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33 Posts authored by: Bank of America SB Team

In the latest Bank of America Small Business Podcast episode, Reema Shroff, owner of Frost 321, shares how she beat the competition by turning liquid nitrogen ice cream and cocktails into an experience that tantalizes the senses and leaves a lasting impression. Listen to her story—and get great tips for standing out from the crowd—below.

 

 

 

Reema Shroff:            The reward is that when people try it, when people see it, when people talk about it, that's really what's satisfying, and that's something that I couldn't as easily get in being a lawyer. So here every day, no matter what the challenges I face are, there's definitely something very rewarding at the end of the ... To have been creative and have someone taste the product.

 

 

Frost-321d.jpgSteve Strauss:            Hi. I'm Steve Strauss, USA Today's senior small business columnist, and you're listening to the Bank of America Small Business Podcast, a podcast where we speak to small business owners about their journey and uncover useful tips for entrepreneurs and small business owners everywhere.

 

                                  Today we're really pleased to be speaking with Reema Shroff of Frost 321. Frost 321 uses an innovative technique to create ice creams, sorbets, and I like this one, frozen cocktails, right before your eyes at events. How do they do it? Well, by using liquid nitrogen at negative 321 degrees, Frost 321 creates these unique concoctions.

 

                                  They have been doing this at corporate events and important celebrations and backyard gatherings and all sorts of other places for years, and they don't just deliver delicacies. Frost 321 brings a unique ice cream and cocktail bar designed to be chic and sophisticated, blending with any event's distinct look, and letting the experience itself really shine. So Reema, great to have you on the show today. Welcome.

 

Reema Shroff:            Thanks Steve. Great to be here.

 

Steve Strauss:            So I explained a little bit about what makes Frost 321 unique, but I think it would be far better if you did it. So tell us about your ice cream and your cocktails and how you make them and what is different about them.

 

Reema Shroff:            Absolutely. You're right on the mark. What we do create is unique cocktail and dessert experiences. What we're doing is using liquid nitrogen as a freezing agent to freeze right in front of our guests frozen cocktails, sorbets, ice creams, boozy snow cones. The newest thing that's hot for the summer, a drink called a Frosé.

 

                                  What we can do is take an experience, take a menu, take an event, take a celebration, take a company gathering, make it unique, make it customized, and do this right in front of our guests. So what it is, it's not just a great product, it's not just a great frozen cocktail or an ice cream, but truly what it is is an experience. So when we have the gathering, when you see us, you not only remember the product, you remember the experience. This is an experience you can share with your friends, you can share with your co workers, you can tape on social media.

 

                                  That's what we love about it and that's where we get most of our repeat business from, is that memorable piece of this which is the experience. Now what makes the difference is liquid nitrogen has been used for years by chefs in their back kitchen. It's truly a great way to make an ice cream or a frozen cocktail.

 

                                  However, what we try to do is also to make it truly an experience where people can enjoy seeing it being made, where we can tailor the experience to the actual event. Also what we've done is, because my background is ... I'm a lawyer, and my business partner is a West Point grad and an amazing engineer ... We have tried to make this as safe as possible and as scalable as possible.

 

                                  So let me kind of explain on that a little bit more. From a safety standpoint, you are dealing with liquid nitrogen that's a negative 321 degrees below zero. So what we want to do is just make it safe, make it where any staff member we can train on safely operating this machinery, to make it safe at any event.

 

                                    As you know, we have done this in backyards, we have done this on golf courses, we've even done it on a yacht, on top of a rooftop, so we have to make it safe in a lot of different instances. Then on the scalability standpoint we can do parties of 500, but we've done parties of 5,000. So we need to make sure that we can produce these cocktails and ice creams in a very efficient manner.

 

                                  In fact, the way that we've designed the machines is one of our machines taken to its capacity could easily make about 500 servings in an hour. And when we do very large events, like our 5,000 person events, for example in Vegas, we can put several machines on and make this experience for all of our guests.

 

Steve Strauss:            Oh, that's super. You're doing lots of things right, but one of the things I really love that you're doing that other people can learn from is you're personalizing it and you're making it an experience. Those are kind of the buzzwords in small business these days. Because there is so much competition and there is so much technology available, people love a personalized experience and they love an experience experience.

 

                                  So you're doing that right, and I must say as a former lawyer myself, I love that you too have come to your senses and found something better to do. So let me ask you this Reema, how did you get started? How did you leave the legal world and end up becoming an ice cream entrepreneur?

 

Reema Shroff:            Well, as fellow lawyer you know one of the big things in being a lawyer, and I was a healthcare lawyer, and especially in the healthcare sector you're always telling physicians what not to do, what business they should not engage in, here are the risk factors, all of that.

 

                                  Whereas I loved that ... Both my parents are physicians, my husband is a doctor and all of that, I wanted to actually create something. I mean there is ... Every day as an entrepreneur working in this business there's a challenge, there's a reward, there's an opportunity, and it's really, really satisfying to me to be able to create something, to go to an event and see what we have created.

 

                                  The reward is when people try it, when people see it, when people talk about it, that's really what's satisfying, and that's something that couldn't as easily get in being a lawyer. So here every day, no matter what the challenges I face are, there's definitely something very rewarding at the end of the ... To have been creative and have someone taste the product.

 

Steve Strauss:            Absolutely. I mean that's what I love about it too, working with entrepreneurs and being one, is the idea of you're creating something. But how did you come up with the idea of creating ice cream at negative 321 degrees? That is really different.

 

Reema Shroff:            Well, that is a great story. You never know how things happen, but truly this was a great story. I was actually in Paris. I was at an amazing wedding and I saw this in a certain way being made, using liquid nitrogen to create this experience for great cocktails. You know, it's something ... On the way back from Paris to Texas, you know, we had an eight hour flight, so over a glass of champagne just kind of talking about the wedding, what really stood out was this really interesting cocktail.

 

                                  You saw it being made, you saw the mist, and it was a good cocktail. So it's actually funny, my family was like, "Wow, you like cocktails and you like parties. This is something you should try." It really started with something like that.

 

                                  So I started researching it, found a couple of articles on it, found some companies that actually were working on these type of systems, and literally ordered one and started in my kitchen. Invited friends over for a party, got some feedback on it, and it really just kind of took off from there. But I had no idea of kind of where this would be four years later, but it's something that I just had to try.

 

Steve Strauss:            Did you ... Obviously your parents aren't entrepreneurs. They're both physicians, your husband is a physician. Did you have entrepreneurial bent earlier in life or was this all together something out of the blue for you?

 

Reema Shroff:            You know, looking back on it I think that ... You know, I was fine being a lawyer, but I think that there was always something missing. I'm pretty social. I'm an extrovert. I like to engage and be with people, so I think this type of business for me allows me to really, you know, focus on what I really enjoy and I think what my forte is.

 

                                  So it just kind of all came together, and I'm so happy that I had the support of my family, my friends, and I was in a position to be able to reach out to my network and be able to develop this. So it's been a great ride.

 

Steve Strauss:            Yeah. In fact you've grown it pretty substantially pretty quickly. You're not only in Texas now, but you're also in Las Vegas, and I think you're branching out into San Diego, if I'm not mistaken?

 

Reema Shroff:            Oh, yeah. So I mean we started this in San Antonio. We've grown to Dallas, Houston, Austin, and then slowly took this to other markets, I mean Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, Chicago. So it's been an amazing journey and I think what we've right now done is hit national markets.

 

                                  In fact that's a great question, because what we've been wanting to do is figure out how to expand this nationally, and in fact in about mid-October we're working with a franchise company to be able to franchise this and expand nationally, so we're really excited about that.

 

                                  But the key to all of this was ... And this is a very interesting story. It comes to how I met my business partner. As I mentioned, I was still practicing as a lawyer in the early days of Frost and I actually was working on a legal case, and I happened to sit next to a gentleman, Mark, who was helping on that same case, and we started talking about my business and he said something very interesting, and that is, "Wow, you're working with liquid nitrogen. It seems like a great concept. You've actually done a lot of events. You seem to be moving quickly, but hey, you should own your own system. You shouldn't rely on other people to do that. You should actually build your own. That's the core to your business."

 

                                    Of course I laughed and I said, "Hey, that's easier said than done. I don't really have manufacturing contacts. I'm not an engineer. I've never designed anything before. My forte is marketing, business development, creating these experiences," and he basically looked at me and he said, "Well, guess what? I have those contacts and I would love to be able to help with this."

 

                                  So it's one of those really amazing moments where I sat next to the right person at a business dinner, and it has been a great three years, where we complement each other very well. He is the technology, the brains behind the operation. He's a former West Point grad and a engineer, and he's developed the whole liquid nitrogen system. So where he has the strength on the technology and operations, I'm able more to focus on the marketing and the business development. So it's been really, you know, a great combination of strengths and attributes that really have helped us along quite well.

 

Steve Strauss:            Boy, everything is really working out so well for you, because that's exactly what I think you want in a partnership. You want somebody who fills in your gaps and can do things that you can't do, and then all of a sudden the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts, and obviously you're doing that well.

 

                                  Can you tell me a little bit about the alcohol aspect of it? Because you're not just making ice creams, but you're making adult beverages with your technology. How did that come to be and how is that ... How popular is that among your clientele?

 

Reema Shroff:            Well, I cannot underscore more that alcohol really is what drives a lot of our business. Almost 80% of our revenue comes from our spirited ice cream, our frozen cocktails, our boozy snow cones, our spirited floats. So yes, because that is really what's unique about this, because there's no other way you can freeze alcohol.

 

                                  So when we actually do one of our most popular items, is our wicked chocolate whiskey with Maker's Mark. That is a true shot of Maker's Mark in your chocolate ice cream. It's an awesome after dinner treat. People love their Maker's Mark, so here now we're putting it into ice cream. We do the same with tequila, with rum, with vodka. We've been able to partner with a lot of different alcohol companies because it's a different way to feature and showcase their spirit.

 

                                  Remember, we can do this not only with the liquors, but we can do that wine and champagne and, gosh, even a great beer for a stout ice cream. So we've really tried to come up with innovative ways to do frozen cocktails, to bring something new to the market on the spirited ice cream side, and really that's been ... That's done very well at our corporate events and galas and parties and all of that.

 

Steve Strauss:            It sounds like that's probably a unique niche to you. Is there a lot of competition for that aspect of your business?

 

Reema Shroff:            Most of our competition is on the ice cream side. There's a lot of brick and mortars in the space and different types of franchises that you have, or there's retails that are serving ice cream. I think on the special events and catering where our focus ... A lot of it has been on frozen cocktails and the spirited ice cream. We don't find as much competition, but what Mark and I tired to do very early on is to forge really good relationships and partnerships with hotel groups, convention centers.

 

                                  For example, we work in McCormick Place, one of the largest convention centers in Chicago, where they offer our services. The same thing with the MGM group. The same thing with Marriotts all over the country. So that's been very nice, is that they are able to sell our services as part of their catering and special events menu.

 

                                  That has helped us, where now we have a lot of different arms, a lot of different sales and catering departments selling our services, and we can focus on what we do best, and that is executing and doing our special events and focusing on our creative ice creams and frozen cocktails for the events.

 

Steve Strauss:            Super. We are speaking with Reema Shroff of Frost 321, and we will get back to her in a second, but first I want to ask you this.

 

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                                  So Reema, I want to ask you a little bit about the challenges you've faced as a small business owner and entrepreneur, because as we all know it is not just a clear path from idea to execution, right? There are bumps along the way. What are maybe some of the bumps along the way that you faced and how did you overcome them?

 

Reema Shroff:            That's a great question Steve. What I would say is, especially with a small business, you wear a lot of hats. You do operations, you do marketing, you do finance, you're HR, and that all can get overwhelming and sometimes maybe some of these are not your key strengths.

 

Steve Strauss:            Now let me get back to our special guest, Reema Shroff of Frost 321.

 

Reema Shroff:            We've had to learn along the way all these different aspects, all these little departments that usually you could call HR or you could call somebody to help with, and now that's it. You're on our own. So what I've learned from that is it's essential to listen, it's essential to build the right team, and whereas you might have weaknesses in certain aspects, there are others that can fill in those gaps for you.

 

                                  Mark and I, our biggest challenge is we had no experience, prior experience, in the food and beverage industry, so the first thing we did is try and surround ourselves with the right mixologists, the right chefs. Our biggest consultant when we came to designing our menu is one of the top pastry chefs in the country. We listened to people that have worked in retail and worked in food and beverage before, because those were not our areas of expertise.

 

                                  So because we were dealing with so many things that were unknown to us, we didn't know what was out there in all these different landscapes because those weren't our prior specialty, what we needed to do was create the right team and build the right network to fill in those gaps.

 

Steve Strauss:            Yeah. I think that's a common lament from many small business people. I guess the good news is you have to become or like being a lifelong learner if you're going to be a small business owner, because you're always having to learn something new, whether you want to or not, right?

 

Reema Shroff:            Yes. Really what I've also learned from that is people are to help. I think there are a lot of resources out there. I think that it's ... Now with the internet, with technology, you can always go onto social media, you can read blogs. There's so much you can do to give you ideas and to help strengthen your position on things and to really every day, just like you said ... I mean we're learning something new every day, so we never stop reading, we never stop talking and building relationships and learning from people around us.

 

Steve Strauss:            Like going to the Bank of America Small Business Community site, right? Exactly like that?

 

Reema Shroff:            Exactly. Exactly.

 

Steve Strauss:            I love that site. I love writing for them and I love what I learn there. So let me take a few minutes to ask you some final questions about what you've learned along the way and get some insights there. How has technology affected your business? I mean obviously you have kind of a technology business I guess, but have you used technology in ways ... Aside from making ice cream?

 

Reema Shroff:            Absolutely. Technology makes our life easier, it makes us more efficient. It allows me to balance my personal life and business life. A perfect example, I'm in the carpool lane waiting ... Sometimes you got to wait for about 30 minutes ... To pick my daughter up, who's nine. And I'm really on a Bank of America website and make payments to our staff, to check my balances, to pay bills to vendors.

 

                                  I mean that's something before you would never be able to do and that 30 minutes is just wasted, but here, you know, at the touch of my hands I'm able to do all of that, and I think that really helps, because that's time then that I can dedicate towards other things when I get home.

 

                                  Also especially when we travel on the road and we're between all the multiple cities, to be able to use technology, to be able to communicate with your employees, to be able to FaceTime at events ... All those things have been such a great benefit for us, to be able to official run operations across all the different cities.

 

Steve Strauss:            In fact how do you get customers, right? If you're branching out into Vegas and you're branching into an area you've not gone before, what ... Is it social media, or how do you attract new people to your business?

 

Reema Shroff:            It's a combination. It's a combination of number one is we focus on our relationships, so we work with people maybe we've worked with in different cities. For example, different hotel groups that we might have worked on in Dallas, we reach out to them when we're in different cities. We think one of the biggest ways that you can grow is by cultivating relationships, making them feel comfortable to trust you and your business to execute events, what they've been doing for years and you're a newcomer. They need to trust you, they need to know that you would do a good job, that you will be on time, that you will be able to execute the way they and their clients will be happy.

 

                                  So that's number one. However, with social media we're able to post a lot of the things that we do all over the country, so that's a great way for others to see the different types of parties we can do, the different types of venues we serve, the different types of frozen cocktails and ice creams that we can create to customize their events.

 

                                  So that is a great tool, because that's constantly being updated, and it's a great resource for really anybody who's throwing an event to think of us, because not only are we tagging ourselves, but others are reporting on us and taking visuals whenever we go and do an event for them.

 

Steve Strauss:            Reema, you're doing great work. I love your business and I love your energy and passion for it. We're unfortunately out of time, but I could listen to you for a long time. Let me ask you this in closing. What maybe do you wish you had known about being a small business owner, about being an entrepreneur that you didn't know when you started, and what do you think people can take away and learn from your experience that might help them grow their business?

 

Reema Shroff:            I would it's the importance of having a network, having a support structure. I think that it's so important, and I think in this day and age especially with technology and use of email and texting and all that, it's really important to develop personal connections. I think that being in this business kind of underscored the importance of that for me, because it's very easy to sit at your computer and send out emails and do direct marketing and then text people, and I think people forget sometimes that even though technology has allowed us to do amazing things, that critical to all this is that building a connection and building a relationship. I think that that brings me a lot of joy, I think there's a lot of reward in that, but I think that it's also been critical to the success of our business.

 

Steve Strauss:            Fantastic. Reema, if people want to know more about you, about Frost 321, where should they go to learn more?

 

Reema Shroff:            Our website is a great place, frost321.com. We can answer any emails, we answer any event requests, and we would love to personally speak to anyone that has questions on our business.

 

Steve Strauss:            Fantastic. Thank you so much for being with us today, and continued success to you.

 

Reema Shroff:            Thank you so much Steve, appreciate it.

 

Steve Strauss:            And thank you everybody for tuning in for the latest episode of the Bank of America Small Business Podcast. For Bank of America, I'm Steve Strauss.

 

 

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

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BOA-Heartbeat-Soundcloud-header-TEAM-2400x750-150dpi.jpg

What defines a great leader? This week on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” podcast, Adam Witty – founder of Vantage Media Groups and ForbesBooks – dives deep into leadership. Tune in for great tips and insights for entrepreneurs and business owners.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Adam Witty:                Leadership is a journey that candidly does not have a destination. You will not be crowned king or queen as a leader. You will not arrive as a leader. Whether you're 30, 40, 60, or 70, no matter how old you are and how many years of experience you have, the leadership journey will continue because there are all these new things that you can learn, there's new insights you will glean, and there are better ways for you to lead.

 

Announcer:                 Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Adam Witty is the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks. Advantage Media Group is one of the largest business book publishers in America. In fact, just a few weeks ago it was named to the Inc. 5000 List of America's most rapidly growing private companies for the sixth time. His latest book is “Authority Marketing: How to Leverage 7 Pillars of Thought Leadership to Make Competition Irrelevant,” with Rusty Shelton; the forward was by Steve Forbes. No surprise, Adam is the CEO of ForbesBooks.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I want to say, Adam, we're thrilled to be doing this “Heartbeat of Main Street” interview with you. Of course, we're doing it in partnership with Bank of America and ForbesBooks. I've known you for a long time, and only recently have I been part of a ForbesBooks team, but one of the things I have always admired about you, marveled, is that you are an incredible leader, and my sense is you have always been working to be a better leader every day. So when we, here at “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” decided we wanted to do an interview about leadership, I knew you were the guy to talk to.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Welcome to the show. And I want you to talk a little bit about your interest in leadership and how that drove you to create a company like Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks.

 

Adam Witty:                Well, if you think about any business in the world that's world class at what it does, and if you think about any business that's a big business, there's one thing that they all have in common, and that is that they all require lots of skills and talented people on a team working together towards one mission and goal. As an entrepreneur who is an ambitious guy, who has a dream and a vision to create a very, very large company that makes a significant impact on the world, I think a long time ago I came to the realization that if I was going to build a large world class organization, the one skill that I would have to have that would be better than any other would be that of a talented leader, and understanding what true leadership is.

 

Adam Witty:                So candidly, in a selfish manner, I really pursued a path of learning, and I took my own leadership journey. But as I've now realized as our company has continued to grow quite rapidly, is that at the time, before it felt selfish, now it's a gift that I realize that I can share with others, and creating a world class company is not something that's selfish at all. In fact, it's something that's very selfless because when you have a world class organization that's filled with skilled and talented people that are working together to achieve something far greater than anybody could achieve on their own, it has a pretty significant impact, a positive impact on the lives of not just the people within the organization, but all of the people that are a part of your team members' families and close centers of influence.

 

Adam Witty:                So it's become quite a fulfilling journey for me, and it's reaped a lot of benefits, not just for me, but for everybody associated.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, and you've said two things, Adam, that I think are really interesting. Just everyone associated with you benefits. But I want to paint a picture of how big I think that circle is, because there's lots of leaders in the world, and there's lots of leaders that share their leadership through their company or their organization, or in other ways that are very focused. But you became a great leader and built a company that empowers other great leaders to share their expertise.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Were you always planning on publishing books on leadership and business books? Was that a coincidence that that's where you took your publishing company, or was that always the goal?

 

Adam Witty:                Well, I've always been a great lover of books. I've always been a voracious reader myself. Each year, I'll typically read somewhere between 25 and 40 books, and in most cases, almost all of those books are business books or leadership books or some type of nonfiction topic related to personal achievement or personal bests, if you will. So I've always had an interest in books, and what I realized was that some of the greatest wisdom in the world, some of the greatest knowledge that I believe can propel society forward is contained within the pages of books.

 

Adam Witty:                And to have the privilege to lead a company that helps entrepreneurs and business leaders and CEOs share their story, their passion, and their knowledge with the world, it's a really great honor because I truly believe that books are our windows to the world, and I believe that the right book in the right person's hands can change that person's life forever. So having the great responsibility to lead a company that this year will publish over 200 new books into the world, and those 200 books will sell hundreds of thousands of copies into the marketplace and affect so many lives, it's a pretty awesome responsibility.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm talking with Adam Witty. He's the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks. ForbesBooks is at ForbesBooks.com. Advantage Media Group is at AdvantageFamily.com. Adam's latest book is “Authority Marketing: How to Leverage 7 Pillars of Thought Leadership to Make Competition Irrelevant.”

 

Gregg Stebben:          I want to go back to something you said, Adam, that really interests me, because not everyone in a leadership role is actually a very good leader, and many of them don't know they're good leaders, or they know they're good leaders but they don't even know where to turn to transform themselves from where they are to a great leader. There's also a lot of people that are just young and being put into positions of leadership that also don't know what to do to be the great leader that their job will call on them to do.

 

Gregg Stebben:          What would you suggest for people who recognize in listening to you the value of being in great leadership, the recognition that they could and should be doing better? Where do they go? How do they start to get started on the kind of journey that you've been on?

 

Adam Witty:                Well, the first thing I would say is I believe that most people in some type of leadership position want to be a good leader. If they want to be a great leader, to your point, Gregg, they may not know how, and they may not know what to do. But I think most people genuinely want to do good as a leader. The second thing that I would say is being a leader in any size organization, whether it's five people, 50 people, 500, or 500,000, leadership is one of the greatest responsibilities that there is. And the person that holds the baton, the person that leads the charge in any size organization, they number one have to see it as the honor that it is. The second thing that they need to know is to serve is to live, and leadership is one of the greatest services that you can give to your fellow teammates. So pursuing a path of improving and growing as a leader is simply pursuing a path of increasing your service to the world.

 

Adam Witty:                So I would say, to answer your question directly, the first thing is, you got to want to be a better leader. The second thing is you got to be self-reflective and have enough self-awareness to know that no matter how good you think you are, number one, you're probably wrong, and you're probably giving yourself more credit than you deserve, but there's always ways to be better.

 

Adam Witty:                If I look at myself and the leadership journey that I've been on since I founded Advantage and ForbesBooks, this was in 2005, that was now 13 years ago, the leader that I am today pales in comparison to what I will become, but if you look at where I am today to where I was 13 years ago, it's amazing the strides that I have made. So as I like to say, as a leader, I'm not where I want to be because I know there's so much growing that I have to do, but I'm certainly not where I used to be. I've made tremendous growth as a leader.

 

Adam Witty:                That's what I think every leader should attain for, is that leadership is a journey that candidly does not have a destination. You will not be crowned king or queen as a leader. You will not arrive as a leader. Whether you're 30, 40, 50, or 70, no matter how old you are and how many years of experience you have, the leadership journey will continue because there are always new things that you can learn, there's new insights you will glean, and there are better ways for you to lead.

 

Adam Witty:                So to me, the sign of the best leaders are the ones that are always wanting to learn and grow because they know that they have not arrived, they are merely on a journey.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Your latest book is titled “Authority Marketing,” and I want to talk about that because just as we just talked about people who are in leadership roles who should or can know that there's more they can do to be better leaders, in fact you're encouraging that forever, but I also suspect that there are people who are leaders in their company, in their industry, where have you, that are afraid or timid or don't understand the value to the world of making their position as a leader, as a thought leader, as an authority, available to the rest of the world. I imagine that that was probably at the root of what had you start your company Advantage Media Group and then ForbesBooks, was that recognizing there's people who know things that should be shared with their world to make their world, and perhaps the bigger world a better place. Can you talk about what you mean by authority marketing and why it's so important in business today?

 

Adam Witty:                Well, to your point, Gregg, there are so many leaders that have so much incredible knowledge and great passion. They have phenomenal stories that can educate. And unfortunately, most people feel very reticent about, let's call it tooting your own horn. So because we're humble and we don't want to toot our own horn, we leave the music inside of us. It never comes out. I believe that there are so many phenomenal leaders that have so much to share that if they did share, they could have a very positive impact on others. That is what we hope to accomplish by helping leaders become authorities in their field.

 

Adam Witty:                Now, from a technical side, Gregg, authority can be manufactured. What I mean by that is that authority marketing, as defined, is a strategic and systematic process of positioning a person as a leader and an expert in their field. And the reason people want to be seen as a leader and an expert is because of the influence it gives them, and the, for lack of a better word, unfair advantage it gives them over their competition. But between us, the other big reason, the important reason is because these people have incredible stories, passion, and knowledge that can and should be shared that can help others improve their lot in life.

 

Adam Witty:                The others that they improve can be customers, they can be employees and teammates, they can be spouses and children. So we take our authors on a journey where we help them strategically and systematically build their authority status in the world, and we help create a leadership and expertise halo that surrounds them, that makes them magnetically attractive to customers, to prospects, to future employees, the people that want to work with them because they're an authority in their field.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And part of what you're saying is recognizing that you have within you or your organization or your company that kind of authority, and not to share is, you're wasting an asset, you're not leveraging an asset. So when you say it's manufactured, of course, one of the most important raw materials is actual authority to start building with.

 

Adam Witty:                That's right. You're doing yourself and the world a disservice by keeping that knowledge bottled up inside of you. And when we help business leaders build authority, how do we do it, Gregg? We first help them author a book, because when you write the book on the topic, not only is that a great piece to then amplify your stories, your passion, and knowledge with the world, but of course, you know and I know that people perceive authors as experts. Because you wrote the book on it, you must know a lot about this topic. So by writing a book and getting a book in people's hands that you can truly help, you're immediately doing the world a service, but in addition, you're doing yourself a great service because now as the author of that book, you're the guy or you're the gal that everybody wants to talk to and everybody wants to work with because you wrote the book on it.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Will you talk a little bit, Adam, about the relevance of books today in 2018? Because most people think we live in a world that's 90% digital today and it'll be 100% digital tomorrow, and books can be digital, but that's not really the root of them, and I think statistically, we're even reading more and more hard copy books today than we were a few years ago. So can you talk about the relevance of books today and why they are not only so important today, but why they're going to be even more important in the future?

 

Adam Witty:                Books are extremely relevant and continue to be relevant. In fact, the percentage of all book sales that are digital, electronic books, right now is at about 27, 28%. So that means that about one out of every three books purchased are digital. It hit its peak three years ago when that number was 31%. Over the last three years, the percentage of book sales that are digital have actually declined slightly. It looks like, based on trend lines, that it's going to stay in that 28 to 30% range.

 

Adam Witty:                So, this, of course, has confused and confounded so many all-digital folks that thought by the year 2020, physical books would all but disappear. As it turns out, we humans really love the tactile feel of a printed book in our hands. And sitting on the couch or curling up next to a fire where you have a book where you can literally flip the pages, there you can take notes, it still is something that is really, really important to people.

 

Adam Witty:                So I believe that physical books have a story place in our history and will continue to have a significant place in our future. I can tell you that based on the number of books published and the number of books that are consumed, whether it be electronic or physical, books will remain a very, very relevant way in which we as society learns, grows, and educates the next generation.

