Articles

Sun-Sentinel - 'The Test of a Good Salesman'

The Counselor - 'Managing Suppliers'

Wall Street Journal - 'Ever The Entrepreneur'

Wells Fargo - 'The Business Advisor'

Sun-Sentinel - 'Starting up? Banks probably won't take a risk'

 

Interviews

Merrill Lynch

entrepreneur.com - Start Up Expert Bob Reiss

Audio - Mark Davis of smartbusinessradio.com

Audio - Lou Cattaroza of Worldwide Corp. Network

Video - Harvard Business School Entrepreneurs

Articles

The test of a good salesman is dogged finesse
By Marcia Heroux Pounds

The toughest part in sales often is getting in the door.

How to get an appointment with a prospect is a frequent question by business students and new business owners, says Bob Reiss, author of Low Risk, High Reward.
Reiss says it's important to have a good state of mind when attempting to get appointments with busy, important people. Don't take rejection personally; recognize that the person you're trying to reach may get 50 or more appointment requests a day.
"Your challenge is to cut through the clutter. Stay upbeat. Never get angry. Follow up, be persistent, and be creative," he says.
New business owners often think they are going to be the strategist for the business; someone else will do the selling. What they often find is "they're doing everything, even cleaning the floor," Reiss says.
Even if you don't have sales experience, your own excitement about your business or product can be contagious. "Your passion can carry you through.
That's the wild card for a lot of young people," Reiss says.
Typical mistakes are not following up on leads when a call is not returned and not doing homework before making a pitch to a buyer.
If you want to sell a lamp to a major discount store, for example, go to the store and examine lamps already being sold. "E-mail the store: 'You're missing the $20 - $30 price point, and let me tell you why,' "Reiss suggests.
Then exhibit your knowledge of the industry: "You're not competing at this price-point and your competition is. You've got to show them you've got some smarts," he says.
Reiss offers these tips for small-business owners and start-ups on getting that crucial appointment to sell goods or services:

  • Write a concise letter-no longer than one page. Describe yourself or your company and why you are credible. State how the recipient of the letter would benefit from meeting with you.

  • Send a follow-up letter if there's no response to your initial letter. Consider sending it via mail, fax and e-mail.

  • Send your letter via priority mail. The person receiving probably will open your letter first because priority mail connotes urgency.

  • Network with acquaintances. Do they know the person you're trying to reach? Perhaps they can get you an appointment.

  • Phone for an appointment. Build a relationship with gatekeepers, such as the secretary or assistant; they can be influential.

  • Call before or after regular work hours to reach people who have their calls screened.

  • Leave a polite message on voice mail. If you get no reply, leave a message every day. The person may get annoyed, but get tired of hearing your message and call you back. Or he may admire your persistence and call back.

  • Show up without an appointment, stating that you were in the building. You at least will contact the person who makes appointments.

  • Specify what time you will call back when leaving a phone message. Hopefully, the executive will tell a secretary to put your call through at that time.

  • Offer to drive a person who travels all the time to the airport or meet him at the airport.

  • Use humor. Once when Reiss didn't get his call returned, he sent the person a letter saying, "You are not answering my phone calls. Please check one:

    • I have bad breath

    • You've heard that I don't shower.

    • You've just been too busy"

Reiss says the buyer finally called him back.
Even if you show up and your appointment has been canceled, don't get angry. Be gracious.
"It's a great opportunity. Say, ' I understand. Can we set another time now?' " Reiss says.
"Perseverance is the key. After awhile they admire the fact that you kept going after them." 


DISTRIBUTOR OPERATIONS 101:
MANAGING SUPPLIERS
By Bob Reiss

With all the conflict and animosity that seems to exist between distributors and suppliers, we sometimes tend to forget that we're all in this business together. Here's a back-to-basics approach to supplier/distributor relations by a business veteran who's been involved in more than a dozen successful start-ups.

Almost every company, whether product-or service-oriented, is dependent on suppliers. Many people seem to get this supplier issue wrong. They feel that because they write the order, they're in the dominant position and can act in unkind and unfair ways toward their suppliers.
Let's get this right! You need good and reliable suppliers. When you find them, treat them like gold. I personally don't want gifts from suppliers. For every lunch or dinner they buy me, I want to match it and buy them one. Work as hard on building a supplier relationship as with any other one.
Be loyal to your good ones. They are essential to your good health - and your growth.

