It was a simple decision to make. I needed to get my foot in the door of the company that makes the Bearcat armored vehicle. We at the time used the Lenco Bearcat in our defensive strategy to protect the power plant which I worked at. It was simple because not only did we use them, but their manufacturer was only about an hours drive from my home town. Given the nature of securing a nuclear power plant, taking images of anything on that property, never mind aspects of security, was absolutely forbidden. I thought that if I could manage to get over to Lenco and be allowed to take some images of my products inside their trucks it would make for great visual content on my website.
When I sent my first email I naively thought that a site visit would be a quick and easy thing to accomplish. In that email I briefly explained my products that existed at that time, how they worked, and that I was not seeking a tour of the facility. I explained that I was only looking to be able to take a few snapshots using one of their vehicles as the platform. The reply was polite and to the point. No. There was that word again. However, at least the answer included the words “Not today” which left the door open for me to ask again in the near future.
For two years I would send emails asking if I could visit for the same reason. The emails that did receive a reply, and most did get one, always said the same thing. “No, not today”. Although very frustrating, I was well aware of the peculiar nature of my request. I was a nobody with an unknown product and an unknown product label. I would not let that stop me from trying however because I believed in my products and had to believe that if Lenco could just see them in person there was a good chance of accomplishing more than just walking away with some images.
One day I woke up from a deep sleep wide awake and positively energetic. Not something that happens very often. I decided that this would be the day that I am getting into Lenco, or at least I am going to employ drastic measures to do it…..just show up at their front door. I got out of bed, sent my typical email asking to visit, took a quick shower and then just started to drive. I thought that maybe, just maybe, during my drive over I would get a yes answer to my current email and if that be the case I would already be half way there when I did. If a visit was allowed for later in the day, I would simply linger around the town of Pittsfield until such time.
When I pulled onto Lenco property I had not received that anticipated email. Although it was obvious that there had to be workers inside, the property looked intimidatingly empty to someone who was about to make a cold stop pitching an unknown product to a company of this size. I could see numerous Bearcats and Bears through the fence line and could only imagine how many images I could possibly get. Aware that I was most likely being observed by security cameras, I got out of my truck and walked to the front doors as confidently as I could for someone having a million angry butterflies in their stomach.
As I opened the front door I was greeted by a large open room with one visible staircase on the far wall that led to a small platform and a single door. The room to me appeared to be oddly empty other than that single staircase. I had an overwhelming feeling which can best be described as being similar to the movie Men in Black. In that movie there are scenes where a lone lethargic security member sits casually in a large sterile room welcoming MIB members before entering MIB Headquarters. Except in this case, there was no such person.
I peered around for a moment until spotting a closed sliding window. “Here we go” I thought as I walked over to announce my presence and to explain why I was there on that day. The window opened and I said hello to the women who greeted me. I explained that I had been sending some emails to a specific person within the company and that I would like to have a moment with them if possible. What I actually said was a bit more wordy than that and very early into my explanation she began to kindly shake her head from side to side giving me my answer before I could even get all the words out.
Realizing that I was placing her in an odd position, I decided to pause my personal pitch mid sentence looking at her inquisitively and responded to her head shake with a confirmatory question……”No?” She replied the same following it up with a polite “you can’t just show up and expect to see someone.” I was not surprised by this and was willing to accept defeat. It would be another set back, however I was aware of my efforts and that I sure was giving it my best. I stated that it was at least a nice scenic drive over so the day was not a total loss for me. She asked where I had come from and we chatted for a few more minutes about what I was doing and why I knew the products made sense. “You’re welcome to leave some literature or a business card if you’d like” she said, ending our conversation. I reached into my pocket to retrieve a card only to discover that I had none on me. I asked if I could go back to my truck to get some and with her approval I was off.
I returned to the building walking towards the still open office window. I noticed that the women whom I had just spoken with had remained at the window while I was gone. She appeared to be hanging up the phone just as I entered and walked towards her. She looked up at me and to my great appreciation and amazement she stated, “I called them, they’re coming down.” I could not believe what I had just heard and immediately looked at her with great appreciation and thanked her for making that phone call. I was in!
