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Cal Worthington. The Man With a Brand.

By Justin Garvin

When you hear the name Cal Worthington, odds are you won’t associate him with any profession but a car salesman. And what a salesman he was. “Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal.” Sadly, that opportunity has passed with his death this month at the ripe age of 92.

Even in his old age, however, his brand (and his involvement in it) remained strong — forever engrained in the minds of anyone who has ever seen or heard a commercial for one of his many dealerships. Cal Worthington was a man who would stop at nothing to get you to walk into that showroom. He once strapped himself to a biplane and was flown upside down to express the sentiment that he would stand on his head “till his ears turned red to make a deal.” Other times, he was seen gallivanting around his dealerships with tigers, bears and elephants to boost consumer traffic. Many saw him as a great man and entrepreneur. Others likely just viewed him as an annoyance and a seller of cheap, second-hand beaters. 

So, with his passing and the legacy he’s left behind, I asked myself “What can we learn from Cal?”

Maintaining a brand takes hard work and dedication.
Even at the age of 92, Cal would still hold weekly marketing meetings with his senior staff — wanting to know where and how this name was going to get into the hearts and minds of the consumer. There is no autopilot when it comes to maintaining your brand touch points. Consistent analysis and intelligent upkeep is required to ensure the greatest impact.

Find what you’re good at and specialize.
After World War II and in an effort to make money however he could, Cal sold his car to a fellow veteran to fund the purchase of a local gas station. In that act, he discovered that he was a talented salesman (especially of cars). And only a short time later, his efforts would be solely focused on opening his first dealership called Dependable Used Cars. Over the next several decades, Cal became one of the most successful dealership chain owners ever (grossing $316.8 million in 1988).

You need to spend money to make money.
As we all know, Cal Worthington didn’t become wildly successful by just opening another dealership and smiling at everyone. He was aggressive with his marketing and advertising efforts. How different was his dealership than the one down the street? Likely not that different at all, but he went about things differently. He knew that consistency and uniqueness of message was critical to get the attention necessary to become part of people’s preferred mental set. In the early 90s, he was spending nearly $15 million per year on advertising alone (more than any other dealer at the time).

These pieces of advice apply just as well today as they did back then. Leave a comment and share what you thought of the late, great Cal’s style of doing business.