How Suppliers Affect Your Business

Let's briefly look at all the ways suppliers can impact your company:

  • Quality
    Whether you purchase a component, finished product, or service, suppliers can positively or negatively affect the quality of your product.

  • Timeliness
    Their timely deliveries are crucial to your reliability to your customers. Their quick turnaround becomes the key to your minimization of inventory, which in turn translates to less risk of inventory obsolescence and lower cash needs.

  • Competitiveness
    They can keep you competitive and one-up on your competition, based on their pricing, quality, reliability and technological breakthroughs. They can keep you abreast of these and other industry trends.

  • Innovation
    They can make major contributions to your new product knowledge. Remember, they live their product more than you do. They are also working to be on the cutting edge of innovation of their product. The good ones will understand your company, its industry, and your needs, and help you accordingly in your new idea execution.

  • Finance
    They can be a major and constant source of financing for you. I mentioned this earlier: Your payment terms to them can be an important source of money. Their extended terms don't usually carry interest. If over a period of time you've proven to be a considerate, loyal, and growing customer, you may be able to tap into your suppliers for additional financing in your growth mode - or if you run into a cash crunch. It may take the form of postponed debt, extended terms on new purchases, a loan, or an investment in your company.

Partnering For Profits

To maximize the benefits your supplier can deliver to you, it's important that you be open with them. Include them in some of your strategy meetings, invite them to break bread, visit their offices, invite them to meetings with your people - including company wide ones or office parties or picnics. In other words, work hard on building a good relationship with them.
Having said how valuable and important a supplier can be to you, I'll now say that you should not be a patsy. You can be a demanding customer - just be fair. State your quality and time needs clearly. Hold your suppliers to their agreements. Make sure they stay competitive. Tell them you expect never to pay higher prices than other purchasers.
Let them know you're there for the long term, as long as they perform and can keep pace with your growth. There are times you need to replace a supplier, because you've outgrown them and they can't perform to your new expectations. Before dropping them, however, I would try to educate or help them change to keep up with you. Failing that, you might be able to throw them some bones, in the hope that over time, they can change and grow to meet the needs of your new business model.

Protecting Your Firm

As you grow, you may find that it's not prudent to rely on one supplier. If that supplier has a strike or a fire, you don't want to be in a position where you'd be shut down, too. So develop a second or multiple suppliers, and don't be embarrassed to tell your key supplier that you're doing so. They will appreciate your honesty. If they're savvy, they'll also know you need backup suppliers on key products or services if you are to raise money, The lenders are sure to ask this question.
Imagine, for example, that you run a mail-order company that ships all its products to consumers. Your sole supplier is UPS. What happens if UPS goes on strike? Well, it happened recently, and many companies that were overly dependent on UPS are now well acquainted with Federal Express and other shippers.
Assume that you have two competent suppliers, and that each knows about the existence of the other. In most such situations, you can encourage a healthy competition between the two, which may well lead to better and cheaper service to you.
Hamid Moghadam carries this one step further. He does a modest but structured "performance review" on each of his suppliers - including an overall grade - and then sits down with each company and goes over its review. He tells them where they stand in the bigger picture of suppliers and promises them that a bigger piece of the pie.

How to Be a Valued Customer

These ideas assume, of course, that you're a customer that somebody out there wants. Don't take this for granted! In order to be a valued customer to your suppliers, here are a few good things you should do:
Pay your bills on time. For the sake of emphasis, I'll repeat this one: Pay your bills on time! You can negotiate for favorable payment terms before you place an order, but once the order is placed, don't renege or attempt to change the rules.
Always pay on time. If for some reason you can't, call up your suppliers and tell them why, and then tell them when you will pay. Don't play games with suppliers' cash. You'll be absolutely amazed at the goodwill and benefits you'll earn by observing this simple rule.
Don't let your bookkeeper or comptroller think he or she is a hero if he/she succeeds in stalling payments. In fact, I personally would come down hard on anybody who tried to do that as a general rule. My question to that person would be, "Who do you think is going to get deliveries when there's a shortage of product? The prompt payer or the staller?"

