PIECES OF THE PAST: Selling Citrus on the Honor System

Tacy CalliesPieces of the Past

Thompson
Perrin & Thompson’s Winter Haven shop was shaped like a large orange packing crate.
Photo credit: From the collection of the Blogger at www.thesquirrelsgranary.com

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

I recently came across a business reply card from Perrin & Thompson Groves of Winter Haven. I had heard of them since I grew up in Winter Haven but had never seen an advertisement like this one!

The ad reads: “TRY THESE TREE-RIPENED ORANGES AND GRAPEFRUIT. Let us ship you on APPROVAL and at our expense a Half Box of delicious tree-ripened Oranges and Grapefruit direct from Florida. Shipping season — December first to June first. Half Box $4.50 Delivered.”

Thompson

The customer reply area states: “I am interested in your fresh tree-ripened Oranges and Grapefruit. Please ship me a HALF BOX (containing 32 to 54 oranges and 12 to 14 grapefruit.) If, after eating some of the fruit, I am not entirely pleased, I’ll return the remainder at your expense and owe you nothing. Otherwise, within ten days, I’ll send you $4.50.”

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Russell G. Perrin was Charles Henry Thompson’s father-in-law. They were partners when the families moved to Winter Haven in 1900. They had vacationed at the Florence Villa Hotel one year and eventually purchased 26 acres on Spring Lake that Fred Inman, who owned the hotel, had shown them. The two men built a small packinghouse and sold gift fruit to the winter visitors living at the Florence Villa Hotel. Perrin was Thompson’s partner for many years, until his death in 1925 at the age of 89. Perrin’s grandson and Thompson’s son, Ralph Perrin Thompson, continued to work in the family business.

Charles Thompson was one of the founders of the Florida Citrus Exchange in 1909 after traveling with Inman and a group of other Florida growers to study California’s citrus marketing organization. Thompson and Inman founded the Florence Citrus Growers Association and built a packinghouse that was said to be the largest in the world at that time.

Perrin & Thompson’s direct mail business started in the 1930s. They built a shop on Sixth Street in Winter Haven, just north of Northgate Shopping Center, in the shape of a huge orange packing crate.

In her book, “The History of Winter Haven,” Josephine Burr wrote: “It was an exact replica of the fruit box the firm used in shipping and from it they sold cold orange juice and boxes of gift fruit, guava jellies, and other citrus products. During WW II citrus was not rationed so their business expanded.”

The business reply card was 2 cents, and the mailing address was simply Perrin & Thompson Groves, Winter Haven, Florida. It was a much simpler time, when trust was the norm rather than the exception, a handshake sealed the deal, and your reputation was something you valued more than the almighty dollar.

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.

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