Selling Underwear to Lumberjacks

April 26, 2015

Log load1

It’s not quite the same as selling ice cubes to Eskimos, but selling long, woolen black underwear to lumberjacks in the hot summer comes pretty close. I’ve heard this story since I was a little boy. Let me tell you what my dad did to pull it off.    

My dad was born in 1900 and grew up on a farm as one of eight children. As the eldest, he was responsible for taking care of the sheep and cattle and herding them on the ranges of Utah and Nevada. He grew up a cowboy and learned about life on the trails. His strong work ethic continued in college.  He was the salesman and writer for the newspaper, the manager and stock boy for the bookstore, he taught English, and was senior class president.

Long Johns Logging

Up to this point in his life, he’d never really been challenged by a seemingly impossible assignment. That ended with his summer job as a salesman for the Utah Woolen Mills. 

I can hear dad’s boss say, “Hey Marriott, take these black pairs of long underwear and head to the logger camps and don’t come back till you’ve sold them all.” 

My father probably replied, “But it’s summer with temperatures in the 80s.  Who wants to buy long johns and itch?” It was going to be a difficult job traveling to remote logging camps and talking tough lumberjacks into buying something they didn’t need right now.

Lumberjacks in those days had to saw down huge trees by hand using giant whip-saws, then cut the logs down to size.  For fun, lumberjack competitions featured log rolling, climbing, sawing and chopping, giving you some idea of the strength and agility needed to work in the woods. As they used these giant whip-saws to cut their logs, they sweat and sweat. The long, black woolen underwear was supposedly designed to absorb it.

Somewhere along dad’s journey to find a logging camp, he must have realized that holding up long johns and shouting out “$20 a pair” -- a lot of money back then – would not work. So he came up with a way to win over these rough-hewn customers. 

woolen mills

Dad would find two mean-looking lumberjacks and challenge them, saying: “Each of you take a leg of this pair of underwear. If you can pull the underwear apart, I’ll give you a free pair. If you can’t, you’ve got to buy it.” The loggers would tug-of-war but could never tear the underwear apart. Dad earned more than $2,000 in commissions during a single summer and was the most productive salesman in the Utah Woolen Mill Company.

From this colorful story, I can see my dad’s business skills at work. Dad knew his product. He knew how to measure up the customer. And he knew how to close the deal without getting kicked down the mountain.  

I’ve often wondered what sort of bionic wool held the long underwear together as two beefy lumberjacks tried to tear it apart. For the next Lumberjack World Championship, I propose adding this as a new event – the long john tug of war. My father would’ve loved it.

I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.

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Amazing and very clever of your Father to sell the underwear like that to them lumberjacks..... we know could not call the material Spandex.....even now $20.00 for underwear ( long john)is expensive for some of us, any one manage to sell them in Summer is able to accomplish anything.....and he did.

Brilliant story, I really enjoyed reading it. It reminds us that everything starts with the product. If you want to sell it, you've got to know it. Thanks for sharing, great blog.

When I read the title it made giggle a little bit. It's a great read, interesting and inspirational facts about Mr. Marriott.
Would love to read more stories like this. Thanks for sharing!!

Amazing read and such an inspirational story! I have shared this story with the Leadership & Sales team of the hotel and also put it on the notice board - everyone needs to know our rich culture.

That's very funniest i had never heard about lumberjacks. It's very interesting.

These types of stories never get old, because they remind us that greatness and achievement is always a possibility.

Wow, what a great story. Very inspiring.

Wow,great read. Always look forward to your blogs. Thanks for sharing.

Great story Bill, In Australia we may say "Bill your pulling my leg" with this story. But I always believe your true stories of your familys endeavours. God bless your father Bill a truly gifted and industrious man. Keep Marriott on the move.

This is my newest favorite story about our Founder! A fact I never knew but will pass along to co-workers and customers!

Thank you Mr. Marriott for the inspiration. Everyone's journey is different. Mine is that of a 59 year old dad of six amazing children and wife of 31 years who has yet to be successful in my career. Even so, I approach every day working hard with the continued belief that one day I will. -Barry