Friday, December 21, 2012

Mickman Brothers wreaths displayed at Minnesota Governor's Residence

Mickman Brothers Wreath Fundraiser donated custom designed Wreaths and Garland to the Minnesota Governor's Residence. The are festively displayed at the Governor's Residence for the 2012 Holiday Season. Happy Holidays to all our customers. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Below is a letter from the Minnesota Governor's Residence Manager:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Sage of Macau; The value of a goal

As is the case with any worthwhile endeavor, having an end goal to establish progress along the way and to reward goal achievement is essential. So it is with your Christmas Wreath Fundraiser; how much money does your organization need/want to earn? How many products do you need to sell to achieve this goal and how many products will each member need to sell to get there?

The following short story is an interesting true tale regarding the value of establishing goals – of know where you’re going...

Many years ago, while traveling through Asia, I visited the peninsula colony of Macau. This community, while in China, was at the time under lease to Portugal, much as Hong Kong was under lease by the UK. I was with my wife Wendy and my good friend Bill’s Hong Kong Housekeeper Vie, a beautiful lady from the Philippines.

Even back then, Macau was a gambling Mecca and we walked through a couple of these casino’s to see what they looked like. All the gamblers were Asian men that were serious gamblers. It was dark and smoky, and none of the games they were playing looked anything like the ‘nickel, dime, quarter’ card games my buddies and I play for fun. We received many glaring looks by both the players and the staff and it was made clear that we were not welcome. That was OK.  None of us were gamblers anyway; I guess it showed.

The three of us went back into the warm, welcoming sunshine and began strolling through this exotic sea port city. Of course there were street vendors everywhere in both temporary and permanent shops selling wares that ranged from skins of exotic animals to cooked geese plucked and gutted - and hanging by their necks on strings in the open air – by the dozens. We guessed that a cooked goose was a popular dish in Macau. We didn’t purchase any geese.

Many shops were selling rare(?) antiquities - like pots from the Ming Dynasty(?). They may or may not have actually been from the Ming Dynasty, but these items were extremely interesting.  We stopped at one of the more exotic looking shops, and began browsing through the many items that were reputed to be from the Ming Dynasty, bronze tools, flat ware, porcelain bowls, etc., and some wild looking pipes. I guessed that these pipes were for smoking opium, since tobacco came from America a couple of centuries after the Ming Dynasty. However, since the little old Chinese man shopkeeper didn’t speak any English, we weren’t sure (all he could say in English was “Ming Dynasty”). This old man had a mole near his chin, with a foot long wisp of white hair drooping down. These wispy moles seemed to be a thing to be revered, since many older men sported them.

We stopped at many booths on our way to Fortaleza de Barra (The Barra Fort), a 16th Century Fortress on the bluff overlooking the harbor area. The old fort had a commanding stance over the bay and harbor and successfully defended Macau from the treat of a Dutch invasion in the 17th Century. There were a dozen old guns atop the 16 foot thick walls which were rusty and decrepit as one would imagine.  I thought how amazing, that the gun handlers of old were able to actually hit anything with these primitive weapons. But, they must have had some level of luck keeping the pirates and Dutch invaders from their colony, because it was still held by Portugal.

Well, we climbed down from the old fort and began walking through the town again. At one point, I pulled a map from my pocket to figure out where we were. Unfortunately, both the map and the street signs were in Chinese characters. This required me to stand on the corner, and look back and forth from the map to the street signs, and back again, in an effort to match up these foreign hieroglyphics. It was frustrating, but I decided to figure out where I was before we moved on. Macau is a pretty big city, and although we weren’t lost, I sure didn’t know where we were. I didn’t expect help from any locals because they were all Chinese and not overtly friendly.

After many minutes of focused effort, an old man approached me and asked, “Young man, would you like some assistance”, in heavily accented but surprisingly good English. He was short and slight, had a long wisp of white hair growing from a mole on his cheek and was dressed in a long, white flowing robe. His arms were tucked onto the sleeves of his robe much as you would expect of a Buddhist High Priest. I was relieved and said, “Yes, I’d appreciate your help. I’m having trouble matching the Chinese characters on the map and am trying to figure out where we’re at.” The wise old sage looked at me for some time, then asked, “Where are you going?” I scanned around the intersection for a second or two, and then replied, “Well, I don’t really know where I’m going, I just want to know where I’m at.”

