Episode 3: I’m Trying to Survive in Retail

Jay, Karen, and Laura talk about competing on the internet, buying a supplier, and whether to take venture capital: “Who needs to answer to somebody if you don't have to?” Plus: after the Domino’s decision, what happens if your website isn’t disability compliant?

I'm Trying to Survive in Retail

Guests:

Laura Zander is co-founder and CEO of Jimmy Beans Wool.

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

Karen Clark Cole is co-founder and CEO of BlinkUX.

Producer:

Jess Thoubboron is founder of Blank Word Productions.

Episode Highlights:

Laura Zander: “I’ve been trying to learn a little bit of Vietnamese and a little bit of Mandarin and learn some Hindi, because I do a little work in India as well. I love it. Having to communicate very carefully and strategically makes me slow my brain down a little bit.”

Jay Goltz: “I’ve given them the feeling that it’s basically their job, their company, and they treat it like it’s their own. I totally appreciate and respect that. I don’t want to start going, ‘Hey, you should have told me about this.’”

Karen Clark Cole: “Disabilities don’t just include the sort of ones that might come to the top of mind. We have a huge aging population. They have trouble with mobility, with hand and eye coordination. They have trouble seeing, hearing, speaking in some cases… They like pizza too.“

Full Episode Transcript:

Loren Feldman:
Let’s meet the 21 Hats Podcast team. With us this week are Karen Clark Cole, who is CEO of Blink UX, a digital research and design firm based in Seattle. Jay Goltz, who has several businesses in Chicago, including a picture framing shop, Artists Frame Service, and Jayson Home, a home furnishing store. And Laura Zander, CEO of Jimmy Beans Wool, a digital version of a neighborhood yarn shop that is based in Reno, Nevada, but who’s joining us today from Texas.

Laura, we’re going to start with you. You’ve had a lot going on lately. In the last couple of weeks, you’ve been to Vietnam, China, and Texas. What’s going on?

Laura Zander:
Yeah, as you mentioned, we’re the digital version of the yarn shop. We also have a retail brick and mortar store. It has been a crazy couple of years trying to figure out how to survive in this retail market. What we are doing—and hoping will work—is we have started to acquire some of our suppliers and some of the brands that we sell to increase our margin, to be able to do some of the design and reimagine some of these brands and give some of these brands new life. We bought, in May, a company that made knitting organizers—crochet organizers—that was based in Vietnam. I went to go visit my partner there. Then I bought a company that does all the manufacturing out of China last year. I’ve been visiting China frequently and manufacturing different handbags for knitters and crocheters there.

Loren Feldman:
Was that a company you had a relationship with?

Laura Zander:
Yeah, it’s the knitting industry. It’s the yarn industry. You become friends. Having been in this for 17 years, it’s a creative industry, and I’ve had lots of friendships with most of the suppliers and most of the brands that we carry. When it came time for them to step down, like the bag company, she got a divorce, so they had to close the business because it was her, her husband, and her sister-in-law that owned it. The organizer company, she was a CPA by trade and not a knitter. When her lease came up after 10 years, she just decided to go back to the corporate world. We had been friends and spent lots of time together, and so she called and asked if we would take it over. Then on Wednesday, I bought our biggest supplier, which is a yarn company based in Texas, and they hand dye yarn here in Texas. The owner has been ill, developed M.S. about a year ago, and has not been able to come to work, particularly on a regular basis. I asked them if I could possibly take over and I did as of Wednesday.

Karen Clark Cole:
Laura, you claimed before that you wanted to stay small. That doesn’t sound very small.

Laura Zander:
It is small in the grand scheme of things. We’re not you.

Karen Clark Cole:
That’s amazing, I love it.

Jay Goltz:
You started this by saying—and I wanted to put some more meat on the bones—you said, “survive the retail market,” which is what I’m in. You’d have to understand that this isn’t about wanting to grow big. It’s about changing your business to stay relevant and have a business model where still in business. You can’t afford to just sit tight because the world’s changing. I’m going to assume that when you say “survive the retail world,” you’re getting lots of online competition now.

