"Blair, Nebraska" became a household name for primetime TV viewers in the 1980s thanks to a trailblazing sales promotion company that quietly closed its doors Friday.
The last reportedly 14 employees at D.L. Blair, North 16th and Front streets, Blair, were notified Thursday by the company's New York office that it would permanently close at the end of the day Friday. The New York location will also be shuttered. The company started in 1959.
Terry Brechbill, executive vice president of D.L. Blair, told the Enterprise that the closing was "unexpected."
"It was very difficult to inform everyone," he said. "They are all great individuals, bright dedicated workers and had done absolutely nothing wrong. Yet I had to tell them that they had no job. Hopefully, everything will work out well for them in the future. I wish them the best."
Employees told the Pilot-Tribune that approximately 10 weeks ago, some workers were notified they would eventually lose their jobs due to "restructuring," but that the Blair office would remain open. An employee who answered the door for the Pilot-Tribune at that time used the phrase "transition" when asked if the business was closing. Until recently, the building was for sale for many years.
The workers said they believe no one in the Blair office knew of its fate before Thursday. They will not receive severance pay, they said.
Several longtime employees who walked out D.L.'s door for the last time Friday afternoon gathered at the nearby George's Tavern to mourn the loss of their second home and to reminisce about its glory days.
The six women worked at D.L. Blair an exceptionally long time, especially in today's workforce — between 14 and 42 years each.
"It was a great atmosphere," said Deb Woodard, a computer programmer who worked there for more than 29 years.
Employees were also frequently treated to business trips, where they would meet high-profile clients.
Inese Klanderud, a sweepstakes processing supervisor with 42 years logged at D.L. Blair, laughed when she recalled how aerobics guru Richard Simmons serenaded her during a trip to Hollywood.
"I looked sad, so he sang 'Chocolate Chip, My Cookie,'" she said.
D.L. Blair's office in Blair employed more than 100 people during the heyday of the sweepstakes industry. From scratch-off games to "Watch & Win" to pre-selected number sweepstakes, D.L. Blair launched many innovations in the sweepstakes, games and contests industry.
A common misconception about the company is that the city of Blair is its namesake. It's no coincidence, however, that D.L. Blair's fulfillment operation was relocated from New York City to a city named "Blair."
According to "The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising," "D.L." is the last-name initials of company founders and college roommates Cy Draddy and Marty Landis, who decided on the "Blair" part of the name when walking past the Blair House in Washington, D.C.
After starting D.L. Blair in a New York City loft, they landed two major clients: Procter & Gamble's Mr. Clean brand and Life magazine.
A story in the Aug. 9, 1971, issue of the New York Times explained why D.L. Blair Corp., which handled more than 40 million pieces of mail per year, moved its fulfillment operation from New York City to Blair, Neb., with a population 6,500.
“We wanted to reduce in-transit time and parcel post costs by moving as close to the geographical center of the country as possible,” Draddy said. “And, we also wanted to incorporate the 'Blair' name in our address.”
The story explained that in an effort to make "D.L. Blair" a household name, a "campaign was undertaken to acquaint corporations and agencies with the fact that any time they saw a contest‐type mailing to Blair, D.L. Blair was involved."
D.L. Blair's winner selection and fulfillment was handled at its Nebraska location. It executed tens of thousands of sweepstakes contests and worked with a vast and diverse portfolio of marketers: Ford, Fox Network, Heinz, Lego, Pfizer, PhilipMorris, Playboy, Sonic, the United States Olympic Committee and many more.
D.L. Blair innovations
- Pre-selected number sweepstakes (Life Magazine)
- Scratch-off game (Tylenol-Veedol Oil Company)
- Matching halves game (Shell Oil)
- Magic decoder instant-win game (Procter & Gamble)
- Cigarette brand designed around a promotion concept (Imperial Tobacco Products' "Casino")
- In-pack scratch-off game (Post cereals)
- "Watch & Win" game (Procter & Gamble)
- Use of ultraviolet light as instant-win reveal device (Procter & Gamble and Chevrolet)
- Cash prize distributed in a soda can (Coca-Cola)
Although the sweepstakes industry has changed significantly with the advent of the internet, consumers' changing habits and marketers' budget priorities, D.L. Blair incorporated modern technology in its promotions. Recent work included a photo-sharing sweepstakes for Corona; a texting contest for Herbal Essences; and a free-standing newspaper insert ad for Tide in which players could scratch an instant-win device to remove a "stain" for a chance to win prizes or a coupon.
At its peak, D.L. Blair's Nebraska office employed more than 100 people, but its staffing was gradually decreased over the years to a handful left at the end.
The workers on Friday said that most of them hadn't received pay raises in recent years, but they stayed because of D.L. Blair's family-friendly schedule, good vacation benefits and relaxed work environment.
Klanderud's friends cited one example of her dedication to the company: In 1978, when she was going into labor with her son, her co-workers forced her to go to the hospital when she insisted on finishing a task at the office first.
D.L. Blair may be gone, but the camaraderie it created remains.
"It was a great ride," Woodard said. "It was the best place ever to work for a while."