Bar Talk with Marcelle LeBlanc

 
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Parker Law Firm
Bar Talk Podcast: Episode 2 – Marcelle LeBlanc
08-22-2019

Hi, I’m Brad Parker the attorney you want, but hope you never need and this is another edition of Bar Talk: The musings of attorneys, entrepreneurs and other interesting people. A podcast by people who don’t have to be famous just have to be interesting. Each episode will tackle topics big and small, and sometimes tiny face by attorneys, entrepreneurs and other fascinating people who know every day you wake up, it’s a good day, but it takes a little more to make it a great one.

BRAD PARKER: I’ve got a great guest with me today, Marcelle LeBlanc, who is not only a dear friend but a very successful entrepreneur and a very interesting person. I think you’re going to enjoy listening to her in our conversation today. Marcelle is the owner and founder of the Velvet Box, which you may have heard of before. A very upscale up class lingerie, novelty and gift store and she’s been kind enough to come in and share her experiences. We’re going to talk a little bit about what she’s been doing, what she come from, how she got here and what the future holds. Won’t you say Hi?

MARCELLE LEBLANC: Hi. Good afternoon. Thanks for having me Brad.

BP: Absolutely. Well, let’s just start by saying, you know, you describe what is Velvet box?

ML: Velvet Box is a really upscale lingerie and novelty boutique. Most people are uncomfortable going into a traditional adult store. And so I built a really classy beautiful store, put them in really nice locations, trained fantastic people to talk to customers and created a wonderful experience and bottom line, it just puts everybody at ease.

BP: Well, I’ve been into a couple of your different stores and they truly are very upscale and very very nice.

ML: Thank you.

BP: Tell us a little bit about your staff. How do you separate yourself from your competitors?

ML: Well, I like to say that I’m in the people business. I just happen to sell vibrators. After being 10 years in business, I realized that my passion is not necessarily retail, but it is people and leadership and I really love developing people and helping them along their Journey. Helping them in life and Inspire Passion is our Mantra but not only for our customers, but I’m hoping for our Associates as well. If I can find some passion in their life and help them along their Journey. That’s what I’d love to do. That’s what gives me joy.

BP: And the stores themselves seems so incredibly different than any other novelty shop that I’ve ever been into and what do you attribute that to I mean, how do you make yourself stand out that way?

ML: Well, I think we’ve been really bold by spending quite a bit of money on design and layout of the stores. Everything is custom fixtures. And we pay a probably a little bit more rent and than everyone else by putting in in nicer areas areas that I’d want to go to and hang out and be in with higher traffic and and then the layouts as far as product and stuff, we don’t have any video. We’re not 18 and older we don’t have any nudity or no flesh colored body parts or anything like that. So…

BP: And everything seems so bright and open when I walk into one of your stores of your locations. It’s not not dark or seedy or in the corner or anything like that that that seems to be a really great concept for your store.

ML: And believe it or not coming from mainstream retail, we spent a ton of money on our lighting packages. I mean just a whole lot of time and effort is spent on how many foot candles are going to fall in the store and and the type of lighting that we’re going to use and the layouts and the store managers are trained on refocusing spotlights when we put up new displays and that kind of thing. We take a lot of care. Lighting is part of the mood. It makes you feel good. Lighting, smell two of the biggest senses, you know is vision and and smell.

BP: I was watching the your website before you came in today and I turned on the video and and embarrassingly I did not watch that before as long as we’ve known each other but I was really impressed by the fact that you put a lot of intensive training with your sales associates. What goes into that?

ML: Oh that’s 10 years in the making we have something called Velvet Box University and the sales associates are not only taught about anatomy and toys, we also touch base on some illnesses like cancer or if there’s any kind of menopause, women that go through things. So they have a good awareness of some of the illnesses that go on. And then on top of that our training, we also coach a lot on how to just be kind of our people. I’m a big believer in coaching on conflict resolution. And when I say conflict it’s about more about organizing your thoughts from a lot of people are very passionate sometimes and they let emotions get the best of them and I have maybe at least 25 to 30 women working with me at some point in time. And so it does get kind of passionate – sometimes between people – and so I like to train and Coach them as well on just how to organize your thoughts and how to deliver things intent versus impact and because I think I’m a true believer that if you take care of your people who take care of their people, then they’re going to take care of your customers, and I’ve always wanted a place that’s a good place to work. A place that you you’re happy to get up and go to and you have fun and you respect your co-workers. That means a lot to me.

BP: Absolutely, and it means a lot to just customers as we all know, we walk into different restaurants and have totally different experiences and they could be the almost identical restaurant, but it’s how they’re managed and how the people treat you and interact with you that makes a huge difference but one of the things too that I know that you bring that many of your competitors if any do and that is the therapy or the the counseling sessions that you have. How would you describe those?

