When I worked for McCormick and Co., Inc., originally we lived in the Nashville, TN area. However, in 1998, Bob was offered a opportunity to relocate to Naperville, IL, a southeast suburb of Chicago. At the time, I was the Southeast Regional Manager for my group. Thus, when not traveling, I worked from home. I was about to learn that timing is indeed, everything.
A few weeks before his offer, I asked my group manager if I needed to quit if Bob’s career took us to the Chicago area. It was a hypothetical question, to which my manager answered no.
Little did I or my manager know that question would become an actual one a few weeks later when Bob was interviewed and offered a position with a company just outside Chicago. It turned out that McCormick was already planning to reorganize the regions and that the Upper-Midwest Regional Manager had expressed a desire to move to Florida. Thus, the swap was an easy one.
We moved, and I adjusted to my new region while concurrently continuing to manage the Southeast region. Shortly after moving to Florida, the other regional manager suffered a heart attack.
A few years later, I caught wind of an unannounced opportunity within my group. The opportunity had to do with the Hispanic spice line, El Guapo packaged by a McCormick owned company, Mojave. Both the Mojave brand, and its sister brand, El Guapo, were two lines belonging to my group’s total product collection. I liked selling the Hispanic lines because they challenged me to identify potential markets to displace other local and regional brands.
Living in the Chicago area, which, at that time, held the second largest Hispanic population in the U.S., inquiring about the position was a no-brainer for McCormick and me. I had already proven my ability with the Mojave lines while managing the Southeast.
For example, the year before relocation, I managed to place 60 SKU’s (items) in the South Carolina-based Bi-Lo stores. I recall that accomplishment.
My scheduled meeting would take place the week following my vacation which was spent attending the Myrtle Beach, S.C. Spring Bike week. After my meeting, I left a message on my group VP’s voice mail. Shortly after that, I received a message left on the group’s “Good News Hotline.” That message was a congratulation directed at my accomplishment. However, shortly after listening to that message, my VP called me to ask why on earth I placed a Hispanic line in sixty-five stores in S.C. His bosses were asking him that same question. My answer was simple. “Well, Tom, let me put it this way. Last week I was in Myrtle Beach and at noon one day I was standing inside a Burger King. I was the only Gringo in the restaurant.”
Thus, when I asked about the unannounced opportunity, I was awarded the position. I immediately went to work placing products in stores in Chicago. At the time, my distributor and my broker were telling me there was no way that an unknown product was going to displace the brands already in those stores. That didn’t stop me. In fact, it inspired determination. I soon replaced a regional brand in a chain of twenty-four Delray Farm stores, at that time, the largest and only chain-type group of Hispanic stores in the Chicago Designated Market Area (DMA).
That led to McCormick charging me with finding a warehouse space and developing that space into a distribution/picking product warehouse. I suppose other people would have panicked. I didn’t panic at all. Instead, I went into a paying attention and resourceful mode.
The first thing I did was determine: if there are real estate companies that represent individual homeowners, then there must be real estate companies that represent commercial properties. I went on the Internet and found several. Soon, I found a 25,000 sq.ft. warehouse space in the outskirts of the largest Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago. My new boss made a visit with me to look over the property. He gave his approval and went back home to California.
Next, I was asked to look for and purchase two delivery trucks. Again, I had no idea what I was doing, but soon, did find and purchased two used trucks in excellent condition. Until the warehouse space was set up for operation, two delivery people and I worked out of a storage unit. I split up the 24 stores between the two individuals, who reset the 24 stores and began servicing them.
We needed to continue growing, however, if the operation was to flourish. So, I hired away from my broker a Mexican-born man who I named as my Manager of Operations. He took over supervising the two delivery people and became my main sales rep. He freed me up to organize and put together the warehouse space.
I had been in the manufacturing business for fifteen years. During that period, I called on numerous distributors. I knew what a warehouse looked like and had a general feel for the layout. With the help of a Mojave-based product consultant, I began to plan the layout. However, before the layout could become a reality, I needed to buy racks. I went to the Internet again and found a rack manufacturer and ordered enough racks to fill the 25,000 sq.ft. space. I also outsourced the construction of the racks.
As the warehouse space was under construction, I was asked to purchase a used forklift. This request completely stumped me. Where was I supposed to find a used forklift? I could easily find a new one, but McCormick wanted me to purchase a used one. Again I depended on my resourcefulness which paid off.
One morning, I left the warehouse to run an errand. As I rounded the corner of the warehouse in my car, I spotted two men unloading a produce truck. They were unloading the truck pallet by pallet, and what were they using to do this? Forklifts!
Instead of running my errand, I stopped and went into the building to find the company that employed the two men. I asked about the forklifts and was given the name of a man who not only sold used forklifts but also serviced them. Soon, we had a forklift and a person who could service the forklift.
Within a few months, we had a fully stocked product warehouse. We also had ten additional stores to service and two additional delivery/service employees.
A year later, I announced my early retirement. Bob and I were about to move back to the Nashville, TN area where I would go full-time developing a business I started on the weekends and worked on in the evenings.
A year later too, the warehouse was distributing product to over 100 stores, many of them having 1-4 mom and pop type stores in the Chicago DMA. Also, we had several more trucks and delivery/service employees.
When I first took this unannounced position, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I also had no idea how to accomplish what I was asked to do. It’s amazing how a little I can do this attitude can benefit a person. The small twist of irony to this story was the business I took early retirement to build.
It was a clothing line I named Iron Cowgirls. The ironic twist is reflected in the words of the line’s lifestyle philosophy:
WHO IS THE IRON COWGIRL?
She’s strong willed and
Independent. She’s as beautiful
Inside as she is outside. She’ll
Never take no for an answer; and,
When she’s told she can’t do it
Because she’s a girl, she’ll prove
You wrong every time. She loves
The thrill of the ride, and the
Romance of adventure. She’s you
And she’s me; but, most of all, she
Long Live the Iron Cowgirl!