Laura Zander:
Absolutely. A lot of the brands that we’ve historically carried are disappearing. People are either aging out, they’re tiring out, and the new brands that are coming up to take their places are all selling direct. Some of the brands that we’ve carried for years and years—let’s say somebody that we’ve sold $50,000 worth of their product in a year—they are now going direct, because that’s what they need to do to survive. They’re cultivating direct relationships, so our sales for that brand are down to $10,000. Our revenue has gone down, so how do I replace that? We’re discovering that we have to figure out how to replace it on our own.

Jay Goltz:
The answer is, it’s not that you’re growing. You’re evolving.

Laura Zander:
That’s brilliant.

Jay Goltz:
 I think what you’re saying is you’re not growing, you’re evolving, and it’s the same thing I had to go through. Years ago—20 years ago already—I started importing frame molding from Italy and Spain. Now I have a wholesale business that sells to 1,000 frame shops around the country because I have access to stuff that they don’t have. We’re getting more design driven. I’m probably 10 years ahead of where you’re at because you just started getting pressure from the internet. I’ve had pressure from baby boomers basically slowing down the framing they were doing.

Karen Clark Cole:
Laura and Jay, how are you guys funding these acquisitions?

Jay Goltz:
I didn’t have any acquisitions. I just did it from internal organic growth.

Laura Zander:
Huck’s college fund?

Loren Feldman:
Huck is your son.

Laura Zander:
Yes.

Jay Goltz:
You have a college fund? Wow.

Laura Zander:
He’s 10, so it had gotten kind of big. Yeah, actually, great question. This is the first time that we’ve had to go to the bank and we’re taking out a loan.

Karen Clark Cole:
That’s great that you’re not giving away equity.

Jay Goltz:
It’s kind of great and it’s maybe not great, but it is what you gotta do.

Laura Zander:
We’ve just personally reinvested back into the company. But we’re going to transition. We just took a small PayPal—you know, capital that you can take—and then you just pay it based on your PayPal sales. They just take like 30% of your sales to pay it back. We’re going to borrow a little bit, we’re going to leverage a little bit so that we can reduce our personal risk just a teeny bit.

Karen Clark Cole:
You’ve considered getting some VC money in exchange for equity?

Laura Zander:
We have considered it many times, to be honest. Doug and I—we are entrepreneurs. We don’t want to have to report to anybody is what it what it boils down to. We have just decided that it’s not worth the stress of having somebody that we have to report to. If we can figure it out, and even if that means that we grow a little bit slower, and maybe it’s not the wisest decision, it helps us sleep a little bit more at night.

Jay Goltz:
Like I said, I’m 15 years ahead of you. I figured out in my world: better to own a $10 or $15 or $20 million company and make plenty of money to buy a nice house and everything else you want than shoot to own 30% of $100 million dollar company and have a phone call on Thursday with some person you don’t particularly like telling you what to do. At some point—this isn’t about a lifestyle business either—you can make a fortune doing it the way you’re doing and having everything you want and not having to answer to anybody. I know that that goes opposite of what everyone reads these days. But who needs to answer to somebody if you don’t have to?

Loren Feldman:
Tell us about the loan. It sounds like you chose PayPal, which I assume is kind of the alternative lender route, rather than a traditional bank loan. What was the thinking there?

Laura Zander:
The thinking was timing. This transaction has been on an unpredictable path and I’m trying to figure out how to mince words a little bit. It has been so up and down and such a roller coaster, so we needed access to cash within four hours. PayPal gave us access to cash within four hours. The bank loan was going to take three weeks.

Karen Clark Cole:
That’s incredible.

Laura Zander:
They’ve made it very simple, very easy. I have mixed feelings about PayPal just based on our personal experience.

Loren Feldman:
It has to be more expensive too, right?

Laura Zander:
No, it is actually not, it’s just that you don’t have five years to pay it off. Every dollar that we take in revenue, they take 30 cents of it until it’s paid off.

Jay Goltz:
What kind of interest are you paying?

Laura Zander:
There is no interest. Doug set it up, but what he said is there’s a flat fee of like $1,500, so that’s what it cost us to borrow this money.

