Monday, August 27, 2012

The Colonel....a true original

Recently I detailed my recent discovery of Colonel Littleton, Ltd., a specialty company based in rural Tennessee that creates and sells some of the finest and most unique leather goods and other products that I've encountered.

Last week my endless business travels took me to the Nashville area, and I built in some time for a detour south to Lynnville, the home of Colonel Littleton's operations. I arrived there just after lunchtime and was disappointed to learn that the two people there with whom I'd corresponded, the retail store manager (who sent me a very nice e-mail that was not a form letter after my last order) and the company's director of sales and marketing (who wrote to tell me that they'd seen my last blog entry on Colonel Littleton and had shared with the staff) were both absent on the day of my visit.

A very nice woman named Charlene was holding down the fort in the retail store, which appears to be the hub of the Colonel Littleton operations in Lynnville, and she was most friendly and gracious when I arrived, and noted that she, also, had read my last blog entry with her employer as the subject.  She told me that both of my past contacts were out for various reasons, and I looked around the store a bit while she fielded a phone call or two.  I should share with you that the Colonel Littleton store looks and feels very much like an old general store might have seemed back in the 1870s, and that certainly isn't an accident.  Creaky wooden floors, wooden tables and cabinetry to display the various wares, and a lot of artifacts implying the age of the space, if not the current occupant.  Anyway, I finally asked Charlene if the Colonel happened to be around at the time, and she told me that she'd check, and then said he'd be over shortly.

The door opened and a woman entered, followed closely by a very tall gentleman wearing a baseball cap and a distinctive white mustache....it was Colonel Garry A. Littleton, live and in person.  I introduced myself, he did the same and also introduced his assistant.  He then told me that he had enjoyed my last blog entry and mentioned the same to those around us, and thanked me for my recognition of his business.

Then, to my surprise, he asked me if I had a few minutes, and spent nearly an hour showing me around the store, the stockroom, and the adjacent buildings that house the Colonel Littleton departments that handle such areas as shipping, custom engraving and embossing, customer service, graphic design and other functions.  Everyone I met was not only cordial but friendly and most welcoming (which I found a pleasant change from what I normally see when I tour places of business for my "day" job).  During my tour we stopped for a visit with a genial fellow named Bud, who, it turns out, embossed my initials on my previous purchases and asked me, "How's your conduct?"  As it happens, this is kind of a catch phrase in that part of the world, and the Colonel produced a sticker asking the same question, and Bud later rounded up a card explaining the whole thing.  I now know how to answer that question, by the way.

During the tour the Colonel showed me parts of their storefront operations that have yet to be opened, but there are some exciting plans for new product lines in the works that I won't reveal here, but I will tell you that everything the Colonel showed me or mentioned seems a very natural extension of their current product offerings.

I found all of this fascinating, of course, but the fascination deepened when I accompanied the Colonel across the street to a nondescript two-story building next to the railroad tracks that the Colonel referred to as his offices.  The building is actually a garage where he tinkers with old cars (the most impressive of which was a vintage 1972 Chevrolet Corvette) and uses his massive collection of things old and unique as inspiration for new products to be offered by his company.  Leather samples, saddles, World War II navigator's cases, watch faces and a host of other items frequently lead the Colonel to a new product or a new spin on a more common one.  Quite something.

I told the Colonel on our way back to the main store that I was impressed with his team, and he mentioned that he felt it was very important to treat people the right way, and that shows in the work that they do and their dedication to taking care of customers.  I heartily agree, as I try to employ the same practices in my work as a sales manager, I told him.

We wound up back in the store, where Bud had relieved Charlene for a time, and the Colonel and I said our goodbyes.  He insisted that I "stop in again" if I was in the area in the future, and I promised that I would (and I will).  Then Bud and I began to chat and while I very much wanted to buy one of the wonderful business bags that the Colonel sells, I decided to make my purchase for the day a little more modest, settling on a leather mouse pad.  Bud told me that he would pick out a piece that "has some character" and I confirmed that I wanted this piece personalized, as are my other Colonel Littleton items.  He left after Charlene returned and came back with a wonderfully grained leather mouse pad with a brass medallion bearing my monogram.  I also bought a No. 48 Phone Holster, just like mine, for  a friend, and both were packaged very nicely and accompanied by the Colonel's signature cards explaining things about their company and philosophies, and even a mini Moon Pie with each item.

I'm sure that in a couple of phone calls and upon my return home Friday evening I wore my wife down considerably with my recollections of this visit, but she could certainly see and understand my delight with the experience.

