What this crazy astronomer can teach you about business.

500 years ago there was a rebellious Polish astronomer named Nicolaus Copernicus. He was born with a name worthy of a faculty position at Hogwarts. More importantly, we was blessed with a contrarian world view. Copernicus developed a crazy heliocentric model of the cosmos. In this model, he declared the sun was the center of the universe, and the Earth and the other planets actually revolved around it. #ohnohedidnt

The Universal Truth

At the time heliocentricity was considered a radical idea. But as every graduating preschooler now knows, Ni-Co was right. His revolutionary solar-centered model of the universe soon changed how we viewed and understood the world. It applied rules and order that helped the world make sense. It also gave employees at the local Sunglass Hut a false sense of superiority.

Copernicus-Style Thinking At Work

The same thinking that makes sense of the cosmos can also be applied to business. You must never lose sight of who is at the center of the business universe: the customer. In your arena the customer might be called the client, member, student, attendee or John (#nojudgement). Regardless, the person paying for goods or services is the central figure around whom everything else in business revolves.

Customer-Centric

Your actions and decisions should always be driven by your customer’s wants and needs. Your products and services only exist to serve your customers. It is the customer that provides the forces that propel all business activity. Because without customers businesses drift into oblivion. (#Blockbuster #Sears #AllianceofAmericanFootball)

Your Customer’s Customers.

At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, everything we do is driven by 2 forces: our customers, and our customer’s customers. Without those forces money does not move and business does not exist. Sales, marketing, engineering, research and development, customer service and accounting are all driven by the gravitational pull of the customers. Remember, you can dance with yourself, but you can’t do business alone.

Key Takeaway

If your business is not customer-centric, it is time to re-center. Ask yourself ‘What Does The Customer Want?’ before every business decision. Even better, ask them what they want, and what they want to avoid. It will help you maintain proper focus on the star of your show. And prevent you from thinking the world revolves around you.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

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A fresh new look for one of the most loved brands in Wisconsin.

Last summer I got a very interesting call from a friend. She said she was conducting research for the University of Wisconsin Credit Union. And that following the research they would be looking for an agency partner, in Wisconsin, to help rebrand them. She began telling me how the UW Credit Union was a remarkable organization, with great people who delivered an excellent member experience. But I stopped her before she could finish. I said ‘Oh, I know all about the UW Credit Union.’

(To skip the fun back story you can scroll to the bottom, DVR-Style, to see the new work. But you will miss some interesting points and a giggle or two.) 

Back In the Day (When I was raised I’m not a kid anymore…)

I am a proud University of Wisconsin Badger. On my 3rd day in Madison, my freshman year in college, I made what I thought would be a quick trip to the UW Credit Union near my dorm. But when I approached the UW Credit Union it seemed that all 43,000 UW students were already in line in front of me. The only other lines I ever saw that long in Madison were outside Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday mornings, and in front of the Kollege Klub on Saturday nights.

I joined what appeared to be the entire student body, and stood in the longest line of my life, holding all of the money I had ever earned. All to open my UW Credit Union checking and savings accounts. I thought this place must be special.

And it was.

You’re So Money, You Don’t Even Know You’re Money!

The UW Credit Union became my primary financial institution, and would be for the next 15 years. My first auto loan was with the UW Credit Union. I borrowed $3000, paid it off in 11 months, and felt like a financial baller. But in 2007 an exciting career opportunities came calling, and it was time for me to fly (…time for me to fly…). So I left America’s Dairy Land, and the domain of the UW Credit Union.

Leaving Wisconsin (The Wander Years)

I moved to Columbus, Ohio, and then on to Atlanta, working my way up to the title of Chief Creative Officer. Then in 2016 I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, and moved back to Wisconsin to be closer to family.  I had worked with several esteemed financial institutions, including Fifth Third Bank, Wells Fargo, and Huntington Bank along the way. And now I was hoping to put all of my financial experience to use with UW Credit Union.

