Is It Legit?

Beware ‘professional ‘ beggars.

isitlegit

He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor. Proverbs 22:9

The United States of America is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and  more charitable donations per capita flow from the US than from other nations.  As a country we are blessed with both the largest percentages of Christians and millionaires. These two groups donate more money to charities than any other according to numerous reports. Because of this abundance of wealth, there are numerous scam artists who prey upon the charity and good will of the generous by flipping the script to take advantage.

Earlier this year, you may have heard this heartwarming story in the national news media about this poor woman who was trying to make it home,  but her car broke down when it ran out of gas on I-95 outside of Philly. A homeless vet gave her $20, enabling her to get the much needed petrol for her car. In gratitude, her and her boyfriend befriended the man and set up an online GoFundMe donation account to help this wonderful homeless veteran. As the story went viral, donations poured in and the account grew to more than $400,000. A wonderful story.

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Except that’s all it was, a story. The entire account was a fiction, and all three parties were involved in the scam. The vet was indeed homeless, but the couple Mark D’Amico and Kate McClure, conspired with homeless man Johnny Bobbitt  and solicited his help as the face of their campaign. The plan backfired when the amounts received from good-hearted donors spiraled out of control. Greed over the size of the split of the ill-gotten gains is what ultimately undid the trio. Bobbit felt all the money belonged to him, as he was really homeless. Mastermind Mark D’Amico believed Bobbit was only entitled to a portion of the money, so Johnny Bobbitt got a lawyer and sued.  As a result of the legal action and the resulting media attention on the high-profile case, the elaborate plot unraveled and all three were jailed and charged with theft by deception. GoFundMe has agreed to refund the donations collected.  

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“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

The Naked City was a TV crime drama broadcast  from 1959-1963 and based on a 1948 film of the same name. Each episode ended with the iconic line about the eight million stories, a reference to the location, set in New York City, and implying that everyone has a story to tell. As I stated before, the USA is the land of plenty, and we do have homeless and poor, but no one staves in this country except by choice, or by malice. There has never been a famine our country, but there are many stupid people who make bad decisions and then want to blame others for their misfortune, or at least make them feel bad.  It reminds me of a biblical account of a famine in ancient Samaria found in the second book of Kings.  

2 Kings 6:26-30

26 As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!”

27 The king replied, “If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?” 28 Then he asked her, “What’s the matter?”

She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ 29 So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.”

30 When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and they saw that, under his robes, he had sackcloth on his body.

That’s a pretty terrible tale, but it points out poor decision skills, taking advantage of both stupidity and of wealth, and while you feel sympathetic for the victims there are some people that just can’t be helped. It’s not totally clear exactly what type of help the woman is soliciting, but it is implied that she is seeking justice against the woman who scammed her.

Jesus said we will always have the poor among us. I’m not into the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’ which preaches that God wants us to be rich and successful, because by becoming wealthy we are in a much better position to help others.  There is some truth in this logic, but remember that even the Devil can quote scripture and twist it’s meaning to suit his purposes. There’s a scam out there for every legitimate cause, and they prey upon your sympathy.  A ‘church by mail’ called Saint Mathews Churches of Tulsa OK is one such scam that sends out mailings splattered with scriptures and religious iconography promising great blessings in return for ‘seed offerings’.  Some televangelists also fall into this category.

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Sometimes it’s hard to separate ‘the wheat from the chaff’. Sometimes it’s impossible, so don’t feel bad if you gave in error to a fake one. Live and learn, and move on.  Good people want to help others, and every organization needs SOME funding for its own overhead.  Some organizations are just ‘squeaky wheels’ that exist to cry for donations while little of the funds reach their intended targets.  I’m a firm believer in supporting LOCAL organizations. The best nation-wide charities like The Salvation Army  https://www.salvationarmyusa.org   or Toys For Tots   https://www.toysfortots.org  can get by on a minimal razor-thin operating budget and have LOCAL offices that cater to the LOCAL community. 

If you have any concerns about a charity, you can see how they rank up to similar charities by using the https://www.charitynavigator.org/  website. Charity Navigator is the largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities in the United States providing data on 1.8 million nonprofits.  

This doesn’t mean that every need has an accredited 501-c charity that exists to back it. Sometimes, legitimate needs do ‘pop-up’ unexpectedly, due to tragedy or stupidity, or both. Many of these hard luck cases turn to GoFundMe.com  There are many true needs out there that need to be met, but like the couple and the vet who scammed over  $400,000 some of these ‘needs’ might be fake. Whenever you donate money, never donate more than you can afford to, never feel bad if you have to say ‘no’, and never, ever, EVER donate money if you feel like you are being FORCED to give. Extortion is just as illegal as theft by deception. I have heard of people who used GoFundMe to raise funds for funerals, medical expenses, and because they lost their home in a fire. I once even donated money to a homeless Superman impersonator who had been mugged, had his teeth knocked out, and was robbed of his cape and super-suit. I have also heard of  people who used   GoFundME because they felt they were entitled to lots of money for their upcoming birthday, or who needed rent money because ‘they just didn’t have it’.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes people are just stupid and make bad decisions.  All things come from God and you are the steward  of the riches He has bestowed upon you. How you choose to distribute from your bounty is a matter of your heart, and only God can judge you because He knows the truth behind ever human heart. As always, I wish you success and happiness.  