ML: Well, we have a class series that we started right after 50 Shades of Gray – the book – came out and I was very blessed to be able to be introduced to Elizabeth Boatman who is from the Fort Worth area and her resume is quite long, but she’s going for her doctorate. She’s a therapist. I wish I had it in front of me here. She’s the only certified Sexual Health educator in the DFW metroplex and one of about I think three in the entire state of Texas which to kind of sum it up is someone who teaches things that are scientifically accurate and she’s really on-brand for us and she’s also got a Masters in education. And so we’ve developed a program where we teach lectures and, 50 Shades of Grey really ramped things up for us our first class. We had a few classes here and there trying to find people that we’re going to be a good fit for us. And then we had a class intro to BDSM and that that book really touched on a lot of things and so that was Beth’s first class. It was in August and we never had more than about 20 people show up to a class.

BP: That’s a lot.

ML: Well my COO Brandon says, you know, I have a feeling this is going to be different. We’re going to have more people. I said, well, let’s go crazy and put out 50 chairs – a hundred and twenty people showed up.

BP: Holy cow!

ML: And I we had the capacity for about 50 people and so I’m running around, pulling yoga mats out of my car people are sitting on the floor. It is a hundred and five and Fort Worth and it was it was a it was a good disaster. I mean we had to finish the class early. I gave everyone coupons and thanked them but then we sort of regrouped and said, okay, we’re going to need to have some way to Wrangle everyone and figure out how many people were going to have in a class. So we started charging $10. That way we can just figure out who’s coming, and we cap them at 60 people, so we have a number of classes that will sell out in most of them all of them but want our lecture Series, so…

BP: That’s really interesting. I mean, how often do you have these classes?

ML: We have them every other Friday. Yeah Beth’s got her own practice and she’s also still going through some schooling and then writing the curriculum and teaching for us. So that’s you know, we’re at the end of our bandwidth there, but we’re currently trying to develop more therapists now.

BP: That’s got to say a lot about your business model the have that many people come into the classes that are associated with your store that really speaks volumes of that. This isn’t something that your 18-wheeler truck are used to drive by on the side of the highway. This is a really upscale, first class outfit, store where everybody can feel safe and comfortable and not intimidated.

ML: Well people are not getting their questions answered, you know being in retail when I moved to Texas I figured out that there’s there’s just a lack of Education. We most certainly are not teaching anything in our schools about communication and relationships and people are quite litigious these days, so doctors when I got divorced and I went to a doctor and ask him a bunch of questions just you know medical question about STDs and stuff and he’s like look you can you can Google all this stuff. That’s this is just not what I do, and I have had – I met a gentleman Rotary wants that invited me to lunch and I had no idea why but he said, you know, he was married to a younger woman and he had radical, radical prostatectomy and they weren’t able to have intimacy anymore. And he was about to you know lose his marriage and so he just came in and spoke to one of our Associates and he says it changed my life and I you know, I don’t know I took for granted, I don’t know what we what we were doing but that education piece I like to give it to the community because I think it just helps everyone at the same time.

BP: Well, obviously there’s a need

ML: There is a big need for it

BP: Because the response has been wonderful It sounds like. Well that’s kind of where you are now, but let’s talk about the past. I mean first of all, let’s let’s let everybody know how we met each other. We met because we joined entrepreneurs organization, or EO as we call it. Which is a.., What is the official descriptor for EO, how would you describe it?

ML: I would say it’s a peer-to-peer network of entrepreneurs in over 60 countries that we you know, we learn and grow from each other.

BP: I joined EO because I practice law for approximately 20 plus years probably close to 30 at the time and I was tired of hanging around with lawyers and I finally came to the conclusion wrongly or rightly, I think absolutely correctly, that I’m not as much of a lawyer as I am a businessman who happens to be in the business of practicing law. And once I hung around other business people and really let that soak in and learn the business aspect of practicing law, it made a tremendous difference in the way I look at business, the way I look at law, and in just the success of my practice and it’s been very very beneficial for me from that standpoint. What did you find that benefited you the most with EO?

ML: Well, I got a random email one day talking a little bit about EO and they invited me to a test drive and I was in that part at my part of my business in their early years where I talked to just about anybody because starting a business like mine in Texas where it was really conservative, not many people would talk to me anyway, and I was you know, really trying to market my business and so I showed up to the test drive and and right about then, well shortly after shortly before that I had gone through a legal battle with Hillwood and Ross Perot Junior. They sued us in our first location and that was probably the loneliest I’d ever been when you have your everything that you’ve ever worked for and you are not sure that it’s going to be gone. And you don’t sleep for weeks and weeks not knowing – I’m sure you have clients that go. I want to know what’s going to happen now and you’re like, this is not a short game No One’s Gonna know just get some rest. We’re going to do the best we can well, you know that just falls on deaf ears and and you know, I didn’t have anybody to talk to about that. I’m a business owner be so you can’t go and tell friends. Sometimes they’re like, well, yeah, but you could just get a job and you know, it’s not a big deal and I’m but People Like Us can’t just get a job, you know where virtually unemployable, you know, we we like to create change and grow things…

BP: And call the shots.

