D+AS MAGAZINE

FEATURES — Are You a Safety Sal Dealer?

© 2004 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Fall 2004
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 52-56


Are You a Safety Sal Dealer?
By Tom Wadsworth

Editor’s Note
For many years, our industry has earnestly sought to develop (1) low-cost ways to expand awareness of the garage door industry and (2) effective ways to spread the safety message. Many good efforts have been made.

Now, Kovas Door Company, a garage door dealer in South Bend, Ind., has struck upon a compelling idea. It’s not a glitzy multi-million dollar ad campaign, but it’s focused on an 8-foot-tall orange dinosaur named Safety Sal. This big silent dinosaur has an uncanny ability to attract kids, parents, the news media, and even door and opener sales.

In July, I learned about Safety Sal from an Indiana newspaper story. So I picked up the phone and talked to Tim Kovas (TK), Kovas Door president, and Tim Wilson (TW), vice president, to learn more about their innovative and remarkably successful safety program.

How did you get the idea for Safety Sal?

TK: It all happened last October, over the course of a week. It came out of our successful fire door training program for firefighters. We noticed that the fire guys use Sparky the Dog to spread their fire safety message.

So Tim Wilson came to me and said that we need to come up with a character that could carry the garage door safety message to kids. It sounded like a great idea.

Tim then went to his third-grade grandson to get some ideas. The boy is a dinosaur fanatic, and he had specific ideas for how the character should look and how to do a coloring book for kids.

Within a week, we were off and running. We have since trademarked the character and formed a nonprofit organization called Safety Sal, Inc.

How did Safety Sal get his name?

TK: I tried to find a combination of names that went with safety and dinosaurs. Dinosaurs always seem to end in –saurus, from the Latin word for lizard. So we came up with “Salvus” for safe, and “saurus” for lizard, or Salvasaurus. We just call him Safety Sal.

What does Safety Sal do when he makes an appearance somewhere?

TW: Safety Sal doesn’t talk. We first do garage door safety training, then we bring out Safety Sal, then we hand out the coloring books. Afterwards, all the kids come up to hug him.

What kind of places enjoy having Safety Sal visit?

TK: We go to classrooms, school assemblies, community events. We try to reach parents too. We also did a local hospital’s health fair, and we did a restaurant. We’ve become known as the door dealer that cares for the safety of the children and homeowners.

TW: We’re also doing a health fair in the concourse area at a South Bend Silver Hawks minor league baseball game. We expect 6,000 to 7,000 people.

What safety tips does Safety Sal teach?

TW: The coloring book has a checklist. It mentions things like staying clear of the door while it’s operating and never running under a closing door. We talk about safety reverse tests and the emergency release cord. The book also has a section for parents.

TK: The big goal is to create a character that will over time represent our safety message. Without the character, the message gets lost.

What’s the source of your safety information?

TK: We gathered material from inside and outside the industry. Our message is not just about residential, but about commercial doors as well.

How much money did you spend getting the program started?

TW: We’ve spent $35,000 to $40,000. The first suit was $6,000, and we’ve bought a traveling trailer, coloring books, Safety Sal T-shirts, hats, crayons, and pencils.

Give me some examples of how popular this program has become.

TW: In only six months, Safety Sal has been in front of 22,360 students, and we’ve distributed about 14,000 coloring books.

The media attention has been great. Safety Sal has been featured in the local newspaper and the South Bend Business Weekly. He’s been on TV news three times and on radio. We were just nominated for a National Safe Kids innovation award.

Sponsors and different groups have been glad to support Safety Sal. We’re having three 30-second TV spots produced at no charge. One features ARCA driver Jason Jarrett, and one has a local parent whose child was killed in a garage door accident. The ads will have a 5-second tag for anyone who sponsors the spot.

Can you tell if Safety Sal has affected your sales?

TW: Comparing the 12 months before and after June 2003, our sales are up 42 percent. We’ve decreased our Yellow Pages ads, and we don’t advertise in radio, newspaper, or TV. The growth had to be due to Safety Sal and our firefighter training program. We’ve sold 13 doors or operators to teachers. We’ve also tied into four real estate firms; we do safety inspections on all their homes before the close a sale.

TK: We offer a free safety check. That often results in sales. Our sales guy always mentions our safety program. That has helped him close a lot of sales because it differentiates us from the competition.

Does Safety Sal get financial support from other companies?

TW: We’ve had different companies sponsor ads for the coloring books, while some have donated merchandise. One company donated tires for the truck that pulls the trailer; another donated a fax machine. State Farm donated the trailer, and another gave us a golf cart. Monetary donations go toward buying coloring books and Safety Sal merchandise.

A garage door or garage door opener manufacturer could make this go quickly. Since we’ve set up Safety Sal as a nonprofit organization, donations are tax deductible.

How would you like to see this program expand?

TW: By getting more dealers involved, this program will spread internationally.

TK: We’d like to see a manufacturer buy the program to promote it to their dealers.

Are there some particular skills needed to be Safety Sal?

TK: Since Safety Sal doesn’t talk, the person wearing the suit just needs to know how to be friendly with kids and give a lot of high-fives and hugs. The suit’s head is a little heavy, but we have ice packs and an exhaust fan to control the heat.

If other dealers wanted to get a Safety Sal program going in their communities, what should they do?

TK: Contact us. We’ve trademarked Safety Sal, but we want to help other dealers spread the safety message.

We’ve developed two dealer packages. The entry level package gives them one year’s rights to the Safety Sal logo, two appearances of Safety Sal, and 5,000 coloring books. That package costs $4,750, and you can offset that cost by selling sponsorships for the coloring books.

The other package is $9,250. That purchases the full Safety Sal mascot uniform, three years’ use of the Safety Sal trademark, and 5,000 coloring books. Again, we encourage dealers to sell ads for the coloring book.

What’s the greatest downside to this program?

TK: (Long silence) I don’t know of any. You’re creating a win-win situation.

We’re doing this for a reason: to save kids’ lives. We want others to take on Safety Sal to carry the safety message. We want people to be responsible with it.

How do you envision the future of Safety Sal?

TK: The character is going to take off in the Midwest and eventually nationally. It’s just a matter of time and money.

More information is available at www.safetysal.com or www.callkovas.com.


Editor’s Note: Before you engage in any public safety education program, be sure your safety tips are accurate, carefully crafted, and reviewed by legal counsel and/or industry safety experts. At www.dasma.com, DASMA has industry-approved safety information available at no cost and an approved coloring book available at a nominal cost. Look under Safety Information and Publications/Brochures.