Oh, let's, shall we?
I have an afternoon where I don't have to run somewhere or work, I’m not exhausted, and there is much to write. Sit back.
First order of business, answering the running question: "How are you doing?" Both Rachel and I have been alternating between completely sucking to not sucking quite so much with the rare good day here and there. We've been under a great deal of stress with the Romp n' Roll move to Mechanicsville, facing some serious financial challenges, and now actually thinking what we're going to do for Charlotte's Birthday (yep, July 9 is less than a month away). And somewhere in there Father’s Day looms which really hasn’t bothered me that much yet. (I’m always going to be a father and I feel pretty honored to have been Charlotte’s daddy. I don’t think I will let it get me down too much. At least no more than I already am.)
So we're not so good these days. As usual, we keep ourselves busy and the kids of Romp n' Roll really help us cope but at best we're treading water.
It's not all gloom and doom. Only mostly.
I'll start with the business. As most of you know, we've been in a really bad recession the last few years and we're into year three of owning Romp n' Roll. We signed the papers on Nov 30, 2007 and the experts tell us the recession started in December. So we've been pretty much hemorrhaging money ever since. We've been fortunate in that we had a cushion to hold us for a while, a banker and franchisor genuinely interested in keeping us afloat, members very dedicated to the Romp n’ Roll idea, and very supportive families.
Then Charlotte was diagnosed and a deep layer of “awful” was added to our lives; the 50,000 ton boulder if you will. We had to take time off away from the business to attend to Charlotte and, although our staff was amazing as always, we weren’t there and it didn’t help. The recession kept going and it seemed people were waiting to register for classes until they heard whether or not we were going to keep the store.
Once we made it very clear we were keeping it, things actually started to improve. We started the year 2010 with a very good first quarter and with the recession seeming to ease just a little, it looked like we were finally on the way to getting a handle on things.
Then we announced the move from Virginia Center Marketplace to Mechanicsville.
The faucet simply shut off. Our rent at VCM was very high and we couldn’t continue to pay that and have any hope of staying in business. We found the space at Stonewall Square and the owners bent over backwards to accommodate us. Rent is lower, over half of our customers are from this area, the parking lot is vastly superior for our needs…I mean, how could we refuse?
So we didn’t, but we had no idea it would put many people in a summer planning holding pattern. It also didn’t help that the build-out cost almost twice as much as everyone assured us it would. The second quarter is going to end up looking very bad on paper. When we look back on it in a year or so, if we last that long, we’ll shudder. In 5 years, we’ll laugh nervously.
We opened the new Mechanicsville store on May 17th and it is beautiful. Everyone who worked in the new store really did great jobs. But boy, did things start out very slow. All the predictions of people banging down the door and full classes just as soon as we opened to doors never materialized. We have our core of loyal fans but we weren’t getting the word out like we wanted to new families. Turns out we weren’t just imagining it. It seems the postcard campaign for which we paid a lot of money went astray. Way astray. Like Virginia Beach astray. They were supposed to go to nearby homes. At least they re-sent them out to the correct zip codes but not until we went two full weeks wondering why no one was responding to our postcards (which usually get at least SOME response).
So that brings us to recent events, most of which are actually very positive. We have recently set up a Romp n’ Roll To Go type program at the American Family Fitness right across the street where parents can drop off their children while they work out. Last Tuesday I went in as an experiment and we had 30 kids. 26 on Wednesday. Hopefully we can keep it growing. That will be a very welcome and urgently needed financial shot in the arm.
We’re also developing relationships with merchants all around the area including Firehouse Subs, Primo’s Pizza, Battlefield [Auto] Service Center, Batteries Plus, CiCi’s Pizza, Ruby’s Nails and Spa, and there are others pending. I can’t believe how open everyone out here is to partnering. Over at VCM, it was always like pulling teeth to even get people to talk to you. Chick-fil-a was an exception and will always be a Romp n’ Roll-Mechanicsville partner. (By the way, the new spicy chicken sandwich is very good!)
We have several local preschools and daycares taking advantage of Rompy’s Monday Funhouse for field trips.
I’ve recently been asked to bring an RnR2Go type program out to a private kids party in August which should be very fun.
Our Grand Opening/Open House (pt. 1) was yesterday. It was very well attended and there were many faces I had never seen before. There were Hanover County Firefighters there with their trucks, “Big” Rompy playing with his friends, and arts & crafts for everyone. We didn’t do quite as many registrations as we had hoped but the Birthday Bash bookings are really starting to improve. We have the second part of the Open House today from 3:30-6:00pm and I’ll bet there will be more of the same, including another appearance by “Big” Rompy.