Then, without a smile, or for that matter, any expression at all on his face, the old sage said, “Young man, if you don’t know where you are going, what does it matter where you are.” And with that, he began walking away from me and didn’t look back. I exclaimed, “But sir, can’t you just show me where we are?” Nothing; the old man just kept walking. I never saw him again.

As I watched him seemingly float away, his long, immaculately white robe flowing behind him, I realized the wise old sage was correct; ‘If I don’t know where I’m going, what does it matter where I am?’ I’ve tried to heed this advice over the years, and always have some semblance of a plan in place; I wish more people did.

Do you know where you are you going?

John S Mickman
Mickman Brothers, Inc.

Fundraising Tip: Enlist the support of your Church Community!

Church Community Fundraising Ideas

Many Fundraising Groups have achieved success by enlisting the support of their Church Communities to help fund their activities. This is particularly true if your group is directly affiliated with a church, or if your group is sponsored by a church. However, even if your group isn’t, the Fundraising Committee can ask for the support of their own churches to assist your organization in achieving its fundraising goals. 

Sample Wreath
The Victorian Wreath
A Sample Wreath is one of the best ways to obtain sales—and is available at NO CHARGE. If your congregation has a time after Sunday services when coffee and donuts are served, this is a great time to display the sample and take orders. The fragrance of the Balsam Fir, the full rich look of the Wreath, and the texture of our highest quality Bows—all make these products easy to sell. Keep in mind that you are offering a delivered product that most people would like to have, at a price that is less than retail PLUS they are supporting your group. Who could resist! 

The Poster
The Fundraising Poster is an excellent way to announce to members of your congregation that you are having a Fundraiser. Be sure to highlight on the Poster how to place orders and the Sunday date of pick-up 

Other Church Groups
One of the best ways to enlist the support of your congregation is to seek the advice of your Pastor. As the leader of your Church Community, they will be able to guide you on the best ways to promote your Christmas Wreath Fundraiser. There are probably other groups such as the Men’s Club or Choir Group that would welcome the chance to purchase a Christmas Wreath to support the activities of your group.  Remember, the Wreath is a traditional symbol of friendship and hospitality. What a wonderful way to promote fellowship within your Church Community! 

Christmas Gifts
During the sale after Sunday Services, be sure to offer Holiday Gift Products (HGP) to the members of your Congregation. What a perfect Christmas Gift, at a reasonable cost, for the family and friends of your congregants!  To facilitate the sale of HGPs to your Congregation, make sure you have HGP Order Forms available for them to complete. Remember that when you sell a Holiday Gift Wreath, you don’t have to worry about distribution of the product—Mickman Brothers will send the Product along with the personalized Christmas Card directly from our ‘Wreath Shop’ via FedEx. 

Ease of Distribution 
Distribution of Wreaths using our Traditional Program to members of a Church Congregation is extremely easy. Because the congregation meets every Sunday for Services, you can have your customers pick up and pay for their orders at the end of the Service – just in time for Holiday Decorating! (Be sure to choose just one Sunday for Wreath Distribution.)

Note: If you are planning on distributing the wreaths on a particular Sunday after Services, please mention this to your Mickman Brothers Holiday Fundraiser Customer Service Rep so we can schedule your shipment accordingly. 

Mickman Brothers Holiday Fundraiser
Contact our Customer Service Representatives at 1-800-446-4229

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rice Creek Rancho, Part 2

(This is the second in a 2 part story of our dad’s Rice Creek Rancho business. He had purchased about 60 wild burros from Mexico, and kept them in a 40 acre, rented field across the street from our suburban home in Fridley, MN.)
8-year-old John S. with baby Burro
Even though my brother Mark and I were still little kids, right from the get-go dad got us up on the burro’s and away we went. He had purchased some really cool leather saddles with brass and chrome studded medallions accented into the inlaid leather work. All the saddles he brought home had ‘horns’ on them, were very shinny and initially that was how we stayed on the burros; after we learned to ride, we just held on with our knees, many times without any saddle at all.