Jay Goltz:
Okay, but that $1,500 translates into you could call that interest.

Laura Zander:
Sure.

Jay Goltz:
What kind of money are we talking about? Is that on $100,000 or $10,000? That’s a big difference.

Laura Zander:
It was a multiple of six figures.

Jay Goltz:
That’s cheap money.

Laura Zander:
It was very, very, very cheap money. What we’ll do is spend the two weeks to get the line of credit through the bank reactivated and then just pay back the PayPal so that we have three years to pay it back, instead of having it paid back in nine months or whatever that would take.

Jay Goltz:
Just so people understand, a lot of these companies that say “You don’t have to bother with the hassle of the bank. This is easy and fast.” There’s a reason they can do that. It’s because people don’t understand they’re paying 80% interest and it’s hidden. They say, “We’ll give you $30,000 and you’ll pay back $36,000 in 6 months.” People think that’s 20% interest. No, it’s 80% interest because they’re only paying it back in six months, and they’re paying it down as it goes, so you have to multiply it twice. That’s why it’s so easy and fast. It’s very expensive borrowing, to say the least.

Loren Feldman:
Laura, you’ve spoken in the past about wanting to enjoy your lifestyle and having a son that you’re raising and being concerned about the amount of time that you’re putting in. You’re now managing three acquisitions that you’ve made in less than a year, right?

Laura Zander:
Yeah.

Loren Feldman:
How are you feeling about that?

Laura Zander:
I am feeling like I am doing what we need to do, so that hopefully in a year to two years, I can have the lifestyle to which I would like to become accustomed.

Loren Feldman:
Are you hoping to incorporate them into the culture of Jimmy Beans Wool? Do you look at them as their employees are just like the employees you have in Reno? If so, how are you making that happen?

Laura Zander:
Today is my second full day on the job. We integrated our Slacks together, we’re sharing photos of each other. We have a trade show coming up in two weeks, so I’m going to bring somebody from Madelinetosh in Texas to the show to meet the team. Then we’re going to start working on bringing people from Texas up to Reno once or twice a month or bringing people from Reno down to Texas once or twice a month. We’ll just do the best we can to integrate both technically and in person.

We’re on Slack, so we’ve kind of combined our channels. I’ve already yelled at the people here. I put a little emoji chart, I’m like, “Okay, here are all the brands. Jimmy Beans uses exclamation marks. della Q uses hearts. Namaste uses a flower. Madelinetosh uses a rainbow.” We’ll just start to learn digitally how we talk to each other so that we understand the tones that we’re all using.

Loren Feldman:
Karen, you’ve done a lot of acquisitions yourself. What are you thinking as you listen to Laura?

Karen Clark Cole:
I think it’s great. I love that she’s not giving away equity.

Karen Clark Cole:
I’ve never heard of the PayPal route. I think it’s because we’re not in a product selling business, so that kind of funding hasn’t been available to us. We as well have not taken any VC or equity type of money and have done our acquisitions using a pretty big line of credit at the bank. That’s based on our receivables. For us, it is limited on our capacity to do work. We can’t borrow beyond the work that we’re doing. But sometimes our receivables take 60, 90, 120 days to come in. That’s a long time from a cash flow perspective to hang on, so the bank helps us ebb and flow with that. Then they gave us a separate acquisition line of credit essentially, based on the receivables of the company that we’re buying.

Jay Goltz:
My credit line is based upon receivables and inventory, and generally from what I see, they usually will give you maybe 75 cents on the dollar for receivables. The bank hates inventory, so they might give you 25 cents on the dollar for inventory.

Loren Feldman:
Karen, how has it gone for you in terms of integrating the operations you’ve acquired into Blink? What have you done to try to build a cohesive culture across these additional businesses?

Karen Clark Cole:
It’s a big full-time job for us. As consultants, we really want the companies that we’ve bought—there are about five of them altogether. We want to have one Blink quality of service for our clients, so it’s really important that we’re all speaking the same language and we make sure of that before we even consider acquisitions. Similar to Laura, they are companies that we’ve worked with before. We know them quite well, so the integration is much easier in that case.

