…

Blow-Your-Mind-Viz-advert

The phones went crazy and enquiries flooded in. “We had an answering machine to take evening calls, but I found that very few people left messages. So I tracked down a 24-hour answering company who charged us a fixed price for every call they received. This made sure that we captured everyone who rang in.” The first ad placed in Viz brought in 2,000 leads.

As well as selling devices like the MindLab, Chris also promoted a home study course called PhotoReading. Here is one of the small ads he ran in national newspapers for years. This one ran The Daily Mail, which Chris was able to tell from the Dept MA1 code in the postal address…

PhotoReading Daily Mail ad.jpg

“One of my biggest successes came out of a self-righteous ‘I’ll show you!’ attitude… I had created a full page A4 advert for the MindLab that looked like this…

MindLab-upside-down-couple-ad

“As you can see, the ad featured a lot of copy. After this ad had been running successfully for a number of months, I was reading a trade magazine called Permission Marketing. Every week they had a page which reviewed different print adverts, TV ads, and mail order packages. In one issue they reviewed the above ad…

Permission-Marketing-review

“The caption to my ad said ‘Lost in a sea of words’ and the accompanying review said ‘Old style ad dilutes the message’. I thought the reviewer was wrong. I had studied books like Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy, and many others which explained how effective long-copy adverts could be. Ads like the one above were highly profitable for me: I’d pay £500 to £2,000 ($750 to $3,000) to place each ad, and make 3 to 5 times that in profit within 3 months of the ad appearing. That’s an excellent return on my investment. We also had lots of people ringing up saying, “I saw the article on your MindLab, so I’m calling for a brochure”. Well, that was exactly the kind of response I wanted: I designed the ad to look like an article because articles are read far more than ads are.

“So in response to that review, I decided to make my ads even more copy intensive! Here’s another one I created which featured a very talented accelerated learning trainer called Lex McKee. It even says “Interviewed by Chris Payne” to make it even more like an article…

Lex-McKee-MindLab-ad

Soon after this I created an advert to promote the PhotoReading home study course which looked like this…

I-got-95pc-PhotoReading-ad-cropped.jpg

“I placed it in the Open University magazine at a cost of £1,000 ($1,500) and made about £10,000 in profit from that one ad within a few months. I simply don’t believe that, if I’d used less words as I think the reviewer was implying, I’d have made more money. It was the fact that the ad looked so much like an article, and read like an article too, which made it so effective.”

Since starting the business, Chris has moved the business four times, has a sales office in Reading, has 50,000 customers, and 250,000 enquirers — all from an initial £8,000 (US$12,000) investment.

He has run more than 400 adverts in the national press: from quality newspapers like The Times and Sunday Times, to ‘red top’ tabloid newspapers like The Daily Mirror, The Sun and The Daily Sport, plus magazines like Men’s Health, GQ, Esquire, paying up to £2,000 per advert: a price which was generally 60 to 75% less than most other advertisers were paying: the so-called rate card price. “Almost every one of those 400-plus ads made a profit over time. We knew this as we tracked every ad from its ‘source code’ on computer systems which, at the beginning, cost £2,000 ($3,000), and eventually cost us £50,000 ($75,000).”

He paid for an advertorial feature in Reader’s Digest magazine, Stressed out or having difficulty sleeping

Readers-Digest-MindLab

He placed adverts in A5-size brochures which were distributed to 4 million homes around the UK twice a year. These publications had around 16 pages with 4 adverts on each page. Other advertisers included Saga (a magazine for older readers), finance magazines, shirt companies, Oreck vacuum cleaners, mail order book suppliers, adult toy suppliers, cosmetic clinics, and so on. Here’s one that Chris booked, top right, featuring his wife at the time levitating as she’s so relaxed using the device!…

Information-Service-MindLad-ad

Another ad he placed looked like this…

Information-Service-MindLab-ad2

…and this…

PhotoReading RDP ad cropped

Each ad told you to tick a particular box number. In the centre of the catalogue was a pull-out postcard, which looked like this…

Information-Service-postcard.JPG

Such ads brought in more than 100,000 enquiries through the post, and this venture was generally highly profitable.

