Monday, November 28, 2011

Too Much Tax - Make It Simple

tax on stores that allow you to roll you own tobacco

I recently read an article about tax issues on stores in the northeast that allow customers to use machines and roll their own cigarettes.  I am not a smoker.  I actually really dislike smoking.  But that has nothing to do with this issue.  My problem is how complicated our tax system is in the US and how we are literally taxed on everything.

The article was describing a major issue of how these stores were taxed. Currently they sell raw tobacco and the customer uses a machine to roll the cigarettes.  This is taxed significantly less than manufactured cigarettes so there is a significant savings for the customer.  I believe the state wanted to change how it was taxed because they feel like the state is being cheated out of revenue.

The company argues that the taxes should not be changed for them because the customer really is producing their own, they just provide the means to do it.  The store also argued they were a niche industry and few customers are willing to take the time it takes to make your own just to save a few bucks. By taxing the store at the rate of manufactured cigarettes, they would not be able to compete.

Regardless of the fact that I hate smoking, I also dislike taxes.  I understand we need taxes for certain things.  We do need government in order to maintain our military, maintain our roads, provide police and fire services, and many more things.  But the system is extremely flawed and out of control when it comes to taxes or the fact that our government does not have to truly operate on a balanced budget like normal people or businesses.

While reading the article, I was reminded of how difficult government can make it for small businesses to operate.  Again, I understand certain needs, but there are too many government workers and people that don't understand the choking effect government can have on business.

I don't know what it will take in the future to bring about effective changes.  Part of me thinks there isn't any hope for real change.  The machine is too big to change.  Just like our auto industry was too big to fail (that's a whole different post).  But I really do hope we can make progress in the future and create a government that helps the people rather than sucks the life out of them so that others don't have to work. 

Fondue Fun

My idea was simple.  I had a college friend coming into town with his wife and I thought it would be fun to have fondue.  My sister serves my family fondue a few times a year.  It is normally around 8 people when she does it.  So I figured we could invite a few other couples over as well.  We would all enjoy a fun evening of fondue.

I chose the day after Thanksgiving.  All of us married couples without kids need things to do because we aren't stuck at home with kids.  Well, then old friends started calling.  Everyone was coming back to Nashville for Thanksgiving and we all wanted to get together.  Well a bunch of people were already coming to our house and word spread.

Basically we ended up with 16 people at our house Friday night.  It turned out great.  We still served cheese fondue with all kinds of items to dip.  Bread, apples, chips, etc.  And we had chicken marsala served with salad made by my beautiful wife.  But dessert was the highlight.  In full fondue fashion, we served a fondue pot of milk chocolate and another of dark chocolate.  We had a ridiculous amount of items to dip in the chocolate, rice krispy treats, pound cake, cheesecake, apples, pineapple, bananas, marshmallows, etc.

It really was a great night and I was happy we could host everyone at our house.  It's always fun to get friends together and enjoy good food!

Thanks to everyone that made it out!  It was the start to what will be a busy, party-filled December.  I believe we have a party or holiday event every weekend for the rest of the year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant

Just finished reading The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant.  It reminded me of Og Mandino and his scrolls.  The author is Terry Febler and has a great message in the book.  I try to be objective with each book I read and make sure I get the most out of it.  Personally, most of this book was too religious for me.  I do believe in giving back but I don't think it revolves around giving money to a church.

What I didn't like was that I felt like I was being preached to for most of the book.  If I was going to write a book for a church congregation that encouraged them to give to the church, it would be similar to this book.

What I DID like was some of the messages related to business. I'll mention two that I especially liked.

1. Take responsibility for problems that are the result of your own bad decisions.  Don't displace the blame.

This message was appropriate to me because I have made some mistakes over the years. Specifically, I have made many mistakes in the past year and have lived by this principle.  My business has grown and overcome obstacles because we always take accountability when we cause problems.  Sometimes we lost money.  Sometimes we lose a customer.  But many times I have found that we develop a stronger relationship with the customer and they appreciate us not trying to displace blame.  A powerful message and a task that is often times harder than it sounds to actually do.

