Episode 64: Adventures in Candyland

Episode 64: Adventures in Candyland

Introduction:

This week, Stephanie Stuckey tells Jay Goltz and Dana White about moving closer to the candy factory she recently bought to get a better feel for the people, the operation, and the challenges. Right now, those challenges include recruiting enough employees, absorbing increased supplier prices, and figuring out how much she should raise her own prices: “We can only give up so much of our margin, right?” she tells us. To which Jay responds, Why give up any? Plus: we talk about competing for labor with Amazon, whether to require employees to get vaccinated, how to manage legal fees, and whether Dana’s feelings of FUD have eased.

— Loren Feldman

Guests:

Stephanie Stuckey is CEO of Stuckey’s Corporation.

Jay Goltz is founder and CEO of Artists Frame Service and Jayson Home.

Dana White is founder and CEO of Paralee Boyd hair salons.

Producer:

Jess Thoubboron is founder of Blank Word Productions.

Full Episode Transcript:

Loren Feldman:
Welcome Jay, Stephanie, and Dana. Great to have you here. Stephanie, let’s start with you. The last time we talked to you, I think you said you were going to pick up and move to Wrens, Georgia, where your factory is. Did you do that?

Stephanie Stuckey:
I didn’t move full-time, but I am here for several weeks, and it’s been quite the eye-opener. There’s a difference in managing a company from your desk and actually being boots on the ground in the factory, seeing how things operate. So, yes, I’m semi-permanently here, at least for three weeks. This is nearing the end of week two.

Loren Feldman:
Are you living in the factory?

Stephanie Stuckey:
I’ve rented an Airbnb. It’s lovely.

Loren Feldman:
And give us a quick overview. Are you happy with what you’re learning? Or concerned? Where’s your head at?

Stephanie Stuckey:
A bit of everything. I think we are experiencing at Stuckey’s the same thing that you see throughout the manufacturing sector and throughout industry and business in general. We’re struggling with employees and making sure that we’re fully staffed. We are having supply chain issues, and we’re having issues with pricing. We are trying to figure out if we need to raise our prices, we’ve discussed this before on the show— because all down the supply chain, we’re having increases. We’re getting to the point where, if we’re going to start paying people more, plus we’re having to pay more for our product, at some point, we can only give up so much of our margin, right? So that’s what we’re grappling with.

But the labor issue in particular, it’s been so important to actually watch on the factory floor, see the different lines, understand the different job skills, and make sure we have put in place a structure—not only for entry-level positions, but where people can feel like this is a place that they can stay.

Loren Feldman:
Where do you stand right now, in terms of labor? Do you have enough people?

Stephanie Stuckey:
We don’t. So we’ve got a plan: We have put together a compensation structure, and we want to shore up the existing staff before we move into offering an entry-level position where the pay is higher. Because we can’t offer entry-level people more than people who’ve already been here working the lines for a year or two. Not only are we putting in place a pay proposal where we’re going to give increases for the existing team, but we’re also going to put in training. We’re going to put in specific skill-sets and metrics that you have to hit, and if you do that, then you can advance up and earn more pay.

We’re making sure we’ve got a tiered strategy, and we want to make sure we train people so that they can work on different lines. Right now, you tend to work in the pecan line, or you work on the chocolate line. You work in the packaging room. But there’s very little crossover from one line to the other in the factory. We really want to be able to cross-train. That actually happened yesterday. We needed to get more pralines, and we had to pull people from other lines to come in and help us make the pecan pralines—we’re covering our pecans in a praline flavor—and so we had to train them up before we could even start with the production, and that delayed everything. We didn’t meet our quota and so we’re gonna have to work on Saturday. That’s just the reality of not having a strong structure in place. We’re addressing it.

Loren Feldman:
How many openings are you trying to fill right now?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Good question. I think immediate openings—and we’re talking entry-level, working in the factory—10. But we’re going to be scaling up very quickly, because pecan season starts in August, so it’s really important that we try to get this structure in place as soon as possible and prototype it with the candy plant, which has a much smaller staff. Fully-staffed, we will probably be about 35 on the candy line, but the pecan line is triple that.

