Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

5 Exceptional Lessons from Avalon
December 18, 2007

Jackie Victor and her partner had no business experience and weren’t bakers, but they formed the right relationship with the earth, the community, and their employees and have now been successful for over 10 years. Though, they have learned several lessons along the way. They learned to do your homework, start small, have a value based business, provide something exceptional, and think outside of the box and be bold.

Lesson One: Do your homework.

For Jackie and her partner, this meant to write a business plan. “The clearer your intentions, the clearer your outcomes,” she says. Setting goals helps guide your business.

Lesson Two: Start small.

Build as you see demand, and not before. Jackie and her partner paid themselves since day one, but only modestly in the beginning.   They always follow their gut.

Lesson Three: Create a value based business.

Jackie highly recommends “The Purple Cow.” Not only is it a great book, but a very popular strategy. This is about viral marketing. Find the people known as “sneezers.” These are the people that “sneeze” wonderful words about your business to others. They actively spread the word. First you must create a core of devoted followers that share your values. Jackie personally prefers Detroit customers. She says they are the best; second to none.

Lesson Four: Provide something exceptional.

People believe people that talk about your business more than they believe you or a paid advertisement. Find out who your “sneezers” are and provide exceptional products and services. Then keep reinventing the cow. Keep doing exceptional things. “Exceptional Detroit businesses don’t go out of business,” she says.

Lesson Five: Think outside of the box and be bold.

Think outside your familiar areas. Move to unexplored territory. Be brave. Set your values high and value them. Also, the press is far more important than paid advertising. It is “earned media.” By doing exceptional things you can earn the media.

These are the 5 lessons that Jackie and her partner learned along their 10 year journey at Avalon.  Jackie believes that if you truly keep these lessons close to the heart that you will have a flourishing business… especially in Detroit.


Bringin’ Sexy Back
July 3, 2007


“Lingerie is second to handbags as the fastest-growing apparel category, so everyone in retail is trying to capitalize on that growth.” Retailers, including JCPenney, Kohl’s, Target, Macy’s, and Walmart, are changing their lingerie line to make it more “sexy.” This has hurt Victoria Secret’s sales dramatically. For 20 years, Victoria’s Secret has had the market for fashionable lingerie to itself. Other brands such as Maidenform, Vanity Fair, and Bali have appealed to different, more conservative shoppers. But, with an overwhelmingly high amount of new competition, Victoria’s Secret net income fell 47% last year.

Will Victoria’s Secret make it another 20 years? If these department stores are beginning to sell these sexy lines of lingerie for competitive prices, what will stop the consumer from not buying them there? In the past, shoppers would purchase their clothes from department stores such as Kohl’s and Macy’s and then migrate toward Victoria’s Secret for an enormous variety of hot, colorful, and unique bras, panties, nighties, and such. But if these products are being offered at the same stores consumers are already buy their clothes, shoes, and other accessories from, will they really fight the urge to shop in the lingerie section? I foresee a panties evolution.

It is unfortunate that Victoria’s Secret is going through these hard times, but they were lucky to have had 20 years of business without the direct competition. Granted, Victoria’s Secret sales would have dropped this past year with the new competition, but I feel that part of the problem was brought upon by themselves. Victoria’s Secret was known for sexy push-up bras and see-through, silk, and lace nighties. And they were very successful in that department. So I ask, why would they replace their sexiest push-up bra and half of their nighties with a new line called Pink? Last year, this line of sweat pants and other conservative sleepwear and clothing was introduced. Why did they migrate away from their prosperous core business in which they had it practically monopolized, and begin selling articles of clothing that could be purchased almost anywhere for a lot less money? Victoria’s Secret needs to take a step back and really decide where they would like to focus in the near future.

New Mall in Town?
June 14, 2007

There has been talks of opening a mall in the area of 8 mile and Woodward in Detroit since 2004. A major step was taken yesterday as a bill allowing for this retail development moved out of state Senate. Now it must be considered by the full Senate, which may pass it as early as next week.