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

A handout or a hand up?

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A popular song  from 1930 was ‘Brother, can you spare a dime?’ sung by Bing Crosby.  During the Great Depression, many Americans were down on their luck and struggling to make ends meet. (The ‘Fellow American down  on his luck’ was later personified by Humphrey Bogart in the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre 1948, later spoofed in the 1950 Bugs Bunny cartoon short  8-Ball Bunny.)  A dime doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but when you get enough of them they do add up. It was probably  a combination of this song on the radio, and the movie newsreel serial THE MARCH OF TIME that inspired Eddie Cantor to coin the phrase ‘The March Of Dimes’ to help raise donations for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, for his National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, to combat polio. The catch phrase eventually replaced the clunky name of the foundation, which has been know as The March Of Dimes ever since.  The poorly run charity still exists today despite the near extinction of polio, having changed its mission to fighting birth defects.   More than 80% of funds collected go towards overhead,  and the CEO of the charity  is paid over $500,000 annually. What started out as a good intention morphed into a bureaucratic nightmare that doesn’t seem to help anyone except the staff.

The American Dream vs. the Welfare State.

Americans are guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nowhere in the US Constitution is it listed as being the job of the government to provide any form of  social welfare assistance, cradle to grave healthcare, cheap housing, free phones, or free food.  

Following the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression, certain well-intentioned government officials began creating the modern welfare state that exists in our country today. The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt on August 14, 1935. The WPA, Works Progress Administration, put unemployed and unskilled Americans to work in return for temporary financial assistance from 1939 to 1943. For four years during the Depression, the first Food Stamp Program fed 20 million people at one time or another in nearly half of the total counties in the nation.  Food stamps were eliminated in 1943, but in 1961 they were revived when President Kennedy signed his first executive order bringing back the program. Food stamps would also eventually be re-branded as SNAP, a Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, with benefits being distributed electronically on a EBT card to reduce ‘social stigma’.     

Government entitlement programs account for more than half of the national budget.  Whenever we reduce taxes, we also have to make  corresponding cuts to the budget, and associated entitlement programs.  The problem is there is a large portion of the population that has become entirely dependent upon the existence of those same entitlement programs which must be eliminated.  Ever since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered Americans his New Deal, the cornerstone of the Democrat political party platform has been to eliminate poverty through widespread, government social welfare programs. As a result of the created dependency generated from these same welfare programs, poverty has actually increased while the Federal budget deficit has skyrocketed. We have also created generational welfare dependency with children living in the same housing projects on public assistance as their parents and grandparents.  It is impossible to eliminate poverty, and believing that poverty can be eliminated amounts to calling Jesus Christ a liar.

“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me.”– Jesus Christ,  The Bible written in John 12:8,  Mark 14:7, and also Matthew 26:11

Charity begins at home.

​“With great power there must also come — great responsibility!” —Stan Lee

Besides being God, Jesus Christ was a rabbi, or teacher. By speaking that the poor will always be among us, He brings to mind other scripture verse.      

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be…For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deut 15:7-11)

Before the government social welfare reforms of the twentieth century were instituted, taking care of the poor was largely a function of the Christian Church. Churches had ‘poor boxes’ with the donations collected destined directly for the poor.  Even today, churches provide free meals, food pantries, and other donations for the poor. As Christians living in the most prosperous country in history of the world, it is OUR responsibility to pass on our blessings as we have been blessed. With all the opportunity and freedom abundant in the United States, there really is no reason to be poor unless we choose to be. According to motivational expert Brian Tracy, “The sad fact is that people are poor because they have not yet decided to be rich. People are overweight and unfit because they have not yet decided to be thin and fit. People are inefficient time wasters because they haven’t yet decided to be highly productive in everything they do.”

I grew up poor, both my father and step-father died when I was a young boy. My mother never worked to better herself and always relied upon social welfare programs.  As a result, I grew up in a roach-infested apartment in NYC, eating Government cheese, getting food with food stamps, and eating free meals at school. My mother died in the same poverty she chose to embrace, but I made a vow long ago to never be poor when I was an adult.  Success is always present, but never given, you have to work for it if you really want it. Doing so places you in a position to help the less fortunate, offering a hand up instead of a handout.  There are many worthy charities for every sketchy one that claims to help the poor, and if you do your research, by separating the wheat from the chaff your donations will do the most good.  A good rule of thumb is to focus locally and give what you are able to give freely and gladly. You should take care of your family, friends, and other people who live close to you before helping people who are living further away or in another country.  If every Christian in the USA did their fair share, there would be no need for government welfare programs. As always, I wish you success and happiness.

YOU SAVED HOW MUCH?