And the other thing we’re working on is an incentive program. I know a lot of companies do this, but it totally makes sense. If you bring a friend to come work with us, you’ll get an automatic hiring bonus for bringing your friend on. And if the friend hits a six-month mark staying with us, then we’ll add another bonus. We’re trying to put incentives in place to refer friends and help our employees. I think they can be some of the best ambassadors for working here and help them feel like they’re part of making sure we’re fully staffed and fully operational.

Loren Feldman:
On a previous episode, Stephanie, you mentioned some concern that Amazon would be opening up a distribution center not far from you in the not-too-distant future, and paying people upwards of $15 an hour. Have you figured out how much you’re going to have to raise that entry level wage?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Ideally, yeah, you meet what Amazon’s paying, but we can’t, so not right now. Our solution to that is our entry-level is going to be lower, but we have a program in place where you can rapidly start hitting these metrics and increasing your pay. That’s been our workaround. As people build up their skill-sets, we’re going to have a pathway where they will very soon be making higher level wages that would be competitive.

I’ve just been talking to the workers and I understand what their job duties are. I’m talking to them in the break room and asking, like, “Where are you from? How far is your commute?” Most of them live here in Wrens, Georgia, and they like the fact that they live right here. They don’t have to get in their car. Transportation’s an issue with some of these minimum wage workers or entry-level workers. To be able to work literally right where you live and be able to walk to work or bike to work or easily carpool, that makes a difference. They’d have a 40-minute commute to work for Amazon. We’re trying as much as possible to see if we can just recruit here in Wrens.

Jay Goltz:
Can I just throw in that Amazon is not gonna hire every employee on Earth, right? And everyone acts as though, “Oh, Amazon’s paying that. We have to…” Really? Hire 40 million people? You also said something in the beginning that I just want to play back. You said, “You can only absorb so much loss of margin.”

Stephanie Stuckey:
That’s right.

Jay Goltz:
Okay. I would ask you the question—

Stephanie Stuckey:
Why absorb any? I knew you were going to ask that, Jay. I was thinking, “Jay is gonna say, ‘Don’t absorb any margin.’”

Jay Goltz:
But did you see how much self-control I have? I waited a couple minutes. [Laughter] No, but think about it. Home Depot was paying a dollar to buy two-by-fours. Now they’re paying four. Do you think they reduced their margins? No, they’re making a lot of money, charging more for the same markup.

I saw a guy on CNN, a restaurant owner, being interviewed. He’s having a hard time finding people, and he says he doesn’t want to raise prices, because the customers would have to pay. And so what are the other options? Give really bad service? Or go out of business? Those are better options? It’s an entrepreneur problem—the fear of, “Oh my God, if I raise prices, it makes me a bad business person.” No, it makes you a responsible business person.

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yeah I mean, it’s marketing. It’s how you communicate the quality. The driving force behind me wanting to buy a candy plant and get into manufacturing is that we can control the quality. Oh, by the way, we just got SQF-certified this week, which was a two-year effort.

Loren Feldman:
Tell us what exactly that means.

Stephanie Stuckey:
So that predated our acquisition of the company, but that was a big selling point, that we were going to get that certification. SQF certification is a food quality program, and it’s very intensive. If you are in the food business and manufacturing business, there are certain standards that you have to adhere to in order to get this certification. It deals with cleanliness. It deals with procedures and processes that you put into place. It deals with workplace safety. It’s very intense, and once you get it, it makes you much more marketable, your product.

There are a lot of big box retailers like Costco and Cracker Barrel and Walmart and the list goes on and on. They either insist that you have SQF certification, or it’s a plus factor when they’re putting out an RFP for a new product. They look at that, and it definitely helps you be more competitive. But it also just shows that you have good quality.

We have SQF certification and then our product is real chocolate. Real vanilla. It’s not fake vanilla. It’s unrefined sugar, no high fructose corn syrup. We’re putting in the very best ingredients, and that’s going to cost more, but you’re going to be able to taste the difference. Paying people to do quality work by hand also affects the quality of your products. A lot of this is going to be marketing, we just have to put out there, “We may be raising our prices, but you’re going to get what you pay for.” It’s going to be an absolutely delicious product.

Dana White:
I have a question about the hiring, Stephanie. For the referral program. Is there a cap on how many people an employee can refer?

Stephanie Stuckey:
We haven’t implemented it yet. That’s a great question. That was not part of the proposal that was put together. We have an outside HR consultant who came in, and he works in a lot of food manufacturing facilities. He knows our space, and he put the suggestion together. There was not a cap in the proposal he put together. What do you think?

