Episode 17: You’re Not Human Anymore. You’re the Boss. Deal With It

In this week’s report from the front lines of the crisis, we talked about overcoming the fear of raising prices (during a pandemic!), deciding when is the time to tell employees they have to come back if they want their jobs, and finding opportunities amid the crisis disruption. But the focal point of the conversation was Dana White discussing her realization that she’s been more productive during the crisis, even with her hair salons shut down, than at any other time since she started her business seven years ago. “I have been emotionally drained for years,” she told us. “And because I've been emotionally drained, I have not grown my business.”

Guests:

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

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

Producer:

Jess Thoubboron is founder of Blank Word Productions.

Episode Highlights:

Dana White: “I have a confession. I am afraid to raise my prices because I’m focusing on the naysayer customers.”

Jay Goltz: “What would be the point of having happy customers when you’re going broke?”

Full Episode Transcript:

Loren Feldman:
Let’s get started. Dana, we haven’t spoken with you in a couple of weeks. What’s going on with Paralee Boyd?

Dana White:
I’ve gotten the plans together for when we reopen. I had a conversation with my manager and my operations manager about what that will look like and what that means for the staff. I will keep both our staff and guests safe. I’ve been working on growing Paralee Boyd, which is updating the website, doing marketing as far as meeting my customers where they are, developing a product line of CBD hair growth products, because there aren’t really that many that are geared toward—

Loren Feldman:
I’m sorry, using what?

Dana White:
CBD, which is cannabis.

Loren Feldman:
Oh, it just didn’t make sense to me in the context of hair. What’s the purpose of using it in a hair product?

Dana White:
Cannabis has a lot of great uses, and so I have been doing my online research and understanding what my market needs. They want their hair to be thick and they want it to grow and there are things out there—castor oils and such for growth and thickening—but I wanted to kick it up a notch. So I started doing my research and talking to people who know about the hemp plant and they said, “Dana, cannabis is the way to go.” Or CBD, which has no THC, so you can’t get lifted from CBD.

What I’ve been doing [is] I’ve been spending time on the phone with CBD suppliers, as well as sources of where I can get the other ingredients in bulk for my haircare products that I’m going to use and then developing a treatment in the salon for hair growth and thickening based on some of the things we already do. I’ve also been putting together kits for branding, so that’s speaking with vendors overseas to determine what their prices are for paddle brushes, bobby pins, hair clips, everything to make the Paralee Boyd brand so you can get a nighttime hair-care kit that includes a satin pillowcase or hair bonnet shipped to you at home.

We have not gone into the product/retail space. My brand is trusted. Women trust Paralee Boyd to come in and get their hair done, and I’m hoping that when we launch these products, that they will still put their trust in that brand knowing that we can take care of them at home.

Loren Feldman:
Dana, would these kits that you’re talking about be a one-time purchase or a subscription?

Dana White:
A little bit of both. You can buy a satin pillowcase or a headscarf, but you may need another one. And of course, the products will run out, so the hair growth oil, if you still want to keep using it, and the shampoo and conditioners are going to run out, so you can purchase those again. You may buy a blow dryer one time until the blow dryer dies and you can buy another one.

This subscription idea was brought to me, and I’m thinking about it. But I’m really just focused on what our retail is going to do. If I’m seeing guests are repeatedly buying products, I will probably turn it into a subscription for those that are interested.

Loren Feldman:
Have you thought about the pricing for these kits?

Dana White:
I have, and it was funny, I was on the phone with another small business owner last week, and she told me that I was pricing way too low. So right now—

Loren Feldman:
That sounds familiar, Dana.

Dana White:
Yeah, sounds familiar. Yeah, it’s a symptom. What I’m putting together is the cost of the CBD—the cost of everything—the cost to bottle, and then once I have that price, just kind of running it past some other business owners who have retail and deciding what my markup should be—which is a hefty balance between what my people will pay and the cost to produce it. I want to not do it too low, which is something I do, and just do it at the right price.

Loren Feldman:
Well, since you’re referring to it, let’s talk about that. We have spoken in the past about your pricing of your basic service at your hair salons. As you start to think about reopening, have you given any more thought to how and when you might raise your prices for your salon service?

Dana White:
Yes, I have, and the balance right now is not to do it too soon, but don’t leave money on the table when it comes to opening. So I think that’s a matter of communication with my guests. First, it’s a matter, as an owner, of picking a date. And if I’ve learned anything during Covid-19, it’s picking a date by putting Paralee Boyd first, but not putting Paralee Boyd first to the point where your guests think that you only care about Paralee Boyd and you don’t care about them.

