This story takes place in 1986. I was 25 years old and out marketing my first invention, the Rolle Beach Blanket. It was then and still is, the finest beach blanket in the world with beautiful fabrics, weighted corners, hidden pockets and an inflatable pillow among other amazing features. The Rolle Beach Blanket is still available today at www.rollebeachblanket.com I was fortunate enough to run into one of the heads of marketing for the Trump organization which was just starting to expand their casino operations in NJ.
One thing led to another and the next thing I know, my beach blankets had made it into all the Trump casinos. Rumor had it that it even made it on to trump’s personal yacht, the Trump Princess. I was doing business with them and other major companies for a number of years. I was able to buy a house and my wife Lynn and I were expecting our first child. This was now 1989.
click here to watch Reno Rolle tell the story
I get a call from my contact at Trump who told me about the Taj Mahal, a billion dollar mega casino that was about to open. There was going to be a huge grand opening and they needed 100,000 units of something to give the first people who walked through the door. So I thought about it and came up with an idea to produce some inexpensive fanny packs which were all the rage at the time.
I designed a prototype, showed it to my contact and they loved it. I received a purchase order for what amounted to the biggest deal of my life at the time. I needed some collateral in order to get the inventory produced so I put my house up. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough, so I approached a friend who was a local businessman and was doing millions of dollars in business supplying lighting and electrical material for the Taj Mahal. He saw this as a great opportunity and decided to put his house up as collateral to partner with me on the deal.
We found a manufacturer in Korea through the company making my beach blankets. And it was on. 100,000 day-glow fanny packs with the Taj Mahal logo on them. Once delivered, I had 60 days to settle my credit so I wouldn’t lose my house and my partner wouldn’t lose his. What could go wrong, right?
That’s when I get a phone call and the news wasn’t good. It was my partner. He had just received a cal from the accounting department of the Taj. They wanted to settle his invoices for lighting and electrical material. They were offering pennies on the dollar. Word on the street was that financing for the Taj Mahal fell apart. A call to me was next. The rumor was the Taj Mahal was going bankrupt. I had this sinking feeling. My business partner was freaking out. He immediately saw the worst was about to happen, regretting ever going into business with me. I knew I had to do something quick in order to keep both of our houses, so I jumped into action. My wife was now 8 months pregnant. I was looking at not only losing my home and being completely wiped out, but also an uncertain future for my wife and unborn child. I have to admit, I had a brief moment of total freak out myself. But then I got to work. I called everyone I could, met with the accounting department at the Trump organization, pleaded my case, then finally, I decided to call Donald Trump directly. I got as far as his secretary who told me that if I really wanted to plead my case, I should write Donald Trump a letter.
So I wrote a two or three page letter and sent it to Donald Trump and wasn’t sure he would even read it. But after that, I knew that there wasn’t much more I could do. So I called my partner and told him that I did everything I could think to do and even wrote a letter directly to Donald Trump himself. “So what are we going to do now?” He asked “Well,” I told him “I’m going to go to Jamaica.” I got an absolute earful from my business partner again as he slipped into full freak out mode. Six months before I had bought tickets to Reggae Sunsplash, the world famous Reggae festival. There was a part of me that was going to scrap the whole trip but it was my wife Lynn who really convinced me to go.
“Listen,” She said “ I want you to have a good time. Our lives are about to change forever. You are going to be a dad soon. This may be your last opportunity for a while to have this kind of adventure.” So I told my business partner: “ I’ve done everything I can do. If the guy is going to screw us he’s going to screw us. What good is staying home going to do?” I got another earful from him and that was that. I landed in Jamaica and met up with an old friend of mine, Mike Ryba. At first, it was hard for me enjoy my trip because I kept thinking about my wife, my unborn child, and Donald Trump. We finally went to Reggae Sunsplash. The second I walked into the venue the music just enveloped me and something happened. I made a decision to let go of everything. It all just evaporated and I proceeded to have the time of my life.
It’s impossible to tell you exactly how magical the experience was. I ran into old friends I hadn’t seen in years, we snuck backstage. Made new friends. The next day my cheeks were hurting from the smile that had been plastered on my face all night. I finally got back to the rock house where we were staying. And as I was showering off and reflecting on what an incredible time we had, I heard a voice shout through the morning air. It was Alfred the caretaker of the property. “Reno, your wife Lynn, mon, she called on the phone.” This was in 1989 when phones in Jamaica were very scarce. Electricity was spotty at best. It was very rare to get a “phone call” in Jamaica at this time. So I was immediately concerned that something had happened or I missed the birth of my son. “What did she say?” I shouted back.
“She said, the casino mon, him pay in full! Everything cool!”
I’ll never forget that moment of redemption. I knew that everything was going to work out and it did not matter how dire everything seemed to be. It was as if a wave crashed over me and I knew that everything was going to be fine. The way my wife tells it, she went to the mailbox on the day that check had to be in the bank. We didn’t have any time to spare. Instead of being wiped out, that deal I made with Donald Trump was one of the most profitable deals I ever made.
So here are three things I learned doing business with Donald Trump.
Number 1: don’t worry be snappy
If things ever go sideways in a deal, and everybody around you is predicting doomsday, even if you think that you have no options and the worst appears ready to unfold, get to work. Don’t just lie down and take it. Roll up your sleeves and make something happen. Do everything you have to do to get your case heard, to get out of trouble, and do what you have to do to make the situation favorable for yourself. Make a list, and go down that list. After that, make another list. Exhaust every option but don’t be paralyzed by the fear of what MAY happen.
Number 2: Let go of the Outcome.
Once you have done everything that you can do and made every arrangement possible, you have to let go of any outcome. Really let go. Get on with your life. It’s not going to serve you to stay in a worried place because life goes on. If I had listened to my business partner, or just stayed in my head the whole time, I would have missed the most fun I ever had in my life. And for what? The outcome was going to be the outcome no matter what. And even if Donald Trump did end up screwing us, which he didn’t, I would have had another opportunity to rebuild which brings me to the third thing I learned.
Number 3: Embrace Change
A lot of people work from a fear based perspective. Even if the worst thing that can happen does, it doesn’t mean the end of the world. F. Scott Fitzgerald said “There are no second acts in American Life.” There are always opportunities to start over. Oftentimes when things fall apart, they can actually lead to opportunities that lead you to better things. You can always rebuild, recreate, reshape and reform and become an entirely new person if you wish. There are always setbacks in life. What you do with those setback is what matters.
That’s my Donald Trump story. I’d like to think that he actually read my letter and that it resonated with him. I believe he related to me as an entrepreneur trying to make a difference and that he cared about me and my family. Whatever the case, he elected to pay me in full which cemented a very profitable opportunity and provided a fantastic start for me and my new family.