Jay Goltz:
Why would you need a cap?

Dana White:
I would. I have a friend of mine who’s in the manufacturing space, who had people working for them on a referral basis, and unless your culture is stronger than their relationship, you’ll have a ripple effect when there are problems. You’ll have one person who’s working and then they’ll have an attitude, and then all of a sudden, you start noticing that this group of people has this problem. They become a group-think. It’s just that these people lived together, worked together, their families were intertwined, and the leader—the matriarch—left, and five people left behind her. She brought all those five people with her. So be mindful when you hire that the referral program is a great idea, but just make sure that they’re not too tied to this person.

Stephanie Stuckey:
Well, that’s a terrific point. And Loren, if there are any listeners who have that experience, I’d welcome in the comments when this airs for listeners to share any advice or experience they have.

Loren Feldman:
I’d love to hear that, too. You know, it’s funny, with all the things I’ve been reading about the labor shortage and how desperate people are getting to hire, I kind of wonder if that might be a luxury to worry about at this point. It seems like so many people just need to hire people. They’re relaxing standards or doing all kinds of things that I never would have expected them to do.

Dana White:
I’m in that boat, and I still hold it, because I’ve learned. We’ve never hired like four or five people as a group, but we’ve hired sisters, mother-daughters, and we’ve learned that if one isn’t performing and we hold them accountable, then both are affected. And it’s only a matter of time before both quit.

Jay Goltz:
Certainly, that’s a problem. I would argue it’s not about limiting how many referrals. Perhaps you shouldn’t be hiring mothers, daughters, immediate family members. Maybe that’s a smarter strategy. You can send in as many as you want, but don’t send in your child.

Dana White:
It’s not just that. It’s their relationships. So it’s not just family. We’ve had people who were neighbors, but they’ve been neighbors for 10 years.

Stephanie Stuckey:
I would also say it’s important to take a step back and look at this. Because you can form cliques and divisions within a company whether you refer a friend or those just form post-employment. I think the bigger picture is: Are you cultivating a culture where people feel like they belong to the company? That they’re working for something that really is meaningful to them.

Jay Goltz:
No, that’s all good, but I have an answer to that. The answer is, yes, when you’ve got the right people, that’s all true. We’re talking about bringing strangers in. You don’t know who you’re hiring, and that’s where the issue is. This isn’t cliques of people that have worked for you for five or ten or three years.

Loren Feldman:
Jay, I want to go back to what you said about Amazon. Obviously, no one thinks that Amazon is going to hire everybody. But especially in a rural or semi-rural rural area, if Amazon comes in and opens a distribution center or one of their huge warehouses, that’s gonna have an impact on what other people pay in the area. So what are you saying?

Jay Goltz:
No, here’s what I’m saying. People act as though, all of a sudden, because Amazon’s there, it changes everything.

Loren Feldman:
But they’re hiring a lot of people.

Jay Goltz:
They are, and certainly in some situations, I’m sure it’s devastating. But generally speaking, it’s a gigantic pool of people. What percentage of employees is Amazon hiring? Like in Chicago, it can’t be a 10th of a percent. Now maybe in a small town, it’s 80 percent.

Loren Feldman:
But it has ripple effects. We’ve covered this in the Morning Report a little bit. I’ve seen people make the argument that, to some extent, Amazon is setting a de facto minimum wage, because you have other companies—restaurants, chains, Chipotle—that have raised their minimum wage in reaction to Amazon.

Jay Goltz:
Except that’s a stew. There are so many other things going on in the world right now between people staying at home, taking care of their kids, people who are still getting unemployment checks. There are so many other factors involved. You can’t just go, “Oh, it’s Amazon.” And I think some people are thinking, “Oh, it’s Amazon.” No, it’s not just Amazon. There are six different things that are affecting this quote-unquote labor shortage, because one should take a pause and go, “And why do we have a labor shortage?” It is a little curious.

Loren Feldman:
Wait, that’s a different issue.

Jay Goltz:
Well, no, but it’s gotten in people’s heads, and they think that it’s all about Amazon. To call it a “de facto minimum wage” is pushing it a little bit. It certainly has an effect on the market. But it’s not like, “Oh, you must pay…” In Chicago, it’s moot, simply because the minimum wage in two weeks is going to be $15 an hour. So for me, it doesn’t matter. It’s 15 bucks either way. But if you’re out in another place where there’s no Amazon around, it’s not like they’re hiring 50 percent of the employees out there. I think it’s been overplayed a little bit. It certainly has an effect.

