The Murder of Rick Chance
"He was a son of God...and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty." F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Like in F. Scott Fitzgerald's seminal novel, everything Rick Chance did was bigger than life. His rise from farmer to millionaire came faster than most; his marketing style was more brash, his marriages more passionate, his divorces more rancorous, his death more violent. A paradox of personalities, Chance was part huckster, part born-again Christian, part genius, part fool. Labels didn't seem to fit Chance and he was constantly shedding one persona for another.
From his humble beginnings on a farm outside Tempe, Arizona, Chance built Empire Auto Glass into the Southwest's largest glass replacement firm by bucking the conventional wisdom and not shying away from a fight. The auto glass replacement business is a lucrative one in the West, where travel on the sun-baked roads seems to kick up more gravel and debris than other places. Chance knew how to market his company, and while sitting in an Arizona diner one day hit upon the idea of giving away a free meal with every windshield replacement. He figured it was a no-lose proposition. The restaurants he engaged would get free advertising, Empire would get more business, and the insurance companies would pick up the tab. In the beginning the insurance companies balked, but several lawsuits later, Chance's marketing plan had withstood the challenges and was taking off. Business was so good for a time that Chance had trouble finding restaurants willing to give away the volume of meals his offer was attracting.
Chance starred in his own commercials and became a cultural icon on local television stations from Phoenix to Seattle. His spots were in heavy rotation on TV, and the advertising was paying off. In 1982 Empire Auto Glass was a one-man operation. Two decades later the operation had expanded into six states and was bringing in $13 million in revenue. Chance took home $2.1 million in 2001.
Even if you've never seen an Empire Glass commercial, you would know Rick Chance. Every market has a pitchman like Chance, whether they are selling appliances, cars or something else. Their commercials seem to be louder than the rest and their repetitive catchphrases sear themselves into the collective unconscious.
"People loved him or they hated him, or they loved to hate him," said Bob Hittenberger, president of the Arizona Independent Glass Association. "He got them talking about him non-stop whether it was good or bad. And it was good for business."
Chance attracted a lot of attention and he loved it. His business couldn't have been going better, but his personal life was a mess. Unfortunately for him, his desire for recognition made his personal failings all the more public and all the more humiliating.