It’s a matter of picking a date and communicating with my customers—not that we’re raising our prices as a reaction to COVID-19, but we’re raising our prices because it’s not something we’ve done in the past seven years and it’s time. Giving them enough headway. It’s not a matter of months. It may not even be a matter of weeks, but communicating to them that these are our plans, and we’re going to go forward with these plans on this date.

Loren Feldman:
Jay, what do you think of that? I can certainly understand why this could seem like an awkward time to raise prices in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis. On the other hand, this might be the time when people would understand it best. What do you think?

Jay Goltz:
I don’t think they need to understand it. They just need to pay it. And the fact of the matter is, telling them, “We haven’t raised our prices in seven years” kind of says it all. At 2 percent inflation for seven years compounded, that’s about 15 percent or so. That means that $40 seven years ago is now $46. So to raise your price, I think I would take it to $46, and then in a year from now, raise it to $50 or $48 or something.

But I’m telling you this: If you said to me, Jay, I’m gonna give you 10 seconds to blurt out something to the Jay from 30 years ago, what would you blurt out? The first thing I would blurt out is, “Raise your prices.” Because it’s emotionally difficult. I have been underpriced my whole career, and I was growing like crazy. We’re not talking about 20 percent. We’re talking about 3, 4, or 5 percent. It’s the value proposition. I give a tremendous value, and you’re giving a tremendous value. And frankly, it was a mistake not to raise prices $1 every year for the last seven years. You’re making up for it.

This is a common entrepreneur mistake: “Oh my God, if I raise my prices, I’ll lose all my customers,” and that’s just not how it works. I don’t think there’s any apology needed. “I haven’t raised them in seven years. We need to raise our prices.” Period. End of story.

And, important: train your staff. Somebody is going to complain. Count on it. “Oh my god, Dana! See, Mrs. Smith yesterday, she really laid me out.” Yeah, we figured that into the formula. Someone’s gonna complain. Deal with it. They’re gonna complain, sorry. Everything else has gone up, our costs are going up, it’s the way it is. They don’t have to all be happy. Here’s the point: if 3 percent of the people leave and never come back, you’re still way better off. Count on it. Figure it in. Tell your employees, “We’re going to lose 3 percent of our customers.”

Loren Feldman:
Okay, it’s easy for Jay and me to tell you to raise your prices, but it’s your business and you know your customers better than anyone. Was that convincing, Dana?

Dana White:
It was. But again, it’s still a matter of timing. The other component to raising our prices is we have been functioning, but we haven’t been operating. I just believe that we need to communicate the growth and the changes that we’ve made before telling the guests that we’re going to raise the prices, even though it’s just to raise the prices. What I don’t want my guests to feel is, “I’m getting the same old thing.” No, there have been a lot of changes. Again, it’s communication. It could go out in an email, and then the prices could go up a week later. I just don’t want to open, and now prices are $50. I also don’t want to open, and then one month later, prices are $50.

Either way, I think it’s important that I communicate with my guests, because I’ve kept my prices the same for seven years, and give them time, not a lot of time, but enough time to let it sink in. It may not take a lot of time. They may get the email and go, “Great, there it is. Done.”

Jay Goltz:
Why would you go from seven years of not having the stomach to raise prices to all of a sudden flicking the switch, and you’re raising them 25 percent? If I were you, I would take it to $46. I don’t know that I’d take a 25 percent increase. That’s more than inflation. You’ve just lost your inflation argument. On top of which, you still have this guilt thing. You’ve got to give them more. No, it’s called inflation. You don’t have to give them any more. Everything else went up 2 percent a year for the last seven years. They’re making 7 percent more, everybody. How many people in this world would say, “I haven’t had a raise in seven years”? I don’t think many.

Loren Feldman:
What does someone in your market have to pay to get a comparable service? I’m not sure there is a comparable service.

Dana White:
There is, and it’s a lot more expensive than what I’m offering, even if I inflated prices. Like I talk to people all the time—

Loren Feldman:
What are people paying elsewhere then?

Dana White:
Sixty, seventy dollars. So that’s why I was gonna take it to $50, and I was about to ask Jay, “Do you think I should not take the price to 50?”

Jay Goltz:
Well if you’re that under market… I don’t know, maybe. That is part of the formula. I didn’t know that when I said that. If you’re that under market, maybe that’s appropriate. Frankly, most people aren’t going to do the math. They don’t know what inflation is, and they can’t do the math. So they’re not going to go, “Wait a second, 2 percent inflation for the last seven years…” Maybe it does make sense then.

Loren Feldman:
The assumption we’ve made throughout this entire crisis is that Dana is the one business in this group of business owners who can expect lines out the door. People are going to be desperate. Isn’t this the right time to raise prices?

