Monday, December 20, 2010

If money were no object, what would you give this Christmas??

Christmas in Charleston. 

If I could use one word to describe my writing style, it would be erratic. But that is because I’m an erratic person – I’m spontaneous in a sense. Others might describe me as having a mild case of ADD - whatever. Anyhow, I never feel compelled to change that, to cage my ‘creativity’, when I’m forging through a blog post, but tonight is different. Tonight, perhaps by divine intervention to teach me the art of brevity and succinctness, I don’t have much time to devote toward this post.

Here’s topic:  If money were no object, what would be the perfect gift? Whether it’s for yourself or for somebody else, what thing would you give that you won’t or can’t give now?

So here goes… shooting for 200 words and a complete, coherent thought.

I can’t help but not mention Office Space here. But I’d hate to use up the extent of my 200 word limit describing the scene, so here you go.

Peter Gibbons: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you'd do if you had a million dollars and you didn't have to work. And invariably what you'd say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars you're supposed to be an auto mechanic.
Samir: So what did you say?
Peter Gibbons: I never had an answer. I guess that's why I'm working at Initech.
I’m not going holier than thou on this post, saying material possessions matter not to me. Unless you’re a Nepalese monk, that statement holds no credibility to me. Everyone cares to a certain degree about material wealth. But I AM a firm believer that consuming experiences is more important than amassing possessions.

By the time I had earned my learner’s permit to drive car, I had tasted the cool-aid of being an entrepreneur. I had a lawn business that made more money than I could rightfully spend.  I had grown up the only child of an entrepreneur, and when I wasn't working or practicing sports, my dad was teaching me the capitals of the world (I knew all of SA, Europe and parts of Asia by 10). I learned of multi-cultural business customs, the art negotiation, and the value of dreaming big. I learned that “if a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump its ass so much.” In other words, there are certain things in life that cannot be controlled, but our attitude will determine the outcome even when things seem impossible. He taught me that we hold the key that opens both the door to success and failure because they are the same door…Success is just a few more feet beyond the threshold than failure.

These are lessons I learned. And when my dad and I would dream of the success we would attain, what I always valued higher than the cars, houses, rounds of golf in exotic locations, etc was dreaming of the satisfaction of knowing that despite the odds, the naysayers, the slip ups, and the failures (learning experiences), we made it… together.

It is that moment that I would give. It is that embrace as a family and as business that I strive each day to attain. That moment in history when the stars align, and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we paid honor to our lives and those that made them possible. That we lived unafraid of the uncertainty, and we came out on top.

However, no price would I pay even if I possessed all the wealth in the world to take a shortcut to reach it, for a shortcut would undermine all the true value of that it holds. 

A very Merry Christmas to all, and may you and your family be blessed this coming New Year.


PS, I didn't make the 200 word limit, but, at least I tried... and was pretty close. Read more Let's Blog Off Posts Here!! They're all very much worth it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It's a Wonderful Business Life Part 2

Read It's a Wonderful Business Life Part 1 here.

Eco-Protective Products opened it's doors (we don't have a store front location so this is purely metaphorical) for business in January 2008. At the inception of the business, we had a proven exterior paint that was eco-friendly in composition and delivered quantifiable benefits in performance (energy efficiency, durability, and longevity) stacked against other paint manufacturers. In 2008, at least at the onset, the building market showed continued growth, albeit not as robust as the early 2000s, and Green Building was proving it had all the signs of a long-term standard not a fad, short-lived trend.
Credit: iStockphoto... no that's not EPP's staff

From day one, the excitement level was palpable. We were poised for unprecedented success, and we already had the right people and products in place to assure that it would happen. The business plan was simple: maintain growth with our existing distributors and expand brand awareness through placing "eco-friendly" ahead of "high-quality" for our value proposition, targeting our marketing efforts to Green Building, updating product names to be inline with said strategy, redesigning product labels, and by aligning ourselves with rising stars within the sustainable building industry. Insert new brand name, new logo, new slogan. Gone was the old website and a new one took its place. We joined the USGBC, attended monthly events, and chatted to anyone that would lend an ear about our innovative paints.