Stephanie Stuckey:
I agree with you, Jay. I think it’s overplayed. You have to look at the myriad of factors, and you have to focus on what’s your differentiator. Stuckey’s can’t compete with Amazon, but we can stress what makes us a great place to work. A lot of that is going to be culture, treating people right, being a hometown local business. Cultivating employees who live and work right here in Wrens, Georgia, getting to know the community, being a part of the community. We’re just trying to figure out—and, of course, be more competitive. There is an impact. If Amazon’s paying $15 an hour, we’re going to absolutely have to increase our wages somewhat to be at least in shooting range of being competitive.

Jay Goltz:
No, for sure. We absolutely have dramatically increased our starting wages, partially because we’re forced to with a minimum wage, but I guess there’s kind of my black and white argument. Yes, I have to, for sure, because the Chicago minimum wage is $15. That’s not the same as, “Oh, I’ve got an Amazon 10 miles from me, I’ve gotta raise them.” I mean, there’s some truth to it. But it’s certainly not like having a minimum wage.

Loren Feldman:
Stephanie, tell us more about your factory. Any other surprises, pleasant or otherwise?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Just little things that you notice if you’re actually on-site. For example, because of COVID, the break room has largely been shut down, and it is starting to open up, but the break room’s pretty dismal. The refrigerator only half works. The freezer part isn’t working, and it’s really grungy. I was just thinking we need to brighten up the break room. We need to get some vending machines in here. People don’t have anywhere to sit outside, so they’re taking their lunch breaks in their cars.

That’s not really building a community. If we had some nice benches with some awnings, people could sit outside and get to know one a nother and have a nice break. Just being on-site and actually observing, I make a point several times a day, “It’s great to get away from your desk.” I put on my lovely hairnet, and I walk the factory floor, and I understand, “What are you making? How do you make it? What’s the process? How many units do we…? How many pounds do…? What’s our production goal for the day? For the week? What orders are refilling? Where are they shipping to?” There’s no substitute for just really being on the ground and understanding how things work.

Jay Goltz:
I’ve been running a factory for 30 years, and I can tell you some significant things I did. They cost very little. First of all, I’ve got, let’s say, 40 production workers. If you walk into my break room, you’d notice I’ve got like six microwaves. Why should someone have to wait in line to microwave—

Stephanie Stuckey:
And microwaves are so inexpensive. Easy fix!

Jay Goltz:
Right. They’re like under $100. It’s unbelievable. Why not have a whole line of them so nobody has to wait? Number two, I’ve got like three refrigerators. Refrigerators are cheap. Here’s the third one that’s very tricky that I can’t emphasize enough. I found this one out years ago. Everybody’s got a locker.

Stephanie Stuckey:
We have that.

Jay Goltz:
Good. I think that is critical. It just makes a difference. My break room’s nice, and they appreciate the fact. You’ve only got a limited amount of time. Why would you want to wait two minutes for someone to get their food out of the thing? Yeah, simple things.

Stephanie Stuckey:
You clock in, clock out. So absolutely.

Jay Goltz:
Actually the only expense you’re gonna have, I’m warning you, is you probably have to put another electrical thing in, because if you put six microwave waves on one line, it’s too much. So you might have to pay a little electrical to get another line put in there, but it’s well worth it. It costs next to nothing when you amortize it.

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yeah, I think things like an appealing break room, they make a big difference.

Loren Feldman:
Jay, anything going on in your shop, in terms of coming out of the pandemic? Anything happening with masks or vaccination?

Jay Goltz:
I just spent an entire hour on a Zoom call with all my managers discussing the mask thing, because I’ve got everything from a factory with people working fairly close to each other, to a framing showroom where customers are coming in, to an outdoor garden where Jayson Home sells plants. I’ve got a 6,000-square-foot space out there with plants that are outside, two in the store. We’re trying to figure out: masks? No masks? Is it voluntary? It took us an hour to flesh this out because it’s not simple. Number one, we decided, right or wrong: We are going to ask if they’ve been vaccinated. We’re not going to ask them why they haven’t. Number three, if they want to wear a mask, they certainly can wear a mask. Number four, there are certain areas where everyone needs to still wear masks because 50 percent of my production people have not gotten a vaccination and we cannot—

Loren Feldman:
You’ve already asked them. You know that already?