2. See challenges at stepping stone, not as obstacles.

I feel like I have faced more challenges in the past year than in the other 26 of my life!  I'm sure that is perception but it has been exciting for me, because it means I have a lot going on.  If I wasn't working hard and trying to grow a business.  If I wasn't working hard to develop myself.  If..... I wouldn't have many challenges at all.  And I would be in the same place 5, 10, 15 years down the road.  And I know that's not what I want!

So for those of you with more of a traditional church or religious belief, this is a great book and you will really enjoy it.  For an agnostic business owner like myself, you will appreciate the principle taught in the book!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Zipline Time

My parents so kindly gave me a birthday gift- tickets for my wife and I to go ziplining!!!  We had done this before while on a trip in Mexico, so both of us were pretty excited about it.  With my knee injury and going into winter we didn't know if there would be a good opportunity to use it.  But this weekend the temperatures were in the mid to high 60's and we headed out to Adventureworks!

Two friends decided to join us and we had a great time.  Advetureworks has apparently been around for a while in TN and has mainly done team building and leadership activities.  They have low ropes courses, high ropes courses, and other team building activities.  They have also added a course of 9 zip lines and we went on one twice, so it was a total of 10 zips!


After two short 'warm up' ziplines we moved on to some really good zips.  I think the 4th or 5th was a good distance but also had a max height of 85 feet in the middle.  You are just wearing a harness and clip onto the zipline with one rope.  It feels amazing to soar throught the sky!

One of the ziplines was actually two side by side, so you could race or battle another person.  Happy to say I won my race/battle.  Yes, you are close enough to hit and kick each other the entire time. Yes, we did hit and kick each other the entire time.

One zipline allowed me to get pushed off the platform backwards.  The rope attaching you is long enough that this was a scary/fun experience.  I'm sure bungee jumping or skydiving is much better though.

The longest zip was 450 ft and we supposedly got up to 40 miles per hour.  Awesome!!

The only negative was that my wife rolled her ankle about halfway threw while walking on the trails in between.  She had to sit down for a minute but was able to finish and enjoy the last few ziplines.

All in all, we couldn't have asked for a better day to go.   Thanks to my parents!

Friday, November 18, 2011


Networking. Some people love it, some people hate it.  I know it can be very powerful if you do it correctly.  I also know it takes time to do it correctly.  And when you run you own business sometimes networking isn't at the top of your list.  But should it?

I'm officially joining a local BNI group to represent our technology services company and I'm excited about getting the most out of it.  I'm not really excited about a meeting every week, but I do know it can expand my circle of influence pretty significantly.  I wanted to share quickly how networking can be beneficial.

Our technology company has been in downtown Franklin for close to 5 years.  We get plenty of solicitors and you cannot talk to all of them.  Standard protocol is to take their information but most of the time it doesn't get farther than the garbage can.  Lot's of people call us.  We politely take their information and that doesn't normally make it farther than the garbage can.  After attending the BNI group, I connected with two people.

They both wanted to try and work with us.  They had both tried to get in our door. They had called.  It just didn't work.  It wasn't anything personal.  We didn't know too much about them and we didn't have the time find out.  But now, it's a priority to start networking.  And by learning more about these individuals at BNI, they were able to teach me about themselves and get in our door.

Now I'm not saying both will end up selling us something, but they were able to make a contact that they had been completely unable to make before.

As I get back into networking (I have done it before), I am going with an unselfish attitude.  I want to serve others and help them be successful.  Because I have learned over and over that the more I help others, the more I will gain.  It is difficult as an ambitious salesperson to always put other peoples needs first, but I will do my best!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Personal Development

For most of us, personal development starts around the age of 5 when we enter school.  Then we spend all of our childhood and into early adulthood learning and developing ourselves.  Then, for some reason, many people just stop developing.  We get jobs and decide that we've learned about all we need to.  We slowly progress as our bosses allow/force us to and we spend all of our freetime on meaningless things.