They Meet

My friend Sue Northey introduced me to UW Credit Union’s Chief Marketing Officer, Anne Norman via email. We decided to meet for lunch. But I was in Milwaukee, and Anne was in Madison. So we met in Johnson Creek, an Outlet Malltropolis located directly between Wisconsin’s two largest cities.

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Anne Norman, about to sing the theme song from Laverne and Shirley.

Anne and I met for lunch at Hi-Way Harry’s, which for the unfamiliar, is the Rainforest Cafe of Johnson Creek. We had instant rapport. Although I think Anne has instant rapport with everyone. We quickly realized we shared the same vision for how great the UW Credit Union brand could be. We began talking next steps. Which are always my favorite steps.

The Mission

We put together a thorough proposal that was quickly approved. And we started to roll. We were about to strip the branding down to the studs, and reconsider everything. The logo, tagline, colors and personality would all be re-examined. When we were done we would create a look, language and personality that matched how great the UW Credit Union membership experience really was. Then we would create a fully integrated marketing campaign to bring the brand to life.

Assembling The Team.

My fellow Weapons, Simon ‘Sharper’ Harper, Kristyn’ K-Lil’ Lilley, Kevin ‘Lower’ Kayse and I met with the UW Credit Union’s marketing team, including Anne ’40-Under-40′ Norman, Justine ‘Happy Tears’ Kessler, April ‘Spring’ Laabs, Jocelyn ‘Let’s Ride’ Vande Velde, Becky ‘Shock Value’ Hubing, Jill ‘Rickert’ Rickert, Jill ‘Addy’ Addy, Andy ‘Hugs’ Schubert and Melissa ‘Everything Bagel’ Stapleton (because she does everything, not because she likes everything bagels).

Discovery

We started by digesting all that had been gathered about the UW Credit Union. The research revealed some really important findings, including:

  1. UW Credit Union is a very special place.
  2. UW Credit Union members love their experience.
  3. UW Credit Union invests time and energy in our members well before a bank would find any financial value in them.
  4. UW Credit Union really cares about the communities it serves.

However…

There was a common misperception that UW Credit Union was a starter bank. (Gasp!) Which is totes not true. But the strong and valuable association with the University of Wisconsin made people think it was a financial institution for college kids and recent graduates. They didn’t realize that UW Credit Union was an excellent financial institution for all ages and stages.

It was time to set the record straight.

Tagline

We explored a wide range of taglines to summarize how we support our members from their teenage years through retirement. Life changes bring on different needs and opportunities. And at the UW Credit Union we want to help you no matter where you are on your financial journey.

The new tagline:

UW Credit Union. Here for every you.

We are Here, whenever you need us. Which talks to UW Credit Union’s customer service that made them Forbes #1 rated credit union in the state. We are also Here in Wisconsin, just like our members. It explains why we care about your community, your neighborhoods, and your causes. Because they are ours too. We love the emphasis on You, the member. Because as a credit union, we only exist to serve you and your needs. Every symbolizes our flexibility and ability to adapt as your needs change.

Logo

We wanted a logo that was cleaner, simpler and easier to use. We wanted a contemporary look. And we wanted to it give us an identity that was distinct from other UW-related organizations, including UW-Health and The UW System itself.

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The old logo. It was ready for a good makeover.

New UW Credit Union Logo

The logo highlights the first priority of the organization: you. By highlighting the U in the  name in our flagship color, and making it of equal weight and importance to the name of our institution, we also convey our sense of responsibility to those we serve: You, our members. We also opted for a lower case ‘u’ because it felt more approachable, which is a distinguishing factor of the UW Credit Union. Also, we have taken the liberty to use ‘U’ and ‘You’ interchangeably. #creativelicence

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The new logo. If you overlay the square and the circle from the old logo you can see the inspiration for the new U-Leaf shape.

