By Carl Straumsheim
Capital News Service
TAMPA, Fla. — As Maryland’s delegates to the Republican National Convention schmoozed with fellow convention goers at Sunday night’s welcoming party here, Brian Harlin was nowhere to be seen.
He didn’t board the bus Monday morning for lunch in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood. He isn’t even staying at the same hotel as his fellow delegates.
In addition to serving as one of Maryland’s pledged delegates, Harlin works as the convention’s master vendor — a first for the Republican National Convention, which normally operates with several official vendors. That means his business, the GOP Shoppe in Glen Burnie, supplies all the official merchandise to delegates and visitors eager to secure a piece of 2012 campaign memorabilia.
Make it profitable
“When I signed on to be master vendor, that’s my job. I came here to make this as profitable as possible for the host committee, for the city of Tampa,” Harlin said. “I won’t even get to go on the roller coasters at Busch Gardens.”
The GOP Shoppe also handles official merchandise for the Romney campaign and the national Republican Party. The branch at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, open for three days during the 2012 Republican National Convention, carries about 50 different items — everything from hats and T-shirts to beach towels, Christmas ornaments and jewelry.
“It’s hard, because everything has to be American-made,” Harlin said.
Much of the convention merchandise is manufactured in Florida to boost the local economy. Other campaign material is produced all across the country, including in Glen Burnie.
Even though the GOP Shoppe is the only campaign store at the convention, Harlin said the lack of competition among vendors isn’t fazing his customers. “They just want something with a logo on it,” he said.
Supplier for inaugurals
Harlin, 45, also supplied merchandise to the 2001 and 2005 inaugurations of President George W. Bush and the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. But after almost 25 years in the business, Harlin said he is considering an early retirement from convention work.
“It’s a lot of work for not as much reward, the convention,” Harlin said. “As my kids are getting older, I want to spend more time doing stuff with them, and you can’t in politics, for the second you let up, somebody else is going to try to take it away from you.”
Harlin also had open-heart surgery after a heart attack three years ago that he said was caused by work-related stress.
A Romney victory in November, however, could convince Harlin to work another campaign cycle, as a lot of the merchandise used this year would carry over to that election. And if not a reelection campaign, Harlin said he is at least prepared to work another inauguration.
“I’m the only Republican company who’s done it before,” Harlin said. “It’s a one day thing, and it’s close to home. I don’t have to move all my stuff down here. I don’t have to spend weeks away from my own.”
Audrey Scott, a delegate representing Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, said Harlin got the political bug in 1975 when he helped her pass out flyers in Bowie for her city council campaign.
“Brian Harlin is one of my Bowie boys,” Scott said.
Harlin made the move to statewide politics in 1994, when he produced merchandise for Ellen Sauerbrey’s campaign for governor. He would do the same in 1998.
“I would think it was the first time he also realized he could make a career of this and support a wife and family,” Scott said. “When he first started out, he had to fight to get in with all the other established ones. But he was a go-getter and determined and persevered, and now he’s the only one.”
I agree with Cincygirl. Ditto. My purchase (and donation) was 10/23/12. I received over 20 emails from 10/23 to the election from Mitt Romney (6), Paul Ryan (3), Ann Romney (5), Josh (1), Tagg (1), Rich Beeson (2), Team Romney(2), Neil Newhouse (1) plus others. Not to shabby, they sure knew how to get around my junkmail folder.
But no order update….until 11/13/12.
I finally received an email with a USPS tracking number that my purchase was shipped 11/13/12. Unfortunately, the GOP Shoppe never delivered my product to the USPS so they could deliver it. But it was a very nice stalling tactic. My phone calls and emails to customer service went unanswered. I sent an email to their customer service on 11/21 and said If they didn’t call I would dispute the charge on my credit card. Michele called back right away, but not to the contact number on my email, and it went to my vonage voicemail account.
On 11/23/12 I received a second email with a new tracking number (and the original tracking number). Now I have two tracking numbers that tell me the USPS received email notification of a future delivery (but that doesn’t mean they received anything to ship). Here we go again.
You can call these nice folks at 410-761-7805 and leave a message if their mailbox isn’t full, they won’t respond to emails to ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.
One order shipped missing two rally signs that pck in slip said were enclosed, second order placed on 9/27 for over $100 still has not shipped. Four emails later no response to any. Very disappointing, going to dispute charges with credit card as I have no faith I will ever get a response… Looks like they at way over their head or ready to go belly up. Sad when you cannot trust a election fulfillment source. Reflects on candidate some even though certain they have no knowledge of this very very poor service!
No. Brian Harlin and the GOP shoppe do not provide extraordinary service. I placed and order on 9/14/2012 for 2 Romney sweatshirts plus gave a donation with my purchase. As of yet, I have not received my order. I have however received numerous letters in the mail requesting that I donate more money. I have contacted the email address listed on Brian Harlin’s site and have written 5 emails without receiving a single response. I have called the number listed on his site as well which is a recording telling you what their working hours are and to leave a message with your order number and that they will get right back to you.. unfortunately that voicemail system is always full so you can’t leave a message. I managed to leave 3 messages my continuing to check the phone number throughout the days/weeks and no one ever returns the phone calls. I contacted the phone number listed next to the transaction on my bank account and sat on hold for over 30 minutes until I reached the recording telling me to email the Romney Store. This morning I finally had enough and filed a complaint with the BBB. Maybe I’ll be happier with their service.
Brian Harlin and the GOP Shoppe provide extraordinary service and a commitment to the success of their customers. I would go to him every time.