Personally, I want to continue to develop and learn throughout my entire life.  I believe that I will always have room for improvement or growth, no matter how successful I become.  The truth is that this is much harder than it seems.  I tend to go in cycles, part of the time I am very motivated and devote time to learning while the other part of the time all I want to do is sit down on the couch and watch tv.  I have not completely learned the secret to always motivating myself, but I have learned that you have to form the habits of doing the activities you don't always want to do.

A few weeks ago I re-dedicated myself to reading books that help me develop.  My business partner loves listening to books, and while I think it is a great way to be exposed to more books, I am still partial to sitting down and reading a physical book.  I believe I absorb a lot more then when I listen.  So I have set aside time to read each morning and try to make sure it happens at least 3-4 times per week. So far so good!  But I know I will start to slack off and it will be up to me to stay with it.  To make myself spend the time even when I really, really don't want to.  If I can do that, I know I will continue to be successful and continue to develop.

I don't want to be stagnant.  I don't want to peak before 30.  I believe the best is still to come.  And it has been pretty good already!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Plunge

For a little over a month, I have been contemplating purchasing a new car.  Not just any new car, but a base model Toyota Prius.  The Prius is rated to get an average of 50 mpg and I drive between 25-30k miles per year.  So compared to my economical Saturn Ion, I would save $1200-1500 per year on gas.  I could only imagine if I was using our Grand Cherokee on a daily basis.  My savings would almost double.

I have always been a car guy, in fact I have posted the ridiculous list of cars that I have owned and I am only 27.  I think 1 for every year at this point.  And I have always said that I would never buy a new car.  As soon as you drive that car off the lot you immediately lose value.  So how in the world did I convince myself to go against everything I have ever believed in and buy a new car?

Let's start with the Saturn first-

1. It would randomly not start.  Wait 10-15 minutes and then it would start.  You can search online and this is a common 'quirk' from these cars.  People have replaced batteries, starters, etc without any improvement.

2. It needed new tires.

3. It needed windshield wipers.

4. It had a bad strut or struts that needed to be replaced.

5. The mileage was 131k miles, plenty of life left, but with more issues.

The Prius-

1. No maintenance for 2 years or 25k miles.

2. Everything is already new.

3. I negotiated such an amazing deal that I couldn't have bought a used Prius for the same price.

The Prius is also a business expense because 95% of all driving I do is work related.  And I don't intend to sell or trade the car within a couple of years.  I will keep the car until it just won't go anymore or at least 150k miles.  In other words, I am definitely going to get my moneys worth.

I do like the look of the new Prius, but I wouldn't exactly say it is an amazing looking car.  I'm more of a Cadillac CTS guy if this was just about having a nice car.  But for me it really was a practical decision.  I finally got over driving a 'nice' car and thought about what I really need.  I need a car with amazing gas mileage that is dependable.  Yes, I could have gotten a cheaper car and picked from a dozen other options.  But now I have a great warranty, the highest mpg you can currently find in any car, and no maintenance for the next 25k miles.  Plus, with the business deductions the car will pay for itself.

Last night, I bought the Prius.  I went with silver because I happen to think that is the best color in the world.  150k miles later, I'm not sure what I will do.  But mark another notch on my experience belt.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Joys of Renting

No, I don't mean renting from someone, I mean renting to someone.  Rewind about 13 months and I was looking to rent out a townhouse I own a few blocks from a local college.  I happened to be really busy and didn't want to go long without having a tenant in the property.  I ended up renting it to a family that deep down I knew wouldn't take good care of it.

I have paid the price.  They moved out without notice and left my place in pieces.  It was completely filthy, horribly stained carpet, every surface was nasty, holes in the carpet, all the blinds ruined, and full of garbage.  I wasn't looking forward to it but I rolled up my sleeves and spent all day Saturday cleaning it up. 

I used all the resources I could.  I hired someone to do the cleaning while I moved junk out and worked on shampooing the carpets.  It was an extremely long day and I will never, ever rush into renting to someone again.  I now have about 6 years of renting experience under my belt and I am still learning lessons.  It never pays to make exceptions or take short cuts when it comes to being a landlord.  Here is what I dealt with.

