The Greatest Marketing Story Never Told

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Polk Brothers was built by an old pitchman in Chicago called Sol Polk along with his brothers and sisters. They were a home appliance retailer company which closed in the early 90’s but is survived by a foundation of $350 million to which many charitable foundations are grateful for grants till today.

Back in the early 70’s when Sol was travelling through Europe, he came across a Doctor from Delaware who was going to a convention to present his ‘new’ procedure to become a maneuver. It was Dr. Heimlich whom he had met and who shared about his new discovery to Sol Polk. Impressed by it, Sol asked the Dr. if he could share the discovery with businesses in the US and promised to never sell it. At that time, Sol was an acquaintance of Illinois senator Charles Percy who was in the past a president of Bell and Howell. Percy was petitioned by Sol to share this new and amazing “Heimlich Maneuver with every school, institution and restaurant in the country”.

Senator Percy saw the great idea and decided to help Sol to make it a law in Illinois which continues to stand strong to this day that every food serving public place has to have the Heimlich Maneuver Placard displayed prominently in case of an emergency.

In Illinois, Polk enacted the law “Illinois requires the health department to design and distribute without charge placards containing approved methods for laymen to safely and effectively remove food lodged in a person’s throat. The instructions must be limited to first-aid procedures that do not use instruments or devices. They must be of a size and design suitable for posting in food service establishments. The instructions must, to the extent practicable, be expressed in words and illustrations that are not offensive to restaurant patrons.”

By the time the law went into effect, Polk had begun to donate free placards to every school, restaurant, municipal building and hospital in the state. High school students from Proviso East High School which was just down the street from Sol’s family business were hired to address enveloped that he paid out of his own pockets. Only the shipping and handling charges were applied when delivering to restaurants and municipal buildings. And this was the brilliance of this clever marketer. Sol Polk made a little less than $6 million dollars in just one year of giving away “The Heimlich Maneuver”.

In today’s time the $6 million may not sound like a huge amount but actually converting the value to today’s standards they would be around $39,976,056! Now that is something for a FREE placard that true to his word to Dr. Heimlich, Sol never charged anyone who asked for it.

This is an example of creative market and thinking at a big level that can make any business super successful in no time. Sol understood the market well and accordingly employed his genius.

EthnoDialogue is one of Canada’s leading multicultural marketing agencies. They work with clients to design and implement marketing and communication strategies that best suit their needs. Their agency combines proprietary data and panel insight to identify opportunities and grow market share in the diverse Canadian marketplace.