John F. Lawhon, requiescat in genuine Herculon

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JohnFLawhon-logo.pngTulsans of a certain age will remember John F. Lawhon as a pioneer of the owner-as-spokesman TV ad.

John F. Lawhon died Tuesday at the age of 86. Services will be Saturday, August 16, 2014, at Schaudt-Teel Funeral Service, 5757 S. Memorial Dr., Tulsa.

Lawhon founded a chain of furniture stores, the John F. Lawhon Furniture Warehouse and Showroom, with his flagship in Tulsa on Pine Street between Sheridan and Memorial.

Lawhon's distinctive accent and cadence was a popular target for amateur impressionists, and Lawhon had enough of a sense of humor about himself to sponsor a sound-a-like contest -- a contest that then-grade-schooler and future actor/writer/director Tim Blake Nelson won.

On the Tulsa TV Memories website, John Hillis remembers Lawhon participating in KOTV News's "Chughole of the Week" feature about the disgraceful state of our city's streets: "If you're looking for the best chughole buy in Oklahoma...." Lawhon extended the theme to Detroit in this spoof ad, recalling when the Great Lakes themselves started out as chugholes:

I'm sure that many of you have noticed the many large chugholes on our streets here in the city of Detroit lately. Well, I've been given a commission by the city to dispose of these chugholes. Inasmuch as they do not intend to repair them, I've been given permission to sell them.

Most of you who are old timers can remember when some of the Great Lakes were just chugholes on our city streets, and look at what a great real estate investment that would have been. Why, the Detroit River was only about this big the first time one man I talked to saw that chughole.

These chugholes are being offered on convenient terms, and we're throwing in three Volkswagens in one of them that we found after we acquired the chughole. If you'd like a super real estate buy, call me: 296-4100 for further information on available chugholes in your area. Thank you.

After retiring from the furniture business, Lawhon became an author and speaker on the subject of sales and marketing, writing two books, Selling Retail and The Selling Bible. His focus was on selling with integrity -- not merely overcoming a customer's objections, but "supplying the knowledge and information that the prospective customer needs to make the best buying decision" who will become satisfied customers "who become more satisfied as time goes by."

In a 1995 Tulsa World story about The Selling Bible by John Stancavage, Lawhon described his post-retirement quest to understand the success of super-salesmen who could make a sale four out of five times:

Lawhon's book probably will be controversial because it explodes the image of the "big closer" salesperson who bears down hard on customers until they buy simply to escape the mounting pressure. When the author talked to real top sellers, he found a totally different approach in common with almost all of them.

The real key for these salespeople was pleasing the customer, Lawhon discovered. Instead of trying to shove a product customers didn't want down their throats, super salespeople simply asked what the customers wanted, and then steered them toward a product or service that would satisfy that desire. Frequently, the salesperson soon was writing up a ticket, before a formal "pitch" had even been made.

These very successful sellers, however, would continue their presentation after money already had changed hands. They would explain the product's features and strong points, which would make the customer feel even better about his or her purchase and look forward to ownership.

A very important thing hapened here, Lawhon found: Regular customers became satisfied customers. And you cannot overestimate the value of a satisfied customer, the author says.

"Satisfied customers are the most valuable asset a company can have -- they actually are an appreciating asset," according to Lawhon. "They will return to buy again, and will tell their friends to shop there, too."

Lawhon employee Vince Mooney remembered Lawhon's generosity and professionalism, writing this tribute on his memory page:

I always felt that John Lawhon treated me like a son when I worked at JFL Furniture. I was ex-Air Force and a philosophy major in college. John loved to talk philosophy. After he bought a rare and very expensive car he'd often come and ask me if I wanted to use it on a date. He was the most generous man I ever met in business. An executive once admired his new digital watch which was the first to come out on the market. John took it off his wrist and gave it to the man. At one time John and I were the same size so he would give me really nice sport jackets and pants that he had worn only one or twice on TV commercials. He wanted me to look good on dates.

When I got engaged, John insisted I get a big diamond ring as a sign of my sincerity. "I can get it below wholesale for you," he said. And he did. (I'm sure he subsidized the ring to some extent.) Then he let me use the New Orleans condo for our honeymoon. This was right in the middle of the French Quarter. Now I was just the company copywriter, photographer, and PR person. John didn't know me before I came to Tulsa for that job.

Later I was the FTC policeman who audited all John's TV commercials to make sure he didn't ad-lib any FTC advertising violations (like calling something a Spanish Bedroom when it was not made in Spain). I'd stop the commercial and tell him, "That has to be Spanish design bedroom." John would grump and complain and then he'd cut the commercial the right way. Every time. It was amazing. John would cut a dozen commercials without a script or even fact sheet.

He knew the furniture inside and out and he was the best person there was to do the sales pitch. John could cut commercials faster than the warehouse people could set up the next piece of furniture. John was the type of 'larger than life' individual who would easily be many people's choice as my 'most memorable character' which was once a feature in Reader's Digest. John F. Lawhon will always live larger than life in my heart. John was a good man who was an honor to know. God bless John and all his family.

Anyone else feel particularly sad that this accomplished man seems to have been overlooked in his own town these past twenty years?


Not only is a great place to learn about Tulsa's broadcasting history from the men and women who made it, it's a great place to discover (or relive, if you lived through it the first time) Tulsa's pop culture past. The site has recently upgraded its "Group Blog," where you can ask questions and share anecdotes with Tulsa media legends.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 14, 2014 11:02 PM.

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