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.

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