February, 2005

Feb 05

Day thirty-nine – Lessons in Humility

My friends all give me varying advice on what to include in this blog. Some tell me to only write upbeat entries. Some advise me to tell the truth. I think for the most part, my entries have been pretty truthful.

Today I made three calls on educational retailers. The first store, “The Learning Post” was great. The buyer at second store “The Learning Connection” seemed disengaged and busy. She insisted that we had made no contact and that no appointment had been made. My third stop (now this was a clerical error on our part) was to the right company but the wrong location. When I finally connected with the buyer by phone he absolutely didn’t want to see me at all.

Being a perfectionist, I will remember this day. I won’t dwell on the first great store that’s interested and has already bought our titles. I’ll think about the two that don’t. And it will be that way for the next year. Yikes. What a life. When you ‘wear the hat’ of a salesperson you don’t really ask for this situation to be thrust upon you but once it happens you are stuck with it.

I’ll walk around thinking about it and I won’t consider myself successful until all three companies are frequent and happy buyers. I will report on my final success (in the blog) one day and you will see me drinking a glass of champagne.

Well. If you’re interested, here are the photos of the folks I visited in Iowa.

Bob and Janelle are the sales people I met at The Learning Post, although Darlene and her son Monty own the store. The Learning Post is a real success story. Since its inception it has grown so much that they have changed locations three times. Darlene and Monty now own this 12,000 sq. ft store plus a second Learning Post in Ankeny, IA. This store is filled with fun stuff right to the brim. The staff is upbeat and there are many things I’d like to purchase for myself, including a wonderful line of stickers!

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Janelle [top left], Bob [top right], Outside the store [bottom left] and Inside the store [bottom right].

My second visit was to The Learning Connection in Coralville. This is just outside of Iowa City. Luckily for me, Mindy Wieland, the owner, was in. Mindy is one busy lady. She still works part time (mornings) as a Special Ed. teacher and she owns a second Learning Connection store in Davenport. As you can see from the photos, Mindy’s store in Coralville is bright and cheerful.

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Mindy Wieland, owner [top left], Outside the store [top right], Inside the store [bottom left and right].

Here is a photo to remind me of the meeting that never happened at the Iowa Book and Supply Company.

This is a little worse than getting your foot in the door. Actually, it’s worse than peeping your head through the door. It’s never making it to the door. Period.

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Outside at the Iowa Book and Supply Company.

Ha ha. Well. This will be my project for the year. If I make a sale to this place we will all have a drink.

Feb 05

Day thirty-eight – Driving to Des Moines

Before embarking on this odyssey, I used to think of ‘taking a Sunday drive’ as a short leisurely jaunt through country roads. Today’s Sunday drive from Lawrence, Kansas to Des Moines, Iowa probably took me about six hours of highway driving (with breaks). Oh well.

My B & B hosts for the evening, Jane and James, were very charming. Jane is a retired “Reading Recovery” teacher and James is a semi-retired architect. They live in a beautiful home, designed by James, in downtown Des Moines. Their house is surrounded by wooded forests and the backyard is often frequented by visiting deer.

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Jane and James, my B & B hosts.

Feb 05

Day thirty-seven – Working the weekend, again

Well. It’s Saturday and I was scheduled to do quite a bit of driving again. Oh well. The trip is nearing its end and the extra driving and weekend calls allow me to squeeze everything in. It seemed to be about five hours behind the wheel before I finally arrived in Lawrence, Kansas. But what a great town Lawrence is!

If it weren’t for this marketing trip, I would never have had the chance to visit so many places off the beaten path. Lawrence proved to be really nice! I’d place it up there with Gainesville, Florida. It’s lively. The streets are filled with people and interesting shops. It’s a university town too.

My stop in Lawrence was at the M & M Office Supply Store. M & M is located in a prime location on Massachusetts Street by 6th. People are strolling up and down this street all day. It’s a center of bustling activity. The original M & M store opened 45 years ago and it has been in its present location since 1981. Kathy Winters showed me around the store and we had a great talk. She realizes how special Lawrence is too.

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Outside the store [top left], Kathy Winters [top right] and Inside the store [bottom].

Here are a couple of photos of the town. The historic buildings and the bright airy sidewalks make this an ideal town for weekend strolls.

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Downtown Lawrence [left] and Dan Kozak [right].

Feb 05

Day thirty-six – Singing tunes in Tulsa

When I arrived at The Apple Tree in Tulsa there were already parents and grandparents waiting to meet me. It was exhilarating. Earlier that week, the article in The Oklahoman had also run in the local Tulsa newspaper and I was greeted by an interested group of enthusiasts. “Show us what you have,” they demanded. Suzanne Ham, owner of The Apple Tree was able to find us a place to sit and chat. What a nice way to start the day. Suzanne, who has a Masters in Early Childhood Education, was instrumental in the development of the first Title One programs in her area. Her extensive knowledge and experience is evident in the way she organizes her store.

