Showing posts with label Amherst Athletic Club. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amherst Athletic Club. Show all posts

Sunday, July 11, 2010

There but for the grace of God

My old time business acquaintance, Ross Scott, was busted recently for diverting $45,000 in employee pension money back into his faltering Holyoke based direct mail business, failing to provide the 3% match--but still claiming that amount as a tax deduction.

I first met Ross about 25 years ago when he was highly praised by another successful Amherst small business owner for saving him money on direct mail, mainly because he was super efficient about his services. And indeed he, a nice guy as well.

About then Amherst axed $4,500 late in the budget year (mid-April) for the July 4th fireworks. I instantly formed a committee and raised more than enough money to save the display that year, later turned it over the Amherst Chamber of Commerce who then returned it to the town's Leisure Services department, who continues to fund them via private/business donations somewhat competing with the July 4th Parade I'm now "somewhat" involved with.

The original business owner who recommended Ross ran a print shop so he donated 1,000 nice red-white-and-blue fliers (color was expensive back then.) Ross donated his mail services and paid the postage for a mailing to all Amherst businesses, almost instantly returning enough to cover the patriotic extravaganza.

But 20-25 years ago the direct mail business (like newspaper advertising) was booming W-A-Y more than today; now the Post Office itself is dying--all for the same reason: the Internet. Unsurprisingly, his once thriving ARA Strategic Mail Services went into a steady if not steep decline.

After my initial direct mail experience I liked it enough to purchase my own bulk mailing permit for Karate Health Fitness Center (although I took it out in my personal name so I could use it for other causes), thus I no longer required Ross.

But two years ago I sacrificed my long-time permit to save on the $150 annual cost of renewal just as I stopped all newsprint advertising (peak year approaching $15,000). The start--or more like final stage--of a downward spiral.

So this past February when Stan Gawle asked about using my (former) permit once again for a 4,000 piece anti-Override campaign mailer (as we did in squashing the 2007 Override), I looked up Ross and found him as efficient as ever. After all these years.

But knowledge, skill, bravado and endless hours only goes so far. You cut corners--at first you do it with a scalpel, then a butcher knife, then an ax and, finally, a chain saw. If every small business in America followed government regulations 100% to the absolute letter of the law, 90% of them would fail.

And yeah, if a business owner circumvents regulations to fund a fancy car, exotic vacations, gambling or prostitutes--that's one thing. But if they do it in order to keep the lights on--that's another. I suspect Ross, like a lot of recently deceased small businesses, occupies the latter.

Sounds like he informed his employees of his deception years ago (if they were that concerned they could have blown the whistle then) and probably told them it was either that or lay them off.

What's worse, losing a 6% retirement benefit somewhere W-A-Y down the road or losing your job now (which ends that retirement benefit anyway)? At least he always paid them their take home salary.

Who is worse off? Ross faces a possible sixteen month prison term and his business, his baby, his life these past decades gets filed in the dead letter office. Unlike his employees, he can't collect "unemployment insurance"--although he is not accused of reneging on that burdensome overhead.

Small business owners are the backbone of America--but they routinely engage in a high-wire act, working without a net. And even the Flying Wallendas took a tumble.

The Republican Reports

The Republican also reports Post Office problems

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Coming Full Circle

My 'Journalism Ethics' course just started, # three-of-five required for a Certificate of Journalism. I'm reminded of my first J course taken on campus 28 years ago, 'Newswriting and Reporting'--where our initial in-class assignment, tapped out on electric typewriters, was to compose your own obituary. Not much to say at age 27.

The Amherst Athletic Club, my life for all these years since, is now dead. And no, it's not a planned or even at this point well thought out process. I had planned to close the Club--but not until 1/30/2012, our 30th anniversary.

The last year of business would have been fun, hopefully with numerous former members returning for a "going away workout" and casual remembrances of our youth.

The last few years have been far from fun. Three years ago we were the lowest priced club in the Valley. Last year we looked downright expensive compared to Planet Fitness at a predatory $9.95 month. And the collateral damage was even worse, as other full service clubs lowered their prices to compete.

And of course, Umass opened the $50 million Recreation Center (I affectionately dubbed 'The Deathstar') free to Umass undergrads and fairly cheap to join for employees or alumni, a demographic category that probably encompasses about half the population of Amherst.

But the Martial Arts will continue at this location...retreating back to our roots, as that is how we debuted at 'The Dead Mall' back in 1982. And the new 'Karate Kid' remake will certainly boost the instruction school industry as it did back in 1984.

Like the typical disgraced politician I could always invoke the "wants-to-spend-more-time-with-the-family" spin, and that would not be untrue. Since the coming of daughter #2, Jada, my physical involvement at the Club lessened rather dramatically. Plus my wife's professional travels to Asia are increasing; we've decided never to part for more than three weeks, so now the entire family goes.

What the Hell, there's always my first love, journalism--and isn't that a wide open field for employment these days? (Yes, sarcasm needs a special font.)

The Bully reports


Friday, January 30, 2009

Boats against the current

The Amherst Athletic Club turns 27 today and I, twice that. We originally opened in what long-time locals still occasionally call Hadley’s “Dead Mall”—now very much alive with Wal Mart as the ultimate anchor.

And ironically enough new home to Planet Fitness, the low-cost—some would argue predatory pricing—franchise that thrives on high-volume memberships, where they hope the majority of members never actually show.

And since the rent has skyrocketed with the Mall’s revival, Planet Fitness will need a continuous flow of customers cascading through the door.

The three AAC owners huddled last night at the Irish bar out front to contemplate a strategy: do we continue limping along, or commit suicide (advertise the business for sale.) Or go for it, via a “surge.”

We chose to surge. Never surrender!

My 7-year-old daughter said she used the "cursive Y" to mimic the logo for Big-Y Supermarkets, our favorite grocery store.

Last year’s reflection