When you are young, nothing seems impossible. (And I like to think that even when you are chronologically not-so-young, if you are young at heart, most things seem possible – but perhaps I’m a bit delusional.)
Back in the seventies, and for many years thereafter, my primary business was manufacturing and selling the once ubiquitous manually operated credit card machines used at point of sale. If you are at least 30, you’ve seen them.
When I got in to the business, Bartizan wasn’t even a speck on the radar as far as the other four competing manufacturers were concerned. Two were Fortune 500 companies. A third was a medium-sized public company. The fourth was a private company run by an experienced industry executive. By any measure, Bartizan was a pipsqueak.
There were a number of adventures – and misadventures – that turned Bartizan into a formidable competitor over the span of 20 years. A very important factor was our decision to participate in the credit card industry’s annual trade show organized by the American Bankers Association.
When we first participated in the mid-70s, our competitors didn’t take us seriously, which wasn’t a problem. The fact that few of our prospects took us seriously, well that was another matter.
The recent news that Encyclopedia Britannica will cease publishing brought me back to the time when my good friend from Britannica, Charlie Brocker, helped me make inroads with the banks that constituted the market for our equipment. Charlie truly was one of the most unforgettable characters you would ever meet.
I first met Charlie at one of the annual credit card industry trade shows. These were big events at which MasterCard and Visa entertained royally. Money was no object – to them. It sure was for me.
Charlie Brocker had been a WWII POW. A fireplug of a man with an ever- present grin, Charlie knew everyone, or perhaps more accurately, everyone knew Charlie. He was Britannica’s star salesman and a five-star bon vivant.
It was my good fortune to meet Charlie in Bartizan’s formative years. Charlie was perhaps 25 years or 30 years older than I.
Charlie became my mentor. Britannica maintained a lavish suite at each ABA credit card show. Charlie was always the host. Food was abundant, drinks even more so. The Britannica suite was a magnet. Everyone wanted to be invited. Lucky me, I always was. ‘Who do ya want to meet, Lew?”, Charlie would ask. In no time, I would be face to face with mister or miss big hitter. “I want ya to meet Lew, Sally. He has a wonderful product.” Chances were very good that Sally would drop by our booth the following day.
Through Charlie I met Bill Shaw, a credit card banker, at a trade show. Bill and I hit it off. Same age, both Air Force vets. At one of the annual ABA shows Bill showed up with his new bride. And I do mean new. They had just gotten married in New Orleans, the site of the show. Married? Without a reception? Before the day was out there was a reception – in the Bartizan suite. Bill had become a loyal Bartizan customer and a good friend – and it all started with Charlie Brocker.
Would any of this have been possible at a “virtual show”? Are you kidding? Nothing beats face-to-face. The best business, as with the best friendships, takes place face-to-face.