 

Gregg Stebben:          We're talking with Adam Witty, he's the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks. ForbesBooks is at ForbesBooks.com. Advantage Media Group is at AdvantageFamily.com. Adam, I'm going to ask you a couple of loaded questions because you're the publisher of a lot of business books, and you have been for a long time. Is it fair to ask you which business books have had the greatest influence on you and others in the field of thought leadership and leadership that have had a great influence on you so others can check them out and learn from them as well?

 

Adam Witty:                Absolutely. I do have my favorites. I try to temper that as the publisher of now over 1,000 business books. I try not to pick favorites, just like a parent ought not choose a favorite child. But I do have some books that have had a significant impact on my life, so I'll throw out just a couple.

 

Adam Witty:                One of my favorite leaders, and one of the leaders that I've studied intimately over the last five or six years is a guy named Alan Mulally. Alan Mulally was the CEO of Boeing, and he was also the CEO of Ford Motor Company. Probably listeners would remember Alan Mulally because he was the guy that saved Ford from bankruptcy when GM and Chrysler both declared bankruptcy. In fact, Alan Mulally is largely credited with saving the American automobile industry. And Alan is an incredible leader. A great book was written about him and his leadership skills, and how he put those to work turning around the Ford Motor Company. The title of that book is “American Icon,” subtitle is “Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company.” That's a phenomenal book that has had a deep impact on me as a leader.

 

Adam Witty:                Another book that I really like, titled “Scaling Up.” “Scaling Up” is one of my favorite books because it really gives a phenomenal blueprint on how entrepreneurs of fast growth companies can scale up their business. The reason most businesses don't get big is because there's so many traps, there's so many potholes, and there's so much danger as we try to grow. And the book “Scale Up,” which was authored by a gentleman named Verne Harnish, really goes a long way in providing a blueprint and an operating roadmap of how entrepreneurs can take that growth journey and do it successfully.

 

Adam Witty:                The final book that I'll share with you is titled “The Discipline of Market Leaders.” “The Discipline of Market Leaders” was a phenomenal book written many, many years ago, where it emphasizes that leaders in businesses must choose what category of business they want to create: product innovative companies, customer intimate companies, or operationally excellent companies. The author makes the point that most businesses try to do all three and they fail at that. Instead, pick one that you're extremely good at, and be mediocre at the rest. That's how the true world class companies created industry dominating strategy that makes them world class and a leader in their field.

 

Adam Witty:                So there you go. There's three quick book recommendations to help your listeners on their road and leadership journey.

 

Gregg Stebben:          He's Adam Witty. He's the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks, ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com, Advantage Family at AdvantageFamily.com. Adam's latest book is “Authority Marketing: How to Leverage 7 Pillars of Thought Leadership to Make Competition Irrelevant.” Adam, I want to thank you so much for joining us, and we hope you'll come back and join us again on “The Heartbeat of Main Street.”

 

Adam Witty:                Thank you, Gregg.

 

Announcer:                 Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

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Maintaining a robust cash flow is crucial to keeping a business healthy. However, business owners often wear so many hats that they neglect to focus on the most important thing – generating revenue. Join Will Barr, Small Business Deposits Executive from Bank of America, for an in-depth look with practical tips for managing your cash flow.

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Will Barr:                    Particularly for a small business owner you have to wear so many different hats every day running and managing all aspects of the business that, from time to time, you hear that business owners have just taken their eye off of what's the most important thing, and that's generating the revenue. No matter how much you cut and trim expenses, if you don't have more coming in than going out, you're not going to last long.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I am here with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. Thanks for joining us on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with Bank of America and ForbesBooks. Will, we are going to talk about some tips for helping small businesses manage their cashflow. Before we do, though, I'm already curious about your job and your title. You’re the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. What does that mean? What do you do?

 

Will Barr:                    Gregg, thanks for having me on. Our team is responsible for the products and services that we offer to small businesses. Those are focused on the deposits that our clients bring to the bank and the way that they access those funds and transact with the bank. It includes checking accounts, savings accounts, debit cards as our primary products, and then the services that we wrap around them. Think about online banking, things like mobile check deposit, remote depositare the specific products that we offer that allow customers to deposit their money with us and then access those funds when and where they need them.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It's really interesting. We're going to have this conversation about managing small business cashflow. I am betting that the technology available today that is part of your purview as the Small Business Deposits Executive makes managing cashflow a lot easier, a lot more effective, a lot more efficient for small businesses if small businesses know to use those tools and pieces of technology.

 

Will Barr:                    Absolutely. We talk a lot within my team about small business owners and why they open a small business. Never on that list is because they enjoy banking. We think about it in the context of, how do we help them conduct their banking activities more efficiently, more quickly, so they can get back to why they opened and run their business, whether that's a love for what they do, to provide for their family, to be a part of other people's lives. That's why they're in business, and it's our job to let them get back to that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You're in a situation where you're interacting with small businesses all the time. I am guessing that for many small businesses, managing cashflow is sort of like a problem they know they have, they don't know what to do with it, and they just sort of put up with it. Maybe there's even some small businesses that don't even understand that the problems they're having with the revenue and expenses of their business is cashflow. Do you find that even on the branch level that one of the things business bankers are doing is helping educate small businesses sometimes from the foundation up on why cashflow is so important?

 

Will Barr:                    It is. We hear about that. As you said, it's the number one thing that our clients tell us they struggle with. One of the things we have done across the bank over the last couple years is really invest in building expertise in small business so that we can give exactly the advice that you're talking about when a client comes to us and has a problem, has a challenge that they're facing. We've got the products and solutions that then help address that. We spend a lot of time. We talk about things like remote deposit, other capabilities that allow clients to deposit stuff without actually having to come to the bank. How do we educate our sales force so then when a client is talking about struggles they have with cashflowas an example, that they can articulate ways that we have solutions that help solve for that problem or help them address those challenges? That's something we've really made a big investment in as a bank, both in technology and then in the sales force and the expertise to engage the client in solving those problems.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Because I know we spend a lot of time talking with folks from the SBA, the Small Business Administration, for instance. I know that cashflow problems always rank as the number one or one of the top reasons why businesses fail. This is not something to be treated lightly. It's fundamental. If you own a small business or you're even thinking about starting a small business, this should be a number one priority of something you address, understand, and take care of.

 

Will Barr:                    I think for most business owners cashflow and the challenges it represents is something that never goes away.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm talking with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. We're talking about tips for better managing small business cashflow. Let's start at the beginning here. Cashflow really involves two things, and each business may have a problem with one of these things or both of these things. It's accounts receivable, money coming in, and paying your expenses, money going out. Are there different tips for different parts of that equation?

 

Will Barr:                    I think there are. I think particularly for a small business owner you have to wear so many different hats every day running and managing all aspects of the business that, from time to time, you hear that business owners have just taken their eye off of what's the most important thing, and that's generating the revenue. No matter how much you cut and trim expenses, if you don't have more coming in than going out you're not going to last long. You've got a real challenge that you're going to face.

 

Gregg Stebben:         But generating revenue, there's really two pieces to that. You might be generating tons of revenue but it's not coming in. You're not managing your receivables well, so you made the money, you just don't have the money, so you can't pay your bills.

 

Will Barr:                    That's right. You've got to get paid. Managing those receivables, particularly in ... Perhaps in a retail situations it's less of an issue in the sense that you should be getting paid right then, and maybe it's a couple days later based upon how you're collecting those funds and how you're getting paid. But that's very different than someone who may be performing a service and leaves the invoice with the customer and they've got to figure out how do they collect 15, 30 days later, hopefully if all goes well. That becomes a significant effort on their part to manage that while also generating the future flow of business. Being a small business owner is pretty darn complicated.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Let's talk about ways to get the money coming in if we've earned it. For instance, one of the things you recommend ... We're looking actually at an article on the Bank of America Small Business website, Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. You talk about switching to electronic invoicing. Now, some small business owners may feel like there's going to be a steep learning curve or this is going to be intimidating. Tell us why whatever learning curve may be there, why it's worth doing, and also give a sense of is it really as hard as people might imagine to make that switch?

 

Will Barr:                    We've met with a number of providers in the industry of fintech-type firms that provide these electronic invoicing services, and our clients who've used them tell us it really helps them get an understanding of the status of their receivables at any specific point in time. The modern technology allows you to go in and see all the invoices that have generated. A lot of these electronic providers provide you visibility, tell you whether or not even the e-mail that you sent with the invoice has been opened and read. Have they scheduled to pay it? If they have scheduled to pay it, when is it going to be paid and when will you receive the funds? Those are things that you can see at a moment's notice that otherwise might take you making several phone calls, the back and forth phone tag with your client that takes time.

 

                                  These tools don't solve for all of that, but can give you some insight into where do you want to spend your time? Where do you focus? Where do you need to make the phone call to the guy who has never even read the e-mail that you sent on your invoice? That's where you want to spend your time, versus the individual who has already scheduled to pay it. You're going to know you're going to get those funds. There's some capabilities there that’ll replace a lot of the hard work that has to go into managing those things, but actually tells you where to focus your time and effort and can give you that snapshot much more quickly than it might take you to review a stack of papers on your desk.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I would imagine one of the greatest benefits, two of the greatest benefits for a company that's switching to electronic invoicing is, first of all ... I have a lot of friends who own small businesses. It amazes me how hard it is for them to create an invoice because they've never automated it, so they don't do it, so they get backlogged, so their cashflow is messed up. A really good electronic invoicing system should enable you to make an invoice in a minute or two. Everything should be standardized in a couple of options and print the thing out and send it, or just send it without printing it. Then it should also follow up. It should know when things have been paid and automate the process of, frankly, nagging companies that are not paying in a timely way, or just reminding them to pay in an important way. I would imaging picking the right electronic invoicing program is important.

 

                                  I also want you to talk about the benefit of doings things like actually offering small discounts to your customers if they pay in a very timely way, because that guarantees the money's coming in. The future value is worth a little bit of a discount, and it takes a lot of cashflow worries off the top of your head.

 

Will Barr:                    Gregg, I think you said it very well. I want to be clear when we talk about this, going back to my point around small businesses, being a small business owner, being very difficult. I know that time is at a premium, and there are times where setting up some of those electronic invoicing capabilitiesinvolves that upfront investment that folks may not feel like they have today. But I do think they're things that, when appropriate and when you can carve off the time, will pay those dividends down the line. I don't want to take away from a lot of the stuff that we're talking about. I think there are tools and techniques built into these electronic invoicing or we see as standard practice within our clients to give a client incentive to pay attention to the invoice. Discounts is one way to do that.

 

                                  What we try and do is help our clients understand, even when they're paying invoices, the cost savings that that can represent to them versus whether they have to use credit and the cost of credit. Sometimes we encourage clients to use credit that they have available to pay an invoice earlier because if you look at the discount in the short period of time that you're paying versus what you're paying on an annual percentage rate for that credit, a lot of times you can come out ahead just doing that math, and so there's an opportunity for our clients to do that same kind of conversation with their clients. Then, it helps them to understand and predict when they have needs or how do they manage their cashflow by be willing to giving up some of their margin to make sure that they have enough funds in their account that week to make payroll.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things you talked about earlier ... We're talking with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive. We're talking about a story on the Bank of America Small Business site. It's actually at bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education: Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. One of the things, Will, you mentioned very early on in this interview was remote deposit capture. I always wonder, how many individuals and how many businesses are actually using their phone or some other digital means to deposit checks versus going to the bank? I don't know if you have that statistic. But talk about why this is such an important tool for efficiency for a small business.

 

Will Barr:                    Gregg, I'll give you a very personal example, as you did. You know many small business owners. In my job, I try and convert as many of my friends who are small business owners to become clients of ours. I have a neighbor who used to tell me about the effort he'd go to to make a deposit at one of our branches. It required him to leave his business, because he needed access to those funds. The check that he'd just received in the mail, he needed in his account to be able to pay his bills and his payables. He would stop what he was doing at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon to drive 10 minutes to our branch, make a deposit. Then, by the time he'd gone back to his work, was settled back in, it'd cost him as hour.

 

                                  What we were able to do through the result of that conversation we had one afternoon in the street in front of our house was put a scanner on his desktop that moves that activity from 1:00 in the afternoon, 2:00 in the afternoon, which is a prime time for him to be building and growing his business. He now does it at 6:00, 6:30, 7:00 at night, makes that same deposit. The funds go through that night and he's kept that time open in the middle of his day to really focus on driving his business. For him, that's a time-saverthat's really accomplished the same thing as dropping what he was doing and entering the bank. We developed technology like that where we have a desktop scannerthat sits on a client's desk and they can make deposits or is, as I think you're aware, people can use their mobile phones to make a deposit right when they get that check. Both those ways are ways that we've completely changed the dynamic of getting money into the account and getting access to those funds.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Let's change the conversation to payables, the things we pay. We're talking about a story called Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. It's on the Bank of America Small Business site, bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education. I'm talking with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. How do we apply the same kind of efficiency of thinking and these tools and these processes to the part of our business which is where we pay our bills? What kind of things can we do there to be more efficient?

 

Will Barr:                    A couple thoughts in that regard about being smarter with the way that you pay for things. In our space, we've built online and mobile capabilities that can do a couple things. They can, one, help our clients avoid incurring late fees and penalties. But they can also manage when you make a payment and actually holding onto your funds longer. Think about that, Gregg, in the sense that a lot of folks are very financially responsible and will want to pay an invoice the minute they get it so they can move it from the inbox to the outbox. I think that's a great practice. But that doesn't mean that the funds that you're paying have to go out today, and that you can schedule that payment to say, "Hey. I got this bill today. It's August the 7th. It's not due till August the 31st. Why do I want to pay that guy before August 30th?" I can do that. I can go into online banking and I can schedule that payment. I get an e-mail confirmation that it's going to go out.

 

                                  But that gives me access to those funds over the course of the month if I may need them for other things or I need ... something comes up that's more urgent. A lot of these capabilities can help somebody hold their money longer, or setting up those same type of scheduled payments can make sure that you don't miss important dates that might ... a rent payment or a mortgage payment. Those types of things are other ways that people use these electronic tools and reminders to make sure they're not missing those dates.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things you suggest in this article is to negotiate with vendors. Is that something I do now or is it something I do when I'm having a cashflow problem? Or do I do it now so that when I have a cashflow problem we already have a good friendly relationship?

 

Will Barr:                    I think it's something you want to do in advance, in the sense that you want to understand and communicate to your vendors that being timely, being responsible is something that's of critical importance to you. That openness in many ways will generate that sense of trust with the vendor. I think it's always important to have that conversation upfront. Certainly the particulars of any given situation may be hard to cover or anticipate when you're initially doing that. But as soon as you know you're going to have a problem, I think vendors will appreciate that transparency, and that trust that's built as a result of that is likely to get you ... not a guarantee by any means, but is likely to get you the break that you're looking for or the patience or the understanding on the part of vendors.

 

                                   At the same time, Gregg, you've got to realize that those vendors are in business and they want to get paid on time. You need to be thoughtful and careful about how to do that, when to do that. But I'm of the opinion that upfront communication anticipating if and when those situations may occur, you've already had the conversation, is advantageous.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It seems to me that this is one of those times where if you think about how you would respond to this circumstance will be really helpful. Obviously if someone's going to have trouble with a payment, you'd rather know earlier than later. You'd rather have it be transparent. You don't want to feel like they're trying to pull the wool over your eyes. So treating those vendors like you'd like to be treated is probably a really good way of figuring out the best way to proceed.

 

Will Barr:                    I agree. This probably applies in a lot of different aspects of life. But if a due date for a bill comes and goes and you don't hear anything, there's much more consternation on your part than if somebody has called you in advance and said, "Hey. I'm working through a bit of a tough time. It's three days before it's due. I'd like you to know I need a couple more days and I'll plan to get it to you on this date." They're much more inclined to understand that than they are if they just never hear from you.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Absolutely. One of the other things you suggest in this article, which is called Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow, it's at bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education, you suggest upgrading your payroll system. I think that's a much longer conversation, and I hope we can have that conversation sometime. I want to move on to the last part of the article, which is you suggest that during periods of positive cashflow that small businesses make sure they're setting aside some money as a financial cushion for when there might be a down cycle. Do you find that even on the branch level this is something that your business bankers are able to coach your business clients through to help them understand how to do it, how much to set aside, and where to put it?

 

Will Barr:                    I do. I think this is something that we talk about both on the personal and the business side of our role as a financial advisor to our clients, is really understanding the priorities that you face, the stages of where you are both from a business and a personal lifecycle standpoint, and this is a key component. Saving for that rainy day. Recognizing that when times are good there may be times that are not so good, and how do you prepare now for those? In many cases I recognize this is easier said than done, but it is something that we're prepared to talk about and help clients understand how best to use excess funds that they may be holding, whether it's to save them, save portions of them, use that frankly in those good times to apply for credit that you may need in a later date. Those are all things that we really spend a lot of time with our sales teams talking about and helping them prepare for these conversations with our clients.

 

Gregg Stebben:         He is Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive. We're here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with Bank of America and ForbesBooks. We've been talking about an article on the Bank of America Small Business site. It's at bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education. Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. Will, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Will Barr:                    Gregg, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks, at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America, at bankofamerica.com.

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How do you take an after-work hobby and capitalize on it to create an empire? This week’s podcast episode details how one man did exactly that, board by board.

 

Listen to valuable advice for hopeful entrepreneurs from Brandon Greba, founder of West Georgia Cornhole.

 

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Brandon Greba:         We started in 2009, and from there I was doing it as a hobby. So, up until July of 2013, finally I just made the leap of faith, and I quit my good corporate job. And I was excelling, I was at the top of my team, and I was making decent money at it, and stuff. On the other side of that, I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, and it was instilled in me at a young age ... my dad owned his own business, so it was instilled that, hey, you're going to own your own business one day.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I’m here with Brandon Greba, he is the owner of West Georgia Cornhole. Their website is westgeorgiacornhole.com, also well worth checking out on Twitter, wgcornhole, on Facebook, West Georgia Cornhole and Instagram, which we are going to talk about because, Brandon, I have heard you are a marketing whiz, or you and your team are when it comes to Instagram. That's West-Georgia-Cornhole.

 

                                   Brandon, thanks for joining us and I have to start by asking what may seem like a really obvious question to you, but I'm not sure everybody in the United States or in the world knows what cornhole is. So give us a real quick rundown of how the game is played.

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. Well, thanks guys, for having me on first off. It's a privilege to be in this position so definitely appreciate that. So, yeah. Cornhole is a game that is primarily played at an outdoor event, tailgates, family functions, but over the past three or four years it's really gained in popularity as far competition-wise. It started as a backyard game and now it's kind of turned into big money where you can actually win some prize money and things.

 

Gregg Stebben:         There are pro cornhole players?

 

Brandon Greba:         Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean it's on ESPN now.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Then it's hard to top that, right? That's pretty much pinnacle.

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. Yeah. Exactly, but you know, the premise of it is you have eight bean bags. You usually play against another opponent and you have two boards that are spread out 27 feet apart. The boards themselves are two foot by four foot and they've got a six-inch hole towards the top. So, similar to horseshoes. You can transport it very well and then you throw the beanbags and try to get it in the hole. So, one bean bag on the board is one point, and one bean bag on the hole is three points. So you just kind of go back and forth playing your opponent until you get to 21, typically. First to 21 wins, so it's pretty simple in kind of theory but as you get more involved in it, there's a lot of strategy and competition involved.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And of course, we should point out that a big difference between cornhole and horseshoes is in horseshoes usually you're driving a stake into the ground or the sand or something and throwing them. Here, there's a board and that board ends up being really important in this conversation because that's really what your company does—you make cornhole boards, correct?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yep. Yep. So, absolutely. So we can get as basic as just a plain board, natural wood, spray some poly on it, to getting very elaborate, doing corporate logos, sponsors, teams, and things like that. So, it's kind of all up to the customer, the end customer, the company that we're dealing with but that's what makes it cool, so everyone is unique.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, are your customers a combination of just regular folks like us who want to play in the backyard or with friends, all the way up to corporate? And I could even imagine ... I mean I think I've seen cornhole boards with team logos on them. Pro teams, college teams, things like that?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So, absolutely. We have an online retail site so anybody off the street can go on there, log on and customize a board and then that goes straight to us and then usually within two weeks, we'll have it delivered to your doorstep, so that's the process and then we have larger bulk orders that we do for corporations, for promotional events, giveaways, things like that. So, definitely, two good markets that we're in.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Help me understand how you got into the business of building cornhole boards. I'm talking with Brandon Greba. He's the owner of West Georgia Cornhole at westgeorgiacornhole.com. You can check him out on social media too, wgcornhole on Twitter, West Georgia Cornhole on Facebook, and on Instagram, West-Georgia-Cornhole. How did you get into this business?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So, I've always kind of been a hands-on guy, liking to build things. So, really it started probably around 2008, 2009. One of my friends asked me to build a cornhole set for their parents for Christmas, so I went ahead and did it, made a nice set. She presented it to her parents for Christmas. They loved it, fell in love with it. They told some of their friends, "Hey where'd you get this?" You know, mentioned my name, so really from that point on, it was word of mouth. I was working out of my garage and had a corporate full-time job, trying to manage that and orders started flowing in, started picking up, word of mouth.

 

                                   I would make some local classified posts, kind of starting real small and then things really just escalated. Cornhole was getting popular. We were making a product. Or at that time I was making a good product, and it just really scaled from there. You know we started in 2009, and from there I was doing it as a hobby, so up until July of 2013. I finally just made the leap of faith and I quit my good, corporate job that I was excelling in.

 

Gregg Stebben:         What was your good corporate job?

 

Brandon Greba:         I was working for a company called Fastenal. It's a rather large industrial supply company, so I was a project manager for them at that time.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, you were at a place where you had to make a tough choice, or maybe it was an easy choice.

 

Brandon Greba:         Oh yeah. It was tough because I was in a position with my job and I was excelling. I was the top of my team and I was making decent money at it and stuff, but on the other side of that, I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and it was instilled in me at a young age and my dad owned his own business. So it was kind of installed that, "Hey, you're going to own your own business one day." So, at that point, it was like, "Okay. I know I can do this. I know I can make money at it." You've got the work ethic to do it, let's do it and then I talked to my boss. He thought I was crazy but it was a long process.

 

                                  Me and my wife talked about it for six, seven, eight months and just got plans together and made sure the financials worked out and made sure we weren't going crazy doing this thing, you know?

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, when you made that leap around July 2013—so about five years ago—were you still making the boards in your garage? Did you have any employees? Where was the business at that point, and then help us understand what you've built it into today?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So at that point we were still in my garage and it was considered a hobby at that point.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, you and Steve Jobs started the same way.

 

Brandon Greba:         Yep. Yep. Two car garage. Yep, out in Georgia. I didn't have any employees. I mean I had some people, some friends, that would lend a hand on the weekend if I was backed up or during the summer I would hire some buddies that were teachers that had the summer off, so kind of that model. And usually the summer is our busier time, so it kind of helped out, you know, them making a little extra money and then helping me out when we were busy. So, but nobody full time at that point so as soon as I ... we formed an LLC and then started July '13

 

                                             Related Content: Why Your Small Business Should Participate in Facebook or Instagram Live Streaming Events. And Tweet Chats, Too!   

 

                                   A month or two later, I hired a part-timer. He was a work release student in one of the local high schools. So I hired him on. He was going to be graduating later in the spring. So, we kind of mentored him and trained him up so hired him on. And then in ... I guess it was October, November of '13, so a few months later, we moved into a commercial space of about 5000 square feet, so you know, at that point we were able to really expand and spread out, create some more efficiencies and not be so crammed and then really just kind of make the stepping stones of what we needed to do to grow the business to where we wanted it.

 

                                   That was a big move, getting into a building and out of the garage.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Signing a lease is a big deal.

 

Brandon Greba:         Yep. Yep. Absolutely. So, that was ... You know, we made the move there towards the end of '13 and started ramping up, getting ready for Christmas. Usually Christmas is pretty big and then went full steam at it January, February of 2014 and just kind of started hiring people. I had one part-time employee. He turned into a full-time after he graduated high school. He stuck with me after that for about three to four years, so he was definitely a good hire and kind of got me going as well, so it was a good investment there.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And so how big is your company today?

 

Brandon Greba:         Right now, we actually, two months ago, acquired a new building so we're building. Square foot now, we are about 15, 16 thousand square feet. We have a mixture of part-time, full-time. Right now probably 20 to 22 employees right now, so looking to bring on a few more here before the year is over. I would say by the end of the year maybe 23, 24 employees. Definitely a big uptick in five years, so it's something to be very proud of.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, I have to ask. Do you have a sense of how big the cornhole market is?

 

Brandon Greba:         The cornhole market ... We've got a few competitors of mine that are out there, but the market's kind of really split because you've got these garage hobby builders, like I came out of. So from the garagers ... There's still a lot of those guys out there that are doing that across the country. But we kind of estimate the cornhole yard game market. Because we do a little bit more than just cornhole. We do a lot of other yard games as well. So, we anticipate the yard game market anywhere between 20 and 40 million dollars a year.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I have heard that you have done very well, very, very well, using Instagram as a marketing tool. Can you talk to us about things you tried in the beginning? What worked, what didn't, and what you're doing today?

 

                                             Related Content: 5 Ideas to Use Instagram Stories to Drive Small Business Growth

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So, you know, we use social media is huge for us. You know we use it as a way to connect to our followers and not just followers, but potential buyers. And a lot of people out there will try to push product down people's throats on social media. We kind of take a different angle, you know. We want to just engage with those people. You know, we want to get them to know our business and then hopefully, at that point we have an emotional connection with them and then they make the sale. They want to be connected with company in the sale.

 

                                   It's just not some random cornhole board off an internet site. We want to let them know how the process is, behind-the-scenes pictures, kind of stuff like that. It's important to put a face behind the product, really. That's kind what we really like to do with it. And then Instagram and Facebook is an easy way to do that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes. And so, has that ... First of all, are you the one who's managing your social media and whether you're the one doing it today or not, were you doing it in the beginning?

 

                                            Related Content: The Small Business Owner's Guide to Social Media

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. I handle a lot of it now still. I have a little help from one of my other guys but it's you know, it's probably about 50-50 between both of us as far promotion we're going to do on there or any type of ad spend or anything like that or pictures or what not we're going to put on. But yeah, in the beginning it was all me. Everything really, was all me in the beginning, you know until…

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's the nature of being an entrepreneur.

 

Brandon Greba:         Oh yeah. Yeah. And until you realize, "Hey. I can't do all this anymore." Then you start hiring people, so hiring good people that can do the job that you used to do. So, that was a big thing too.

 

Gregg Stebben:         When you started the company in 2013, were you already a big social media user? Or did you have to learn the rules of the game around the time you launched or started to use it for your own company?

 

Brandon Greba:         I wouldn't say I was good. I was probably average, you know. Just being young, knowing that kind of stuff is an advantage and then it starts changing every day. You know, the aspect of the new sites that are out there and how people interact an all the hashtags, the algorithm, all the hot stuff behind the scenes. All that stuff's changing every day. You know, you got to kind of stay on top of it. We have some outside help that kind of helps us with some of the guidance on that stuff. But yeah, it's all learning. Every day is change. You got to learn new things every week.

 

Gregg Stebben:         How would you categorize the importance of social media in the marketing of your company? Is it your main thing or is it part of a larger mix?

 

Brandon Greba:         I wouldn't say it's everything but it is a lot. It's a big nest, but you don't want to put all your eggs in that basket.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes. Yes. Well, I'm imagining that if you're in what you call the backyard game industry, that there's a lot of other ways to connect with fans, and friends, and customers. Events, leagues, celebrity clients ... Do you see yourself doing things like that?