Dana White:
I think it’s the right time, but I don’t think it’s the right time immediately. Again, I want to be transparent with my guests, and I want them to know that this was something that we had planned on before. I don’t want my guests to walk in and feel that they’re being expected to pay more because we need to make up for COVID-19. I want them to know that we are raising our prices because it’s time. Oh, and by the way, it just so happened to be at the tail end of a pandemic. That’s the difference.

I feel if I opened tomorrow, “Oh, and by the way, you guys, it’s now $50.” Now, they still may pay it, but the branding is important and the message to my guests is very important.

Jay Goltz:
I wouldn’t argue with you that waiting a month, just so that’s behind you, and say, “Okay, we haven’t raised our prices in seven years.” I wouldn’t argue, “Why do it the day you open? Why not wait a month to do it?” But I’ll tell you something else, which is critical to this. I know the picture-framing business. I don’t know the hair salon business. Your margin, like in framing, I’ve had to explain to people, “If you raised your prices 10 percent, you’d have to lose 30 percent of your customers to lose any money.” And their eyes open up wide, and I show it on a whiteboard, and they finally get it. “Oh my God, that’s crazy!” So my question to you is, what’s your breakeven analysis on that? If you raise your price to $50, you know how much you pay your people. How much business would you have to lose before you’d lose a dime on that?

Dana White:
A lot.

Jay Goltz:
A lot, because right off the bat, that’s 25 percent more money coming in. So if you lost 20 percent of your customers, you’d be back at even. You’d have to lose well more than 20 percent of your customers. I mean, if that doesn’t say it, I don’t know what does.

Dana White:
Yeah, in our slow season, we only see about 400 to 600 guests a month. We’d have to lose a significant amount of guests in order for that to happen. But here’s the thing, I don’t think the pricing is what’s going to turn people away. I think if we’re not doing our service standard, if we’re not taking care of our guests, and then asking them to pay, then it’s an issue. For me, I want to let guests know that, because of this pandemic, we’re operating differently. Now that you know how we’re operating—you have to have a face mask, we’re only letting so many people in the salon at a time—now that we’re operating differently, this is what is next, shortly thereafter.

Again, the picture was painted for me, because initially I was like, “Oh, we’re not going to raise our prices till the fall.” But then the picture was painted to me by Loren: “Dana, you know, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table if you don’t, in some way, take advantage of the volume that you’re going to see.”

Jay Goltz:
I’m not even sure that the phrase “leaving money on the table” is appropriate. You’re losing money. That’s different. This isn’t like, “Oh, you could make more.” No, you’re gonna lose money is the reality. It’s a matter of, you’re going to dig yourself a deeper hole so you can have happy customers. Well, what would be the point of having happy customers when you’re going broke? And let me ask you this question, because I hear this all the time: How did the customer turn into a guest? That’s what I want to know. I want to ask Target, who I think started that nonsense. Guess what? When I’m a guest somewhere, I get everything for free. When I’m a guest in someone’s house, I don’t pay for anything. What is wrong with calling someone a “customer”? Is that a dirty word now? That’s what I want to ask you.

Dana White:
No.

Jay Goltz:
Clients?

Dana White:
No, I use the word “guest” because Paralee Boyd is the cultural icon in the salon. It was the way she treated people. The guest comes from how you will be treated when you come in here. It’s a business, but in this business, we will treat you as a guest. Sometimes when it’s like, “You’re a client,” I think it makes it very individualized, meaning for the stylist, “Oh, this is my client.” But when you are a guest of Paralee Boyd, you are a part of this club, and there’s a way you will be treated. Your coat will be put on for you when you leave. There’s a call you will expect. So I say “guest” because we treat them like we would in our home.

Jay Goltz:
Okay, do you think that the person who goes into Target and buys the tube of toothpaste, do you think they’re a guest or do you think they’re a customer?

Dana White:
I think they’re a customer.

Jay Goltz:
Thank you. That’s all I wanted to hear.

Dana White:
Right, you will go into Target and not be seen.

Loren Feldman:
All of that suggests to me that you should send out an email tomorrow saying you’re going to raise your prices to $50, and then you should do it from day one. Because your customers are used to being treated like guests. They obviously trust you. This is a time of a health crisis, and they’re going to be willing to come into your store and trust that you’re doing everything right. They’re going to be so happy to have your service back after not being able to come for several months that that $10… I think they’re going to be very happy to pay it.

