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Our Weekend in Lexington Kentucky

Our annual visit to see my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and niece, brought us to Lexington, Kentucky this year.  Last year he accepted a position at the University of Kentucky as a professor of micro biology.  To be honest I don’t know exactly what he does, but in conversations with him I’ve picked up that he gets to play with swabs and petri dishes in an effort to grow and study cultures, and discover cures for diseases (sounds really cool but its way over my head). He and his wife have an adorable daughter, who will be three in December. Their daughter, our niece, is absolutely a gas to be around and is full of energy, songs, and funny laughs. This year marked the first year that my wife and I were making the trip with a child of our own, so needless to say I was concerned with how the 500 mile drive would go with a two month old baby on board.  Our daughter Lillian is not the biggest fan of her car seat so I was dreading the 8-10 hours in the car.  Even a 30 minute ride in the car can seem like an eternity when she has one of her infamous melt downs.  Before we actually had our daughter, so many parents gave us oodles of “advice”, some of which went a little like this:

“Babies love the car ride; it puts them to sleep every time. Just put them in the car seat, drive around the block a few times, and just like that…Lights out!”

This couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least for Lillian. I am sure some of you new parents out there can relate.  Countless other couples with children giving you the low down on what to expect, how to remedy this and that, and how great their baby was, we get it your kid is or was perfect.  Thanks for the advice *gives the thumbs up* our baby seems to defy the odds, and plays by her own rule book.  My guess is most kids do too.  You know what?  My wife and I are ok with that, we have a healthy, happy baby and we love her to pieces.

Ok back to the story (easily distracted when discussing our new bundle of joy), Lillian seems to do ok when moving in the car, but if we have to stop or slow down, which happens quite often while driving, she becomes upset/ frustrated and the waterworks start.  Driving with ear plugs seemed like a dumb idea until little Lillian came into my life.  Let’s just say I don’t do well with crying, especially a crying wife and or baby.  I could probably write a few stand alone blog posts on all of the unsolicited advice we received, which really didn’t fit the bill for our little one.  As I said before she defiantly is writing her own rule book.  I have come to learn that every child is unique and reacts to things differently, period.  Thanks anyway guys; you know who you are. (No hard feelings).

It turns out we made some pretty good time on our way down to Lexington, approximately nine hours in the car, with minimal stoppage.  Lillian did surprisingly well, much better than expected, with tantrums a plenty but quickly calmed by mom in the back seat.  Once we arrived, all of us were really hungry, and we decided to check out a favorite restaurant called The Pub in Lexington.  Seems to only be a few of these around (random states), but they have some amazing food and fantastic beer selection.  My choice was the London broil which was delicious; several adult beverages also accompanied my entre.  After dinner we returned to the house we were staying at for some relaxation and conversation with the family we seldom see.  Bedtime care early, it was a long day.

Friday morning came and I was really looking forward to the ride I had planned.  Thanks to a tweet I put out requesting some ride suggestions around Lexington about a week earlier, I had several options from local Twitter folks that ride in the area.  I am really amazed at how useful Twitter can be for travelers and really demonstrates how tightly the online community works to help each other.  After careful consideration the ride suggestion I chose to do was a scenic route through miles and miles of pristine horse farms.

The above picture is a great example of the views from my ride; this happened to be one of the flatter sections but trust me there were hills, and plenty of them.  The ride took me through some of the nicest farms I have ever seen, light years above the run down cow farms I am used to seeing in Wisconsin.  These Lexington farms must have each been hundreds of acres large all encompassed by these beautiful black fences, that seem to stretch on as far as the eye can see.  Every driveway is gated with immaculate ironwork gates keeping out any would be creepers and or race horse paparazzi.  One of the properties I rode by had over fifteen entrances to the multiple homes and horse barns scattered about it.  They were definitely all for the same property as they all contained the same ironwork and brass insignias on the stone supporting each gate.  It’s really incredible how serious some people are about horses.