At the time, this marketer was too inexperienced to understand the importance of SEO, too naive to recognize that a website doesn't sell products, people do. But, like I said, ignorance consumed me, and I waited. Waited on the waves of Green Builders to blow up my inbox and voicemail. Surely, before long, Ty Pennington would be soliciting product donations for the next Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I would be on the cover of Southern Living in no time, and by the time I celebrated my first Christmas in the real world, I'd be doing so listening to Jimmy Buffett's Christmas Island album on a boat sailing somewhere in Caribbean. 

Within our first three months operating as Eco-Protective Products, we were hired to supply paint to a high-profile condominium complex in Palm Beach, FL, had representatives meeting with top government officials about EPP implementation into greening strategies, and a building boom that would never end (our biggest markets were Florida, Arizona, and California).

If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, we had tamed a gaggle of geese and were content. With our connections and website, our products would continue to sell themselves.   Along comes the Great Housing Bubble Burst and the economic free fall of 2008 and 2009. And this is the point where the school of hard knocks begins -- and to continue with the theme of this post, It's a Wonderful Business Life, not only is our business better for the following missteps but I am, too. 

Each Lesson Links to Its Own Page
Lesson 1 - Don't buy into big promises. Trust your gut and ignore the hype
Lesson 2 - Rebranding - not as easy as creating a new logo and catch phrase
Lesson 3 - The common push-back, "well, I've never heard of your product, so because I know everything about energy efficiency and sustainable design, your product must not be good enough" and how to overcome it.
Lesson 4 - Everyone and their brother, mother, and twitter followers want to verify your Green Product but who verifies them?
Lesson 5 - An email can't replace the value of a phone call can't replace the value of an honest handshake
Lesson 6 - Growing through a recession
Lesson 7 - Your business is no better than you are. Remember to sell yourself and buy in
Lesson 8 - There's no right price for the wrong product - When product launches fail
Lesson 9  - Never, never, never, never give up.
Lesson 10 - Lastly, the importance of building a support group of other small business owners & entrepreneurs to share ideas, strategies, laughs, at times, tears, and most importantly to be there to help each other up again when the battles we face each day knock us down. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's a Wonderful Business Life Part 1

Part 1 of 2
This post is an adaptation from one I posted on my personal blog yesterday, but I felt the need to share it here. Over the weekend, like most, I spent the majority of my 48 hours away from the office huddled inside by the fire keeping warm from the frigid weather that has its grip on most of the country. Heck, I even think South Florida experienced frost Saturday morning – if it had been today, I’d venture to say they’d have closed down the schools. I know back in my hometown of Atlanta, the threat of snow flurries sent overzealous moms racing to the grocery store in a fit of panic to buy bread, milk and other necessities deemed to be essential to survival of the approaching “apocalyptic” storm – and we [southerners] wonder why Northerners laugh at us, but to all “yous” scoffing Yanks, I cordially invite “ya’ll” down yonder to south Georgia during late August, and we’ll be even. 

Anyhow, as the fire crackled and I mindlessly browsed what was on television (ugh, how archaic! I should have been streaming Netflix to my Blue Ray Player, right?) Saturday night, I happened upon one of my favorite Christmas movies, It’s a Wonderful Life. Not only does the movie capture the timeless essence of the Christmas season – a season of genuine love and compassion for our fellow man, but it also underscores the unpredictability of life and how even the most impassioned of planners [George Bailey] cannot guarantee a certain route to follow.

Many of the followers of this blog are entrepreneurs, small business owners, and salespeople, thus I’m especially speaking to them, but the movie’s lessons are equally applicable to any person from any walk of life.

In my opinion, the movie delivers an especially poignant message to those that label themselves as dreamers and risk takes. George Bailey, played by the great Jimmy Stewart, leads a life rife with misfortune, and he is befallen with many setbacks to the pursuit of the dreams of his youth. Although he doesn't realize it until the movie's climactic ending when he sees the world devoid of his existence, his life created immeasurable value and meaning to his loved ones and the community of Seneca Falls.

Though we can easily become distracted by the detours and outright roadblocks that cause us to alter our path in business and life, I doubt anyone has ever set out on the journey of life and anticipated each twist and turn along the way. Lesson to take from the movie: we are better for them.