Advertising

With the new logo, tagline and brand standards in place, we began putting the new brand look to good use. We started creating all manner of new materials in a fully integrated program

First out of the gate are these New Billboards.

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If you know anything about Wisconsin you know we love to jump around. (Jump! Jump! Jump!)
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A very wise plant once said, ‘It’s been a long time since I rock ‘n’ rolled.’
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One of these is typically immature, the other is typically mature. But not always.
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Eventually, we all transition.
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People in Wisconsin have a funny was of saying things…
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From George and Weezy to The Wiz!

There are also new print ads.

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We treat everyone like an insider. Even Soda Pop and Pony Boy.
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This will appear in the Milwaukee Brewers program. And maybe a few popular dentist publication.

Radio

Here’s a radio script currently on air. I would attach the audio file, but I would have to upgrade my account to do that. And it’s too late at night to take on such monumental tasks.

At The UW Credit Union, we like to say we knew you way back when. When your only mode of transportation was the heel-toe express. When the only wheels you owned were connected to a pedal. We knew you when the only home you had ever considered buying was on a monopoly board. When your financial future was defined by the next pay check.  We knew you when your family was still supporting you. It was then, when you greatest asset was your work ethic and a dream, that we first invested in you.  The UW Credit Union. Here For Every You.

Credit Card Design

We then helped redesign the new UW Credit Cards. We turned the design on its head. Literally. Instead of the traditional horizontal design, we designed this card for the chip reader era, with a vertical orientation. To keep the design clean and simple we moved all the hard-working elements, including card holder name, number, contact info and legalese to the back of the card.

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Creating UW Credit Union credit cards was an in-creditable experience.

What’s Next

The new brand will also impact UW Credit Union branch design, television commercials,  sponsorships, debit cards and more. But the member experience will remain as good as advertised. Because people love the UW Credit Union experience. And we have certainly loved working with this great brand and the great team behind it. We look forward to all there is to come.

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This billboard showed up across the street from The Weaponry, where it was born.

How to make anything popular, like Studio 54.

I would love to have partied at Studio 54. But I couldn’t get in. I blame it on the fact that I was only 3 years old when Studio 54 first opened. To find out what I what I missed, I recently watched Studio 54 The Documentary on Netflix. In the late 1970s this iconic New York City discotheque achieved legendary status as the greatest night club of all time. It was swarmed by celebrities, fashion icons, musicians and taste makers of all sorts. Every night huge crowds gathered at the club’s velvet ropes, trying to get inside (inside the club, not inside the rope).

Studio 54, or Studio as the insiders called it, generated demand that was off the charts. Absolutely everyone wanted to get in. The club was able to extract a cover charge of $14, which was like the cost of a nice hotel room in those days. Studio 54 was also in the enviable position of being able to decide who they let in, who they charged for admission, who they comped, and who they treated like a VIP.

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Generating The Demand

When asked how the club had achieved this unheard of demand, co-owner Steve Rubell had a simple response:

You have to build a nice mousetrap to attract the mice. – Steve Rubell co-owner of Studio 54

Building A Nice Mousetrap

Studio 54 started with the end in mind. They wanted to attract the most and best mice. So they worked hard to discover what the mice wanted. In their prior clubs, including The Enchanted Garden in Queens, owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager experimented to find the winning combination of music, ambiance and design. They also experimented with the patron population to learn which type of crowd would attract the best crowd.

This nice mousetrap approach can be applied to anything designed to attract customers, clients, members, attendees or participants. Always start with the mice. Understand all you can about the people you are trying to attract. Know their wants, needs and desires. Then build those into your offering. The nicer the mousetrap, the more effective it will be at attracting and catching mice. You’ll know you’ve got it right when you have willing customer lined up, demanding you take their money. Until then, keep perfecting the mousetrap.