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, we’ve asked them. Fifty percent of them haven’t had it. And in Chicago—I looked it up the other day—it’s down to about 5 percent of what it was at the peak. 5 percent of people are getting affected compared to the peak of it. Like when it gets down to three, maybe that’s going to be a game-changer.

Then the question becomes: Do you ask for documentation that they’ve had the vaccinations? And I said, “I think that’s insulting to someone who’s worked here a long time.” But then the guy in the factory says, “Some people are concerned about other people not telling the truth.” So then the question is: Do you leave it up to the managers? And after an hour, I agreed. “Okay, tell everybody, please bring in the document.” I’m not thrilled about it. But if I had to choose between leaving it up to each manager or not… We’re asking for your documentation, and we’re also going to look at this every single week, because things are changing quickly.

Loren Feldman:
There are no ramifications for someone who isn’t vaccinated, other than they have to wear a mask?

Jay Goltz:
Right. I do not feel comfortable mandating that you’ve got to go get a shot. Everybody’s got their own personal thing. I’m not thrilled they don’t have the shot, but I am not about to start telling people, “Go get a shot or you’re fired.” So we’re going to make them wear masks, and then it gets to the issue of it’s getting hot out, and it’s a little more uncomfortable. But this can be very different three or four weeks from now. But right now, the customers aren’t hassling us yet. They’re coming in, putting a mask on, but it’s changing quickly.

I would just say, I’ve had Cub tickets for years. They just activated my season tickets. I will tell you, I’m having a hard time selling Friday’s game, which is St. Louis, the hot game. I still think there’s a lot of people who aren’t ready to go to Wrigley Field, and I can kind of tell by how quick these tickets are selling. I don’t think everybody’s throwing off their masks and going, “Woohoo, we’re back to normal!” I still think there’s plenty of the population that’s proceeding carefully.

Loren Feldman:
What’s it like for you, Stephanie, at the factory?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Well, we require face masks when you’re on the food-production line. Whether they’ve been vaccinated or not, we have the face mask required. So we really have not asked people if they—

Loren Feldman:
Was that required before the pandemic?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yes, that’s my understanding.

Loren Feldman:
So that’s just a long-standing rule.

Stephanie Stuckey:
Everyone in the food production area has a face mask and a hairnet and gloves.

Jay Goltz:
You’re making food. I would hope so.

Loren Feldman:
Well, that makes it easier.

Stephanie Stuckey:
Even in the office area, we don’t have a ton of office staff, but the office staff who are there are pretty far apart spaced. So it really has not been an issue. In our warehouse, same thing. People are pretty far apart. We just have two offices in the warehouse, so we really haven’t had to deal with it.

Jay Goltz:
There is no perfect solution to any of this. There is no one size fits all, everyone’s gonna be happy. Somebody can argue, “Wait a second, I had my vaccination. Why do I have to wear a mask?” No matter what you choose, it’s possible someone is going to be unhappy with your choice.

Loren Feldman:
What’s it like for you, Dana? Any issues in your shop?

Dana White:
No, my staff is 100 percent vaccinated. We’re going to ask you to bring in their card. We’re not requiring it, but they all are for both shots. We still have on masks in our salons, because the guests who come in don’t necessarily tell the truth. My priority is taking care of my staff. Even though they’re vaccinated, I still don’t want them to get sick. Even though the vaccine will help them get through it, and it won’t be as harsh on them, I don’t want them to get it at all. And so until the numbers in Michigan go down, even though they’re way down—

Jay Goltz:
Where are they now?

Dana White:
They’re significantly less. I don’t know exactly, as of today, but they’re significantly less. But they’re still there. With the holiday, Memorial Day, they’re still waiting on what that’s going to bring. Again, we’re in masks until it’s way down. A lot of them have said they’ve gotten used to it, without objection. And we’re still taking temperatures at the door. I just can’t risk it. Like I said, this has disproportionately affected the African-American community, and I will not put my staff at risk. And they understand, they come first. Period.