Business deals that fizzle free us to connect with other companies and customers more deserving of our time and resources.

Product launches that fall flat refocus our attention to core competencies, products, and services.

I once read, “There’s no right price for the wrong item.” And that goes for marketing. No matter how flashy, tech savvy, or well-accepted around the office, marketing campaigns that lack results remind us to always put the customers’ needs first and build a marketing strategy from that point.

I could write for days about finding the silver lining within each hardship and struggle, but the point is clear: Be like George at the end of the movie; don’t wallow in self-pity because things didn’t work out as planned, instead choose to see the that each obstacle is life’s way of getting us back on our true path from which we had momentarily deviated.

“Every adversity, every failure, and every heartbreak carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.” – Napoleon Hill

Go forth with a smile for we only have to get up one more time than life knocks us down. That’s not too tough to do now is it?

Part 2 of this 2 part blog post will be published on Friday, December 17 and will be a comprehensive review of the lessons learned over a 3 year period since Eco-Protective Products' inception in January 2008. Some of the topics are listed below

  • Growing through a recession
  • Rebranding - not as easy as creating a new logo and catch phrase
  • Traditional marketing materials, why they might not be worth the paper they're printed on
  • When to fire a customer
  • Trust your gut no matter how good the hype makes you feel
  • An email can't replace the value of a phone call can't replace the value of an honest handshake
  • Everyone and their brother, mother, and twitter followers want to verify your Green Product but who verifies them?
  • The common push-back, "well, I've never heard of your product, so because I know everything about energy efficiency and sustainable design, your product must not be good enough" and how to overcome it.
  • Lastly, the importance of building a support group of other small business owners & entrepreneurs to share ideas, strategies, laughs, at times, tears, and most importantly to be there to help each other up again when the battles we face each day knock us down.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

So you're given your own island, now what??

This post is part of the Letsblogoff series of blogs that is a blogging community exercise that asks participants to blog on a set subject two times each month. Learn more and read the other posts here.

I’m suddenly taken back to seventh grade English and Mrs. Morris’?(I’m only 25 and already forgetting names of prominent figures in my childhood? Damn) class at Dickerson Middle School reading Lord of the Flies. The characters in the book are tragically doomed not because of their inherent evil but because ignorance leads to fear which leads to anarchy. In order to survive and ultimately prosper on a far away island, establishing order is an absolute necessity; however, establishing rules and assigning responsibilities cannot be done from a position of self-appointed power, but it must be achieved from cooperative engagement and building of ‘community’. Easier said than done.

I look at examples from fictional books & movies as well as human history, and it is clear that a system of governance that rewards each member of the community equally indifferent of his/her contributions and value is destined to failure (e.g. communism). The ideals may be noble, but in practicality, it breeds unrest and, ultimately, revolt.

For such reasons, my island’s economy would be based upon utilizing each inhabitant’s given skills and abilities – those necessary for survival at first – in order to establish a barter exchange system, and the government modeled after the US Constitution with the exception of the need for a standing army, as you will see below.  I could expand upon each contingency, but for many reasons, not least of which is that it is already boring me, I will not.

Steps to Success
So, this is where things get real. I’m sure I’m not alone in my pondering over whether to take a serious, silly or somewhat sarcastic (or alliterative?? Ha) tone with this portion. On to the fun part of the exercise – who to bring, what to bring…where to bring? Dangit, “where” doesn’t belong there.  It’s obvious that the where is the island. But can it please be the place Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole sings of in his version of Over the Rainbow? This song/video will make your day

I'm not sure I can create a list - what's more important, an engineer or dental floss? A pocket knife or a radio? A water purifier or bocce ball? Banana Boat SPF 16 Sport or a snorkel - I do love diving. A nutritional expert or my Garmin (wouldn't want to be stuck behind an iguana migration without knowing an alternative route to the tiki bar and conga line)? 

Good thing there's always CDW in case I forget something. 

And we'll definitely need the "signs of a good party". And no, I never got into LOST. Just wasn't my thing. 
So here's my take on the whole thing....

Phase 1. SHELTER
I’m moving to an faraway, desolate island. Once there, the immediate primary task, thank you Bear Grylls, is to establish shelter, necessary to provide protection from the island’s Creepy Crawlers and Mother Nature’s weather elements. 

