Monday, July 6, 2009

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Two: "Pre Dog" Part 3

For background on this serial, please click here.

You can also start at Part One of this chapter.

I was lucky enough to hold down a dream job – I was working as the marketing manager for a waterfowl hunting catalog. Imagine if you will whatever your deepest passion, and then imagine being able to work on a catalog business that supported that passion. Dream job, with a cherry on top. In my role, I was responsible for getting duck hunters to buy more merchandise from our catalogs and web sites. That meant a wide berth of responsibilities – everything including catalog design and layout, financial analysis, answering customer posts on our site bulletin board, copywriting, trade shows, and test driving the merchandise. Nothing was better than taking a minute to stop over to the merchandise area where the daily samples received made it, to quote one of our buyers, “like Christmas every day.”

Another one of my responsibilities was to establish critical relationships. This included negotiation with organizations like Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited, and also included interaction with a vast array of personalities known within the waterfowling and outdoor community. This community was made up of colorful characters that had parlayed their normal lives into ones in which they concentrated all of their efforts into hunting and/or fishing in order to make a living. Writers, video “stars,” and equipment manufactures made up this tight-knit community, and they shared a common passion of ducks and duck hunting.

One such individual was Randy “The Flagman” Bartz. Randy was renown in the waterfowling community for his "flagging" products. For those not in the know, flagging is leveraging a tool, akin to a flag or a child's kite, and manipulating it in such a what as to mimic the wing motion of landing geese. While it looks stupid and ineffective to the uninitiated, it can be incredibly effective, especially for wary geese that have been hunted hard.

Randy is unique in the marketplace in that he has basically no ego. The industry is filled with differing tiers of "celebrities," and unfortunately some of those tiers include total jerks. These are guys that are often seen on outdoor television, and feel like that exposure affords them some level of special treatment if not outright adulation. Unfortunately, the jerks far outnumber the good guys, but there are some great folks out there, including Phil Robertson, Al Lindner, Eli and Rod Haydel, and others. But of all of them, Randy was special. He is kind to a fault, hard working, with piercing blue eyes, and giant hands that totally engulfed yours anytime you shook them.

In working at Herter's, Randy and I spent a number of days representing the company at different outdoor shows and waterfowling events throughout the country. Trade show life is hard, and despite being 25 years my senior, Randy worked like a man half his age. There were a couple of shows that we did in Memphis in the middle of summer, outdoors, and they took a big physical toll. For example, prior to one day of the show, Randy and I bought a case of water at Wal-Mart, and completely finished it during the day. Despite this huge consumption, neither of us peed all day long. Through it all Randy busted his tail, and we established a bond based on some of the shared torture we endured.

It was during the lulls in the show and over beers afterwards where I found out that Randy ran a kennel, and had been raising Labradors for years. He did it out of his farm/office, and had been turning out some really great hunting dogs. I also confided my desire to someday get a dog, and promised I'd call him when the day came when I was ready.

Time passed, and while I still wanted to eventually get a dog, I was not making progress. As part of my job, I needed to monitor how our customer list was being used, and I established the name "Blitz Sidders" in the file with my address to make sure that those that rented our list used it appropriately. While my future dog was receiving mail at our address, she was nowhere close to coming to fruition.

That's about the time Randy called. "You ready for a dog yet?" he asked, half joking, half prodding. I stammered that I really hadn't cleared it with my wife and I wasn't sure and blah blah blah. "Listen," Randy said, "I have a litter that is ready next week. Good dogs from a good line. None are currently spoken for, so I'll give you pick of the litter and I'll charge you want I have into the pup in terms of feed and meds. $250. What do you say?"

Pretty much I was never going to find a deal better than this. I told him I'd need to verify with my wife, and would get back to him. Randy let me know that I needed to do so right away if I still wanted the pick of the litter, so I promised I'd call him the next day.

While my wife and I had discussed a dog in the future, we'd never got into the details. Our conversation that night over dinner was going to be intersting...

Go on to Part 4

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