Episode 3:

(Forgot where we left off? Re-read Episode 2)

The first thing Bob saw when he pulled up to RV Superstore was the giant LED billboard of his neighbor Tim holding up keys in front of his brand new Winnebago. It stood out, bright against the dark grey sky. “Tim loves his new RV. So can you.” …What Bob would love was for a giant sinkhole to open up under the RV Superstore lot.

The rain was still coming down hard, so Bob parked as close to the building as he could manage. He was preparing to get soaked during his mad dash for the doors, when a guy with an umbrella showed up next to his truck. Bob popped his door open. “Am I not allowed to park here?”

The man grinned. “Where you’re parked is fine. I just thought you might like a little cover—I don’t think anybody saw this storm coming.”

“Oh.” Bob was at a loss. “Do you meet everybody at their car with an umbrella?”

“When I see them pull up in a downpour, I do. I’m Allan.” Allan held out his hand.

Bob didn’t have a whole lot of choice but to shake it. “I’m not really here to buy an RV,” he blurted out.

Allan grinned again. “Most people aren’t. Is this your first time here? Were you wanting to look around, or maybe get some information?”

What Bob wanted to do was hire Allan on the spot. The guy had every excuse to be inside, or at least huddled under the eaves. Instead he was out here, making Bob feel like a VIP in the rainstorm.

“Just information for right now.”

Allan nodded and motioned Bob toward the sales office, with it’s two-story windows spilling a bright glow of light out into the gloom. It didn’t take long before Bob was settled into a comfy armchair with a cup of good coffee, while Alan asked him questions and showed him brochures on RVs that Bob had to pretend not to know inside and out. A variation on Tim’s behemoth Winnebago was parked in the middle of the showroom, and they walked through every inch of it like Allan had all the time in the world. On a stormy day like today, he probably did.

They were just finishing up with the Grand Tour when Bob realized he didn’t have all the time in the world. He’d hoped to find some glaring flaw in RV Superstore’s business, but he hadn’t. Now more than ever, Bob needed to get to the chamber meeting and try to find a way to keep his business from getting murdered by the competition. “Allan, thanks for all your help but I’ve really got to get going.”

“Of course,” Allan nodded. “Before you go—”

Here it comes. The hard sell.

“—would you mind if I get your email address, so I can follow up with you if I think of anything I left out?”

Oh. “Just my email? Not my phone number or my address?”

Allan laughed. “Sure I’ll take those, if you want to give them to me, but email’s easy and people seem to prefer it.”

It seemed harmless enough. Bob spelled out his email address and let Allan give him an umbrella escort back to his truck. “Thanks for all your help today.”

“Anytime,” Allan called out. He waved as he headed back to the office.

Bob fired up his engine and watched him go. Allan was a good salesman, but he hadn’t done anything Bob’s guys couldn’t do. When you took away the square footage and the shiny newness of the place, it wasn’t really all that special. So, why were they kicking Bob’s ass? It couldn’t all be that internet stuff Angie was so worried about—could it? The question plagued him all the way the Olive Garden where the Chamber of Commerce after hours mixer was being held.

Nobody met him at his truck with an umbrella this time, so he arrived damp and uncomfortable. Bob stood in line for a drink, and nodded to the people who looked vaguely familiar. One of them came up to stand near him. “You’re Mark, right? From Paper Express?”

Bob shook his head. “Bob Martin, Robby’s RVs.”

“Right, right.” The stranger clearly hadn’t had any idea who he was. “Vick Smith, KTYA. You don’t do any commercials with us, do you?”

“No. I used to but—”

Vick saw someone across the room and his face lit up. “Hold that thought, Mark. I’ll be right back.”

“Trust me, you’re better off,” a woman said as the bartender handed over Bob’s whiskey rocks.

He turned to see who had spoken and a little bit of relief washed over him. “Helen. Thank God—a familiar face.”

The owner of A Plus Tires chuckled. “I never thought I would see Robert Martin at one of these… what did you call them? Small business circle jerks?”

Bob felt the flush creeping up his collar. “I didn’t say that, did I?”

“You certainly did. For the most part, you weren’t wrong.” Helen clinked her glass against his and shifted them out of the way of the bar line. “So, what changed your mind?”

“Necessity,” Bob answered. “A new RV Superstore snuck up on me. I’m looking for answers.”

Helen grimaced. “Well, whatever you do, don’t buy TV ads from Vick. Nobody watches commercials anymore, but they haven’t adjusted the pricing at all. Everyone wants to pretend like business works just the same as it did twenty years go.”

Everyone including Bob, up until this morning. “How are you doing? How’s the tire store?”

“Can’t complain,” Helen answered in a chipper tone that suggested it was doing better than just alright. “Internet competitors were giving me trouble for awhile, but I got off my ass and changed my strategy. We’re all kinds of digital now. I’ve got an online store, an email list—hell, we’ve even got an Instagram account.”

Instawho? How the hell did Helen know about all this stuff and he didn’t? They’d gone to school together, and started their businesses at almost the same time. He took a big swig of his whiskey and did something he hated doing—he humbled himself. “I don’t even know where to begin, Helen.”

She set her drink down and faced him head-on. “Do you have a website?”

“Not really.”

“Social media?” She asked. Bob’s expression must have been a total blank, because she followed-up with “A facebook page, at least?”

“That crap Angie uses to keep track of what the kids are up to?”

Helen shook her head. “It’s for a lot more than that these days, buddy. You need to get with the program. Are you getting people’s email addresses?”

“Ehh…” Remembering his parting experience at the Superstore, Bob started feeling a little warm under his collar.

Helen’s brow dropped into a serious scowl. “You need all that stuff if you want do business these days. It’s not easy, but you’ve got to do it… unless you want to start working for someone else?”

Absolutely not. The last thing Bob intended to do was go back to having a boss. He was about to tell Helen so, when his phone alert dinged. He pulled it out of his pocket and found an email from Allan at RV Superstore.

Hey Bob,
It was great talking to you today. I know you’re not quite ready to see yourself in an RV yet, but I wasn’t sure if I mentioned that you can check out our inventory anytime on rvsuperstore.com. We also highlight the new trade-ins we get in on our Facebook page, if you wanted to follow us.
Let me know if any questions come up on your end. Have a great night!

Sincerely, Allan 805-316-3201

Bob popped the stuffed mushroom into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. Website. Email. Social media. Just like Helen said.

“Helen… why did I come to this stupid mixer, when I could have just called you?”

She laughed. “For the free drinks?”