Given the abundance of qualified people out of 6 Billion+ to entrust with the responsibility of constructing shelter, I’m taking Ty Pennington and the staff of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. Functional, sustainable, and entertaining are sure to be the words to describe the "shelters" that will house the island’s inhabitants. Not only that, but the enthusiasm on the island will be palpable, and we will help some deserving families along the way.  I do not look forward to the day when ABC cancels this show. Each story touches my heart and propels me into the week with a wonderful perspective on life. 
Side note: I would certainly enter into a contract with ABC (Disney) to sell the television rights to the island in exchange for (1) Kenny Mayne from ESPN to provide color commentary on the island’s daily activities and (2) the construction of a mini-theme park - no tea cups ride allowed.... worst ride, ever, period.

Calling for passengers named Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, and Giada De Laurentiis & Chuck Norris to approach the gate check-in counter.  
It’s no secret among my friends that I love, really I do, being healthy: eating healthy, regular exercise, and taking vitamins consistently. I’m taking Mrs. Deen because, boy lemme tell ya, I’m Georgia born and Georgia bred, and even if her recipes don't agree with my current ‘diet regime’ (so many rich, delicious ingredients), I could listen to her soft, soothing, Southern drawl and be back home no matter how far from it I may be. 
Bobby Flay seems like the logical choice if I had to choose just 1 chef to accompany us to this new settlement. With the astounding number of Iron Chef America victories under his ‘chef’s hat’, there is no way the island will present him a ‘secret ingredient’ that he cannot utilize to create a delectable, nutritious feast. Plus, who doesn't want to 'throw down' with Bobby Flay. 

Lastly, Giada gets the nod to join us because who, and I’m seriously asking this question, who can ever be upset when watching her cook? And not just because she is beautiful. Psychologically speaking, there will be many internal struggles to cope with once we are forever alone on this island, and surrounding ourselves with positive oriented people (see Ty Pennington above) will be an immeasurable asset to our success and survival.

Chuck Norris fills two roles simultaneously. First, his total gym is not only a great way to stay in shape, but because land, thus storage space, will be scarce on the island, the total gym provides the convenience of quick and minimal storage. Secondly, should the island be inhabited by cannibalistic natives, upon seeing Chuck Norris’ beard, fists and round-house kicks, they will immediately pledge their cooperation and peace.

Phase 3. CULTURE
A simple study into the evolution of mankind reveals that until the two primary needs, shelter and sustenance, were met, culture was hindered in its development. It wasn’t until the cultivation of maiz and other agricultural products that communities could begin to develop. Luckily, we have anticipated these needs, and as a result, the island will be able form its own unique culture almost immediately upon colonization.

Celebration of culture, the arts & humanities, will be the underlying force behind the island colony’s success. Void of culture, we revert to animalistic, savage behavior – again see Lord of the Flies. 

Unlike the celebrities chosen above for shelter and nutrition, we will not need a star-studded community of musicians, actors and artists for culture to flourish. I love a good movie, can be moved to tears by a beautiful song, and appreciate thought provoking artwork, but I think community and culture are better fostered by fireside sing-a-longs, intimate story telling, and creating art that emerges from our own soul. Each of us has a unique gift, and given the chance, we can do some pretty amazing things. 


Lastly, I want to discuss innovation. A society, big or small, that ignores change and ceases to innovate will be a society that ceases to exist. As generation 1 begins to age, it will be the responsibility of Generation 2 & 3 to continue the progress on the island. To quote John Lennon, "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." And given proper application of resources, in a few generations' time, we may develop the longer lasting battery. Thus, in order for that to happen, it is back to Generation 1 to instill the values of virtue, diligence, & love into the island born children. 

In closing, this exercise has been fun and rewarding. My mind raced toward an infinite number of possible scenarios, only one of which made it on this blog. Yet each, no matter how different, would be dependent upon the adherence to certain core values and principles in order to succeed. 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne 

PS Gang, I cheated. I read some of your posts before posting, and my reaction is much the same as all of yours: I would either start swimming after a week or 2 or drift into insanity to as a means to escape the confines of the island. I love new people and places, and I find it a tragedy to see people content with never leaving their home towns, but to each their own. Cheers!!- Jamey

Monday, December 6, 2010

Less is More this Christmas

I finally feel composed enough after taking Rip Van Winkle like slumber after gorging myself on Thanksgiving to sit down and express some thoughts regarding this Christmas season. (Side note Happy Chanukah to those who began their celebrations last week!)

