Mark Muller, owner of Max Motors in Butler, MO, gained his 3 1/2-year-old company national notoriety in August 2008 when it gave away vouchers for a handgun with every vehicle sold that month. Sales went up 35 percent. This year's August promotion offered vouchers for an AK-47, generating a media frenzy that included this CNN interview where he gets the best of an anti-gun reporter.
Sales for the month doubled, and the company's website, which usually receives between 5,000 and 6,000 hits a day crashed sometime after reaching 1 million hits in a 24-hour period. More than 40,000 e-mails poured in—each of them personally responded to—and 97.8 percent of them were favorable.
"We struck a chord with the God-fearing Americans who still live in this country," Muller said. "People were not coming for the gun, they were buying to support someone of like mind."
Not everyone was happy with the promotion. He received one call from a self-professed "peace activist" who threatened to kill him and rape his wife. Another guy called, claiming he was across the street with a rifle and was going to kill him.
Muller, who regularly carries either a Smith & Wesson 1911 or a Kel-Tec .380 ACP, said the nonsense didn't intimidate him. He added that a lot his employees have a CCW permit and that concealed-carry classes have been conducted at the dealership with regularity.
Although Muller was born in Philadelphia, he's lived most of his life in Missouri, where "We always plinked around with .22s," he said. "I've been shooting my whole life and have done a lot of duck, squirrel and rabbit hunting." Muller's wife learned to shoot more than 10 years ago when he introduced her to the shotgun. "First thing I taught her was to shoot a 12 gauge from the hip."
He also has a strong faith, and some of his fellow churchgoes consider gun ownership contrary to the Bible. "I believe it's immoral not to be prepared to defend your family," Muller explained. "That's immoral. I can guarantee Jesus wouldn't be a victim if he didn't want to be."
Oddly, more than half of the buyers didn't take the gun voucher—some opted for gas. "It wasn't about the gun," Muller reiterated. "It was about supporting someone willing to take a stand."
Keeping a dealership thriving in a town with barely 4,000 residents requires 10- to 12-hour workdays, and Muller relies heavily on his 30 years of experience in automobile sales. So what promotion does he have on the drawing board for next year? "I've got one that's bigger and better…." he said.