We have a cultural framework that I developed about five years ago with our chief culture officer. She was a consultant to us at the time. She helped me develop this framework when we were growing from probably 30 or 40 people, and I knew that we were going to start growing more quickly. I needed a way to describe the culture that we had. You could walk in the office and there was a great energy, there was there was just a feeling that was sort of a je ne sais quoi. No one really knew how to define it and we certainly didn’t have a language around it, and we didn’t know how to cultivate it.

As we were about to get bigger, I knew it was important that if we were going to nurture it and grow it, we had to have a way to talk about it. We had to have a way to hire for it, to fire for it. That began with understanding: what is it about the culture that’s causing these people to thrive and feel happy and do great work and give great service to our clients? So we developed this framework and it has six pillars in it. It’s the Holy Bible here. We manage it so all of our management team get training on how to look for these things and how to nurture them. It’s a big part of our hiring as well as our firing. Honestly, it gives us really clear criteria when somebody’s not meeting the bar. When we buy a new company, we start with this, we explain it, and then we start creating a framework around it gradually for the company.

Loren Feldman:
If I’m not mistaken, Karen, you’ve been buying companies that are based in the U.S., where I’m guessing everybody speaks English. Laura, what’s it like buying a company in Vietnam or China? Is the language issue a problem?

Laura Zander:
It’s not a problem. It’s a challenge. It’s exciting. I’ve been trying to learn a little bit of Vietnamese and a little bit of Mandarin and learn some Hindi, because I do a little work in India as well. I love it. Having to communicate very carefully and strategically makes me slow my brain down a little bit. When it comes to product development, what I’ve discovered is not being able to communicate as quickly and as easily in one language forces me to use other senses. I have to describe things with my hands. It’s really forcing more creativity, which I think has been phenomenal.

Jay Goltz:
Can we assume that these companies you bought that you were the best buyer because there was a synergy there and you were already using it and it was worth more to you than the other people and that, perhaps if you wouldn’t have bought it, they might have had a hard time finding another buyer for it? That’s exactly what I did. I bought a company that makes acrylic frames and I bought it from a guy who was basically closing up his business, but we were selling a lot of it, and it worked. Is that the case, in your case?

Laura Zander:
100%. That is a very accurate assumption. You did not make an ass out of you or me.

Loren Feldman:
Laura, you bought a manufacturing company in China. What impact are the tariffs having on you?

Laura Zander:
Oh, they’re lovely. They are just great. I am lucky enough that we knew that the tariffs were going to be on the horizon, so I was able to price to the tariffs and incorporate that. That said, I was not planning to wholesale the products, and didn’t wholesale them for a year or so. One was just mitigating risk. I didn’t know how to do manufacturing, so I didn’t want to spread this stuff out too far until I understood quality control, until I understood that the products would be good. Then secondly, I just know how to do it.

Jay Goltz:
Did they approach you or did you sense there was a problem and go to them?

Laura Zander:
With the company in China, they approached me about three or four years ago when they closed the business. About two years ago or last year, we had made a hire. Our general manager is absolutely phenomenal. I finally had a team. I texted the previous owner and was like, “Hey, I know you don’t have any inventory. I know that you don’t even have a website anymore. But could I buy this name? Can I buy it from you?” So we went from there.

Then the small company that is doing the manufacturing in Vietnam, she approached me and said that she was done. This yarn company, I approached them. I knew that things were tough for them personally and professionally. I just said, “Hey, could we take over?” It’s the largest and best-known hand-dyed company in the U.S. for sure—if not, in the world—but just hadn’t been given enough attention in the last year or so due to what was happening personally. I have a team right now that I’ve never had before that’s able to give it the attention it needs.

Loren Feldman:
You’ve just completed all these purchases, you’re still kind of absorbing them it sounds like. What’s the vision? Where do you see this going in three, four, or five years?

Laura Zander:
The knitting industry, the yarn industry, and as Jay said, a lot of the retail industries are becoming fragmented. I want to use these companies to what I can to drive knitting into the forefront of people’s minds. I want to continue to make knitting a household word.