Are ‘Black Friday’ deals really worth all the hassle?

you saved how much

In the USA, the day after Thanksgiving has been referred to as ‘Black Friday’ for over fifty years.  It marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas Shopping season.  The shopping extravaganza grew out of a series of slightly connected events that fed off one another resulting in the shopping nightmare we deal with today. I don’t know about you, but I avoid the stores that entire weekend.

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Blame Canada!

In 1869, Timothy Eaton opened his first department store in Toronto Canada.  The T. Eaton & Company Importers  quickly prospered, ultimately billing itself as Canada’s Greatest Store and at one time was even considered the most successful department store in the world. What does this have to do with the USA and Black Friday?

On  December 2, 1905 Eaton’s held the first of its annual Christmas Parades. These holiday events grew increasingly both in scale and popularity. A couple of decades later, the parade captured the attention of the CEOs of BOTH Macy’s Department Store and Gimbles.   The first Thanksgiving Day parade in the USA  held in 1920 was sponsored by Gimbels department store in Philadelphia PA.  In NYC a few  years later on Thanksgiving Day 1924, the First Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade had an  audience of over 250,000 people.  The Parade ended with Santa Clause being welcomed to Herald Square and escorted to this throne at Macy’s.  The parade was such a success that Macy’s declared it would become an annual event.  Philly may have been the flagship location for Gimbles, but they ALSO had a location at Herald Square across from Macy’s and were not amused by the imitation. The competition for Christmas shopping between Macy’s and Gimbles Department stores  was legendary and became the back story of the 1947 Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street. (By the 1950’s the Eaton’s Christmas Parade was still the largest in North America, but now that honor rests solely with Macy’s.)

Other US cites also hold local parades, but none can match the scale of the NYC Macy’s Day Parade. The resulting foot traffic from these crowds meant extra business for any retailers lucky enough to be in the vicinity. In the 1950’s in Philadelphia PA, the police started referring to the Friday after Thanksgiving as A Black Friday, black meaning very bad. Between the crowds for the Thanksgiving Parade, and the Saturday Army vs. Navy football game, the crowds in the city were a nightmare, and police were working 12 hour shifts for crowd control. The holiday foot traffic kept growing and soon retailers began running special sales to entice shoppers to make impulse purchases.

By 1961, retailers regarded Black Friday as a good thing because the increased sales revenue meant their accounts were ‘in the black’. In traditional accounting, positive income is entered into a ledger with black ink, while negative debits are recorded in red. When you balance the books, you want the bottom total line to be black, showing a positive balance.  If it’s red, you’re in debt, and possibly in deep trouble.

It is estimated that Black Friday sales account for 50% of the Christmas sales, and that Christmas sales in general account for half of the total annual sales of retailers. This is now the reason for all the special Christmas  prices we tend to see at this time of year as merchants try to relieve us of our hard-earned cash.  This is why you also see seasonal ‘pop-up’ kiosk stores in malls selling all manner of gimmicky impulse items. Christmas and Black Friday are BIG BUSINESS!

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Cyberman, Cyberman, does whatever a cyber can.

The term “Cyber Monday” was created by marketing companies to persuade people to shop online. The term was coined by Ellen Davis and Scott Silverman, and made its debut on November 28, 2005. The idea behind Cyber Monday was to convince people that better deals could be found online IF you were willing to wait a couple of days.  In the 21st century, the traditional retail model has been evolving. There has been a shift towards online purchases which has resulted in the death of many brick and mortar stores. 

Gimbles  went out of business in 1986. Stewardship of the Philly Parade transferred to ABC 6 and Boscov’s. Boscov’s Department Stores of Reading PA also briefly faced bankruptcy in 2011, and had to give up its share in the parade , which is now The Dunkin’ Donuts ABC6 Thanksgiving Day Parade. Eaton’s of Canada closed in 1999, was sold to SEARS of Canada,  which also folded. Local Canadian merchants banded together to save their parade.  SEARS USA is on the brink of going out of business, and Mary’s is starting to close low earning locations.  Long time king of toy stores TOY R US closed its doors forever this summer.   Jeff Bezos  started AMAZON.com in 1999. He is now the richest man in the world with a net worth estimated to be $87 Billion dollars. He’s only 54 but even he admits that no business last forever . “Amazon is not too big to fail … In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail,” Bezos reportedly said when addressing a question about Sears recently going bankrupt. “Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years.”

The question remains though, was it the computer or was it the crowds that killed brick and morter stores? The computer is a wonderful tool that can make our lives better when used properly. The internet allows us to reach stores and people in places we could never get to easily or cost effectively in the  past. By delaying instant gratification, and waiting for sales online, diligently searching for the best prices, we can save ourselves the hassle of fighting crowds for promised low prices on items which sell out in minutes at the store. It’s not worth your time or trouble when you factor in travel costs and your personal time. Time is the one commodity you can never replace. As always I wish you success and happiness.  

The Path to Prosperity!

Keeping America Great!

The Path To Prosperity

An Editorial opinion–

“Freedom has cost too much blood and agony to be relinquished at the cheap price of rhetoric.” ― Thomas Sowell, Knowledge And Decisions

Full disclosure, I am a conservative Republican and Christian, and I fully support President Trump. 

