Sunday, January 29, 2012

Who Cares

Running a small business sucks. It seems like no one cares about small businesses, even your friends sometimes. I know everyone has stuff in their lives, but I am growing increasingly annoyed that I will post something to FB or Twitter asking for people to share it or help... they do nothing then I see a post about how they need more cows for their stupid online game. My business is no game, it is my life but yet they gets tons of people replying.

Then if your seen as important you can sneeze and be all over press and be on the tonight show. I see articles on the news that are just dumb and frustrating that these people are being helped by mass media. I am building jobs in the USA and all I hear are the voices in my head, but if Masterlock says they are going to bring production back they get a presidential nod WTF they brought back 100 jobs that is nothing for a big business! They still make everything in China, but because they said they were going to make stuff here everyone thinks they are... People wake up and stop drinking the Kool-Aid

For the last month or so I have been thinking of starting a charity to help support other small businesses, but I am becoming increasingly disinterested because it seems that no one would care. No one would want to support something that actually helped, but they will go to Starbucks buy crappy coffee from a massive corporation and buy a bracelet so they can give money to JP Morgan Chase so JP Morgan can bend more people over a barrel until they are run out of business or their homes.

I know no one is going to read this or care, but it makes me feel better. I have tried to keep the happy face for the last 4 years as we lost our house, our savings, our lifestyle and now our friends. It seems now that I no longer make over $100K and don't have the fancy car or the big house people come up with lame excuses on why they do not want to go out, meet or do anything. We went out for New Years, our friends did not show up and could not even say why. We are the same people we used to be, I thrive on socialization so this has been slowly killing me.  We can work our own schedule so we can go out for lunch, for dinner or whatever but it seems that we are just not that interesting anymore.

I keep holding out hope that we will make it, that we will have the life we used to but then if we get big and are a success people will just be groupies wanting something from us because we are popular.  What a Pain, I want real friends and real people, the kind of people who actually care and would help you if you need it.  I do anything for people all of the time, and get screwed for it.  I let someone borrow the truck they hit something, mess it up, leave crap all over, drain the tank and don’t even care.  It seems like to be successful you have to screw everyone, to have people respect you they have to fear you…  Not my style.

Sadly I grew up in Oregon, many people I went to school with are still around, people I worked with are around but yet we have no real friends anymore.  We are looking forward to moving out of state to Santa Fe NM, at least there will be sun.  Nothing ties us to Oregon anymore, no friends my brother is in Seattle and the parents are looking at traveling again.  What a sad state of affairs at only 32 years old.

That’s my story and I am sticking to it, don’t throw me a pity party it is just the way it is.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dear President Obama

Dear President Obama,

In 2008 my husband invented a product which we've been struggling to sell ever since.  The invention came out of ingenuity and desperation as Ryan was a Real Estate Broker at the time and the market as you know tanked. 

Since founding our company we've refused to send production overseas in hopes that some day we'll be able to grow locally and hire other American's in the future.  Our decision for what it's worth, has cost us our home, thousands of dollars of debt and to add insult to injury we were hit by the IRS with a $10,000 audit for taxes they claim we underpaid in 2007.  We will never be able to repay this or get back into the black unless our business revenue increases rapidly.

The reason I'm writing you is that this evening I came across an article quoting you as patting Master Lock's back for 'insourcing'.  I was so disheartened that all of our genuine efforts and sacrifices have been overshadowed once more by a company that uses its wealth to use you for their marketing ploy.  While they are indeed bringing some industry back to the United States, it pales in comparison to the 1,000's of American families they hurt when they decided to move their manufacturing to China and Mexico to save a buck.  It feels like they are using this revitalized movement to rebuild American industry as a way to regain market share and are using you as their mouth piece.