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Suzanne Ham, owner [top left], Outside the store [top right] and Inside the store [bottom left and right].

A few miles down the highway the folks at The Learning Shop were waiting for me. Some in-school workshops, at the local immersion school, Dwight Eisenhower had been planned for me that afternoon.

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Students learning a new French song.

After spending the afternoon with kids and teachers of Eisenhower School I returned to The Learning Shop where I was able to ‘regroup’ before retiring for the evening. It was great to meet with Alison Raff, the buyer and Deena Smith, the owner. A big thank you to Cari Bashaw for organizing the afternoon activities.

Feb 05

Day thirty-five – People who make a difference

Well. I have to say. This trip through Oklahoma has been a real experience. I have had the chance to visit some really tiny towns and to meet so many people whose lives really make a difference. What a day!

First stop of the day was to The Learning Ladder in Muskogee, OK. I was running late and missed meeting the owner, Susan, however, it was still great to see the store. I met with Julie a sales associate at the Learning Ladder who told me all about her travels around the world as part of ‘missions’ teams. This was an uplifting conversation so early in the day. It’s nice to see young people like Julie. The Learning Ladder has been a fixture on the main street of Muskogee for the past twelve years.

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Julie, Sales Associate [top left], Inside the store [top right] and Outside of the Store [bottom].

If one knows how to drive without getting lost, McGowan School Supply is only supposed to be an hour’s drive from Muskogee. The key is “not getting lost”. I had a great time though. I have never seen so many fields filled with cows, horses, llamas and goats. I almost drove by Clyde’s store, McGowan School Supply. I laughed and had to back track. Clyde’s store is surrounded by cows on all four sides. Clyde used to work for Oklahoma School Supply in Muskogee until it closed down. He then opened his own small company in Hulbert (fifteen years ago) which grew from one small room of 128 square feet to a combined space of 2700 square feet. It’s easy to see that the store is Clyde’s pride and joy. He enjoys being able to contribute to the community by being the only source for educational resources for miles around.

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Clyde, owner [top left], Inside the store [top right], Outside of the Store [bottom left] and one of Clyde’s neighbors [bottom right].

An hour or so further down the road I’d have the biggest surprise of the day.I was looking forward to staying with Lucille and her partner Clyde. Lucille seemed like a real character; and a character she was. This lady (who is almost seventy) holds down about six part time jobs including teaching and counseling at the local community college. It seems that she has a real knack for counseling and students seek her out. Every year at least 300 students (whether assigned to her or not) latch onto Lucille for guidance. It was nice to see that she was so active and involved in life. But the REAL SURPRISE was that Lucille’s home is a ‘foster parent’ shelter for animals and she shares her home with 14 cats and 3 dogs. When I expressed my surprise and concern (I am allergic to cats) Lucille poured me some wine and told me not to worry. She was right. I wasn’t affected too much. I think she keeps her home exceptionally clean. Lucille and Clyde both make an enormous difference in their community of Broken Arrow, just outside of Tulsa.

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Lucille and Clyde, my Bed and Breakfast hosts.

Feb 05

Day thirty-four – North to Norman

After that great day in Denton I drove 150 miles to the home of my hosts, Joyce and Les, in Norman, Oklahoma. Joyce and Les spoke enthusiastically about their holiday in Prague as part of the EducatorsTravel.com program, Joyce is a retired elementary school teacher and Les is a pastor. Les is also a great cook. He got up so early in the morning to make a breakfast of waffles with home cooked apples and maple syrup.

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Les, my host in Norman, OK.

My first stop in the morning was to Copelin’s Teaching Tooks in Norman. The Copelin store is big. They sell furniture, stationary and school supplies. I had a great time at Copelin’s. Lyn Copelin, the owner and Jennifer, her assistant, were very organized. About a dozen patron showed up for a “Meet and Greet” and we had a get-together in the ‘conference room’.

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Meet and Greet Session [top left], Lin Copelin, co-owner [top right], inside of the store [bottom left] and outside of the store [bottom right].

Next stop was to Mardel’s head office just outside of Oklahoma City. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Mardel’s head office. Actually Mardel’s is part of a conglomerate with other companies including: Hobby Lobby, Crafts Etc., World Wood and Hemispheres. The head office is 1/2 mile long and 1/2 mile deep. The complex is 2.6 million square feet. (And I thought everything in TEXAS was big!)

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Gayleen at reception [left] and outside of Mardel’s, which stretches for half a mile [right].

Last stop of the day was to Learning Tree Toys, Books and Games in Oklahoma City. Kathy Carey and Patty Tepper have been co-owners of this (3500 square foot) store for the past 19 years. At Learning Tree Toys, Books and Games also hosted a “Meet and Greet” session where I was able to meet and converse with many customers.