An array of questions arose when the class heard about this retail development, and many arose from me. This has really interested me. The first question was, “Why would they add another mall in the area when there are already run-down ones in every directions. Is it going to be like the others with one decent department store, some discount clothing stores, and a dollar store down each hall?”

The project, The Shoppes of Gateway Park, is an outdoor mall contrary to our initial findings. More specifically, the The Shoppes of Gateway Park is actually being pitched as an outdoor lifestyle center, like The Village of Rochester Hills (shown below), which has attracted major retailers including Victoria’s Secret and the Gap, which leads to the anchor store, Parisian. The Shoppes of Gateway Park expects to replicate the layout of the center shown below with a bookstore, 4 chain restaurants, a JCPenney as an anchor store, and a variety of smaller retail shops. JCPenney has signed a letter of intent to be the anchor store and the developers have enganged in talks with Barnes and Nobles.


The second concern was, “How will the residents of the neighborhood feel about thisdevelopment.” One of my classmates had raised concerns about traffic levels highly increasing. My initial reaction was that it could only help the neighborhood. I feel it may be the beginning of an incredible revitalization of the neighborhood, helping homes to appreciate in value. Although some good points were addressed, my concerns are now at ease after overlooking some comments from residents in the area from an article written on Thursday, June 14 in the Detroit Free Press.

“As a Detroiter, I am excited, but as a neighbor who lives less than two blocks from this development, I am ecstatic,” Thomas, who represents the area of Detroit where the center will be located, said in a statement.

The center “would be terrific,” said Nancy Galster, president of the neighborhood association for Palmer Woods, which is less than a mile from the proposed project.

Galster said the developer invited representatives from her community to a dinner in April to hear feedback on the project.

“We felt like we had a voice in the matter,” Galster said.

Barbara Barefield has been a Palmer Woods resident for 20 years and said that the development would be welcome in her community and in neighboring ones.

“I think most people in our neighborhood are very excited at the possibility of having places to shop in Detroit,” Barefield said. “It’s about time. We’ve lost so many places to shop.”

The developers of this project are anticipating doors opening in the year 2011. I am anxiously awaiting this grand opening. Each baby step we take will help to revitalize Detroit into the unbelievably incredible city it was once.

How to Get a 2.85% Interest Rate
June 7, 2007

Homeowners around the world are taking currency gambles in loans.  These risk takers take out a mortgage in a foreign currency to gain lower interest rates.  This financial strategy to “borrow cheaply in one country to invest in a higher-yielding asset somewhere else” is usually used by “big-money speculators.”  Though I am not a Wall Street Trader, this “carry trade” tactic is very tempting to me.  It is know as the “carry trade” because the difference between two interest rates is the “carry.”    Currently, several wealthy London businessmen are taking out mortgages in Japanese yen to buy homes or investment properties in Florida.  Last year, Chris Papa borrowed the equivalent of $240,000 in yen from Lloyd’s TSB Bank PLC to buy a 7 bedroom home near Walt Disney World.  His interest rate is 2.85%, much below than the current rates in the United States. 

Although the benefits can be incredible, the risks are just as high.  Tomas Bencze from Budapest attempted the same maneuver as Papa.  Everything was great until exchange rates suddenly shifted, causing his monthly payment to increase dramatically.  In two months, Benczes’ interest rate jumped 10%.  This game isn’t for everyone.  It is for very high risk takers. 

What concerns me, is the high risk.  Though I might entangle myself in this risky game, I feel that it could easily cause an even higher default rate, causing more people to lose their homes.  Foreclosures are at its highest and such a game could cause it to continue rising.  If this currency gamble becomes more popular and begins to spread among blue collar families, trouble could transpire.  People might feel they can afford more with a lower rate.  But when exchange rates shift, they could be in for a detrimental surprise.    I love the idea, but I feel such loans pose a risk to the already struggling economy. 