Although Romp n’ Roll is still struggling financially, things do seem to be improving ever so slowly. We just need to survive the backside of this storm. The classes are still completely awesome and I have no qualms about flaunting our Best Of Richmond Awards from the last year. We have the best staff, the best customers, and the best “product” around, bar none. If you disagree, let me know so we can fix whatever you don’t like. That’s definitely one thing we have not compromised. There’s no use. We’re pretty sure that as the word gets out even more, we’ll be doing very well. Just gotta’ survive the short-term. That’s kind of become our mantra. We are thinking of seeking out a partner to help with the short-term issues. Anyone interested?
To try to improve our income stream, I’ve had to take a part-time job in the finance dept. of King’s Dominion. Basically, I count money. I’ve worked there before and it was one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had. The hours are flexible and convenient, I get work with very interesting (wacky?) people, and although it doesn’t pay a ton, it’s the best paying dept in the park. Oh, and Charlotte’s Devon is one of my bosses! Kinda’ cool. Mister Joe (Mattys), Devon’s dad, works in the park as well so there are good connections there.
One surreal thing is how money ceases to mean much when you’re staring at piles of it all night. One co-worker dropped a strapped wad of cash on the floor and I nonchalantly picked it up for her. It was a banded bunch of $100’s. It seemed so strange to me that I was holding $10,000 in cash in my hand like it was pack of gum or something.
We work in the evening, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, and the other night, I had a “moment” because of my music. I was listening to my iPod on shuffle and “A New Star In Heaven” by Johnatha Brooke came on. I’m sitting there, counting money, and trying to keep it together. A little while later, some “CJ Babble” came on. That’s stuff I recorded when Charlotte would come into the radio station with me. I so glad I did that because those almost never fail to make me smile and this time in Cash Control was no exception. You’d think THAT would set me off but no. It kind of offset the Johnatha Brook tune.
This new job also helps make me very aware of the petty little things people complain about. I seem to still have very little patience with those who do. I want to say, “REALLY? THAT makes you mad? THAT’S what bothers you?!? Let me REALLY ruin your day…” Of course I very rarely do. I’m just going to do what I’m there for and try not to screw up too much if I can help it.
As far as CJSTUF goes, the Foundation is jammin’. (Would that our personal finances were going so well.) Most of you know we sent out the first ten checks to families and will be sending out the next batch in the fall. We keep having meetings, making decisions, planning events, and waiting for word from the IRS about our non-profit status. We have a ton of folks wanting to help us and there’s no shortage of ideas for FUN-raisers and such.
The biggest and most immediate thing is the Double Marathon Challenge. We haven’t heard yet from anyone about the U of Miami and VA Tech pledge war so it’s anyone’s guess as to what colors I’ll be wearing for the Richmond Marathon. Feel free to drop us a line and let us know any amounts you have at your fingertips. Don’t forget my overall goal is $10,000. On measly little wad of strapped $100s. Pledge forms are available on the website.
If you want to train with me, I’m going to be starting at 6:00am in front of the Ashland Library near Charlotte’s Brick on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I’ll be going small distances at first but growing as time goes by.
I started official training last Saturday and I’ve been doing pretty well I think. I’ve enlisted the help of a real trainer to help keep me on track. Her name is Rachel Pustilnik and she runs her own franchise of Stroller Strides here in Richmond. She has set me up with a running schedule and a place to get my feet/stride analyzed. I need to get over there eventually. Not sure when. I’m trying to get AISICS to sponsor me but that’s a fat chance kind of thing.
Dr. Anna has also agreed to be TEAM CJ’s official chiropractor. Now I need an official ice cream sponsor, Lexus, BMW, or Audi sponsor, and super nice men’s clothing store sponsor. Still looking for those.
When I started training for real last Saturday, I felt pretty good. The weather was so perfect on Monday, I just had to run even though it wasn’t on my schedule, Tuesday was the same again and I almost let myself start thinking about life being somewhat “normal” again. I’ve been running pretty fast (for me) and with little difficulty. Wednesday and Thursday brought me back down to the “new normal.” Nothing new. Just the same old extreme stress coming back out to bite us in the ass. Thursday’s run was still pretty good though.
I’m taking a grant writing class at VCU at the moment and hopefully, I’ll be able to do that halfway well by the time our non-profit status comes through.
CJ's Butterfly Bush is growing like crazy in spite of the bugs trying to eat it, other plants trying to crowd it out, and the heat trying to bake it. Check it out on its own Facebook site.
We have had several friends in the cancer world either pass away recently or, on the flip side, finish treatment and start their own dealing of whatever “normal” means to them. Reese is doing great as are Abbie, Lizzie, and the mountain of other names on the list. Others are still mourning their loved ones. “Zachary Zoogle” passed away on June 10th, 2009 and his family was dealing with that anniversary. All the stories are making me sad at the moment. Or more accurately, making that constant ache come up to the surface more often. I can’t not see/hear them. I’m drawn to them in fact. I sometimes wonder if I’m somehow addicted to that feeling.
So that’s kind of how we are. I’d love it if we were a bit more stable. I’ll take what I can get and try to do better.