I also used the power of craigslist in order to get everything hauled off.  It really is true that one mans garbage is another mans treaure.  Thanks to the high price of metals and being to able to recycle it and get paid, some nice family hauled off all of the junk for me. They were going to sort through everything that came out, use some of it, sell some of it, and recycle some of it.  Thank you random craigslist family!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

2 cents on Groupon

There are 2 reasons I have followed and been interested in Groupon since its early introduction.  First, I am a business owner and interested in how it benefits/hurts its participants.  Second, I love getting a good deal and half off of something I want definitely interests me.  But as I see it, Groupon just can't last forever.  I think it is extremely important for the business owner to understand exactly what they are getting into and how it will effect them.  The horror stories I have heard about businesses being overwhelmed and not being able to honor their Groupon probably stems from inexperienced or uneducated business owners.

I have debated with many people about the benefits or downsides of Groupon.  On one side, Groupon can offer your business a tremendous amount of exposure and by paying for it with your owns goods or services, you can leverage the margin you have in those goods or services.  On the other side, Groupon de-values your goods or services to the consumer.  It can make it even more difficult to receive your real pricing from the consumer if all they ever want is 50% off.

Today I saw a Groupon that I believe is a great fit for the business.  It is a local wine bar and restaurant.  The deal is $10 for $20 worth of wine.  First of all, thats a good deal for the customer.  It is something that will draw people in but if you have ever been to a wine bar, you know that won't really go too far.  That is why this is such a great fit for the business.  The key to Groupon is getting people in your door with the offer SO THAT you can sell them other goods or services.  If you are really successful, they will come back later without having a groupon.  This business was also able to promote their restaurant at the same time, and I would bet with a good plan for serving these Groupon users the business can really capitalize on the increased traffic they receive.  Plus, wine is a high margin item, so the significant discount they are giving when participating doesn't completely kill them.  Bravo to this business for making the right deal and using Groupon appropriately.

Now, there is also a restaurant that I have seen participate with Groupon multiple times, as well as a number of other similar sites.  They may be doing really well but personally, they didn't win me over.  I have been to their place twice, but both times with a Groupon.  In fact, I think there food is worth what I pay for the groupon.  So they have completely lost with me, I hardly ever spend more than the certificate amount and I haven't been back since using them.  I'm sure they won others over but I'd be curious to know the real details/success/failure of their experience.

So I love Groupon.  I love getting half price.  And as a business owner I try to keep in mind they are trying to make money as well.  But I have to be impressed.  I have to enjoy my experience.  I have to value the goods or services.

We shall see how long businesses can afford to advertise this way and if the business model works long term.  For now I'll continue snatching the deals that catch my interest!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Go-Getter

Peter Kyne wrote a book a long time ago called The Go-Getter. I just finished reading it and I must say it motivated me.  It was written in 1921 so the style of writing is a little old fashioned.  But it's the story of an extremely persistent and determined salesman working for a large logging company.  In fact, he had to work extremely hard just to get the job and then prove himself by starting with the worst responsibilities and working his way up.

I love reading stories about successful people and this book does a great job of teaching you lessons while also entertaining you.  One take away from the book was when the salesman had to sell the worst product the company offered, and rather than selling at the lowest price possible just to move it, he actually sold it at a price higher than the company requested.

I don't have an exact amount but I'm confident I have sold over $1 million worth of services or products in my short lifetime.  Many of those $300-500 annual service contracts, so that is a lot of service!  One thing I always try to avoid is selling strictly on price.  I've found that the price you sell your products or service at (within reason of course) come from your personal confidence and your value of the product.  If you are a lazy or negative person and don't see the true value, neither will your customers.  Any good sales rep knows that they must first sell themselves on their product and believe in the value.  Otherwise you won't last long.  And what you do sell will be at the lowest possible price!

I could go on and on about takeaways from the book and relate them to my own experiences, but unfortunately this isn't a paying gig and other items are calling my name right now.

