"My stepdad saved my order."
Bay area baseball fans were jubilant the night that San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds hit his record-breaking 756th homerun. Still, there was no happier man in Fog City than John Infantino. Funny thing is, Infantino's elation had nothing to do with Bonds' historic long drive.
The promo pro was ecstatic because the 3,500 ivy caps he had to deliver for the Giants to give away at the game had miraculously made it to the ballpark – thanks to help from his family.
Earlier that day, fulfilling the order had seemed virtually impossible. The caps – decorated with the iconic "SF" logo in green, white and red to celebrate Italian heritage night – were supposed to have arrived at least a week before the game. But they were coming in by ocean freight, and due to unforeseen shipping hurdles, the deadline came and went.
By game day, the caps had still not arrived. The vendor Infantino was working with was somewhat blasé about the situation. The Giants organization, meanwhile, was upset. "They advertised the giveaway on TV and they had lots of fans coming with expectations," says Infantino, noting this was one of his first major deals.
Just when all seemed lost, however, Infantino learned mid-morning on game day that the caps were stateside, packed into a shipping container that was more than 400 miles south in Long Beach, CA. But how could Infantino – now president/CEO of Brand Vessel (asi/145158) – get them north for the evening's game?
By having the caps arrive in Long Beach, fate had actually smiled on Infantino. His mother and stepfather lived in Los Angeles. After he had called around the dock and learned the container his caps were in, he phoned his parents for help. They sprang into action. The pair drove to the docks, signed for the caps and somehow fit all 3,500 of them into their SUV. Then Infantino's stepdad hopped a plane for San Francisco – boxes in tow. "He landed here by 6:30 p.m.," says Infantino. "We got the caps to the game by the third inning. People picked them up after the game. It cost a fortune but we came through for the client.
While the trying ordeal certainly frayed Infantino's nerves, it also helped shape him into a sharper consultative seller. He learned that ocean shipping, while cheaper, can be a gamble, a reality which he shares with clients considering that freight option. "I was still a young salesperson then and I learned there are times where ocean freight can work and times when it's smarter to go with another option," he says.
He also gained valuable crisis management experience, including discovering how important it is to communicate clearly and frequently with clients. "It's a lot of being completely up front and explaining to them where things are and that you're doing everything in your power to get them their product," he says. "If you start misleading and that comes out, it's a downward spiral that's hard to come back from. Clients appreciate your honesty and diligence."
The Giants certainly did: The caps were so popular they ordered another 1,000 less than a month after the near non-delivery. The baseball club continued to be Infantino's loyal client.
On a personal level, Infantino was reminded of the pricelessness of family. "It's a story that comes up at family parties," he says, adding with a good-natured laugh: "My stepdad loves to say how he saved the day."
The ivy cap John Infantino provided to the San Francisco Giants.