When I was a young boy my dad would tell me stories of doing business in downtown Cleveland, Ohio and it just seemed unreal to me. 30 years ago, is forever to an 8-year old boy and I marveled at his tales of the industrial giant of city that was Cleveland, Ohio. The city was a shell of its former self in the early 1970s and would become the first major American city to default since the great depression in 1979. One of my favorite stories was about a young auto dealer who bought a bankrupt Ford store in Amherst, at the time in the middle of nowhere, armed with a game-changing idea would turn this disaster of a store into one of the largest auto stores on the planet!
My dad was a Snap-On tool distributor and then a district sales manager for Mac Tools. He called on the North Canton store to sell tools that Ed had a small interest in. My dad thought
buying the Amherst store was a bad idea. In 1986 I was a new radio seller trying to make an impact at 101.3 WNCO out of Ashland, Ohio. All the best accounts, in my opinion car dealers, were taken by veteran sellers. I drove the 60 miles north up Route 58 to sell the largest Ford dealer in the state, Ed Mullinax.
When I arrived the person I had an appointment with had resigned, so I asked to speak with Ed Mullinax. I was invited upstairs to meet with the man who would later be named one of the "50 visionary dealers " by Automotive News in 2009. Unprepared and over-matched for this meeting, I started up the stairs because I had 2 advantages over Ed already, youth and being fearless!
During our meeting I remember very distinctly three things about Ed Mullinax. First, he was respectful in-spite of my lack of appointment, he was polite, and he was laser beam direct. He said he liked my station's music, but he spent all his money on television and had for years and saw no advantages to a small station from an hour away. Having a friend in the U.S. Marines, I remembered he told me when you encounter a problem, improvise, adapt, overcome - Semper Fi!
I asked "the boss" if he had his latest commercial and if he could watch it with me and I would point out why radio could help. While he got the VHS tape, I mentioned to him his conversion van lot and that NADA said the typical buyer would drive up to 3 and a half hours to find the right van, and my entire 50,000 country watt station's huge audience was within that 3 and a half hour's drive! He played his TV ad, voice by Ed himself on the exact Mitsubishi big screen TV I owned. Once it started playing he said, you see you gotta show the cars to the buyers.
I reached over, turned the screen off so all Ed could hear was the audio, I said; "you can tell them too Ed, and the buyers will see the cars in their minds but on YOUR lot, so NOW we have a radio commercial, right?!" Ed thought for a few seconds, he said yes, we do, and asked me the questions that changed my career forever! Ed then asked me; “how much it cost to run 1,000 times over the next 30 days.” I left with the largest one-month order in the history of WNCO, made a new friend and learned that auto dealers were ALL my new best friends! I also made a very special new friend where I was the pupil and he was the master who also bought lots and lots and lots of spots!
This Saturday I was late for my appointments in Miami, a trait I also learned from my dad, and right before the Florida Turnpike entrance I saw a sign I had not seen in 30 years and I had to stop and say hello!
When I think back on my career, I can honestly say that Ed Mullinax had more influence on me that anyone except maybe Ray Kroc and The Media Store was modeled after the McDonald's Corporation and their entire system! I plan to visit his sons Jerry at their Apopka, Florida store and Larry at their New Smyrna Beach, Florida store. I am glad to know that the legend will continue to grow!