Dana White:
I have a confession. I am afraid to raise my prices because I’m focusing on the naysayer customers. I’m focusing on a very integral conversation I had with the head of an organization that is slated to help business owners, and it was a very tough conversation. It included gossip, it hurt me, and it took the wind out of my sail. I’ve been reluctant to raise my prices because of that conversation with her and the conversations with other—not a lot of guests. But I haven’t focused enough on the guests who love us, especially the ones who have told me, “Girl, yeah, raise your prices! I used to get my hair done for $40 when I was back in college.”

Jay Goltz:
Wait, the person who’s complaining, do they work at a not-for-profit? Are they business people?

Dana White:
They work at the federal government.

Jay Goltz:
Okay, same thing. How nice for people who either work for not-for-profits or the federal government to start telling business people how they should operate. How nice! Like, they’ve ever had to make payroll on Friday. I would say, this is your Achilles’ heel.

Dana White:
Yeah, my Achilles’ heel, totally.

Jay Goltz:
And I’m telling you, after 20 years of speaking to frame shop owners, I see people who have no money, who are broke, who have let the customer—that one out of 10 customer who just rips on them about the price—I have watched them ruin their entire life’s savings, putting kids through college, retirement. I’ve seen people be slaves to that for 20 years, because they’ve got in their head Mrs. Smith who said, “Oh my God, that’s too much money.” When I show them the math of it, it’s like, they get released. I swear to God, they come back to me a year later and say, “Oh my god, I want to thank you. A year ago, I owed $10,000 in debt. Now I paid everything off, and I doubled my income. Thank you.” It happens all the time because someone needs to tell them, “Stop listening to that one out of 10.

Dana White:
This is it. We’ve been speaking about COVI-19 on the podcast, and the growth of business owners, and the growth of me for weeks. But my one hurdle to get over is, I have been emotionally drained for years. Because I’ve been emotionally drained, I have not grown my business. I’ve done more during this time to grow Paralee Boyd than I have in the years that I’ve been working, that I was officially “open” open.

Loren Feldman:
Dana, when you say that you’ve done more, you’re talking about during the crisis, while your shop’s been shut down, you’ve done more? And you’re referring to your thinking about how the salon’s going to operate when you reopen, and the kits and the products? Is that what you’re—

Dana White:
Absolutely, and I’m like, “Dana, what happened? Why have you done more work now than before?”

Loren Feldman:
You’ve got a chance to breathe.

Dana White:
I’ve had a chance to breathe, and I’m no longer tied to the call or the text message you get saying, “I know my job is to help minority businesses grow, but I stopped coming to your salon for months, and there are people around me who asked me, ‘You don’t still go there, do you?’” That’s a text and a phone call. From her, that really hurt, because they had no problem showcasing me in front of government officials. They had no problem showcasing me at the Congressional Black Caucus. But to hear that… We’ve done so much work to be better after all we’ve been through. And then when I said, “Hey, we’ve made changes since… you haven’t seen us since September. We made changes in August that you started to see in the business in October.” “Well, what efforts are you making to communicate that to your guests?” And then you’re getting it from your staff: “Well, Dana’s a business owner. She should be able to pay me through this crisis. Well, Dana doesn’t care.” My flaw has been I have not communicated with my customers. I have not communicated with my staff as well as I could, because I have been emotionally protecting myself.

Jay Goltz:
I feel your pain. I would imagine that that text, that email, that conversation was extremely upsetting. I’m sure you are accepting responsibility for at least part of it, the communication piece. When you get to the end, and you’ve done everything right with a noble cause, it’s like, you know what? There are gonna be some people who want to rag on you.

But here’s the best thing that happened to me in all the years of me doing speeches at the picture frame show. I went on an online thing, one of the chat rooms, and this guy says, “I went to Jay Goltz’s seminar, and I’ll admit, he’s a successful guy, and he’s built a successful business. But he is so arrogant and condescending, I stormed out of the class!” And my first reaction was, “Wow, I didn’t think I was coming off like that.” And I thought more about it. I had that one comment and another 40 comments, because I get the things afterward of the responses: “This was the best thing I ever went to. Thank you so much, blah, blah, blah.” And I realized I probably reminded him of his father or something, and like, sorry. I said to myself, “What could I have said that was so offensive?” and I figured it out eventually. This is equivalent to saying you have an ugly baby. When you tell a frame store owner that “You don’t need 2,000 corner samples in your store, it’s a waste of space,” that’s like saying you’ve got an ugly baby. Now what’s the surprise ending to the story? He’s out of business.

Loren Feldman:
Sum it up. What’s the message in that for Dana?

