You can’t live in Nashville for six months and not know that Emma’s is the superlative florist. Such is the power of positive pitch.
It was in 1984 that the words ”Emma’s, The Superlative Florist“ were first broadcast in Nashville and made a local celebrity of Ed Stratton, the man who created the slogan and whose melodious tones deliver it weekly on television and radio.
Nike, Sprint, Revlon, and other multinational corporations all have their superstars, but independently owned businesses don’t have the advertising budget to pay for such high-profile shills. Instead, they rely on family, friends, and local television to get their message across. They may not be as famous, as smooth, or as beautiful as Michael Jordan, Candice Bergen, and Cindy Crawford. But they’re sincere, they’re familiar, and ultimately, in their endearingly goofy ways, they’re convincing. Most important, for better or worse, they’re ours.
Following, a salute to five of Nashville’s best-known endorsers.
THE SOUND OF ONE DOZEN ROSES: Ed Stratton, Emma’s Flowers & Gifts
Though few people have seen Ed Stratton’s face, the minute he opens his mouth he is recognized all over Nashville. That’s because his is the distinctive, rumbling voice behind one of the city’s most recognized company slogans, ”Emma’s, The Superlative Florist.“ Or, as Stratton has been saying it for more than 15 years, the ”supoilative“ florist. What many don’t know is that Stratton is also the creator of the famous slogan.
A 1934 graduate of the University of Tennessee, Stratton’s career in advertising was interrupted by World War II, which he spent in the South Pacific as a machine gunner in the 7th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. In 1948, he joined General Electric Broadcasting, which later became WSIX, primarily in the sales department.
One of his accounts was Emma’s Flowers & Gifts, started in downtown Nashville in the early ’30s by Miss Emma Schneider. Following her death, the business, which had moved to its current location on West End Avenue in 1943, was purchased by banker Haskell Tidman Sr. Stratton began calling on Tidman Sr. in 1952 and developed a relationship that went well beyond business.
Stratton retired from WSIX in 1976, but immediately set up a jingle and advertising shop with local advertising legend Walter Speight. Their first client was Emma’s. The superlative idea came to him in the middle of the night.
”It was about 3 a.m. and I woke up with the word superlative in my head. I got up and went to the dictionary to look it up. I went to Mr. Tidman the next day and said, ‘I have a $50,000 idea for you.’ He said, ‘Ed. That’s a lot of money, but it might work.’ “
Stratton got to work and developed the ”Superlative Series“ using several well-known images deserving of the adjective. There was the Grand Canyon, the Mona Lisa, the Kentucky Derby, the Manhattan skyline. The TV spots featured a photo of each imageobtained from the Nashville Public Librarywith some simple copy Stratton wrote. ”I never appreciated art until I stood in awe looking at the Mona Lisa. [pause] I never appreciated flowers until I saw an arrangement from Emma’s. [pause] Emma’s, The Superlative Florist.“
Stratton may have had the $50,000 idea, but Tidman had the million-dollar hunch that his friend’s voice would be perfect for the spot. And it was. The campaignand the slogantook off, and Stratton continues as the voice of Emma’s to this day. ”I’ve never had more fun in my life than doing the Emma’s commercials,“ says the octogenarian. ”It’s great to feel that you can still make a contribution at my age.“
Tidman Sr. died in 1988, as did Stratton’s partner, Speight. Emma’s, consistently ranked by FTD as Nashville’s number one-selling florist, is run by Haskell Tidman Jr., who came on board in 1958, and his daughter Rebecca Tidman, who has been there since 1988.
Not long ago, Stratton was dining in a Nashville restaurant, and a man sitting at a nearby table overheard him speaking to the waitress, recognized the voice, and came over to pay his respects. ”You look exactly like you sound.“
Salesgirl in a two-piece: Jennifer Eichler, Watson's Pools
When Jennifer Eichler tried out for 8th-grade cheerleader, she didn’t make the squad. The teacher advisor noted on her card that the curvy blonde ”didn’t have enough enthusiasm.“ What’s a girl to do? The 13-year-old Jennifer put on a bathing suit, laid down in a tanning bed and flashed her big smile for the camera. Not enough enthusiasm? Right.
Though she had briefly modeled for Wilhelmenia in New York, the spot for Watson’s was her first commercial. Family connections got her the gig; stepfather Andy Prefontaine owns four Watson’s stores, one in Indianapolis, her hometown, and three others in Memphis, Kansas City, and Nashville. Originally, a popular disc jockey did the spots for Watson’s, but Jennifer cajoled her stepdad into letting her appear in her first ad when she had just become a teenager. ”I never said a word in the first one, just wore a bathing suit and sat in a tanning bed. We got a lot of negative feedback on that because people thought I was too young and thought maybe I was being exploited. That’s ridiculousI wanted to do it.“
Undaunted, Jennifer went after a speaking role, and it wasn’t long before the deejay was sent to the showers and The Watson’s Girl became a part of the local television landscape in all four cities. She began being recognized in public, a burden of fame that doesn’t bother her much. ”It’s not that big a deal in Indianapolis because everybody knows me there. I like it better in Nashville, people are nicer here. When I went to Planet Hollywood the manager gave me a big bag full of stuff. It was great. I want to move here when I get out of school.“
All the stores carry a stock of 8x10, black-and-white, pre-signed prints of Jennifer for distribution. There are two poses: The one with the low-cut dress, tousled just-out-of-bed hair, and come hither parted lips is for the guys; the All-American, smiling, covered-up, girl-next-door pose is for women and kids.