 

Brandon Greba:         We host tournaments. We have a weekly league that we host in our local city. You know we are for hire for different corporate events or tournaments that people want to point on. At that point, you know, people are actually playing on our boards. They get the chance to talk with us, interact with us, play with our product so it's a good way to get people to actually use our stuff before the buy it and then they can ask us how to purchase these things at that point. So, it's just another avenue. You know, another avenue as far celebrity clients ... We'll occasionally get clients that will purchase some of our cornhole boards.

 

                                   At that point it's pretty cool. You know, we try to jump on it, try to leverage that as far as making posts or what not or trying to get them to take pictures with the product and tagging us. It is pretty cool and if there is a potential buyer that sees that they're going be like, "Wow. Okay. You made this so and so." For us it's just another way to go to market there.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm talking with Brandon Greba. He's the owner of West Georgia Cornhole. It's westgeorgiacornhole.com. If you're needing a board, that's the place to go. On Twitter, wgcornhole. Facebook, West Georgia Cornhole, and on Instagram, West - Georgia-Cornhole.

 

                                   Brandon, I noticed on your website that you are actually doing a lot of work for big name, big brand companies like Coca-Cola and American Express, Adobe, Google Fiber. Tell us about how you got started in the corporate market.

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So the corporate market has really come on, probably in the past two to three years. So, that's a totally different ball game as far as going to bat with those guys but we just reach out to them. We try to make some calls. A lot of times they're finding us on Google searches, sending us emails that way. But it's just, when you get those emails, you get those inquiries, you know we try to jump on them, take extreme care of them. We try to take care of everybody but really focusing and making those relationships work.

 

                                   And then a lot of times, it's reoccurring purchases that they're doing. You know, they have events throughout the year, do promotions or giveaways. So we just want to make sure that they are 100% taken care of. It turns out to be an ongoing relationship that we have with them.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Which is a beautiful, beautiful, thing. I want to ask you two other things, Brandon. One is, now that you've built this company up, essentially in about 10 years, right ... 2008 or 2009 ... you're 10 years in. You've grown. You're having a remarkable success. Where do you see yourself and the company in five years, 10 years?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So, I'm always ... one of my things is I always dream big. You know, set big goals, obtains those goals and then once you do that, set even bigger goals after that. So, in five years, I would be like to be doing close to $10 million in sales, be looking for a bigger building at that point, outgrow this building. I want to have probably 30 to 40 employees, so double the employee base. So those are just some of the five-year goals. After that it's probably the 10 years goals. After 10 years I want to be at the point I'm letting this ... this thing is smooth sailing. I'm looking into possibly purchasing other business or building another business kind of similar that can complement this. You know, that's where we're at.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Sounds like a great goal. The last thing I want to ask you because of the success you've built in the last 10 years is, when you think back to those early days, and then in your mind kind of fast forward to today ... Has there been one or two of the most valuable lessons you've learned about owning, starting, or running a business that you wish everyone knew?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. I've got quite a bit of them. Yeah. I guess one of the biggest things, you know ... Don't let anybody tell you, you can't do it. When I started off, "Oh. What are you doing, man? You're crazy. Why are you quitting this job, doing this?" Don't let anybody say you can't do it. There's always going to be naysayers and stuff out there, so put that aside and then five, 10 years down the road, say, "Well, look what I've done." Don't let anybody put you down. Don't let anybody say it can't be done. I said it before. Dream big, set big goals. Obtain those goals and then set new ones, really.

 

                                   And a big one too is, it's not all peachy and peachy as a way it's going to be you know. There are going to be rough times. Everybody thinks owning your own business, "Oh, man. You own your own business. That's awesome." It's got its bad days just like anybody else. Those bad days are bad.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Well, for you, and for your company ... For West Georgia Cornhole, what's a bad day look like?

 

Brandon Greba:         You know, you may lose a sale, you may lose a customer, you may lose a bigger customer. You know may have some machinery that goes down. You're going to have to jump on that, spend money on that. You may have some employees that on a big day you needed them to be here, they didn't show up, something happened. So, there's always crazy things like that. It's never all ups. But with those rough times, you know, learn from those mistakes and what happened in those rough times and how you can avoid them in the future. You got to do that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         In other words, when things are tough, make sure you learn from them so you don't repeat the same mistakes.

 

Brandon Greba:         Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Brandon, thanks for joining us. He's Brandon Greba. He's the owner of West Georgia Cornhole. Westgeorgiacornhole.com. On Twitter, @wgcornhole. On Facebook, at West Georgia Cornhole and on Instagram at West-Georgia-Cornhole. Go to any of those social media sites or directly to westgeorgiacornhole.com, you will see some beautiful boards and if you want to have a great summer and you don't have a cornhole board or you're ready to update, these are the guys to go to.

 

                                   Brandon, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Brandon Greba:          Yes sir, thanks for having me.

 

Narrator:                      Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com

 

 

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Many entrepreneurs turn to their bank for a loan when starting a small business. On the latest podcast episode, Chris Ward, Small Business Credit Executive from Bank of America, explains what banks are looking for when making loan decisions.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Chris Ward:                If you have an accountant, that's your business partner. If you have an attorney to help represent you, that's your business partner. Think of your banker the same way, one of the three trusted business partners for you to be successful as a small business, because every small business owner wants to grow their business over time and wants to have a positive impact on the community. So how can your banker help you with that?

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm here with Chris Ward, he’s the Small Business Credit Executive at Bank of America. We're going to talk about something, Chris, I know all small business owners think to themselves and always wonder who I can ask? Here's the question. When it comes to a bank like Bank of America making business loans, what is the bank looking for?

 

Chris Ward:                Good question Gregg. It's hard for small businesses, because there's not a lot of information out there to help them like there is on the consumer lending side. What are banks looking for? They're primarily looking for the five C’s of small business credit. What are those five C’s of small business credit?

 

                                   It's about capacity, collateral, capital, conditions and character, and if I could throw in one more, it's also about communication, so let's just call it the six C’s of small business lending credit.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Okay. I'm game to call it the six C’s of small business credit. Let's take them one at a time. You said the first one is capacity. What do you mean by that?

 

Chris Ward:                Capacity really is about whether the revenues, the income that your business generates, is enough to cover your debts, so your business debts and also your personal debts. Because if you're a small business owner, your business is your personal income as well. So, it's about the cash flow that your business generates and is that cash flow getting better, is it getting worse, is it stable, is it unstable, is it volatile? It’s things like that we’re looking for to determine the capacity that a business has for handling its expenses and its liabilities.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Do you find that many people who are looking for a small business loan are surprised that their personal credit situation is also a factor?

 

Chris Ward:                A lot are. A lot don't realize that. But if you think about it, if you're a sole proprietor, it makes all the sense in the world, because on your tax returns on your personal side you're going to have your business. But when you're a Subchapter S or LLC, a lot of those businesses—because of the way they're structured—they have to pass through the retained earnings back to the personal side.

 

                                  Because in a small business loan, as owners, you're going to be personally guaranteeing that loan, we have to look at both sides, both the business side and the personal side to see how you're managing your entire financial well-being.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Are there certain benchmarks or rules of thumb that I, as a small business owner, should be looking at to recognize whether I'm in a good situation to be going to a bank for a small business loan?

 

Chris Ward:                Yeah. There's a general rule of thumb, and it's really about the income divided by your total debt. We call it debt coverage ratio. In general, in the industry you're looking for about $1.25 to cover at least every dollar of liabilities out there. That way you have a little bit of buffer, a little bit of wiggle room, if you will, on your cash flow to manage your debt and provide some working capital for the business so it can keep on growing.   [GK4]

 

Gregg Stebben:          Then the next C of the six C’s of small business credit is capital, so talk about that.

 

Chris Ward:                Capital is really about your business assets, what the business owns, what the business has generated. Is it greater than the total liabilities the business has out there? Think of your business assets. Think of what the business owns. Think of inventory. Think of real estate. Think of retained earnings, the cash, the checking account balances. Is that more than what the business owes to others? So, whether that's an actual loan or maybe it's just your accounts payable, and does that capital also have enough to show how much you as a business owner have invested in that company that you own?

 

Gregg Stebben:         Which I think would tie into the next C, which is collateral.

 

Chris Ward:                Collateral, right. Capital helps to generate collateral, at least generate the means to grow your collateral. It's accounts receivable for a business. It's inventory. It's cash. It's equipment. It's real estate if the business actually owns its property instead of leases. It's an automobile that might be in the business name or a truck, depending on the type of business.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm talking with Chris Ward. He's the small business credit executive at Bank of America. We're talking about ... I think classically they're called the five C’s of small business credit. We've talked about capital, we've talked about capacity, we've talked about collateral. There's also a C, which is the fourth C, which is conditions. What does that refer to?

 

Chris Ward:                That's really about the economy and the type of industry that you are. A lot of industries could be very seasonal. You think of industries that rely upon tourism, very, very seasonal. So that means the cash flow, the revenues, could be somewhat volatile if we look at the entire year.

 

                                   It also could be about the type of industry such as a gas station or a convenience store. You might be handling very dangerous liquids—obviously a gas station would—so there's legislation, there's regulations involved. So, it's really understanding not only the business itself, but also the type of business it is and how it impacts our local communities.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It's interesting, when you talk about something like seasonal industries, are you suggesting that there's a best time of year for me to be applying for a loan, or just that I am addressing it well when talking about the need for the loan or in the written materials I might submit to the bank?

 

Chris Ward:                It's more about addressing it well with your banker, making sure they understand the type of business you are, when your revenues come in if they don't come in as a straight line. And no business has revenues coming in in a straight line every month, month over month. You think about it, just the American economy. People spend a whole lot of money in the fourth quarter for the holidays and then they turn around and they have to pay all their bills in Q1, and the tax time comes, so that also relates to small businesses in general from my opinion.

 

                                  Help your banker understand how your revenues come in, how your expenses go out, and how does time and the time of year impact how your business runs.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Chris, as I'm listening to you, I'm thinking that you're suggesting that I be prepared to answer the same questions a rich uncle would ask if I went to my rich uncle for a loan.

 

Chris Ward:                Yeah. Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Is that actually ... Could that be a good way to approach this? Just imagine that I'm making a case for a loan for my business to another person versus a bank? Because everything you've said so far is really common sense.

 

Chris Ward:                It is common sense, but you're dealing with your banker, and so how you have that relationship with your banker, how you build that partnership with your banker, is really important. Getting them to understand how your business runs, because every business is different. There's over 28 million small businesses in America today. They're all different. Some are businesses at home. Some are businesses with an actual storefront. Some are businesses where the owner is more of a consultant and traveling all the time.

 

                                   So, help that the banker understand how your business runs, how it operates, how it generates cashflow, and what is the ultimate goal and purpose of your business.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Okay. Let's move on to the fifth C of the six C’s of small business credit. It's character. That's got to be a big one.

 

Chris Ward:                It is. It's probably one of the most important, if not the most important. It's all about you as a business owner and your history. It's tied so closely to the success of your business. It's actually critically important.

 

                                  It's factors such as your personal integrity, your industry experience, your good-standing. It's about your credit history, both your personal and your business credit history, and the factors that impact your credit score, because there are small business credit scores out there as well as the credit bureau agencies.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And the sixth C you have said is communication, and I would think that that fits in with character as well. Talk about why that's so important.

 

Chris Ward:                Well, it's a little bit different, and here's how it's different. Communication is first you have a business plan. It's significant if you have a business plan where you've been, where you are today, and where you're going, and how are you going to continue the success of your business, and then can you communicate and share that business plan with your small business banker? Because your small business banker is your business partner in many, many senses. They're there to represent you with the bank and to cut through the red tape of banking, because banking is not easy nowadays.

 

                                   It's gotten a lot better because of mobile technology and mobile banking or remote deposit capture and things like that, but it's still complicated, especially for a small business owner, because there are so many factors that impact you as a business owner. So that communication, that relationship, that give and take that you have with your small business banker to help you get the proper products, to make sure that you're lining up the right type of lending products to the needs that you have, that's what communication is all about.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Chris, I want to ask you two more questions. I'm talking with Chris Ward. He's the small business credit executive at Bank of America. I want to ask you two other questions. One is what is the best way for me to begin building a relationship with my local bankers now, so that when I'm ready to ask for a loan I'm not walking in for the first time, so that I know them and they know me?

 

Chris Ward:                That's a great question. So here's my suggestion. Where you have your business checking account today, get to know that bank, the bankers there that represent you at that local branch, and get to know their products and services. Then ask them questions about how to run your business better, how to have a better business banking relationship.

 

                                   So think of things like merchant services. If you accept credit cards from your customers, are your merchant services to accept those credit cards with the bank that provides your checking account? Do you have a business credit card? Business credit cards are a very popular way of helping to finance small dollar expenses for a business. If you don't have a business credit card with your bank today, why not? Look into it.

 

                                   Does the relationship you have with your bank reward you, so the more that you have at that bank, does it give you discounts and fee waivers? The larger the relationship with your bank, the better that you get from that bank, the better the relationship, but also the more that you know about that banker and how they can help you.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It sounds to me like I should really be thinking about the bankers in my local branch almost as consultants when it comes to managing the money of my business. There are ways they can help me that I might not know unless I made the effort to ask them.

 

Chris Ward:                I totally agree. I actually think they're your business partner. If you have an accountant, that's your business partner. If you have an attorney to help represent you, that's your business partner. Think of your banker the same way, one of the three trusted business partners for you to be successful as a small business, because every small business owner wants to grow their business over time and wants to have a positive impact on the community. So how can your banker help you with that?

 

                                   If you have a banker that can help you with that, it's going to help your business. It's going to help make your life easier as a small business owner. So making sure that you have a banker who's competent and knowledgeable and dedicated to small businesses I think is super important.

 

Gregg Stebben:         The last thing I want to ask you, Chris ... Chris Ward, he's the Small Business credit executive at Bank of America. The last thing I want to ask you is this. I'm sure many people listening have never applied for a business loan before from a bank. What is that process like? Can you give us a brief overview?

 

Chris Ward:                Every bank is a little bit different. It's not as common and streamlined as it is in consumer lending, say as an auto loan. But a lot of banks are dedicating a lot of time, money and technology to improve in the small business credit application process.

 

                                   So the first thing I would ask that you all do is that you go to the bank's website and see what their capabilities are and are not. For example, go check out Bank of America and compare it to the competition. Do they have an easy way to apply for credit? Do they have a learning section with really good general industry information that helps you understand how to establish and maintain your business credit?  How to apply for  business credit

 

                                   Then does it also list out all the different types of small business credit products that are out there, from a small business credit card, to a real estate loan, to a business auto loan, up to an SBA, a Small Business Administration loan? Do they have those capabilities? That's a great place to go and to start the process, to educate yourself and making sure that you're dealing with a bank that is full-service and has industry experts to help you with your small business.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's really great advice. I've been talking with Chris Ward. He's the small business credit executive at Bank of America. Chris, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Chris Ward:                Thank you.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

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Now on the Small Business Community, listen to part two of Exploring Veteran Entrepreneurship. In addition to gaining insight on the entrepreneurial mindset of the men and women who have served their country, learn practical tactics for managing your business like a veteran. Did you miss part one? Tune in here.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through adedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Marcus Flakes:          I was deployed three times in my military career in the Navy. One thing I want to point out is that what I learned from these deployments. I learned sacrifice, mission, and core values.

 

                                  Now, there were a whole lot of different things that I learned, but one of the few things that stuck with me was sacrifice, mission, and core values. I use these traits to develop an organizational culture within my company as well.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.comand Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm here with Marcus Flakes, the CEO of Commercial Sanitation Initiative. A company that, frankly, I think is on the cutting edge and doing some really exciting things, but rather than me talk about it, Marcus, welcome. I want you to tell us about your business and what you're doing.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Thank you, Gregg. I appreciate it. Well, a little bit about my business. The umbrella company is CSI US Military Maintenance. We're a cleaning maintenance and remodeling company. We hire local veterans and their families as well as patriotic non-veterans with the mission of giving back to the community. We do this through industrial and military training for economic development projects, i.e., restoration of homes, cleaning, commercial cleaning, remodeling commercial buildings and things like that. Since our company's inception, which was February 2017, we've grown significantly with small business partnerships that have also enabled us to start a subsidiary venture known as Commercial Sanitation Initiative, CSI. CSI is a North American distributor of EnviroCleanse. This company is a combination of veteran entrepreneurs and small business owners distributing cleaning products and organic disinfectants nationwide.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One thing you said, Marcus, that I'm a little unclear of—and I did not serve in the military—and that may be why, but there's lots of people like me who may not understand some terminology. Did you say that you use military training with your employees? If that's the case, explain how that works because it's not clear to me.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Okay. Absolutely. The military training, as you well know, it's called Military Occupational Specialty, MOS. Within the military there's a myriad of knowledge, skills, and abilities that we acquire. One of the things I was focused on is how we can use the exact training from the military and transition that into civilian sector. I created this company around what the military actually does. Not in all facets, in a good piece, cleaning for instance. We learn that going into the military. I don't know a better cleaner than a military person.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We all know the ability of soldiers to do things like make beds and shine shoes and things. It's legendary to all of us just through what we see on movies and on TV. I suspect there's a lot more to it than what we see and what you've done is, I think, is actually recognize that those are highly valuable skills, and that once people are out of the military, you are able to put those people and those veterans and those skills to work.

 

Marcus Flakes:          That is absolutely correct. That's what we do.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I want to hear about your military background, but before we do, I want to pick up on something you mentioned, which is a product called EnviroCleanse. I think you said you're the North American distributor?

 

Marcus Flakes:          Correct.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I want to know a little bit more about that including, this really caught my eye on your website, and by the way, Marcus' company is Commercial Sanitation Initiative, the website is commercialsanitationinitiative.com. One of the things that caught my eye on your website is that there's some relationship between your company, EnviroCleanse, and Warren Buffett, or Berkshire Hathaway. Can you just explain that because I find that very, very interesting?

 

Marcus Flakes:          Yes, absolutely. EnviroCleanse LLC, it's a division of Charter Brokerage LLC, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Which is owned by Warren Buffett.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Yeah, which is owned by Warren Buffett. Yeah. Absolutely. I have not yet talked to Warren Buffett. Very large company. I'm just one of the smaller entities down here making the mission happen for EnviroCleanse. With all due respect to Warren Buffett, he is the man behind the scenes making a lot of things happen for EnviroCleanse. I consider CSI as having an intricate role to distributing these products on a national level. When I say on a national level, I'm talking about the many industries that this product intersects.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Which are?

 

Marcus Flakes:          Which are retail, commercial, and industrial. You think about population health, I have a master's in public health so I think very broadly on these topics, but I'll make it very, very simple, is that everybody is seeking organic and sustainable products. I'm sure whoever is listening to this call could actually agree with me on that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes.

 

Marcus Flakes:          We provide just that. We provide a product that is an organic disinfectant and we provide green cleaning, de-greasing formulas within another product. We've had a lot of traction from retailers and commercial and industrial. We're on the growth side at this point.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I think when you pick a product like EnviroCleanse and it has essentially not just the endorsement of Warren Buffet, but the fact that he owns that company and the product that the company makes, I think that for a lot of people is a level of validation that's untouchable. It's the gold standard. You know that if Warren Buffett has put his name on it essentially, it must be a great product and you're now the distributor for North America and I assume using it in your cleaning for your clients yourself at CSI.

 

Marcus Flakes:          That is absolutely correct. We've seen nothing but success when we talk to our clients about cleaning contracts. Not only do we offer our services with a good work ethic, but we also offer this product in conjunction to the contract. It gives them a double-edged view of what they're getting from us.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm talking with Marcus Flakes, the CEO of Commercial Sanitation Initiative. It's commercialsanitationinitiative.com. Tell us about your military background because it's a very big part of your story.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Okay. Well, I'm a 22-year veteran. I have a very wide background. My experience is within the Navy, Army, as well as full-time employment with the Texas Air National Guard. I was also a food program manager for the state of California Army National Guard as well. I was deployed three times in my military career in the Navy. One thing I want to point out is that what I learned from these deployments. I learned sacrifice, mission, and core values. Now, there were a whole lot of different things that I learned, but one of the few things that stuck with me is sacrifice, mission, and core values. I use these traits to develop the organizational culture within my company as well.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Would you say that as a business owner if you hadn't had that military training your business would be running very differently and would you actually look at your military training and say, you know, if I hadn't got those years of training in my 22 years of service to my country, I might not actually know how to be successful at running a business or starting a business?

 

Marcus Flakes:          You know, there's a true and false to that. The truth is that I gained the confidence from the military. Some of the things that they teach us, they teach us resiliency. They teach us leadership. They teach us sacrifice. Not being all about yourself. It's that selfless service that comes into play. It really brings on your ability to mentor others, which I do on a daily basis for other business owners that seek me out and want to know what I'm doing and how I can help them. But, as far as false, I would say if I never had gone to the military, I had interest prior to enlisting in the military and it was business and health. Looking in hindsight, I think I would've gone to school a lot earlier than I did and picked up a lot of knowledge, skills, and abilities and perhaps just like every other small business owner who doesn't have a military background, they're very successful as well. I really can't take that credit away.

 

Gregg Stebben:         What you're pointing to is that by serving that time in the military, in a sense, you sacrificed something else that was of interest to you for a long, long time, for 22 years, which was your interest in business and health. It's just interesting hearing your perspective on this because I think frankly for many of us, if we haven't served, we don't think about the idea ... We know that veterans come out of the military and then most of us in business know that they make great employees, particularly in the areas where they have trained, but I think most people today don't yet have the idea of what great entrepreneurs veterans make. Did you find in starting your business, and I don't know if this was your first business or you've started others, but in your time as a veteran starting businesses, have you found that there are certain hurdles that have been bigger hurdles for you because you were a veteran?

 

Marcus Flakes:          I have. I have. Starting out with employment. Usually when a veteran comes off active duty or gets out of the National Guard, they're taking on a new journey so to speak. We close that chapter and we start a new chapter here. One of the first attempts is getting a job. Not just any job, but a higher-paying job using the skillsets that they have acquired from the military. Now, when they get that, this is where the problem starts. Either you're over-qualified or you just don't have what that company is looking for. It's been a question for a long time as to why is it like that.

                                    Now, what happens to that veteran after they get so many No’s it becomes very frustrating and they start to ... their resilience, their resilience training starts to kick in because they're not gonna give up. They have no quit in them. They turn to entrepreneurship. There's groups out there. I'm a member of several groups with over a million veterans involved sharing information with one another, trying to make it easier on their comrades because quite frankly one veteran has more experience than the other. It's a beautiful thing because they're able to share that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You know it's interesting. There was a study published by the Department of Veteran Affairs in 2017 last year that said that veterans are nearly twice as likely to be self-employed compared to non-veterans. I looked at that and on one hand I was surprised and on the other hand I wasn't. I could see a case being made either way. But that's the statistic. It never occurred to me that the process might be as you're describing that veterans get out of the service and then actually have a hard time getting an appropriate and better paying job given their skill level. They might be over-qualified. That only after that experience do they turn to entrepreneurship. I just assumed that a lot of veterans got out and when surveying the landscape of opportunity might think, oh, I can get a job, I can go into this kind of industry, or I can start my own business. Do you have a sense of how many veterans go through that process of having a hard time getting a job because they're over-qualified and turning to entrepreneurship versus taking that on as their first thing directly out of coming out of the service?

 

Marcus Flakes:          I think the percentile is pretty high having a problem finding a job initially. I think that percentage is somewhere around 40%. Then after that is when different veterans will think about different opportunities. Some start in the civilian sector and start looking for a private-owned company and want to work for them. Maybe a food distributing company or something like that. If they don't have any luck there, they usually turn to federal employment. Now, there's a lot of veterans looking for federal employment. Unfortunately, these federal agencies can't hire everybody. They can't hire everybody. They get very, very picky and selective about which veteran they’re going to hire. That's why they have those preferences. If you're service disabled, 50% or 100%, those go to the top. The people who don't have a disability, they're competing with the rest of the applicants with only a five point preference or so.

 

                                  Other than that, when they exhaust those opportunities, then they start looking at, okay, what can I do. It's usually entrepreneurship. They start thinking about what did I do in the military. Maybe I can start up a security company because I was a military police. Maybe I can start up a restaurant because I was a culinary specialist. You see the correlation of why they select different industries to start a business in.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm wondering if you have ideas ... I'm gonna ask this question in three levels. I'm wondering if you have ideas for things we as the individuals listening can do to help veterans either overcome the hump of getting a job because of what you said among other things being over-qualified, or more quickly move to the idea of being an entrepreneur. What can we as individuals do because we all have family and friends who are veterans and many of them are returning veterans or veterans looking for different career opportunities? I'm also wondering beyond us as individuals, and some people listening to this own small businesses or would consider starting another small business or another division as in a sense you've done, but I'm also wondering if you think there's things that government should be doing like Veteran's Affairs, and if there's things the federal government should be doing to make this process better for veterans who are no longer serving.

 

Marcus Flakes:          That's a really good question, Gregg. Not sure if I can fully answer that, but I'm gonna definitely give you my take on it. Whether it's government, nonprofit, or corporate entities, personally I'd like to see them as stakeholders such as theSBAand investors taking interest in business plans that are developed by veterans. The reason I say that is because I think that idea funding is more accessible than credit-based funding.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Really good point. Was access to capital an issue for you?

 

Marcus Flakes:          Access to capital is an issue for everybody. I don't know a business owner who doesn't need capital. When you're out there looking, where are you supposed to be looking? You could be a part of groups. You can put it in there. You can go on LinkedIn. You can say it there. There's just so many places you can say it, but that's social media. You're not having that conversation with that investor who gets the opportunity to sit at the dinner table and actually spell out what you want done for your business with the intention of that investor potentially wanting to help you. That opportunity doesn't come often.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm really interested in what you just said, Marcus. I'm talking with Marcus Flakes. He's the CEO of Commercial Sanitation Initiative. It's commercialsanitationinitiative.com. I'm really interested in what you said about idea-based funding versus credit-based funding for veterans. Are there programs like that that exist that veterans know about? I know, for instance, right here on Bank of America's “The Heartbeat of Main Street” that we do here with ForbesBooks with Bank of America, and they've rolled out a $20 million program for lending to US military veteran entrepreneurs. I know those kinds of programs exist, but I'm wondering to veterans know they exist and could part of the job here be just to do a better job of making them aware of it?

 

Marcus Flakes:          Yes. I've been doing my part as far as spreading the word out about this funding that's available to veterans for starting businesses. But I think this, they're hesitant because this is what they're thinking, is this just another hype about supporting veterans? Because to be honest with you, they're not really looking for a handout. I'm gonna give you a scenario. If you told me that I can give you money and you pay me back versus I can give you this account and we'll utilize your services and we'll benefit from your services while you earn money, I probably wouldn't go for the loan. I'd probably go where I'm earning revenue. I'm actually working for that capital.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I may be wrong about this, but I'm speculating you may actually be describing something that doesn't exist today, which is you mentioned idea-based funding. There's credit-based funding. But you're really describing a scenario where it's a work for funding. Does that exist or is this something that you have conceived of yourself?