Remember, believe in your own product and service, be so excited about what you are offering and how beneficial it will be for your customer, and they won't be able to live without it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

ACL Surgery

I've mentioned already that I tore my ACL.  It happened months ago at this point.  Right in the middle of a soccer season and during the last available months to boating season.  It really put a damper on my weekly activities.  I never realized how important a stable knee was until I didn't have one anymore.

This is my knee right after surgery.

Here is a picture of my knee a couple of weeks after surgery.  They removed the stitches right after I took this picture. The angle is a little weird but look at the difference between my two legs.  The one that has been sliced open was so much larger!


I need to take another now but it has been 6 weeks since surgery.  I have no limp.  I have great range of motion. And my PT gave me a 5 out of 5 for strength.  I still have a long way to go before I can start running, skiing, playing soccer, and all that good stuff.  But I believe I am past the worst part of the recovery.  Now I have to make sure I continue to do PT and work out.  I'm still hopeful all will be well for skiing next season.  I intend to hone my slalom skills!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Beautiful Fall Weekend

Friday-  Stayed in after what seemed like so many busy weekends these past few weeks.  The wife and I decided to rent a movie relax at home. The rental selection didn't seem very good but we settled on Bridesmaids.  I wasn't exactly thrilled but I had heard it was really funny.  I don't know where I heard it.  In fact, it might have just been great marketing and advertising for the movie.  Because it wasn't funny.  There were possibly 4 humorous parts to the movie.  Maybe it is one of those that you have to watch a few times before you really enjoy.  Either way, I won't be making it past the first viewing.  But it was a great evening without stress!

Saturday turned out to be just a fantastic day.  We kicked it off with a trip to the Y and got in some good exercise.  It was the first time since surgery that I really broke a sweat and felt like I had burned some calories.  It felt good to be productive and since we hadn't partied the night before we got out early.

Most of the rest of the day was spent with some friends at their BBQ.  It was great!  He has become quite the talented Boston Butt cook.  I think this was the 3rd or 4th time we have sampled his homemade BBQ and it was by far the best attempt yet.  It was cooked perfectly with lots of flavor and juices.  Add to that perfect fall weather, some horse racing, a few rounds of cornhole (I love that game), and the LSU v. Alabama game and you couldn't ask for too much more.

Sunday weather turned out just as nice as Saturday.  We headed off in the middle of the day for the wife's soccer game.  It was the start of the tournament and when you lose your season is over.  This was extremely difficult for me because I would be playing if I didn't have a hurt knee.  Turns out, most of the team has been injured this season and there were barely enough players to even play the game.  And that included 2 subs that are only for emergencies!  Needless to say, the season ended on Sunday with just one game.  It was exciting to see everyone fight to the very end and make the game as respectable as possible.  Despite an enormous lead the other team did not let up at all and we were still able to hold off more goals and score a few more to make it closer.

Overall it was just one of those really good fall weekends in TN.  I know they are going to sneak out of here pretty quick and cold, bitter weather (for TN anyways) will start to move in before we know it.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Spotted in Smyrna.  Hard to tell, but he's wearing an awesome cut T as well.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I changed my own oil!

I was taught in my early teens how to change to oil on my vehicle and have pretty much always done it myself.  As I get older and busier there is more temptation to pay someone to do it.  In fact, I have done that on multiple occasions but only if I find a good deal on it.  It is just too easy of a task for me not to do it on my own.  Many times I build it up in my head as a difficult task until that point that I almost take it somewhere.  But then my cheap side comes out and forces me to do it.  Afterwards, I know it was worth it.

Some of my critics say it's not worth the time.  I'm not sure if they aren't as handy as I am, but unless you change vehicles for every oil change and have to re-learn how to do it, it shouldn't take much time at all.  I changed mine one night this week after getting home from work.  It was probably a total of 20 minutes to complete the entire job.  I know it was done right and I felt a sense of accomplishment.  It was easy and took my mind off of the other hundreds of items I deal with on a daily basis.

I've been to other places for an oil change, and not many of them would have done it in any less time that I did.  And I always seem to second guess what they are up to.  Did they really put in the right oil?  Did the put in enough oil?  Did they tighten everything up correctly?  It's just not the same as doing it myself.

