Weird Work Travel V. 2: The Armpit of ‘Merica – Jacksonville, FL

“Both fragrant and moist” America’s Majestic Armpit, Jacksonville FL. Jax Bidniss Trip: December 2011

Walking across the street from my Springhill Suites suite to a TGI Fridays in Jacksonville for the 2nd night in a row, I realize I may have hit rock bottom. My marriage is pretty much over and I’m in Jacksonville, ‘doin’ business’ with some pretty vague directives and very little initiative. It’s pretty lonely here in Jax; and in my 48 hours I’ve yet to meet anyone doing anything particularly worthwhile.

Companies that distribute restaurant POS (Point-of-sale/ not necessarily Piece-of-sh*t) all seem to be located in tucked-away and dilapidated office parks. They also all seem to be run by sales guys. In my experience many of these sales guys tend to be over-sharers. Or perhaps there’s something about my personality that makes people want to drop way to much personal information on me within a short period of knowing me — it’s hard to say.

They share their financial difficulties (strange behavior with a new business partner) and how both the bottoming out of the real estate market and the unfair settlement their ex-wives received have decimated them.  They share the triumphs of their kids sports teams and prestigious educations taking place a long way away from wherever we are as well.

That being said, on a “get-to-know-you” trip like this they aren’t completely negative!! 🙂 They’re “real excited” not only about this new technology that’s both disruptive AND revolutionary! But most of all — that recurring revenue!!! I paraphrased some actual email communication there.

Jacksonville guys only want to talk about jaguars. Both the local NFL football team, as well as the plethora of 40-50 year old platinum blondes that overrun the local BW3s (more on that magical place, later).

The interim President of the company I’m working with has a background in the NFL and some vague connections to current and former players. Timmy Tebow was a part of his youth ministry. “I was his youth pastor.”

When he tells another story that illustrates Timmy’s character or preordained greatness his eyes glisten; not only from reverence of St. Timmy, but also out of some spite that little Timmy doesn’t come around much anymore and didn’t take ole’ Pres with him.

 “His teammates were going to Panama City or Mexico for spring break, to party like absolute kings. Do you know what Timmy was doin’? He was going to the Philippines. To help set up a ministry and to volunteer.

Did I mention that I was his youth pastor? It was obvious he was gonna be a star, and when I took him under my wing, I knew he had potential to be the greatest football player in history. He’s on that path right now. Eventually I think it’s gonna happen. He will lead this community to a NFL title. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later. We sure could use it.”

I don’t think anyone I worked with or met while I was in North Florida ever asked me a single question about myself, but that’s ok, I didn’t see ever-lasting friendship on the horizon with anyone I met.

At some point on this trip, after at least 2 trips to Buffalo Wild Wings (referred to solely as BW3’s), I’m relegated to ride-alongs with “his top rep”. I think all other reps are either in the hospital for some heart palpatations and diabetes or vacationing in Tampa. The great white city on the opposite coast.

 “Tampa’s soooo nice. Nicest titty bars in the State. Real classy girls though, not trashy at all.”

 I think he was about to drop a racial epithet. He debated it after dropping a mild one about the poverty in the downtown core of Jax – watching my reaction and not sure which side of that fence I might be on. Debating. Feeling me out.

 A little while into our drive from one end of Jax to the other we had run out of things to talk about. Jacksonville is the largest city in America by landmass and it takes about 45 minutes without traffic to traverse it. It’s real big, and the reasons are both disturbing and indicative of some of the vibe (mostly Jim Crow expansion).

We did have a really great coffee at a place on Jax Beach. Did I mention that Jacksonville has a large and beautiful coastal community? Probably not, and neither did anyone to me, until I suggested we go check it out. It’s nice.

Again, we run out of things to talk about, so…

“How’s Tampa? I’m debating whether I should expand distributorship into Tampa.”

“Oh man, Tampa’s great. Have you heard about the Tiiiitty Bars there? That’s what really differentiates the place. They’re so much classier than they are here in Jacksonville.”

Classy Strip Clubs sound like a reasonable determining factor for me. I was told that they aren’t called strip clubs in the south, they’re Tiiiitty Bars. Now you know so you won’t have to look unprofessional and ask why for that next time you are in the South on business. You’re welcome.

When I met back up with the interim Pres later he was eager to see me so he could redeem his free lunch of the day. “Let’s go to BW3 for lunch so we can hear about the huge news! There’s a new owner of the Jags and he’s a billionaire! …. aaaand maybe he’s of muslim descent*.” (*last bit whispered)

skitch_iphoto.export.skitch

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid “Shad” Kahn is a well-respected International businessman, but my colleagues in Jax were wiling to overlook that in the quest for a NFL championship.

Rewinding to the beginning of the trip: I arrived in Jax on a Sunday night with a full week of meetings/ride-alongs and trainings that I was conducting with various members of this company. I was looking forward to training them to sell our software and for us and to embark on successful and lucrative partnership. I was building a new model and a new channel and I was excited to see it finally practically applied.

When I showed up a little early for my first meeting the first day the inauspicious start should have given me more pause and directed me right back to the airport.

My first meeting showed up an hour and 15 minutes late. He was as amicable as he’d been over the phone and seemed like a powerful figure in the office, but he didn’t make any mention of his tardiness. He did have this bizarre conversation in front of me:

“Debbie comin’ in today?” to the receptionist, who answered with a feint shake of her head.

“No?? Oh, right did her husband have a heart attack last night?”

“Yeah. Massive one”

I decided to let it go and conduct our first meeting, which was really about planning and oversight. There was not much interest in planning or guidance. He didn’t care to see a high-level demo or really want to hear about our value proposition.

“Just go off with this guy ok? You guys will really hit it off – he’s my right hand.”

This guy that was his “right-hand” was really just a commission-only sales rep and we spent a relatively fruitless 2 hours together before I pretended like I had a call to make. They didn’t have any sales calls setup as promised for day 1 which was a big part of my strategy for training them. Day 2 we had a couple of customer visits that went ok and by the last day I started to feel like we had a little traction and that the company might actually succeed as a reseller. I guess you could say that’s a testament to me. Ok, I’ll say it.

As I’m wrapping my last day in Jax, feeling pretty good about our prospects, the Interim Pres, whom I believed to be the owner of the company the whole time, casually mentions, “I’m working on a deal to buy this place.”

This guy doesn’t own the place?!?!?

Three months later they still hadn’t sold anything to their customers and I cut them. A year later they were still in business, but the Interim Pres was long gone. There’s really no reason to go to Jacksonville unless you go to the beach. If you do go, please visit Breezy Coffee Shop Cafe in Jacksonville Beach – it really, truly is lovely.

Good strong coffee in a beautiful setting with friendly locals.

Breezy Coffee Shop Cafe on Urbanspoon

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