Jay Goltz:
The message in that is you can’t let the one or two or three people get in your headspace. Listen, it certainly made me think about it, and I did. And I am a little more careful now of don’t sound arrogant, like, “You must not know what you’re doing.” And it helped a little bit, but in general? What the hell was that, he stormed out mad? But in your case, the person who complained—is that a fellow business owner? No, she works for the federal government. Oh, what a surprise.

Dana White:
But that’s the thing. I’ve had several fellow business owners, and that makes it worse when they’ll say, “I’m not impressed with your receptionist,” as if impressing you is a KPI.

Jay Goltz:
There, I’ve gotta take a line though. There’s probably something wrong with your receptionist. They’re trying to be kind to you. The receptionist probably has an attitude or something. Why would someone say that to you?

Dana White:
But that’s what I’m saying. Come to me with a specific instance. Don’t come to me like, “I’m not impressed.” Well, tell me what happened.

Jay Goltz:
Did you ask them what happened?

Dana White:
Yes, and then it was also the end of the text message: “Oh, and by the way, how’s that expansion going.” And it wasn’t a question, she ended it with a period. And I was just like, you know what?

Jay Goltz:
Wow.

Dana White:
In short, I’m saying negativity can be very negative. I’m focusing on the people who have been negative, which I know to have been hurtful and not productive.

Jay Goltz:
I would get rid of the word “negativity” and put it into two buckets. Are they being critical, giving you something you’re doing wrong that you could do better? Or are they attacking you? Those are two different things. But in some cases, it sounds like they’re attacking you. I get that.

Dana White:
I don’t think it’s attacking. It’s nasty. It’s, “I want to help you, but I want to express my anger.” When I’m trying to help someone, it’s not about how it made me feel. It’s about speaking with that business owner about things that may need to be improved, and here is how I can help you. Can I help? I’ve been focusing on the people who are, maybe not even angry with me, but just angry in some way. They’ve laid it at my feet, and Dana has said, “Okay, I’ll take it on.”

During this time of COVID-19, I haven’t been in a space where I’ve had to take it on. I’ve been so productive. My Achilles’ heel and my flaw and my confession is, I have not communicated with my staff because the messages I’ve been getting back are, “Why aren’t you doing more to help me in my situation? Why aren’t you paying for me through this time?” That’s the one thing. And the second thing is, I have not communicated with my guests because it was, “Well, I didn’t get the email.” “Well, why aren’t you doing this?” And here’s the thing: No, I haven’t been sick, thank God, but when you’re a business owner, COVID-19, nothing affects you. So to the people who have been critical: Did it ever occur to you that something might have happened? Did it ever occur to you that she might have been dealing with things?

Jay Goltz:
Wait, wait, I have to give you the greatest advice ever. I put this in the top five. She’s retired. She was my controller—not a kid, not a $5, $10, $15-dollar-an-hour person, like my first professional person. She’s working here for six months or a year. I’m younger than you are at this point. I’m probably 32 or something. And something happened, I don’t remember specifically. And I said to her, “Boy, did anyone ever think about how I feel about that? Bah, blah, blah.” And she turned to me, and she said the most poignant thing ever. She goes, “Jay, everybody knows that the boss isn’t a human.” And that was the most poignant… I’ve never forgotten that. I’m telling you, get over it. They’re not going to treat you better. You’re not human anymore. You’re the boss. Deal with it.

Dana White:
Yeah, I’m the owner.

Jay Goltz:
You’re the owner. It’s okay.

Dana White:
You are not human.

Jay Goltz:
Yes, and it’s okay. I’m not mad about it or bitter whatsoever. I’ve accepted it. Okay, I get it now. You’re the boss. That’s part of figuring out you’re the boss. It’s okay.

Dana White:
But knowing that I am human, I have to find a better way. I can’t do what I’ve been doing. I cannot not communicate and I have to find a way to the middle ground between taking too much on myself and not communicating. But then also listening to the positive critiques or the critiques that are helpful versus the critiques that are just meant to dump on you. I’m trying to find that middle ground. I have great ideas to communicate with everybody, and we’ll be doing so because I have to.

Jay Goltz:
Instead of looking for the middle ground, this is simply a case of, you need to stop taking things personally. You just need to. Whatever they say, there’s probably something to it. I believe the customer’s usually right. If the customer made a comment about your receptionist, there’s probably a problem with your receptionist. And the other thing that has saved my head, and I’ve helped lots of employees, you know the employees in the back crying because somebody just dumped on them? I’ve had it, certainly. I always tell them, “Why don’t we take this approach? Whoever just dumped on you? Why don’t you just assume they just found out their mother’s dying. Let’s give them all the benefit of the doubt. They’re having a really bad day, and they took it out on you, so let’s not take it personally.” Let’s not get mad. Let’s listen to the criticism and say, “Really? Can you tell me specifically what my receptionist did so I can understand and do something about it?” Because there’s probably something to it.