We may never be as large as Master Lock and if it means trampling on others to get ahead we don't want to be. We just want an opportunity to let the world know we exist.  Tax cuts don't help us because we barely make enough money to keep the lights on and borrowing money is just putting us further and further into debt.  Even though I know that we have a good product that is continuing to grow a solid customer base, we can't even begin to approach retailers like Lowes and Home Depot because without marketing dollars to let the world we exist our little $65 rock on would get laughed off their shelves.

I realize you have mountain of issues to deal with and that in the grand scheme of things our small company is merely a single spec of sugar in your coffee, but on behalf of the 100's of 1000's of US manufacturers trying to stay competitive and keep their head above water I hope that at the very least you will recognize us for a change.  I understand that companies like Master Lock have lobbied to garner the support of your administration but please remember that they are a self serving business and we little guys need a voice too.

I'm not expecting a response to this letter, but I am hopeful that at the very least my words have not fallen on deaf ears. Thank you for you time.


Melanie Belshee

RocLok Hide a Key, Inc.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Starbucks SUCKS!

For the first time in 3 years, I decided to go Christmas shopping yesterday.  My goal, all be it remote, was to locate a gift Made in the USA for around $20 at the only "local" stores in that area Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, Ross Dress for Less and Old Navy. 

I didn't really hold much hope for accomplishing my goals at these particular retailers but in a time crunch I thought I'd do the experience anyway.  I started at Target with the thought that they have a wide range of goods and the odds of finding something made locally was at least a possibility.  I wanted to get a insulated Thermos and some coffee for a co-worker.  Since the plastic items we use in our product are made right up the street from our shop, I thought for sure there would be at least one in the bunch but that it might cost more than my $20 budget.  I began turning over the Thermos' one by one to find each was Made in China.  One even said Hecho en China and had no English on the tag whatsoever! To add insult to injury they were all $15+ and I learned later in the evening that the same model could be purchased up the street at the Dollar Tree!

Disgusted by my discoveries I made my way over to Ross Dress for Less.  If I was going to spend money on a product Made in China I wasn't going to pay what Target wanted! So I roamed through the isles, saw a few options also Made in China, no big surprise, but I was shocked that the price was only $5 to $10 less.  Finally I decided to stop by the Bed Bath and Beyond that was right next door.  After my discovery at Target I didn't hold much hope at all.  True to form after scouring the inventory I left empty handed after 30 mins. Along my way I noticed a plethora of "Earth Friendly" products which of course we're priced at a premium but sadly non where Made in the USA. Exactly how does freighting a "Green" product half way around the globe save the planet anyway?

Tired and frustrated the thought to change my gifting goal all together came to mind and I popped into the Old Navy to check out their Techno Gear clothing. The price was right, the product seemed ok, but I couldn't bring myself to plunk down the dough when I really wanted to stick to my convictions and buy something, ANYTHING, Made in the USA.  Again I walked to my car without a bag in tow.  In a last ditch effort I pulled into a Starbuck's Coffee along the way.  I knew I wasn't going to find anything there, I don't even care for their coffee but the person I was buying for did so I thought I'd give it a look.  Years ago I worked for the Green Monster and they would give a free drink with any mug purchase so I figured at the very least my gift recipient would enjoy a cup of joe and have something to show for it.  But Starbucks has gotten greedy over the years and no longer gives you a drink voucher for your $20 contribution.  In addition to that all of their mugs were again made overseas.  However, I made a really funny discovery that I wasn't looking for.  Next to the registers was bracelet attached to a piece of cardboard that read "Create Jobs for USA"- out of curiosity I decided to  investigate this bracelet and what I discovered almost made me loss my breakfast. 

Seems this campaign to raise money for small business owners like me is JP Morgan Chase's way to make interest off of donations.  This money isn't been given to business owners, oh no, we're expected to pay interest on it.  Something is wrong with this picture don't you think?  The bulk of the economic calapse is predicated on debt and this marketing ploy only feeds off of struggling businesses need by padding the pockets of wealthy bankers and greedy corporations. If you really want to help us small businesses grow please don't waste your money on a bracelet that funds corruption and greed! Instead why not pay $5.00 more on a US made product that actually helps businesses grow and keep their doors open!!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Take that Snuggie!