Provide adequate lead times. Try to give suppliers as much lead time as possible on your orders. Unless there's a good competitive reason not to, share with them your honest projections of your needs, and then keep them abreast of any significant changes in that estimation. In developing your lead times, try to be knowledgeable about your suppliers' production methods and needs.

Share Information. Keep your good suppliers aware of what's going on in your company. Tell them about changes in key personnel, new products, special promotions, new markets and so on. Many times, you'll find that good suppliers can be helpful to you in developing new business.
Developing good suppliers and dealing with them effectively isn't a complicated process. Here's all you need to do:

  • Tell them of your needs and standards

  • Treat them fairly

  • Be demanding

  • Be loyal

  • Be communicative, and

  • Pay them on time.


EVER THE ENTREPRENEUR

EVER THE ENTREPRENEUR, one author helps market his own book.

Robert S. Reiss, 69 years old, of Boca Raton, Fla., has founded 14 small companies in his career -- mostly to sell novelty products. By becoming expert at risk reduction -- which is often counterintuitive to entrepreneurs -- he has also become a regular guest speaker at the Harvard and Columbia business schools. Now he has authored "Low Risk, High Reward," a guide to starting and expanding small businesses "with minimal risk."

Though published last month under the well-known Free Press imprint of Viacom Inc.'s Simon & Schuster unit, the book runs the obvious risk of being just one more title in an all-too-crowded market. But Mr. Reiss -- unlike most authors -- aims to increase the odds of success by assuming a big role himself in marketing the book.

Indeed, he says he bought 2,000 copies himself (of about 14,000 printed) -- more than were ordered by any single retail chain or distributor. Now he is trying to resell the copies in channels outside the book trade, such as banks, insurance companies and mail-order catalogs for general merchandise.

To get a price break from the publisher, Mr. Reiss assumed more risk than stores and distributors do: He gave up the right to return copies. (He says the potential reward is worth the risk.)

The author says he told his publisher: "You have to learn new forms of distribution. I'll be the guinea pig. You'll learn from me."


From the Business Advisor-Wells Fargo

Getting the first order is good, and filling those orders is good. But getting the reorder--that's the real beginning of your business.

Success Times 14

One successful business of your own does not make you an entrepreneurial genius, says Bob Reiss. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based entrepreneur has been involved in 14 start-ups in his 40-year career, including a pencil company, a national sales rep company, three game companies (remember "The TV Guide Trivia Game?"), a consulting company, a personalization company and a watch company.

Reiss's book, Low Risk, High Reward: Starting and Growing Your Business with Minimal  Risk, addresses methods for identifying, managing and reducing risks in virtually every facet of business and outlines the attributes, or personal qualities, he feels most successful entrepreneurs possess. The number one attribute is passion for their work. "Every other attribute is learnable," Reiss says, "passion is innate."

Seize the Opportunity

Reiss is the perfect example of a serial entrepreneur identifying opportunity and jumping into action. When the famed Rubik's Cube was taking America by storm, Reiss noticed that manuals on how to solve the puzzle were not available in stores that sold the product. Ever the opportunist, he contacted the publisher of the manual, asked to purchase them on a guaranteed sales basis in bulk quantity, and  then distributed them to retailers across the country. Reiss sold more manuals than expected, and everyone enjoyed a healthy profit.

Do Your Homework

However, Reiss knows the difference between a genuine opportunity and wishful thinking. Falling in love with your idea--or product--can blind you to the reality of the marketplace, according to Reiss. Even though entrepreneurs and small business owners may not have the means to do market research, "you have to study your market--you just have to," he says. "Is there even a market? Many people I ask don't know the answer to that question, and that's why they fail."

Reiss currently spends time traveling and speaking to enterprising and energetic young entrepreneurs at various colleges and universities around the country. One lesson he always mentions applies to reliable market knowledge. "I always tell them that getting the first order is good, and filling out those orders is good," he says. "But getting the reorder--that's the real beginning of your business."

Starting up? Banks probably won't take a risk
By Marcia Heroux Pounds

Q: I have been completing loan applications, writing and reviewing a business plan, and pondering financial pro formas in an effort to acquire funds to start my own business. Obviously it would be great if I had an angel investor or a rich relative. Start-up businesses are not, evidently, an exciting pursuit of most banks. Good credit and some collateral mayor may not make it for me. 
Do you have any suggestions?