Loren Feldman:
Jay, I want to ask you about something. I know you’ve had an interesting experience lately, hiring a lawyer for a trademark issue. Can you tell us about that situation?

Jay Goltz:
I worked very intensely with autismworkforce.com. We help people hire people on the autism spectrum, and Dave, who runs it, trademarked a phrase.

Loren Feldman:
You’ve talked about this before. In fact, you talked about connecting Dave with Stephanie, and I believe they’ve had conversations.

Jay Goltz:
Right, so he trademarked a phrase, and somebody else was using it. And he contacted them. And they didn’t stop. So he says, “We should really call a lawyer.” So I called a lawyer I’ve known for years, explained Dave’s on a tight budget, and he said, “Don’t worry about it.” Famous last words. “Don’t worry about it.”

So he starts calling the other counsel, and the next thing you know, I’ve got a $5,000 bill, a $6,000 bill. So I go, “Whoa, this is really getting…” “Don’t worry about it. I’ll make an adjustment at the end.” So now it’s up to $9,000, and he gives me a $1,000 credit. And it’s extremely frustrating.

Loren Feldman:
Did the lawyer do a good job?

Jay Goltz:
Not particularly. Well, one mistake was he wasn’t a trademark lawyer. That wasn’t his specialty. I believe a trademark lawyer would have figured out that they’ve got five years to challenge a trademark, and we were about two weeks away from that five years expiring. I believe a trademark lawyer would have said, “Don’t do anything. Wait until their five-year period is up.”

Loren Feldman:
How did you find out that it was expiring?

Jay Goltz:
I had to go play lawyer myself. I thought it was odd that the opposing counsel said, “You’ve got until Friday to tell us whether you’re going to settle this with us.” And I thought, “Why is there all of a sudden a date?” So all I did was Google, and there it all came up. You’ve got five years to challenge a trademark, meaning they could say, “Oh, we were using it first. It’s not really a legitimate trademark.” So then you can go right online, in about 60 seconds, go to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and you can actually see what the date was that it was registered. And I realize, “Wow, Monday is the five-year mark.”

I’m not so sure this thing should have gone on, because if we would have known that, we would have done nothing, basically. So the end of the story is, I got a big legal bill from someone that I’ve known for 30 years. And it’s extremely disappointing. And the only place in my entire career that I haven’t been taken advantage of was from legal bills, because my brother-in-law used to be my lawyer. This guy used to work for my brother-in-law, and my brother-in-law has now retired. It’s just unfortunate. He should have told me, “This is starting to get expensive.” And he knew [Dave] was on a tight [budget]. Nowhere during this process did he say, “Listen, I just want you to know, this is getting expensive.” He was charging $470 an hour. It’s disappointing.

Loren Feldman:
So if you had to do it over, you would go to a trademark attorney, and how would you handle the fee? Is there a way to protect yourself?

Jay Goltz:
I would have asked them, “How much do you think this is going to cost?” And I would have found out what the hourly is, and then I could have made a decision as to whether to proceed. I believe if I did that, they would have explained to me how long they had to challenge it. And I would hope that they would have told me right off the bat, “Don’t do anything. Just wait until the five years is up.” And at that point, they can’t really do anything. That would be number one. Number two is, I guess I’m warning everyone when somebody—and I don’t want to pick on lawyers. There are lots of lovely, honest, hard-working lawyers out there.

Loren Feldman:
Well, let me stop you there. We have one on this call.

Jay Goltz:
Yes, I know, and I don’t want to pick on lawyers. But when a lawyer says, “Don’t worry about it.” When anybody says, “Don’t worry about it…” I certainly didn’t expect it to be free. I figured, I don’t know, two thousand bucks? Three thousand bucks? I didn’t have any expectations set upfront. And when he said he would discount the bill at the end, frankly, I would have thought he would have taken more than $1,000 off a $9,000 bill.

Loren Feldman:
All right. Stephanie, do you have any advice, as a lawyer, for entrepreneurs dealing with lawyers?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Absolutely. So of course, I’m an attorney. I do some things in-house for us, basic contracts. But I’m not a franchise attorney, and I’m not a trademark lawyer. We do have an outside firm that manages that for us, and I’ll typically ask them for a budget. They know we’re a scrappy comeback brand, and I’ll ask, “Can we keep the trademark work to X budget or X number of hours? And can you notify me when you reach this number of hours?” And obviously, most law firms are going to give you a monthly statement. But I ask on top of that, “Have a trigger if you’ve reached this amount. Give me a heads up that I’m two hours away from reaching the 20 hours that I’ve budgeted.” And they’ll work with you, especially depending on the firm. And, okay, I’m not gonna bash Atlanta firms too much, but the rates are higher if you’re in a big city, and I have found really competent counsel in Macon, Georgia; Augusta, Georgia; Savannah, Georgia. So you don’t necessarily have to be in a big city to find really competent counsel.