Believe me, I don't want this to sound like I'm not happy for other companies who have garnered exposure for their products and are cashing in on the fruits of their labor.  Still its hard not to think "why them and not us?"

Over the course of these difficult 3 years trying to introduce a new product to the world, products like The Snuggie continue to frustrate me!  I mean, what does a blanket with sleeves have that a locking rock doesn't? In fact, I'd argue that while the Snuggie can keep you warm after a long day at work, it's more important to be able to get out of the cold in the first place. 

To add insult to injury all you have to do is tune into a show like Anthony Sullivan's Pitchman and see all the crap that is churned out of a factory in China and gobbled up by American consumers. Its beyond frustrating, it's down right infuriating! Case in point, on Wednesday of this week ABC News ran a story on a Facebook about a guy in New York who is raking in the dough selling perfumes that smell like Roast Beef! Not only is the thought of smelling like I just worked a 10 hour shift at Arby's completely revolting, but the fact that people are paying 1,000's of dollars (yes 1,000's) for this is beyond comprehension and made exponentially worse because it was featured on national news!!!

After pouring 1,000's and giving up everything we own to give the RocLok a go, its so disheartening that we haven't made our mark yet.  I'm not really sure what is going to make that page turn in our favor or if it ever will. 

Until then we'll continue to do what we feel is right.  Continue to make our little product right here in the USA forsaking a quick buck to build something we can be proud of.  We'll continue donating profit to help save animals lives even if it means we have to tough out another Top Ramen dinner and someday, God willing we'll be able to say Take that Snuggie! Until then, I'll continue to vent, thank you for listening!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ho, Ho, NO!

If you have been out to the local mall or even the DMV recently you've probably noticed that it's beginning to look like Christmas everywhere you look and if you're like me you don't like it one bit! Don't get me wrong, the holidays are hands down my favorite time of the year.  Snow, happy little elves and getting together with friends and family that often get neglected throughout the year.  But now that it seems like Christmas is coming earlier and earlier every year the season has lost it's magic for me.

To make it even matters worse, because we sell a consumer based product, we have to start Christmas early to compete with all the big box stores! If I had my way, Christmas promotion wouldn't begin until December 1st. The anticipation needs to be restored to this beautiful holiday!

In our area Halloween decorations began popping up in late August, before the kids had even gone back to school! By Halloween night, you were lucky to find anything left as it had all been replaced by Christmas trees and garland that was already discounted!!! It's getting out of hand.  I mean we were told by one of our vendors that we missed the deadline for the holiday catalog in February, yes FEBRUARY!

On Facebook I hear my friends complain about the jingles in the store, the large Christmas tree being erected in the city square (already) and all the commercials which will be more than played out by the time November comes to a close.  Yet caving to pier pressure I changed our fan page banner from Halloween to a Holiday theme promptly on  November 1st.  Some of our vendors had done so as early as October 28th so I felt like I held my ground a little but still I'm conflicted on how to continue to promote this season.  Do I forge ahead with holiday themed ramblings stuffing my fans minds with visions of RocLok's under the tree or do I hold back until Thanksgiving gets it's due respect and hope I didn't miss eager Black Friday / Cyber Monday shoppers?

I so wish that the commercialization of this season was brought back to the way I remember it growing up. I believe that this recession has made retailers hungry and they are desperately fighting and clawing for their piece of the pie at the expense of their customers happiness.  Perhaps one day there will be a stop to this HO HO madness and we can all slow down a bit and enjoy every holiday equally.  For now I guess I'll have to go with the flow, avoid the stores, change the channel on those commercials and hope that their are holiday decorations left when I feel like it's an appropriate time to start celebrating.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Big Waste of Time?