A few moments later the door which was located at the top of that lone staircase opened. A gentleman appeared, smartly traversed the stairs, walked over to me and stuck his hand out introducing himself as Lenny. I was currently holding a product flyer and a business card in my right hand which of course would normally be the hand that would greet his for the handshake that he had just initiated. However my brain failed me at that moment and did not communicate this to my right hand. I raised my left hand, he raised his. I realized my error and began to raise my right hand to correct myself but of course that hand was still occupied carrying my flyer and business card. It was an embarrassing moment for me but we managed to fumble through it. I now knew that I needed to be very professional and had to be able to competently communicate my message to the best of my ability or risk continuing to look like a bumbling fool.
I held up the flyer and began to speak. I had gotten maybe a mere two sentences out of my mouth before Lenny interrupted me. “Do you have anything to show me?” He said in a somewhat impatient tone. Of course he wasn’t being mean, he was busy and I was a nobody. I said that I did have some things to show him and that the products were in my truck. “Let’s go” he said to my surprise as he turned and began to walk towards the front door. As I followed behind I heard my inner voice speak these words, “Great, I’m pissing him off but at least he’s still going to see my products.” When we got to my truck, which had none of the trademark looks as it does today, I opened the door and grabbed a Tac-Tote filled with three weighted magazines. I had given many demonstrations on my truck before this moment and its paint job had the battle scars to prove it. I spoke a few sentences and smacked the magnetic Tac-Tote onto the side of the truck while continuing to speak about this product. In mid sentence I was interrupted by a single sternly spoken word. “Stop”. I gotta say that after getting this far my brain was now in high gear and I was ready to answer any questions that Lenny was about to ask. I was actually excited at the prospect of having a two way question and answer session. “How much stuff do you have, do you have all of it?” I was a bit thrown off by that but simply opened the trucks door again and pointed out what I had. “Grab all of it. Let’s go inside and use one of my trucks.” It was game on and I was thrilled.
We walked inside but instead of going directly to one of the many vehicles that were in different stages of completion, we went directly to someone’s office. It was there that I was introduced to Steve. I recognized the name immediately as belonging to that person that had for almost two years politely answered “No” to the many requests for a visit emails. After this introduction Lenny spoke words that I will never forget. “I want you to look at what he has because I’m pretty sure that we’re going to want to sell them.” Stay calm Rodney I said to myself. Don’t show how excited you are that he gets it. I was feeling this excited not because I was going to make a sale or even a possible future sale. What was initiating my excitement was the fact that Lenny had identified something. He had identified something in the products which convinced him to not only allow me inside, but had come to that conclusion with such an extremely limited explanation of the products and about a seconds worth of a demonstration. This was the very first time that I would feel an emotional high and receive confirmation that I was doing something truly worth doing. I had actually created a product line with real world value as seen through the eyes of a major player in the defense industry.
The three of us then walked to a Bearcat which was located close by and I was able to speak a little more in depth about the products. I placed a Tac-Tote onto the open rear doors of the vehicle as Lenny spoke these words. “We’ve been trying to figure out a good way to do this for years, and you’ve done it.” It was just getting better and better. Being as busy as he is, it did not take long before Lenny had to excuse himself leaving Steve and I alone with his permission to take as many pictures as I wanted on as many vehicles as I wanted.
“Now do you see why you could not come up all this time?” Steve said. My confusion to his statement must have been obvious and revealed clearly by my facial expression. My lack of an answer to his question made him continue. “Look around.” He said. I obeyed his request and looked around the facility. Seeing nothing, I began to get uncomfortable as I was apparently supposed to be seeing something obvious yet was failing to do so. “The signs, look at all the signs………No pictures.” “Ohhhhhh” I replied. “Yeah, Lenny is always extremely busy and when you email me asking if you can come up on that same day, most times he isn’t even here for me to ask. I could never just allow you to take pictures.” It made perfect sense now.
The day concluded having taken many pictures of my products on three different vehicles of theirs. I was pretty excited about my successful day but there was one thing that stood out among all of it. If that women at the front desk hadn’t taken the time to make that phone call it’s quite possible that none of this would have ever happened. I was nice, polite and understanding when I put her in the uncomfortable position to have to tell me to go away. Thankfully she was kind enough to return the favor.