Jay Goltz:
I mean, the problem is, as you say—which is all good advice—but you say they give you a monthly bill, you can rack up quite a bill in one month. That’s the problem.

Loren Feldman:
Or they can alert you that you’ve run through your budget, but there’s still work that obviously has to be done. What do you do then?

Jay Goltz:
He thought nothing of sending these bills out after he said, “Don’t worry about it.” I mean, it’s just stunning. And I’ve known this guy for 30 years. To say it’s disappointing is a mild understatement.

Stephanie Stuckey:
I try to do as much as possible for the attorney, to make it easier for them. And even if you don’t have a law degree, you can organize the paperwork. You can make sure everything is given to them in a really structured fashion and be really clear about what you want.

Jay Goltz:
Dave did all of that, and the part that’s particularly frustrating is Dave is helping autistic kids get jobs, for God’s sake. He’s working like a dog. It’s making a difference. It’s not like it’s for my company.

Stephanie Stuckey:
Well, I’m sorry to hear that. If I can just slightly switch the topic to the hiring of people with autism, I want to thank you, Jay, for making those connections. That’s something we’re still exploring. We do have an employee now with autism, who is doing really well. I think the key is making sure that it’s very structured and that it’s a safe environment. But a lot of factory or line-worker tasks, which are repetitive and somewhat monotonous, are well-suited.

Jay Goltz:
They thrive in that environment. The key—we have universities following us now—is you’ve got to train the company. “Here’s the environment.” Every single person who has exposure needs to understand it. Our success rate is unbelievable. Whereas some of these agencies put square pegs in round holes and their failure rate is 80 percent, we’re shooting—it’s not going to continue—but so far, we’re like at 100 percent. Every person we placed is working out well, and it’s working. It’s all about training both the employee and the companies and bringing those two things together. And I will tell you, we got one short email from somebody. He said, “Dear Dave, thank you for hiring my brother Gary. He just needed someone to believe in him.”

Loren Feldman:
Stephanie, the person you’re referring to, is that somebody who was brought on recently?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yes, and I don’t want to say too much. I want to protect people’s privacy, but yes. We have a team process. You work on lines and your team’s on a line. People on the immediate team are aware. You have to interact with persons with Asperger’s and autism in a certain way, so making sure they’re aware of that is really important. Jay’s right. It’s not just training the individuals who are the workers, but it’s training their team members, anyone in contact with them, to make sure they understand. They might not like to be touched. They might need to have a very structured way of managing their task and their workload. So just knowing that—

Jay Goltz:
Here’s the issue: If you don’t get it 100 percent right, it’s gonna fail. Ninety percent won’t do, which means, for instance, you do everything right, except you keep changing your schedule, it’s gonna throw the whole thing off. If anyone’s interested: autismworkforce.com. We’ve got a lot of info on there. We’ve got a vice president of a company talking about how well it’s working. He said one thing, I laughed out loud. He says, “You can’t take things personally. I say, ‘Good morning,’ and they usually ignore me.” Which, yeah, I mean, it’s fine. He got it. But they are thrilled at how well everything’s working.

So if you do it right, it’s great. If you do it wrong, you’re going to end up with a devastating failure for the employee and their families. You really need to pay attention to it. But there’s tremendous payoff. This isn’t just a social good thing. This is good for business, because once you get them locked in, they’ll be one of your best employees.

Loren Feldman:
We’re running short on time, but I want to make sure we go back to Dana White and talk to you about our conversation from last week. Dana, you told us last week that you were experiencing what you called FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt about going into franchising. You said it was primarily related to some customer service issues that had come up. But throughout the course of the conversation, you seemed to be feeling a little bit better. Paul and Jay, I think you referred to them as having taken a little bit of a Magic Eraser to your FUD. I’m wondering if that lasted. How are you feeling now?

