Dan Demeritt: The Week that Was & the Pizza Shop that Is!
Arson, Foreclosure, Resignation and a Resolve to Stay Open All in One Week
ARSON: On Saturday, April 9th there was a domestic assult incident in one of the apartment buildings I own in Randolph. According to court papers filed by the Fire Marshall's Office and reported on by the Kennebec Journal the following occured:
"A court affidavit by State Fire Marshal's Office investigator Edward H. Hastings IV said the couple had been arguing all day. Hastings said St. Amand was observed at the scene yelling at his girlfriend, who was leaving: "I'll have this place burned before you get back."
Soon thereafter, a fire tore through the building that forced three families from their homes and destroyed the structure. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The building is insured and I am trying to find new housing for at least one of the displaced tenants.
FORECLOSURE: Later in the week the Kennebec Journal ran a front page, above the fold story depicting my financial challenges. I am facing foreclosure on several properties that I own including 611 Civic Center Drive and I have a number of tax and utility leins filed against my properties at the Kennebec County Registry of Deeds.
Sales at Pizza Connection are off significantly from where they were when I purchased the building at 611 Civic Center Drive just over two years ago. And it is harder than ever to find and keep good tenants. Ultimately, I took a risk and extended myself to buy a building just as the toughest recession in two generations set in.
Since then, there has been a lot of juggling. Payroll and food expenses that needed to be paid to stay open week-to-week took precedence over monthly or quarterly mortgages and sewar bills. All the while, I have been holding out hope for an economic turnaround that still has not materalized.
Since taking a job outside the business, I have been using salary proceeds to repay some debts and keep my busineses operating.
The vast majority of small business owners are able to work through challenges like these in relative obscurity. Because I was an advisor to Maine Governor Paul LePage, my challenges led the news last Friday despite the fact that my business debts had nothing to do with my officials duties.
I am objective enough to see why the story about my business troubles was news. The article was also accurate but for one minor error, and I had a fair opportunity to comment.
I do think, however, that the paper sensationalized the story by placing it at the top of page one complete with maps and photos. The Kennebec Journal has changed ownership and staff, but it is still a community paper that should treat the honest but unfortunate in a responsible manner.
RESIGNATION: While the governor and a few of my colleagues knew of my challenges prior to the KJ report, the manner in which the story was covered made it clear that I would not be able to address my debts quietly.
I met with the governor and offered to resign as his Director of Communications. He accepted my decision to focus on business matters outside of the spotlight and offered his strong support as I left his staff to tackle challenges that have been a long time coming. He told me it is how you pick yourself up that matters. And I agree.
At first I was extremely conflicted about the decision to leave a good paying job that I enjoyed given the precarious state of my financial affairs. As I visited my apartments and the store over the weekend, it became clear to me that my tenants and employees deserved my full attention through the transition that lies ahead. I am also convinced there is a very good opportunity to preserve some of what I own as long term investments.
RESOLVE TO KEEP PIZZA CONNECTION OPEN: My number one priority after tending to the needs of my family is preserving the business at 611 Civic Center Drive. I probably will not go back to having a long term day-to-day presence in the store, but I will be at the store much more often and will be offering plenty of marketing and managerial support to Danny Deshaies and the rest of our staff.
I have been involved in one pretty successful turnaround in the last seven months and am ready to do it here again at Pizza Connection.
If you disagree with my politics, I hope we can find room to agree on pizza!
Execute the Consolidation Plan: When I made the decision to close our Bangor Street store last fall I believed it to be an opportunity to own one busy store rather than struggle to hold onto two slow locations. Given that just four miles seperate the stores and half our business is delivery, I think consolidation can work.
I did not implement the marketing plan I envisioned because I took an all-consuming job outside the business just as we were closing the Bangor Street store and consolidating into one location on Civic Center Drive. Now that I have left the governor's staff, I will be executing the consoidation marketing plan that I had planned to launch last October.
If we can get just a small percentage of our East Side Customers to continue supporting Pizza Connection, the numbers work. It is time to make that happen.
North Augusta Build Out: We also need to welcome our new neighbors to North Augusta as new buildings come on line and as construction crews start the work of building the new hospital.
Regular Communications: And we will do a much better job of staying in touch with our regular customers on a regular basis. Pizza Connection was built by offering good food, good service and a fun approach to value.
MY PROFOUND THANKS: I appreciate the many well wishes from customers and friends. And I know, based on our spike in numbers, that some of you made it a point to visit Pizza Connection last week as my tribulations were hitting the papers. Thank you!