What's this blog really about?

You may notice a variety of topics here - from business, to charity promotion, even to local news, but the primary reason this blog was created was to alert readers to the hostile atmosphere and sexual harassment at The Danville Register & Bee. The readers and creator of this blog want a FULL FRONT PAGE apology in the Danville Register & Bee, plus the disciplining of those individuals involved. Until then, we'll continue to post regular updates. To tolerate THIS kind of behavior by a major media network is intolerable. And this isn't just ONE instance. Media General has been sued nationwide for racism and sexism, yet they CONTINUE to keep the offenders employed. Why? And why am I doing this? TRUTH compels me.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Danville's Backyard Burgers closes for good

Backyard Burgers - MY favorite place in town to get a great sandwich, closed it's doors for good today at 3:00 p.m., according to readers who stopped by there for lunch.

I'm REALLY sorry to see them go. Rumor has it they won't be the last restaurant to leave.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Julian's Gift

Frank and Holly Henderson, would like to share a story with you -- Julian's story. At this time of year when so many of us are thinking of giving gifts to children, this seemed like a great opportunity to share how we can give to those who have lost theirs.

In 2006, we learned that we were pregnant with our second child. At 20 weeks, we were told that our unborn son had a genetic defect known as Trisomy 13, which can be fatal. As you can probably imagine, this news was devastating. The doctors did not expect me
to carry full term, but our little one was a fighter. After many sleepless nights and painstaking decisions, we had our son, Julian, at 38 weeks. Frank and I were blessed to have and hold him for a little over an hour before the Lord called Julian home.

During the weeks preceding Julian's birth, we tried to plan ahead for his funeral arrangements, however we found it to be extremely difficult. When the time came to finalize the arrangements we were shocked by the costs. We had to purchase a cemetery plot, a grave marker and pay the funeral home for their services (most of which
they discounted). Without financial assistance from our friends and family, I honestly do not know how we would have laid our son to rest.

This got me wondering. How do other parents do it? We had time to prepare for Julian's death, but not everyone does. How do families do it when a death is unexpected or when there are no friends and family members to offer assistance? That is when we came up with the plan to start a non-profit organization, aimed at assisting families who lose a child under 12 months old.

I cannot begin to tell you how comforted Frank and I were, knowing that Julian had a proper funeral and knowing that we could visit his grave any time we wanted to. And having been through the questions, disbelief, pain and sorrow, Frank and I wanted to be
able to give some peace and comfort to other parents in a similar situation. To lose a child during your life can be like losing a piece of your soul.

If, through this organization, we can help to relieve some of the stress a family feels in planning a funeral for their child, then we know Julian's life, though short, had a purpose. This is why we've decided to call this organization Julian's Gift.

Please see Julian's site for more details: http://www.juliansgift.org/index.html

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My condolences to the recent layoffs at Register & Bee

Three more Register and Bee employees were laid off today. All in circulation. It's no secret circulation is down. But, as usual, layoffs come at Christmas and are devastating to those affected. But you're not alone. Media General is consolidating even more offices and trimming everything but Steve Kaylor's salary. Odd isn't it? How the managers who couldn't keep the paper from spiraling downward by providing value and content, don't suffer....

Several other Danville businesses are laying off as well. eToys, one of the beer distributorships and several other businesses are expected to be making announcements in the coming weeks. And - the rumor that a couple of reporter positions are on the chopping block is still circulating. More stories are being outsourced to free-lancers -including former Register & Bee reporter Susan Elzy - who is no longer with Showcase magazine, but is back at the Register & Bee as a freelancer.

With almost 60 members, Danville Business (by invitation only) is becoming the hot spot for businesses in Danville who want to advertise for free, network with other businesses and get the kind of value added help lacking at the local newspaper. Free to join, free to belong. Look for the new newspaper to come out in January 2009....watch for the launch date here.

With the Register & Bee on its last legs, it won't take much to put that beast out of its misery - a few good writers and the backing of some dissatisfied advertisers - definitely ought to do it!.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Perp walk or Professional?

When the Register & Bee lays people off, they put them through a sort of "perp" walk - shove a box at them, tell them to get their stuff and get out...making them parade through the workplace with their meager belongings in a box while everyone stares at them. Perp walk.

Last Christmas/holiday season, about a dozen employees - several of them with 30+ years of hard, loyal service, were laid off, given 15 minutes to get their stuff and shown the door. Their computers were locked down. They weren't able to get information and files that would have helped them get other jobs. Their jobs were moved to Lynchburg and they were never given the option of transferring to existing jobs at other papers. Temp employees were hired instead.

