When Bill Guertin was a college student, a professor offered him $1,000 for his t-shirt printing business.
"It was a small campus, and I had made a name for myself as the intramural sports T-shirt printing guy," Bill said. The business was run out of his dorm room, and had no competition in the small college town of Rensselaer, IN. He was about to graduate from Saint Joseph's College, and the head of the business department at the school offered him cash to buy the business outright.
Bill's answer to the professor's proposition?
"I told him thanks, but no thanks. I thought I would continue with the business after school. I never did pick it up again, so looking back, I probably should have taken the thousand bucks."
A Young Entrepreneur Grown Up
Years later, with two of his own sons married and out of college, Bill has certainly graduated from the young entrepreneur into a successful business owner.
He is celebrating almost twelve years as founder and CEO of The 800-Pound Gorilla, Inc., a company dedicated to sales, leadership training, and strategy consulting. A division of the company called Stadium Gorilla focuses specifically on sports sales training and consulting.
The NFL's Carolina Panthers, the Boston Red Sox of Major League Baseball, the Boston Celtics of the NBA, and the NHL's San Jose Sharks are just a few of the teams whose stadiums swell due to the training and influence of Bill's unique brand of sales training.
Bill, a Bourbonnais resident and 1979 graduate of Bishop McNamara High School, has worked with over 75 different teams in almost every major and minor league in North America, and that number is growing.
"My first sales training gig was a 3-day live program with the Chicago Bulls," said Bill. "It was while I was still working as Sales Manager of WKAN Radio, and so I took some vacation time in order to do it. I had six months to prepare, and even after that much prep time, I was so nervous when I walked into the United Center that first day!"
Today, the Bulls are his longest-running client.
The Man Behind the Business, the Heart Behind the Sales
While sales can lead some people down a road of being overly money-minded, Bill's secret is that it's not about money at all.
"It's about building relationships rather than being transactional," he said.
Bill sees the light come on in the eyes of young sales representatives when he explains that what they are selling is an experience — not a team, an athlete, or a competition. "My philosophy to train others about sports ticket sales is the same one that I've used to build my own business: Make a friend first, and if there's a good fit, sell them second."
Bill's own experiences influenced this way of thinking. When asked if he thinks he was born for sales, his answer is as definitive as a ref's whistle on a personal foul.
"Yes. Unequivocally. My father was a stockbroker and still is at age 79. His heart for serving others is behind it." Bill's father equated sales with service and it's that mindset which led Bill into sales himself. It's also the concept, he would contend, which has led to his success.
"Not even knowing it, my father was the compass for me. You could do sales for the sake of making millions, or you could do sales for the sake of serving others. I don't crave a good living, although I enjoy it; the thing that drives me is to be the best I can be for others."
As a result, Bill's training sessions focus on what customers will experience with their family, friends, and coworkers. "These experiences can be transformational for people," he said. "What I help young sales reps to understand is that we don't sell sports; we sell what happens to people as a result of a sporting event."
The man behind the business certainly knows the value of a good relationship — and that behind his own success is a supportive wife.
"I am on the road 120 nights a year," Bill said. "Nobody gets to do what I do without having a terrific life partner." He and his wife Sherri have been married for 28 years. "If she's not supporting me, my work doesn't happen. She is an incredible rock for me."