I told the staff here, “I want to be creative. I want to have fun. I want us to make things and play.” That’s what yarn and merchandising is all about. It’s all about playing. If we can play and we can also pay the bills and all have a nice life, then that just seems like a win.

Karen Clark Cole:
Amen!

Loren Feldman:
As time passes and we keep having these conversations, we will talk some more about how that’s going. Thanks for sharing, it’s really an exciting time. I appreciate you letting us in on what you’ve been going through.

Karen, let’s move on to something else. I asked you guys to talk about something that you’ve really struggled with. Is there something that, in all the years you’ve been doing this, you’re still trying to figure out?

Karen Clark Cole:
Yeah, resourcing, and I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. I’ve sort of come to that conclusion. For us, that means assigning people to projects that are a good fit for them that they’re excited about where they’ll be successful. Doing that back to back, year over year, with 140 people. The trick is project teams vary, depending on what the project work is. They vary in how many people you need and the skill sets that you need and how long the project goes for. Some are a couple of months, and some are a couple of years. Some are a few people and some are six to 10 people.

For us as a consulting company, we bill out our time. We’re usually billing a fixed fee, but then we have to look at it in terms of hours. We need to bill 40 hours a week for each person to pay the bills, because when we’re not billing out somebody’s time to a client, then we’re paying for it. When you add that up for multiple hours for multiple people, we call that “bench time.” It’s extremely expensive for us and it comes right out of the bottom line. We’re always looking for creative and different ways to manage and mitigate it with scheduling people. They come off a project and then the next day they really ramp back up onto another project. But how do you do that with giving people a break? They’ve got to clear their heads.

Loren Feldman:
What happens that reminds you this is a struggle for you?

Karen Clark Cole:
When it’s a daily conversation, still, after 20 years.

Loren Feldman:
With who?

Karen Clark Cole:
With everyone in the company. It’s what we all talk about constantly. I have weekly reports, I have resource manager whose job it is to do this full-time. Then we have general managers who also have to watch out for this full-time. We have various other people who are looking at this constantly. Particularly, we have a group of people—the most senior people in each of our practice areas, so design, research, strategy, engineering—who are assigning the right people on these projects. They’re also looking, like who’s available, who’s the best fit? It’s a massive puzzle piece. There isn’t a day that goes by that somebody doesn’t talk to me about it in one way or another or I’m not asking somebody. Maybe I could stop asking, that might be a better way to do it. But then in my CFO is telling me about the numbers, and so that all comes back to utilization.

Loren Feldman:
Jay, Laura: anybody got any advice?

Jay Goltz:
I’m in a custom thing. I would ask the question: have you thought about trying to have some product where you could have some engineers tied up on it, and when you get busy, you can pull them off? Because I’m in a custom business, but I also got into making some stock stuff so that I could handle the flow. I can pull people off of that when we get busy. When we get slow, we can build inventory. You have no inventory to build.

Karen Clark Cole:
Yeah, we do have a couple of little products. The trouble is, our expertise is in designing products, not running and managing and maintaining them. All of a sudden, if we’re in a, selling product business, it’s a different infrastructure that we need. We could invest the money to do that, I suppose. But it feels dangerous to me. We actually have a little product that we spun out into a separate company to not put a big liability on our consulting side that we know how to do so well.

Loren Feldman:
How about you, Jay: what are you struggling with?

Jay Goltz:
On some level, my average person has been here 10 and a half years, but I’ve got people here for 25 years, and I’m at the stage now where I’m kind of hands-off and everybody is doing their own thing. Last week,”Where’s so and so?” “Oh, they’re in China.” Honest to God, they went to China. You’d think somebody would have mentioned to me we were sending somebody to China to do buying. It’s not a big deal, but I’m struggling with it a little bit. The good news is I’ve got competent people that I give room to and they take care of business. But it would be nice if they told me some relevant things once in a while, like they’re in China.

Karen Clark Cole:
Jay, I have the same problem. We do research all over the world, even though our clients are largely in the U.S. There’ll be a whole team doing on the ground field research in India, and I found out about it in the back channels. I’m like, “Oh my God, can’t you just tell me for fun so I can enjoy all this?”

