Branding is in my blood

T.C. “Ted” JelsemaMy dad was an entrepreneur – a successful entrepreneur.

He built, owned and managed two of the most successful businesses in Estes Park, Colorado, prior to the Second World War. For those who’ve never heard of Estes Park, it’s a little mountain resort town at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Anyway my dad, T.C. to his friends, first built (and I mean designed and actually put hammer to nail) The Riverside Ballroom in the 1920’s. It thrived during the “Jazz Age” and through the 1930’s and 40’s with the swing era going full blast.

Then after prohibition was appealed, he build and operated “The World Famous Dark Horse Inn” that was attached to the ballroom and served liquor and food.

As he was building the Dark Horse, it is purported that he won a complete carousel in a poker game. His aim was to set it up in the land next to Riverside, which by then boasted a swimming pool and a modest midway with shooting gallery and ring toss games. But upon unpacking, he found the engine was missing. Undeterred, he took the carousel horses, all black, hand carved horses, and placed them between the booths in the inn, and made the half-horse benches into bar stools. Thus was born “The World Famous Dark Horse Inn. He had enough “stock” left over to use as signage along the hiways into the town.

As I look back growing up and spending a lot of time in the back “office”, I’m really impressed with my dad’s branding abilities. First, he thought big. The place was “world famous” in his eyes even before the place opened.

Second, there was a definite and appropriate theme which, over time, actually made it moderately famous world-wide. Each if the wooden horses had been named after famous broncos on the rodeo circuit, and there was a story about each one. They were published in a little booklet you could take home as a souvenir. All the ash trays and serving trays and match books were branded.

The band that played at the Riverside Ballroom was always present for parades and other summer festivities. Their presence was promotion for the dance that evening.

Yes, I learned a lot from my dad, long before I made a decision to turn to advertising and marketing communication as a career.

Thanks, dad. I couldn’t have had a better mentor.

Martin Jelsema

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