And then to your other point, there are some people who are having a bad day, and they just read about you, and they’re jealous or they’re pissed or whatever. Yeah, whatever. I have the benefit of doing this for many years, and I finally have come to terms with all this stuff. And it’s okay. It doesn’t have to make you crazy.

Dana White:
Okay.

Loren Feldman:
Jay, let’s give Dana a little bit of a break here. What’s going on with Jayson Home these days?

Jay Goltz:
Well, I opened because the state of Illinois says if you sell plants, and landscapers buy the plants, you can open. I have a legitimate 5,000-6,000 feet of plants outside in my outdoor lot. We sell to landscapers, so we opened. Customers are extremely happy that we’re open, and they’re all wearing masks. I’ve had two episodes since I opened.

Loren Feldman:
You told us about one, I think. The Yelp review.

Jay Goltz:
I have a new one. This one’s better. My manager is sitting there on the phone. I happen to walk in. “Yeah, we’re open.” I can see the tone of the conversation, someone’s complaining. “You know what? The owner’s standing right here. Let me give him to you.” So, no problem. He hands me the phone. She tells me her name. I give her credit. The woman says, “This is so and so. I have to tell you, I just can’t believe you opened up your furniture store.” “Well, I sell plants.” “I know. But it’s a loophole. That’s just not right. I’m not the only one who feels that way.” Dana, does this sound familiar? “I’m not the only one who feels this way. And I can’t believe you’re opening up. You’re the only furniture store in the city of Chicago that’s open.” And then finally, she revealed, which I also respect, she owns a small gift shop two blocks away, and she’s closed. “And it’s not fair!” And I said, “Wait, how long have you been open? How long have you been in business?” She said, “Nine years.” I said, “Okay, let me give you the 42-year perspective of things. Do you still think the world is fair, really? I know someone who died of cancer last year, the nicest person I knew. You think the world is fair?” And then you could hear, “Well, yeah.” I go, “I should worry about the multibillion dollar competitor I have that’s owned by a German company. I’m trying to keep in business, take care of my employees. I’ve gotta tell you, I’m following the law.” And so meanwhile, this is the really important entrepreneur part. I go, “Let me ask you a question. Did you get PPP money?” “Well, my husband applied for it. I’m waiting, but it’s just a loan.” I said, “No, no, it’s not just a loan. If you use it properly, it will turn into a grant. You don’t have to pay it back. Did you go for unemployment?” “Well, no. They said…” “Well, you’ve been paying unemployment for years. Why wouldn’t you go for unemployment?”

So by the end of the conversation, I was her adviser, and she wants to come by and have lunch. But this shows you how people go broke. Instead of taking care of business, instead of going for the PPP thing and going for unemployment, she’s using her time to call me up and whine that I’m open and she isn’t. I’m not making any apologies. Yeah, I’m open, and we’re wearing masks, and we’re cleaning everything.

Loren Feldman:
How’s business?

Jay Goltz:
It’s been okay. We’re bringing in decent business. The customers are thrilled to be here.

Loren Feldman:
Have you brought back all your employees who normally work in the home store?

Jay Goltz:
Yes. They’re all working. Some were hesitant. Everybody came back, but I had to make a line to say, “Look, if they don’t want to come back, it’s a free country. They don’t need to come back to work. They can go work somewhere else. They can not work.” I certainly am not suggesting everybody should be having parties and not wearing masks and taking guns and going down to the city hall. I’m not saying that. There’s a point where, if somebody is petrified to leave their house, I’m really sorry. That’s a personal choice of theirs. I can’t keep this job open forever for them. I can’t. That hasn’t turned into a case. But I was prepared if it did. At some point, people need to come back to work.

Loren Feldman:
Are you at that point?

Jay Goltz:
I think we decided [is] we’ll give it till the end of the month when the whole state is officially open. But if somebody on June 1st says they’re not coming back to work, I’d have to say, “Thank you for your years of service, but we’re going to have to replace you.” I actually have an obligation to customers to have a human being working here to take care of them. I can’t accommodate them.

Loren Feldman:
Would you do that with an employee that you had for 10 years and really liked?

Jay Goltz:
Well, what are my choices? Not have anyone work here? Let me make it a better question for you: “Jay, if they were over 60…” Okay, I do have a guy who’s my oldest employee after me. If he wants another couple weeks, I’ll absolutely work with him on it. He’s been with me since 1986. It’s not a black and white thing. If he has a legitimate thing, or if they’ve got a heart condition, I certainly will… It’s not black and white. But if I got someone who’s 32 years old, who’s afraid to leave the house, who doesn’t have a medical condition, who doesn’t live with an old person… What am I going to do? “Okay, everybody, you just stay home. I’ll take care of customers all by myself.” I mean, there’s a point where you’ve got to take care of business. So luckily I haven’t had to deal with that.

