Bryan Welsh lives in Stouffville but works in Mississagua. His commute takes him around the top of Toronto, avoiding the gridlocked streets.
“I’m a 407 slave,” he says.
When he needed a new suit, though, he found himself at Korry’s Clothiers — Saul Korman’s shop on the Danforth. Far from his usual route, it’s a place he’d never stepped foot in before.
But why did he make the special trip when, as he put it, he could have bought his Hugo Boss suit in a Mississauga shopping mall?
“Only because of the commercials,” Welsh answered. “No question.”
Thanks to those commercials, Korman has achieved a level of stardom that has entrenched him in Toronto’s pantheon of local celebrities, alongside the late Honest Ed Mirvish, Mel and Blaine Lastman, and Russell “Cash Man” Oliver.
Known as the “Duke of the Danforth,” Korman develops radio spots that are a unique blend of advertising and personal diary.
They weren’t always that way, though.
“I had a copywriter that wrote my commercials,” Korman said, remembering his ads on CJCL radio. “Andy Barrie … hated my commercials.”
Commandeering a studio, Barrie started questioning Korman about his store.
“Saul, tell me who you are,” Korman remembered Barrie prodding. “What do you do?”
“He says, ‘My God, you’re a natural. Why don’t you do your own commercials?’”
From then on, Korry’s Clothiers radio spots took the format of a conversation, starting with a chat between Korman and former hockey broadcaster Ron Hewitt.
Korman eventually went solo, and hasn’t strayed from what has become his trademark.
“What it did for me, it certainly built me into a personality,” he said. “If I’m in a room and I’m dressed fairly correctly, and somebody (stares) — the minute they hear the voice (they say), ‘You’re not Saul, are you?’ ”
Richard Payne, an advertising industry insider, says that brand of personal advertising works, thanks to repetition.
“They stick with one message and they’ve been sticking with it for so long,” he said. “Bad Boy’s still around. Oliver is still around.
“They’ve been around a long time. They’re still in business. They’re recognized.”
After a while, listeners and viewers often find they’ve grown attached to the personality trying to sell to them, just as Welsh did.
“It’s Saul’s consistency,” Welsh said as he checked a suit possibility in a Korry’s mirror. “It’s kind of funny, because he’s been doing it so long that you start listening to it (and thinking), ‘Yeah, hey, when are you doing your trip south again?’
“You start to get onto that he’s got a bit of a routine. I think he’s got a personality on radio.”
Since 1995, Russell Oliver, another Toronto retailing star, has built his personality on television through often-campy Oliver Jewellery commercials that feature his Cash Man and Loan Arranger characters.
“When people come in and they see me, they get a good feeling,” he said. “They tend to be more receptive and warmer and more friendly. It makes for a better relationship.
“And even if I’m not here … they still feel that there’s a real person behind the business.”
Payne agrees, emphasizing the importance of advertising a familiar face — something customers connect to.
“In that aspect, I think it does work because people know who’s in charge,” he said. “It welcomes them to come into that storefront and deal with that person.”
Oliver’s televised antics as the Cash Man and the Loan Arranger are his most well known, though he has made more subdued, serious commercials. He said the kitschy ones are his favourite.
“I like the brash and in-your-face type of ads,” Oliver said. “They tend to bring more results and they tend to have people talking more.
“The quiet ones are very, very slow to bring in traffic. The truth is, once you’re on television you’re already brash and out there, so you may as well keep up that image.”
It’s a philosophy that’s served him well, turning the shop owner into what broadcaster Humble Howard Glassman once called “the commercial personality who transcends all cultural, geographical and political lines”.
“Wherever I go people recognize me,” Oliver said. “They tend to give me good tables in restaurants, good seats in shows, and I tend to get a lot of personal attention when I walk into stores.
“It’s a nice perk.”
Korman’s fame is especially strong in Greektown. It was Toronto’s original Bad Boy, the former mayor, who gave him the title Duke of the Danforth.
“We were doing the Taste of the Danforth (and) I introduced Mayor Mel Lastman and all the dignitaries,” he said. “The person that introduced me says, ‘We have the mayor of the Danforth’, and Mel Lastman says, ‘Saul, I’m sorry. There’s only one mayor of all the boroughs. You are now the duke.’ ”
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