TNO Fishing rolled into the parking lot at Lonnie’s Sporting Goods led by a custom-painted, USA American Originals-themed Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and with an entourage in tow.
Lonnie’s Sporting Goods’ Tom Oaks said the store carries some of the company’s products and they wanted to make Lonnie’s Sporting Goods a stop on their “Operation American Original 2017: Riding for Heroes” tour.
Corinth was the first of the stops which would be made on Day Two of the tour’s journey. TNO Fishing has partnered with Special Operations Wounded Warrior to raise funds and meet people as they make their way around the country. The tour began Wednesday at the TNO headquarters in Greenwood, Ark.
Bobby Dennis, Vice-President of Business Development for TNO Fishing, chronicled the story of how a promotion for TNO became a fundraiser.
He first explained that Luck-E-Strike, Renosky and Nemire are some of TNO Fishing’s brands. They recently bought a factory in Arkansas and are in the process of moving all the production that had been in China back into Arkansas.
Dennis said they had raised over $20,000 thus for Wounded Warriors with just donations from people in the area and sponsorships. Originally, they were going to have two or three others riding along, but the tour with all the stops, made it more of a two-week project. When the touring is over, it will be over 2,000 miles of travel.
“It started as a deal to raise money for Wounded Warrior, but then as we thought about it, we thought we’d promote Made in America, that’s the second function [of the tour]. We had the bike repainted and airbrushed with ‘American Originals.’ Our new line of lures is called American Originals ... and every single piece of the lure is made in America, right down to the hooks and hook anchors,” said Dennis.
The rider of the American Originals motorcycle is retired Navy S.E.A.L. Ricky Sanchez. Dennis said Sanchez is TNO’s Chief Operating Officer and is a recipient of both a Purple Heart and the Silver Star. He said Sanchez was also an instructor during his time as a Navy S.E.A.L.
Sanchez was modest and seemed reluctant to talk about himself, but said he was enjoying the tour.
“It will be fun. It’s for a great cause and that’s what counts. I get to see and talk to people and see different parts of the country,” said Sanchez.
Shane Michelli, TNO Fishing CEO, said the tour grew out of a business promotion which began with building the bike to take to the ICAST Trade Show.
“The hope was we wanted to celebrate American ingenuity because we had just bought a factory in Arkansas and were bringing a lot of products that had been made overseas back into the country. So, we wanted a bike that came off the production line made by Americans,” said Michelli.
He said they worked with Harley-Davidson to pick a “very” specific bike - the older style Softail Slim S - a 110-cubic-inch model. They came up with a paint scheme and found someone to build the bike and add custom-themed paint.
“We wanted it to be American Original because that is what we’re promoting. That is the product we moved to the U.S. first,” he said.
As the bike was being readied, they began to talk about taking it on a run with stops to meet dealers and tour around the country to meet fisherman, customers and store owners and mingle with the public.
The patriotic fundraiser with Wounded Warriors came out of an observation they made touring.
“We’ve had this long-standing idea for years that, if you ride around town, you couldn’t go half a mile without seeing a ‘Support Our Troops’ bumper sticker. Early this year we started talking and said, ‘I’ve literally driven from coast to coast in the last eight months and we saw two ‘Support Our Troops’ bumper stickers.’ You just don’t see them anymore. And, it doesn’t have to be there, but where did that movement go? So we, thought how do we raise money and give back? And, that became the focus of what we were doing. So we still have a promotion going on, but that got put to the side and the fundraiser has really moved to the forefront,” Michelli explained.
The CEO said they have over $20,000 raised and they still have many people who want to add to the cause. People can visit their website, listed below, to find out how they can sign up to donate and be a part of their riding tour, from one stop to another, and support Wounded Warriors. He said they have seen a great deal of interest from people wanting to ride along with them for a while.
“We started out asking people, ‘Do you want to ride motorcycles with us?’ Then we were getting e-mails from people saying, ‘We don't’ have a motorcycle, but we want to go.’ They had classic cars — a ’65 Mustang and wanted to join in. We said they could come drive that a little ways. So now here’s the deal: if it has wheels and you can make it go, then come ride with us. That is what it has become and it has been fun.
“The promotion part has definitely taken a backseat to the fundraising part. We’ve had so much fun doing it, that we’ve decided to make it annual. We may not do a motorcycle ride every year but we’ll do something,” Michelli said.
The Operation American Original 2017: Riding for Heroes tour will end with a party at the Waters of Minocqua resort in Minocqua, Wisc.
(For information, including stops and how to donate or be part of the tour, visit the website at https://operationamericanoriginal.org/.)