Dad's beautifully smoked turkey
coming of the Big Green Egg
Not only did Thanksgiving afford me the opportunity to spend time with friends and family members (big thanks to Leesa (Mom) and Faye (Grandmother)), whom I had not seen since moving to EPP's new office location in Charleston, SC, but it gave me time to reflect on the idea that sometimes (not always) the cliche that "Less is More" is 100% accurate.

Even as a child when I was without an alternative and was forced kicking and screaming to accompany my mother and her friends on Black Friday shopping sprees, more often than not, the "shopping sprees" were more about quality time spent with friends and less about finding that long sought after deal at Macy's, Rich's or Sak's. I'm certainly not going to criticize or poke fun at those who awake prior to the paper boy to hunt down deals or those determined to pile the latest gadgets, toys, and trends under the Christmas tree. Like anyone else, I enjoy new gizmos and try to dress fashionably, but as a society, I feel that we've lost touch with the meaning of gift giving.

From Christmas to birthdays and so on, "if it's not the priciest, then it isn't a worthy gift"is a motto many go by.  It's reported that consumers spent an estimated $1 Billion this "Cyber Monday." And despite the fact I rejoice at that news as a sign of economic improvement, I worry about the cultural shift it underscores.

How many parents cave to giving their kids gaming systems or cell phones before they can read, do basic arithmetic, etc.? How many husbands (don't) know what interests their wives? And buy jewelry in lieu of a thoughtful gift (and vice versa)? I remember when a list for Santa consisted of 2-3 material presents and 2-3 noble ideals; does that still exist? Hardly, lists are pages long, double spaced, 12 pt font and posted on Facebook. And worse, instead of asking, hoping, being extremely good so Santa will reward their behavior, to the kids, the gifts are expected, if not demanded. But the cultural shift is another topic for another post.

Santa, there are still no presents under my tree &
 I promise I was good this year.
As I begin searching for gift ideas, I think back to the meaningful ones I've received in my life. Those that immediately come to mind didn't fetch a hefty price but were thoughtful - hand made gifts from my mother, books from my dad, family treasures from grandparents. These were gifts that transcended dollar value and touched the soul.

For years, Americans have piled on holiday debt only as a means to keep up with the proverbial Jones' to later find those debt laden gifts outdated, unwanted, or unused months if not just a few weeks later.

On this blog we focus more on promoting energy efficiency and sustainability than touting "green" to be green products and services, so I'm not going to urge you to buy some $250 phone charger just because it's solar powered. As Paul Anater says over at his Blog, Kitchen and Residential Design, "screw greening your Christmas, make it sustainable instead."This season, due to economic hardships, many Americans will abstain from gifting big ticket items like iPads, Playstations, or a 3D Televisions, and give the most sustainable gifts of all, gifts with meaning and that convey the love of the giver. It's amazing how a child will ultimately forget or worse break that toy he/she had to have, but they'll always (speaking from experience) cherish the scrap book of pictures & school work compiled by a loving mother.

It wasn't the presents that made the Whos in Whoville gather to sing; it was the love of each other that did: the most sustaining gift of all.  This song still puts a giant smile on my face (from the end of Dr. Suess' How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

Please, share some of your treasured gifts and holiday (Christmas or Hanukkah) memories.

Happy shopping: 19 Shopping Days Remaining

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't be an Eyesore, Less is More

I'm not sure what sparked the early arrival of Christmas decorations, but driving to and from Atlanta for Thanksgiving last week, I opted for back roads, and through each small town, I counted at least 10 residences that already had Santas, icicle lights, wreathes and bows adorning the front yards and home facades. What was more shocking than the premature appearance of these decorations (not to mention the Christmas displays in stores and commercials on TV prior to Halloween) was the extreme lengths people had taken to obviously out do their neighbors.