I saw an army of uniformed grounds keepers (all of which look to be from south of the border) maintaining the miles and miles fence line by weed whacking, grass cutting, and generally keeping these properties uber manicured.  They literally were trimming around each fence post and from the lack of black paint at the bottom of each post it is clear that this process is completed on the regular. From my observations along the ride, the barns on these farms are as nice as or nicer than some of the high end modern homes I have seen back in Wisconsin.  The barns actually look like model homes themselves, and are clearly heated and air conditioned. Let’s just say these racing horses have it good, really good.

I continued on my ride through the country side, impressed as can be with the quality of the roads, all of which seemed to have been recently resurfaced.  It was like riding on glass, so smooth and effortless, unless a hill was involved.  The roads did lack one thing however; a shoulder or somewhere a cyclist could feel safe away from passing cars.  These narrow country roads were definitely not designed with cyclists in mind.  On a positive note there were hardly any cars encountered but several passing pickup trucks with horses in tow were a frequent sight.

A couple hours in to my “Tour De Lexington” now, and I am concerned that my loop has not completed just yet.  From what I can tell from my simple turn by turn paper directions and the miles on my odometer I should be returning to my car sometime soon.  I ride on for a bit longer, something is not right – I must have missed a turn. I was lost.  Lost on Kentucky back roads, with no traffic, and not seeing anyone who looks as if they can speak English.  I start to worry a bit.  I have my phone with me but would my wife even be able to drive out to find me?  I keep riding for a bit longer hoping to find a gas station or some form of commerce to stop and get my bearings.  Nothing.  However, now enter Lawrence.

Off in the distance another cyclist, coming towards me, slowly, but toward me none the less.  Perhaps he knows these roads?  Perhaps he has a map?  We finally meet up, his name was Lawrence.  Lawrence, oh how can I describe Lawrence? Let me start with his bike.  I could hear it from about 100 ft away, the creaking and moaning of a chain that hasn’t seen any lubrication in years.  Upon closer inspection he was riding a vintage hybrid bike that had been around for while based on the faded paint and rusty parts.  In my mind I was shocked someone would have the courage to take a bike in this condition out into the middle of nowhere, but Lawrence sure did.  How he did not have a mechanical failure is beyond me but that’s not the point here.  Did he have a map, could he help me?

We’re getting there, but let me describe Lawrence the man for you first.  He was an elderly gentleman, very tall and lanky.  Unshaven and teeth that could kill a wild animal – they were all over the place.  One characteristic was the most memorable however; the smell.  I don’t know if Lawrence’s riding clothes had been washed in as many years as he owned his bike.  The stink of hot sweat and body odor just radiated from this man; mind you it was about 90 degrees outside and he had obviously been riding for a long time.  I stopped, he stopped, and we discussed the fact that I might be lost.  I took out the turn by turn directions I had printed the night before, now smudged from being taken in and out of my back jersey pocket.  At this point they were useless and not really usable, but from what I gathered I should have finished my loop by now.  Lawrence gave me a stern lecture about how he always carries a map, and that I should too because of situations like this. He took out his map for me, unfolded it, and we reviewed the back roads of Lexington.  Thank god the map was laminated or the perspiration that saturated Lawrence’s clothing would have mad a mess of that paper map.

After reviewing the map with him it was clear that I did in fact miss a turn, the one that would pop be back out over by my car, instead took me the opposite way where I met our man Lawrence.  I guess he was right, a map would have helped.  We rode the remainder of the way back to my car together, as he filled the time with knowledge about horse farms, and Kentucky back roads.  I learned random things such as the black fencing that lines the horse farms costs $10,000 a mile.  For the next 30 minutes I guess you could say we bonded.  When he wasn’t talking all I could hear was the squeaking from his neglected bicycle.  Finally I finished my loop and we pulled into the parking lot where my car was.