Jay Goltz:
I’m very careful not to make a big deal, because you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I’ve given them room. I’ve given them the feeling that it’s basically their job, their company, and they treat it like it’s their own. I totally appreciate and respect that. I don’t want to start going, “Hey, you should have told me about this.” I’m just trying to find a reporting structure or some structure where I’m in the loop enough.

Loren Feldman:
What did you do when you found that someone was in China?

Jay Goltz:
My first reaction was to call the person and go, “What the hell, you couldn’t tell me?” I didn’t, I let it slide. I was talking to my production manager about a month ago, and he’s been with me for 24 years. I said, “Dale, the reality is I’m 75% entrepreneur and 25% manager.” He goes, “No, you’re not. You’re 100% entrepreneur and you’re a mentor.” He’s right, I don’t get into the management stuff. What I should do is simply make sure I discipline myself—which isn’t a good word for me—every Friday to sit down with the person for 10 minutes. That’s all I would need to do. But I haven’t done that. This is on me. What I’m going to do is I’m going to make sure that once a week, I get a 10-minute meeting with them and find out what’s going on and play manager.

Karen Clark Cole:
We have one big office and then several smaller ones, but whenever I’m in the kitchen, I always make sure to ask whoever I see what they’re working on and to tell me a little bit about it. The insight I get from that alone, and it takes like two to five minutes, is phenomenal for me. It gives me such a great, different perspective on the company. It’s really awesome.

Loren Feldman:
Are you sure you haven’t just taught everybody to avoid you in the kitchen?

Jay Goltz:
Part of my problem is, I’ve got a production facility that’s 15 minutes from here. I’m not in the same building with a lot of these people. That’s a problem. If we were, I probably would have found out about it. He would have said something to me when he ran into me in the kitchen, but we’re not in the same kitchen.

Karen Clark Cole:
Do you have a routine where you go visit the facilities?

Jay Goltz:
Yes, every Friday, I go there for the production meeting. I need to just discipline myself when I’m done with the production meeting to go upstairs and talk to the person I’m talking about. I’m going to start doing that.

Loren Feldman:
All right, in the time we have left, I’d like to talk about a news item that I think is relevant to each of you, since you all have websites. Recently the Supreme Court declined to hear a petition from Domino’s, who’d been sued by a potential customer saying that their website wasn’t accessible to handicapped people. Domino’s took this case all the way to the Supreme Court hoping not to have to adjust their website. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. That means that the decision not to hear the case was a loss for Domino’s and a win for disability advocates. It means that businesses will have to have to deal with this.

I’ve read a number of stories about the actual litigation, but I have no idea how big of a deal this is: whether most websites are compliant or not, how expensive it is to make one compliant if it’s not compliant. I’m curious how the three of you are looking at this. Karen, this is the business you’re in. Let’s start with you. What’s your reaction to this?

Karen Clark Cole:
I think it’s great. Obviously, I can see how a corporation doesn’t want to be told what to do. But the reality is, it’s absolutely critical and essential. Disabilities don’t just include the sort of ones that might come to the top of mind. We have a huge aging population. They have trouble with mobility, with hand and eye coordination. They have trouble seeing, hearing, speaking in some cases. Then we have a whole huge population of people who are illiterate. They like pizza too.

Compliant is checking the boxes—we’ve got the alt tags, we’ve got these various other things that cost money to implement if you do it after. If you do it while you’re building a website, it’s virtually no additional cost. You have to have a plan in place for it. There are all kinds of things that a company like Domino’s could do when a huge part of their population—it’s delivery service—they could be catering to all kinds of people with various disabilities and really knocking it out of the park and paving the way and giving a great example.

Loren Feldman:
Could you give us a feel for the expense here? You said that the expense is almost nothing if you build it in when you’re building the site. But if you have to go back, how expensive is it to make it compliant? Or how expensive is it to go beyond that and make it innovative, in your terms?

Karen Clark Cole:
If you’re innovating, you need to do it while designing.

Loren Feldman:
You can’t retrofit innovation.