This is no new phenomenon as folks have been escalating their visible holiday cheer for years. I've always been partial to candles in the window and a nice wreath spot lighted on the front door, but if your sense of decor isn't like mine, perhaps this Christmas the idea of saving a little money and energy might persuade you to limit the front yard's display. 

Not only does over doing the decorations look tacky but it is a tremendous strain on energy consumption and will leave families footing the bill long after the presents are unwrapped on Christmas morning. 

Experts at Christmas Lights & Decorations say, "most holiday energy is consumed by Christmas lights and decorations, and the easiest way to conserve in your home during the holidays is to monitor your energy consumption.

"With energy costs continually on the rise, a single home could be looking at using thousands of extra kilowatts and spending more than an additional $100 a month on energy simply with the addition of Christmas lights to the décor. By using fewer lights, and bulbs that are more energy efficient, you can cut your energy consumption by more than 80% and save a bundle on your hydro bill."

Here are a few tips for saving energy this Christmas season
  1. Use LED lights instead of energy intensive incandescent lights. They may be more expensive but last longer, use up to 80% less energy, and are shatterproof, shock proof, and cool to the touch.
  2. Use non-electric decorations such as such as wreaths, garlands, stockings and tinsel.
  3. Use a timer. Putting your Christmas lights on a timer is a great way of saving energy. A timer helps avoid lights staying on when you are not home, during the day or all night if you forget to turn them off. 

But if you still feel the urge to light up your house so it's visible from the International Space Station, take a cue from America's classic family, the Griswolds. One of my favorite movies this time of year, Christmas Vacation.

Happy decorating.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brush Away Those Winter Blues

Ok so there are hundreds, excuse me, thousands of self-help books, CDs, blogs, podcasts etc offering solutions to improve one’s mood. If you’re anything like me, at the onset of winter, you’re ready for a change: change of wardrobe, outdoor/indoor activities (camping, sitting by the fireplace, skiing, etc), but by January, the psychological effects of dreary skies, chilling temperatures, and short days start to take effect.


Groundhog Day with Bill Murray is
one of my all time favorite movies.
Please, let the groundhog not see his shadow this year, I want an early spring. Sound familiar? Well, there’s not much we can do to change weather patterns (pretty sure the tilt of the Earth’s axis is not about to change anytime soon) but there are some simple solutions to brighten up your everyday life even as it remains bleak outside.

COLOR plays an important, if not vital role as an environmental factor of our mood. Since I’m no interior designer (although for a bachelor, I do have color coordinated linens), below, I’ve deferred to the advice of trained professionals.

Paint is one of the least expensive and best home interior decorating techniques to bring a room to life, but before you rush out and buy your favorite paint color, you have to ask yourself one question. It is...

"What mood do I want to create in this room?" Do you want it to feel warm and cozy? Or maybe you prefer lively and cheerful?

Your answer is very important because it will determine which side of the color spectrum matches your style and personality.

Soft yellow uplifts without agitating.

Warm up. If you feel depressed, your house colors may be too cool. "If you are a person with depression issues," Pike says, "you don't want to have cool tones." For people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, for example, Pike recommends mood-enhancing warm tones such as yellows, soft reds and oranges. Energizing warm tones convey happiness. But be careful not to overdo it. Bright yellow, for example, can agitate. Look for a softer version of a strong color.

Cool shades slow the heart rate and lower body temperature.

Cool down. Are you a fast talker? If you feel antsy, your house colors may be too warm. Consider adding cool shades, such as blue and green. Cool shades slow your heart rate and lower your body temperature. "Find a blue that has its toes dipped in green," Pike suggests. "That is absolutely satisfying." And although it is a warm tone, pink is also tranquilizing, as are neutrals.

Neutrals create a restful environment.

Stay in neutral. While not the best medicine for people suffering from depression, restful neutrals are great for people who like a calm environment and who like to switch out colors in their furniture and accessories as their mood changes. Neutrals are also the best bet for those planning to sell their homes. Neutrals allow prospective homebuyers to envision themselves in a home.

Try a color before you commit.

Sample color. Before settling on a particular color, try it on your walls. Paint a large patch on the wall or on poster board and live with the color for a week. Because light changes our perception of color, the same color may look different at various times of day and in each room of the house. Most people are not afraid of color, Pike says, but of choosing the wrong color. "We all have emotional responses to color," she says, "so colors can serve as tools to help us feel better."