We the People of the United States

Tuesday November 6th 2018 is Election Day in the USA this year. Registered voters will be voting across our great nation to elect representatives to legislate on our behalf. With the power of our votes, we have the ability to support or change the current socio-economic state of our country and pass on to future generations a country we believe they will want. Because our votes are crucial to this process, it is imperative that we fully understand the ramifications of our political views, and how they are shaped.  In the USA, our capitalist economy, our religious freedoms, and the laws of our land are all entangled forming a tightly interwoven way of life. Changing one aspect threatens the other two legs of the platform, and many uneducated persons are in danger of making ill-conceived decisions based upon poor information.

“The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.” ― Thomas Sowell,  noted economist

in Order to form a more perfect Union

Ayn Rand was a Russian-American writer and philosopher who wrote two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She was an atheist with little use for religion. Although her fiction is interesting and some of her ideas have merit, she really didn’t understand people much because she lacked the critical spiritual component needed to fill the God-shaped hole ever-present in the hearts of man. Although she passed away in 1982 at the age of 77, many libertarians, and some  right-wing conservatives are still intrigued by certain aspects of her personal philosophy, which she termed ‘objectivism’. Objectivism is fully secular and absolutist; it is neither liberal nor conservative nor anywhere in between. In a perfect world,  objectivism might work, but we do not live in a perfect world. Nevertheless, she had some good ideas. She supported laissez-faire capitalism, believed facts were facts independent of a person’s feelings or wishes, felt that reason was a man’s basic means of survival, and held that we ourselves were responsible for perusing our own self-interests and happiness.

UNFORTUNATELY,  many people today lack the discernment needed to sail through the vast sea of information, and lack the skill to avoid being blown off course by the hot air and smoke of certain politicians and entertainers as they try to steer for those islands of reason. Truth is always true, and it can stand up to criticism. If it is YOUR ‘truth’ and you have no evidence to back it up then it is not truth, but rather your feelings based on an emotional response.  As long as you continue to make snap emotional decisions to immediate problems, you will continue to make the wrong choices and will suffer greatly in the long term. I can’t tell you who to vote for, or what to believe, I only ask that you examine your convictions to see why you believe what you believe, and be certain that your ideology is fact based. The road to Hell is paved with ‘good intentions’.

“Socialism is a wonderful idea. It is only as a reality that it has been disastrous. Among people of every race, color, and creed, all around the world, socialism has led to hunger in countries that used to have surplus food to export…. Nevertheless, for many of those who deal primarily in ideas, socialism remains an attractive idea — in fact, seductive. Its every failure is explained away as due to the inadequacies of particular leaders. ” 
― Thomas Sowell

Establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity

Our government is based upon three principals:

  • Inherent rights:  Rights that anyone living in America has.
  • Self Government: Government by the people.
  • Separation of Powers: Branches of government with different powers.

It is NOT the job of the government to run businesses, provide welfare subsidies, or redistribute wealth. Your ‘feelings’ are not the concern of the government.  Its only job is make sure that its citizens are safe, healthy and prosperous. Citizens have a legal right to live in this country,  Illegal immigrants do not. If they entered this country illegally, they do NOT belong here. A country without borders is not a country.  This is a great country and we have the freedom to live as we chose and pursue our own interests.  There is no reason to be poor in this country where every opportunity is available for you to pursue. BUT YOU HAVE TO DO IT, no one can make you do the right thing. According to a report by the Brookings Institute ( https://www.brookings.edu/research/work-and-marriage-the-way-to-end-poverty-and-welfare ) published in way back in 2003, if you don’t want to be permanently poor in this country, you only have to do three things:

  1. Finish High School
  2. Get a job
  3. Don’t have children out of wedlock.

The only thing preventing you from being successful is you yourself. Don’t blame anyone else for your bad choices.   If people don’t agree with you, it’s called disagreement, not hatred, sexism, or  bigotry. Mature adults don’t insult or attack people who disagree with them. 

This Tuesday I will be voting straight Republican. I’m doing this because I fully support the current President, and totally agree with him 100%. In the past two years since he won the 2016 election, my net worth has skyrocketed. To give a comparison, my investment gains since Trump became president less than two years ago  have nearly equaled the total gains earned over the entire 8-year Obama administration.   I dare you to tell me the economy is not booming.

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I am financially stable, I am debt free, I have cash on hand to do with as I please. This includes charitable giving and I am not bragging when I say I willingly donate thousands of dollars each year to worthy Christian charities, and other concerns.

If you are jealous of wealthy successful people, you are in serious need of a reality check. I grew up poor and worked hard for everything I have. I was not poor because someone else was rich. Wealthy people create jobs and opportunities for others, they don’t take them away. There is no ‘white privilege’, no ‘glass ceiling’. They are just figments of the imagination created by the real enemies who want to destroy this great nation.  Don’t allow yourself to be misled by their lies. You can rise to greatness   if and only if you wholeheartedly decide to.