Dana White:
Does that mean taking them off unemployment?

Jay Goltz:
I took everybody off unemployment. I got the PPP money. Everybody’s off unemployment now, and I will tell you, I have lots of employees [where] this was the lottery for them. If you make 40 grand a year, and if you got your unemployment insurance, and then you have the extra hit from the government, this little thing has just made them about 4,000 bucks. They got another 600 bucks. They come out just fine. I don’t begrudge them. Like, whatever.

Loren Feldman:
That’s all true. But it can put an employee in a difficult position—the employee you just described who’s deciding whether to come back or not. There might be extenuating circumstances: kids at home, older parents, people to care for, having to travel on public transportation—whatever it might be, that person is going to lose that unemployment if you offer the job and they turn it down.

Jay Goltz:
Well, that doesn’t mean that I would go ahead and contest the unemployment. If that was the case, I wouldn’t contest the unemployment. It hasn’t happened, but if I had somebody working here for 10 years, and said, “Listen, I just can’t.” I would say, “Stay on unemployment.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to replace them. I need employees. I can’t run the place on good wishes.

Just so you know, I’ve had the opposite experience. I’ve had lovely notes and people extremely happy that—I didn’t have to, but It’s the least I can do for them—we’ve paid people who, for whatever reason, didn’t get unemployment, filed too late. We’ve tried to make everybody whole, and we’ve succeeded. At some point, I told my key management staff, “Look, here’s the reality. If everybody got unemployment plus some extra money, I don’t need to give them more money.” I’m going to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the end of the day, I’m the only one losing in this whole deal. I’m not complaining about it, but it just is what it is.

My employees have come out just fine, thanks to the PPP and thank you government. It was a lifesaver. I’ve got 110 people. I haven’t had one bad experience, one disappointing conversation with an employee—not one. I’m here to tell you, part of that is, I have good employees. I’ve worked really hard at it for 40 years. I’m more careful who I hire now. If they’re the wrong people, if they don’t fit here, they’re not here anymore. I’ve gotten nothing but positive things from all of them. I haven’t had one ugly anything with anybody who works for me. And the only thing from the customers is the jerk doctor who needed to go to Yelp about how we asked him to wear a mask. Even the lady that called me, she’s my best friend now.

Loren Feldman:
Are you gonna have lunch with her?

Jay Goltz:
Sure. Not until lunch is okay. But I felt bad for her. I understood where she was coming from. I think I convinced her by the end, “Look, it is what it is.” To go ahead and throw on me that I’m a bad person, I’m working the system, and I should stay closed because everyone else is? That’s just preposterous.

Loren Feldman:
Well, it is a loophole, but I agree with you…

Jay Goltz:
It’s a pretty big loophole. If you sell plants, how about Home Depot? How about Costco? They’re all selling furniture all because Home Depot sells stuff, what, to fix your heater? Any of these big businesses, they’re selling other stuff than the stuff that is essential.

Loren Feldman:
I’m just saying, if you didn’t sell plants, you wouldn’t be able to open the home store.

Jay Goltz:
But I do sell plants. That’s the point.

Loren Feldman:
You’re kind of arguing, if she sold plants, she’d open her store too, and I think that’s a pretty good argument.

Jay Goltz:
That’s what I said to her. And I go, “You know what, you want me to send over some plants? You can open.” And she goes, “Oh, well, that would be hypocritical,” but she was thinking about it. And then I thought, “Wait, that won’t work because you need to sell to landscapers, I forgot.” But oh, she was thinking about it. I actually said it to her, “I can assure you, if you were selling plants, my guess is you’d be open.” It wasn’t an adversarial conversation. It was a business owner to business owner conversation, and I totally respected and appreciated she admitted who she was and gave me her name. I’m used to dealing with customers. It was a very pleasant conversation.

Dana White:
It’s a lot of judgment. That’s what I have to do better at shielding myself from. I see it on Facebook: business owners judging PetSmart because they’re grooming dogs, because their business is considered essential. And that service is not, but because they’re open, they can do it. There’s just a lot of judgment going around, and it’s tough.

Loren Feldman:
We’re gonna have to wrap up. But Jay, let me ask you this, I was really intrigued by what Dana said about how this crisis has finally given her a chance to breathe a little bit and to think about her business and to work on it in a way that she hasn’t been able to previously. I think there’s such an important lesson in that. I’m just curious, for you, you’ve had downtime as well. Obviously, you’re in a very different position. You’ve been in business much longer. Your businesses are much more mature. But have you gotten anything out of this period?