Jennifer, now 22, doesn’t actually work at any of the Watson’s stores; she is a full-time student at Ball State, David Letterman’s alma mater, where she is majoring in telecommunications. ”One of my professors told me I was too coquettishwhatever that isfor hard news. I don’t want to do that anyway. I want to get into entertainment news, like ET or Access Hollywood, though my [college] doesn’t really approve of it.“
She and stepfather Prefontaine, who also appears in some of the spots, tape the commercials several times a year. They’re geared around different promotions. (The current 60-second spot features Jennifer alone, claiming ”The boss is out of town!“) When Prefontaine is in the ads, he’s always fully clothed, although the two split the talking duties, and Jennifer can’t seem to get out of that bathing suit. ”Some people complain about me wearing a bathing suit. I can see it if I was selling cars or microwaves. But I’m selling spas and swimming pools. What do they want me to wear, a parka?“
All in the Family: Ashley Caldwell, H.G. Hill Food Stores
Not even family connections can get an H.G. Hill’s WonderRoast chicken for Ashley Caldwell, great-great niece of the founder of the Nashville grocery chain. This is true particularly on rainy days, when the aromatic rotisserie chickens just fly out of the grocery stores. Stopping by her local Hill’s on the way home from her job as advertising coordinator and head of community relations for the stores one evening, Caldwell thought she’d pick up a chicken. But alas, the cupboard was bare. ”I called the deli manager to find out why we were out of chickens so early in the evening, and he said it happens every rainy day. I wish we could do a better job predicting the weather.“
The girl can’t help itthe business is in her blood. The first Hill’s grocery store was opened by H.G. Hill on the corner of 18th and State Street in 1895. The company grew quickly, but stayed in the family, with the presidency passing to H.G. Hill Jr. Hill Jr. had no children, so eventually his nephewAshley’s father, Wentworth Caldwelltook over. From her childhood, Ashley remembers family Christmas-card photos with all the kids piled in a grocery cart, and she recalls roller-skating up and down the aisles of the Harding Road store. But it wasn’t until she was 15 that she got her first job in the Green Hills store as a sack girl. She received no special considerations; after the summer was over, her father made her thank the store manager for her job. The next year, she was promoted to cashier; then in successive summers she worked in the floral department, learning to tie bows, and in the deli, learning to make pizzas.
Seven years ago, Caldwell went to work full-time for the store, the same year that H.G. Hill Jr. died and the company changed several long-standing policies. They began selling beer, and opened on Sundays. ”Those were strictly business decisions that had to be made. I never appreciated how controversial they would be and how invested our customers felt in our stores.“ She says her father personally responded to every customer complaint.
In April 1999, all but two of the 14 H.G. Hill’s stores were sold to Fleming Inc. in Oklahoma City; in turn, Fleming sold the stores back to six independent owner-operators, so the stores are still locally owned, just not by the Caldwell/Hill family. That doesn’t stop customers from holding Caldwell personally responsible for their H.G. Hill’s experience. Since she began doing the Hill’s television commercials (since 1994), she is constantly being recognized. She says customers are surprised to learn that she actually works for Hill’s, and tell her she’s a lot shorter in person than she looks on TV.
Her starring role was not by design. ”I was the person who best fit our demographic25- to 54-year-old-femalesand I happened to be in the store the day they were doing the first commercials. I didn’t have any training, except for a course I took on doing commercials at Belmont night school when I was 13 years old. In the final class, you had to pretend to audition for a commercial. I did toothpaste, which was sort of silly considering I had a mouthful of braces at the time. The teacher wrote that I wouldn’t have gotten the commercial because I was too awkward. Well, what 13-year-old isn’t awkward?“
Let mama cool your home: Peggy and Joyce McKnight, Donelson Air Conditioning
Peggy McKnight remembers the first time she went live on television to tout Donelson Air Conditioning on The Morning Show with Ralph Emery. ”I was scared to death,“ she says. ”Ralph really helped me. He said to look at the red light and pretend there was no one else in the world, to just talk to that camera like I was talking to him. That was such good advice. I used to hate the camera, but now I’m very comfortable.“
It’s hard to believe that Peggy, one half of the mother-daughter team known as The Women of Donelson, was ever afraid of anything. The company was started in Donelson in 1967 by Tom Owen and Cliff Parsons. Peggy was a housewife looking for some part-time work and was hired as a bookkeeper in 1969. ”I had small children and just wanted some part-time work. My hours kept getting longer and longer, and the business kept getting bigger and bigger, and before you knew it, I was full-time.“
In 1979, Parsons bought Owen out of the company, and Peggy acquired her first stock. When Parsons died in 1989, he left her enough stock to make her majority owner; by then, the former part-time bookkeeper knew the business inside and out. Though she sold the company in December 1991, she stayed on in a full-time capacity until 1994, when she solicited her older daughter Joyce (daughter Gail McKnight Kerr is a Tennessean editor) to come back from Florida and lend a hand so Mom could cut back on her hours.