This coming election, ( as well as all future elections ) is about safety and prosperity. President Trump has Made America Great Again, and we now have the lowest unemployment rate in the history of our country and things are getting better every day. On Tuesday November 6th 2018, you need to make the correct decision and vote Republican, it is the only way to keep our citizens safe, prosperous, and free. For the sake of our freedom and for future generations we need to keep the momentum going and Keep America Great.  As Always, I wish you success and happiness.

Selling The Place?

Buyer Beware!

SellingThePlace

Recently, I was on vacation in Columbus OH. I’ve been going there every October for more than a decade and I always stop at my favorite restaurants when I’m in town. I admit, I’m a creature of habit. When I find someplace I really like, you can expect to see me there on a recurring basis. There is comfort in the familiar. I also tend to eat the same favorite menu items. Being a vegetarian, my choices are usually limited to begin with.  I was a little shocked when I made my annual stop at this great Indian restaurant AMUL INDIA, only to discovered that my favorite dish, a vegetarian thali, was no longer on the menu. I had an awesome waiter who went above and beyond and was able to finagle the meal from the chief for me anyway, even though it was NOT ON THE MENU.  Evidently, the long established business had changed hands, and the new owner felt the sampler dish was not as profitable despite being popular. Fortunately my waiter had remained during the business transition and he remembered me from prior years. It pays to know people.      

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Nothing lasts forever, and if you live long enough you’ll have more tales of places that used to be in business than you have hair on your head.  Every year hundreds of thousands of business come and go, or change hands. Some are new start-ups built from scratch, some are franchised businesses, and some just change hands.  Buying an existing business is not without its risks, but a savvy investor can reduce or possibly eliminate those risks entirely IF they are diligent and gather enough information about WHY the business is for sale. 

Before you do anything, sign anything, or agree to anything make certain that you have a certified public accountant and a lawyer of your own. They, along with someone from your financial institution like a loan expert, or business rep.  will be key to forming a business acquisition team. These experts will be able to prevent you from making a costly mistake by examining the books, reading the fine print etc. 

What’s in the back?

As a customer, you are limited to the places intended for customers. It is rare for non-employees to glimpse much of anything locked behind the doors marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. As an interested potential buyer, it is essential to visually inspect ALL AREAS of the business you are considering buying. It’s my dream to open a coffee shop. There are several key pieces of equipment that every successful coffee shop MUST HAVE. You can’t make espresso if you don’t have an espresso machine.  There is a very big difference between residential and commercial kitchen equipment.  A cheap home kitchen espresso machine costs $50 and will make one shot of espresso in about 3-5 minutes.  A NUOVA SIMONELLI group two commercial espresso machine can make four shots of espresso in ONE minute, and retails for $8999.99

It is imperative to have a firm knowledge of what is the proper equipment needed for the business you want. The wrong machinery will put out of business faster than you can say “double flat white, extra sweet”.

Obtain a list of all business equipment, inventory, and assets.  Be sure to note condition, age, make, model, and shelf life.  Were those coffee beans roasted last week, or last year? Is that ancient espresso machine on its last legs?  Does the ice machine make ice?

You Owe Who What?

Make sure that the business you are considering buying has all its financials fully disclosed.  You’ll need to have your CPA go over their books. If they are not turning a profit after being in business for so time, there could be a serious problem and your accountant should be able to help you pinpoint it. Make absolutely certain that all outstanding debts and liabilities that the current business owner has and been settled BEFORE you buy the shop, or you might be facing a slew of past due bills for unpaid stock or other bills that will bankrupt you. A former acquaintance of mine whom I once considered to be  a friend had this happen to him. Actually he made EVERY mistake listed above and below. He ultimately lost his Shoe Repair Shop and ended up owing tens of thousands of dollars to at least three other individuals besides myself, and it ended our friendship.

Make certain you have money, LOTS OF MONEY.

Buying a business is not cheap. You’re going to need to have several months of working capital in the bank to cover operating expenses such as employee salaries. If some of the businesses’ assets or equipment need to be repaired or replaced, you’ll need to be able to cover the cost. Merchants who supply you with stock will probably expect you to be in operation for some time before they extend credit and will expect payment at the time of delivery especially during your first year of operation. Make certain that all licenses, permits, and if (you’re dealing with food services) health code inspections, and zoning codes are up to date and paid.  Lapsed permits, operating a business in a residential zone, or having heath code violations will force you to shut down.  Plus in dealing with the public, you may have to modify the building to comply with ADA standards.

But I just moved in…

I you are leasing the property for a business,  make sure that it’s a lease you can afford and have your lawyer read it BEFORE you sign it.  Triple Net Leases are quite common and will require you among other things, to pay for building maintenance, landscaping, property taxes, parking lot maintenance, etc IN ADDITION TO your monthly rent.  Snow removal in a large parking lot after a blizzard is expensive. As a result you could find that suddenly your rent was a lot higher than your initial agreement. Also make sure to sign a decent multi-year lease. You don’t want to be making a killing in the perfect location and end up having to move or pay double because the landlord realized he can get a lot more for his property then you are paying him and decides to price you out.