However, the big problem was that all these creatures were wild, right out of the Mexican desert, and had never been ridden. Although not nearly as big as a horse, or even a mule, these burros were whirling dervishes in every way. Kids came from miles around, jumped over the fence, snuck up on the burros and took them for bare-back rides.  Much of the time the bucking burros would run directly toward the low hanging branches of the numerous Box Elder trees which studded the field. Many a rider was knocked clean off their willey burro as it galloped under a tree branch. All told, I can only remember one kid getting really hurt, but he only broke an arm. Considering the big picture, not too bad…

Off all the burro’s back then, ‘Jock-o’ was the absolute wildest burro in the corral. He was jet black with a pure white star on his shoulder, and a longer black mane than the rest of the burros. We couldn’t even get on Jock-o. Somehow, without looking backward, he could tell when we were in range, and quicker than quick, Jock-o would whip a hind leg out and kick you in the ribs – hard. Nope, none of the kids bothered with Jock-o, for a few years anyway, but that’s another story…

In the meantime, little by little, dad’s herd of burros started dwindling, although we had the burros for many years. So, dad thought to himself, ‘with sales lagging a little more than the initial business plan had taken into account, how else can I make money with these burros? How about a concession at the MN State Fair! Now there’s a great idea!’

So started our many adventures working the burros at the State Fair. Our concession was on top of the knoll at the west end of where the Sky Ride is now located. For a half dozen years we would go to the Fair and dig 2 concentric circles of fence posts, and string rope between the two circle outlines – making a circular, rope ringed track. It was a pretty big track, probably about 200’ in diameter. Dad had an old, rickety, white washed work bench with a drawer that he kept the ‘money box’ in. He painted a sign of sorts that said, Mexican Burro rides, 25 cents  - we were in business. To attract attention to his fabulous State Fair Exposition, in his HUGE, LOUD VOICE, dad would yell out: “2-bits for a ride on a Mexican Burro. Who’s up next?” Honestly, you could hear my dad from over a block away, even with all the commotion of the fair. (For those that don’t know, 2-bits equals twenty-five cents.)

We had a very busy concession. Like all of these businesses, dad did all the thinking, as well as the working part that we kids couldn’t handle. But he was a great mentor, and showed us how to do as much work as possible, as soon as possible. There were many things to think up.

Us kids’ main job at the fair was to keep the stubborn burros moving around the ‘ring’ when we had riders, which was from dawn to dusk. The burros would get tired, and we had some extra’s to trade off during the day. But even so, many, many times each day one or more of burros would just stop. Well, this was a perfect job, not only for Mark and me, but also for little brother Jimmie and best friends Cris and Brian Archibald (who lived across the street in Fridley). This really was a good job for kids that were from 6 or 7, all the way up to 10 or 12. I mean really, can you picture a grown man walking around behind these little burros just to keep them going? I can’t, but then, I was kind of protective of my job back then too…

Anyway, we each had our own favorite stick to slap the behinds of the burros when they wouldn’t cooperate, and 95% of the time, we could get them going again. However, if we simply couldn’t get one or more of the burros started, ‘the big gun’ would be called in: Dad. Our dad had huge, strong, callused hands and when he slapped the butt of a burro you could hear it for a hundred yards. Right when he would make the connection, huge hand to butt, he would yell out, “On delay” (it’s Spanish; we didn’t know what this meant either?). The little burros ears would go back and they would leap into action, not to stop for quite some time.

After one or two of these encounters, the stalled burro in question would crane his head, and roll his eyes all the way back to see if dad was indeed coming after him. When the stubborn creature was sure it was the target of ‘the big gun’, the burro would tuck his tail between his legs and start running around the ring – with a little kid on board – bouncing (and sometimes, crying) all the way around the ring until dad could catch up to the now stampeding herd of jackasses. Are we having fun now, or what!? The show was just beginning.

Most of the time our days were spent taking turns walking burros around the ring, and when it wasn’t our turn, we would go down the Midway where we had made friends with the kids of the professional ‘carnies’, the guys that ran all the Midway rides. We kids became compatriots because we all ‘worked’ at the Fair and our gang would get free rides in the Midway, and the Midway gang would get free rides on the burros. It was a good deal, and cooler than heck.

