My dear friend “Jolly John” Pulsifer was greeted by St. Peter on February 19 of this year at the age of 74, with 50 of those years in the business he loved, surrounded by the people he loved. I’m sure the first words out of John’s mouth were “Hi-Ho St. Peter!”
I met John 30 years ago when he was about to take over ownership of a Ford-Mercury dual dealership in Saco, Maine, after having managed the dealership. John had been in the car business most of his life. I had been in the advertising business most of my life. After a series of casual meetings we decided to team up for what would be one of the greatest rides of our lives, selling a ton of cars, creating an indelible, memorable brand, making a little money and just having a lot of fun along the way.
‘Jolly John’ was an ad-man’s dream come true. Bigger-than-life was an understatement. His booming voice, firm handshake, contagious smile and enthusiastic proclamation that he was the ‘Polish Prince of Happiness’ lit up the room and lifted spirits with an almost evangelistic fervor. I became a student of ‘Jolly John University,’ spending countless hours at his Maine dealership, studying his interaction with team members and customers. I didn’t need to labor writing scripts, all I had to do was listen and put the story in proper context, lifting energetic slogans that motivated and inspired those that entered the radiation field of the ‘Jolly One.’ Standing on the sidelines I watched the faces, body language and resulting actions of both customers and employees. I took copious notes, trying to capture the essence of amazing leadership, motivation and inspiration that literally created sales ‘miracles’ in our little town of 15,000 people.
Before I tell you some of Jolly Johns ‘Marketing Maxims,’ let me set the stage: Atlantic Ford Mercury, Saco, Maine, 1981. This small, outdated three car showroom on a postage size piece of land (by today’s standards), had never sold more than 250 new vehicles a year. In 1981, Ford’s optimistic planning volume for the dealership was 350 vehicles. That’s 350 new Fords and Mercury vehicles A YEAR! Ford thought that was acceptable given the location, the population, the marketshare, etc. That wasn’t in Jolly John’s playbook. In his tiny back corner office Jolly told me he was going to sell at least 100 new Fords a month with a year. Maybe more! Two years later Jolly John was selling almost 300 new Fords and Mercurys a month! He bought 100% of the stock from Ford in the dealer development program (out of profits) in the shortest time frame in Ford history.
John was outselling Ford dealers in comparable markets all across the nation, even topping some of the largest dealerships in Boston. For several years John enjoyed the highest percentage of pump-out (selling vehicles from outside his market area) of any dealership on the east coast. All from that little ‘1950s’ dealership with several paved acres in a town of 15,000 with a total market ADI population of 60,000 people. So how did he do it?
Jolly John Marketing Maxim #1:
The harder you work, the luckier you get. Jolly John was simply one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever known. He lived, breathed and loved the car business. His idea of recreation was going for a ride on Sunday afternoon with his wife Paulyne to see what was on other dealers’ lots. And that was only because Maine Blue Laws wouldn’t let dealerships open on Sunday (and they still won’t!) John loved being at the dealership. He loved the interaction with both his ‘team’ (extended family) and his customers. Jolly lived ‘leadership.’
He didn’t believe there were any ‘slow weeks’ in the car business, only ‘slow people.’ Many of our most successful sales took place when other dealers had gone home for the evening. I recall one icy, rainy Monday evening when everyone had at least one reason why we couldn’t do business like: Monday night football (Patriots were playing), icy roads, first 10 days of the month when ‘no-one’ does any business, etc. Well, that Monday night Jolly’s team sold 22 vehicles with the last one desked just after midnight. Keep in mind, this is Maine where we roll up the sidewalks at 9 pm by statute. One hundred customers, 50 deals written up and 22 vehicles burning gas. I know, I was there eating pizza and inhaling the electric atmosphere. Who could sleep on a night like that?
Jolly John Marketing Maxim #2:
The answer is yes. What’s the question? I don’t care how upside down you are. I don’t care how ragged your clothes are. I don’t care where you’ve been turned down or how often. When you walked into Jolly John’s dealership you were treated like a King (or Queen) by the Prince of Happiness. You were greeted with enthusiasm by people who genuinely were excited to see you. (and if they weren’t, those people would be gone, quickly.)
Jolly John understood the plight of the working man. He also understood that if someone was looking for a vehicle, that they would eventually find a way to get one. So, why should anyone else have the pleasure of making that happen? One of my favorite Jolly ‘lines’ was his throw-away negativity dispeller, ‘Don’t worry about it!’ No matter what conditions or concerns you might have regarding color, options, financing or down payment, Jolly John would toss those right out the window with a “Don’t worry about it! You’ve come to the right place. Let’s get you a car.” I watched that line put people at ease so often it became almost spellbinding to me.
Jolly John Marketing Maxim #3:
Make it easy: for the salesman and for the customer. When Jolly John took over ownership of his dealership in the early ‘80s he told me he wanted to make it easy for customers to buy a vehicle and easy for salespeople to help them do that. Jolly selected two base marketing vehicles: the Ford Escort and the Ford Ranger. He bought 100 of them in the most basic configuration the factory would build, even deleting a standard rear window defogger to give us a slight price advantage. He was the only dealership with that model, the only dealership with that large inventory. Our radio advertising offered a payment that we could actually do. Salespeople were instructed to take customers responding to the ad out to the lot and help them pick out a color. Of course we would be happy to show the customer other model options if they so desired (like automatic transmission), but we never made anyone feel uncomfortable. We let the customer make the decision. Jolly made saying “yes” easy. And his customers became the dealership’s best advertisements.
Jolly John Marketing Maxim #4:
Make it fun! There was so much fun and energy at Jolly’s dealership you loved being there. There was the Jolly John coloring book with animated cartoon TV ads on Saturday morning inviting the youngsters to come on down for a free coloring book. You’d be amazed at how many four year olds brought their parents 50 miles or more to get a coloring book and meet Jolly John. There was the Jolly John mask. In fact, tens of thousands of Jolly John masks that were the hottest Halloween disguise for several years (always accompanied by Jolly John impersonations of the most popular Jolly slogans.) There was the Jolly cookouts where Jolly himself cooked the dogs. And then there were the goofy TV ads where you never knew what Jolly would do. Like wearing the banana suit and proclaiming “This is a sale with real appeal.” Or the Jolly O’John St. Patrick’s Day sale where Jolly dressed like a leprechaun and did a little Irish jig on camera. Of course Christmas time was Jolly’s favorite. “It’s my time of the year! Hi Ho Ho Ho!” Jolly dressed up in his Santa suit starting December 1. Jolly loved making it fun for the salespeople too. With contests, trips, cash, gifts and a ‘family atmosphere’ that endeared tremendous loyalty and retention.
I could fill three books with other Jolly ‘Maxims’, and maybe someday I will. But for now, I just want to say thanks to the hundreds of automobile industry people, dealers, factory folks, suppliers, who called, wrote and visited Jolly in his last days. He bequeathed his name and brand to daughter Michelle, son-in-law Peter and the three grandsons he so dearly loved. So, you’ll probably be hearing the Jolly John name again in the near future. He left us all with a mountain of great memories, and I’m sure there are many others besides myself who will live better lives because of his mentoring, his leadership and his loving friendship.
Thank you Jolly! We’ll miss you!