He again discussed the importance for carrying a map at all times when riding.  I agreed that it is something I should have thought of, and thanked him for helping me to get back to my car.  Then it came, something I had been dreading the entire time we were talking on the ride to the car.  Out came Lawrence’s hand covered in a biking glove completely saturated in years of sweat and stink.  At his point I couldn’t avoid it, after all he did help me get back to my car.  I reluctantly shook his hand, and with his grasp it was like a sponge releasing its contents onto my skin.  I again thanked him, holding back the urge to gag right then, and he rode off into the distance.  As my water bottles were empty having drank them both on the ride, I needed something to get Lawrence’s left over’s off of my hand.  It was one of the grossest things I have ever smelled.  I popped open the trunk of my car and found a half full diet Mt. Dew bottle.  I poured it all over my hand in an attempt to wash off the sweaty remnants left behind by Lawrence’s handshake.  It worked somewhat, but I was not fully satisfied until I had a shower back at my brother in laws house.  What a ride.

Upon returning back to my brother in laws, I was advised that our baby Lillian needed to go to be seen by a doctor as she was having cold like symptoms.  As she is only 2 months old her doctor back home said we needed to have her seen as colds in young babies can turn bad fast.  My wife was unable to find an urgent care locally so our only choice was to take Lillian to the ER at the University of Lexington.  So that’s how we spent our afternoon, a few hours waiting in the ER so our little one could be seen by a barrage of nurses and doctors.  In the end we received some saline drops for her nose and some instruction on how to use the bulb syringe to suck out the congestion from her little nose.  They entire time we were in there Lillian loved the hospital bed, as she put on a show smiling and laughing for all the nurses that saw her.  She was certainly not acting sick, but I am glad we got things checked out.  One things for sure, I am not looking forward to the out of network insurance bill we will be getting from this visit.  Below is one of the many pictures we took of Lillian while she entertained the hospital staff.

They next day we went to an art Festival at Woodland Park in Lexington.  This was definitely one of the largest art shows I have been to.  We walked the grounds looking at unique selections from different local artists; people watching was also in full swing.  Art shows tend to bring out some interesting characters.  No I did not see Lawrence there.  After a few hours of walking the grounds the only art my wife and I bought was a hand crafted funnel cake made in the mid century modern carnival truck (my attempt at art humor).  It was delicious.  Staying on the food theme we also went to another favorite Lexington restaurant for dinner that evening.  We went to Ramsey’s Diner, a local restaurant known for its generous portions of down home, stick to your ribs, southern cooking.  Trust me, everything you order is amazing.

Sunday now, and just as fast as the trip started it came to an end.  We packed up the car and started on the journey back to Wisconsin.  The drive home we faced even more of a challenge with Lillian, now being sick her crabbiness reached new heights.  It seemed like she would not stay quiet for more than 30 minutes between outbursts and meltdowns.  My wife Heather spent the entire drive in the back seat with Lillian trying to comfort the baby the best that she could.  That fact that my wife maintained her composure through over nine hours of driving, much of which was filled with Lillian crying and fussing, was a feat in itself.  I believe she should have earned saint hood for her efforts of caring and comforting another human being yesterday on our drive home. We finally made it back sometime after 9pm, completing one of the most challenging car rides we have ever faced.  Unfavorable car rides with screaming babies aside, it was a great weekend filled with new memories for our family, and a few headaches for us parents.


Are You Listening to Your Customers?

In today’s barrage of advertising, in what seems to be every medium possible, it’s easy to get lost in all the noise and commotion out there.  Today consumers are getting propositioned every time they turn on the TV, the radio, the computer, open a social networking website, visit a store, or even open a magazine.  Heck even friends and family are trying to convince you to make a purchase on something they just bought or saw somewhere. The point here is that consumers are overwhelmed as others tell them what to buy and what they need.

Ever stop to think if your customers were confused by the mixed messages and clutter in the marketplace that you are representing?  If you haven’t, you’re missing something.  Your customers just don’t want to be told what to do or what to buy. They are looking something much deeper than just the latest gadget, consumable good or traditional sales pitch. They are looking for someone to listen to them. Through listening to your customers, mixed with a few carefully crafted questions, you are able to uncover their true needs. Once you have identified what your customers true needs are you can then, and only then, confidently offer a product and or service.  If you take a second to think about it, how do we really know what would work best for a customer unless we’ve taken the time to ask questions, listen to, and understand their responses?

