Sometimes traveling can be a grind. I bet you didn’t expect me to say that. Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting our members. In fact, it’s my favorite part of my job. It’s just that sometimes, traveling is easy—I fly into a city, check into my hotel, and within a short drive, I can visit several members. That was not the case this month. It took four airports and over twelve hours of driving to visit five members.
The first leg of my journey was Chicago to Dubuque. It takes about three hours by car and really is a lovely drive, especially as I approached the Mississippi River. There, the road begins to wind through the hills and bluffs of historic towns like Elizabeth and Galena. The sun was shining, the radio was turned up, and I had plenty of time to enjoy the drive and the scenery on my way to visit McCoy NationaLease. Once I arrived at McCoy, I had the chance to meet with Jeff Herkert, Jim Kane, Kyle Neumann, Craig Porter, Eric Poffenberger, and Cam Wolfe. We had a great discussion about the purchasing programs with our vendor partners and how they can best utilize these resources. They gave me some great suggestions to improve our programs even further, which I always appreciate. I left Dubuque and headed back home. On the way back, the three hour drive wasn’t quite as much fun, as it was getting dark and I was getting weary of driving. I made it home safe and sound, not to mention tired and hungry.
The second leg of my March travels took me from Chicago to LaCrosse, Wisconsin. I met Dean Vicha, President of NationaLease, at the airport for the early, but quick flight. Once in LaCrosse, Dean and I sat down with the group from River States NationaLease. Since they had some new members on their team, we shared a complete overview of NationaLease’s value to our members, including Reciprocal Service, purchasing, National Accounts, and all the meetings, educational opportunities, and other resources NationaLease provides. Joe Laux, Todd Bahnub, Darin Bishop, Ron Albrecht, and Cam Halverson joined us as we reviewed and discussed how NationaLease could assist them in achieving their company’s goals. After our meeting, we continued our discussion over lunch at Manny’s Cocina before heading back to the airport. Due to the limited number of flights between Chicago and LaCrosse, we had a few hours to kill in the airport until our flight departed. Fortunately, the airport bar served both fried cheese curds and Spotted Cow, two of Wisconsin’s finest delicacies.
For the third and final leg of my expedition, I started with a flight from Chicago to Chattanooga. As we were about to land, I looked out the window and was delighted to see that it was spring in Tennessee. The green grass and pink, yellow, and white flowering trees were a season apart from the dead gray branches and brown grass I left behind in Chicago. I checked into my hotel and logged into my computer for a few hours of work before I walked to a nearby Italian restaurant for some spaghetti and meatballs. The next morning, I drove over to Lesco NationaLease and met with Brent Goldberg and Ken Champlin. We had a great discussion about their business and the opportunities and challenges they currently face. We talked about Electronic Logging Devices, a hot topic as we approached the end of the rental exemption that the Truck Rental and Leasing Association (TRALA) secured for the industry. We also reviewed some of the upcoming NationaLease meetings, including the Maintenance Managers’ Meeting in Charlotte in May (insert link), and the Financial Officers Meeting in San Antonio in October (insert link). I left Lesco and headed out on the six hour drive across the state from Chattanooga to Memphis. I heard someone comment that Tennessee is half a state long and four states wide. I can sure vouch for that after spending most of the day driving across the width of the Volunteer State. At least I had sunshine and green leaves to look at along the way.
Once I got to Memphis and checked into my hotel, I had just one thing on my mind: barbeque! I found the nearby Three Little Pigs and ordered a pulled pork platter which came with fried okra, onion rings and hush puppies. Definitely not a heart-healthy meal, but worth every bite! When I woke up the next morning it was pouring rain. Fortunately, I just had a couple of miles to drive to get to the new Tag Truck Center. They were having an open house, and even the rain couldn’t keep away the droves of people coming to check out the state-of-the-art dealership and leasing facility. With 71 service bays on a 113 acre plot, the site is pretty hard to miss, and when you add food trucks, an enormous tent, and the University of Memphis cheerleaders and mascot, Pouncer, it was quite a spectacle. I had a great time meeting lots of new friends, as well as quite a few of our vendors, and of course Tommy Earl and Gary Dodson, the owners of Tag. Tag actually stands for Tommy and Gary. From there, I stopped by Daco NationaLease and saw my old buddy Richard Fitzgerald, Operations Manager for Daco. I met Richard at the very first NationaLease Maintenance Managers Meeting I attended several years ago in Kansas City. It was great to catch up with him and hear how busy they are right now.
With time on my hands since my flight didn’t leave until the next morning, I decided to see what cuisine other than barbeque I could find in Memphis. I was in luck when I found Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. Located in a cute bungalow, the staff of the restaurant made me feel right at home from the moment I pulled up to the front door and a young man ran out with an opened umbrella to escort me inside. The food was as beautiful as it was delicious. The first course of Giardini was four small plates of vegetables that made me wish I could hire the chef to cook vegetables for me every day. Eating dinner in the cozy room watching the rain come down on the restaurant’s garden was the perfect end to my long journey.
Thomas Edison once said, “The reason most people do not recognize an opportunity when they meet it is because it usually goes around wearing overalls and looking like Hard Work.” Our NationaLease members exemplify the ability to spot those very opportunities. Each of our 145 owners has a story to tell about how they (or their father, or grandfather, or great-grandfather) started with nearly nothing but the ability to work hard and do whatever it took to delight their customers. That work ethic is just as evident with our members today, as they continue to add new locations and increase their fleets year after year. If you read my blogs, you probably don’t think my job sounds much like hard work. For the most part, you’d be right. I have the privilege of working with the best team of coworkers I have ever had, providing support to our NationaLease members, who I admire (and sincerely like). I get to see places that I have never seen, have new experiences, and eat lots of great food. It’s really a pretty good gig. But on the days that I don’t want to get out of bed at 3:00 am, or face a 6 hour drive, or go through another airport security line, it’s not that hard to spot the opportunity disguised as hard work. On the other end of the journey I know I’ll see a friend, and I might even get some cheese curds out of the deal.