Dana White:
Yeah, it lasted, and it grew. And not only did it grow because of further conversations with Jay, but also conversations with the franchise consulting team. I had a one-hour conversation yesterday, and their concern was that they didn’t know. And they really are committed to supporting me. There are things that you just shouldn’t be dealing with, and definitely shouldn’t be dealing with without us. And this is one of them. But I didn’t feel that this was something that they could help me with. And they said, “Oh, outside of the fact that we should be there to be able to listen to you, and we want you to know that you could have brought those feelings to us.” That’s why they coined the phrase “the FUD.”

The other part is the listeners of this podcast. I was so surprised to get the messages. One lady emailed me and said, “You know, I understand that Jay and Paul were trying to help you, but I think there were things lost because they’re not women. And I think they didn’t quite understand how bad it is for you.” And what’s funny is when I read it, I laughed, because it was in a subsequent conversation with Jay that he said, “Listen, hands up, I can’t even imagine.”

But the listeners emailing me through LinkedIn have been like: “Keep going. Put it in perspective.” One person said—which has resonated with me, and I kept it with me—is, “Understanding that when it’s nasty for the listener, it’s coming from a nasty and hurtful place. And so you can’t really take it and figure out how it can benefit your company and how you can improve. And that’s coming from a jealousy place.” So I’m not quick to say, “Oh, it’s jealousy.” I’ve really tried to dissect it, and I think I’ve gone too far with that. And they said, “When it’s nasty, you’re too capable, you’re too smart, to not understand, to not get it quickly, where it’s coming from. So spend a little less time on the nastiness and understand, ‘Okay, if it’s nasty, it’s not coming from a good place.’”

But the listeners of this podcast have been amazing, and they just wanted to lend support. I didn’t want to sound like I was whining. Nobody said that, but I was afraid I might. When we hit end, I was like, “Oh my god, did I just have a tantrum?” No, I think I made a call for help, and the listeners and the people at iFranchise Group responded, and the iFranchise Group is still responding. It’s been great.

Jay Goltz:
I did say on there, “I’ve never had anyone attack me like that, and it must be horrible.” I fully acknowledged that.

Loren Feldman:
You did.

Dana White:
Yup, he did.

Loren Feldman:
I’m a little surprised the iFranchise Group said they could help with this. Do you know what they have in mind?

Dana White:
Again, their thing was, “It’s not getting in and coming there and helping you with customer service.” It’s more, “We want you to feel comfortable talking to us.” And I think after speaking to my strategy person—her name is Chris, she’s amazing—it’s making sure I keep focus.

I think Loren, you put your finger on it so aptly when you said, “A lot of this was heightened because you’re going through this process.” And so the iFranchise Group, I believe, wants to be there for me when I want to talk about these issues and help me focus, to say, “Look, we’ve been doing this since the 90’s, and this is what we see at Paralee Boyd. And this is how we think you’re doing, and this is what we know,” reminding me where I am as a business owner and what this process can do for me. Understanding that you’ve got private equity people already talking to you, and you’re not even through your process yet. “We’ve done your pro forma. This is what your numbers look like. This is how successful this franchise is going to be. Because out of our 30 years of experience, this is where you fit in the spectrum of things.” And so that’s what they mean by help—just giving me a perspective to help say, “No, don’t focus on that. Look at this.”

Loren Feldman:
One last thing before we go. Jay, last week before we signed off, you bet Paul $10 that you would have a bank loan signed, sealed and delivered this week.

Jay Goltz:
I didn’t say signed, sealed, and delivered. I can only tell you that I have one of those credit monitoring things and got dinged yesterday, and they checked my credit.

Loren Feldman:
I think Paul’s claiming the $10, Jay.

Jay Goltz:
I have every expectation that—

Loren Feldman:
You said you would have a bad bank loan this week.

Jay Goltz:
No, I didn’t say it was gonna be done by Thursday.

Loren Feldman:
They’re checking your credit. You don’t have a bank loan.

Jay Goltz:
I do. It’s Friday. Today’s Thursday. They’re checking my credit. Today’s Thursday. Probably by tomorrow, I’ll have a bank loan. I’ll stick my neck out and tell you I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t go through.

Loren Feldman:
My thanks to Jay Goltz, Stephanie Stuckey, and Dana White. As always, guys, thanks so much for sharing.

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