A listening first approach is critical to becoming more successful in sales. I prefer this approach any day to the typical approach on just selling your customers the “flavor of the day”; never once taking the time to ask questions uncovering what’s really important to them.  Once you have listened to your customers, and uncovered their needs you can then position a product or service that they not only like and will use, but one that also adds value to their life. It is this “value” piece of the equation that will reduce product returns and more importantly increase customer loyalty.

I really like the saying, “we were all born with two ears and one mouth and should be using those in that same proportion”, especially in sales. In addition to more success in the sales arena, this approach truly would be helpful in a marriage or any relationship for that matter.  I too am guilty for not listening enough at times in my marriage.  Had I followed my own advice all the time I could have avoided some unpleasant conversations (ok they were arguments) with my spouse, which for the record I did not win *laughs and shakes head*. We all have areas of opportunity we would like to improve, right?

Anyways… As I mentioned before, there is a lot of noise in the marketplace right now in just about every industry. Do everything you can to help your customers make the best choice; start by listening to them.


The 2010 #WaukeshaTweetup

June 11, 2010 my daughter Lillian was born, which allowed me to take some time off of work.  Enjoying the time I was able to spend with my wife, and new baby, I quickly learned how much of a non schedule babies keep.  I found myself up at different hours than I was used to helping to care for the new addition to our family.  I loved every minute of it and still do, yet as I had down time I found it harder to rest and or sleep as I wanted to watch Lillian constantly.  To this day I am amazed by her beauty curiosity, and innocence.  Along with the down time I had while she slept, I had time to think about relationships a lot.  Relationships with my wife, newly formed family, friends, online connections, ect.  I thought about improving those relationships, making new connections, networking, and bringing people together.

One night, while watching my daughter sleep, the idea for the #WaukeshaTweetup was born.


Now that I had a few weeks off from work, I started to think about a local venue in Waukesha County that was both on   Twitter and that would be seen as a top class establishment.  I immediately gravitated towards Piano Blu on Pewaukee Lake.  Having dined there in the past I knew it had the atmosphere that others would appreciate, had great food, and a spectacular view of the Lake from the private room upstairs (The Rhino Room – getting its name from the enormous Rhinoceros head mounted above the fireplace).  I emailed the owners about my idea for the event, it was quickly embraced and planning commenced.

Together Penny Schultz (Marketing and Event Planner for Piano Blu) and I came up with a plan of what this event could and should look like.  We also partnered with a Local Social Media trainer Katie Felten, of MKELive, to both bring more awareness to the event and be a resource for guests that had questions on social media.  In my opinion this was a great move seeing as how Katie is so well connected in the Milwaukee area, she helped us spread the word to our neighboring community to the east.  Going into the event the restaurant set a goal of 20-25 attendees and a date of 8/4/2010 was set for the event.  After the initial planning meeting we had 1 month to promote the event.  Go time – The Twtvite went live!  As the restaurant was relatively new to the social media space, I took the lead promoting the event through Twitter, and was amazed at just how quickly the event was embraced by the online community.

Within two weeks of the invite being sent out and the event being promoted on Twitter we had already achieved the goal of 20 confirmed RSVP’s.  Both myself and Piano Blu were very excited, and starting to think of ways that we could enhance the event even further.  On the restaurant side, Penny began to formulate a plan with the Chef for what to serve our guests at the event.  As we still had some time before the actual event, she  helped to plant the seed with Chef and get him thinking about what to prepare.  Knowing in addition to food we needed great signage and name badges, I reached out to Chris Sherman (@Amerisign) owner of Amerisign and Graphics for help with these.  He gladly partnered with us to make these items, and they turned out top notch. I can’t thank Chris and his team enough for the work they put into the items for The Waukesha Tweetup.  If you have a future printing need yourself I highly recommend you work with Chris Sherman at Amerisign and Graphics – They will not disappoint.