 Does she come with the place?

Will the staff stay on during the transition, or will you be suddenly be all by yourself running the shop with no help, and no clue. Understand that many of the staff may not be happy being under new ownership, with new rules. They may be used to doing things ‘the old’ way and you could encounter friction. Also remember that these employees and the former owner were the face of the business, and certain customers may be upset with the change in ownership and staff. You may find that you don’t have as many customers all of a sudden.

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Do they still sell those?    

Times change, tastes change. Remember my former friend and his shoe repair shop that I mentioned a few paragraphs back?  In addition to all the rookie new business mistakes, perhaps the most serious one that he made was buying an antiquated, niche business with a rapidly declining customer base. Shoe repair is a dying art. Scott was an employee of the first shoe repair chain at the mall. They were acquired by another chain, which franchised its stores. The guy who brought the franchise decided to cut bait and tried to recover his losses by selling it to Scott, who still worked there and enjoyed his job, so he jumped at the chance. He was very quickly in over his head, and for a while was able to use ponzi schemes to keep the wolves at bay. Ultimately he was evicted, his assets seized, and after a civil suit showed that he had nothing of value, he kept a very low profile and faded away leaving his backers with substantial loses. If you’re not a role model, you’re a cautionary tale.  

I’ll do it differently!

What has been will be again,  what has been done will be done again;  there is nothing new under the sun.  – Ecclesiastes 1:9 New International Version (NIV)

No one who ever started a business did so with the intention of bankruptcy and failure. Yet not a day goes by without some business shutting its doors. The best ways to avoid mistakes are to learn from the mistakes of others and do it differently. Knowledge is power and if you do your homework, and lay down the proper foundation for your business from the beginning you’ll be off to a good start.  A great location, with fantastic customer service, superior products, and competitive  (but still low) prices, along with a friendly and knowledgeable staff should be able to provide everything else you need to succeed!    As always, I wish you success and happiness!

FROM THE GROUND UP!

Building Your business from scratch.

From The Ground Up

All business ventures involve an element of risk. There are ways to minimize your risks but there is no way possible to totally eliminate the possibility of failure. Whether you start your business from scratch, franchise, or purchase an existing business, what you don’t know will hurt you badly. Since starting a brand new business is the most risky of the three ways to get a business of your own, this is the one which requires the most amount of background work.   

I spent more than a decade dreaming about opening a coffee shop of my very own before I started taking my first steps towards attempting to realize that goal.

Step one: Learn all there is to know, and take notes!

My earliest research into the grounds of the coffee business involved visiting a lot of cafes and observing their operation. Field work is essential to determine not only what everyone is doing, but also to know what they need in order to do it. Espresso machines are not cheap. You want to make sure you buy a commercial machine which will be able to handle the demands of the consumer. You want to make sure there is adequate seating, and that you have something that brings people back, it could be the food, or it could be a gimmick.  Get it right, because people will talk and their words will go far. You want to be remembered for being great, not for being so bad that people have to see it to believe it.

A tale of two cafes.

‘The Bohemian Coffee Shoppe’.  

Several years ago, I visited a very strange coffee shop near the end of North Queen Street in Lancaster PA. It wasn’t in operation very long.  The only signage was a flag that read COFFEE. The woman had a small espresso machine that made one cup at a time, it was not a commercial machine. I think it was a De’Longhi. Coffee was served ONE SIZE in a 12oz cup, black, no creamer of any kind. The only sweetener she had was  rapadura . Rapadura is unbleached, unrefined dehydrated cane sugar juice. It’s brown in color and has a molasses taste to it. And like the flag on the outside of the building proclaimed, coffee was the only item to be had in that establishment. I paid $2, then sat at a very large dining room table, the ONLY table. It was covered with newspapers and magazines.  I remember thinking to myself that this had to be a joke. I went there two, maybe three times in total and brought my friend Talley with me the last time I went. For years after the fact, we jokingly referred to  that nameless cafe as The Bohemian Coffee Shoppe.  It certainly was unorthodox.  

coffee flag

Snakes and Lattes.

I first heard about this unique coffee shop from a friend on Twitter. I then drove 500 miles north from the USA to Toronto Canada to check it out. I ended up spending 11 hours in that cafe. Their gimmick was that they charged a cover fee to enter, which allowed you access to use their vast collection of board games.   I played game after game sitting at various tables with complete strangers, and I had a tab run which was settled at the end of the night. It was also the first cafe where I ever saw computer tablets being used to record customer orders.  A couple of years later, I drove a hundred miles to The Board and Brew in College Park MD. The owner had also visited Snakes and Lattes and had cloned their business model. I too had had a similar thought upon  my initial visit to Snakes and Lattes, because you can’t copyright an idea. My lack of knowledge of gaming was what quickly made me abandon that plan. I’m a coffee man, not a game boy.   

Step 2: Learn the basics and practice.