 

Marcus Flakes:          This is something that I conceived of myself. You sit here and brainstorm about how do you access capital. There's no rule to how you access capital as far as I'm concerned. Accessing capital, I do it every day. The reason I say that is because I opened up another business so that it can be funded by the umbrella business. Listen, for instance, if I go out and get a $50,000 contract and it lasts for maybe two months or something like that, remodeling a home, what happens is that I take that revenue from a founder's perspective, I take my percent and I reinvest that back into the company. That's not capital. What I've done is I'm also increasing my percentage of injections into my asset ability of my company. Now I'm able to go to the bank and say, hey, look what I've been doing

 

Gregg Stebben:         A scenario where someone is just starting out, I think what you're suggesting is if there was a program that said you're going to get the $50,000 contract and the $50,000 access to the $50,000 today so that you can tool up to get the job done. You've just reverse-engineered the process you just said. It just involves having access to the capital upfront instead of at the end when the job has been complete.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Exactly. Because when you think about it, if an opportunity were to be presented to any veteran, or any small business owner for that matter, if it were to be presented that way, now you know you have revenue. Planned revenue. What do you do? You take that and now you can use invoice factorization to make sure you're able to take care of your employees. Now you're managing a business and you're not just looking for funding.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I want to ask you one other thing, Marcus, because this is really a fascinating conversation. As you're talking with other veterans, do you find that there are similar things that they say that prevents them from doing what you've done, which is starting a business that we as friends and family of veterans could hear? You might've already said this in a way, but I want to drill into it very specifically. As you're talking with veterans and they're thinking about starting a small business, are there certain things that stop them that you think we as friends and family should hear so that we know how to give the best encouragement to those veterans who are perhaps the next best greatest entrepreneurs?

 

Marcus Flakes:          I have not met a veteran that I've talked to that just stopped in their tracks because maybe it was something they read or something that they heard. They usually go into the startup. They have X amount of dollars to start. It's not very much usually, but they're all in. They're all in. What happens is that when they start, without the right mentor letting them know where those forks in the road are gonna be, that's when the confusion starts for them. There's this thing called business lifecycle stages. I don't think that veterans ... This is not to discredit any veterans. There are some great veterans out there that are doing some great things better than myself, but business lifecycle is an education in itself. It'll teach you a lot about startup, the growth maturity, and the acceptance and renewal by consumers. This is where you're able to understand where your business sits in the marketplace.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yeah. Really what you're saying is for a veteran who wants to start a business, grit is not the problem. Getting started is not the problem. At some point though, they just may not know what's coming next or what they need to prepare for. That's where something like a mentor and business lifecycle, as you're describing it, can really make a difference.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Absolutely because they'll go from startup and skip growth to maturity. You miss the growth. This happens a lot. This happens a lot. They're good companies. They're solid. They're making connections. They've got leads and they're making money. Money is not really being invested back into the business, so you're not growing.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes. Yes. They have all the pieces, they just need a road map or help creating the appropriate road map to keep going forward and continue to build on that success.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Absolutely. Here's a gem. If they miss the investment, the injection back into their company, when they go to the table for a loan, they will be denied because there's a certain amount of injection percentage that the banks must see from your business. If it's not there, you don't have the tools to generate these financial statements, PNL statements, balance sheets, and all of that. If you don't have the tools to generate that, then you're gonna get overlooked anyway.

 

Gregg Stebben:         By skipping a step, there's downstream consequences you might not even understand until somebody stamps denied on your application.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's a lot to think about. He is Marcus Flakes. He's the CEO of Commercial Sanitation Initiative. Commercialsanitationinitiative.com. Making a really great case for why veterans make such great business leaders and entrepreneurs and things they need to know about to ensure their success even if they're at the point where they started a business and it's doing well, being able to look forward. I think mentorship is a really great point you make. I want to thank you, Marcus, for joining us here on the Heartbeat of Main Street.

 

Speaker 2:                 Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.comand Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

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Did you know veterans are twice as likely to be self-employed as non-veterans? Listen to part one of the latest podcast episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” to hear about the entrepreneurial priorities, drive and future of the men and women who have served their country in the military.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Jeff Cathey:               You know they've fought for this country and now they can maybe own part of it or run a piece of it. Some that we talk to are very interested in coming back maybe even to their hometown into the community and helping their own reintegration efforts in that respect.                         

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.comand Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Kate Delaney:            Boy, I'm so excited. This time around we're diving into something really close to my heart to be honest. Jeff Cathey joins us. He's a Senior Military Affairs Executive for Bank of America and a former Navy captain. I'm married to an ex-Navy guy so I know what that's like. It's interesting because what we're going to talk about with Jeff is so, so significant. According to a study published, Greg, in 2017 by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, when you look at the veterans they are twice as likely to be self-employed compared to non-veterans. This does not surprise me. So, Jeff, first of all, welcome, and do you think this status really widely known by veterans themselves?

 

Jeff Cathey:                I think it is. We know that about 180 to 200,000 service members leave the Army and the Navy and the Air Force and the Marines every year. And as they do formerly they go through a transition assistance program in their individual services. And about 10% of them raise their hand and say, "I want to start my own business. I want to get in there and run a franchise or start my own business, and I'm very interested in receiving an initial primer on what that is all about. What are the resources out there? What are the barriers are there to either help me or hinder me in going forth with my efforts?" So it's a strong cohort that's interested in it.

 

                                   And the services have set that up to kind of segregate them off to the side and say, "Okay, if you're interested in starting your own business come over here and we'll start talking about business plans, and marketing plans, and so forth."

 

Gregg Stebben:         So Jeff, you're a former Navy captain, you're now the Senior Military Affairs Executive for Bank of America and I mean this is really what you focus on every day. I'm wondering looking back on your past as a Navy captain and now interacting with these veteran entrepreneurs every day, are there certain things that draw people to military service that then lead them to become great entrepreneurs? Are there things that happen in the training or in the course of their years of service that make them great at being entrepreneurs? Can you kind of see it as a whole or as a whole process for them?

 

Jeff Cathey:               Gregg, you know I would say that those who want to come out and start their own business really probably want to control their own destiny. And maybe in some ways quit taking orders and start giving them, right? And they're going to be successful. Employers are looking for talent, work ethic, and attitude. And 70% nationwide survey of companies are looking for primarily work ethic and attitude. So, I think the ones who raise their hand and want to start their own company, that work ethic will transfer over. It’s up to them to keep the attitude on because there are going to be starts and stutters and so forth. And then the talent portion of it, that's the neat part where they're going to be intellectually curious. They're going to have to go and start a new mission, and they're going to have to learn all this stuff from the business plan to the marketing plan, to how to raise capital and so forth.

 

                                  I just see them as they fought for this country and now they can maybe own part of it or run a piece of it. I think they don't lack confidence. I think they've had a ton of responsibility in the service. They've had global exposure. They worked in diverse environments. They've done some crisis action planning and they've made some decision making at high rate of speeds. So, I think they can jump right into it. Some that we talk to are very interested in coming back maybe even to their hometown into the community and helping their own reintegration efforts in that respect.

 

Kate Delaney:            Jeff, I referenced this in the beginning because of my own family I saw this, and I talked about this study that was published in 2017 by the US Department of Veteran Affairs, and in that study they also found that self-employed veterans demonstrated higher levels of gratitude, community integration, and altruistic service to others. I'm not surprised by that because of what I've seen. Can you talk about how supporting veteran entrepreneurs and encouraging other vets to become entrepreneurs and small business owners also brings great benefits to the community at large?

 

Jeff Cathey:               It does, Kate. To get out there and ... there's less than one percent of Americans that are putting the uniform on. And so, they are highly trained, they're very specialized, their operational tempo is high, they deploy a lot. Americans nationally and in the local communities want to support the troops so to speak, but they can't find them. And so, they're just gone. And to be able to come back and self socialize and to start up through your own initiative your own company, and get rid of the national tendency towards isolation whether you're on a military installation or you're on a Mac flight going overseas, or you're on the ground deployed in South Korea or Germany, or you're in a combat zone. That isolation has just really got to be peeled back. And to start your own company, and to put a sign up on the window kind of demystifies the whole thing. I think so many of the veterans, they're community integrators, they're going to be contributors. They want to get in there whether it's on the little league field, at the church, any kind of associations to include in the business community.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We're talking with Jeff Cathey, the Senior Military Affairs Executive for Bank of America—he's a former Navy captain. We're also talking about how and why veterans become so great at being small business owners and entrepreneurs. And one of the things I want to ask you Jeff is, what are some of the challenges that veterans face? And when I Googled this I actually came up with the term “vetrepreneurship,” so there's clearly a movement here, but what are some of the challenges that veterans face in starting a small business or continuing to run one, and what kinds of programs are out there? For instance, I know that BofA just launched a programto help military veteran entrepreneurs.

 

Jeff Cathey:               We did and it's exciting. And let me just table that for a second, Gregg. But I would say the barriers are access to capital. Really where are the dollars, number one. And number two I think inside the military we have appropriated dollars from the tax payers through the Congress. And so, it's a budgetary sort of exercise, large budgets but it's different then the raising of capital in the generation of revenue. And so that is something that the vetrepreneur sort of has to learn, and then also how to manage expenses, and how to borrow money to grow that business. So I think those are the barriers. And then that business acumen part, now it's, "Okay, I gotta develop a business plan. I've gotta know my marketing plan and who's the competitors, who else is already out there." Maybe this market in Des Moines, Iowa, is saturated or over saturated in trying to do mobile automobile detailing or dog grooming, or whatever it is. So, those are the things that are out there.

 

                                   And then as I said the access to capital is the big one. So, if they come to most banks, they leave the Army on Friday and want to start their business on Monday and they walk into the bank, they're just not bankable. So, a lot of them will go over to other sources of capital or maybe even a credit card and pay pretty high rates to borrow that money, and sometimes that can be crushing and put them out of business before they even start.

 

                                   So, Bank of America on the 8th of June announced a $20 million veteran entrepreneur lending program whereby the non-profit lending arm of the company and some community development financial institutions, CDFI's, are out there. We funded five of them over seven states: Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, California, New York, and both Carolinas. And it's a real solution. At about an eight percent plus or minus percent type of lending for the veteran. And so, we lent about zero to one percent to those CDFI's who turn around and lend to the business owner once they vet them and look at their credit scores, and their business plan, and all that, that we mentioned. You can start at eight percent, it opens the door, it gets them to meet their financial needs for the capital upfront and off they go. So, we're very excited about that CDFI program called Veteran Entrepreneur Lending Program. $20 million dollars over those five CDFI's, and it's just started and we're very excited about it.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You know what's interesting Jeff is as I've been listening to you—and I did not serve in the military, I am not a veteran—I've learned so much by listening to you. And I was really excited to talk to you because I realized folks who have not served and our not veterans have so much to learn from this conversation. And one of the things I started thinking as I've been listening to you here is, there are probably some real advantages to being in the military and then getting out and starting a business, but there are probably some disadvantages.

 

                                  And one of the disadvantages I thought of as you've been talking is, if I go the traditional entrepreneurial route, which I think for many people is you go to college and maybe you're studying business maybe you're not, but you're networking with other potential entrepreneurs in the community perhaps or you're just focused on a very specialized thing because you have a college major. Then maybe you go on to get a master's degree and a PhD. You've been building this whole network around you that's going to support you in your business. That's not necessarily true I would think for a veteran, so that could be a disadvantage that they're not in the same environment. And do you think programs like this BofA program or are there other programs from like the SBA that help support veterans to eliminate that disadvantage and turn it into an advantage?

 

Jeff Cathey:               Yeah, no I hear you Gregg. And the sequence just comes in different orders. And so, I agree with you. There's a very hierarchal way and build the triangle like you said on one side. The other side is go over there and defend your countrymen and do what you're asked to do from a military for deployed perspective and so forth. And you're sort of losing ground along the way when you come back.

 

                                   And that's why it's so exciting to see these veteran entrepreneur programs that have been established mostly at the land grant colleges like University of Florida, Oklahoma State University, University of Southern Calthe Marshall School of Businessand at Syracuse University at IVMF, and even here locally where I am at Hillsborough Community College they have Operation Startup. Not a set aside, but just a veteran entrepreneur program. Even Stanford has Ignite.

 

                                   There's 1.1 million veterans on college campuses executing the GI Bill and most of these courses ... and I've been to the one out in LA and up in Gainesville and Stillwater, Oklahoma and most of these. There's about 80-90 veteran entrepreneurs either current existing ownership, have a business fledgling in their first or second year, or brand new. And those usually go eight or nine months or so, and they'll come in for a week and get to know the instructors, the expectations and so forth, and have some academics there. And then they'll go back to their hometowns through some online academics and some mentorship along the way, and some checkpoints and so forth. And they'll come back and graduate. So, it's good. There's a buzz around it. There's strength in numbers. Popping out of that is going to be sort of the evening out of those sort of two different paths to owning your own business.

 

Kate Delaney:            So, Jeff I can imagine you just talked about some of the programs that are there, can you share with us some stories from some of the vets, some of the entrepreneurs and small business owners that you've worked with in your position with Bank of America?

 

Jeff Cathey:               You know Kate, I’d say most of those that I know that are running organizations, and I'd equate them to a small business, they're leading non-profits. And these are sort of millennial led non-profits that Bank of America's associated with such as Student Veterans of America, such as America's Warrior Partnership, or Team Red, White, and Blue, or Mission Continues, or Team Rubicon. And these are young men and women as executive directors of these organizations that essentially are doing the same thing. Even a non-profit, you've gotta generate revenue, you've gotta fundraise, you've gotta control expenses, and staffing, and travel, and everything else, and you have to lead a team. And that's exactly what they're doing. And so, we have great partnerships, long lasting partnerships sustained with all of those non-profits, and some of the smaller veteran owned businesses.

 

                                   We went out to People Fundwhose one of those five CDFI's that we spoke about. They're in Texas, they're in Austin, Texas. And we went out and met Gary Lindner and he runs them. And we looked at all their books, met some of their veteran entrepreneurs. Looked at how they vet who they're going to lend to. We looked at their loss rates. We looked at their sustained efforts to support these veterans as they start up their business, because it's more than just veteran entrepreneur leadership program I talked about. It's more than just writing a check and the $20 million dollars to those five CDFI's. It's lending, and learning, and technical assistance. And so, that is a huddle up, that's support network, that is we've all go the same target, but there's going to be some off ramps, there's going to be some unexpected barriers and so forth. But this is the learning part of it through Syracuse University, and IVMF the Institute of Veteran and Military Families, their V-Wise, their women veterans programs. There are ways and technical assistance for those business plans, and control of money, and expenses, and so forth to make this a go. So it's not “here's your check good luck, see you later.”

 

Gregg Stebben:         Well that makes perfect sense. And in fact, Jeff when I was getting ready for this interview and just Googled the phrase military veteran entrepreneurs and veteran entrepreneurs, that's when I began to discover that there's this whole world that includes networking, and programs like you've described for learning in addition to access to capital and things like that.

 

                                   We're talking with Jeff Cathey, he's the Senior Military Affairs Executive for Bank of America, and a former Navy captain. I want to ask you Jeff, we're talking here about veterans starting businesses or continuing to run businesses and getting the kind of support that can help them continue to be successful. I'm wondering if you have any suggestions for people who are listening who are family or friends of a veteran and they know that their family member or their friend has always talked about or dreamed of starting a business, but maybe just needs a little bit of a push. Are there things those of us who are family or friends can do to support that veteran to enable them to take the first step?

 

Jeff Cathey:                I think so, Gregg. I think beside lending them a few dollars is to really get them into the community and even the SCORE. The senior former executives that are out there in most markets around the country that lend their expertise, so they have come and gone in their business entrepreneurship and been successful, and they know what the minefields are, and they know what the success metrics are. These are companies big and small. If you look back at current or recent executives, CEO's of large companies like Lockheed Martin, and FedEx, and Proctor and Gamble—Proctor and Gamble's Bob McDonald is a West Point graduate who was most recent secretary of the VA. And so, these are good leaders. Bank of America was run by a Marine, Hugh McColl, General Motors same thing. And so, they all somewhere in there whether they served like I did for 29 years or they came in and did an honorable service for four years and then left, and struck out on their own.

 

                                   As I said, everybody's wanting to support the troops and more than just writing a check. So, if you get in the local area, what is it that community ... and these are where communities can be led by all of us as collaborators and integrators through the economic development part of a local community, or the Chambers of Commerce and other ways to do this, and figure out where the belly button is to push it to collaborate, because it's just really a bit of an opening of a door just like our CDFI program. Just open that door, get it going, and it's going to flush out in the right direction. And it's really just the socialization, sort of a networking, the exchange of ideas, the engagement. As I said, these veterans and these former servicemen, they're going to come and they're going to contribute. They're going to show up early, they're going to wrap it up, they're going to work on a weekend, they're going to figure it out until it goes. And just a little bit of a push from those in the know, this is an economic stimulator, this is a very good and a righteous way to help veterans reintegrate into the community and not be so isolated.

 

Kate Delaney:            I can only image what it's going to look like in 10 years, so exciting. Jeff Cathey, Senior Military Affairs Executive for Bank of America, former Navy captain. Thanks so much for joining us.

 

Jeff Cathey:               Kate, thank you very much. Gregg, likewise.

 

Narrator:                    Thanks for listening to “the Heartbeat of Main Str”et" with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.comand Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

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In the latest episode of The Heartbeat of Main Street, a small business podcast series by Bank of America and ForbesBooks, entrepreneurs were given a wealth of information about how their businesses can benefit from banking rewards programs. Tune in to get insights about how loyalty programs with vendors can play an important role in the growth of a small business and hear about how you can earn benefits from Bank of America by taking advantage of their new Relationship Rewards program.

 

The Heartbeat of Main Street delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that impact revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and past episodes, as well as episodes from the BofA Small Business podcast, can be found here. Each new episodes will appear on the Small Business Community, or on iTunes, GooglePlay and SoundCloud. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Kevin Condon:            Entrepreneurs are among the busiest people out there and the program has to be simple, easy to understand, and easy to enroll. When we took a step back we said, “Can we design a program that spans across all the products and services of the bank that meets those three tests? That's easy to understand, that provides incremental rewards, and really appreciates the loyalty of our clients?” That's what we did with Relationship Rewards.

 

Narrator:                      Welcome to The Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Talking with Kevin Condon, he's the Senior Vice President of Rewards Programs for Bank of America. It's interesting that the name of this program is Business Advantage Relationship Rewards because at the core of all this is, frankly, what all business people want to have with their customers, which is a relationship. That must be what was behind the research and must've been what was behind the creation of this product. What kind of research did you do as a team to determine what would be the most valuable things you could offer your small business customers?

 

Kevin:                         Greg, we talked to many small business owners, many of our own clients at Bank of America, and clients of other banks. We gained a few keen insights from that research. The first was, as I mentioned, perhaps more than anyone entrepreneurs appreciate the value of loyalty because they're working so hard to earn the loyalty of their customers. Any offering that they have with their suppliers or their partners that recognizes the value of their relationship is something that they'll be interested in. The second thing we gleaned from that insight is those rewards or that loyalty program needs to be incremental, meaning the more business I give you the more I get from you, and if the business I give you increases a lot I want the value of that reward to increase even more than that.

 

                                   Then, the third thing that we learned from them is entrepreneurs are among the busiest people out there and the program has to be simple, easy to understand, and easy to enroll. When we took a step back we said, “Can we design a program that spans across all the products and services of the bank that meets those three tests? That's easy to understand, that provides incremental rewards, and really appreciates the loyalty of our clients?” That's what we did with Relationship Rewards.

 

Gregg:                        This whole conversation about rewards is really interesting, and before we get into the specifics of your new program at Bank of America, I'm wondering what other kinds of rewards small business people told you were most valuable to them? I'm really asking because I suspect some people who are listening could learn oh, I didn't realize I could take advantage of rewards in other parts of my business, and obviously we want to talk about the banking rewards from Bank of America as well. What other kinds program did you hear small business owners talking about and really appreciating the value of?

 

Kevin:                         Greg, we found that through our discussions with our clients that there are a growing number of great loyalty benefits in the marketplace, and I would encourage every small business owner to ask their partners and suppliers if those suppliers offer such a program because they are on the increase. What we heard though is the characteristics of those better programs tend to be, as I mentioned, those that offer incremental value when I do more business with you. The more I give you the more I want to get from you, and those benefits need to increase the more business I give you. Think of the frequent flyer program at an airline, the higher your level of status you achieve, the better the benefits you get each time you fly. You get a bonus on the rewards, you get earlier boarding, you get incremental free bags that you check, that's an example of those incremental benefits the more business I give you.

 

                                   Second key element were those rewards programs that focus on what's most important to the small business owner tend to do the best. For example, if your business requires you to be on the road a lot and buying or purchasing a lot of gas at gas stations, a program that offers benefits such as cash back on gas purchases is critical. It's something that the small business owner is doing every day and it provides tangible benefits where they don't have to change their behavior. All they have to do is reward that provider with more of their business.

 

                                   The third key element we found was small businesses want programs that recognize the full value of the relationship. Rewards programs that omit a part of the relationship with the small business tend to be viewed more skeptically, so if there's one part of the business that's rewarded and one part that's not small business owners tend to take a step back and view that a little bit more skeptically.

 

                                   Finally, those programs without a lot of fine print or exceptions are the most successful. The easier the program is to understand, the easier the program it is to enroll, and the easier it is for the benefits to be tangible and meaningful to the small business owner without having to do a lot of research analysis are the programs that tend to do the best in the marketplace.

 

Gregg:                         Let's talk about the specifics of your new program. It's called the Business Advantage Relationship Rewards, it's a new program that, as you've now said, offers small business clients a lot of different benefits, frankly, to help them grow their businesses. Let's talk about some of the specifics. What are the things that your clients are going to enjoy as participants in this program?

 

Kevin:                         We tried to act on the feedback and the best practices that our clients told us about rewards programs when we launched Business Advantage Relationship Rewards most recently. The program recognizes and rewards our small business clients across the products and services that Bank of America offers them, so there are benefits on small business deposit accounts, investments, credit cards, and loans. It's simple to understand. Starting at $20,000 of any combination of deposit or investment balances that a client has with Bank of America they start earning benefits. Those benefits span the entire relationship across those products and services that I just mentioned. From fee waivers on your checking accounts, to cash rewards on merchant services processing, to interest rate discounts on loans, to higher rewards bonuses on the credit card purchases. You receive benefits across all the services we have to offer.

 

                                     It's a tiered program so we provide those incremental benefits, the more and deeper your relationship with us there are three tiers and when your qualifying deposit and investment balances reach the next tier the value of those benefits across the services I mentioned go up. The higher the tier you qualify for the greater those benefits become. We launched it most recently after extensive research across those three areas, we tried to reflect that in the program, and we're very excited with the results so far.

 

Gregg:                        When you talk to small business owners in doing your research on this would you find that they, on their own, could point to specific parts of the banking relationship where they would benefit from rewards or was it more of a give-and-take with you suggesting what if we did this and what if we did that? I'm just wondering how prepared were small business owners to dive in and help you address places to create rewards versus you coming to them and making suggestions based on your own internal research?

 

Kevin:                          Our small business clients were very eager to help us in our research. We found that the critical elements where they found that they could get the most was, as I mentioned, recognizing the full value of the relationship. What they felt was most financial institutions provide rewards on one particular aspect of their relationship, be it the credit card rewards programs that most of us are familiar with both in our consumer lives and in our small business. What our small business owners said is, "Hey, we'd like to see you recognize the full value of what I bring to you not just credit card, but also those deposit balances I have with you, my investment relationship I have with you, and any lending I do with you with your bank. We want to see benefits across the whole spectrum."

 

                                    Based on that overarching theme and feedback we got from our clients the rewards program that we designed really became easy and our clients were more than happy to react to the specific benefits that we brought, but it's simple to understand. If you purchase one of any one of those services with Bank of America you'll receive a benefit and the deeper that relationship goes the greater that benefit becomes. That was the keen insight that we got from our clients.

 

Gregg:                        One of the things that I really admire about this program, I'm talking with Kevin Condon, he's the Senior Vice President of Rewards Programs for Bank of America, one of the things I really admire about this program is that it really is focused on many parts of a business including not only having the businesses' relationship with Bank of America grow, but helping the business grow itself so that it grows as an entity in the market marketplace, which then of course naturally creates a growing relationship with the bank. One of the places where I think you've done that very successfully is by actually offering interest rate discounts because, as we all know, if you own a small business there are times when if you're getting a small business loan that capital is essential and you're really, as you said, you're looking at every place where a small business can have a relationship with a bank, but I would suspect that for many small business owners having an interest rate discount on a small business loan is one of the most exciting things you're offering here.

 

Kevin:                          It is, and our small business clients were excited to give us that feedback when we laid out the options before we launched our Relationship Rewards program. Clearly, as you mentioned, a loan, be it a auto loan if they're requiring an automobile to help run your business, a commercial real estate loan, or an everyday loan for a line of credit clearly that's a need that many of our small business owners have to grow their business. We want to be in the business of helping our business owners grow their business, so a discount frees up some cash flow, helps our clients invest their funds back into growing their business, and if their business grows Bank of America grow along with them, so we're more than thrilled to work with our clients to do that.

 

Gregg:                         I'm curious to know the actual process you go through to talk to small business owners about programs like this. Are there a lot of face-to-face meetings? Is a lot of it done by email or electronically, by phone? If somebody's listening and thinks, "I would love to be able to give feedback to my bank or Bank of America as well," are there ways for small business owners to give you feedback today?

 

Kevin:                         When we designed the program we did extensive in-person discussions with multiple small business clients, so we would have groups of small business clients come together and talk about what's important to them, what needs they have from their financial institution, where they feel some of those gaps had been in recognizing that full value of the relationship, and what benefits would help them bring more of their business to Bank of America. We found that those in person, face-to-face discussions were a great opportunity for us to get really deep insights on how we can better serve our clients going forward.

 

                                    In terms of ways that a current small business client could come and talk to us, we'd recommend you setup an appointment to speak to a Bank of America employee, if you go to bankofamerica.com there's an opportunity to schedule an appointment with a customer. We'll be happy to talk with either a small business specialist or a specialist in one of our financial centers, we take that feedback on a day in and day out basis and act on it to try and increase the value of the services and products, and the rewards programs that we're bringing to our customers.

 

                                    Additionally, as the program matures for Relationship Rewards over the next weeks and months we'll be gaining direct client feedback on their customer experience on everything from enrollment to how our associates explain the program, to how we could offer even more value on different benefits going forward. We'll be back in the marketplace doing those group discussions in short order.

 

Gregg:                         This program is brand-new, I think you just rolled it out a week or so ago.

 

Kevin:                          We did. We launched it on March 26th and we're very excited about the results we’ve seen in the first two weeks.

 

Gregg:                        You mentioned the word “as the program matures” and I think that's another important thing to small business owners. Just in the conversation we're having here there's a clear commitment to this program and having it evolve over time into something that increases in value and so when you describe it as maturing can you look out and see where this program might be in a year, 5 years, 10 years from now? Do you have thoughts on what the future may be for the Business Advantage Relationship Rewards Program?

 

Kevin:                         We're always looking to expand the value of our rewards programs with our clients, and so the best roadmap we have for seeing how Relationships Rewards may evolve will be looking at the rewards program we had in our consumer space. Relationship Rewards is modeled after our consumer Preferred Rewards program, which was launched a little over three years ago and in those three years we've done the same process of gaining client insights and feedback, and we've adjusted the benefits of the program during that time. We've adjusted how we've communicated, how a customer can enroll, we've adjusted how we communicate what the benefits have actually been. We've changed, in fact, some of the benefits themselves adding additional lending benefits to the consumer space. What we found is the best way to draw that roadmap is to continue to talk to our customers and clients, and so I can't tell you how the program will change in Relationship Rewards, but I can tell you it will change, and the people that will help us change it are our small business clients.

 

Gregg:                        When you encourage people to reach out and talk with someone at Bank of America about things they see that could be a benefit or an addition to the program you really mean it because that feedback is going to go right back into the R&D loop.