Thirty years of service and they were treated like criminals - given 15 minutes to get off the premises. I don't think they had police escorts, but other employees have had cops come in and walk them to the door, unnecessary humiliation and embarrassment. I didn't give Steve Kaylor the pleasure. He had to call me at home after I posted this blog and sent him the link. His voice quivered.

So, layoffs are inevitable. The question is, "Will you be a professional? Will you be compassionate?" Will you be kind and treat the employees you have to lay-off with some degree of respect and appreciation for the time they have worked for you? We all understand that layoffs are hard and frightening for everyone - particularly for people who may not be able to find another job. But you can do it with dignity. You can let people know you appreciate them and you can make it a not-so-public and not so criminal exercise, and by publicly acknowledging their contributions.

This year those same employees are remembering last year - and the way they were treated, embarrassed and cast off without a second thought. If you must lay an employee or employees off - do it with dignity and appreciation. Don't do it like the Register & Bee did it - with arrogance and paranoia and total disregard for its employees.

Merry Christmas to all those laid off, fired, abused and mistreated at The Register & Bee over the past year. Be glad you're not there any longer. Stock has plummeted from $75 to a couple of bucks....morale is low, quality is low, the few readers they have complain that it looks like children are laying out the paper....you escaped a sinking ship. Let's all be grateful. Advertisers are pulling out...notice there are no car ads....and it's only going to get worse.

What goes around, comes around.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Crafters will be forced out of business next year

If you make craft items, toys or any kind of item that could be construed as a toy, this may be your last Christmas with an income. H.R. 4040, signed into law by President George Bush last August, has just put you out of business.

A friend of mine in the toy industry wrote to tell me that the next industry to go under is the toy industry - not because of any problems in the industry....but because of a new regulation!

The thing is, Rob tells me that the toy industry is in pretty good shape. They're one of the few industries NOT laying people off. People have jobs - for now. But if you are a crafter or in the toy industry, or in an industry that supplies craft stores, lumber, paint or items TO toy manufacturers....get ready to be laid off next year when this regulation goes into effect.

Danville's economy will be affected adversely too. eToys carries a lot of toys made by smaller manufacturers who will be out of work because of this regulation. The Danville Farmer's market - a lot of crafters there will be affected. How many local layoffs or jobs will be impacted? If you sell your items on ebay or esty....you'll have to show proof of testing....How will craft shows all over the country be affected? Or state fairs? Vendors won't be able to manufacture or make their items nor sell them.

As one crafter says:

"So as a crafter this has hit home for me, last night my DH and I, and my mom on the phone.. sat down and read the 68 pages line by line, to see where I and my business fit into this. This affects anyone who sells goods to children under the age of 12, anyone who HAS children under the age of 12, anyone who MAKES goods for children under the age of 12, and anyone who buys things for children under the age of 12."

Rob said,

"I, along with thousands of companies in my industry are hoping just to stay alive past February....and, no, I am not the CEO of Ford or GM. I am not even in the auto or banking industry.

My industry, particularly the niche that I am in is relatively healthy compared to the rest of the economy. However, recent changes in government regulations are putting our $100bn+ industry at risk of complete collapse. I am in the Children's Products business. In particular, I sell toys. Not mass marketed, Chinese toys. Not the ones you read about in the news. Let me explain.

First, let me stress that I have been an avid supporter of strict toy standards. When the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was signed into law I was pleased to have a stronger federal standard. However, like anything else, the devil is in the details. In this case, there are a number of issues that threatens the thousands of businesses, and over 100,000 jobs.

1. Testing Methods: In the coming weeks companies will be required to have new products tested by 3rd parties. Reasonable, right? Unfortunately the method is not so reasonable. A reasonable method would be to test the materials then make the products. If I produce jeans....I should test the materials (denim, buttons, zippers) then make as many different styles as appropriate. If I am a woodworker, I test the wood, test the paints, then make little wooden cows, pigs, lions, and tigers. However, the law says that I am required to test each sku or style of the finished product. At a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per test, this can add up fast, especially for (1) small, innovative companies that are trying to get introduce new products, (2) larger companies with thousands of skus, and (3) in general companies that specialize in niche markets.

2. Markings: In August 09 new products will be required to have permanent marking on the actual product, indicating where, when, and by what company the product was manufactured. Sounds okay, but do you know how expensive that is for small companies? Did you know that small companies have a pretty good grasp on where and when their products were made. Not only that, if a recall were needed in such a case, you would be dealing with very low numbers...(ie. tens, or may be a few hundred)...not the tens or hundreds of thousands required by companies like Mattel.

3. Complexity & Penalties: The new law is extremely complex. It contains many requirements (few. if any, of which increases the safety of a single toy), requiring certificates for each product to be shipped with each item in a shipment, confusing rules about how often testing is required, and more. The more complex a set of rules, the more difficult it is to do it perfectly, all the time. This is not to say the safety would be jeopardized, more likely a t won't be crossed or an i dotted...but this can cause big problems when the penalties for non-compliance have also been raised in this law (from $5,000 per infraction to up to $100,000), plus possible civil penalties. Who wants to be in a business like that?