”In the beginning our offices were right beside one another,“ remembers Joyce. ”It took me a good year to learn what she does. We agreed right from the start that if we disagreed on something, I was to listen to her. She was the boss.“
Peggy had been doing live spots on the morning show since 1990; she wrote the copy herself at home on a little typewriter. She began taking Joyce with her in 1994, and the two would trade lines back and forth. ”You had to know where to start and where you were going, but how you got there was up to you,“ says Peggy. Joyce remembers one time it didn’t go quite as planned. ”Mother was supposed to start, but she forgot what she was supposed to say. She turned to me and said, ‘Tell everyone about our good service.’ I looked at her and thought if you ever do this to me again, I’ll push you off that chair.“
The Women of Donelson campaign is pre-taped, and as many as four different commercials are shot in one day. One spot had Peggy and Joyce inspecting their male employees and claiming that behind every good woman is a good man. Some viewers reacted negatively. ”That surprised us, but some people got very offended,“ says Joyce. One of their favorite spots is one where they pretend to be reading flowery love letters from smitten male customers.
The Women of Donelson don’t get actual love letters, but they do get mail. ”One woman writes every time I wear green to tell me it is not my color and I shouldn’t wear it,“ says Peggy. They also get recognized in public, both locally and as far away as Tunica, Miss. ”You can’t ever go out and not expect to be seen by someone,“ advises Peggy. ”You should always be prepared to be recognized.“
Sun's up. Want a Dinette? The McCall family, D.T. McCall & Sons
D.T. McCall & Sons’ first foray into television advertising for their furniture stores was something of a gamble for the conservative family-run business. In the winter of 1974, the family signed a contract to sponsor Snow Watch on Channel 5, the daily morning report on school closings in the event of inclement winter weather. It just so happened to be the year that Nashville experienced one of its snowiest winters ever; from Jan. 1 through Feb. 15, schools in rural Middle Tennessee counties were open only one day, and every time Snow Watch was broadcast, D.T. McCall & Sons were on the tag line. Not surprisingly, it made them believers in the power of television advertising.
Beginning in 1974, Albert McCall, one of D.T.’s five sons (there are also four daughters), left Carthage every weekday at 4 a.m. to get to the Carl Tipton Show on Channel 5 by 5:30, then raced over to Channel 4 to do Ralph Emery’s morning show from 6 to 7 a.m. In 1978, he was joined by his brother, John, and along with Emery, morning show regulars Tom Grant, and the Tutti Frutti Sweethearts, the McCalls performed nonsensical skits for The Morning Show studio audience, and thousands tuned in at home. Albert put on a bathing suit, a diaper, dressed up as Custer, and Santa Claus, all to sell bedroom suites, leather sofas, dinette sets, refrigerators, and televisions, and to tout his ”free delivery and set up.“ Somewhere along the way, Albert said, ”Heeeey,“ and it became a trademark slogan of the kitschy commercials. ”There were some executives from NBC down here once, looking at making The Morning Show national, and they took me out to dinner and wanted to know how I came up with the slogan ‘Heeey!’ “ Albert remembers with a laugh.
Albert did the show for 15 years until Emery left; then, he says it became too much like work, so he turned it over to John and two of his nephews, Tom and Chris. They now take turns doing The Morning Show three days a week.
The business was started by Albert’s grandfather, Albert McCall, as a general mercantile store in Flat Rock in 1896. Father D.T. worked there and also ran a peddling wagon. D.T. built the original Carthage store in 1938, in the same location it is now but at a fraction of the size, barely 20 feet wide by 60 feet long. The younger Albert worked in the store as a child, went away to college, and then fought in Korea. He returned in the mid-’50s to join the business. Younger brother John came on board as a partner in ’61 and began working full-time in the Carthage store in 1965. Their brother Dave runs the heating and air-conditioning division. The Cookeville store (run by Dave’s son Chris) and the Lafayette store (run by John’s son Tom) are much smaller than the Carthage store, which, through acquisition of surrounding properties, now measures more than 100,000 square feet under one roof. There are 48 bedroom displays, and separate but connected spaces for appliances, carpets, dining room sets, living room sets, office furniture, and electronics.
One evening, a woman got locked in the store by mistake. She didn’t know how to reach any of the McCalls, so she phoned the Carthage sheriff’s department, which in turn called Albert and John at home. ”We came down and let her out,“ remembers John. ”But before we did, she bought a bunch of furniture.“
zumba is like a bad gonorreah contracted from gast, it keeps coming, and coming, and…
is anyone in here taking gast and bobs guns seriously?
We should invite Goad back to town and show him the real Nashville - have…
just picking nits here, but RE: "Socialism is when the "state" controls the means of…
"Let's give him a third term, because he's doing so well!"
It's Hillary's turn…