A: You're on the right track.
Take it from Bob Reiss, author of Low Risk. High Reward. who has been involved in 14 start-up businesses. The Palm Beach County resident writes in his recently published book that getting money is the most troublesome issue for budding entrepreneurs.
Reiss makes several suggestions that begin with reducing start-up expenses upfront.
"Look at who you will be buying the most goods from. A lot of suppliers might finance you for awhile," Reiss says. Also consider start-up costs you can convert to rental expenses, such as computers, faxes and other office equipment.
But you still will need some start-up money. The traditional vehicles for financing a new business include:

  • Savings:

Tap into your own money. This is a good idea because outside investors will be reluctant to lay their money on the line if you haven't put up your own, Reiss says. Do you own a home? You might be able to obtain a low-cost home equity loan to use for your business.

  • Friends and family:

The most inexpensive route you can go, but be careful: you could put your friendship or family relationship in jeopardy if the business isn't successful. Make sure friends and family members can afford to lose the money they invested in your venture and understand the risk.

  • Banks:

Reiss says not to plan on banks until you've developed a successful company. With start-ups, the Small Business Administration won't back a loan unless the principal comes up with at least 20 to 30 percent of the required capital, Reiss says.
These are loans made by the bank with payment guaranteed by the SBA. Such loans require a solid business plan and collateral -- a house or securities, for example. You can get a list of local lenders that offer SBA-guaranteed loans from the Small Business Administration in Miami (305-536-5521), but it may be a better option for you further along.

  • Credit cards:

As long as you keep up with the minimum payments --or preferably can pay more -- you can develop a good credit record for your business. That will help you secure a more formal line of credit later, Reiss says.

  • Factors:

Not an option for start-up money, but can be a good source as your business operation grows. These are companies that give cash advances against your receivables. Reiss says for companies like his that have been light on assets and heavy on receivables and inventory, factors have been the way to go.
The advantage is guaranteed payment on your accounts. The downside is that some customers may be turned off by some factor's aggressive collection methods, Riess says. Also, you can expect to pay between 1 and 4 percent over prime for the advance cash.

  • Angels:

An angel is just what you need. This is a wealthy individual who provides capital in return for a piece of the company. "it very hard; you've got to network," Reiss says. He suggests making a presentation in front of groups like the Gold Coast Venture Capital Club in Boca Raton.
"If you show a lot of passion, you've got a good shot," he says.
If your business has a technology bent, you should check out the Enterprise Development Corporation's Emerging Technology Business Showcase.
Even if your business is not technology related, you may benefit from the "angel" panel on the program.
Reiss says don't waste your time knocking on the doors of venture capitalists; they unlikely to answer a start-up's call.
Instead, network with as many people as you can. Go to SCORE, the group of retired business people who help businesses (there are chapters throughout South Florida) and to the Small Business Development Center at Florida Atlantic University.
Overall, you've got to believe in your idea and yourself. Come across earnestly and enthusiastically whether you're selling your business idea to a friend or an angel.
"You've got to believe in what you're thinking," Reiss says. "The two things I look for are, "Do they know what they're talking about and do you trust them?"

 

Interviews

The Right Way to Grow Your Business

Most businesses make a simple mistake in the growth phase: they expand before establishing profitability. 

"They spend their money on fancy new showrooms, or cars or more employees," says Bob Reiss, the author of the new book, Low Risk, High Reward: Starting and Growing a Business with Minimal Risk (The Free Press) with Jeffrey L. Cruikshank. "People tend to lose sight of the object of being in business, which is to make a profit." Reiss believes businesses are too often evaluated on sales figures alone. But if they're not profitable, they will eventually run out of cash and "that's what causes most business failures," he says.


An entrepreneur himself, Reiss has been involved in 14 start-ups including R&R Inc., which was named to Inc. magazine's list of America's 500 fastest-growing companies in 1992, 1993 and 1994. Reiss holds an MBA from Harvard and lectures frequently on entrepreneurship. 


Once you've determined if your company is profitable, Reiss suggests asking these important questions before growing your business.


Q: "How will you, as the business owner, fit in?"
As the size of the company changes, your role will change. You'll probably spend less time with customers and more time dealing with investors. You will have more meetings to attend and less time for close personal relationships with employees.