Jay Goltz:
Absolutely. This has disrupted the market, and now’s the time to try to make something positive out of it. Three things. Number one, competitors are going to go out of business. There are going to be competitors that stop giving service because they’re on defense and they didn’t bring people back or they don’t want to put enough inventory in. Their service is going to deteriorate. I’m suggesting, take this time, fix up your website some more, put some more energy into your website. People are going to be looking for a new vendor. That’s one.

Number two, there are going to be some key employees out there who got laid off or who aren’t happy with the way their boss treated them. This might be an opportunity to pick up an employee you might not have even thought of working for you before, and maybe it’s time to put an ad out there and look for them, or call someone who you’ve had conversations with. There’s absolutely an opportunity to pick up some people.

And three, what a great opportunity to buy real estate right now. The interest rates are mind-bogglingly cheap, and there are building owners who want to go hide under the table and get rid of their property. That’s what I did in 2008. I bought a huge building for a cheap price. I’ve gotta tell you, I did the guy a favor. I got him off the hook. It worked for everybody. If you’re thinking about buying real estate, I know this is counterintuitive, now might be the time to do it because it’s on sale, and the interest rates are dirt cheap. SBA loans are the greatest thing the government has ever done.

Loren Feldman:
SBA real estate loans, in particular, you’re referring to?

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, 504 loans, where the bank takes part of it, the SBA takes part of it. It’s a tremendous thing. Now’s the time. I’m suggesting there’s a point to where you’ve got to get off defense and get on offense, if you can.

Loren Feldman:
The “if you can” is important. There are a lot of people who are just trying to make it to tomorrow.

Jay Goltz:
I understand that. I’m just saying, if you can. But in some cases, you could go fix your website up. I mean, just change the copy, change what’s on there, that doesn’t cost any money. I think everybody can at least work on their website. Most people don’t think they have a “ten” website. They’d say, “Well, it’s not bad, but I’m working on it.” Well, now’s the time to really work on it, put some real energy into it.

Dana White:
That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m working on my website. But I will say that I have to push back on you a little bit, Jay, because working on a website is free if you know what you’re doing. For me, working on my website isn’t going to be free.

Jay Goltz:
Part of it is free, though. Writing the copy is free.

Dana White:
Yeah, the content is free.

Jay Goltz:
Are you suggesting that I’m coming off arrogant and condescending?

Dana White:
No, not at all.

Jay Goltz:
Certainly, you’re right. If you want to redo your whole website, that’s a whole other animal. But I’m talking about just changing some of the copy on it and doing the light stuff. But you’re right, if you want to really redo it, that’s gonna cost some money.

I go on some websites and I see their blog post is from 2017. It doesn’t look good. If nothing else, take the date off. Seriously, if nothing else, just take the date off. I read websites all the time. I think to myself, “Wow, you put that on your website?” I mean, stuff that just doesn’t have any relevance about why I’d want to do business with you.

Loren Feldman:
Dana, last question. Did this conversation make you feel better or worse?

Dana White:
Much better. I just have been focusing on the wrong thing. I had the opportunity to speak with a business consultant here in Detroit, and he said the same thing. “You’re focusing on the wrong thing.” I think even though I know I’m focusing on it, I’ve been hurt. I don’t mean to sound like a wuss, but I’ve been hurt, and I’ve been productive by not being as exposed to that hurt. I need to put my big girl [pants] on and be probably pleasantly surprised that people will respond to me better once I put myself out there. But I’ve been [taking] baby steps to putting myself out there because I’ve been hurt, and this conversation has again reiterated to me, “Hey, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. You’re a business owner.”

Jay Goltz:
And since I’m not arrogant and condescending, I absolutely can appreciate how painful that must have been to have women who you respected who had been helpful rip into you. Because I’ve never had that. I can’t ever think of a situation where I’ve been in that situation, and you’re getting a lot more PR than I got when I was at that stage. So yeah, you have absolutely been vulnerable. But I’m telling you, it’s about just saying to yourself, “I’m just trying to do a good job and take care of my clients—or your guests, excuse me—and just say, “It’s part of the program and I’m dealing with it.” I know you’re coming to that, so good for you.

Dana White:
Yeah, and the pricing will go up, and the pricing will go up…

Loren Feldman:
All right, that’s what we wanted to hear. My thanks to Dana White and Jay Goltz. Once again, you guys have kept it real and shared things that you very rarely hear business owners share. I really appreciate it. Thank you for taking the time.