The very first cafe that I ever tasted espresso and espresso based drinks like lattes was at The Monk’s Tunic . I became addicted to these drinks very quickly, so I purchased a very basic espresso machine and several espresso bartender guides and spent years studying the books and making my drinks at home. There’s a reason why the coffee at cafe’s taste better, they have much better equipment and their beans are  usually much fresher, having been roasted very recently and freshly ground for each drink. Better ingredients and better equipment equals better product, especially when made by the hand of a skilled barista. You can’t do latte art with a home unit. The machine just doesn’t have the right temperature and pressure to generate a proper crema on the espresso or the micro foam in the steamed milk.  There are only really a dozen basic drinks that form a basic menu and they are easily learn-able once you know the basics of how to operate the machine.

Step 3: Beef up your bank account.

Banks do not loan money to new business start-ups. The majority of all new business fail in under 5 years, and a fair amount shut down within months of opening.  This is often because they underestimated the expenses and ran out of money. If you plan to open a business you will need money. Lots and lots of money. You will need to self-finance, and possibly enlist the help of friends and relatives as potential backers. Cash flow is the life blood of business, and if you run out of money, you are out of business. You will not be able to prolong the inevitable for very long.

Step 4: Hire competent professionals and consultants.

The very first person you should seek out is a qualified CPA (certified public accountant) and a reputable business attorney. These two should be able to help you set up the paperwork and ground work to set up an LLC, open a business banking account, etc. LLC (limited Liability Corporation) status will protect you from losing everything you own including the shirt on you back should the business fail. You’ll also want to run a check on the name you intend to call your business to make sure no one else is using that same name, or you could face legal action. I once worked for a video game arcade that made the mistake of calling themselves Jolly Time Inc. They had the  same exact name as Jolly Time Inc, the Popcorn company. They were forced to re-brand the arcade to Pocket Change. Never use your personal banking account for your business. Open a business checking account. Open a P.O. Box for the business, never put your home address on anything for the business. A few months ago, I purchased  a jar of Salsa at a food festival. The proprietors at the stand were from Columbus Ohio, where I happen to be on vacation this week. There was an address on the jar which I assumed was their local storefront. I drove there and very quickly realized that this was their home address when I saw all the town houses in a residential neighborhood. This is why you open a P.O. Box.

I would also recommend contacting consultants in your field of business.  If you live in the USA, I would contact the S.C.O.R.E. Association. The Service Corps Of Retired Executives has been in operation since 1964 and is a 501 nonprofit organization that provides free business mentoring services to prospective and established small business owners in the United States. They will provide all sorts of advice and contacts.

If you are looking into the coffee shop industry as I am, I fully recommend contacting Crimson Cup. https://www.crimsoncup.com/ They are a franchise alternative and are consultants and suppliers for independent coffee shops. They have over twenty five years of expertise and experience, and have helped over 400 small coffee shops open. When I finally do open That Coffee Place, I will be proudly serving Crimson Cup coffee. They are awesome! The Better Business Bureau rates them A+ status.  If you are serious, really truly serious about opening a coffee chop, buy Greg Ubert’s book, Seven Steps To Success. It comes with a sample of their coffee and teas, and you get a phone consultation. It’s worth the $69.99. When you do sign up with them, their fee is about $30,000, but that includes a lot including shop design, staff training,  and coffee supplies for your store.  These people are the cream of the crop!

Next find a good business realtor. I have looked at over a dozen potential sights so far. Nothing has stuck yet, but some were very close. When you do locate a property, you’ll also need to hire an architect , a building engineer, and a construction crew if the landlord doesn’t have their own. This is all before you even open your doors. My first year of attempting to open a  cafe generated thousands of dollars of business expenses, and I still don’t have a shop. The point is, by going through the process, doing everything in order, dotting all my ‘i’s and crossing all my ‘t’s, I’ve protected myself from potentially disastrous mistakes while establishing a firm foundation for my future business venture. Hopefully, you will do the same. As always I wish you success and happiness!   

Do You Want Franchise With That?

What’s in a name?

DoYouWantFranchise

Each month hundreds of thousands of new businesses open nationwide in the US. A third of them will go out of business within two years, and only half will last five years. Owning a business is risky, and what you don’t know will hurt you. Many small business fail because the owner failed to take into account some vital piece of information which would have shown that their brilliant plan wasn’t so brilliant after all. It could be anything from foot traffic, to utility costs, to labor utilization. What you don’t know will hurt you, often in the most painful way, at the worst possible of times. Trust me, I know. I’ve been trying to start my own coffee shop now for going on five years, and I have faced setback after setback. Although I have lost thousands of dollars in the process, I have gained valuable insight and protected myself from some truly significant financial pitfalls which would have occurred had I not been as diligent in my research, and hired qualified consultants, and legal and financial advisers first. I’d rather invest a few thousand dollars than suffer a million dollar bankruptcy.  No business is ‘risk free’.  

There are really only three ways to have your own business.

  • Start it from scratch – very risky
  • Buy out an existing business –  risky
  • Buy into a franchise – not AS risky, but still has risk.

“The two most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.” – Ray Kroc

What is a franchise?