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Co-owners Kathy Carey and Patty Tepper [top left], Patty and Alison, hamming it up [top right] and the exterior of the store [bottom].

As you can imagine it was getting pretty late. I was supposed to drive to Muskogee. I would have been an “Okie in Muskogee” that night. Unfortunately it was so dark and so late I decided to forego the “Okie in Muskogee” experience and pulled off the highway a little earlier just to stay safe.

Feb 05

Day thirty-three – Living in a Bubble

Tuesday was an exciting day for me. I drove into Denton after a few days of meetings in Dallas. I planned to spend the day visiting the music department and listening to bands perform. Apart from the urban sprawl all around the campus, things didn’t seem to have changed much.

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Photo of the Campus.

I was still in awe at how much music was happening and the standard of it all. I think that one can never imagine what it’s like. You’d really need to visit to experience this first hand.

From the first hour I arrived, I heard music non-stop until the time I left. I sat in on a class during an incredible performance of African drumming (and dancers). Out of respect for the performers, I didn’t take any photos of this. I had heard that Phil Woods, renowned alto sax player would be rehearsing with the 1 o’clock lab band so while I waited until one o’clock, I walked down to the commons area where I was pleased to find a noon hour performance of the 4 o’clock lab band. At UNT, students in the jazz department audition for positions in the bands. Nine big bands rehearse (at their respective times) each day. As a student progresses in ability, he/she moves up to a band rehearsing earlier in the day. Hence, students in the bands rehearsing at one, two, three and even four o’clock are seasoned and veteran players even at the age of 21.

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The 4 o’clock lab band performing in a concert.

The practice hall at one o’clock was crowded with students anticipating the rehearsal of Phil Woods with the band in preparation for a Thursday night performance. Unfortunately, Phil didn’t not show up because he was feeling ill, but listening to the band was fantastic anyway.

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Photo of the 1 o’clock lab band.

The next hour everyone trouped over to watch the Phil Woods master class. Here he did show up, tell animated stories, perform a few tunes and listen to some of the more advanced players play with the one o’clock rhythm section.

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Phil Woods performing [left] and the master class [right].

I started my studies at UNT almost 30 years ago and stayed there for 3 years finishing up a Bachelor of Music degree. At that time I was in awe of the players. I still am. It seems that the best players flock from all across the country (and some from outside of the country) because of the dynamic music program. What happens, because they live inside this small little bubble of Denton Texas, is that they start to compete among themselves. It’s really an amazing place. I started to think that if I could become independently wealthy, maybe I would return and try to compete again. Ha ha. I hope someone buys this business fast or I might be 70 years old when I finally start playing in a lab band again.

The thing I like about being at North Texas is that it’s just about being the absolute best. When you listen to all of these players, and you start to wonder, how they could ever all get work when they get out, you realize that some probably won’t work as musicians.

However, the training that they have had and the years of trying to be the absolute best in an art form, will carry over into the rest of their lives and I am sure that graduates go on to try to “be the best” at whatever they do.

After leaving the campus I decided to walk over to see if my old residences were still around. The very first, a second floor flat in an old mansion on Oak Street was not there. Alas, it had been torn down. Oh well. It had been in pretty bad shape even when I was there. What was a gracious big old building now it seems is a paved parking lot.

My second places of residence were on a street called “Normal Street”. Pretty weird name but “Normal” used to be the name for the “College of Teachers” which was called “Normal College”. Those two humble abodes were still standing. They had been old when I lived there. They looked even worse now. Oh well. Maybe my living expenses wouldn’t be too high if I moved back here!

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My first little house [top left], my second little house [top right] and a photo of the little houses on Normal Street [bottom].

Even my friend and neighbor, Ross’s house was still standing. Although I think it has seen better days. (I’ll have to e-mail a photo of this to Ross.)

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My friend and neighbor Ross’s house.

Feb 05

Day thirty-two – Media and More

Today was to prove an interesting day.

I started out by going across town to visit a wholesaler named “Dallas Pen”. To be honest, I’d never heard of “Dallas Pen” before but during my trip, so many retailers in Louisiana and Texas were singing praises of Dallas Pen, I felt I should include them in my trip. Dallas Pen publishes a catalog which is then distributed through various educational parent/teacher stores. The best thing, according to retailers, is that Dallas Pen can fill orders within 24 hours. Now I call that service!

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Pat Melugin, president [top left] , Linda Carrington, catalog coordinator [top right] and outside Dallas Pen [bottom].

While at Dallas Pen I had a good meeting with Pat Melugin, president and Linda Carrington, the catalog coordinator. It was apparent why Dallas Pen is so successful. They take care with every minute detail and they know everyone of their customers very well.

