Thousands of people rush past Bruce Matula’s room en route to the massive showroom at the Twin Cities Auto Show.
Matula doesn’t seem to mind.
“The cars are the stars, but then they stop in here for the accessories,” he said.
He bides his time, and even when chatting about his passions — baseball and Bruce Springsteen — Matula speaks softly.
Until a family of three strolls in, then it’s time for the big shtick.
“You guys wanna see how this works?” Matula croons, applying a few drops of wax to a black surface and rubbing away. “A little dab’ll do ya. … It cleans, shines and protects in one application. Wax on, wax off, just like ‘The Karate Kid.’ ” Another man stops by. Matula makes eye contact without missing a beat in his smooth lilt. “There’s the chamois in action. It’s a polished wax glaze, so everything’s in one bottle. … You use it every six months, so that’s $7.50 a year. I couldn’t get a hot dog and soda here for that!”
His phrasing might be straight out of a late-night infomercial or a “Step right up, ladies and gentlemen” carnival show, but Matula’s firm, friendly, almost conversational tone lands smack dab in between a soft and hard sell.
That may be because Matula, an everyman with expressive eyes and salt-and-pepper hair, has had nearly four decades to perfect his pitch: He started coming to the Auto Show when it was still at the Minneapolis Auditorium in the early 1980s.
Now a staple at the show, he’s a far cry from that googly-eyed barker in those ShamWow ads. “I don’t know where that guy came from,” Matula says with a chuckle. “But I know that’s not my personality.”
Matula can afford to avoid the histrionics, since his wares take up a major chunk of Room 103C at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Besides the wax booth, he’s got a nearby “shammy” demo stand, but the bulk of the space goes to a “Dreams and Memories” area, “dreams of cars you want and memories of cars you had,” he said. It’s festooned with colorful flags, tin signs new and old, and a sprawling array of die-cast cars, from Big Wheel-sized on up.
While Matula cajoles customers with constant patter, evoking “The Karate Kid” and the old Brylcreem catchphrase, his wife, Dorothy, stays seriously busy at the cash register.
Their company, Pocono Marketing, is almost a year-round operation, focusing on auto shows (“our bread and butter”) plus a few state fairs (not here).
And every March, the Matulas load up their 24-foot Wells Fargo trailer in Mount Pocono, Pa. (“which used to be the honeymoon capital of the East,” Bruce says), cue up certain appropriate songs — “Long and Winding Road,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” “Prove It All Night” — and head west.
“The hardest part of the job is the driving,” Bruce says, despite the fact that it takes 2 ½ days to set up their displays at each show.
Not surprisingly, over 33 years the Matulas have gotten to know Minnesotans pretty well, individually and collectively. “We have people who ask about former employees of ours,” Dorothy Matula says, “and we have families who brought their kids, and now those kids are here bringing their kids. These are good, hardworking people.”
She also has picked up on a singular practice of ours. “For years, this was the largest check-writing place in the country,” she says. “Now it’s the largest check-card-using place in the country.”
Not one, not two …
The first customer every year is George Fazekas of Richfield, homing in on the newest die-cast cars, “because if you don’t get it now, you’re not going to get it.”
Pocono Marketing is the largest traveling distributor of die-cast cars in the country, with wares from a dozen suppliers. “I work in a toy room,” Dorothy says.
The new-model Corvette and 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona are particularly prized this year, and the first Batmobile a few years back was “the hottest item ever,” Dorothy said, but year in and year out Lamborghini is “always No. 1.”
The die-cast and memorabilia shoppers keep her bustling while Bruce patiently waits for the folks who are working their way through the grand hall. There, boomers and seniors in ball caps, families with kids (sometimes in matching clothes) and a surprising number of people wearing Gander Mountain camo sweatshirts form long queues at Camp Jeep and the tater-tot food truck and listen to young women in impossibly tight dresses and improbably high heels talk about eight-way adjustment seats and the latest Hemi.
By midday, a steady stream of would-be wax buyers are coursing into the room. Now in nonstop sales mode, Matula asks the crowd around him for a house key, which he folds into a cloth with a few drops of cleaner, rubs for a few seconds and removes, bright and shiny. “Now be careful, it’s so smooth it now fits in any lock,” he teases.
That demo sways at least one customer. “I was leaning toward getting this,” says Matt Olson of Eagan, “and that sealed the deal.”
And what a deal, at least according to Matula’s pitch:
“It’s $29.95 at every other auto show. But that was a good deal last year. To celebrate 33 years at the auto show, we’ll give you a second set, and if you help us advertise by carrying it in this bag, we’ll give you not one, not two, but three bottles for $29.95 — cash, check or credit card.”