Key Takeaway

Do your homework. Understand your audience and give them what they crave. Put in the necessary work during the discovery phase to study them. Then build their desires into your offering. Make sure the most attractive elements are highly visible and well understood. Popularize what you have created so that the word spreads. And watch the mice come running to your velvet ropes.

*If you ever got into Studio 54 I want to hear about it! Please leave your story in the comment section.

**Don’t do drugs, or have unprotected sex with people you just met at a discotheque.

***Also, remember to pay your taxes. Or else you can create the greatest club in the history of the world, but you will have to shut it down 3 years later and go to jail. #majorbuzzkill.

****And why discotheque and not just disco?

 

Why you should put a smile on every time you get your dial on.

Have you ever thought about how you look when you make a phone call? It is easy to think that your appearance doesn’t matter. After all, the person on the other end of the call doesn’t see you. Unless you are a Close Caller. Which is like a Close Talker, only you use your phone, because you can. Which is weird.

But your appearance on a phone call does matter. Because how you look influences how you feel. Even if you are thousands of miles away, the person on the other end of the conversation will pick up on how you feel. And it will influence what they send back to you.

You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile.

When I make or take a phone call, I always put a smile on my face before I start talking. It magically brightens my mood. Because smiling is the ultimate human happiness hack. You don’t have to be happy to smile. You can smile to be happy.

In fact, many a scientific study have proven that your responses to questions are significantly more positive when you hold a pencil between your teeth the broad way. Holding a pencil this way forces you to smile. And the forced smile has the same effect as the real thing. And while Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell would have you believe there ain’t nothing like the real thing (baby), Guy Smiley and Happy Gilmore would disagree.

When you put a smile on your face before a phone call it makes good things happen. It influences what you say, how you say it, and how you respond to your telephonic partner. It makes the call more enjoyable for the other person. It helps you overcome anxiousness when making an important call. And if the call goes poorly, well, it’s easy to laugh it off if you are already in a smiling position.

Key Takeaway

Next time you pick up the phone, first pick up the corners of your mouth. Wearing a smile will positively impact everything about the call. It will make you sound warmer and more likable. It will influence the words you choose. It will leave a lasting impression on the person on the other end. It can even make them look forward to talking to you again.

If you want to try it now, put on a smile and call my number at 614-256-2850. If I don’t answer, leave a message and let me know you’re practicing your Smile Call. When I call you back you can bet I’ll be smiling too.

*If you’d rather not call me, but would still like to hear what I’m thinking, consider subscribing to this blog. If you want to read about another fun smiling technique I use, read Kickstart your day with this powerful and simple habit.

Who helps you see the invisible?

Business is hard. Unlike the natural world of plants, animals, water and minerals, business is not visible. Business is an abstract concept. Sure, a business is officially formed when you file articles of incorporation. But those are just documents. You don’t invite clients to come and look at your filings. You can’t recruit great talent by showing them your government forms. Except maybe the lawyers. God help the lawyers.

Building, focusing and polishing a great business is a conceptual task. It requires things like missions and visions. It requires strategy, positioning and branding. You can’t just throw these items in your cart at Office Depot. You have to create them. You have to pull them out of the ether (or out of your butt), and breathe life into them to make them real.

Whose job is that?

I work with clients on challenges like this every week. I don’t expect our clients to have all the answers. Quite the opposite. I expect them to have a problem that needs to be solved. I expect them to have questions. I expect them to be a little lost and confused. You know, the way you felt on the first day of high school.

Making the invisible visible.

The greatest value my business offers is our ability to see the unseen. We paint pictures and draw maps so that others can see too. We build structure, we articulate thoughts and create unifying stories. The more answers we find the more valuable we become. But the kind of answers we are looking for can’t be googled. We have to create them ourselves.

The Paradox

Many would-be-collaborators want their clients to clearly articulate what they are looking for. The problem is, clients don’t often know what they are looking for. In fact, that’s why they need to hire outside help in the first place.

