Alan Schafer: Hero of the Highway
Dillon, South Carolina
Alan Schafer died on July 19, 2001, at age 87. This story is from one of our many visits to South of the Border, when we got to meet Schafer:
South Of The Border's unique success and appeal results from the foresight of one guiding genius, Alan Schafer. All the major projects at SOB are conceived by him. All of the hundreds of SOB billboard slogans are his creation. And it's been this way for forty-five years.
Alan works in a giant office the size of a basketball court. Inside, a half dozen desks are scattered randomly, each covered with charts, drawings -- ideas in formation. The walls are lined with promotional beer mugs and serving trays. A large black velvet painting of John F. Kennedy is encircled with framed photographs of local politicians. A battery of computers and telephones sit in the outer office, ready to close a deal for plastic backscratchers in Cambodia or check the sale of camouflage condoms in SOB's Dirty Old Man shop.
You get the distinct impression that everything Alan Schafer reads, sees, or hears is channeled into improving South Of The Border. Schafer noticed the Recession of '91 even before it officially started. "People were coming in, but they would only buy the cheapest thing they could find," he remembers. "We had to do something." Then Schafer read of a local T-shirt mill going out of business. Like a hawk Schafer swooped in, bought up all the irregular stock for next to nothing, and had them screened into South Of The Border shirts at the printing plant he has on-site. "They sold out at $3.99," he says, smiling with satisfaction.
Alan is a soft-spoken, energetic man, who looks decades younger than his 83 years. Wall Street has offered him millions for his empire, but he will have none of it. "We hope he never retires," said one of his employees, eyes aglow. "He is brilliant."