How an Impulse Buy Led to a Legendary Business


While on vacation in 1986, a future legend bought a coat in Jackson, Wyoming that changed his life.

John wasn’t a legend yet. He was a sales consultant, vacationing in cowboy country.

The coat was a full-length “duster.” The kind of coat real cowboys wear.

John saw the coat, hanging in the back of Schaefer Outfitters, and bought it on the spot. An impulse buy.

Years later, when he was famous enough to publish his life story, John explained in his memoir why he bought the duster.

“The coat meant…being different. It meant cowboy. It meant romance. It meant adventure. The duster wasn’t just protection against the rain. I bought it because it satisfied something that was gnawing at me — the need to be free of this world’s daily grind, overload of information, false fronts, lack of time to reflect. It made me feel like the inner person I want to be true to — the one the world keeps trying to stifle.”

A few months after buying the duster and receiving many compliments from friends and strangers, John partnered with his buddy Don Staley, borrowed 20 grand, and bought a pile of dusters to sell through the mail.

They placed an ad in the New Yorker. They sold 70 dusters.

A mail-order clothing business was born.

In 1987, they incorporated and named the business after John. They called it:

J. Peterman Company.

I remember the first time I saw a J. Peterman catalog — the company called it the “Owner’s Manual.” I was blown away. I’d never seen anything like it.

Products presented with black and white drawings and romantic, story-powered sales copy.

Ordinary clothing catalogs described the product. Name. Rank. Serial number. Boring.

J. Peterman’s catalog painted pictures, told stories, evoked feelings.

“I thought my product would make other people feel…”

In his memoir, Peterman described how that first duster made him feel. “And when I founded the company,” he wrote, “it was because I thought that duster would help other people feel the same as I did.”

J. Peterman wanted his customers to feel. He and Don Staley wrote catalog copy that evoked feelings.

Some may roll their eyes at this. In the 1990s, the most popular show on television — Seinfeld — presented a fictional “J. Peterman” as a sentimental clown whose sales copy was the butt of jokes.

The Real J. Peterman Was No Joke
All of Us Can Learn From Peterman’s Approach to Marketing and Sales

You will attract more clients if you know how your prospects feel. How do they feel now? How will they feel when they buy your products or services?

You will captivate prospects if you tell stories that reflect their feelings, stories that reflect the journey from how they feel now to how they’ll feel with your products and services.

If you’re a clothing retailer, the story might evoke a journey from feeling ordinary to feeling like a romantic, adventurous cowboy.

If you’re a business coach, the story might evoke a journey from feeling like you’re trapped on a hamster wheel to feeling free and in control.

If you remodel home, the story might evoke a journey from feeling ashamed (“I don’t want the neighbors to see this dingy, old place”) to feeling confident and proud (“My house is the envy of the neighborhood!”)

What journey do you lead your customers on?

What are they feeling before they do business with you? How are they feeling after they buy?

Answer those questions. Tell that story. You’ll attract more prospects. You’ll land more business.

Whenever you’re ready…here are a few ways we can help you become a storytelling stand-out so you’ll land more clients:

1) Follow Tom Ruwitch on LinkedIn and Facebook and (if not subscribed already) join our email list.

2) Attend our free training: “How to Harness the Magnetic Power of Storytelling…” Discover how to transform marketing from a confusing, resource-draining hassle into something that’s simple, fun AND productive. Details and registration here.

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Tom Ruwitch

Tom Ruwitch is the founder and CEO of Story Power Marketing. For more than 30 years, he has helped businesses grow by delivering powerful stories using a variety of different media.