I cannot recommend this "purveyor of fine accouterments in the Americana tradition" more highly.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's all relative

Good or bad, stuff happens that makes us shake our heads, doesn't it?  I have a little cross-section of these types of things to share.

For instance, I was on a flight for home from Charlotte this time last Thursday, and while we were taxiing, the plane jerked to a stop and the flight attendant announced that our flight had been CANCELLED.  Not delayed, CANCELLED.  This was due to inclement weather in Lexington, we were told.  I called my wife, who indicated that the weather was clear at that moment and rain was due in the early evening, but that was several hours after my flight was due to land.  

Then when I went to be rebooked (that's the airline terminology for "get me the hell out of here") I was advised that I would have to wait for the same flight on Friday.  So I called our corporate travel agency, who booked me on the first flight out the following morning on a different airline.  But that left me in Charlotte on a day trip without a change of clothes, medicine, toiletries or even the cords to charge my phone and other equipment. 

Same travel agency found me a hotel room with a chain where I have privileges, and that hotel was gracious enough to supply me at least with toothpaste, a toothbrush and deodorant, so that helped.

The original airline?  They still haven't refunded the return end of my ticket as promised a week ago.

Here's another one.  I just returned from a checkup at the dentist.  They always apply fluoride at the end of my visit, yet my current dental insurance NEVER pays for fluoride treatment.  And no dental insurance that I've ever had pays for it.  Wouldn't you think that providing preventative care would be a GOOD thing in the long run?

And another:  I have satellite radio.  Love it, by the way, but love it less when the annual bill comes due.  We started this when we bought my wife's car in 2005, as it came with it and we kept it after the free introductory period.  Then I bought one that I could use as an add-on in my car.  Then I traded that car for one that was also equipped with it, so then I had three radios.  I had planned to cut off the add-on, which I now only use in the house, and only recently found that they have an Internet based option that I can listen to via my computer, iPad or even some smartphones.  And it's cheaper than the add-on radio's service plan.  Guess what I'll be doing sometime soon?

Heading to Cincinnati shortly with my son to see my beloved Reds (or, I should say, my beloved DIVISION-LEADING Reds!).  He has two kids under the age of three, so we don't get to do this as often as we used to.  Looking forward to a good time.  But I went through some confusion regarding the tickets and so forth, as I was using the Reds website to purchase them, but it wouldn't allow me to print them at home (which I prefer to standing in line to obtain tickets I already bought, but that's just me).  So I went to StubHub, where people resell their tickets, and was able to find two at a good price in a good location and I WAS able to print the tickets online.  So hopefully they're not counterfeit or anything.

So, we'll continue to take the good with the bad, I suppose.  What else can we do?



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Citius, Altius, Fortius

Have you been watching the Summer Olympics in the past couple of weeks?  We have at our house, at least some of the time.  Here are some impressions I've gained....
NBC is being vilified for doing what networks covering the Olympics have done for 50 years....that is, craft the day's highlights into a packaged television show designed to satisfy the largest audience possible.  There are a lot of people complaining in a lot of venues (most of them online) that in this age of instant information and social media and so forth that NBC has an obligation to show everything live, and then still repackage various events for prime time consumption.  Of course, those doing the complaining are the ones who probably have the opportunity to watch, say, track and field live, as it's happening.  Most everyone else whom NBC and its advertisers hope to reach are working during the core hours of the afternoon, so their strategy is still designed for people who can't watch events live.
And you CAN watch this stuff live, just online.  That only happened with these Games.
I tuned in yesterday to watch a bit while I was having lunch and saw some women's water polo (what a physically demanding sport that is!) and a little volleyball (the real thing, not the beach volleyball that's become so popular in the past couple of Games).  Fun.  Particularly since I don't really have an ongoing interest in either sport.
That brings me to another area of concern.  NBC has narrowed things down to so few sports that they'll show during prime time that one wonders if the Olympics consist only of women's gymnastics, swimming, diving, beach volleyball, and a little track and field.  That seems to be the menu most evenings, and it's compelling.  My wife, who's not a real sports fan except for Kentucky basketball, LOVES watching this stuff, giving up an hour of sleep most nights to see who won what.  So I would have to think that the key to ratings success with the Olympics is to create the human interest aspects of these athletes' stories to interest women who ordinarily could care less about sports.
This technique was pioneered by ABC back in the '70's ("up close and personal--the ABC way") and NBC has continued that practice.  Unfortunately, though, it backfires occasionally.  I almost find myself rooting AGAINST someone that NBC has so thoroughly canonized (like swimmer Ryan Lochte) and cheering instead for unknowns or surprisingly great competitors.  In the men's swimming events, it was assumed that Lochte would be the dominant force for the American team.  No, once again, and for the last time, it was Michael Phelps, who had begun to appear that his best days were behind him.  NBC pivoted quickly with their emphasis, but it was obvious.
The American women's swim team was the great revelation of these games.  Mostly young women, all quite talented and most gracious whether in victory or defeat.  They embody all of the best qualities of Olympic athletes.
My comments wouldn't be complete without a couple of thoughts on the women's gymnastics.  Of course NBC emphasizes the American team over all others, since Americans are their audience.  But do they have to make this into some kind of televised catfight between teenagers, that this has devolved into?  It doesn't help that one or two are lionized above the others, and when one of the others is recognized she's simply added to the select group upon whom the coverage concentrates.
And frankly, if I hear one more word from Tim Daggett or Elfie Schlagel about what good sports these girls are, I may have an adverse reaction.  Big time gymnastics is a real pressure cooker, from all appearances, and every one of these girls who reach this stage realize that there are literally millions of dollars in endorsements and appearance fees up for grabs, at least for the American athletes.  Tough environment, made tougher by a fawning and critical media.
So enjoy the rest of the Games....