 

Kevin:                          Exactly. In fact, the reason we've launched Relationship Rewards was based on feedback that our small business clients, who were also consumer customers, told us. They said, "I love the fact that I have a rewards program for my consumer business. I would love it if you could bring it for my small business relationship well."

 

Gregg:                        He is Kevin Condon, he's Senior Vice President of Rewards Programs for Bank of America. We're talking about the Business Advantage Relationship Rewards program, it's a new program for small business clients of Bank of America and it offers all kinds of benefits to help them grow. I guess, the last question, Kevin and it's obvious one, is if I want to become part of the Business Advantage Relationship Rewards program, what do I do?

 

Kevin:                         The easiest thing to do is go to bankofamerica.com and click on the small business tab and schedule an appointment to talk to one of our small business specialists or one of our financial center associates. They'll take you through the process of how to enroll, answer any questions you have, and talk to you about the core products and services that go into Relationship Rewards where you receive all those incremental benefits.

 

Gregg:                        This is, frankly, a different type of process than I might go through opening and a consumer account because, in this case, I'm speaking to someone who is a specialist in working with small businesses?

 

Kevin:                         That's right. We have several thousand small business specialists located across the country and available via phone. We want to make sure that we're putting our small business clients in the right services that best meet their needs, so we'd like to have a conversation with our small business clients to ensure that they're in the correct core product offerings before we enroll them in the Relationship Rewards program where they get those added benefits on those offerings.

 

Gregg:                        You mentioned earlier that this service grows with you as your business grows. Can you mention those tiers again and if there are fees associated with being part of the program, could you tell us about that as well?

 

Kevin:                         There are no fees associated with being enrolled in Relationship Rewards. As I mentioned, it's a three-tiered program we have Gold, Platinum, and Platinum Honors. Our Gold program, a customer qualifies with $20,000 of combined deposit and investment balances, if those balances increase to $50,000 the client moves to Platinum, and at $100,000 of deposit and investment balances you become eligible for the Platinum Honors program.

 

                                   You asked me about fees, Gregg, and are there any fees. In fact, the fees on your core deposit account are waived as a client who's enrolled in the program. The value of the benefits across lending, merchant services, investments, credit card, and deposits increases as you move up those tiers. For example, at the Platinum level you receive the benefit of no fees on non-Bank of America ATM transactions. There's a limit on how many of those fees are waived. When you move to Platinum Honors that a limit is waived, so the value of the benefit growth as our relationship with our client grows as well.

 

Gregg:                        It's a really interesting and clearly valuable program. I love the fact that as you move up through the tiers the value of the program itself increases and, as you said, there's no fee to be part of the program and in fact, in a way, you're actually saving on fees. He is Kevin Condon, he's Senior Vice President of Rewards Programs for Bank of America. We've been talking about the Business Advantage Relationship Rewards program. Kevin, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Kevin:                         Thank you for having me.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to The Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

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The Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Community is dedicated to empowering small business owners with the expertise and tools they need to thrive. The newest addition to our resources is a new podcast series, brought to you by Bank of America and ForbesBooks.

 

The Heartbeat of Main Street delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear monthly on the Small Community. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Sharon Miller (intro):  We are consultants. We are advisors. We're providing advice and guidance. We serve 3.1 million small business customers. There are 29 million small business owners in the United States, so we do see clients coast to coast. We can offer insights, which is why what we do is so important to the local economies because, when our small business owners are winning, so are our communities, and you can feel it as you go into these local markets.

 

Narrator:                     Welcome to the Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

Kate Delaney:              Always a pleasure to have Sharon Miller on the show, Bank of America Head of Small Business. She's a managing director, so we have some great news here at ForbesBooks. We're very excited to be launching this radio and podcast partnership with you and Bank of America's small business. Sharon, what are the goals for these radio interviews, the podcast, and for all the people that have been listening?

 

Sharon:                        Well, Kate and Greg, first of all, thank you so much. This is an exciting partnership for us here at Bank of America, in particular small business. I hope that we can provide a forum for small business owners to have access to content about the economy, what's happening in the business world, trends, what are we seeing across the country because, as we know, small business is a very local business. What's happening in one community may be different than another community in a different area, so every small business is unique, and geography plays a big part of it or type of industry. We'll discuss all of that together. To me, it's just a very, very exciting topic.

 

Gregg Stebben:           I'm glad you brought up so early in this discussion the idea of local businesses and how sometimes they're dealing with different things, and sometimes they're dealing with similar things. You must travel around the country a lot and talk to business owners around the country a lot in every corner of the country, and what kind of things do you hear them talking about today in 2018 that has you excited and that has them excited?

 

Sharon:                        We continue to hear from our small business owners that they're optimistic about the future. We take surveys twice a year at Bank of America to understand how our clients are feeling around their business prospects, so do they think their revenues will grow or are they coming down? Do they feel they're going to expand their business or are they going to let go?  

 

               Related Content: Spring 2018 Small Business Owner Report

 

                                    All of these different items that small business owners contemplate over the course of a day, a week, a month, we ask them about that, so we continue to hear optimism in the air for our small business owners, and we just had the recent tax reforms pass. We know that there are some considerations for small business owners, and those are some of the things that they're talking about. How will I hire more employees? How can I get qualified employees? There's a war for talent out there, and small business owners are competing at every level, so that's something that I continue to hear.

 

                                    The other thing is around technology and online and mobile and how do they make sure that they have the latest content, information, and access to information so that they can provide information for their customers but, more importantly, how do they use that to run their business and to gain efficiency. These are all the conversations that I'm having, no matter where I'm sitting, if it's in San Francisco, California or Tampa, Florida. These are similarities, and you do feel the optimism in the air.

 

Gregg:                         It's so interesting, Sharon, to hear you talk about, first of all, from where you're sitting as Bank of America Head of Small Business, and we're talking with Sharon Miller from Bank of America. It's so interesting to hear from where you're sitting you bringing up tech and mobile, in particular. First of all, I mean, we all know that the world is going to mobile, and it's going very fast.

 

                                    Yet, as you were describing those conversations with small business people around the country, I realized that the more data is accessible to a small business person, especially the financial information, which is exactly where Bank of America and Bank of America small business comes into play. The more small business owners have access to that information, the better they are able to do all the things that make their business a success. Can you kind of walk us through the journey of Bank of America when it's come to having mobile access for their customers to their financial information?

 

Sharon Miller:             You think about five years ago where we were building as a company access for clients to get on their computer, just online to go to bill pay, to go to online banking because people were sitting in front of their computer. Today, we think about mobile first, so it's still for the mobile because everyone has mobile in the palm of their hands, and this is how people prefer to bank today, so that's the consumer industry in general. I think about myself as a banker, but I also bank with Bank of America. I want to make sure that I have access to that and I don't have to be at home sitting in front of my computer.

 

                                    I can just have my phone with me, log in, get on, understand what I have in my account, move money, pay bills and, now, we've launched Erica for our consumer clients and coming for small business, it’s a virtual assistant. Just like with your Amazon Alexa where you can ask, "What's the weather?" "What date is whatever event they're looking for?" You can find all this accessed information.

 

                                    We now have Erica, which is a clever way of shortening Bank of America, so we just took the 'Bank of A" out and it's Erica, so it's, "Erica, pay my bill," "How am I doing on my budget?", "Should I invest money?" All this is going to be available for small business clients, as well, so this is on your mobile phone. I think that's the difference is, today, it's mobile first. We do build for online and to be able to be in front of your computer, but the world is becoming increasingly tightly knit, global. We're all there together, so I think that mobile is the way we've got to position going forward, and that's what our consumers are asking for.

 

Kate:                            Yeah, Sharon, you nailed it with this Erica. I'm sure people that are listening are now super drawn to this. Tell us a little bit more about that. I can imagine you probably had a think tank or you were flushing it out, or how did that all come about to get ahead of the curve?

 

Sharon:                        Artificial intelligence, it's gaining insights to behavior and being in front of our customers and giving them what they need, but they may not even know what they need. We're trying to anticipate their needs and trying to understand, you're spending a thousand dollars more each month than you make. Maybe we need to talk to a financial advisor about a budget. All of these things that we can understand of our customers' behavior because we understand what's happening in their account, and we want to help them. We want to be their financial partner and say, "Look, maybe it's time to get a checkup for ... You have two children. We can see, and you probably need to start a 529 plan for them." All these insights from a virtual assistant in the palm of your hand, it's incredible. I would've never guessed we'd have something like this available. It's the first of its kind in the industry and, quite frankly, it's what our customers want.

 

                                    Today, this is what millennials are expecting. They want to wake up and say, "What's the weather?", all these things. My son has one of those Dots sitting on his bedside table. "What time is it?" "What's the weather?" "Is it going to rain today?" You can find this out just by talking. That's the same concept that we used for Erica.

 

Gregg:                         If I wasn't talking to you now, Sharon, I would be Googling Bank of America, Erica, to find out more about it. Can you tell us what stage it's in? Are there some who can see it today? Is it in beta or when we can expect to see it if it's not available?

 

Sharon:                        No, we had it available for all employees, and our employees were testing it. I was part of that test group so I, of course, kept getting every time I'd log into my mobile banking, I'd get this flag, and it'd say, "Do you want to use me?", Erica. Now, all of our customers are gaining access to this, so it's there for them. You just click on, "Hi, I'm Erica," and then it'll start interacting with you, so it's available for our customers.

 

                                    It's something that, if you haven't checked it out already, it is so cool and just the most innovative thing that I think we've done when it comes to the artificial intelligence, launching it for our employees. It gets smarter as you use it. That's what artificial intelligence does. It can understand your behaviors as you're interacting so that it can anticipate your needs.

 

Kate:                            You can tell Gregg and I are just enthralled by this. This is amazing to hear about Erica, but one of the things that you also said is, you talked about the war for talent. That is real, that is big, and that's a problem that you know you're trying to solve and help people with, right?

 

Sharon:                        Absolutely. We hear this all the time that business owners, they want to expand. They want to replace, because you're going to have attrition. Even if you're not increasing the number of people you have in your company, someone's going to leave. They're going to go to a competitor. They're going to decide to go back to school. They're just going to do something else and make another choice, or maybe you have problems with that employee. You're going to have to replace. If you have ten employees, two leave in a year, you're still going to have to hire two people just to keep it ten.

 

                                    In our business owner reports, what we hear from small business owners are that they're either going to maintain their existing staffing levels or they're going to increase it. With that being said, it would be unheard of for every small business to have no turnover, so we know we've got to hire. What we're doing is working with our Merrill Lynch partners to make sure we have our financial advisors out there that can help small business owners set up retirement plans, set up benefits because this would attract employees. It might differentiate a small business from another just because I have access to a 401K and the competitor down the street doesn't. People care about that today. Employees, it matters.

 

                                    We want to work with small business owners, get them connected to the very best thinking on Wall Street around setting up retirement plans, setting up benefits. All these different considerations are really important in today's economy, and that's how we partner with our small business owners.

 

Kate:                            Sharon, I think you have one of the coolest jobs in the world, and I'm really curious what the path or journey is in the business that brought you to where you are today as the Head of Small Business at the Bank of America.

 

Sharon:                        I started my career with Bank of America 22 years ago as a financial advisor and have always served clients, whether it be helping them plan for retirement, maybe they're opening a small business, or they are sending a child to college. All of those issues and just life events happen to clients, so I've served clients my entire career. In my book of business, I did have business owners, many corporate clients, some small business owners, professionals, executives. That is how I started my career. I did go into management probably ten years ago, and I've moved to different areas of the country. This led me to where I am today.

 

                                    Two years ago, I was asked to take over as the Head of Small Business when my predecessor retired, and at first I thought, "Wow! I'm not sure because I've never directly served just small business because my background has been more on the investment side and wealth management. As I got into this role, I realized that everything I had done up to this point prepared me for this because small business owners, they have the same issues. They have the same worries and concerns that every other person when you think about professionals.

 

                                    They're human beings. They're people. They are worried about, "What about my home. What about my family? How am I going to take care of my health? How am I going to pay my employees?" All these items, these are just issues that small business owners have every single day, and that's what we're here to do. We're here to partner with them to solve those items and to help them make their vision a reality.

 

                                    It is an exciting area. It's an exciting business, and I get so energized and just proud when I sit down with our small business owners and I realize that, because of our partnership, we have been able to help them realize their goals, whether it's expanding their business or it's opening a new practice, all these things. These are ways we help at Bank of America.

 

Gregg:                         You know what's interesting to me, Sharon, in what you just said is, you used the word “partner” and “partnership” a few times. Of course, that was really what you were doing in your early days as a financial advisor and wealth advisor, and it's what you continue to do today, but I think when you're a small business owner, knowing that your bank considers you to be a partner with them and having a partnership and, frankly, one of the most essential parts of a business, which is the financial part of a business because it touches everything else.

 

                                    You must find that, when you and your team sit down and talk with your small business clients that they are so thrilled to have access to you and the value of the things you're learning as a team from dealing with businesses all across the country. You must just have story after story after story of where you can share with business owners things you've all learned as a team because you're dealing with so many business owners that you're, in a sense, almost serving like consultants who can help them when they really need the help the most.

 

Sharon:                        That's right. I mean, that's exactly how I view our role. We are consultants. We are advisors. We're providing advice and guidance, and not just for their small business, but their personal, as well. As a small business owner, they're wearing so many hats, so they're the CEO of their business, they're the CFO. They could be the janitor if they need to be. They're serving every role. I mean, whatever it is that needs to be done, they're going to get done, and they put their heart and soul into their business. To me, that's where we come in and say, “You know what? We serve 3.1 million small business customers across the United States. There are 29 small business owners in the United States generally.

 

                                    At Bank of America, we're serving 3.1 million of them,” so we do see clients from coast to coast. We can offer insights and, sometimes, that is, "You know what? You may need to adjust the way you're doing X,Y,Z, this or that, so that we can get you access to more capital," or, "Maybe it's not a good idea to expand today. You need to get these things in order first." All these conversations are what our bankers are having across the country every single day across the desk, which is why what we do is so important to the local economies because, when our small business owners are winning, so are our communities, and you can feel it as you go into these local markets.

 

Kate:                            Perfect segue into this next question. Sharon, you're a mommy of a couple of kids, and you're the Head of Small Business for Bank of America, big job. I've talked to a lot of women about this, is work/life balance. Is there such a thing?

 

Sharon:                        I don't think so. I mean, really, it's ... I feel it every day. You strive to have that balance and, sometimes, you're more tilted toward your home and your family and your children because you know when you've got to be there. You might have to miss a meeting flying to travel somewhere. I mean, I've had that happen before where I've had to go to my boss and say, "You know what? My daughter has a play. I just can't travel this date because, in ten years, no one's going to remember if I was at that meeting, but my daughter's going to remember." That's the reality.

 

                                    You can't make everyone happy a hundred percent of the time. You just have to be true to yourself, and no one is perfect every single day, and that's what we strive to do, to be better and better every single day and be there and provide as much balance and focus and be the best self you can be because when you're doing that, you'll be able to give to others.

 

Gregg:                         We're talking with Sharon Miller. She's the Head of Small Business at Bank of America. Sharon, you mentioned, I think you said your son has an Amazon Dot on his nightstand.

 

Sharon:                        Echo or whatever he got.

 

Gregg:                         If we could be that Amazon Dot or that Amazon Echo and we could hear the kinds of conversations you have with your kids about money, I'm really curious about how that works in your house because you spend your whole day helping people understand the power of money, and then you go home, and how do you translate the lessons from what you've learned and seen at work into lessons for your own family?

 

Sharon:                        That's such a great question. I have two kids. My son is 11. My daughter is 9, and my daughter, Lauren, she saves every penny she's ever had. She won't spend anything, and she's just very different. My son, 11, if he's got $40 in his side drawer, he wants to go spend that today. It's just so interesting to talk to both of them about the value of money and to say, "You know, Ryan, you've got to save. You've got to put some aside. Just because you got your allowance doesn't mean you have to just go buy something because you want it. You need to save and put money aside," whereas my daughter, she won't buy anything. It's so interesting. Kids are kids, right?

 

                                    You just have to have those different conversations and teach them different lessons, but the reality is, we have to instill in our kids a sense of value to money. You just don't have these things. They just don't appear. You have to work. You have to focus and save and, sometimes, you can't get what you want today just because you want it. You need to put some money aside, so those are all the life lessons and just general conversations that I'm having with my kids. Again, just like work/life balance, some days are better than others, and that's with kids. We just try to instill the right values so they can make the right choices as they grow up to become young adults.

 

Kate:                            Do you talk to them about entrepreneurship because, especially their age group, I think you're going to see more and more of that.

 

Sharon:                        Absolutely. I have in my front yard on Saturdays, many times my daughter has some friends over and they'll do art work, and they'll put it in the front yard. In fact, my neighborhood has this stand to sell lemonade. They're going to the neighbors, knocking on the door, "Do you want this painting?" They're putting it on canvas. They're selling it. You know what's so amazing, and I just think this is just such the world that our children are growing up in, which is so good, they come in.

 

                                    In fact, last weekend, they came in. They had made $38, and it was three girls, and they had been selling cookies and lemonade and some paintings in the front yard. Of course, I probably paid ten of that just walking by, and then maybe their grandfather gave them another five and then the two neighbors, but either way, they raised it and they put it in an envelope and they said, "This is for the Humane Society. We want to go down and give that to them," which is just wow!

 

                                    That just makes you smile and say, "That is amazing!" They're giving back and just the way they're thinking, that just makes you proud as a mother and, just as a human being, it's so nice to watch children and how they're so involved, but entrepreneurism, yes. They can do anything. That's what I always tell my kids, "You can do anything you want to do. If you put your mind to it, you work hard, and you dedicate yourself to it, you can do anything, so you need to follow your passion and follow your dream."

 

Kate:                            Perfect place to end this. Sharon Miller, Bank of America Head of Small Business. This is why I love these conversations.

 

Greg:                           I want Sharon to be my mom!

 

Kate:                            I know! Me, too!

 

Sharon:                        Tell that to my kids. Tell that to my kids.

 

Gregg:                         Kate and I do not roll our eyes.

 

Sharon:                        Exactly! That's what I was thinking. I got the eye roll this morning. Again, some days are better than others.

 

Kate:                            I love it! Sharon, thank you so much.

 

Sharon:                        This is great. I appreciate it, and this is going to be really, really ... I think it's going to be a great partnership.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to the Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

Check out episodes of the Bank of America Small Business podcast.

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This week on the Post Some Live podcast, Steve Strauss interviews Daria Knowles of Hot Skwash. Hot Skwash by Daria is a family business that designs and manufactures high-end home décor. Listen to her story about moms coming together and the importance of positive online reviews.

 

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Post Some Love: Hot Skwash Podcast Transcript

Intro music

Steve Strauss:            So, you were a stay-at-home mom at the time?

 

Daria Knowles:          Yeah! Stay-at-home. Just moved here, had been here for about a year. Met some other mommies at school that loved the pumpkins, and had said “oh, I’d love to go into the field and get stems with you.” And I’m thinking ok… Well as soon as Richard…Richard from Richard Blooms he came back in January with 12,000 dollars in orders, I immediately called my friends and said, “I need help.”

 

Music

Steve Strauss:            Hi! I’m Steve Strauss, USA Today’s Senior Small Business Columnist. And author [00:00:30] of the Small Business Bible and you’re listening to the Post Some Love series on Bank of America’s small business podcast. This is the series where we speak with small business owners about their journey and share some of their great customer reviews. This episode of Post Some Love features Daria Knowles of Hot Skwash. Located just outside of beautiful Portland, Oregon, Hot Skwash by Daria is a family business that designs and manufactures high-end couture tabletop décor. It was a business that evolved from a modest home-based hobby selling crafts to family and friends, to a 9,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that employs over 20 people, and distributes their home décor to over 500 independent retailers as well as some really big-name clients, like Gump’s and a whole lot more. So, Daria, great to have you on the show!

Daria Knowles:          Thank you.

 

Steve Strauss:            Why don’t you tell us, just to start with, a little bit about yourself, how long have you been in business, that kind of thing.

 

Daria Knowles:          Well, I’m originally from the East Coast. And, I was a stay-at-home mom, two small children, and I decided, how can I make a little extra money? Really, just a little mad money, and…

 

Steve Strauss:            Had you ever been an entrepreneur before?

 

Daria Knowles:          No, when I was little I used to knit and sew mittens, and I used to knit sweaters and sell them because I’ve always been, sort of, “what can I make?” And my mom taught me to knit when I was very, very little. And I’ve always been in love with textiles, and fabric, and yarn. And honestly, at the time I was living in Arizona with two small kids and I saw this fabric pumpkin with a stick stem, and I was sort of looking at lots of fabrics at that time as well, because we moved into a new house and I wanted drapes, and I wasn’t going to pay a fortune for the drapes. So, I really started admiring all the different types of high-end fabrics. So, when I saw this pumpkin, I thought “wow, this is so cool. What a great idea! It’s so simple, though. Why didn’t I think of that?”

 

Steve Strauss:            So, obviously you’re a crafty person.

 

Daria Knowles:          Yeah, I am.

 

Steve Strauss:          You’ve done that for fun at home, things like that.

 

Daria Knowles:          Yep, yep. I do have an art history background and growing up on the East Coast my father would take me to the museums and the MET all the time. He was definitely a lover of the arts. And, I do think that that was sort of influential. So, as I saw this, I’m thinking “how could I play with this?” And so, I sort of experimented and created this velvet pumpkin and got a real pumpkin stem. And you know, “wow this is great, I love it, it’s so fun” and my friends thought they were the coolest thing. So, I just started making them and doing little home shows by collecting stems that were on the ground in October after the majority of the pumpkins had been collected. And so there was the first pumpkin, really. And once I moved to Oregon, some of my friends here said, “you should put them in a store.” I’m thinking, really? And, so I did, and then I went to one little teeny, tiny farm and the owner said “you should really take those to R Blooms” and I’m thinking what’s R Blooms? You know, I’ve been here a year. And so, I did, and I brought in a little book and a couple samples and said, “oh, I have these pumpkins, it’s just a little home thing,” but I was told maybe you might like them. And they loved them. Richard Bloom came to the house, and at the time, I had pumpkins all over the table because they were in one store and they said “these pumpkins are the hottest thing ever.”

 

Steve Strauss:            So, I got to say, I was telling you this off the air, my wife is an interior designer and she loves your product. And if people want to know what we’re talking about, because it’s a little hard to imagine it if you haven’t seen it. You should go to Daria’s website which is hotskwash.com, which is h-o-t-s-k-w-a-s-h.com, and then you can see a picture of her incredible designs. Because they’re really, very beautiful. They’re velvet pumpkins, and corn, and cashmere and different products like that. And so, it’s really evolved. So, you start out with one store…

 

Daria Knowles:          One store…

 

Steve Strauss:            And I wonder because a lot of people might see a pumpkin in an art store, and maybe think “oh, that’s a beautiful pumpkin” and maybe even make one at home. But, what was it that compelled you to try and turn that into a business?

 

Daria Knowles:          Well, initially it was there was no intention to start a business. It was really, like I said, just a little pocket money for a stay-at-home mom. And at the time it was 2008, the market was horrific, but I was doing these little home shows and people loved them and then I dabbled in a couple little stores, and Richard picked it up, and he said…

 

Steve Strauss:          And Richard is…

 

Daria Knowles:          Richard from Richard Bloom’s…

 

Steve Strauss:          Ah, okay.

 

Daria Knowles:          And, he said “you have done it! This is couture tabletop.” And I thought, “okay… You’re kidding me!” But, he took them to Atlanta, which is the premiere gift and home furnishings show. At the time, he was the creative director for an ornament line, and just wanted the pumpkins as display, and said “I just want them as a backdrop.”  Well, once he brought them there and buyers across the country saw them, they were literally running up to the showroom – “where do I get these pumpkins?” And, he calls me and says, “I think we’re going to have to take some orders on these pumpkins, and he came home with 12,000 dollars in orders.

 

Steve Strauss:          That’s the kind of story you love to hear.

 

Daria Knowles:          Crazy.

 

Steve Strauss:          Crazy great, right? How old were your kids at the time?

 

Daria Knowles:          My son was probably six, and my daughter was eleven.

 

Steve Strauss:          So, you were a stay-at-home mom at that time?

 

Daria Knowles:          Yeah, stay-at-home. Just moved here, had been here for about a year. Met some other mommies at school that loved the pumpkins and had said “oh I’d love to go in the field and get stems with you” and I’m thinking, okay… Well as soon as he came back in January with 12,000 dollars in orders, I immediately called my friends and said, “I need help.” And so, it started in the kitchen, I had one other gal that helped me. And once I fulfilled orders for the following fall, then more stores started seeing them as they travelled across the United States. And started seeing… “oh I saw these in Chicago, I saw these in Arizona…” and they started calling me, and the business grew. And I had 13 women in my kitchen, you could not walk through the house.

 

Steve Strauss:            So, let’s get to that in a second, the name of the show is Post Some Love, and what I’d like to do is read one of the online reviews we found about your business. And have you comment and tell us what you think about it. “Your pumpkins are the perfect addition to any fall décor, mine is a tiny one but I love it. I have seen many knock-offs but none display the careful craftsmanship as yours.”  And I’ve seen your pumpkins as well, and your other products, they’re really beautifully made and very well done. Did it take a long time to perfect what you were doing, at the start?

 

Daria Knowles:          Yes, it really did. I think that they’ve definitely evolved. When we first started making them, it was “we have to make it look seamless. We have to make it look natural. We have to make it look like that pumpkin stem is really truly growing out of the velvet. And I think that it took off so ferociously because it sort of tricks the mind. We’ve married this very high-end, luxury silk velvet with a natural creation. Mother earth, you know this mother nature has its natural stem and it’s beautiful in its own right, and you pair them and it sort of tricks the eye. And everybody loves pumpkins. I think there’s a sensibility about pumpkins that takes people back to their childhood. Every October when they go to that pumpkin field, and they see pumpkins, and it’s just a joyful time.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well, let me read another review then. Apropos of that. “Love Hot Skwash pumpkins, I have an addiction to them year-round.”

                    That’s exactly what you’re saying, right?

 

Daria Knowles:          Yeah, there’s something about pumpkins, in general. So, I think that we’re fortunate to have found that niche. The pumpkin then, we were waiting to see what was left over from the pumpkin fields to get stems. Then we realized, people are really falling in love with these stems! How do we get great stems? So, we had to sort of evolve and talk to our farmers and decide, well can you grow just the right varieties for certain stems and they absolutely thought we were crazy! You know, they were just - “what do you want?”

 

Steve Strauss:            So, how did you go… I’m always interested in how someone scales a business. You weren’t an entrepreneur, obviously in your heart you’re an entrepreneur, but at that time you were learning about business. So, Richard Bloom came back from his show with 12,000 orders… 12,000 dollars in orders or 12,000 orders?

 

Daria Knowles:          12,000 dollars in orders.

 

Steve Strauss:            And what did you do? How did you decide to scale your business at that point?

 

Daria Knowles:          Well, first it was- what do we name it?

 

Steve Strauss:            You weren’t even at that place yet?

 

Daria Knowles:          We were just pumpkins by Daria. And so, people kept saying, “these pumpkins are so hot, they’re so hot.” And I’m thinking, ooh hot squash, that’s very catchy. That was easy, and my husband is really into computers and web, and so he’s like we can make a little website so people can look at the product. We had no intention of selling direct we were just going to be with stores. So I was learning as I was going but my gut told me, you want to make sure you’re focusing on this niche market. And Richard was incredibly helpful in encouraging me to stay high end. It’s a very luxurious looking product, focus on marketing to luxury stores… “You should do Atlanta.” So, I thought okay, I gotta go find velvet. Then it was sourcing velvet wholesale, and what are we filling it with? And how do we get the raw materials wholesale? And where do we get our tags? Where do we get the little gun that puts the label...? I mean, everything! It’s comical. I used to drive my minivan down to Grand and Benedicts to fill it with bags of peanuts and drive it home!

