By Zan Martin
In my last blog I covered the impact my husband Randy Martin had on my life and ended it by thanking him for the next 27 years of running our business and living our lives together with such teamwork, happiness, love, and joy. That certainly leaves a lot of years in between, doesn’t it?
With some reflection, I have now determined that the best way to recover from his loss is by telling the rest of our story. So this is my second blog detailing our incredible journey.
During the early years of our marriage, my career was going great, but unfortunately, The Trading Post was struggling to attract customers as it was located in a fairly remote location to bustling Nashville. His unique store was filled with original artwork including Randy’s own Native American and western art, Native American jewelry, buckskins, sculptures, prints, and implements. One day as we sat on the front porch of the building pondering how to bring in more people, I reread the historical marker out front and had an epiphany.
When we first married, I was working for Burroughs & Associates Advertising and had by then worked my way up to Vice President and was AE for the agency’s most prestigious accounts including Rancho, K&N, Warn, Centerforce, and Bridgestone. Randy was running his business, The Whites Creek Trading Post in the historic old James Gang Building in Whites Creek, TN where one of the infamous gang members was captured in 1881. For those unfamiliar with the story, Frank & Jesse James lived in East Nashville at the time and were passing themselves off as equestrian experts in between bank heists. After hearing of the capture of gang member Bill Ryan, they fled Nashville knowing he drank a lot and had a big mouth. Back then, the building was a combination Grocery Store and Saloon and because of a rainstorm, Ryan stopped in while riding his horse East up the trail after the gang’s latest heist in Alabama. Sure enough, he’d had too much to drink and began pulling out coins and guns and bragging on his exploits. Stealthily, a bartender slipped out to alert the big burly blacksmith across the road about the situation, and he quickly came over, hogtied Ryan to his chair, and put him on the porch while the magistrate next door hitched his horse to a wagon. They then loaded him in the wagon, chair and all, and hauled him off to jail. There’s a lesson for anyone who likes to brag and drink.
I said, “Randy!! Let’s re-enact the event of the capture here!” We hired a writer to embellish the story, sought out cowboys and saloon girls who could act, and I was able to convince Nashville’s sheriff at the time, Hank Hillin, to play the part of the arresting sheriff. After a few months of weekly rehearsals, I was able to get the actors dressed up and interviewed by every newspaper and TV station in town to create awareness. We set up a saloon-style setting just outside the building complete with an ensemble of rustic tables, chairs, bar, and a slew of saloon girls. The embellishment included Frank and Jesse infiltrating the crowd to try to stop the arrest and an ensuing shootout leaving many members dead. We re-enacted the play every hour on the hour. Throughout the day we had food vendors, flint knapping, hatchet throwing, a marksman shooting dimes out of the air, and many celebrity artists performing music, including William Lee Golden from the Oak Ridge Boys and Les Taylor from Exile. The turnout was incredibly successful, with over 2,000 attendees and lots of local publicity. Sadly, despite the event’s success, it was not enough to sustain the business long-term.
Soon afterward, Randy accompanied me to the SEMA Show and mentioned that I could not get two feet down an aisle without someone calling my name and hugging me. He later remarked, “Zan, you know everyone in this industry and are so well respected, why don’t we just form our own agency?” Wow, I thought, why didn’t I think of that? After weighing all the pros and cons we decided to go for it and formed Martin & Company in 1993. My title was President and Randy was CFO and Creative Director. Luckily (although I did not think it at the time) when I was AE for Bridgestone Motorsports, a new marketing director was hired and he advised his team to sever their ties with Burroughs & Associates as they were bringing marketing in-house. By the time Randy and I formed Martin & Company my non-compete clause had expired, so I contacted the Bridgestone manager I had worked with previously and discovered that he had been reassigned as the company’s Motorcycle, ATV, and Kart manager. He expressed interest in receiving a pitch, and soon we landed the business! Afterward, whenever we pitched new business by stating that we represented Bridgestone, appointments were quickly made, and oh so thankfully, we began to reel them in.
It was such an exciting time as we really began to expand our services and grow. Within just a few short years we had hired five employees and had six solid clients. With Randy as the creative genius of the agency, we began winning numerous Automotive Aftermarket Global Design awards, and my visibility as an active volunteer for SEMA councils and committees continued to land more business. By then we had 10 employees on staff, more business than we could handle, and were outgrowing our office space — a 1500 sq. ft. addition to our home. It was a pivotal moment in our lives as we deliberated what was next for our agency and our remarkable journey together. If you’d like to learn more about what was up next for us, you can click here for the rest of that story.
My next blog will be a deep dive into the depth and breadth of Randy’s creative skills that led him to become a world-renowned woodcarver, painter, celebrity artist, songwriter, and more.