Eco Accents Low VOC interior latex paint by Eco-Protective Products is available in over 1200 colors. Click here for more information or email us here for ordering info.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanks for Everything

In 2007, over the Thanksgiving break from the University of Georgia, when my father approached me with the idea to utilize my International Finance and Spanish degrees to help re-brand and revitalize his paint business as an alternative to pursuing a career as an Investment Banker or Financial Analyst, I saw it as the opportunity of a lifetime. Do not be fooled, the job was not going to be easy – my father would never allow me to take the easy road. There would be no silver spoon, no coat tails with which to ride, no meetings left unattended, no sales call not made, and no abundance of sleep.

It hasn’t been a cakewalk, but three years later to the week, our business has seen growth each calendar year; our brand (Eco-Protective Products) has become recognizable to some but not overly known – still work to be done; personally, we have deepened our father-son relationship, and I have learned invaluable lessons of life and business from him and my experience along the way.

I’ve always been told that if we do not stop to appreciate that which we already possess, we can never expect to receive more. So to commemorate my three years with the family business, this is my thank you.

I am not quite sure when we, as people, develop the mental faculties to truly begin to appreciate things we have in our lives. Is it a function of maturity, age, or accumulated experience (all three similar but also very distinct)? Do we awaken to the reality of what's precious to us by chance, situational environment, or at milestones? Does it take tragedy to strip away the unnecessary fluff of the everyday, the mundane, to find the inner meaning, substance, and value in our trip around the sun?

As a regular contributor to this blog, I'll be honest to our readers; I can't say that at my age I have the all the answers - I certainly do not, and each day I realize that I’m probably not even aware of all the right questions to ask. To me, life has been [cliché] a roller coaster. As uncommon as I have perceived my experiences to be, I know that shear statistical probability means that there are hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions who have lived 25 (almost 26) years on this green and blue planet similar to my own. 

As I contemplated the subject for this post, I felt the need to expand on some profound theme, but while helping elementary school students at church make pictures depicting things for which they are thankful, I had the epiphany, and I knew what I wanted to write. 

Raised as an only child, I sometimes wonder how to define what a home is. From one perspective, home can be a fire place, laughter, accumulated sports trophies, hardship, birthday parties, troubled times, Christmas card pictures, tears, missed high-fives from over exuberance, burnt meals, treasured suppers, doggie treats, All Dogs Go to Heaven, hugs and kisses, arguments - "I'll never raise my kids like you", prayers and at times curses, broken bones, mended hearts, story time, good report cards and, at times, urgent parent-teacher conferences. Parents are super heros then they become the enemy. Home is base camp for hide and go seek, refuge from summer jobs, and the return from summer vacations. It is sneaking out at 11 and the sneaking back in at 7-- only to get caught, grounded, spanked, put into time-out - whatever punishment fit the crime. Home is ears when no one else will listen. Home is your favorite t-shirt hidden away in the attic. It’s where sleeping in my parent's bed is ok because I was scared, and it’s where Jiminy Cricket sings to me to wish upon a star. It’s taco salad night, or perhaps, it's Friday Night under the Lights in Raider Valley. It’s graduation day, an empty nest once again, but it’s where I return again four years later. 

Is that really what home is?

Home can be anywhere and anything because home is not just shelves, roof shingles, eco friendly paint (product plug), hard wood floors, GE appliances, or a drive under garage; it's not necessarily the laughter that fills the halls or the sobs of sorrow when we say goodbye; it's not sleepovers, the Super Bowl party, or the time the neighbors had one too many on Christmas Eve; it's not the flood in the basement from the Washing Machine or the subsequent one from Atlanta's storms in 2009; it's not the renovation, the landscaping, the trampoline, or countless games of  H-O-R-S-E. It’s not Super Mario, Sega Genesis, an N-64, Playstation or XBox (although thank you Santa); home certainly is not the broken coffee table (I had to break in the new baseball glove) or the broken windows (it was Brent's fault); it's not the beers you caught me drinking in high school, although that was a terrifying experience to say the least; it's not when I drove away to college or when I came home with 2 degrees; it's not the place I left when I moved to a new state, and it will not be the place I return to in one week.