 

Steve Strauss:            So, you started out as small as you can start, part time, at home.

 

Daria Knowles:          Small as you can. I would go and pick up stems from local farms, I used to bring them home and I used to dry them in the oven, and the whole house would smell like manure. And the kids – “what are you making mom?” And it was ridiculous!

 

Steve Strauss:            Right. Daria, one of the things I really like about your business is that there’s a sense of community about it. From the beginning, you hired other moms and they came to work with and for you. Why don’t you tell me about that?

 

Daria Knowles:          That is true. Once Richard Bloom took them to Atlanta and came back with some orders we realized that, okay, this could potentially grow. We’re not even trying, and we have to ship out of state now. So, I literally drove up to the Safeway and saw my girlfriend Karen. She’s selling Girl Scout cookies with her daughter, and I roll down the window, and I’m like “Karen! How much do you love the pumpkins?” And she says “what’s going on?” And I said well, I need you to come to my house on Monday. And so, she came, and so my other good friend Lanie, and I had Karen, and Karen’s like “well, why don’t we call Shannon,” like “okay.” And so, then we get more orders, well we need a shipper, and then we need somebody to sign and tag, the more we tried to present it as this professional, beautiful, quality product we realized- “oh well we need somebody to help us with this, and we need someone to help us with this.” I mean, we used to just call it the stitch and bitch. I mean, we were having so much fun. I mean, they didn’t even care, it wasn’t work. The kids would get on the bus at 7:30 in the morning, and the moms would come to the house at 2:30/3 o’clock. The bus driver would literally drop off 10, 12 kids at my house. And the foyer was the shipping. They’d drop off their backpacks, the shoes, I have two huge 150-pound Mastiffs. The peanuts are falling over, and Lisa who is doing the shipping is thinking – “something’s gotta give here.” So, the kids would run in, have their snacks, go out, jump on the trampoline, and the moms would work until 4:30/5 o’clock, go home, and I would say maybe 4 or 5 of them, they’d come back at night 7:30/8 o’clock, and we’d be making pumpkins until 11 o’clock… We’d drink wine and watch movies!

 

Steve Strauss:            How fun was that, right? Well, you know, there’s lots of ways to run a small business. That’s how you should run a small business.

 

Daria Knowles:          Well, you know that was the start!

 

Steve Strauss:            And you know, people could be in your situation and hire people and have a very assembly line kind of thing, but you clearly went in the complete opposite direction to create a community that was invested in you, and your success, and in the product’s success, right?

 

Daria Knowles:          I didn’t realize how important that was early on. I just knew, I don’t know anybody. I have a few friends, and they know people. And when we were having so much fun doing it, and people were buying it and loving it, we soon realized this recipe seems to be important. And so-and-so’s husband is out of work, and it’d be great if she could make a little cash. And I had like 3 or 4 women in the neighborhood that were just so grateful to have any money coming in. So that became also a strong reason, so I had women within a 1 mile radius some of them walked, some of them drove. The kids came, they’d help sort pumpkins. It became a lot of fun for the whole community of West Lynn. We expanded into the garage, and neighbors thought – “what are they doing in there?” But it was fun, and we loved that. We loved being all part of something that was taking off. It felt special, and they all loved being part of that.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well, we do call this the Post Some Love podcast, and clearly when you love something so much, people get it.

 

Daria Knowles:            I think positivity spreads, it’s infectious. I think you put the positive out there and if it’s natural and you love it, other people will too. It’s worked for us.

 

Steve Strauss:            Fantastic. One of the things that I love you did from the start and it was very smart on your part is to know what you’re doing, and who your trying to sell it to. And creating a brand around that. Because one thing I always say is a great brand is very specific, and doesn’t attract everybody, it may even turn some people off, it may not be their thing. Someone may not want high-end beautiful, luxury pumpkins for their home because they have a different kind of home. But for the people who it does attract, what you’ve done is hit that right on the head.

 

Daria Knowles:            I think that Richard definitely encouraged me, but there was a common sense about that point, that early on I saw what types of stores were attracted to it. And I saw between the first time Richard brought it and the first time we did the show in Atlanta there were knock-offs. And I thought ooh, okay, that’s flattering but that’s maybe not a great thing. They’re going to saturate my idea, we have to be the Rolls Royce of this category. So, we tried to get into the premier stores Gump’s, Niemen Marcus, and we were successful very early on, getting into those stores. So, we secured that we’re the Rolls Royce of this category.

 

Steve Strauss:            Fantastic, let’s read another review then. “Hot Skwash is the original. I’ve seen others try and copy this amazing creativity, and they fall short every time I see one. I’m needing one more for my collection, the feathers are amazing”  So, have knock-offs been an issue for you in your business?

 

Daria Knowles:            Yes and no. Yes, it’s happened, nobody really is in love with the process. They’re creating a commodity. And I don’t want it to be a commodity. I really am catering to people who love it. And like I said, I didn’t start a business to support my family. I started this business and when that I realized I’m employing people in 2008 when their husbands can’t get work and stores are actually spending money on my product and they’re up 20%. I’m feeling like this is more about them than it is about me making money. And for them to continue to be successful, we have to care about this product.

 

Steve Strauss:            I think that’s true for all great small businesses, that’s one thing I have seen. Is, look we all like to make money, making money is great. But making money for the great small business it’s a goal, but certainly isn’t usually the main goal. It’s about creating something your passionate about, or making a difference, those are the things it sounds like have been important to you.

 

Daria Knowles:            I’ve been fortunate enough to let that be what drives me. As soon I saw somebody else trying to create a crappy pumpkin with velveteen and a plastic stem. I thought, okay, well we really got to elevate it. We have to continue to find ways to have the most spectacular stems. Richard said oh, you have to sign them in gold, everyone has to be signed. Then I came out with Swarovski crystal embellished pumpkins when we started selling to Niemen Marcus, and then we had fully beaded pumpkins that were all hand beaded, and then I started doing one of a kind pumpkins with designer Valentino and Pucci.

 

Steve Strauss:            So how big is your business now? I mentioned in the intro that you have a 9000-square foot facility.

 

Daria Knowles:            Nine thousand square foot facility.

 

Steve Strauss:            How many people do you employ?

 

Daria Knowles:            We have anywhere from 20 to 25 depending on the time of the year.

 

Steve Strauss:            And mostly it’s other moms, is that right?

 

Daria Knowles:            They are other moms, now they are working moms! But, I still have three people that are original moms that started in the house with me. And then I have other people, part time / full time sewers, people who just do crystals, my shipping department, it’s a big learning curve.

 

Steve Strauss:            So, I’m speaking with Daria Knowles of Hot Skwash by Daria and you mentioned the learning curve, what have been the challenges for you along the way?

 

Daria Knowles:            I think every time we grow, and take on something new. We have to go through the process of- is this going to work? If we’re going to invest in the labor in putting Swarovski crystal on this, how do we get them on there? How long should it take? What are the right tools? What is the right glue, if you will. How much should it cost me to make this, how am I going to price this? Oh, I love making that, but it takes 2 hours to make it.

 

Steve Strauss:            Right, so is it trial and error mostly?

 

Daria Knowles:            A lot of trial and error, shipping is huge especially when you’re dealing with cooperates, they have all these specifications and compliances and the first time I had a compliance manual that’s 36 pages, I’m thinking do I need a lawyer?  I’m still just that stay at home mom, but you get savvy fast.

 

Steve Strauss:            So, one of the things that’s very interesting about businesses is often people will start a business because they’re passionate about something, so they find a pumpkin that they love and they decide to turn it into a business. That part of your business, no one can teach you that. How to make this beautiful pumpkin in front of me right now is something you’ve learned and perfected. But there’s so many other things that go into running a business that allow you to make and sell your pumpkins. And that is the hiring, the firing, labor, insurance, taxes, marketing. Did you bring in help, did you hire experts, did you figure it out, what did you do?

 

Daria Knowles:            I do think that there’s some common sense that is innate to an entrepreneur. We didn’t pay rent in the house, but when we started and we had to hire and fire. It was natural. I had all these other women who had no business background, I’m like well we need to have a team that’s cohesive and has to work well together. And that became apparent very quickly and we had created a community within Hot Skwash that we loved so much working together, that we were all willing to work harder at finding out the answers. Because we wanted to continue this team and the success. So with shipping we had FedEx come in and say “you need to tell us the best way”, and once they saw how much we were shipping then they agreed to negotiate rates every year. And so, you learn as you go for sure. As far as doing ads and what not, I think for me it’s natural. When I am paging through, I stop at something that’s eye catching. And I always had this idea that if you want people to think your something special, you better present yourself as something special. So, we went right in and did a full-page ad,

 

Steve Strauss:            Where did you do that?

 

Daria Knowles:            In any of the market magazines, pre-show magazines. Like, we’re going to do a full page.

 

Steve Strauss:            So, you just went for it?

 

Daria Knowles:            Yeah, you know as long as it looks good, they’ll stop and read it, they’ll read it if there stopped visually. And so that was sort of common sense to me, and people came in. We learned early on that our product and our print got people to come to see us. They had never seen anything like it before I think it was a combination of its unique home décor piece, and just showing it. Like this is what we make, not a lot of words, just - Hot Skwash and come see us here - and that was enough. I think if you present it in a luxurious way, and have these great ads then people are going to come and that worked for us. We were fortunate enough to learn that. Then we would do some trade magazines, a little bit, and then I got on Instagram and really started learning like people are really responding to these images.

 

Steve Strauss:            Sounds to me, like the keys of your success is, if I can distill it a little bit, is One, mentorship is really important to you, right?

 

Daria Knowles:            Yes, staying on track, for sure.

 

Steve Strauss:            Second, teamwork, you’ve created a great team. And third, there’s this passionate word of mouth about your business. Is that accurate?

 

Daria Knowles:            Yeah, I think that deciding early on who do you want to be, who do you want to cater to, who is your customer, what’s your demographic. That was very, very important early on. If we want to maintain that demographic, and we want to cater to that niche market, we have to create this exceptional niche product: very handmade, incredible quality, we have to keep elevating it, we have to keep coming out with new things, people love the brand for the customer service and for the quality. So, whatever we bring them, has to possess those same handmade quality. And they trust the brand. We had a choice early on, the same year that we picked up Niemen Marcus, we were approached by another big name that had many, many stores but a totally different demographic, it could’ve been incredibly lucrative. We turned them down.

 

Steve Strauss:            Because…?

 

Daria Knowles:            It would’ve been one and done, had we thrown the seat up, then it would’ve been good for maybe one or two seasons. Then we would’ve lost our high-end market entirely.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well you clearly know who your market is, and who you want to market to. And people, in that market, really respond to your business. In fact, let me ask you about some of the reviews you’ve gotten, I’ve been reading a couple of these reviews, here’s one more. In fact, how about have you read it.

 

Daria Knowles:            “Just when I think that Daria simply can’t top what she’s done already, she comes up with a stunning creation unlike anything before it, absolutely amazing”

 

Steve Strauss:            So, right, is that kind of what you get from people?

 

Daria Knowles:            I do, and I think that at a certain point once we did the pumpkins and were in Neman’s and Gump’s it’s like okay, well what’s next? The fear of, what if I can’t deliver something new? It encourages me to never just sit idly and assume that, oh well this should be good for three years, I always wanted to bring something new. And I think it has to be of that level of oh wow.

 

Steve Strauss:            To the point that people in fact will write reviews about your business online, how important are reviews for your business?

 

Daria Knowles:            I think that is what keeps me going.

 

Steve Strauss:            And why is that?

 

Daria Knowles:            I am doing this for them. When they don’t love it anymore, I’m not doing it anymore. Because my job is… I love employing people and I love creating that community for everyone, but the morale and the bigger reason if they’re not loving it anymore, then I’m just a commodity at that point. It’s not special.

 

Steve Strauss:            The fact that people not only buy it, and like it, and put it in their home, but actually go online and share their experience with others, is kind of amazing. Right? This idea of reviews… You know I mentioned to you, my dad was an entrepreneur he started off with one carpet store and he grew it to 14, and then at the end of his career he was back to one giant carpet warehouse. He was marketing wizard, my dad, really, very successful, and at the end of his career when he had one giant carpet warehouse, his marketing had boiled down to one thing. He had a big banner it said “our word of mouth advertising starts with you”.

 

Daria Knowles:            It’s true!

 

Steve Strauss:            And word of mouth we all know is the most important kind of advertising, but these days it takes a different form than when my dad was an entrepreneur. You know, it shows up as online reviews, shares, and things like that. You clearly get that from your business you’re your clientele.

 

Daria Knowles:            We do, and that was a huge learning curve for me, because I can’t even do a word document. I have the compute skills of someone who’s never seen a computer. I mean it’s terrible! For my husband, this is his world. For me getting on Instagram and Facebook, and doing anything online was a little, ehhhh… But once I saw I post a picture on Instagram and I get likes, and people love it and they share it. Or they’ll send me emails – “I bought your pumpkin.” And I really started to understand how unique and how special it is. And after 10 years doing one-of-a-kind and having people call me to do custom one-of-a-kinds, it’s special. I know this is why I’m doing it, these people love it, and if my market shrinks, that’s fine, I’m fine with that. Because I really, I don’t want to sell out. I don’t want to manufacture in China and just stick a stem on it.

 

Steve Strauss:            You won’t get word of mouth, you won’t get reviews, you won’t get love, those things, right? If you just did it the other way.

 

Daria Knowles:            It’s just a thing. And I love creating. I think that that’s the selfish part of it, I love creating, what can I make out of this? I’ll go to a trade show and see a jeweler. There’s this jeweler Tzuri Gueta from Paris and he does silicone and silk jewelry. And I saw it in New York, and I thought “that is the coolest thing! How can I put that on my pumpkin? And I had this beautiful coral, Valentino fabric, and this Tzuri Gueta almost sculpture coral, and [00:30:00] I put it on top of it, and it’s magnificent! And I look up Tzuri Gueta and he’s prolific and Paris and works with Gaultier and all the high fashion designers, and I’m wow! This is so exciting! Or I’ll find fascinators from Germany that I put on the pumpkins, and they’re like these giant feather hats, and people respond. And I learned, you have to create that drama. The more creative you can be, people want to be surprised when they go to trade shows. I want people to come to my booth in Atlanta just to see it, even if they don’t buy pumpkins. If that makes them happy, then I’m happy!

 

Steve Strauss:            Awesome. Well Daria, we’re just about out of time. If people want to know more about your creations, see them, get them, where might they go find you and them?

 

Daria Knowles:            Nationally, well, you can always go online at Gump’s, Love Feast, R Blooms, Shop.com, small, high-end boutiques across the country.

 

Steve Strauss:            And at hotskwash.com.

 

Daria Knowles:            hotskwash.com!

 

Steve Strauss:            Great. And Daria Knowles thank you for being with us today.

 

Daria Knowles:            Thank you for having me!

 

Steve Strauss:            And congratulations on all your success.

 

Daria Knowles:            Thank you!

 

Steve Strauss:            Bank of America is committed to helping small business owners achieve lasting growth. And is now asking everyone for their support helping small businesses grow and asking them to Post Some Love. We know that positive online reviews help drive small business success. So, we’re encouraging everyone to do just that. Choose your favorite small business, and write a positive online review. Bank of America does not endorse or guarantee the perspectives, the advice, or the products or services sold by any business referenced within this podcast. Copyright 2018. Bank of America Corporation.

Women are gaining personal and financial power, yet the income and savings challenges they face are real, under-represented and often misunderstood.

 

A new study by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave outlines the financial challenges women will face throughout their lifetimes and provides real solutions for funding the present and future. The study offers key insights built on the following observations:

 

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The wealth gap is the greatest challenge we’re not talking about: What exactly is the wealth gap? It’s defined as the difference between women’s and men’s total sum of all sources of financial resources, including earnings, investments, retirement savings and additional assets such as property. Today, the average single woman has three times less wealth than the average single man. The Merrill Lynch study provides key learnings about how this is possible and what women can do to elevate their financial standing.

 

Women’s No. 1 financial regret: 41 percent of women report that their biggest financial regret is not investing more. Investing provides the opportunity for women to cultivate their wealth in ways beyond a paycheck. According to the study, 59 percent of women report that they are not doing a good job using investing to pursue their financial goals. Women say that not having the knowledge to invest is their number one barrier (60 percent) followed by not having the confidence to do so (34 percent).

 

Women need to plan for a 100+ year life. Preparing for a long life requires understanding the cost of retirement, building a plan to meet key savings goals and achieving those goals. The typical retirement costs $738,000, yet only 9% of American women have $300,000 or more saved. On average, women live five years longer than men. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that 77 percent of people who are widowed are women and that by age 85, women outnumber men two to one. According to the study and 81 percent of centenarians are women.

 

The pay gap accumulates over the course of a woman’s lifetime. When a woman reaches retirement age, she may have earned a cumulative $1,055,000 less than a man who has stayed continuously in the workforce. The study notes that for every $1 a man makes, a woman in a similar position earns 82 cents, with women of color facing even greater disparities.  Sadly, these numbers do not demonstrate how the pay gap accumulates and compounds over the course of a lifetime – especially when earnings are invested. Work disruptions and interruptions – often triggered by the need to care for children, parents and spouses – greatly affect a woman’s potential earnings over her lifetime.

 

Read more insights and learn about important methods to address financial challenges in the full report: Women & Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line

Glaze Fire Interview PodcastThis week on the Post Some Love podcast, Steve Strauss interviews Mary Loveless of Glaze Fire, a paint-your-own pottery studio bringing creativity to Los Feliz. Listen to her story and the importance of positive online reviews.

 

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Post Some Love: Glaze Fire Podcast Transcript

 

Steve Strauss:            When you get a review that is less than stellar, does it make you contact the person?

 

Mary Loveless:            I’ve only gotten three.

Steve  Strauss:            You've only gotten three. Well that says a lot about you.

 

Mary Loveless:            And I can like recite verbatim all of them to you probably right now.

 

Steve Strauss:            So, obviously, your reviews are important to your business.

 

Mary Loveless:            Of course.

 

 

Steve Strauss:            Hi, I'm Steve Strauss, U.S.A. Today's senior small business columnist and author of the Small Business Bible and you're listening to the “Post Some Love” series on the Bank of America's small business podcast.  This is the series where we speak with small business owners about their journey and share some of their great customer reviews. I am delighted to welcome to the show Mary Loveless, co-owner of Glaze Fire to the “Post Some Love” series. Glaze Fire is a paint-your-own pottery studio created by cousins Mary and Sara Loveless.  Now nearing its third year in business, Glaze Fire is infusing creativity and individuality into their Los Feliz community in Los Angeles. They play host to countless birthday parties, baby showers, girls’ night out, that kind of thing, but also to families and first dates and celebrities as well as, these days, a younger crowd looking for a creative release. This is an artistic boutique and, as evidenced by their online reviews, which we will get to and share some today, the studio and the business seems to be as hot as their kiln.  So, Mary welcome to the show.  Great to have you.

 

Mary Loveless:            Thank you.  Thank you so much.

 

Steve Strauss:            So, why don't we started beginning?  How did you get started?  How did you decide to start this business and what's your background such that, you know, this is what you wanted to do?

 

 

Mary Loveless:            I went to art school.  So, business kind of is not part of the curriculum. I did take one course called entrepreneurship and I, at the time, was like, this won't apply to me.  I won’t need this. 

 

Steve Strauss:            Famous last words, right?

 

Mary Loveless:            Exactly.  So, like most Los Angeles people, I kind of did a little of this, a little of that all in an artistic kind of realm, you know, drawing menus on chalkboards fancy restaurants calligraphy on invitations, just random things, art instruction for children was a big part of that and, just over time, got tired of hustling and hoping I sold a painting every month and, instead, needed something a little more steady.  So, as far as small businesses go, this one is at least still in my pocket. We're still doing art, yeah.

 

Steve Strauss:            Do you have an entrepreneurial background at all?  Does it run in the family?  Did your parents do it or not?

 

Mary Loveless:            Yes, in college too, I mean, my first kind of money making schemes were art instruction for kids’ camps and, you know, kind of babysitting on the next level and I did that in college and would support my work-study with that kind of work and my dad left his lucrative, steady job and started his own firm, which was a risk, when we were young and I remember it being like a ‘hope it works’ kind of thing but, yeah, I guess nothing ventured, nothing gained.

 

Steve Strauss:            Mary, I'm wondering if you could tell us about how you teamed up with your cousin and what each of you brings to the partnership and to the business.

 

Mary Loveless:            So, Sara was kind of a Hail Mary pass for me.  My original business partner in this enterprise chickened out once it looked like it was all going to happen and left me in Limbo and I called Sara and was like, hey, this is really crazy but, if you're not doing anything, want to move to Los Angeles and start a business, and she was like, I'll be there in three weeks. So, and then she came in like slept on my couch for six months and we figured this out.

 

Steve Strauss:            So, you're the artist. You have an art background.

 

Mary Loveless:            Exactly.

 

Steve Strauss:            What is Sara’s background?

 

Mary Loveless:            She is like a professional organizer, actually and literally, I mean like literally.  She also has a closet organizing business called The Tidy Project and she helps people with like severe hoarding issues also.  So she's a very, not only can she organize your things, she can help you organize your thoughts.  She's a very level-headed, rational, very well-thought-through, whereas I make a snap decision and I'm not rethinking it.  It's done and so that was one of the perks of being from the large Loveless family home that you can call people you trust and they'll show up.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well, and that's fantastic.  One thing I know about a great business and a great partnership is: each part of the team fills in the gaps of the other and it turned out, in your case, as you said, serendipitous that you have one person that has the art background, one person who has the organizing background.  I’m sure she can do some of the art and you can do some of the organizing but, to have different people who can do different things and bring it, makes the whole a whole lot stronger, I think.

 

Mary Loveless:            Yeah, we're both each the firstborn of our families and our dads are Irish twins in birth order and also in looks and kind of personalities.  So we're very similar.  I mean, she got to L.A. and we were driving I was like, okay, I'm going to drive you over to Vermont and Hillhurst and we’re just going to walk up and down.  Our store has to be somewhere on these two streets and she was driving us over and she got in the right lane right when it was allowed for extra non-traffic and she started zipping through L.A. and I was like, yes, this is going to work. Like, she's just like me.  She’s type A.  I don't even have to, it's just how we were raised and that compatibility can't have been taught except for that we were raised together, essentially.

 

Steve Strauss:            Oh, that’s fantastic.  So what brought you to what obviously is the pottery studio and working with your cousin? How did you actually come up with this idea and then place it where you placed it in Los Feliz?

 

 

Mary Loveless:            The Los Feliz location is a basic business school exercise.  We drew a five mile radius map around all of our competition and Los Feliz was the only big hole in Los Angeles.

 

Steve Strauss:            Very smart, uh-huh.

 

Mary Loveless:            So that kind of sorted itself out.  It didn't hurt that it happens to be in a really hip, fun location. The community respects and wants to support independent mom and pops.  So that was just serendipitous.  That was more just like a math chart. I mean, even in my business plan, when I was trying to get financing, that was like a big color printout with all the circles. So that was its own thing but, once figuring that out, it then took six or seven months of walking the streets every day before we found our actual brick and mortar location.

 

Steve Strauss:            And what was it about a pottery studio that made you, you know, there's all sorts of things people can do with their art and that's kind of a unique and different one?

 

Mary Loveless:            Well, this one is just facilitating other people to create art. We do sell custom paintings and you can commission us to make something personalized for a gift but, mostly, it's people who are painting their own projects.  So, in that sense, it's more just, you know, people have more of a connection to something that they made, obviously, than something that they're just picking up off the shelf to purchase.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well, I mean, it's funny.  Anyone who's done it, I've done it, knows what a fun experience it can be and I'm sure that it doesn't hurt that Los Feliz is a real family-oriented community these days, right.  In fact, here, one of the things we do in this podcast is we share some love, right, some of the reviews and things you got online.  So I’m going to read a couple of these to you throughout the interview and just get your comments.  Let me read one that we found. ‘What a fun place!  They definitely understand how to create a warm and inviting environment.  My daughter and I had a great time painting and talking it would be the perfect place for a painting party.  These kind of small businesses make the world a better place.’ 

Kind of nice to hear that kind of thing, right?

 

Mary Loveless:            It is. It really is, especially because this is a very community-oriented business.  We are there all the time.  It's a labor-intensive business too.  The kiln has to be loaded, unloaded.  The pieces have to be dipped in the glaze and then prepped for the kiln.  Not only do we hope we give each person love but each, piece pottery piece gets handled by our staff, like multiple times.  We appreciate that because it is such enmeshed, engrossed, you know, I guess the non-millennial remote.  It's the opposite of the remote commute job.

 

Steve Strauss:            Right.  Interested in something you just said about it's a very community based-business. Was that the plan from the start and how do you nurture and foster community?

 

Mary Loveless:            I don't know that it was the plan but it definitely was an aim.  Part of our financing is through the Small Business Administration and our loan is called the Community Advantage Loan.  So, obviously, we geared and we knew that this would be part of enriching the community in which we're in.  It's a meeting place.  It’s a, just the fact that we have our doors open seven days a week for twelve hours a day means that there's always a smiling, friendly face for you to go and talk about art with in the neighborhood and we do have, this neighborhood is full of fun local characters.  I sometimes feel like I'm in The Truman Show.  You know, like people walking their dogs.  They, like, stop.  I’m like, hey, Bob, how's the kids, you know.  It's really great.

 

Steve Strauss:            Now, that’s community.  That’s awesome.

 

Mary Loveless:            Yeah, exactly.  I mean, we do have a little water bowl out in front.  The dogs all stop and, yeah. It's, I even have friends who are like, they don't really, necessarily make plans with me.  They just know I'm going to be at the shop and come in.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well, and that can really be unique in Los Angeles.  I grew up in Southern California and, a lot of times, people come there who weren't from there and they don't feel a sense of community. They don't feel grounded but most Los Feliz is a smaller little subsection of Los Angeles and.

Mary Loveless:            Right, it’s a walking neighborhood.

 

Steve Strauss:            Right, it's a walking neighborhood and the fact that you created a sense of community is unique.  That's got to be a nice selling point for your business.

 

Mary Loveless:            The walking neighborhood thing is so different from most neighborhoods and L.A.  I can walk to work.  I can walk to two movie theaters.  I can walk to three grocery stores.  It's really unusual for most of L.A.

 

Steve Strauss:            Now, you're in business for almost three years, is that accurate?

 

Mary Loveless:            That is accurate, September, 2015 we opened.

 

Steve Strauss:            Congratulations.  That's no small feat, right?

 

Mary Loveless:            It’s not, no. Thank you.

 

Steve Strauss:            What have been the challenges along the way for you, would you say?

 

Mary Loveless:            Just like with every business, we've made mistakes.  It took us maybe seven or eight months before we found the location and, during that time, we kind of explored other avenues within the same kind of umbrella of ways we could make it work without a brick and mortar location and we made some big purchases that probably were not necessary, I would.  If I could like go back and we had bought like a fancy camera, thinking we were going to need this for our Instagram and for photographing parties and then an iPhone 6 has a camera that's as fancy as.  Anyways, so there's been some money that we've spent but I wish we hadn’t but you live and you learn.

