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Most people find their pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Dan Brattland found his at the end of a neighbor's driveway-past a ferocious, snarling dog.
It was 1979, and Brattland, then 17, was going door-to-door in Bloomington, Minnesota, asking neighbors if they would pay him to sealcoat their driveway. "One guy had a long driveway, with a dog at the end of it-a big, mean dog," recalls Colin Sievers, Brattland's partner in that long-ago enterprise. "I said, 'Dan, let's go to the house next door.' But Dan said, 'No.' "
The teenagers made it up the driveway but not before the dog had sunk its canines into Brattland's leg. It was a painful way to learn the salesperson's age-old lesson about the value of getting your foot in the door. Whether out of pity or genuine need, the dog's owners hired the pair. For payment, Brattland agreed to a barter arrangement, accepting a set of audiotapes by noted motivational speaker Tom Hopkins.
"I listened to those tapes, which were about how to sell anything, and I knew selling would be my profession," Brattland says.
Today, Brattland has made his fortune promoting educators, authors and business trainers as speakers. President and founder of Peak Performers International Inc. (PPI), based in Minneapolis, his company grossed more than $6.5 million last year.
In a competitive field, Brattland has found success by adding value to the conventional concept of motivational seminars. Instead of barnstorming from city to city, offering one-day seminars, Brattland has turned his company into the home team in 11 cities, hosting a series of eight monthly educational gatherings in each town. The audience becomes a "club" whose members-business owners, middle managers and sales professionals-share an interest in self-improvement.
While it's possible to buy a ticket for a single session, the whole series is marketed as a membership for $495. Members get access to all eight monthly programs-and, just as important, to each other. With average monthly attendance in each city between 1,000 and 2,000, networking flourishes. And business is booming: The company's 62 full-time employees sold 94 seminar series last year.
Birth Of AnEntrepreneur
Now 33, Brattland traces his entrepreneurial roots back to that fateful set of tapes. He would sit in his truck between sealcoating jobs, listening to the tapes. Each night, he wrote down what he had learned and how to apply it to his own business.
But Brattland wasn't content to just dream; he became a teenage miniconglomerate. In addition to the sealcoating business, he started a valet parking service for local restaurants, then started selling "automotive orphans"-dealers' unsold inventories or remnants of rental-car fleets.
Eager for entrepreneurial success, he was less than enthusiastic when his parents insisted he go to college. He left after a few years and returned to his recipe-for-success books and tapes, studying them intensely. He undertook an exercise he had learned from the tapes: interviewing winners to learn their secrets. One of the people he spoke with, a man who promoted sales training seminars, persuaded Brattland to join his company as a salesperson. He soon veered off in pursuit of better money with a multilevel marketing company. When that business folded two years later, Brattland was left empty-handed.
After back-to-back setbacks, he looked for a way to turn crisis into opportunity. Says Brattland, "It brought me back to my true love: personal and professional development programs."
In 1988, Brattland approached Brian Tracy, a prominent sales expert and professional-development speaker, and made a proposal. If Tracy would appear before audiences and provide financing, Brattland would manage advertising and promotion, send out sales representatives, and handle a thousand and one other details for a series of seminars throughout North America-details that Tracy had no experience with.
Tracy agreed, and Brattland recruited two men to help with the sales and promotion chores, making them equal partners in his half of the enterprise, dubbed Brain Tracy Seminars. In its first year, 1988, Brattland's operation netted $50,000. It wasn't much, but it was enough to pay Tracy back his initial investment and more. In three months, Tracy's $15,000 investment netted him $30,000.
If finding Tracy was Brattland's first big break, his second occurred when his road show reached Houston in 1989. There he met Kerima Thomas, who introduced Brattland's traveling trio to telemar-keting. Hiring Thomas meant the partners could leave the cold-calling to someone else, freeing them to focus on what they did best-sales.
Soon Thomas was heading office operations for the firm, which in 1989 had been reorganized into a new business, PPI. "The year before Kerima came aboard, we grossed maybe $200,000," says Brattland. "The year after she came on board, our gross was $437,000."
Thomas continues to oversee PPI's daily operations as vice president, while Brattland focuses on long-term planning and sales. Something equally important jelled as well: In 1992, Dan and Kerima were married.
Despite its growth, however, PPI was still traveling from city to city, putting on a single show and moving on. The evolution into its current format of presenting serial programs came about by necessity: After initially increasing, attendance began to decline.
"We figured the reason was, when people went to one-day seminars, they could learn and be motivated-but it was short-lived," says Brattland. "By offering a series, we gave people more chances to attend more seminars [and make the changes stick]."
The strategy worked. "In 1992, we introduced the series format," Brattland says. "By 1994, revenues had soared to $6.5 million." By entering two or three new markets annually, he expects revenues to climb to $20 million by 2000.
Until 1990, he had offered only one speaker-Brian Tracy. Sales guru Harvey Mackay, author of the bestselling Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive (William Morrow & Co.) and a much sought-after speaker, was Brattland's first choice as an added attraction. But with his resume, Mackay could take his pick of promoters. Why did he agree to go along with a relative upstart like Brattland?
"Dozens of Dan Brattlands make calls to me, trying to sign me up," says Mackay. "The reason I went with this Dan Brattland was that in checking with other speakers, I found he had an impeccable reputation. If there's one chance in 100 that a promoter is not ethical, you're putting your own reputation at risk. And in life and business, your name is all you've got to trade on."
Having Mackay on board not only diversified the lineup, it helped PPI fill another need. As the company shifted to the serial format, big names became as crucial to filling seats as fresh names.
"I needed both 'sizzle' and 'steak,' " Brattland explains. " 'Sizzle' means widely recognizable names like Lou Holtz [football coach at the University of Notre Dame]. 'Steak' is a Brian Tracy who knows how to inspire salespeople. People might initially come to see Lou Holtz, but by the time [the presentation] is finished, it would be Tracy delivering the meat of the program."
Today, PPI's lineup reads like a "Who's Who" of motivational orators. Sports figures like Rick Pitino, head basketball coach of the NCAA-champion Kentucky Wildcats, provide the sizzle. As for the steak, it's served up by the likes of Roger Dawson, an expert on persuasion and negotiation, and sales legend Tom Hopkins, author of How to Master the Art of Selling (Warner Books).
As for the future, Brattland is aiming toward another of his early dreams: "I'd like to acquire more commercial real estate. Building this company will enable me to pursue that dream," he says. After all, a man can never chase too many rainbows. Or find too many pots of gold.
Paul Katzeff is a freelance writer in Boston.