Karen Clark Cole:
Right, because that really involves thinking differently. How do you solve a problem in a different kind of way? I’m making this up, but it’s probably anywhere in the range from, $10,000 to $20,000. It depends how big the site is and how complicated it is. But if you’re going in and just putting in some compliances, it’s different. I’m sure the price could go way up too.

Jay Goltz:
You’re missing a piece of this puzzle. The piece of the puzzle you don’t have is, some law firms sued them. Trust me, this is how it works. This isn’t about disability advocates. This is about law firms that do nothing but sue everybody who has a website for money. For all you know, they had a million dollar lawsuit against them and that’s why they went to court. That’s what’s going on.

Laura Zander:
Loren, from our perspective, as a relatively small business that is online and built our site 17 years ago, and whose chief developer happens to be my husband and co-owner… The principle totally makes sense. I couldn’t agree more, absolutely 100%. But this has affected us almost to a personal level, because all of a sudden, the opportunity cost of Doug has had to spend—it took him three weeks—that 10 to 20 grand, in terms of development time for a business like ours, that’s a part-time employee. That’s one person that now can’t pull and ship orders or can’t take pictures and put them on the site. Doug had to spend two or three weeks trying to figure out what the rules were because nobody could tell him. He went to the ADA site and the ADA site’s not ADA compliant. To learn that the enforcement is not going to be done by the governing agencies but by lawsuits is really scary.

Loren Feldman:
What prompted you to look at it, Laura? Did somebody sue you?

Laura Zander:
Yeah, absolutely. We got a letter from somebody. We’re a business that’s just that size that is visible. All we need are 10 people to sue us and have to pay five or 10 grand each time in legal fees just to defend ourselves. That’s a showstopper for us.

Loren Feldman:
Did Doug get you where you need to be?

Laura Zander:
He got us where we need to be, but if you think about the opportunity cost of those weeks that he could have spent trying to help us build the business—and again, the principle totally makes sense—it would be really great if we maybe had nine months or a year to be able to come to compliance, and that the government, or somebody else, would make sure that we were compliant, as opposed to having to defend ourselves through the legal system and not having any time.

Karen Clark Cole:
To Jay’s point, it’s sort of sad to think that somebody is running a business on looking for these things and suing people.

Laura Zander:
Absolutely, we’ve gotten sued so many times for different things like this that we don’t get to build the business. We are playing defense constantly.

Jay Goltz:
Did you settle the lawsuit, Laura?

Laura Zander:
No, we didn’t settle it. We just got compliant. Doug worked 20 hours a day.

Jay Goltz:
Laura, how long ago was this?

Laura Zander:
Maybe two months ago, three months ago?

Jay Goltz:
I’m not so sure that you’re done with that.

Laura Zander:
I’m sure we’re not.

Jay Goltz:
You’re going to get a letter in the mail. That’s how it works. I don’t think they just did it to be nice. They’re going to sue you.

Loren Feldman:
Where do you stand, Jay? Has this been an issue for you?

Jay Goltz:
No, most of these lawsuits are coming out of New York and Florida. Law firms, this is their new cash cow, and they’re going after everybody that they can think of who has a website, and then they settle.

Loren Feldman:
Did you become compliant? Did you did you get sued and have to adjust?

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, but it’s frustrating because the government should be regulating this. They should put standards out there. The problem is, from what I understand, the government hasn’t taken a stand on where they stand with this. There are no rules out there. All of us are out there doing what we think is right. We don’t even know about it. Then you get sued. To Laura’s point, there isn’t even somewhere you can go that tells you exactly how to do it. It’s a gray area.

Loren Feldman:
Karen, I think I just heard two business owners asked for more regulation. Did I hear that right?

Karen Clark Cole:
I was just thinking that sounds like a great line of business, is to provide a site that actually will check it for you and help you and give you some consulting.

Jay Goltz:
Right, you’d rather spend $3,000 to a site like that that will help you do it, than pay up to a law firm who is not doing anything except suing you.

Laura Zander:
Absolutely, we want to make sure, that’s our client base as well. It’s just the right thing to do, and we will do the work. Just tell us what the work is.

Loren Feldman:
On that note, thank you all for another week of the 21 Hats Podcast. We will rejoin this conversation soon. Thank you all.