Anytime you are asked to speak for your supper, the first thing you want to know is, “Will the food be good?”
That was the case last week when Don Hogan of Ruston asked me to be one of the guest speakers for the Temple Baptist Hunters & Anglers Wild Game Banquet. As expected, the Paradise Bound Chapter served up some really great game. But the biggest treat of all was getting to listen to Paul Meeks of Tallulah. Some people may not know Paul, but he is to the deer stand what Phil Robertson is to the duck call. A legend, albeit a humble one.
In fact, back in the day when Paul quit a good day job with State Farm Insurance to build deer stands full time, “deer stand” wasn’t even a word. If somebody in those days was on a “deer stand”, that meant they were sitting on a log or standing up close to a tree trying to get a shot at a deer.
But Paul had an idea and a dream, a willing father-in-law to be his partner and a bank loan to build steel climbing stands for deer hunters. Even though he was equipped with marketing and business degrees from Northeast Louisiana University, Paul was still new to this game. It wasn’t easy. It all started at first in 1976, when he built and loaded the first few stands in the back of his 1976 Ford pickup and started visiting the biggest sporting goods dealers he could find. Things were slow.
He laughs when he recalls his dilemma: How was he going to sell something nobody had ever heard of?
It got pretty interesting. One of the state’s major dealers was located in New Orleans — downtown New Orleans. Paul recalled going in the store and trying to convince the owner to come look at his stands. He finally convinced him, but the only thing to climb was a big utility pole out on the street corner. In downtown New Orleans, mind you. Up went Paul. And as you can expect in downtown N.O., a crowd gathered. Traffic slowed. Soon the police were there with lights and sirens. Fortunately for Paul, both policemen who showed up were hunters. After he convinced them of what he was doing and sold a couple of stands to the dealer, they let him go. It did, however, cost him a couple of stands for the officers to avoid a trip to jail for disturbing the peace.
Paul kept building the company, API Outdoors, but it was on a shoestring, located in a little 6,000 square foot factory with 11 employees. In 1986, his church had a revival and the Evangelist preached on having Faith when the chips were down. After the service, he and his wife got the idea to go over to to API and pray over the business. They did that and said, “God, we give this thing and our lives to you.” From that day forward, everything changed. Shortly after that, Paul had the revelation to build the stands from much lighter aluminum and a customer suggested a roller chain to attach it to the tree.
After that, API became a runaway train. In 1995, it was the largest treestand manufacturer in the world and was up to 350 employees. It changed the way of life for hundreds of folks in Tallulah and deer hunters everywhere. A few years later, Paul sold the business after a major sporting goods dealer made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Today, he is still and adviser to Bass Pro Shop and also has started another company, Great Day, Inc (http://www.GreatDayInc.com).
Their creed: “We’re a small manufacturer in this country that clings to the belief that, with God’s help, and a lot of hard work and persistence, quality products can be produced competitively here in the U.S. and that America can be restored to the level of honor and respect it once enjoyed.”
Wow. Imagine that. What more can I say? Thanks, Paul.