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Colonel

A while back (a month, or more) I happened upon a product that I found surprising and impressive in many unexpected ways.  Allow me to explain....

Some years ago, I bought a BlackBerry Storm smartphone and purchased a holster that was designed for it.  Since that time I have been issued a couple of BlackBerry phones by my employer, and each was accompanied by a holster that I didn't much care for, so I had continued to use my old one for these last two phones.  But the belt clip began to stretch out and not remain secured, and I just got tired of it.

So on a Saturday morning my wife and I were out running errands and I told her that I wanted to visit Lexington's Orvis dealer, a very nice store called The Lexington Angler.  If you're not familiar, Orvis is a purveyor of various men's and women's clothing, luggage and other accessories, and their core products involve fishing and other outdoor living items.  Anyway, I suggested this store because I knew Orvis sells high quality and often unique items, and in we went.

Talked with a very nice man about a couple of items they had in stock and then I began to inquire about leather holsters for phones.  He showed ...me some items from Orvis' website and I spotted one in particular that seemed nice.  Lightly finished brown leather with a ball-stud closure and a design that allows the wearer to run his belt through the rear of the case, ensuring that it won't come off.  Plus, the sales associate told me that they could order it for me, and add my initials, with no additional cost or any obligation to purchase the item if for any reason I didn't find it to my liking.  And I wasn't even asked to pay for it in advance.

As an astute reader, you're wondering what this has to do with a Colonel.  Bear with me.

I got a call that my new leather phone holster had arrived, and it was VERY nice indeed.  My wife went with me and we even size-tested it for an iPhone, which I hope to acquire sometime down the road.  Really impressive.

Then I began to look at this a little more closely, and I noticed some embossed wording on the reverse side of the case.  My new phone holster is actually the "Col. Littleton No. 48 Phone Holster."  Who, you may ask, is Col. Littleton?  I wondered the same thing, so I read some of the literature that came with the carton.  Turns out that Col. Littleton is a person but also the name of a company that started out making custom high-end cuff links and one-of-a-kind pocket knives, but they gradually moved into making high-quality leather goods like phone holsters, wallets, portfolios, briefcases and other related items.

The clever verbage in the inside literature reminded me of a more down-to-earth J. Peterman (not the guy on "Seinfeld," but the real merchant with the exotic product descriptions), describing the product but also how it should make the user FEEL.

Interesting.

They're based in Lynnville, Tennessee, a few miles south of Nashville, just off I-65.

So, needless to say, I was quite pleased with my new case, and enjoyed my first week or two of usage. Then my wife mentioned having seen a really unique-looking iPad case in one of the magazines to which she subscribes (I think it was part of a feature concerning Dad-and-grad gift ideas) and, lo and behold, it was also a Colonel Littleton creation.  I did a little research and found that it's called the No. 5 Pocket for iPad.

Back I went to the Lexington Angler to ask them to order this item for me as well.  I liked the idea of spending that money with a local merchant, yet still getting the quality product that I wanted.  My new iPad case arrived in just a couple of days, and it's another astounding product!   I took it on my last couple of trips and it's with me on my current business journey as well.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, so to speak, I'm really interested in one of their briefcases or something equally substantial.  Great workmanship, American-made and products with a lot of character, too!  Check them out online or on YouTube (wonderful product descriptions with ample humor and a great sense of fun).




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