Every summer Edward Jones hosts a summer regional meeting for their employees, spouses and children. It is a four day, all expenses paid trip for the family at a first class hotel, including activities for everyone. They keep getting better as we go:)
The first year was awful. Awful. It was held at a hotel in downtown Chicago right off of the magnificent mile. Cornbread knew his colleagues, I knew absolutely no one. We brought Nora and Ryann with us and I was pregnant with Georgia. We were in a hotel room with two queen size beds and a pack and play, we did not have a double stroller, Ryann was 13 months old and not liking the idea of sitting at a table for meals or being well-behaved in front of daddy's new business partners. The IRs have meetings for the entire morning and there are opportunities to network in the evenings after dinner. I spent most of the weekend in the hotel room with the girls being uncomfortable, feeling like I didn't belong and all around miserable. We decided on the way home that we would not be taking the girls with us the next year.
Last year we went to the Abbey Resort in Lake Geneva. It was considerably better. First, we didn't have the girls to chase around. Second, the resort was beautiful. And third, we knew people and since we didn't have the girls we could spend time with people to get to know them and try to form some kind of relationship with them or take the time to ask the veterans and their wives questions and get encouragement from them. I thought last year was awesome, but this year was even better:)
Last Wednesday, Cornbread's parents graciously flew in from Virginia to hang out with our girls for the weekend. We left them on Thursday morning and headed to Sheboygan, Wisconsin to the Blue Harbor Resort. We arrived in less than 3 hours and walked into our two bedroom villa. Holy cow - this was huge! Two bedrooms, two baths, a full kitchen and a big living area. A flat screen tv above the fireplace, a huge tv in the bedroom, a whirlpool tub in the master bath. Much more than what we needed, but it was awesome.
Cornbread had meetings in the morning after breakfast and I had a meeting on Friday morning. Other than that and an awards banquet on Saturday night, we had the whole weekend to ourselves.
While Cornbread was in his meeting on Friday morning, I was in a spouse's meeting where we basically just introduced ourselves and gave an example of how we help our spouse maintain Customer Service Excellence (the theme of the weekend). A meeting is a meeting - not tons of fun, but important in some respects. After our meetings we went back to our room, grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed to workout. From there we went to the batting cages/climbing wall place that EJ had rented for 2 hours. WE LOVE THE BATTING CAGES - always have:) I hit some fastpitch softball for the first time ever and Cornbread did some hitting and then climbed the rock wall to the top. From there we went to the water park and went down the water slides and sat in the hot tub for a while. I left him there with one of his close colleagues and went back to read my book - by myself.
Friday night we opted to have dinner by ourselves in the resort's tapas bar rather than join everyone else for the buffet. We had a great dinner and just enjoyed hanging out together - by ourselves:) On our way back to our room we stopped to talk to this person and that person and ended up staying out way too late (read: after midnight and he had an 8:30am meeting). But the time spent talking to these veterans and their spouse's - hearing their stories, listening to them encourage Cornbread and tell him that he's doing a great job and hearing the spouse tell me to persevere - is invaluable and something that we could not have done if we had to be back in the room to get the girls to bed.
Saturday morning we went to breakfast and I went back to the villa to read my book and ended up taking a two hour nap (sooooo nice!). We again grabbed something for lunch from the fridge (I had packed lots of BFL friendly food) and went to workout. We got back, hung out for a while and Cornbread went to play soccer with all the kids and I went to read my book in the hot tub. He joined me when he was done and we did all of the waterslides for a while. By the time we were done it was time to go back, shower, change and go to the awards dinner.
We sat with two couples that are our age and are as new as us or a little newer. It was nice to have time to hang out with people that are in our situation - they know EXACTLY what we are going through and the difficulty of Cornbread's job. One of them was in Cornbread's very first class in St. Louis and he just joined our region and is going to be going into a different region next week, so we won't be seeing them at next year's regional. It was nice to finally meet him after hearing about him so much, and to meet his wife and their kids. The other couple is about a year and a half behind us, but they gave up a very secure, high paying job to do Jones and they live near us and his territory is Homer Glen. They were awesome, too.
We had so much fun just getting to know each other and talking about life stuff - all of our kids are close in age, we watch the same tv shows, we all chose to stay at home with our kids regardless of how it affected us financially, etc. etc. We got along so well and had so much in common.
The tapas bar was the after dinner destination - open bar provided by one of the wholesaler's. We went up there and eventually went outside with about 5-6 other IR's so they could smoke cigars. The other girls had to go back to their rooms to put their kids to bed so I hung out with Cornbread and his partners/friends. I was so glad to not have that responsibility while we were there. It is important for Cornbread to network with these veterans from all over the region, to form relationships with them, to have them see him as a real person and for him to see them as real people. Just as valuable is the opportunity for me to see all of it taking place. I don't contribute much because its not my job, but it does a lot of good for me to see all of this going on, to hear their words and their encouragement to him. I couldn't do any of that if we had the kids with us and I was chasing them around. One of Cornbread's biggest assets in his business is his ability to form personal relationships and his personal networking skills. He needs to do it with other business contacts, with prospects, with his clients, but it is important to do it with his colleagues and partners, too.
The regional weekend is such a renewal for everyone involved. For one thing, we have not gone on vacation together alone since 2002, so this was definitely a vacation for us. For another thing, it gives the IRs a break, some down time to refresh, renew and recharge before hitting it hard for a tough summer season. It gives them an opportunity to go to some meetings, listen to some speakers and to get practical tips from the veterans. It allows all of us to see the silver lining - the light at the end of the tunnel. Every one of these guys and their spouses have gone through the rough period that we're going through. Every one of them has had to knock on doors and start from scratch to get their business going. Five years into it, it appears that things are getting a little easier - financially. Ten years into it, things are much easier. Twenty years into it there are no worries whatsoever. We've made it 2 1/2 years already. We need to just persevere and keep going. Keep the faith that the formula works, the program is right and will illicit the results that we're hoping for (just like BFL).
We are told over and over by several different people (on 3 trips now) that every penny we drain from our retirement (which will be every penny), every penny we've spent out of our savings (which will be every penny) and every penny we take out of the equity of our house (which we're hoping won't be every penny, but we're prepared to do it if we need to) - every penny will be worth what we're doing and every penny will come back and then much more. Beyond the money, though, these people are out there to help their clients. To do what is best for their clients. To make the world a better place - and from the way it appears, most of them do just that. They are people with positive attitudes and are good influences on the people around them. They are people that we enjoy being with - we didn't hear any griping or complaining or excuse making (okay, there was one particular family that we heard it from, but 1 out of 72 is not bad) - instead we heard about how incredible they think the company is, how much they enjoy their jobs, and how much they each work to positively affect the people around them by volunteering in their communities or by simply treating their clients with respect and love. How many personal financial advisors pick up a client and bring them to the doctor at the last minute because she can't find a ride anywhere else? Or pick up a client's prescription for her? Its not an act designed to get more business. Its not insincere or a well-crafted sales pitch - its real and these people are real. And I'm happy to be a part of it - as difficult as the last 2 1/2 years have been and as difficult as the next 2 1/2 will probably be, I'm happy to be a part of it all.
I know - rah rah Edward Jones;)