 IWKIWISI

Professionals often loathe IWKIWISI clients. Those are the people who say I Will Know It When I See It. They can’t tell you exactly what they want. They can’t offer you a great brief. They can’t narrow the options down to 1 or 2.  They need someone else to find the perfect option for them.

I love these types. They need the most help. Like a Sudoku puzzle with very few initial clues, they offer the greatest challenge. But when you solve those most difficult of puzzles, you experience the most satisfying rewards.

Think of young Helen Keller, who couldn’t see or hear. Then along came Anne Sullivan, who developed a system to teach the blind and deaf to learn language and communicate. She unlocked and unleashed the infinite power in Helen Keller’s mind. Who enjoyed the greatest reward as a result, Helen or Anne?

If you have the kind of skills to make the invisible visible or to make the intangible tangible, you can help transform organizations, people and places. If you need those type of people, take comfort in knowing they are out there. And someone knows where you should look to find them.

The best ways to get young people back in stores.

I love talking to college students. Throughout my career I have guest-lectured, judged class projects, and spoken on numerous panels. I enjoy these opportunities to encourage students. It’s fun to see how your personal career path can provide a map for future professionals. It is fascinating to see the world through the students’ eyes again. But best of all, I like telling students that the need for internships is a myth created by kids who have internships.

Marquette

The past three semesters I have guest-lectured for an advertising campaigns class at Marquette University. In this class, the students spend a semester creating a campaign for a real client. At the end of the semester, they then present to that client. I come in for a class or two to teach the students what I can about the creative process.

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I start each class by singing America The Beautiful.

This year my lesson consisted of 3 parts.

  1. I shared the journey of my career, from college student at the University of Wisconsin, to launching my own advertising agency, The Weaponry.
  2. I talked about creativity and the creative process.
  3. I gave the students a creative assignment that they had one week to complete.

The Assignment

I wanted the students to have a significant creative problem to solve. So I chose retail traffic. As you have probably heard by now, an invention called the internet makes it easy for people to buy virtually anything from their computer or smart-thingy. In fact, smart-thingy is just shorthand for an electronic device that lets you shop from bed.

As a result, people are no longer reliant on physical stores for anything. This is a major problem for retailers who have significant physical spaces. Because those stores become unprofitable and unnecessary when people stop dropping by to drop off money.

The Question: 

How do you get young people to shop at physical store locations?

Here is the assignment I gave 35 Marquette students:

We need to get Marquette Students, who are entering the workforce, to visit a Kohl’s physical store location, by telling them it is the best place to find their new workforce wardrobe.

Huh?

The universal knee-jerk reaction to this challenge from the students was:

‘Why would I have to visit a store? It is so much easier to shop online.’

My Response:

‘This is the greatest challenge facing retailers today. Your mindset is a major problem for them. Since college students represent the next great hope or the nail in the coffin for brands with significant retail locations, you hold the key to this perplexing problem.’

The Thinking Began

We gave the seven groups of five students one week to come up with their solutions. They could advertise to the student population anywhere on, or around the Marquette campus. There were no media restrictions or requirements. The ideas the student shared were both surprising and somehow obvious at the same time.

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One of the groups presenting their ideas to the nicest, sweetest group of judges they will ever meet.

4 key takeaways from college students for retailers.

Here are the buckets of ideas we heard from the seven groups

1. Offer Me Services.  

  • There are a host of services that students are not getting right now that would offer real value.
  • Help me understand how to dress professionally appropriate for my career.
  • Help me find clothes that fit well.
  • Help me coordinate, accessorize and create multiple outfits to make my money go further.