That leads me to my next point. Assuming, the small, interesting companies can survive these issues, who wants to? I have better, more interesting things, to do than worry about incredibly complicated and cumbersome rules that do not make my toys any safer. I would move into other markets. So where does that leave the children's products industry? Full of the few mass market toy manufacturers that can survive. Hey! Aren't those the guys that got us into this mess in the first place?"

Educational toys, niche market toys, all kinds of items that you, your kids and the school system depends on - will be impacted because smaller manufacturers can't afford that kind of testing. So - will your job be affected? Better start finding out now. Go to this web site to learn more! http://cpsia-central.ning.com/

Friday, December 5, 2008

Is your business next on the media hit list?

When the mayor of Bluff City couldn't afford to pay a $10,000 bill to a supplier, the supplier sued him to collect. There was no fraud. There was a bad economy and business projections fell. The mayor, who is also a businessman, is having financial problems like everyone else in this bad economy. But because he's the mayor, a simple civil issue has become front page news. Simply by putting this story of a legitimate business having legitimate problems in the paper, what was a civil case between businesses has become a very public embarassment. One reader responded to reporter Mac McLean's story. Mac, as you will recall, is the reporter who delighted in filming the breasts of local businesswomen in Danville and showing them around the newsroom. The reader wrote:

Mac Mclean has gone to far with this one. Why has Mclean and the Bristol Herald Courier picked Malone to exploit? Small business owners across the United States are really suffering with the bad economy. Articles like this should be viewed from a personal standpoint and not be made headline news. Mclean, what are you trying to prove picking on individuals that have good character that bad economic times
dealt a bad hand. Perhaps the Bristol Herald Courier will sell far less newspapers bringing a bad situation financially and then we can read about it in the Kingsport Times or the Johnson City Press. THe Herald Courier
needs to be more selective about what it prints pertaining to civil matters. This is no big deal considering the economy, the big deal is the 10.5 trillion the Fed has already given out in bailouts and should be called handouts. Mclean grabs for anything he can make a story from and the Bristol Herald Courier prints anything that can
help fill the pages of their skimpy newspaper.

Who is really served when a hometown newspaper starts making front page news of news that is already in the bankruptcies listings? If you fall behind, file bankruptcy, lose your job - is that really newsworthy? Apparently Media General thinks so. I'm not sure exactly how that benefits citizens or does anything more than generate fear mongering and sell newspapers. How sad a local paper does more to tear down businesses rather than help them find solutions.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What truly valuing your employees looks like!

Good companies, companies who value their employees, show it in word and in deed. When Zappos recently laid off 8% of their employees this is part of what they did, and said:

"...we are reducing our staff by 8%, but because we are being proactive instead of reactive about it, we are able to take care of our employees and offer them more than the standard 2 weeks severance (or no severance) that most other companies are giving.

We are offering to pay each laid-off employee through the end of the year(about 2 months), and offering an additional amount for employees that have been with us for 3 or more years.

In addition, because our regular health benefits cover 100% medical, dental, and vision for employees and 50% for spouses and dependents, we decided to offer to reimburse laid-off employees for up to 6 months of
COBRA payments.

In doing all of this to take care of laid-off employees, we expect that it will actually increase, not decrease, our costs for 2008, but we feel this is the right thing to do for our employees. It will put us in the position of having a lot more financial flexibility in being able to respond to potential changes in the economy in 2009.

Ecommerce growth has slowed compared to its growth rate a year ago, but the good news is that even in this tough economic environment, ecommerce overall is still growing.

Within the footwear category, we are the online market leader. When times are tough, the strongest players in any market have an opportunity to gain even more market share, even if overall growth may be slower. Historically, we have actually grown faster than the overall ecommerce market, and we anticipate for that to continue in 2009.

For the rest of 2008 as well as for 2009, we anticipate continuing to grow year over year. Our current forecasts are that we will continue to be profitable and cash flow positive, as long as we are proactive instead of reactive in managing our business and financials.

I know that many tears were shed today, both by laid-off and non-laid-off employees alike. Given our family culture, our layoffs are much tougher emotionally than they would be at many other companies.

I've been asked by some employees whether it's okay to twitter about what's going on. Our Twitter policy remains the same as it's always been: just be real, and use your best judgement.

These are tough times for everyone, and I'm sure there will be many follow up questions to this email. If you have any questions about your specific job or department, please talk to your department manager. For all other questions, comments, or thoughts, please feel free to email me.

* Tony Hsieh, CEO