"Some companies never make it to the next level because their founders can't let go. They have to do everything themselves," says Reiss. He has observed that many companies, after going public, eventually fire the founder because he or she is unable to make the transition.


Q: "Where will the staff come from?"
More employees will be needed, and finding good people with new skills is not always an entrepreneur's forte. Retaining old employees may also be difficult. While it sets a good example to have senior people around with a link to the company's past, some may not have the skills to keep up with changes. Inevitably, you will have to re-examine everyone's contribution to the firm, and may have to let some of the original staffers go "which can be an agonizing process," he says.


"Without exception, all of the people I've talked to who have shepherded their companies from small to large say they waited too long to make key personnel changes, and wound up regretting it."


Q: "What new systems and procedures will be needed?"
Department heads will need to be hired and monitored, and policies formalized. "The wrong moves by a department head can be devastating," Reiss says.


Q: "How can the company stay flexible and opportunistic?"
Perhaps this is the greatest challenge of all. Big companies tend to act like big companies, says Reiss. "All too often, they promote and reward people who don't make mistakes. But very often the people who don't make mistakes are also the people who don't try new things. A lot of companies get bigger and lose sight of what made them special in the first place." 


Start-Up Expert Bob Reiss
So what does it take to become an entrepreneur, to face the inherent (and exciting) risks of starting a business? Bob Reiss answers that million-dollar question.
By Laura Tiffany

The guts, the glory, the risks. It's all there in the world of entrepreneurship. The trick is to figure out if you're ready to handle not only the thrills and chills of starting up, but the long-term challenges of keeping one step ahead of your customers' needs.

In Low Risk, High Reward: Starting and Growing Your Business with Minimal Risk (Free Press, $27.50), author Bob Reiss, along with co-author Jeffrey L. Cruikshank, methodically explains what you need to start a business, from entrepreneurial traits and numeracy (dollars-and-cents sense) to managing risk and getting your first order. We've asked Reiss, who's also the founder of his own company, R&R Recreational Products in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to share some of the knowledge he's gleaned from his real-world entrepreneurial experiences.

Entrepreneur.com: What are some key attributes of a successful entrepreneur?

Bob Reiss: The first one is passion. Of all the attributes, this is the only one I don't believe you can teach. Everything else is learnable; passion is innate. If you don't have a really strong passion for your idea, don't go ahead because you're gonna have to put way too much work into this thing and it'll feel like work. If you have passion, it doesn't seem like work. It's fun.

I think another attribute is curiosity. Curious people are much more creative. Asking questions really triggers innovation, and as you know, not only in small business, but even in large corporations, innovation is key.

Another interesting attribute is a high energy level. I interviewed about 27 entrepreneurs for this book, and almost everybody had very high energy levels and they all seemed to work out. I always thought I was crazy because every time I traveled in the early days before hotels had health clubs, I'd run around the parking lot at night, and people would look at me like I was a little bit crazy. But I'm convinced now that the better shape you're in, the better your mind works. You need less sleep. And particularly in a small business, you're the key person and you have to take care of that engine.

I think flexibility goes without saying. You have to be flexible because things change so fast, and in the new Internet economy, that's even truer. The only caution I have with flexibility is you want to be flexible, but you do not want to be flexible with your core values. Whatever your true beliefs and your mission are, you don't want to deviate from that.

It's good to have a little bit of an ego as long as it's under control because that will give you the self-confidence you need. You have to be mentally tough because you're going to have lots of setbacks. When you get a setback, you got to come right back and do better.

One of the things I'm big on is integrity, and you've got to start that from day one in your business. People love to do business with and will help people they trust. In the book, I list 35 ways you can build trust, just to give people an idea. Listen to people you deal with. People trust you more if you listen to them. You want to admit mistakes right away. Another thing I'm big on is paying your bills on time. Like a maniac, pay your bills on time and suppliers will take care of you. Don't steal people's ideas. Never BS. If you don't know anything, tell them you don't know anything. These are the little things that will build trust over time.

Entrepreneur.com: Why is creativity so important for an entrepreneur?

Reiss: You're going to have to innovate if you're starting a new company. A lot of people think the word "creativity" has to do with being naturally good at art and design. You need to be just as creative in every phase of the business. You have to be creative at raising money. [You have to decide] what your product is going to be. After all, none of us really ever reinvent the wheel. We're [just] coming up with new ideas and trying to do something a little different. We have to differentiate ourselves from the other person to get started.