As I'm sure you've all seen, millions of Americans have flooded US numerous city streets in a movement called Occupy Wallstreet. When the movement began a little more than 2 weeks ago, it appeared that the cause focus was to protest against corporate greed committed by the largest companies currently in the marketplace.  As a small business owner who is not even able to pay myself a minimum wage I of course applauded their efforts.  Unfortunately some where along the way it appears that the movement lost it's focus completely and now I'm not really sure what they are trying to accomplish.

A few nights ago we had dinner with Ryan's parents and got onto the subject of Occupy Wallstreet and corporate greed. We all agreed that for the most part this protest is turning into more of a waste of energy than a positive move in the direction of change.  It seems as though people are now congregating to complain about how unfair their lives are rather than voicing concerns that spark discussion and possibly change. 

Ryan's mom shared a disturbing incident that recently happened at her workplace, a national communications corporation which I won't name even though I'd love to (let's just say it starts with an F now and formerly started with a V).  Seems the company made a bad investment when buying out another national communication corporations local internet and television accounts and instead of making cuts from the top down, roughly 50% of the local work force was hit with a pay cut of 45% or more while the CEO received a raise earning her $12 million a year!  To add insult to injury she had the nerve to personally fly in on her private helicopter to delivery the bad news to an unsuspecting workforce. This information was so disturbing to me that I personally will never invest in their services from now on.  Unless this CEO built this company from the ground up (which she didn't) there is no way she is worth that kind of a gross salary!  Even if she had founded the company, I'd hope that a majority would be reinvested into the company or given to a charitable organization.  Heck, we don't even make 100th of 1% of that each year and we give a percentage of sales back to charity!

Still is this one woman's overcompensation and greed the root cause of the unemployment rate in America?  Is it the outsourcing of our jobs to foreign companies? Or is it that our country has so many incentives to have a comfortable live without working for it that people have learned it's easier to collect an unemployment check rather than getting off the couch and doing some good old manual labor for minimum wage. 

What frustrates me is that as a small business owner I don't have the luxury of unemployment, health care or even workman's comp.  We struggle to keep the doors open and the lights on, live off macaroni & cheese and only go to the doctor if a router bit tries to rip off our hand and the wound is too large to patch at home! If I closed our doors tomorrow we'd couldn't go to the State office and get government assistance while we figure out what we want to be when we grow up!

When our money troubles started a couple of years ago, Ryan suggested we look into food stamps to help keep food in the house, I refused and still do.  Sure it's a pride thing, but also why should I take food out of the mouths of hungry children or the homeless when I'm perfectly capable of figuring out new ways to make our business grow and earn money. Neither of us have a handicap that prevents us from earning a living and providing for ourselves. If more people would own up to their responsibilities as citizen's of the human race, quit bitching about what a tough lot in life they have been dealt and in the words of Nike, Just Do It, I think that we would be in a much better place than we are today!

Outsourcing is bad, greed is bad, but laziness is worse because it is something we all can control. Wasting energy marching up and down our city streets without a clear purpose is just that, a waste of energy.  I hope that someone stands up with a clear message and idea for change soon so that we can all start to work on making much needed improvements.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Finding the Perfect Fit

Over the last couple weeks, I've noticed an increasing amount of stories about US companies finding great new employees from our military veteran community.  As one such company I can attest that hiring a veteran was the best decision we have made in business thus far.

Neither Ryan or I had experience hiring an employee.  And with a string of bad hires on construction projects over the years, we were scared that we would make the wrong decision when it can time to bring someone on board.  In turn it took us 3 years to take a leap of faith. 

The tricky part was that the business is not cash positive yet.  It pays for  rent, utilities, raw goods and marketing every month, but that is all it pays for.  Still we felt that bringing on an extra hand made sense to allow Ryan to do what he does best by selling.  So we decided to place an advertisement on Craigslist in the gigs section because that section is free.  Unfortunately you get what you pay for and we had a series of relatively unmotivated unemployed workers who seemed to feel entitled to having their cake and eating it to.  After a few face to face interviews we started to doubt that there was anyone out there who would be able to work for what we could afford and who would have a passion for what we do.