A franchise is a business which pays a licensing fee to a parent company in order to sell products under that company’s brand. Usually there are strict guidelines and corporate policies which must be adhered to, which failure to follow will cause the loss of the license, and a possible expensive lawsuit. By franchising, YOU are representing that brand, even though you own the business, the brand and all its intellectual properties belong to the licensing corporation.

There are pros and cons to this.

The pros include selling a known brand, and operating under a proven business model. Everyone knows what the coffee at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts is supposed to taste like, and they are drawn to the familiar industry standard product they know and love. 

The cons are that those same industry standards and products are forced upon you. If you are barely scraping by, and the parent corporation implements a national sales campaign, more often than not you are required to participate. Likewise when chains like McDonald’s offer their McCafé®™ drinks at only $2.00 for any size, every McDonald’s franchise in that geographic area  has to offer that product at that price, even if they are losing money to do so.

When an industry leader announces a new product or sale, other chains scramble to offer a comparable offering. Prior to Starbucks offering cold brew coffee, that was something that you could only get at third wave coffee shops. Now cold brew coffee is everywhere, even at convenience stores.   When Starbucks began selling Pumpkin Spice Lattes earlier than normal this year starting on Labor Day Weekend, Dunkin’ Donuts and other chains quickly followed suit. This meant that the owners of every franchise suddenly had to purchase additional supplies needed for the drinks.

Franchises are not cheap. In most cases you have to pay to build the store to company specs, and buy all of their required equipment as well as pay an upfront fee.  Dunkin’ Donuts franchise fee is $40,000, minimum initial cash required is $250,000 with a net worth at least $500,000. Starbucks doesn’t do franchises, but they will sell you a license to sell their coffees at your cafe for just over $300,000. McDonald’s charges $45,000, requires you to have liquid assets of $750,000 and start-up costs  run  $1-2 Million. One of the cheapest franchises to start is SubWay, which begins at $15,000 with start-up costs ranging from $100,000 to $400,000.

Once you pay to start the franchise, you still have franchise fees on every product you sell for as long as you own the franchise, and IF you decide to sell the franchise, in some cases you will need to pay a franchise transfer fee.   

Can you make money owning a franchise?

Yes, and no. According to a report on food franchising by Franchise Business Review, 51.5 percent of food franchises earn profits of less than $50,000 a year; roughly 7 percent top $250,000, with the average profit for all restaurants coming in at $82,033. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you factor in the initial investment.

Business is business? What a Kroc!

Ray Kroc was a traveling salesman.  He had been a paper cup salesman for Lilly Cup.  After fifteen years, he switched companies and  started selling a 30lb, five-spindle milk shake mixer, The Multimixer for Prince Castle.  There wasn’t a great demand in the food service industry for this device, he was lucky if he could sell one to a restaurant. That was until he received an order in 1954 for eight of the machines placed by a single restaurant in San Bernardino CA. After confirming that the order was not a mistake,  he made a trip out west to see with his own eyes this business that needed eight Multimixers.   The place was a tiny burger joint owned by two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald. Ray Kroc was so blown away by the way the brothers had re-invented drive-in burger joints that he mortgaged his house and pulled every string he could pull to get the brothers to agree to not only allow him to buy his own franchise, but sell future franchises to perspective buyers.

Ray Kroc was 52 years old when he opened his first McDonald’s franchise. For each future franchise he sold for the brothers, a franchise fee would be charged of 1.9% of sales, .4% would go to the brothers and 1.5% was for Ray. Needless to say Ray Kroc was struggling to keep his head above water before long, and tried to re-negotiate his deal. Dick and Mac refused. Ray had signed a contract and he was legally bound to it. Unfortunately for the two brothers, Ray was a salesman, and they were not. A salesman’s number one job is to convince someone to buy. Ray managed to find a work-around by creating a land acquisition company.  He bought and leased the land that McDonald’s franchisees would need to  build on and charged them rent. As a condition of their lease agreement they had to maintain quality control in their restaurants, or lose their franchise.

He began mass selling franchises, and the money from the land lease agreements made him wealthy. He then paid a hefty fee to the McDonald’s brothers of $2.7 million dollars to break the 1954 contract he had signed, and take ownership of all holdings and intellectual property, including the brand name. The McDonald brothers couldn’t even have their name on their own restaurant. He then opened his 100th store right across the road from the brother’s original store, and drove them out.

History is written by the winners.

The first time I read the Ray Kroc story, it was in his auto-biography GRINDING IT OUT The Making of McDonald’s. From Ray Kroc’s point of view, he was the victim, fighting his way out of a bad deal. I had found the book to be inspirational until I saw the 2016 film THE FOUNDER starring Michael Keaton. This version of the story made Ray Kroc look like the Serpent  in the McDonald brother’s Paradise. He was the epitome of every sleazy, used-car salesman stereotype you can imagine.  There are two sides to every story, your side, their side, and the truth. The point is once you sign a contract for a franchise or a lease agreement, be prepared to stick to the agreement, because unless you have more money and lawyers than the opposition, you will be in hot water quickly. It’s probably best to avoid the situation altogether. As always, I wish you success and happiness.