Fast forward – one week until the event.  We are now @ 60 plus RSVP’s and the tweets regarding it are becoming more frequent.  Penny of Piano Blu and I are texting regularly now, updating each other on new names to the list.  Needless to say the excitement of the event has taken over.  I continue to promote the event via Twitter, and get the support of the online community to help spread the work and keep the interest high.

One day before the event – We received a surprise from one our local area businesses, North Shore Bank (@NorthShoreBank).  Tim Gluth (@tiglu) and Kate Knox (@LAXgirl) of North Shore Bank contacted me regarding the possibility of contributing some door prizes for the event.  Up until now it was not really discussed as Piano Blu and I were focused on ensuring we had a solid menu as well as people in attendance. To be honest, I overlooked the importance of having some give away items for our guests.  Tim and Katie came through in a big way for the #WaukeshaTweetup rounding up several great items from local business for us to raffle off at the event.  North Shore Bank, Dunn Bros Coffee, Attitude Sports, Footprints, and U.S. Cellular® were the businesses rounding out the donors for the event.  I cannot thank Tim and Kate enough for their efforts in securing these items and helping to enhance the experience that our guests had while in attendance at the #WaukeshaTweetup.

Additionally with one day until go time we added 15 RSVP’s to the list bringing us to 75 guests. At this point, I cannot believe the interest that resides within in the Twitter community!  I also start tweeting about the amazing Tapas items that Chef Oscar of Piano Blu was going to be serving our guests.  The menu to follow below:

  • Bronzed salmon w/ avocado aioli.
  • Braised Duck Breast w/ a “sexy” berry reduction on jasmine rice.
  • Sweet Potato Fries Served w/ Caribbean aioli.
  • Artisan Cheese Display (Assorted local WI cheeses served w/ crackers, grapes, & assorted nuts)
  • Wild Mushroom Potato Pan Cake Served w/ tomato carta basil relish.
  • Mini Blue Crab Cake atop mixed greens, topped w/ onion crisps, & chipotle tartar sauce

 

The food tweets alone were a big hit, as they received many positive responses, re-tweets, and created even more excitement around the event.  So much so, the morning of the event we were @ 83 RSVP’s.  Not a bad go around for us first timers hosting what is shaping up to be one of the biggest tweetups around.

Nervousness sets in now – they’re all signed up but will they show?

August 4th 2010 it’s #WaukeshaTweetup Time. I arrive about 4:30pm at Piano Blu to help set up the upstairs room we have for our venue.  I am excited to see the amazing view of the lake which spans the entire length of the Rhino Room. Impressive I thought – really stoked to hear what our guests will think. After minimal setup we were ready, and 6pm could not get here quick enough.  I was so anxious to see if all of our efforts would in fact pay off. Now 6pm the Twitter community of Waukesha County swarmed on Piano Blu where guests arrived in groups.  Over the next hour we would welcome 75 unique Twitter characters to Piano Blu and the #WaukeshaTweetup.  I could not be happier, and I am certain that Piano Blu felt the emotions I had experienced as well.  After all, here are 75 people all with large circles of influence that are now experiencing all that the restaurant has to offer, from the amazing food and cocktails,  to the exceptional atmosphere the restaurant has created.

Live tweets are being displayed on a plasma TV by the bar, which is drawing quite the crowd.  As I look around I notice several people every time starring at their smartphone tweeting about the event, the food, the venue, or the wonderful person they just met face to face.  I saw a statistic later that night – that the hashtag #WaukeshaTweetup was in the top five trending topics for Wisconsin that evening.  For me this is what the event was about.  I could some it up in two words – building relationships.  Those same relationships I was thinking about while watching my daughter sleep just one month ago, are now becoming real.  Not only just for me but for all of the other guests too.  People are connecting – I have done what I set out to do.