 

Steve Strauss:            You know, I always counsel small businesses that you're going to make a mistake.  You're going to make several mistakes.  It's life. It's business.  That is what happens.  The key is to really try and avoid those killer expensive mistakes and it sounds like you learned your lesson.  We've all done that.  You spend too much here or there or on-ad or whatever the case may be but you're here to tell the tale, right?

 

 

Mary Loveless:            Yes, for now.

 

Steve Strauss:            Let me read another one of your reviews. ‘What a fun activity this was!  My wife and I went here for our fifth wedding anniversary.  I picked it because we've done paint night before and I figured a more creative, fun outlet would be really fun for us.  The staff was so kind and informative, especially to us non-sculptors.’ So that's got to be a big part of it too, that you're teaching people, maybe who’re non-artists how to have fun with the process.

 

Mary Loveless:            Exactly.  The thing that is really nice, though, we have 400, at any given time, choices of pottery to choose from and it's anything from just a blank, circle plate to a plate that's printed like a sea turtle with little bitty squares of the shells.  So the difference between those, I would say, is a blank plate is sometimes harder. You have the whole realm of what could happen on this plate.  Whereas, the sea turtle, it's more like a paint by numbers paint night kind of experience where you're really just relaxing and filling in with the paintbrush. So we see the whole gamut of that skill level and can accommodate for anything.  I just posted to our Instagram today a painting of an octopus that is incredible.  I can't do anything like that.  It's really fun, also, for me to be able to see what comes out of the kiln but, alternatively, you could pick a Tiki mug and just paint it and like, oh, I just picked the eye color and I picked that mouth color and I.  So it's also BYOB.  So it's fun for the whole level of adults, I would say, professionals too, just chilling.

 

Steve Strauss:            You are listening to the Post Some Love series on the Bank of America podcast. I'm Steve Strauss and I am speaking with Mary Loveless, the co-owner of Glaze Fire in Los Angeles.  Mary, it sounds to me like you get all sorts of different people in your studio and that you maybe focus your marketing and your branding and your events, even, to different communities.  So, you bring in the kids and the families, you bring in the dates, you bring in, maybe even corporate events.  Is that accurate?

 

Mary Loveless:            Yes, very much so.

 

Steve Strauss:            Tell us about that a little bit.

 

Mary Loveless:            Well, I mean, when we first opened, I thought it would be primarily kids and families and we really geared towards that but just the walk-in customers looked more like me and Sara, just young adults looking for something a little more chill and something where they could connect to their friends, learn more about their friends than playing darts at the bar.  We haven't really done, in any really targeted way, traditional marketing.  I guess it's all been just the social media, the people posting reviews, the.  It's a brave new world.  I, mean we post in the Los Feliz Ledger, which is our local paper.  That's like, you know, I think they're like a super tiny, just in print like around Los Feliz.  I, yeah.  The target, that's another thing that's just been serendipitous.  We haven't really done much targeted.  We've done a couple of the post office mailers where we do the whole zip code but I think that's it.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well, let me read one more of those reviews that you just mentioned from the Los Feliz Ledger.  ‘We recently did a corporate team building event here and we had a blast.  It was so much fun bonding with colleagues over painting and wine, great selection of pieces and reasonably-priced, really cute atmosphere, and a very helpful staff.’ So, again and again, we keep hearing about how great your staff is and this idea of wine, so that you geared to, obviously, adults as well.

 

Mary Loveless:            Yes and they're right.  My staff is amazing.  Everyone who's on staff is doing their own really cool art hustle.  Like, Mia is a singer-songwriter.  Allie’s a photographer.  Morgan's a photographer.  Allie’s like a poet and she's doing this really cool eBook animation of her poetry. Becca is a model and also does custom painting and art.  It's everyone who's on staff is very in the community.  So, yes, I guess it's cool when you meet the owner but also I would say like some of my staff members are way cooler than me.  Like, I’m just the shop keep and they’re, like, going to be famous singer-songwriters.

 

Steve Strauss:            So you look at that.  That's one reason you're really successful: because you're giving everyone their due.

 

Mary Loveless:            Well, I'm very blessed and also, not only are they talented in what they do, but they're also all of the store samples are painted by them.  So you can see each personality in what they paint.  Like, Katie puts really silly faces on everything and you can go to her website and get her custom ceramics at katiekimmelart.com. Like, even if they’re are singing and songwriting is their thing, they're also skilled technicians at painting pottery.  It’s, like, pretty great.

 

Steve Strauss:            Pretty great.  So you mentioned reviews and I’d like to drill down into that a little bit because that is one of things we really focus on a lot, obviously, on the “Post Some Love” series.  How important are reviews to you?

 

Mary Loveless:            They’re incredibly important. If I were to get, it's the main course of feedback, I guess.  It's also, you know, a brave new world.  It's, sometimes even, for example, there's some reviews that I get that they're still positive but I'm like, oh, this is something like, oh, we can work on. It's, I mean like, as I'm in this booth right now, I’ve been looking around.  One of our reviews says that it was loud and they're right.  Like, one screaming baby in the store makes it really loud and I don't have the Miss America silence photo booth for them to step into and, even though the review was like, ‘we had a great time, we’re coming back, I can't wait,’ it still gives me anxiety.

 

Steve Strauss:            I'm wondering how online reviews may affect your offline world.  We've talked quite a bit about reviews and how they're affecting your business.  Los Feliz is a, as you said, small community. It’s a walking community and, for people who are not in Los Feliz, they may not know about your business.  So it seems to me that one of the benefits of getting reviews online is that people, in a more broad sense, can find out about your business. Has that been proven to be true for you?

 

Mary Loveless:            Yes, definitely, I would say, especially through the other social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, that's a little more true.  If, when Bella Thorne posts about painting pottery, obviously, a whole lot more people see it than who are just scrolling through my feed.  So I think the reviews definitely more just corroborate the other exposure.  They're like, what is this, and then they type it and you always kind of like, am I going to go to this place that the celebrity says is cool.  Let's check the Yelp reviews first.  I think it's more just like we've been vetted.

 

Steve Strauss:              Yeah but celebrity endorsements don't hurt, right?

 

Mary Loveless:            Of course not.  We don't ask for them.  I mean, we couldn't afford a celebrity post.  That’s insane but that's the other thing where I was saying about how it means so much more that people write these positive reviews or that they post about it without asking because that means they really, genuinely enjoyed the experience and that it meant a lot to them.  It's like the extra above and beyond.  It's really cool.

 

Steve Strauss:            You know, last I looked, you had 58 Yelp reviews and that's a nice number.  Do you actively seek out reviews? 

 

Mary Loveless:            No.

 

Steve Strauss:            Do you look for people to review or is it an organic thing?

 

Mary Loveless:            No, we don't.  Sara’s sister was one of our first reviews and I even was like, I don't know how I feel about this.  This is a little like it's cheating and I think that's the only one that's not someone that organically came in, which is really incredible because, for me, I've only left like two Yelp reviews on my whole life. One was a five star and one was, you know, I wish it could have been zero stars.  So, for people to actually go home and sit and type and post something means that they had an amazing experience, not just like an okay experience. It means that they like really, really liked it.  So that's cool.

 

Steve Strauss:             Yeah, I mean, think about that.  The event is over.  They’re home in their home and they think, I've got to share this experience with everybody else.  You know, I mentioned my youth in Southern California. My dad had carpet stores and he once had a giant banner in his carpet store.  It said ‘our word-of-mouth advertising starts with you’, right.  He loved word-of-mouth and, to me, these days word-of-mouth is really word-of-click.  It is online.  It is, whether it's someone forwards your e-newsletter on or they retweet your tweet or they go to your Instagram, they like what you're doing, they like you and Facebook, or give you a review, right.  That is what word-of-mouth is looking like for businesses in today's world, isn’t it?

 

Mary Loveless:            It is yeah, and, unfortunately, it's almost the first and only course of feedback.  You know, people are more likely to probably leave a review than they are to call me up and be like, hey, I want to tell you how great it was.

 

Steve Strauss:            Interesting.

 

Mary Loveless:            You know, isn't that weird?

 

Steve Strauss:            Yeah it is kind of weird.  When you get a review that's less than stellar, does it make you contact the person?

 

Mary Loveless:            We’ve only gotten three.

 

Steve Strauss:              You’ve only gotten three.  Well, that says a lot about you.

 

Mary Loveless:            And I can, like, recite verbatim all of them to you, probably right now. 

 

Steve Strauss:            So, obviously reviews are important to your business.

 

Mary Loveless:            Of course.

 

Steve Strauss:            Yeah.  When you get a positive review, though, it must feel like it validates all the hard work you've all put into this.

 

Mary Loveless:            It does, yeah.  It really does and, because, like I said, it's, at least if most people are like me, leaving a review means that the experience was not just great.  It was extra special and you needed to share it.  That's the only time I've ever taken the time to leave a review.  So it does mean a lot.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well, fantastic.  We've really enjoyed having you with us today, Mary. As I said, we're speaking with Mary Loveless, the co-founder of Glaze Fire in Los Angeles and, if you're ever there and you need an event and you got some time, head on over.  And, Mary, if people want to find you, want to find your store, learn more about how they may come participate in a great time you're having there, where should they go to find that out?

 

Mary Loveless:            Our website is glazefire.com and, on Instagram, we’re @glazefire.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well, fantastic.  Thank you.  Congratulations for all your success and thank you so much for being with us today.

 

Mary Loveless:            Thank you.  Thank you so much.  This was fun.

 

  Steve Strauss:  Bank of America is committed to helping small business owners achieve lasting growth and is now asking everyone for their support in helping small businesses grow by asking them to Post Some Love.  We know that positive online reviews views help drive small business success.  So we’re encouraging everyone to do just that. Choose your favorite small business and write a positive online review.  Bank of America does not endorse or guarantee the perspectives, the advice, or the products or services sold by any business referenced within this podcast. Copyright 2018, Bank of America Corporation.

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This week on the Post Some Love podcast, Steve Strauss interviews David Warschawski of Warschawski, a full-service, award-winning boutique marketing communications agency. Listen to his story and the importance of positive online reviews.

 

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Post Some Love: Warschawski Podcast Transcript

 

Intro music

 

Steve Strauss:              David, I'm wondering if you could expand a little bit on that moment when you started the business and went off on your own.

David Warschawski:    Do you mean that time in my life when all my friends thought I was crazy?

 

Steve Strauss:              That time, exactly.

 

Music

 

Steve Strauss:              Hi, I'm Steve Strauss, USA Today's senior small business columnist and author of The Small Business Bible and you're listening to the Post Some Love series on the Bank of America's small business podcast.  This is the series where we speak with small business owners about their journey and share some of their great customer reviews.  On this episode of the Post Some Love series, we're speaking with David Warschawksi of Warschawski, a national full-service marketing communications agency and a Google-certified agency partner that provides personalized care for every client.  The company has been named the U.S. Small Agency of the Year for three years in a row, including this past year, has won more than 200 industry awards for its work and, for ten years in a row, has been named one of the top U.S. agencies to work.  Warschawski was founded in 1996 and is headquartered in Baltimore.  It also has offices in New York City and Washington D.C.  Warschawski delivers the experience and expertise of a large firm coupled with the personalized attention and care of a boutique agency.  David himself was recognized as Maryland's most admired CEO by the Maryland Daily Record.  He's a published author whose works have appeared in numerous publications and who has provided expert commentary from media outlets ranging from CNBC to NPR. He also serves as a visiting professor for the Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business and has coauthored the book Building Customer Relationships through Public Relations.  David, great to have you on the show.

 

David Warschawski:    My pleasure.  Thanks for having me, Steve.

 

Steve Strauss:              So, let's start at the beginning.  How long have you been in the PR/media world and how did you get started?

 

David Warschawski:    Sure.  I cut my teeth in big agencies in New York City and, throughout that experience, I always felt I wanted to do it differently.  So I decided to go out on my own.  It's been over twenty years at this point and, thankfully today, we've established ourselves very nicely with lots of national awards, including the ones you so kindly mentioned: being named Small Agency of the United States for three years in a row, including this past year.

 

Steve Strauss:              Very impressive. So, what’s your secret?

David Warschawski:    I think a lot of it has to do with the culture that you create.  In our industry, having great people who really know what they're doing and allowing them to work hand-in-hand with the clients, the secret and part of that is why I left big agency life.  I wanted to be able to offer something different.  I wanted to be able to offer what I felt was the best of two worlds, the large agency experience and expertise but coupled with the boutique agency service and care that you get from senior folks throughout your experience with the agency.  Thankfully, we've been successful in doing that and I do think, in large part, that's part of our secret sauce.  I would say we have a second ingredient.  It is we really want marketing communications to focus on generating real, tangible business results.  Too many folks in the marketing communications industry are creating fluffy or feel-good or “looks nice” results.  That's fine but, for us, the question is what was the business goal and can we help you achieve it and that's why, whenever we sit down with a client, our first question is: what's the business goal we're trying to achieve here and how are we going to measure it, and then let us help you build a marketing communications approach that will help you achieve that business goal.

 

Steve Strauss:              So, that's really impressive.  I used to practice law.  I came to my senses many years ago.  I don't practice it anymore but I did do the big firm.

 

David Warschawski:    You're reformed, huh?

 

Steve Strauss:              Exactly and I did the big firm thing and then I went off my own and started a small boutique agency, small law firm, but it is hard to offer the personalized service that you want to give someone, that you can give them when you have a small business but give them the expertise of the large firms.  So the fact that you've been able to couple those two, I think, is really quite unique and so let me read one of these reviews, in fact that, we found about you and have you comment on it.  So this says ‘the Warschawski agency just gets it.  We’ve spent years bobbing around, looking for the attention that you get from a small agency that has a big agency experience without the New York City price tag.  The Warschawski agency does it all from branding to PR, design web packaging to digital and social media.  The creative team really seems to understand who we are and who our consumer is.  They have successfully perfected our brand’s rather complicated positioning and messaging.’  So that's, I would think, the kind of review and online love that you're wanting to achieve, right?

 

David Warschawski:    100%.  That's great validation that we're living our brand values, our clients are experiencing exactly what we're trying to put out there, and also we're helping them create business success.

 

Steve Strauss:              And that second point that you brought up about achieving substantial and specific and tangible business results, it's not always easy in your world.  So the fact that you focus on that, I think probably is very attractive to your clients.

 

David Warschawski:    100%.  Look, I'm a business owner, number one.  I also am an investor and owner of some other businesses.  So getting real business results, I know it matters and we're not doing marketing communications as a vanity project.  It is a true business function that has to move the business needle.  Otherwise the [PH] C suite is going to say it was very nice, looked good, felt good, but what did it do for us.  Was the money well spent?  And, especially in today's bottom line-driven world and also in our constantly [PH] on-world, you really have to focus on generating real, tangible business results that are measurable, that you can share with your clients

 

Steve Strauss:              Did you grow up in a small business or entrepreneurial family?  When did the entrepreneurship bug strike you?

 

David Warschawski:    I was very fortunate.  I grew up in a household where my father was a top-level business management consultant, very entrepreneurial, encouraged me throughout to learn about all different facets of business, and, when I decided to go out on my own, he and my mother were two of the biggest supporters I had in that endeavor.

 

Steve Strauss:              David, I'm wondering if you could expand a little bit on that moment when you started the business, when you left the big firm and the security the big firm and the nice paycheck every two weeks and the benefits and all those things and went off on your own. What went into that decision and what was it like for you, personally to become an entrepreneur?

 

David Warschawski:    You mean that time in my life when all my friends thought I was crazy?

 

Steve Strauss:              That time, exactly.

 

David Warschawski:    So, I was a young guy under thirty and I worked in the number one large agency in New York City working on some of the highest profile pieces of business but, in my gut, I had that feeling. I wanted to do things differently and the gut beat out the rational part and I would tell most entrepreneurs, if you're a good entrepreneur, listen to your gut.  It knows.  You can use rationalization to make almost anything sound good but you have to live with yourself.  Listen to your gut.  So, when I decided and began having these conversations, most of my friends said, you are just out of your mind.  Why in the world would you want to do this at this point in your career?  I will say that my parents were incredibly supportive and said, we're behind you.  Go ahead and do this.  I am, now in retrospect, didn't know this at the time, wasn't married, didn't have kids, was under thirty, had a tremendous amount of energy.  It's actually a great time in your life, if you're entrepreneurial, to start a business.

 

Steve Strauss:              The perfect time.

 

David Warschawski:    As other things take up your time, you realize, and I see some of my peers at their point now in life, trying to start up businesses when they have families and children and little league to contend with.  It's tougher for them.  I will, however, say, you know, on the personal side, it was a big risk.  I was incredibly nervous.  I worked like a dog. I think most entrepreneurs who are listening to this know, you’re everything.  You're doing everything from answering the phones to being the bookkeeper to doing the account work to doing the research to cleaning the place up after you leave and, with time, obviously, that hard work has paid off and I've been able to delegate some of those things away.

 

Steve Strauss:              You know, a wise man once told me that an entrepreneur is someone who takes a risk with money to make money.  They take a risk with money to make money and so entrepreneurship is, by definition, a risk, as you just said and as we all know.  That said, one thing I've also learned is that the best entrepreneurs really strive to reduce that risk to the extent possible.  For example, starting a business when you're 25 or 28, much easier than when you're 45 or 48, when you have a lot more responsibilities and the stakes might be a little bit higher.

 

David Warschawski:    100%.  I didn't know that at the time and, certainly, it was tough going against some of the advice of my good friends at that point in my life but now, in retrospect, it turns out that it worked out just perfectly and beautifully.

 

Steve Strauss:              You worked in a big firm for how long before you started your own agency?

 

David Warschawski:    So, overall, I worked in big firms about 6-7 years in New York City.  I worked in two different ones.  One is called the Dillon-Schneider Group and my last stop was at the largest agency in New York City, at that time called Edelman.

 

Steve Strauss:              Oh, Edelman. They're both big firms.  Edelman, I worked with myself.  Very, very impressive.

 

David Warschawski:    Well, we never got to work together.

 

Steve Strauss:              No. Not yet, right?

 

David Warschawski:    Right.

 

Steve Strauss:              I'm wondering how you then built the business and built the brand.  What were the bricks you had to put in place to create a foundation that eventually allowed you to open a second shop and then open a third shop in New York and, obviously impressive?  How did you do that?

 

David Warschawski:    I think of it like building a pyramid.  You've got to start at the bottom.  You're laying the first brick and, sometimes, laying that first brick in the hot sun is lonely but you do it really well and you build a foundation with one client win after another and proving to them that you are capable of doing just the same level of work that they may be getting from a full service agency, as opposed to one person shop at that point and you grow from there and then you win the next piece of business and then you have to hire a couple people and then you win the next piece of business and you're hiring even more people and, thankfully, from both a culture standpoint, internally, it enabled us to hire continually great folks who could do great work and also it allowed us or gave us the legitimacy that larger and larger clients were saying, wow.  Look at what they're doing and the attention that they're going to give us and even the cost, at that point, was such an appealing proposition that, over time, it continued to grow and to expand to where we are today, thankfully.

 

Steve Strauss:              You’re listening to the Post Some Love series on the Bank of America podcast.  I'm Steve Strauss and I'm speaking with David Warschawski of Warschawski, a boutique marketing communications agency on the East Coast. So, tell me a little bit about how your business has grown.  Which of your three cities you start in?  How small was it and how big is it now?

 

David Warschawski:    It really has been a great ride and it's been a step-by-step process and, as you mentioned, thankfully today, we have an office in New York, an office in D.C., and an office in Baltimore. Baltimore was really the headquarters after I left New York City agencies.  I cultivated some business in New York but my family was based here in Baltimore, decided it would make sense to come back to this region.  We certainly have, and early on, worked with major national and international clients.  In fact, when you talk about how has our business grown, we were very fortunate early on, a couple of years into our lifecycle, to win some very prominent pieces of business, including being named the agency of record for the United States for the Adidas brand and that created validation for us and allowed us to win lots of other large, national, or international clients.  So it was a step-by-step process and now the sort of next step in that process has been really focusing on creating a great digital marketing capability in-house.  Today, we were very honored that Google recently named us a Google certified agency partner and today we have ten Google certified analysts on staff and we are doing a ton of very high-end and sophisticated digital marketing, which is really changing the game in marketing communications.

 

Steve Strauss:              You know, I obviously don’t need to tell you that branding is so important for a small business. That's what you do for a living but people who listen to this show may need to know that, as a small business, I think, and I'd love to hear your opinion, obviously, you need to have a brand every bit as strong as your larger and big competitors because there's so much competition out there for a small business. There's thirty million small businesses in the United States.  I'm wondering if you can give us your thoughts on small business branding and marketing and what you think of it.

 

David Warschawski:    It's so key to helping you set the foundation. We talk about branding as being the cornerstone or the foundation for the house that you're going to build and, if you don't build a great foundation, anything you build after that is somewhat shaky. So you have to, early on as a business, really clearly define what your brand is, what you want people to feel when they interact with you, and who your primary, secondary, and tertiary target audiences are.  The sooner you do that, the sooner you codify that, the easier life will be because, all of a sudden, there's now a North Star for making business decisions.  I've got two candidates in front of me who I could hire.  Well, before, you may have looked at sort of the logistics of who would be better but now, all of a sudden, you can say, who’s a better fit for our brand.  Or, when something goes wrong or right and you need to make a business decision, that decision’s much easier when you have a clearly-distilled and put-down-on-paper brand.

 

Steve Strauss:              And, in your case, you've clearly gone out and gotten some very impressive industry awards and that's got to do a lot to build your brand and create some word-of-mouth for your business.

 

David Warschawski:    100%.  It creates validation.  One of the things I'm proud of is, you know, we've put in the hard work and we have a fantastic team who's made it possible to get these accolades. So, yes, it's validation.  It helps us grow as a business and get bigger and better and more exciting clients.  Those are wonderful things but, because of our culture, it really excites me for the team when we get that kind of recognition because it's a pat on the back for everyone that says we're all pulling in the right direction and we're special.  We're doing something different and unique from all the other agencies that are out there.

 

Steve Strauss:              Well and, in fact, let me read one of your reviews along those lines.  ‘Warschawski is a talented team doing impressive work for prominent clients.  I’m impressed by this agency's ability to quickly produce any and all marketing communications work at the highest quality.’  So, your team is your business.

 

David Warschawski:    100%.  In marketing communications, you've got to have great folks, and today more so than ever.  There are so many disciplines that need to be covered when you have a good, integrated marketing communications firm.  You have to be good at advertising.  You have to be good at marketing.  You have to be good at branding.  You have to be good at P.R.  You have to be good at social.  You have to be good at web development and, perhaps most importantly today, you need to be good at digital marketing.  We recently, in addition, just opened up a virtual reality and an AI capability within our firm.

 

Steve Strauss:              Well, one thing is true about small businesses and that is, you have to, especially these days, stay up and keep learning and, for good or ill, and as challenging as that can be, it's kind of part of the fun too, I think.

 

David Warschawski:    All the digital marketing has kept me very young at heart because this changes every day.  Our industry, overwhelmingly, has always been an industry of change and movement and latest trends but, no time like today, have I seen such a need to stay on the cutting edge of digital technologies and how they can be best leveraged for your clients.  They're changing all the time.  You have to be expert.  You have to be able to explain it to the client and then you need to be able to implement it.  Thankfully, our head of digital marketing was just named one of the top seven digital marketers in the country.  He's been really able to help our clients understand and capitalize on how you can do digital marketing in ways that create outstanding ROI for them and, in many cases, it's beating the ROI of traditional advertising, marketing, and P.R. approaches.

 

Steve Strauss:              Now, we are getting branding and marketing jewels from an expert.  I mean, just that you're able to say that your digital person got another award, that is how you really can build a brand.  If you're a small business, just and any way you can associate yourself with that kind of branding, I think really makes a big difference.

 

David Warschawski:    Thank you and I think so much of that, Steve, has to do with hiring the right people.  When you're a small business early on, and I certainly remember these days, you did everything yourself and you had to wear so many hats. You get to a point in the life of a small business where you need to find great people and I would tell anyone who asks, if you're in a small business, invest a little extra money.  Invest a little extra time in training because those people are your biggest assets and you rather they're great than either mediocre or poor.

 

Steve Strauss:              Absolutely.  I'm wondering what challenges you've faced along the way.  Clearly, staying up with the digital as you just mentioned is something that you've done but what other challenges do you find you've faced growing your business.

 

David Warschawski:    Sure.  So you definitely mentioned probably the biggest ongoing challenge we face, which is, across all of these marketing communications disciplines, staying on the cutting edge and sometimes ahead of the cutting edge is a very difficult task.  It's an ongoing challenge and it requires people, including myself, who’ve got to be hungry to learn those things and finding those people can sometimes be a challenge.  And the second, I think, ongoing challenge we face is we have a very clear set of brand values and we live our culture out loud and to find the superstar, rock star standouts who embody what our brand values are all about and also can really bring a high level of expertise and experience to the table, that's a challenge. They're not easy to find. Thankfully, we've been able to find them but that is always a challenge we face.

 

Steve Strauss:              So what values do you find important in your business and why have you chosen these values to stress, whatever they are?

 

David Warschawski:    Sure.  So we have specific personality approaches to things like staying hungry and relentless that are very important to us.  They embody the type of people we want to find and, at the end of the day, when we live all of the various brand values that we have, the end emotion we want people to understand about Warschawski is: we so badly want to thrill you as a client.  We want you to be working with us and, hopefully, give us the kind of rave reviews you've just shared with your audience and I want the client to say, wow.  That's really different than any other marketing communications experience I've had in the past.  The other is: we want people to get a sense of personalized care, that this is not a business equation for us.  We care about your business.  We're in bed with you.  We want to understand how we can help you grow and we take it incredibly personal to ensure that we're delivering the best results.  So the embodiment of those ideals and making people experience that, you've got to find the right people who really are capable of that.

 

Steve Strauss:              So that really begs the question: how important are reviews for you in your business.

 

David Warschawski:    Well, I'd argue it's not just for us.  I'd say they're incredibly important to everyone.  It's a way that you shape your reputation in the industry and the markets that you serve.  It's validation.  If I have a choice between, today especially, I'm looking online for three different service providers in the same vertical and one has 4.5 stars and the others have 3 stars in their rating and the 4.5 has multiple positive reviews, it's a no brainer.  I'm going with the higher-reviewed company and choosing them to be my partner.  So today, probably more so than ever, reviews and anything you can bring together online, that's where you want people to hopefully validate and say the things that you want them to say about you.

 

Steve Strauss:              Well, as you said, this digital revolution is changing everything and it’s changing word of mouth advertising.  It’s changing everything about business.  Do you read online reviews?

 

David Warschawski:    Sure.

 

Steve Strauss:              You seek them out?

 

David Warschawski:    I’m not online everyday looking for reviews, if what you mean, but, certainly, they get shared with me when I do see them and, when we get the kind of reviews that, thankfully, we do get, they certainly make us all feel good because we put so much into trying to create those results.  So, to hear it brought back to us that we've accomplished what we put out into the world, that's wonderful validation, both on a personal level but, also, on a corporate level for building our brand.

 

Steve Strauss:              Do you ever look to get reviews?  Do you speak with clients about it or is that not, you just are happy if you find them happening organically?

 

David Warschawski:    For the most, they happen organically but, certainly, we've had clients who, after we did a specific project or some work with them, they're raving to us about the experience they've had with us and we'll say, would you be so kind as to put that down on paper or, in this case, digitally, on any of the social media platforms and share your feelings about how we interacted with you.  So, yeah.  That happens from time to time.