I anticipated the afternoon with much excitement and wondered who else would be participating at the “Coffee Roundtable” media event hosted by Jon Griffin. When I arrived, I found that the only two participants would be Jon and me. Oh well. I never really run out of things to talk about! The 30 minute interview, complete with music clips, will be broadcast on three Dallas radio stations this weekend, “99.5 The Wolf”, “93.3 FM The Bone and “Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket”

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Me in the studio [left] , My host, Jon Griffin [right].

A big “thank you” to my host Jon Griffin for having me on the show. I think we both had a great time.

Feb 05

Day thirty-one – Workin’ the Weekend

One more day of work this week. I thrust it upon myself because I wanted to take Tuesday off and spend some time in Denton at University of North Texas, my alma mater. Actually, in those days it was known as North Texas State University but it doesn’t matter. It’s still known to be one of the finest music schools and maybe the best jazz program around.

In order to be able to spend all day Tuesday in Denton, I needed to schedule some store visits on the weekend. Saturday was spent zigzagging across Dallas from Home Educator’s Resource in Duncanville, to A + Teacher in Irving, and, finally, Teaching Etc. in Richardson. Dallas has grown to be an enormous mega-city. Several cities surround the core to make one big metropolis. Actually, there has been such a boom in development that it seems there is little undeveloped land between Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton.

First stop of the morning was to Home Educator’s Resource in Duncanville, where I had a terrific visit with Hope Evans, the owner and manager. She recounted how their store had first opened in 1998 in a small section of her husband’s ‘vacuum and janitorial’ store. Since then, the store has grown many times over. In March, Hope will be opening a second store in Lewisville. Hope’s store was so jam-packed with neat stuff that I spent $100 on resources for myself!

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Hope Evans, owner of Home Educator’s Resource [top left] , inside of Home Educator’s Resource [top right] and outside of Home Educator’s Resource [bottom].

To reach the second stop of the day I found myself driving across the city again, this time to Irving, Texas and A+ Teach R. Unfortunately, Janis Wingo, the owner wasn’t in but I had a nice visit with Cynthia, the sales clerk. A+ Teach R usually carries our titles so we had a good chat about which ones have been most popular among the customers.

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Cynthia, a sales clerk [left] and inside the store [right].

Last ‘retailer visit’ of the day was to Mary Lou of Teaching Etc. in Richardson. Mary Lou’s experience teaching first grade for seven years, and then owning the store for fifteen, makes her a valuable resource for the many teachers and parents visiting her store. Mary Lou already carries a nice selection of our titles. Check out the special display she made in the photo.

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Mary Lou [left] and outside Teaching Etc. [right].

By this time I was really ready for a weekend rest. I climbed into the van and sped off looking for the closest hotel with high speed Internet access!

Feb 05

Day thirty – Moving on to Dallas

Sally and Rod, being teachers, were up and ready-to-go early. I decided to pay another visit to Starbucks before my trek to Waco and Dallas. I didn’t need to go so much for the coffee, just for the ‘office space’ and internet access. I’ve now visited so many Starbucks across the nation I don’t even bother to get photos snapped. It’s become my home away from home. If it weren’t for Starbucks, half of these blogs wouldn’t even get done!

Rod hopped in my van and directed me to the closest Starbucks. It appears Starbucks is a haunt for Rob and Sally too, but mostly for ‘take out’ coffee on the way to work.

I was looking forward to my drive. I had never been to Waco before and was curious to have a look. Actually, it turned out to be just a nice small quiet city.

My first stop was at The Learning Center, where I visited with Carol Birdsong, the owner. Carol has had her store for 24 years and seems to have enjoyed every minute of it. Before that she taught in the classroom for three years so we had a lot to talk about. Her store was big, bright and cheerful and when she does special orders for her customers she prides herself in usually being able to provide ‘next day’ delivery.

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Carol Birdsong, owner of The Learning Center [top left], Inside The Learning Center [top right] and Outside The Learning Center
[bottom ].

Just around the corner from Carol’s store, I found my next destination, The Compass Christian Lifestyle Super Store. This huge place included a nice selection of educational resources. Unfortunately, Holly Pennington, the owner was unavailable but I did meet with two young sales people, Dan Roberts and Kenda Herring. These two seemed very capable, articulate and enthusiastic. I think that Holly is lucky to have Dan and Kenda on her staff.

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Dan Roberts and Kenda Herring [left] and Outside The Compass Christian Lifestyle Super Store [right].

Then, it was off to find my B&B hosts for the night. Francille and James were fantastic hosts and we had much to talk about. Francille is a vocalist and retired music teacher (having taught from kindergarten through college). James worked many years in the oil industry and then as a teacher of Industrial Arts and Cooperative Training. This unassuming couple has done a lot of things. Little things just slip out in conversation, like the five years they spent in South America and the time they lived in Edmonton, Alberta. They still, it seems, have a very full life and travel when Francille is not performing as a storyteller and editing the national magazine for the Association of Storytellers.