            The Wall Street Journal   –   Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Forty-One Cents!
May 22, 2007

Stamps are now $.41. That is absolutely unbelievable. It feels like just yesterday that they raised the prices. With technology soaring and becoming more leveraged each and every day, I wonder how high the price of stamps have to be before they begin to vanish. People now send more letters through the internet than ever before. Invitations, birthday cards, and catalogs are now being emailed to the recipients.

It used to be that when you’re on your way to buy a house, everyone would ask, “Are you ready to sign your life away?” This is because you would literally sign about 100 documents in order to purchase a home. Now, you can do the entire process electronically over the internet. All you have to do is sign in and click where it tells you to sign in a matter of minutes. You can do this from home or your office at any hour. In addition, the population of online bill payers is rapidly growing. You can even receive your mortgage statement and other bills through email.

So again I ask, with the soaring prices of stamps is postal mail going to quickly continue to decrease?

April 5, 2007

Last Friday our class, Right Now, ventured to the exciting land of ePrize. ePrize is a full-service interactive promotion company. ePrize has administered over 2,500 successful promotions for 73 of the top 100 brands, including Coca-cola, Visa, Proctor & Gamble, and Dell. As the leading promotion company, ePrize produced over 85% more promotions than any of their competitors in the year 2005. With so much on their plate, it’s hard to imagine that they would have much time to speak to 12 budding entrepreneurs, wouldn’t you think?

That’s not how Josh Linkner, the founder and CEO of ePrize, thinks. As Josh would say, “If you want something done, give it to someone who’s busy.” Josh said, “the busy people are the ones that will get it done quickly and efficiently,” and that’s exactly what he did. When Ross Sanders, the executive director of Bizdom U, asked Josh if he would be willing to speak to our class, Josh immediately said he wanted to do more than that. Josh instead invited us to ePrize for the day.

The entire experience was top notch. The moment I walked in, the receptionist greeted me cheerfully and said to me, “Good afternoon, welcome to ePrize, you must be Rena.” Wow, what a great first impression of the company. I felt so welcomed. She walked me directly to the conference room and gave me a brief summary of what to expect in the next few hours. Our class was then greeted by Josh at exactly 12pm, right when we were scheduled to begin. The busy CEO then enthusiastically thanked US for coming as he continued to give us an hour and a half of his time. Again, the whole experience was top notch. They provided us with a delicious lunch from The Honey Baked Ham Company, gave us a bag full of ePrize souvenirs, and gave us all JCPenney Gift Cards for coming. Each and every one of them treated us unbelievably well.

The part I found even more moving than the rest was the whole company’s participation. Approximately 35 people set aside part of their day for the 12 of us. How many successful companies can you name that would not only agree to speak to our class, but offer to plan an entire day catering to our education? They made the experience fun, educational, and most importantly, memorable. When I think back to all of the speakers we’ve had in the past 2 months, I have difficulty remembering the names or faces of some and the businesses of others. But every bit of my experience has been embedded in my memory. I remember that following Josh’s presentation were several other team members’ presentations. And not only do I now remember exactly what the company does because of the engaging project they had each of us complete, but I also have a much better understanding of it. In addition, I learned a lot from the leaders on our team for the project. And to then to have been presented with an opportunity for each group to propose our pitch to a skilled team of judges and receive their feedback, was another great opportunity in itself.

Josh and the rest of his company were able to create such a great opportunity for Right Now because of their great culture. It would have been great to hear him speaking behind the podium of our classroom and tell us the importance of culture, but exactly how effective would it have been? It may have been effective in our class only for the reason that we’ve already been subjected to the importance of culture through Dan Gilbert and Bizdom U. But, for any other class, to hear it for the first time, would they have walked away believing it? Doubtful. Just as I didn’t live the isms the first time I heard them, neither will others. But I do believe that by spending the day at ePrize and observing the amazing culture that really truly exists at every turn, any person could walk away with a different mindset.