These are just the symptoms and signs of a good home.

It is you, Mom and Dad, that are Home to me. No matter how far apart we may be, I can always go home by picking up my phone, or reading that Facebook post from you mom, or the encouraging email from you Dad. For 25 (almost 26) years, I have fought, loved, hated, argued with you, but this Thanksgiving, I say thank you. It is the idea of home & the love of family you instilled in me that makes me who I am.

In business and life, your brand may grow – something for which every business strives – but do not be fooled, success is not derived from the products we sell but from the people we are.

In closing, to quote a beloved American icon, Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."


Weatherization - The Key to a Comfy Winter

I know for many parts of the country, winter is already taken a firm grip 
that will not release until March, Arpil or even May for some areas. However, there is still time (even if the snow is falling high outside your door) to take minor winterization and weatherization steps to save you money this season. 

  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafts can waste 5% to 30% of your energy use. Start simple and adopt that old Great Depression fixture -- the draft snake, which you can easily make yourself. Just place a rolled bath towel under a drafty door, or make a more attractive DIY draft snake with googly eyes, felt tongues and the like. You can use any scraps of fabric -- even neckties -- and fill with sand or kitty litter for heft. Make sure drafts aren't giving your thermostat a false reading too, and read on for more advanced solutions.
  • Change furnace filters regularly (typically once per month). This will ensure your furnace runs efficiently and conserves power to keep you warm

  • Don't forget to TURN DOWN your thermostat when no one is at home or at night. For every degree you lower the thermostat during heating season, you'll save between 1 and 3% of your heating bill. Make it easier with a programmable thermostat; they are widely available for as little as $50, and the average family will save $180 a year with one. Go one step further and ask your local utility if it's making smart meters available in your area as part of recent federal smart grid investments.
  • LOW-E window film. For a small price, you can DIY by covering your windows with a virtually invisible film that buffers air flow, keeping warm air in and frigid air out. Found at the Home Depot or any home improvement store. 
  • Update your home's insulation. Although this may seem common sense, many older homes do not have insulated ceilings, attics, and in between some walls. If you are a Georgia resident, contact Woodman Insulation and ask for Sandra Cummins.
  • Insulate pipes. Found at most hardware stores, you can get R-3 to R-7 adhesive insulation tape. Simply wrap around your pipes to reduce heat loss. 
  • The federal government will reimburse you for 30% of the cost, up to $1,500 for highly efficient insulation. Additionally, low-income households can qualify for an average of $6,500 worth of weatherization improvements to their homes through government programs administered by each state. Find out about your state's program by contacting contacting local agencies and utilities.
  • Be creative. Instead of always turning up the heat, bring the family around the fire to share stories together. Wear an extra sweater. Sleep with socks on. Anything you can do to save a little green this winter will go a long way for your wallets come spring. 

Doggie Sweaters are great.
Find some great options here.

And for multi-seasonal suggestions, here are a few.
  • First, test your home for air tightness. On a windy day, hold a lit incense stick next to your windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches, and other locations where there is a possible air path to the outside. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing, or weatherstripping
  • Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows that leak air.
  • Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring penetrates through exterior walls, floors, ceilings, and soffits over cabinets.
  • Install rubber gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on exterior walls.
  • Look for dirty spots in your insulation, which often indicate holes where air leaks into and out of your house. You can seal the holes by stapling sheets of plastic over the holes and caulking the edges of the plastic.
  • Install storm windows over single-pane windows or replace them with double-pane windows. Storm windows as much as double the R-value of single-pane windows and they can help reduce drafts, water condensation, and frost formation. As a less costly and less permanent alternative, you can use a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape clear plastic film to the inside of your window frames during the cold winter months. Remember, the plastic must be sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration.
  • When the fireplace is not in use, keep the flue damper tightly closed. A chimney is designed specifically for smoke to escape, so until you close it, warm air escapes—24 hours a day!
  • For new construction, reduce exterior wall leaks by either installing house wrap, taping the joints of exterior sheathing, or comprehensively caulking and sealing the exterior walls.

Have any tips of your own? Please share them with us by commenting below. Thanks.
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