I made it a point to engage with everyone who attended in some way, albeit difficult as it’s hard to work a room of 75 people in three hours and have effective and meaningful conversations with each of them.  I did my best to make sure that all guests felt welcome, and that they had the opportunity to participate and network face to face with those they follow in the online world.  In the time I spent mingling, I observed an amazing energy in the room as people were connecting in robust dialogues about life, children, business, food, Piano Blu, and of course Twitter.  We paused briefly during the event to raffle off the fantastic prizes from area business.  I called upon our good friend Jim Raffel (@Raffel) to help us with our door prize raffle which received a laugh from the guests.  He did a great job – and thanks for being a good sport Jim!

Just as fast as the event started, it came to a close. I glanced at my BlackBerry® and noticed it was already 10pm.  We had a few remaining guests enjoying some wine and engaging in conversations about what else, you guessed it, Twitter. Tom Snyder (@Triverguy) had busted out the laptop and was giving a clinic on his preferred Twitter clients to the small group that remained.  I sat in for a moment, absorbed what I could, and eventually re-connected with Penny Schultz of Piano Blu.

Together we recapped the event, discussed what went well, and what we would do different the next time.  Both of us agreed on one thing though, the success of the #WaukeshaTweetup.  Never in our wildest dreams did we think the event would grow to this size and receive the support from the local businesses that it did.  From the bottom of my heart I want to personally thank each and every one of you who came out to support the event, donated your time or resources to make it happen, or simply just tweeted about it.  It was because of your efforts the event was a smashing success.  Thank You.


Building Relationships Via Twitter

I have had some time over the last few days to really think about why I am present on Twitter, and what I truly enjoy most about that arena.  To be honest I could quite possibly open it up to the entire social media landscape as I am passionate about building relationships regardless of what form they might take in person or online.  For me Twitter seems to have a significant draw.  Mostly because it seems to house a significant number of local professionals, that are for the most part *bites tongue*, trying to add value to the online community in some way. More over these people actually care about others and are working to build relationships with people, in turn enhancing their personal and business lives.

Clearly there are the ever present distractions on Twitter i.e. Tweens discussing @JustinBieber or obsessing over the #Twilight movies at all hours.  Let’s not forget the constant noise of those individuals claiming to be “social media experts”, “gurus” or my favorite “ninja’s”; that won’t let you forget how awesome they are.  Meanwhile your Twitter stream seems to be overrun by these individuals selling their snake oil.  For the record, I am not impressed by your 38,000 followers, and 1,356,900 tweets.  When was the last time you actually “connected” with someone in a way that actually makes that other person feel valued?  It is clear to me that many on Twitter just don’t get it.  These “experts” cloud the internet with noise and distraction.

For me it’s different.  I’m not a social media expert by any means, nor will I ever claim to be.  How can one claim to be an expert in an arena that changes every month, every week, or every day for that matter?  For me social media is about learning.  Continuous learning.  Learning about how to better connect with people, both personally and professionally.  For me Twitter is about building trust, credibility, and relationships with real individuals.  It is these relationships that can ultimately lead to customer retention, customer loyalty, new business, or even a new friendship.

I can’t tell you enough how amazing it feels to have searched Twitter for a dissatisfied customer, a customer that has a problem or simply needs a question answered, and then been able to deliver for that customer in a way that turns around their perception of the products and or services you are selling or support.  To me this is the ultimate use and reason Twitter even exists.  Your customers need a sounding board.  A way to give you feedback, ask questions, or just plain vent.  The occasional positive praise doesn’t hurt either. There is one important lesson to take away here.  Listen to your customers.  They are taking the time to talk about and give feedback about you, your products, and services.  Use this information to make changes for the better, and build positive relationships with others in the process.

My goal is to serve as a resource in my field.  Someone others can trust and are excited about working with.  If I can help someone in some way, no matter how small, then I have added value to their life.  The ability to add value when possible is what keeps me using Twitter as a means of communication.  For me it’s all about building relationships and connecting with people.  Social media (Twitter included) is just another vehicle to get to that special place with your customers.


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