If you can imagine being a little kid whose job it is to walk behind burros in a circle for 12 hours a day, you can get a taste of working at the fair at the Mexican Burro concession. We liked it, and were able to go down to the Midway and everything, but it was still a lot of boring work. So, we had to make up some games. One of them went like this:

Of course, being creatures that ate, the burros of course had to poop too. Because we all did such a good job keeping the burros moving, they could poop on the fly. Many people, maybe most, haven’t really had the opportunity to study the hind end of a burro for days on end. Well, I’m here to tell you that there is a certain sequence of events that occurs as the burro is working up to this particular project.

Our ‘honey-bucket’ was a wheelbarrow that we kept in the middle of the ‘ring’; we kept the show shovel in the honey-bucket for picking up after the burros. The contest was that the kid that was ‘up’, had to recognize the symptoms of the next bowel movement for one of the 6 or 7 burros working, run to the honey-bucket, get the snow shovel, run back to the burro in question, and catch the poop in mid-air, before it hit the ground. We developed a point system for winning points for perfect catches, and losing points when the one that was ‘up’, got the snow shovel and there was no action; this was a serious loss of points. The winner wouldn’t have to put the burros away that night. I really hate to brag, but I usually won this contest.

When I think back on this whole affair, I’m pretty sure that the parents had just as much fun as the kids did when they visited our dad’s Mexican Burro concession. There was always plenty of action and interesting things happening.

As for our wages, ‘we weren’t cheap, but we could be had’. Each day we earned $3 each, and all the chili-con-carne and Dinty Moore Beef Stew we could eat. Of course we got free rides in the Midway, and we had an old, miniature travel trailer on the site that we could sleep in. That way, dad wouldn’t have to pay to get us into the Fair every day. A pretty shrewd move on his part, and we all liked to camp out anyway; we didn’t have to take baths when we slept over, were play around at the Fair, and got to spend all kinds of extra time with the burros. We loved the State Fair!

By the time the fair ended, we were all pretty tired, but rich. We all had the money we earned at the fair and for the set-up/tear down, and on really good days, dad would give us more money as a bonus. He would take out all the money he earned and we would help him dump it on the big bed in mom and dad’s bedroom. You’ve never seen so many quarters in your life (at least we hadn’t). Then we helped put all the money into the little paper tubes so dad could bring the money to the bank, in bags. A lot of bags.

To all of us kids, our dad was the richest dad we knew, and as I came to realize when I became a father, he was richer in more ways than one.

John S. Mickman
MN State Fair Concessionaire

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rice Creek Rancho, Part 1

Our dad, John V. Mickman, was a perennial entrepreneur whose business pursuits were unique in many ways, but mostly because few people would ever have thought of these business opportunities in the first place. His foray into the Mexican Burro adventure is a good example. Here is how I remember my dad telling me about how Rice Creek Rancho began:

In the mid 1950’s he and our mom, Lucy Mickman, decided to drive down to Mexico for a vacation. Why? I’m sure the original intent was simply for pleasure. However, dad was one of those rare individuals that learns foreign languages easily, and while in Mexico for those two weeks, he learned Spanish.  40 years later in the mid 1990’s, Mickman Brothers hired two Hispanic workers through a temp agency and none of us spoke Spanish.  So, I called my dad and asked if he could remember enough Spanish to ask these workers if they were getting paid properly, how they liked working for us, etc. He said, “Well, I don’t know if I can remember enough Spanish, but I can try.” He met with the two workers and said, “Hola, Buenos tardes.” The two guys looked surprised, replied in Spanish, and off they went on an hour long conversation…….. Amazing!

Anyway after he picked up the language during the vacation, dad was driving mom through the Mexican countryside and stopped to get gasoline. While he was fueling up, dad looked to a mesa not far off and spotted a small herd of burros. Dad asked the attendant what they were, and was told that they were wild burro’s; no one owned them, they just lived there in the semi-arid land. “Well”, my dad said. “I wonder how much they are worth if a guy wanted to buy them.” “Buy them?” the Mexican replied. “Why would anyone want to buy them? You can just go out there and get them if you want them!”, he replied in Spanish.

My dad said, “I don’t know if I want them or not right now. But, if I do want them, how much would it cost to have you or your buddies go get them and put them on a truck? I’m going home from my vacation with my wife and don’t have time to get them right now.” The Mexican began stroking his long black mustache trying to come up with the right number; too much might scare this gringo away, but it would be silly to ask too low a price. “Amigo, I think my brothers and I can get some of those burro’s for $2.50 each. What do you think about that?”