March 30, 2007

When we were first told that we would be going on trips with Dan, I was quite intimidated. What if he asks me those eccentric questions he is known for? What if I don’t know how to respond to any of them? What if I completely fail the “who can find the stuff on the blackberry quicker” test? What if I am asked to speak in one of these prestigious meetings and I completely freeze? What if Dan wonders how Rena Willis got in HIS program? “What if?” I wondered.

Every time it was mentioned that one of us would be chosen to go on a trip with Dan, I was always eager to be chosen. But even more so, I was extremely relieved not to be that chosen person. When students arrived back and gave their presentations to our class, I always envisioned myself on the trip. “What if I was the one stuck for several hours in a car traveling at 100 mph while participating in role playing and being asked those off the wall questions Dan asks?” That would be even more stressful than the classroom.

“I dodged the bullet again,” I initially thought when Dan mentioned that Harry was going on a trip with him later that day. Except, when I heard where they were going and why, I had to go. That is that, I absolutely had to go also. “I am going to march right up to Dan and tell him I have to come, too,” I thought. In reality, it didn’t work quite like that. But, I did take an initiative and ask to go also. In the end, I was unfortunately not able to go, but this time there was no sense of relief.

Instead, I was really bummed. I didn’t care that I had a horrible cold, an awful migraine, and was physically drained. I really wanted to be there. I didn’t care if I was clueless when he asked me questions. I would respond with, “no idea, but I can’t wait to learn.” It no longer mattered if I had the right responses. And I would ARP his questions immediately anyhow, because I had tons of questions circling my mind and we hadn’t even left yet. I wanted to be there. I wanted to hear more about this unbelievable opportunity. I was eager to hear about the unbelievably low numbers and prices, meet the people, hear about the deal, and absolutely everything else. And most importantly, I wanted to watch this brilliant and successful man work his magic. I was filled with passion.

This reminded me why I was sitting in the classroom that day. Dan doesn’t expect us to be geniuses, nor does he require us to be perfect. He created Bizdom U for entrepreneurs with the dream, desire, and passion to learn and execute at top level. Bizdom U will provide us with the knowledge and experience that Dan is offering us on these trips.

If my trip with Dan fails miserably, my drive, desire, and passion will make the next one that much better. I will get right back up and try it again. On the second trip I will put forth intense effort, doing everything in my power to ensure that the second trip doesn’t replicate the first in any way, shape, or form.

Bizdom U is intended to provide us with knowledge and real life experience and open our eyes to such an array of things. And that is exactly what it has done.

800 333 ROCK
February 23, 2007

On Friday we had two guest speakers from Rock Financial.  David Hall, Regional Vice President, and Stephen Luigi Piazza, Senior Vice President of
Michigan’s largest mortgage company were kind enough to tell us their story.  Surprisingly, they didn’t talk much about the mortgage industry, but instead, they spoke of their advertising strategies. 


“It is difficult to make a reputation, but once properly made, so faithful is the public,” expressed David.  My first correlation to his quote was their “one phone number strategy.”  Their strategy was to create one main phone number that all customers could call.  Not only did they only want a single phone number, but they wanted a very easy to remember one with a correlating theme song that would stick to the brain.


They also emphasized radio advertising.  Radio advertising is cheap, the message can be changed almost immediately, the negotiation can be ended at any time, and can reach almost any target market.  Weekend advertisements are especially cheap.  Their radio advertisements on the weekends cost 90% less than the original weekday advertisements they were using. 


They also talked about measuring costs per campaign.  “Measure the costs from a total cost per campaign as oppose to per phone number,” David said several times.  They also said this about the radio stations.  As oppose to measuring the costs per station they measured them per campaign.  I thought this was an interesting strategy that many may not have used.

      I was very interested in the Rock Financial Showcase.  When it was first opened, I worked in at a restaurant in
Novi.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard the words “Rock Financial.”  I would have been really interested in some numbers.  I would love to know how much they spent in order for me to hear their name many times a day through my customers and fellow employees.  Whatever the cost, I’m sure it was worth it.  I heard more advertisements through my customers than I did on the radio