A Success Story In Four Acts
David Sher has a long list of career accomplishments he can justifiably take pride in, but none in my book greater than his role as the producer of Mr. King’s “T-Buff” commercials.
For you unfortunates currently drawing a blank, Mr. King was once a Birmingham furniture store offering easy credit, with a white-suit-and-hat-wearing pitchman named T-Buff — a squeaky-voiced, middle-aged huckster with an exaggerated Southern accent and a pronounced tendency to pause unexpectedly….in the middle of sentences.
Widely denounced by advertising’s doyens of quality and good taste, T-Buff starred in roughly 150 spots during the mid-1980s — and Sher wrote every one of his brilliantly-bad scripts. Tragically, Sher admits, he didn’t save a single spot.
Act One: Loss And Redemption
David graduated from Syracuse University with a Masters in Television, Radio, and Mass Communications — which was not what his mother wanted. She’d urged him to become an accountant, and follow his father into the family business — a clothing store called King Kredit. David had other plans. Until his father died suddenly at the age of 54.
“So I went into the family business,” Sher says, “and my brother Martin joined me a few years later.” Selling clothes proved to be a tough way to make money, particularly with an emphasis on credit-based sales. “We knew we wanted to get into something with bigger ticket items, and eventually decided on furniture.” Shortly thereafter, they changed the name to Mr. King Furniture, “mainly because vendors wouldn’t sell to a store with the name King Kredit.”
Both decisions proved to be prescient, and Mr. King prospered. But the T-Buff ads took them to a new level — both in revenue and name-recognition. “Within a year, our sales doubled and our customer base expanded dramatically — both in terms of geography and demographics.”
Act Two: Intervention And Reinvention
Life was good. Until the brothers’ accountant called one day to explain the Tax Act of 1986 — under which, he assured them, Mr. King would not survive.
“The part that devastated businesses like ours was, ‘revenue’ would now be taxed on sales, accrual rather than cash — whereas before, it had been charged on collections. Which meant that every credit-based sale we made would automatically put us in significant red ink.”
Once again, David & Martin found themselves searching for a new direction — only this time with a proverbial gun to their heads. “That time period really scared the hell out of us. At first, we had no idea what we’d do.” Within a couple months, they landed on the idea of a collections agency.
Although credit was a cornerstone of Mr. King’s business, “the truth is, we really didn’t know the collection business that well. But we did know a lot of people in the Birmingham business community who believed we were honest. We’d always emphasized the importance of acting honorably in collecting payments with one of the toughest demographics you can serve.”
And so AmSher Compassionate Collections® — which now serves clients nationwide — was born. But David missed marketing.
Act Three: A Chance Encounter
In 2008, he attended a National Speakers Association meeting. “When it came time for breakout sessions, none of the topics interested me — so I decided I might as well sit-in on one about something called LinkedIn, where they also talked about two other new platforms, MySpace and Facebook. I was absolutely bowled-over. I could not get back to Birmingham fast enough.”
For the next several months, David spent “practically all my waking time” immersing himself in LinkedIn — learning the platform, and sending-out hundreds of invitations. “I spoke to a number of groups, and figured it might generate some consulting assignments with company owners. At the time, nobody knew anything about it.”
David still remembers the very first LinkedIn invitation he received. “It came from Phyllis Neill, and when I accepted it, I messaged to ask if she was interested in meeting for coffee.” She was. “It turned-out she knew a lot about Facebook and Twitter — which I did not.”
The timing could not have been better. “A week earlier, I’d gotten a call from Rodney Barstein,” who, at the time, owned the Simply Fashion chain — which, at its peak, operated more than 300 stores in 22 states. “He’d heard one of my talks, and asked if I would help him establish a social media presence for him. I asked Phyllis if she’d like to partner on the assignment, and she went with me to pitch Rodney.” This, by the way, was just the second time David and Phyllis had met face-to-face.
They got the job, and David asked Phyllis if she’d consider a formal partnership. “At the time, she had a good job, making good money at Arbitron — but she’d always wanted to be in business for herself. So she made the leap — and with the Simply Six assignment, we were cash positive from Day One.”
Act Four: Still In Turnaround
The business, which they named Buzz 12, grew — and with it, their reputation. So much that in early 2014, Intermark made an offer to acquire the company. David worked with Intermark until 2016, when he made his exit. Which gave him significantly more time to focus on the personal project he’d launched in 2012: Comeback Town, a weekly blog about all things Birmingham.
“It had occurred to me that I could take my social media experience and apply it to educating people in Birmingham and, hopefully, changing certain mindsets — particularly when it came to what we could do if all the various municipalities in our region worked together. Back when I started suggesting it, the response was almost always, ‘Sounds good, but it’s never going to happen here’.”
David pounded the drumbeat for years while the Regionalism bandwagon grew — and then this year, the mayors of 23 regional municipalities (including eight of the largest cities in Jefferson County) sat down at the same table and signed the Good Neighbor Pledge. One of the core tenets adopted by the coalition was to end business poaching between cities.
For so long, Sher notes, “Birmingham suffered from low self-esteem and a Can’t Do attitude. Now it feels like this city can’t do anything wrong.” And no, he couldn’t be blamed in feeling some measure of satisfaction for his own contributions to the now-undeniable sense that Birmingham is one genuinely cool place to live. “Birmingham is a great city. The people are nice, generous and smart. There’s a great sense of community, and there’s great health care. My wife is alive today because of UAB. What’s not to like?”
ComebackTown’s posts reach an average of 50,000 readers a month — and is republished as a column by AL.com each Sunday. Impressive figures to be sure, but what’s truly amazing is this: “In 7 ½ years, I haven’t missed a single week posting new content.” Even with half his columns penned by guest bloggers, that’s a significant workload for a venture that generates no revenue.
All of which begs the question: What’s in it for David? “I have a real passion for our region and I get a great deal of satisfaction in the progress we are making. That’s pretty much it.” And as anyone who knows Sher can attest, that’s not an act.