Boy, this seemed like the deal of a lifetime to my dad. $2.50 each plus somehow getting them up to Minnesota.  He was sure he could sell them for over $50 each, maybe more. “Mi amigo, how many of those burros do you think you can catch?” The overwhelming opportunities seen by the Mexican were similar to my dad’s. “Senior”, the Mexican replied, “how many burros do you want; that’s how many we can catch.”

So the negotiations and logistics were worked out standing there at the gas station in northern Mexico. My dad gave the Mexican a small down payment to show that he was serious about this business opportunity, and the Mexican assured dad he would take care of everything. “Don’t worry Amigo, this is going to be a good thing for you…”.

My mom (a very nice, very clean lady) was extremely surprised (and concerned) when dad got back in the car, drove away, and told her of his grand new plan. The problem was that we lived in a subdivision in the new suburban community of Fridley. Mom was sure we couldn’t keep burros in our back yard and we had no other place for any livestock. Dad was an aeronautical engineer at Honeywell and it was important that he stayed focused on his job since she was busy with 5 kids under six years old at home.

As it turned out, there was an undeveloped 40 acre field across the street from our house that had an old dilapidated barbed wire fence around it. When they returned to Fridley, dad met with the old farmer that owned that field and asked if he could rent it for a year or so. “Young man”, the farmer said, what are you going to do with 40 acres? You’ve never farmed in your life.” Here was a critical time in the new enterprise for my dad; he didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag with his new idea in case someone else heard about it and captured the market before he even got started. But, after going back and forth a couple of times, it became apparent that the old farmer wouldn’t lease the land to dad until he knew what he was going to do with it.

Finally my dad told him the plan, but that the plan was to be in strict confidence. “I’m going to keep burros in the field” dad explained. “What burros!” the farmer asked. “What are you talking about? How many burros?” Dad replied, “Well, I was thinking about 50 or 60 burros, from Mexico.” “From Mexico!” the farmer exclaimed. “What in the name of Pete are you going to do with 60 wild Mexican jackasses?” This seemed to be a funny question to my dad, because, from the instant he had the idea, he was certain his plan was a fabulous business opportunity. “I’m going to sell those burros, for $75 each!” dad announced proudly. 

So the deals between the Mexican and the old farmer were struck (much to mom’s dismay).  I’m not sure about the logistics of getting the burros to Minnesota or how the money was exchanged with the Mexican, but somehow dad arranged the whole thing. He repaired the run down barbed wire fence and fashioned a corral from some old lumber not far from our house. My younger brother Mark and I tagged along behind dad much of the time, but we were only 5 or 6 years old so weren’t able to help much. We really didn’t even understand what was happening – until the big day.

Dad with burros
So on one fine, early summer morning in 1956, our dad woke Mark and me up and while walking across our dew covered lawn, we watched the biggest truck we had ever seen, back up next to the corral in the 40 acre field. Then, when we reached the back of the truck, our dad yelled out to the truck driver, “Let ‘er go!” and the trailers huge tailgate dropped down to the ground, making a steep ramp. As it dropped, 60 wild, Mexican jackasses began stampeding down the ramp. They had not seen the light of day since they left the old country and were raring to go, literally. They jumped, and bumped and farted their way from the truck and ran away into the field like there was no tomorrow, happy to be free again. They were wild indeed and had never been fenced in. Mark and I crawled through the barbed wire and started running after these wild creatures; what fun!

My dad called this operation, RICE CREEK RANCHO, and he made the newspaper many times over the next few years as word spread about all the Mexican Burros in ‘friendly Fridley’. Even now, whenever I see a burro in Minnesota, there is little doubt in my mind that this is a descendant of one or more of those first 60 burros my dad brought to Minnesota in the ‘50’s. And, the good news is that this business turned out to be a pretty lucrative venture for our dad, and certainly a learning experience for all of us kids.

But to my little brother Mark and me, this wasn’t a business, this was by far the most exciting event in our young lives; we were going to be cowboys! We simply couldn’t believe that all those ‘little horses’ were ours. But, as you can only imagine, the fun was only beginning…

Find out what happens in Rice Creek Rancho, Part 2. Coming soon!

John S. Mickman
Mexican Burro Bronco Rider