Determined to find someone I convinced Ryan that we should place a formal job posting on Craigslist at a price of $20 for the month.  The investment was well worth it.  Within a matter of minutes applications were pinging my inbox and continued to for 3 straight days! Of the applicants I'd say that 75% stated some form of military background.  Most had been discharged without deployment.  Of those 90% were from the Marine Corps.  Coming from a strong military family background, I was immediately excited by the possibility of hiring one of these candidates. 
However when some of these applicants arrived for the interview it was painfully clear why they were relieved of their duties.  Most had served their terms and now lived their life without a future goal and no idea what they wanted out of their lives.  Some had family issues which would have proven difficult in our fluctuating schedule and others really needed a structured work environment we knew were couldn't provide. 

The economic downturn also left many technologically qualified workers without employment especially with Oregon's high amount of technology fields.  Even though we knew that someone with a degree in engineering and or computer aided drafting would likely tire of making rocks quickly we invited a couple into the shop for a sit down.  One gentlemen in particular seemed as though he might actually be a good fit.  He was determined, focused and sounded like he had his feet on the ground.  But once it came time to have him in for the second interview he never responded to our requests and completely fell off the face of the planet.

From the beginning of the process, I felt that a person younger than us, possibly in school would make a good addition to our team.  The thought was that younger people can be more open to learning and with little financial burdens they can be a bit more flexible on pay and hours.  Going on this theory we talked with 3 candidates who might fit the bill.  All three were in their early 20's, high school graduates or GED holders and had experience in a wide range of labor jobs.  The first candidate had a young family to support as well as a prior arrest yet we thought he might have the drive we were looking for and we invited him to the 2nd interview.  The second candidate had graduated for Ryan and my alma mater and was attending college part time while also raising a small daughter and living with his parents.  Again we thought he might be a good fit and we invited him to the 2nd interview.  Finally there was a young man who had taken a 1:30 hour bus ride from the other side of town to meet with us.  He insisted that the mother of his child with whom he was estranged would allow him to crash at her apartment on the days we needed his help. He was also a recovering alcoholic with only 60 days sobriety under his belt - needless to say a little too much to handle for us.

Two hours before we were going to stop interviewing completely we received an application from a young man with a background in the Marines, who lived very close by, attended part-time classes and held a second job.  At that point we'd narrowed our search down to 5 candidates and where pretty decided on one of them but thought we'd give the guy a chance.  That decision was the best one we could have ever made.

Bert walked in as our last interview.  He had been relieved of duty because of a kidney problem military medics discovered.  Having undergone the riggers of basic training his discharge earned him full military benefits including grants to help him continue his education in his chosen field of Geology.  He had no priors, no history of addiction and no family drama back home.  Really he almost seemed too good to be true.  So we asked him to join the other 5 candidates for a walk through of the shop and briefing of the job requirements.  He was the first to arrive, the last to leave and the only one who took us up on our offering of Krispy Creme donuts and coffee. As soon as everyone took their leave it was obvious to both Ryan and I that he was the person for the job.

Excited to share the news we offered him the job that afternoon and I made the mistake of announcing it on our Facebook fan page soon after.  The reason I say that it was a mistake is because I hadn't thanked all the other 2nd interview candidates yet and one of them was following the page.  When he saw that he had not made the cut, he was angry and blasted us publicly for being unprofessional.  Really it made him look like a sore looser and once Ryan called to explain he deleted his rant but that incident showed us how close we were to making a very bad decision, we were thankful we dodged that bullet!

One thing this process taught us was that you should never settle for less than we need.  Both Ryan and I had decided that our little position was only going to attract someone with little motivation or who had no other means of getting work.  We were open to hiring someone who needed to be given a second chance at the expense of our own ethics.  I'm glad that someone out there was watching over us and didn't let us settle for less than we needed or deserved.