(Forgot where we left off? Re-read Episode 4)
The lingering smell of cigarette smoke that permeated the air of the Las Vegas strip kept Bob company as he waited to check in to his hotel. The velvet ropes and chandeliers of the Paris lobby almost made a person forget that fifteen yards to the right, bachelorette parties and out-of-towners were screaming wildly as they threw their money away on games of chance. Not that Bob could judge them. He’d thrown close to a grand on his own gamble, with far less enjoyment to show for it.
“Next.” The young woman in the blazer smiled at him.
Bob stepped up to the counter, rolling his suitcase behind him. “Robert Martin, checking in.” He put his driver’s license and credit card down in front of him.
She smiled again, and the keys of her computer clicked away quietly. After a long pause, she frowned.
God damn it. “Is there something wrong with my reservation?” Technology had been failing him left and right. At this point, Bob wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up sleeping on a bus bench.
“You’re here with the RV dealers convention?” She asked.
She frowned again, and more keys clicked. “It looks like you weren’t given the convention rate, which means we’re charging you too much. If you’re in a hurry, we can fix it at check-out but if you have a minute, it’s simpler if I take care of it now before I check you in.”
For a moment, Bob was stunned and he didn’t know why. It took a minute to realize this was the first good surprise he’d had in weeks. “Um, yeah. Yeah, that’s fine.”
The woman smiled one more time and began rapidly typing. Bob snuck glances at the other people checking in, seeing if he recognized anyone. The only familiar sight was half a dozen advertisements for RV Superstore alongside the welcome signs for the conference goers. They were everywhere.
The desk attendant slid his keycard and a map across the counter. “You’re all set. Enjoy your stay, Mr. Martin.”
“Thank you.” He’d do his best, but if his room managed to somehow be sponsored by RV Superstore, he was going to lose it.
A quick stop by the room—appropriately Paris themed, much to Bob’s relief—to drop off his luggage, and Bob was back on his way down to convention registration. While he waited in yet another line surrounded by Superstore ads, he texted an old veteran dealer he’d become friends with a few conferences back.
Hey Ron. I’m down at registration. Give me a call when you get in if you’re not here already.
The line advanced and Bob was handing over his ID again just as his phone chimed a reply.
What registration? In St. Louis? Senile old curmudgeon. At seventy, it was probably high time Ron retired, but he’d sworn to everyone who would listen that he’d give up selling RVs when he was dead and not a moment sooner.
For the conference. In Las Vegas, Bob typed back. He got his registration packet and moved on, finding a stand-up table near a bar to wait for Ron to come find him.
After a long couple minutes, the phone chimed again.
You didn’t hear. I closed my doors a few months ago. Just couldn’t keep it open anymore with business the way it was.
Bob’s hands went still on his phone. Ron was a legend in the business. He’d practically invented selling RVs. If he couldn’t stay in business, how could anyone stand a chance?
Glad to hear you’re still in it, though. Don’t let those Superstore bastards get you, too. Give ‘em hell.
He didn’t know what to say. The threat of losing his lot had felt real, certainly, but it had been a distant real. He still had a decent amount of money in savings, and there were a lot of things he hadn’t tried yet to get the business back on its feet. But Ron had probably felt that way, too. Right up until he lost it all.
I will, Bob texted back. And he meant it. He’d come to the conference intending to find a plan B, but with Ron’s words fresh in his mind he swore to himself then and there he would not get back on the plane home without one.
On the last full day of the conference, Bob had just finished a panel on financing—sponsored by RV Superstore, of course—and all he wanted was to go back to his room for a drink and a nap when a sign outside the ballroom caught his eye.
Increase Sales by 37% with Email Marketing
Speaker: Ken Mahar of Email Broadcast
Champagne Conference Room #2
Thursday at 4:00 pm
Bob checked his watch. Ten minutes until it started. It could be a racket, just like that list he bought, but then again it could be just what he was looking for.
He’d never know if he didn’t go.
Backtracking across the concourse, he made it to the right conference room with two minutes to spare and grabbed a seat at the back. It wasn’t standing room only, but most of the seats were full. It was nice to know he wasn’t the only one trying to figure out this whole new marketing thing.
The room quieted as a man about Bob’s age stepped up to the front of the room. He looked out across the crowd, meeting each person’s eyes for a split second. Then he spoke.
Want to hear what Bob heard? Check out one of Ken’s presentations.
When the talk ended, the room started clearing. Most people headed for the doors, discussing dinner plans and tomorrow’s schedule, but a few handfuls lingered, waiting to talk to the speaker. Bob joined their number, hanging back until everyone else had said their piece and moved on.
“How’d you like the presentation?” Ken asked him when they were alone in the room. He’d finished packing up his computer and the rest of his materials, but he didn’t look like he was in a hurry to leave.
Bob stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I liked it—I did. A lot of what you said made sense.”
“But?” Ken asked.
But. But was right. “That stuff you said…I bought a list last week, and my nephew sent out an email to them.”
“I’m guessing it didn’t go well.”
Bob laughed. “That’s an understatement. Is that the sort of thing that can be fixed, or am I just screwed?”
“Anything can be fixed,” Ken answered. “It’s just a matter of how much time you have, and how much you’re willing to commit to doing it right.”
“You mean how much money I’m willing to commit.” A sour taste filled Bob’s mouth. His bank account was pretty healthy, but there weren’t many things he hated quite the way he hated sending money out the door.
Ken laughed. “Money is part of it—we don’t work for free—but that’s not your main investment. It’s a mindset shift, and not all of it has an immediate payout. It does work, if you let it, but it means changing the way you think about things a bit.”
If the last couple weeks had taught him anything, it had definitely taught him that. The way Bob was used to doing things wasn’t going to work anymore. He nodded toward one of the many RV Superstore ads that seemed to cover every square foot of the conference. “I’m up against some pretty heavy hitters.”
“Sounds like you could use a heavy hitter of your own, then.”
He certainly could, he just couldn’t afford to be burned again. They could recover from throwing money at one bad idea, but if he started stringing them together…that was the road to ruin.
“Tell you what.” Ken reached in his pocket and held out a card. “Take my card and give me one of yours. I’ll send you some info, and if it makes sense to you—give me a call. We can do a consultation and I’ll tell you exactly where I think we can help you.”
That sounded like sense already. Bob handed over one of his cards and thanked the guy, before heading back out onto the concourse.
The newer conference goers had been cutting loose all week, but with the workshops finally over and most people heading home the next day, some of the more seasoned attendees had started doing the same. A few guys Bob knew called out to him, inviting him to come drink with them. He waived them off with an excuse.
A decade ago, he’d have been right there with them, leading the pack, but tonight he just wanted to order room service, catch up on his emails now that Jackson had managed to fix his inbox, and get a good night’s sleep. With layovers and the drive back from the airport, he wouldn’t get home until late tomorrow and he needed to be on the lot bright and early Saturday morning.
He was just passing through the part of the lobby that had decent cell reception when his email alert rang out.
Alan at RV Superstore Have you thought any more about the Grand Tour?
Jenny Granados PLEASE REMOVE ME FROM YOUR LIST
Ken Mahar Here are those tips I promised you, Bob.
Bob ignored the first one, cringed at the second one, and opened the third. He’d made some mistakes, but he wasn’t going out like Ron.
He could do this. He could make his business successful in the digital age.