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 d├ęcor. 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.

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