To have an organization that's creative, you have to work at it. One of the things you don't want do is to hire [people who are similar to you,] which we tend to do. You want to hire people who are different than you because you want to have people speak freely. You have to be able to listen to what you think are hair-brained ideas because sometimes there's a good one. And you want to encourage all the people you buy from to give you their ideas.

Many people say they have an open-door policy. Yeah, but the doors are always closed and most employees don't believe you have an open door. So you've got to work and convince them you're open to all their ideas because their ideas can create all kinds of new products and ways to do business that are profitable.

Entrepreneur.com: In your book, you dispute the idea that a business idea has to be totally original.

Reiss: That's a myth that stops a lot of people who really want to be in business and are probably very qualified. They think they have to have this brilliant new idea. It's really hard to do. Look at it like a Scrabble game. You're playing Scrabble and you have a five-letter word that you got credit for. All I do is add one letter to it, which changes the meaning of the word, and I get credit for all the work you did also. It's the same thing in business. Come up with something a little different. Take an existing idea and sell it to a new channel that no one ever thought of before. So you need to look at different ways but you don't need earth-shattering ideas to get started because you could wait a long time for that.

Entrepreneur.com: You say that knowledge, confidence and experience can mitigate risk. What else can mitigate risk?

Reiss: There are two kinds of risk. One is risk to the business and the other is risk to your personal ego, which is mainly risk of rejection, and a lot of people confuse the two. I'm not so concerned about the risk of rejection. Many people will not go ahead because they're afraid their idea will get turned down or someone will say it's stupid. Those kinds of risks are really opportunities to learn.

[The risks I'm more concerned with] are those that can damage and hurt the whole business. And when you look at those risks, it's kind of like beauty: It's in the eye of the beholder. Two people look at the same exact situation. One person sees calamity, and one person sees a great opportunity to make a lot of money. And the difference is one person has the experience and knowledge base. They understand the business, see how things can happen and can solve the problem.

The other way to reduce risk is to think of ways [to lessen the amount] of money your original plan called for. For example, let's look at a lot of the expenses you probably put in your initial business plan: I'm gonna hire salespeople. Why hire a sales force to start in a small business? Why not use sales reps? You don't have to pay them the salary or benefits. You pay them strictly commission based on production. If they have no sales, you have no expense. Instead of buying a fax machine and other office equipment, why not lease it in the beginning? Instead of going national with a new idea, why not test it in a small locale? Work out the kinks before you put all your money in it.

Entrepreneur.com: For someone past the start-up stage, what are things to take into account for planning the future of the company?

Reiss: I'd like to see two titles in the company: vice president of today and vice president of tomorrow. The problem is that small-business owners can't afford that, so the same person is wearing two hats. While you're putting out fires and trying to survive, you [also] have to think about tomorrow and that's a difficult thing. But you do have to plan for tomorrow or it's gonna come up at you unexpectedly. You're gonna need new product.

You've got to work hard at getting out of your day-to-day environment where you're dealing with all these immediate problems. Get away for a weekend. Talk to other entrepreneurs. Try to go to trade association meetings. I like to go to other trade associations. I like to go to department and chain stores and shop areas of business I'm not in to see how they package here, how they do things there. Go to the apparel area and see what the colors are. What are the next colors for this fall? Try to make contacts with people who can tell you that. See what other people are doing. One of the best ways to plan for tomorrow is to sit down with your customers and say, "What do you see as your problems [in the future]?" Or, "If I had a magic wand, what kind of product would you like?" And you get a lot of stuff that way. And that's what you have to do when you're small and you can't afford to hire research teams to do expensive surveys.

If you're selling a product in stores, go into the store and talk to the clerks who sell. Go in at 10:30 in the morning when it's not crowded, and they will give you so much information about your product, about the customer, about your competition. And they just love to talk, but nobody ever asks them.


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Listen to Lou Cattaroza's Interview with Bob Reiss       (real audio)

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Low Risk, High Reward
PRACTICAL PRESCRIPTIONS
 FOR STARTING AND GROWING
YOUR BUSINESS

Bob Reiss
WITH Jeffrey L. Cruikshank
Foreword by Howard H. Stevenson

Paperback, ISBN: 0-9713848-0-0

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