So the point it, right now it makes sense for me to change my own oil sometimes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Medical Musical Chairs

I'm not a fan of our current healthcare system.  I heard or read recently that a major problem is the disconnect between the provider and the customer.  It is not a direct relationship where the customer shops around, finds the best value, and the provider must live up to a high quality of service.  In fact, in my experience, many medical facilities treat customers almost as if they are a nuisance.  I will insert here that I have had very few interactions with medical facilities and my opinions are based on these limited interactions.

But here are 2 recent experiences that I had-

1. I tore my ACL and was trying to decide between paying for all of the related medical expenses out of pocket and filing it with insurance.  I know that sounds crazy and stupid, but I found very interesting results.  As I 'shopped around' and looked for high quality service at and affordable price I worked with multiple facilities in order to get as an exact estimate on my cost as possible.  As a self pay individual, I ended up at one the top medical facilities in town with a surgeon that had great references and experience.  The total out of pocket for the surgery was roughly $8800.  Add to this a couple of doctors visits and an MRI, we were talking about just under $10,000.  Then physical therapy would start right after surgery.  Now my brother-in-law is a PT that works about 1 hour from where I live. While it would have been inconvenient, I could have worked with him in order to save the $80-100 per session PT.

This was of course a lot of money, and I had a health insurance plan with a $1500 deductible that I could use instead. So my total out of pocket through insurance (which I needed to do) was just $1500 but I have now seen most of the bills go through my insurance.  The visits, x-rays, surgery and follow up visits have well exceeded $30,000 paid by my insurance!  Over $20,000 more than my negotiated self pay!  And I am doing PT with a local provider that is also covered by insurance. No idea the exact cost yet.

2.  My most recent follow up visit to the doctor was another frustrating experience.  I personally like my doctor, but by the time I ever get to see him, I am so annoyed I can't stand talking to him!  Here's how the visit went.

Arrive 15 minutes early to check in.  There are literally 4 people in the waiting room, I'm thinking this could be a very quick visit.  I'm only hear for a quick check because my surgery was 5 weeks prior.

The waiting room begins to fill in the next 15 minutes with patients arriving.  That's okay, I'm coming up on my appt time and I was here first, obviously my appt is first.

There's the nurse for my doctor, I've seen her multiple times before.  She'll be calling my name now, we are 5 minutes past my appt time now.  What?  That guy?  He came in after me?

About 15 minutes past my appt time I'm finally called back to see the doctor. YES!  Just follow the nurse down the hall and to the room, wait, not the room?  Another chair in the hallway for waiting?  Is this a game, are you trying to trick me into thinking I'm making progress?

15 minutes later, I'm annoyed.  The nurse calls my name again and walks my 10 feet into one of the individual rooms. YES!  Finally!  "We'll take you for your x-rays in just a moment sir.  WHAT!!!  If I needed an xray, why didn't I go straight to the xray?  Now I'm sitting in the 3rd chair of the day, still waiting.

10 minutes later, I'm really not happy.  Another gentleman I've seen before arrives, his sole purpose seems to be walking people from the small rooms to the xray room, it might be 30 feet maximum from any room in the place.  I sigh and at least try to be happy the xray is happening.  As we turn the corner, I'm told to sit in another hallway waiting room chair!!

5 minutes later, I hate this place.  I finally get in to get xrays, this takes all of 2 minutes.  I am escorted back to my small room.  Another chair.

I don't know how long I waited, but I was on the verge of leaving.  I had things to do and had not planned on such a long visit.  Why can't they be more effective with their scheduling?

The doctor finally comes in and we spend about 4-5 minutes together.  I am fine.  Everything is great.  I can go now.  He's a great guy and wants to joke around with me.  IF there had been about 3 less chairs, maybe I could.  But I just can't do it.  Your office provides terrible customer service.  I wasn't fooled!  I wasn't really making progress, I was just wearing out as many chairs as possible so that you can charge me more so that you can buy more chairs.