2. Help Get Me There

  • The rising generation does not see transportation the way previous generations saw it. Car ownership will not be ubiquitous. It may not even be popular. To get younger shoppers to the stores you may need to actually give them a ride to the store, or help them foot the bill.
  • The students had ideas like receiving UberCredits from the store when they show their college IDs.
  • Retailers could advertise on the campus vans that offer students free rides around campus at night. During the day, Kohl’s could hire these vans to take student to shop at Kohl’s. Think Express route to Express

3. Find Me Where I am

  •  If I should be thinking about you, meet me where I am. And that’s on SnapChat. Join the story.
  • Find me on campus. The students had multiple good ideas about Kohl’s showing up at places they are spending their time, like the student union, library and even bars and restaurants. To be top of mind, you may just have to show up and say hi.
  • Influence the influencers.  The students talked about involving the professors, staff, other students and advisors. The Kardashians may not be the only people influencing these students.

4. Get Involved

  • The students had ideas for fashion shows on campus that Kohl’s could sponsor.
  • At Job Fairs retailers can offer advice on how to dress for interviews and the workplace.
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This is us.

Conclusion

There are great ways to get people to visit retail locations. Personalized services and unique experiences will be key. Think about services as much or more than you think about the products you sell. Remember to fish where the fish are. Not where the old fish used to swim. You may have to coordinate or compensate the travel. This may sound weird, but it is important. It’s no longer business as usual. And the new business may feel unusual. But that’s what keeps it interesting.

 

 

The best thing about our new stickers is hidden on the back.

There are some business secrets they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. Like the fact that every great business needs a great sticker. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, now has a great sticker. It comes from Sticker Robot.  Which I think is where The Jetsons and R2-D2 get their sticker supplies.

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Sticker Robot makes the best silkscreened stickers in the business. But if you want some for your business you should order them the same day you establish your legal business entity. Because they take a loooong time to produce. We ordered ours back in November.  They finally arrived on January 16th.

A video on how Sticker Robot make their world-famous stickers.

The Modern Branding Iron.

The whole concept of branding originated from ranchers who branded their livestock with a hot iron to identify their little dogies. Today I find very few people who will let me sear them with a red-hot iron. So we use these 2.5 inch X 2.5 inch vinyl stickers instead. I have already placed one on my computer, my Yeti tumbler, my car and all three of my children.

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We ordered 1000 stickers and got 500 free.
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I’ll tumbler for you.

Check out that backside… (It’s stickerlicious!)

But what I really love about them is their backside. Sticker Robot allows you to print a message or design on the back of the sticker. So we added some of our philosophy. And some of our philosophy about our philosophy. And we added a call to confusion. Which is like a call to action, if the action actually leads to more confusion, like our website does. Visit theweaponry.com to see what I mean.

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I love sharing our philosophy on the back of our sticker. Don’t overlook the little opportunities to share your brand message in unexpected places.

Then we also added a note about the importance of proofreading.  See the *note below? I’ll wait while you review.

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Did you find the typo? Did you look carefully?

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The Typo

If you didn’t find the typo it is probably because there is no typo. We just thought it was a funny addition. And perhaps it would increase engagement. Who reads the back of a sticker two or three times?  Well, if it’s a sticker from The Weaponry, and you feel challenged, maybe you will. Then, maybe you walk away with a story about how you spent 60 seconds looking for a typo that wasn’t really there.

This sticker sums up The Weaponry pretty well.

  1. We believe in the power of a consistent brand look.
  2. Red reflects our enthusiasm.
  3. We believe the most powerful weapon on Earth is the human mind.
  4. We believe that business is war.
  5. We believe we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.
  6. And we believe in finding fun ways to increase engagement.

Your takeaway.

If you would like a sticker just ask (I now carry them with me everywhere). Or leave a request in the comment section below. You can also stop by The Weaponry to pick one up (1661 N. Water Street In Milwaukee). If you are looking for a job, an internship, a chance to network or just a good excuse to come for a grand tour of The Weaponry’s World Headquarters, a sticker request is a good in. And we have a sticker with your name on it. Well, actually our name is on it. That was just a figure or speech.

*If you would like to stick around to learn more about The Weaponry and my entrepreneurial journey please subscribe to this blog. You may even find some real typos.