 

Steve Strauss:              And I think it works. I know it works from personal experience.  I'm an author.  I've got a lot of books on Amazon and I will do what you do, which is: if I hear from someone and they like my book or they didn't like my book, even, I'll say, hey, if you would just go on Amazon and give me a review, I would very much appreciate it and, most times, people are happy to do it and I have one book has been reviewed 50 times and I have one book that's been reviewed 4 times and the one that sold, you know, 50 reviews sells a little better than one with 4 reviews.

 

David Warschawski:    I bet.  I bet.

 

Steve Strauss:              I have a follow-up question about reviews.  Obviously, they are great for getting more business.  People go online.  They find a review.  They like the review, as you said, and they might hire that person or go shop at that store or go to that restaurant but what about the use of reviews in attracting talent.  I mean, we are now in a market where labor is pretty tight and attracting and keeping top talent is a challenge for some people.  Do reviews make a difference there?

 

David Warschawski:    100% and, Steve, I agree with the premise of your question and I would argue that online reviews of what it's like to work in your workplace are more important than what clients have to say about your workplace.

 

Steve Strauss:              Wow.

 

David Warschawski:    Because you have to find and bring in the best people to create the best work and they have to be a cultural fit and, if you're not thought of as having a great workplace and a great culture, it makes it much harder to recruit those folks.  We're very fortunate.  Culture is king with us.  We put so much time, money, energy, love into creating the kind of culture and environment that we hope people just want to stay with us forever and are having a great time and we always tell folks, we don't believe creating great results and having a great time are two separate concepts.  We actually think they work better when they're in coordination.  You can have a great time while doing great work. So you need the reviews to find the kind of people who fit that bill.  And the second part that I would say is: anybody who's looking at an agency gets a holistic picture, whether that's a client or that is a possible employee, and the only way they're going to get that holistic picture is, that's a positive picture, is if what people are saying about you internally matches up with what people are saying externally about you.  When the internal word of mouth is not so good but some of the clients are quite happy, that sometimes a picture that potential clients or potential employees tend to run away from.  So, at the end of the day, I'm incredibly proud that we probably have one of the highest Glassdoor rankings in our industry.  I think we're around a 4.8 out of 5 and that's what our folks are saying about us and about the environment that we've created and they all help foster.

 

Steve Strauss:              Additionally impressive and, for people who don't know, why don’t you just tell us quickly what Glassdoor, a Glassdoor ranking is.

 

David Warschawski:    Glassdoor is a forum online that allows employees to give comments and feedback and rate their employers and 5 is the highest score you can get.  So, most agencies are somewhere in the 3-4 stars’ range and we're very proud. Some of the better ones are a little bit higher but we certainly are at the cutting edge there or at the bleeding edge with a 4.8 out of 5 and, for me, that's just as important as winning new clients because what that means is: all the hard work we put into creating a culture that people should love to come in and participate in and, by the way, that I love to be a participant in.  I have to go to work every day and I've got to love the folks in the environment where I work.  So it tickles me when other people feel like we've created that kind of environment.

 

Steve Strauss:              And you bring up a really good point.  When small business owners think about ratings and reviews, we tend to think about something written about us on Facebook or Yelp but this idea of Glassdoor is not insignificant, that you your employees are out there ranking your business and you've got to be cognizant of that as well.

 

David Warschawski:    Yeah, and you had brought up the issue of branding.  Today, and if we were having this conversation ten years ago, I would have told you external branding is much more important than internal branding but, today, that's flip-flop because organizations and companies are so transparent and people are working or interacting with your representatives so much more frequently.  If you don't hire for your brand and your brand values, you don't train, and you don't reward, you are not going to be able to create a sustainable brand.  It's got to start internally today and then, secondarily, you want to do the external branding.

 

Steve Strauss:              What has surprised you about your journey as an entrepreneur?

 

David Warschawski:    I think the thing that's been, or has changed the most for me is, early on in my career and in the life of Warschawski, there was the thrill of the hunt, of winning the next big client, taking on the next big project, and creating [PH] wowing results for them. There's a tremendous amount of excitement that goes into that.  I still have that excitement but, today, I've really transitioned where I get the most excitement out of mentoring and teaching the next generation.  There's so much to learn in our industry and, sadly, in our industry often mentorship is not a norm which leads, at the end, to some bad marketing communications.  So the chance for me to be teaching the next generation from what I've learned, that's what probably gives me the biggest kick today and seeing people who started their careers with me, for example our COO who's been with us for twenty years, grow from an account executive to becoming an incredibly successful businesswoman, that's more exciting to me than winning the next big client.

 

Steve Strauss:              So, David, what is next for you in your business?

 

David Warschawski:    So I don't want to say it's next. I think it's happening today and that's really the digital revolution because our business today is really, fundamentally changing, and, when I say our business, I'm not talking about Warschawski.  I'm talking about the industry and there are a lot of people who just aren't, at this point in their career, willing to put in the time, the energy, and the effort because it is a lot to learn all the new things and become truly expert at them and I think that's going to be a make-or-break for many agencies over the next couple of years.  Those who really are at the cutting edge of understanding digital marketing, of understanding how to measure results, those are the ones who are going to survive and succeed.  The ones who are staying to some of the more traditional-only platforms, I'm sorry to say, I think they're going to fall by the wayside with time.  So I think when we look forward is: we're constantly trying to evolve and grow on the digital side.  That means we're getting better at web development every day, at app development. We just created a virtual reality expertise, which I think will definitely have a big impact in the marketing communications space and we shortly will be opening up an Amazon capability as well to do marketing specifically on the Amazon platform.

 

Steve Strauss:              Well, I love how forward-thinking you are.  I'm sure your clients love how forward-thinking you are.  David, if people want to learn more about you and your agency, where should they go?

 

David Warschawski:    Easiest is go online to https://www.warschawski.com/  and, certainly, people can feel free to email me directly at dw@warschawski.com

 

Steve Strauss:              David Warschawski, so great having you on this show today and good luck and continued success.

 

David Warschawski:    Thank you. It's a pleasure talking to you, Steve.  Take care.

 

Steve Strauss:              Bank of America is committed to helping small business owners achieve lasting growth and is now asking everyone for their support in helping small businesses grow by asking them to Post Some Love.  We know that positive online reviews views help drive small business success.  So we’re encouraging everyone to do just that. Choose your favorite small business and write a positive online review.  Bank of America does not endorse or guarantee the perspectives, the advice, or the products or services sold by any business referenced within this podcast. Copyright 2018, Bank of America Corporation.

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This week on the Post Some Love Podcast, Steve Strauss talks to Bonnie Shearston, co-owner of Pollen, one of the hottest restaurants in LA’s Echo Park neighborhood.  Listen to her story about coming from Australia to LA and the importance of positive online reviews.

 

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Post Some Love: Pollen Podcast Transcript

 

 

Intro music

 

Steve Strauss:             There must have been challenges opening up a business in a different continent and then two different businesses on two different continents. How did you do that?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      The challenges have been enormous. Not only trying to get Pollen open and trying to get our heads around state and federal law and all the different taxes and the employment laws and all the the permits. You have permits for everything in this country. It’s amazing.

 

Music

 

Steve  Strauss:            Hi, I’m Steve Strauss, USA Today’s senior small business columnist and author of The Small Business Bible and you’re listening to the “Post Some Love” series on Bank of America’s Small Business podcast. This is the series where we speak with small business owners about their journey and share some of their great customer reviews. Today, we’re speaking with Bonnie Shearston of Pollen Restaurant in Los Angeles. Pollen is the sixth restaurant from the Happy Fat Group which is the umbrella for ventures and collaborations of Bonnie Shearston and her business partner, Tom Saunsow.

 

They were recently named Queensland’s Young Entrepreneurs of the Year. Bonnie and Tom have already cemented their reputation in Australia with a range of diverse award-winning venues, from small bars, to restaurant and pubs. But in 2017, the duo opened up their first restaurant in Los Angeles’s Echo Park. Pollen is a mostly outdoor Australian café and restaurant with plenty of tables, a beautiful coffee bar, an impressive breakfast and brunch menu…

 

This new business is primed for success, and in fact, if you go online and take a look, they have a ton of really glowing online reviews – over a hundred last I saw on Yelp.

 

So, we are really fortunate to have Bonnie on the show today and so Bonnie, welcome.

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Thank you very much for having me.

 

Steve Strauss:             I’ve got a lot of questions for you but let me start with this. I’ve heard a lot of different names for businesses, but the Happy Fat Group, that is one fun and different name of a business, can you just tell us about that a little bit?

 

Bonnie Shearston: We were trying to find an umbrella name that covered everything that we do and like you’ve already mention, all of our venues are extremely diverse so, we just thought we’d have a little bit of fun with it, and ultimately our goal is to make people fat and happy and drunk, I guess. So, Happy Fat Group kind of worked for us.

 

Steve Strauss:             Oh, that’s great. So how… tell us a little more about how your background, how did you get started, how did you meet Tom, and how did you guys decide, originally, to start a business in Australia?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Well Tom and I are both English, as I’m sure you can hear in my accent. And, we moved to Australia back in 2008. I was about 23 back then and Tom was 30. So, we worked in Brisbane for about a year. Just working out our market, finding where the gaps were and what was needed and then decided to embark on our first venture in 2009 and opened up a little cocktail and wine bar. It was, um, out in the suburbs in Brisbane. It was…it was really hard really to try to get anyone to call us back.

 

We found this site that we loved, but because we were two young, foreign kids that no one knew about, trying to even get the landlord to call us back with options and venues and things, it was really, really difficult. But, we did it, and we did it all ourselves pretty much. We have a couple of business partners involved in that one.

 

There wasn’t a huge budget, so we did a lot of the building and shifting and lifting ourselves with the four of us and opened up this little cocktail and wine bar. I think we were very fortunate with the timing. It was the first small bar license to be granted in Brisbane, which was immediately a selling point for us ‘cause it was this new concept.

 

It went from being a city of large hotels, and pubs and poke machines and gambling rooms to these small, intimate, cocktail bars. So, we were very fortunate with our timing on that.

 

Steve Strauss:             So, what was it in your background that made you want to become an entrepreneur? I mean, you were pretty young when you started. So, probably not started a business before, was it in your family or in your DNA, what was it?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      I never set out to be an entrepreneur. That was not my intention, I love the industry and I was very fortunate to be given amazing opportunities from a very young age with a company I was working for back in the UK and I worked across Europe for them and I put a lot of responsibility on me at a young age and I obviously learned a lot. It was a huge learning curve and just decided that I wanted to try and give it a go myself. I think a lot of people have asked me, how did you do it at such a young age? How did you take that risk?

 

And to be honest, it’s much easier when you’re younger because you don’t have that a lot of responsibilities. If it hadn’t turned out right, I could have started again, whereas people who have worked and had a family and a house and a mortgage and then want to try and do it there’s a lot more at stake so…

 

Steve Strauss:             Right, and you don’t know what you don’t know, right? And so like let’s just do it.

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Exactly, just got for it, and if it doesn’t work out, start again.

 

Steve Strauss:             And, Australia is kind of a land of second opportunities. I have a very good friend who’s an entrepreneurship professor there and one of the things he tells me is that it’s really a country that’s conducive to people taking risks. Did you find that as well?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Well, look, it’s a very large piece of land with not a lot of people on it, so, I guess there’s a lot of opportunity there. But no, it’s…moving country…obviously it was to a to a westernized country, I’ve got family roots there so I had connections, I don’t think it’s particularly easy to open up a venue anywhere, but there’s certainly something easier to do it in a familiar setting where you got people around you that you know.

 

The legislation is pretty difficult over there, there’s a lot of red tape, especially up in Queensland. And it’s expensive, it’s a very expensive country to live in. But you know, I don’t think it’s going to be very easy to open up a venue anywhere particular.

 

Steve Strauss:             I got the sense reading about your first business that it was a hit from the start, is that accurate?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      It was, like I said we were very fortunate with our timing and it being the first small bar license granted. And, I think people were just really taken by the fact that it’s very focused on the craft of the cocktail and being small and intimate and just having such a point of difference that it immediately recognizes as one of the best bars in Australia at the time, which was amazing.

 

You know, it wasn’t something that we were planning on, but it was an incredible award to be received. We were granted the honor of being Australia’s best new bar back in 2011.

 

Steve Strauss:             Wow, Congratulations, that is impressive, yeah.

 

Bonnie Shearston:      And we went again a year or two later to win the best cocktail menu in Australia and it won a whole bunch of other accolades in between that and so it did, it went really well, we were very blessed with that one.

 

Steve Strauss:             Well, you know the same of the show is “Post Some Love”, as I mentioned there are a lot of really glowing online reviews about all of your restaurants. Let me read you one about Pollen and tell me what you think of this. "This is the cutest breakfast bunch spot ever. I love the decor, the food is super yummy and reasonably price. I had the polenta with fried egg and I ate the baguette with butter and jam. We also happened to get the last chocolate cookie of the day, which was as big as my head. [Laughs] I will definitely try the savory pastries next time."

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Wonderful.

 

Steve Strauss:             That must be the kind of thing that you really love right? Hearing people talk about your restaurants that way.

 

Bonnie Shearston:      It is. Look, it's fantastic and obviously Yelp and these review platforms here in LA are so important to people and it’s how they make their daily decisions on what they want to do in terms of food and drink. But, you know, you’ve got to actually base your success and how you feel about your venue off the customers that are coming in.

 

Having online reviews that are glowing is wonderful and it’s so nice that people take the time out to write something positive, and it’s great to share that with your staff. It's a real morale booster to get something fantastic to come through, you know, post it up on the staff page, congratulate everyone especially if someone’s picked out, as a waiter or chef or...

 

It's really important, likewise, you know, if you do get something negative, it's good to try to take that feedback back onboard and build off that.

 

Steve Strauss:             It does seem though that, if you do your job right and you create a great product – in your case, it's great food and a wonderful atmosphere – then the rest of it will take care of itself. And you're gonna get those positive reviews. But it must validate your business somewhat somewhat and as you said your staff really loves seeing those kinds of things. So, do you read most of the reviews that come in online about your business?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      I do, I mean there's so many platform these days, it's hard to keep on top of all of them. But, I get notifications every time someone leaves something on Yelp or Google so I do try and read as much of them as I possibly can.

 

You know they are really important, especially in this day and age where people rely so heavily on that sort of media to make that decisions. And like I said, it's really good for boosting the staff morale and congratulating people and encouraging them in the right direction.

 

Steve Strauss:             I'll read more about a quick review here. "This place is so good. My boyfriend had the fried egg sandwich and said it was the best he ever had. I had the Greek yogurt, with honey and pancakes – both were delicious. This place is located in a really cute area, service was really good and quick, our waiter was super friendly. I love the natural soap in the bathroom."

 

I mean right here, people really like everything you do. So that brings me to the next question which is “How did you decide where to grow your business and maintain clearly the quality that you have and the following that you have.” You’re in Australia and then you decide to open a business in Los Angeles. How did that decision come about and how did you do it effectively?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      I suppose, as you already mentioned, Tom and I had opened 5 businesses over in Australia and they were all in Brisbane actually. And I think we wanted a new challenge and a new adventure and we were thinking about expanding somewhere else in Australia, initially. Maybe Sydney maybe Melbourne. But, then we thought if we were gonna uproot our lives and give something else a go, and why not do it in a whole other country. We’d love to open up something in London one day, we're both from London.

 

So, I think the excitement of trying a new country was really appealing. We had toyed around with the idea of going to Hong Kong  Shanghai a couple of years ago, and something nearly came into flourishing there, but at the last minute we decided to pull out. And, Tom had always had his heart set on LA and I’d never really spend any time here.

 

So, he sent me over here for a month last year. I was helping a friend out with some projects over here and he told me to spend the whole month here and have a look around and get to know it and the last week of my month here I rang him and I said him I've asked from some leasing agents to show us around. Book a ticket, come out here, we’re gonna do it. So we did. We found a sight in July, signed the lease in August and opened in December. It's been a complete whirlwind. Very exciting at the same time.

 

Steve Strauss:             So, for people who are not from California, can you tell us a little bit about Echo Park and Los Feliz – the neighborhood you're in and how you chose that location?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      It's funny actually, I was here in 2015, I took myself off on a road trip for two weeks and spaced myself from LA before heading up the coast. And I happened to stay with a friend of mine in Echo Park and I remember very distinctively saying to him one day," I'd love to live here one day."

 

There was no prospect of anything “Pollen” on the horizon at that time. And then, when the leasing agents were showing us around, they were showing us new developments in downtown, some over in Culver City, some of these were foundations still in the ground, they hadn't even started the build yet. , we went for a little lunch break and after that they said that they just wanted to throw us a curveball, that there was already an offer on this building, so it wasn't available, but they just wanted to gauge our reaction to see if it was the sort of thing we'd be chasing.

 

So, we pulled up and stepped out of the car, he opened up the gates in front and Tom and I didn't even have to say anything to each other. We just looked at each other and I turned to the leasing agents and said, “How far along is this offer because this is exactly what we want.” When it comes to choosing a venue, Tom and I have a huge bank of different ideas and concepts and we'll draw on each individual one in relation to what the character of the building is in location at the time.

 

And immediately, we both knew that this was exactly what we wanted in a spot. It's in the middle of a residential area. It's very much a community there. The concept of Pollen…you know, the reason it's called Pollen is that the beehive is one of the most complex communities known to nature. And, so were very much trying to be the center of the community there and do what we can to give back to the community, but also be a very integral part of their day-to-day lives. So, it's very residential, it's very green and leafy compared to lots of parts of LA.

 

There's schools near us, there's houses all around us, we're a good mile and a half set back from Sunset Junction so it's pretty quiet where we are as well. And, it's home to one of most lethal roads in LA, I've just found out – Baxter Street. So, I'm sure the little businesses will familiarize themselves with the terraced roads there.

 

Steve Strauss:             So, it's interesting that you did name the restaurant Pollen, as we were just talking about. I read or saw that you’ve done some work with local farmers, with regard to beehives and sustainability, is that something you take seriously? And, if so, can you expand on that a little bit?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Absolutely, as I’ve already mentioned, Pollen is about the community and as much as we can give back to the community as well. There's a lot of long term goals associated with sustainability. It's very difficult in this industry to open up a venue and immediately be “zero landfill” waste and minimal carbon footprint. Especially in a different country where we'll still trying to learn the different practices and procedures over here. But, we are very focused on giving back as well at Pollen, we've been working with a strong recycling program to make sure that we're on top of that. We have been working with a local farmer and were planning a lot more to come. We've got a composting program underway with him. And, we are going to be putting beehives out on his plot of land, which is a couple of miles from Pollen. Now, beehives are essential to our ecosystem, as I'm sure you know.

 

Steve Strauss:             Right.

 

Bonnie Shearston:      So, that's one way to give back to a piece of vacant, beautiful land here in Echo Park, but also cultivating our own honey from that and being able to sell it in the restaurant and use it in the restaurant will be wonderful.

 

Eventually, we'd love to grow our own vegetables there. We currently have our own herb garden at Pollen that we use. But, we don't have a huge amount of space there. For the numbers that we do, we'd love to expand that out to a piece of farmland as well. And other things that we're working towards, we've been speaking to a local church program in the community about donating our wasted pastries and sandwiches and things to feed the homeless program that they have going on.

 

Again, there's a lot of red tape involved with that, you'd think you'd be able to hand out beautiful croissants at the end of the day to someone a bit hard down on by the streets, but all the red tape involved in these sort of things does make it a bit difficult so we're speaking a local church program about their feed the homeless program and also about doing a suspended coffee program with a group of people that look after the local neighborhoods around us. So, there's a few things we're working towards and I'd love to have them all up and running immediately, right now. But, they take time, and got to make sure these things are done properly.

 

Steve Strauss:             I love hearing all of that, and to me it's a little surprising that you have this whole farm-to-table thing going on. I'm up in Portland and farm-to-table is a big thing here. One wouldn't really think that's what you do in Los Angeles, so bravo to you.

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Thank you, like I said there's a lot of challenges, to try to get it up and running and it's definitely not farm-to-table yet, but it is something that we're very much working towards.

 

Steve Strauss:             So, opening a restaurant and wanting it to become a community hub is different than how other restaurantuers envision opening a restaurant. Why was that important to you – this idea of community?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      I’ll very much say, it's not the attitude that we go into each venture with. Like I said to you, each concept that Tom and I have, this catalog of ideas we've accumulated over the years, they're all very, very different and some our businesses we opened up smack bang in the middle of the city. It's been a very different approach and how you operate day-to-day.

 

But, when we saw this spot and saw the community, we immediately drew on this concept of this “neighborhood, community, give back and be present for the community” idea. So, it was very much upon approach and finding the site that we decided to take this idea and grow.

 

Steve Strauss:             Here's a review: "I've now been to Pollen a few times, and now I'm becoming a regular. The staff are all really sweet. The owner is really nice, too. [Laughs]

 

Bonnie Shearston:      [Launghs] It must have been been when Tom was here.

 

Steve Strauss:             The restaurant is in a cute neighborhood and parking has been easy every time I've been there. I plan on coming back and trying everything. I am obsessed."

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Excellent.

 

Steve Strauss:             I love hearing that. That said, there must have been challenges opening up a business in a different continent and then running two different businesses on two different continents. How did you do that and what were the challenges that you encountered and how did you overcome those?

 

                                    As I previously mentioned, when Tom and I moved to Australia, we worked in Brisbane for at least a year, a year and a half even, before we opened our first venue, Canvas. We didn't have that luxury over here. We found the site, we knew there was a time constraint on it, we decided to jump right in and give it a go. Neither of us had ever lived here before, and so the challenges have been enormous.

 

Not only trying to get Pollen open and trying to get our heads around state and federal law and all the difference taxes and the employment laws, all the permits – you have permits for everything in this country – it's amazing. So, that's been enormously challenging and every day i'm still learning something new. We've been open for four months now and it's a massive learning process for us at the moment. In terms of operating across two different continents, as soon as Tom and I decided that we wanted to expand outside of Brisbane…we're very hands on operators, and we like to be very involved in our businesses. So, we were aware that it would distract from our concentration on having 5 businesses back in Australia. So, we’ve started to downgrade. We’ve now got two left in Brisbane and Tom is over there running those two and I’m flying over here as often as I can to try and help out with Pollen. We have a fantastic management team here who run the place for us so I’m very much here just overseeing and doing all the legalities, and like I said, trying to learn as much as I can about operating a small business in California. So, there’s a lot of to’ing and fro’ing at the moment, and it’s been quite challenging as well, but we’re making it work, I think.

 

 

Steve Strauss:             Creating the right team, that must be critically for you, right?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Absolutely, as I mentioned, Tom and I have always been very hands-on operators and I’ve always filled the role of General Manager while we’ve opened up a venue and Tom’s always been very hands-on in service but then also back-of-house as we put all of our procedures and processes in place. And normally, we’ll do that for 6 months for a smaller venue up to 18 months as we build a team around us and then we feel comfortable to hand over the reigns to them. We’ve been very, very lucky with our staff in Australia, we’ve had very good staff retention and people stay with us for a long time and really helped us grow our businesses.

 

Over here, Tom and I aren’t allowed to actually operate the business. We can own it, but until we can become residents here in America we’re not allowed to physically be operating the business. So, it’s been interesting trying to build the team around us and try and get them to work in the way that we would if we were to be the operational managers of the venue. But, again we’ve been exceptionally lucky with our staff. We’ve got a great team at Pollen. All these reviews coming in, you can see that there’s compliments on our service, our managers, the chefs, everything. So, we’ve been really, really fortunate and we’ve got a great team holding it down for us here.

 

Steve Strauss:             So, we are speaking to Bonnie Shearston, owner of Pollen Restaurant in Los Angeles . If you ever get to the Southland, you should definitely check it out. We’re running out of time here Bonnie, but before we go I gotta ask, “what is it that you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur and what has surprised you the most about your journey? “

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Surprised me? The entire thing. I wanted to be a sports teacher when I was younger. So, I’m not sure quite how I ended up here, but what have I enjoyed the most? For me, the awards are great and the press is great, and opening up a new venue…it’s extremely exciting everytime we do it. But, for me it’s about the people I work with and the regular customers… just building that report with them and I’ve made some lifelong friends from someone that popped in once and wanted to have a drink at my very first venue.

 

So, for me, it’s really about the people. I’m not sure what Tom’s response to that woulud be but for me, it’s definitely about the friends and regulars that we’ve made along the way and seeing how much they enjoy something that we put our blood, sweat and tears into.

 

Steve Strauss:             You know as a new business in Los Angeles, it’s such a vast place, I grew up here with 10 million people. One of the great things about being in business these days is, the net does make things smaller and word-of-mouth can happen in a way online that it could never happen offline. Offline word-of-mouth is literally word-of-mouth. One person tells one person. But now, people can go online, write a review, make a comment, and a hundred or a thousand people hear about it. So, I would think that in the vastness of Los Angeles, with so many businesses there, you must benefit a lot from this kind of word of online word-of-mouth that you get from positive reviews.

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Oh absolutely. It’s amazing how far people will travel for a brunch if it’s got a good review. We had a family come up from Malibu two weekends in a row for brunch because they’d seen on Yelp that we were LA’s new hot spot for brunch.

 

Steve Strauss:                         Now, tell people how long of a drive that is.

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Um, I think it’s about two hours in rush hour. I think so. I haven’t made my venture yet myself, I hear it’s a long way.

 

Steve Strauss:             It’s a schlep, for sure. Before we go, Bonnie, I just want to ask you one little question. Our show, “Post Some Love”, is sponsored by our friends at Bank of America and I’m just wondering…I know you’re a Bank of America customer, why’d you choose Bank of America when you moved to California?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      They were actually the only bank that would take us. Not saying that they haven’t been absolutely wonderful to us, but when we first moved here trying to open up bank accounts to do simple things, say send money over here to be able to actually start the build, it was rather difficult to get anyone to open a bank account for us without social security numbers – which Tom and I don’t have not being American citizens. So, we did try a few different banks, Bank of America being one of the first, I will say that, but they were the ones that would take us on and they’ve been wonderful, and yes, I will be staying with them.

           

Steve Strauss:             All right, see, that just proves what I know which is Bank of America is a great friend to small business and you’re a small business. Well, we’ve loved having you on the show today. Keep up the great work and if people want to know more about you and Tom and the Happy Fat Group, where should they go?

 

Bonnie Shearston:      If they want to know a little bit more of what we do, they can head to our website, which is www.happyfat.com.au

 

Steve Strauss:                         Fantastic, thank you and keep up the great work.

 

Bonnie Shearston:      Thank you so much.

 

Steve Strauss:             Bank of America is committed to helping small business owners achieve lasting growth and is now asking everyone for their support in helping small businesses grow by asking them to “Post Some Love.” We know that positive online reviews help drive small business success. So, we’re encouraging everyone to do just that. Choose your favorite small businesses and write a positive online review. Bank of America does not endorsed or guarantee the perspective or advice or the products or services sold by any business referenced within this podcast. Copyright 2018 Bank of America Corporation.

 

60% of Entrepreneurs Project Five-year Growth, According to the Spring 2018 Small Business Owner Report

 

The bi-annual Small Business Owner Report, conducted by Bank of America, explores the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners throughout the U.S. and across 10 major cities. The spring report explores a range of topics important to the constantly evolving small business landscape. Some important insights from this report explore:

 

  • The impact of tax reform on small business owners
  • Digital technology trends and the role emerging technologies play in business development
  • The economic outlook and concerns impacting small business
  • Growth, revenue expectations and hiring trends

 

For additional insights, see the Small Business Owner Report infographic below.  For a complete, in-depth look at the insights of the nation’s small business owners, download the Spring 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report here.

Spring 2018 Small Business Owner Report Infographic

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