When Chris’s team sent out the information packs people had requested, Chris designed an envelope to show the advert the people had responded to, so they would be more likely to open the pack rather than just put it in the bin unopened. Here’s the envelope which goes with the PhotoReading ad above the postcard image above…

PhotoReading-rip-envelope-with-stamp.jpg

Regarding the sales letter inside, Chris’s skills in writing, and his understanding of what worked well in direct mail, improved over the years.

For example, the first sales letter for the PhotoReading home study course looked like this…

PhotoReading-old-letter-top

…and this…

PhotoReading-old-letter-top-Blast

…and progressed to this one, which, says Chris, “enabled me to buy my wife a new car, and move to a bigger house”…

PhotoReading-Astonishing-letter

How long did it take you to write your sales letters? Chris says, “For a 4-page 2-colour letter, with 2-page colour brochure, testimonial sheet, order form and outer envelope, I would spend about a week on it, polishing and polishing it until I sent it to the printers. A letter for, say, my Effort-Free Life System, which might run to 16 pages, would take about 3 weeks of work.

“That may seem a long time, but for it I’d have to ring maybe 10-12 customers, interview them, get their testimonials, polish them, get photos off the customers, liaise with a graphic designer, and so on. I once went to a seminar in America run by legendary copywriter Gary Halbert, now deceased. He talked of spending 2 weeks on a letter. I attended a seminar in New York with Gary Bencivenga who talked of spending 3 months writing a long, complex direct mail package. His winning letters were mailed to millions of people. My letters were ‘only’ mailed to a maximum of 300,000 people around the world.”

 

Failures among the successes

What about failures? Says Chris, “Well, for many years I was dead against creating a catalogue. I believed in the ‘sell one product at a time, and sell it over many pages’ approach. It worked very well for us. Eventually I got persuaded to give it a try.

I commissioned a graphic design company who specialised in creating mail order catalogues. They showed me dozens of successful ones they had been involved with. So we created a 16-page A4 catalogue. It featured Paul Wilson on the cover: the writer of the multi-million selling book called The Little Book Of Calm, as we had created The Little Calm Machine together.

The cover of the catalogue looked ike this…

LifeTools-catalogue

“We printed 70,000 copies and sent them to about 30,000 of our customers, and we rented another 40,000 names and addresses from companies we’d used before and been very successful with. As you can see from the cover, we offered a free CD with every order which we bought in from a wonderful company in Boulder, Colorado, called Sounds True.

“We got lots of orders, but mostly for lower-priced items and, over all, the catalogue didn’t make a profit: we broke even.

“Running LifeTools has been a fascinating journey. I’ve taken on staff that I didn’t feel would work out in the long term, and they are still with me; I’ve taken on people who I thought would be great, then I ended up dismissing them.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is about taking action. When I take action I sometimes make so-called ‘mistakes’ and that can be costly. But that’s life. Over half my decisions have ‘worked out’, often incredibly well.

“If I’m not feeling too good about myself I usually realise that it’s because I’m not making enough decisions and taking action: I’m hiding behind being busy instead.

“But when I do take action I feel terrific. I want to feel happy and at peace with myself, knowing that I’ve made a difference to people’s lives. Through LifeTools I can scour the planet for the very best books, CDs and devices to enable people to create the life they want so that they can be happy.

“Some people are a little in awe with what we’ve created, but I tell them: you can do that too. On one level all I did was plant a seed then water it regularly. So many people forget to water their plants, so not surprisingly they die! Some have given up entirely and have plastic flowers and plants! So anyone out there who has a dream can make it happen by taking the necessary action. From there miracles can happen.”

(Article ends)