ML: Call the shots and we don’t like to be told what to I mean it didn’t it just it was everything to me. So, you know, you didn’t have anybody to talk to and so I met a couple of people and I’m like man, what do I have to lose? I mean, it’s not the end of the world. I’ll try and see if I can find people that I like and it’s been the best money I’ve ever spent the best. I’m an avid learner anyway, my core values are learning and travel. So it goes right down that path for learning for me.

BP: Well it it’s absolutely a great, fabulous learning experience. You know, we’ve been fortunate if being the same form together with the EO and we’ve got to know each other very, very well over the years. But sometimes I feel like the even with the closeness of forum, there’s so much that we don’t know about each other and I’d like to dive into that just a little bit to the extent you want to. But we’re did you grow up? Tell us about your upbringing.

ML: I grew up in a little town in Abbeville, Louisiana. It’s outside of Lafayette not very big, very big town. I went to a private Catholic school when I was in grade school and graduated from public school in Maurice Louisiana where there was like, I think one stop stop light, caution light during the evening, you know, it turned to a caution light night. Yeah showed 4-H. I loved animals. And so I showed horses when I was growing up. Yeah. Small Town stuff.

BP: Did you bolt out of there? Like a lot of people do when they grow up in small towns?

ML: I did, I did.

BP: They can’t wait. They either rest there the, you know kind of Nest there the rest of their lives are they bolt and get the heck out of Dodge and I guess you were a Bolter.

ML: I was I was I think I was the only Bolter that I know of. Most of my family moved within three to five miles of mom and dad or just lived with Mom and Dad and you know, I’m going to be real vulnerable here. So in grade school and high school, I had an eating disorder and I was in therapy for a little while and I did not get along with my sister, my mom very well and not that it was a bad place to grow up. I mean I had everything we were upper middle class and it was just it was just rough for me. And so I was in therapy and I had a therapist that said, you know, the best thing you can do is move out. That’s the best thing you can do and it really resonated with me but it scared the daylights out of me because I’m like where does one go? Like, where do we go? I mean, you know do I go to the next town most people move five miles away. We vacationed in places like the panhandle of Florida, If we did. I mean where does one go and so that always really resonated with me and I ended up meeting a guy that showed horses as well. And we got a job in Southern California the Central Coast of California outside of Solving & Buellton training horses in riding there. And so when I was 17 I moved out and it was It wasn’t a really it wasn’t like, you know, you’re going to college, let us pack you a bag and make sure everything’s great. So, you know, it was it was a volatile…

BP: Rough edges.

ML: Rough edges kind of move and I lived in a converted stall in a barn and shared a bathroom with six Mexicans and worked for this horse trainer, and he was number one in the world at the time and he was probably one of the most amazing, equine people I’ve ever met but he was I learned a lot from him. I don’t think he really loved women and he was pretty rough on us. But but I love the job and I love the horses.

BP: What kind of training did you do with the horses?

ML: So we had I think in time he showed we had Arabian horses and half Arabs and so he showed his specialty was saddle seat English horses open English horses. And then we had some driving horses and then his wife did Western Pleasure horses. And so 60 horses in training. I mean, we just got them ready. We traveled and stayed with them, going to shows and stuff like that. So when we hauled, you know, we’d haul 20-something horses cross country here and there and just it was 24/7, you know, you lived with the horses and I’m a horse person. I love horses. I don’t have a dog anymore. I have a horse and a bird. And I’m looking for another horse. So I’m that person. Yeah, you know and my bird as a nanny so I don’t know.

BP: Well, how long did you do that?

ML: Well, I did it for a little over a year because in the back of my head I had my father always saying you got to go to college got to go to college got to go to college got to go to college. So I’m like my God. I’m going to have to go to college, you know, I was still kind of tethered mentally and so there was a client there that her and I were the same age and she’s talking about going to college and I’m like, where are you going to college? And she’s like Cal Poly and I’m like, oh I said, maybe I’ll go to Cal Poly. I don’t even know where Cal Poly was and that was back when you like had to call and they sent you something something in the mail and you had to look through these paper things and mark…

BP: No getting it online!

ML: Be there was no Googling it and seeing what the campus looked like. I mean, I just went totally blind and and so I signed up and then I just moved and got a job and I don’t know I mean sometimes I look back going. How in the hell did I survive? How did I feed myself? We’d just hustle all the time. Hustle, hustle, hustle – all the time.

BP: It’s problably not something you would do in retrospect, If you know, too much now, it’s a lot it’s a lot. You didn’t realize how young and naive you were…

ML: I mean, I remember getting my first job when I moved to Cal Poly- San Luis Obispo- and I was grooming dogs and I was being paid cash under the table. So she was paying me five dollars an hour and I thought I had hit the mother lode. I was like this is going to be easy street. This is and it was it was a terrible job. I would get these calls where people were like I uh, I know I’m late for my appointment, but I’m still trying to catch my cat and I’m like, I’m gonna have to wash and dry that cat. Oh my God, this is awful, you know five dollars an hour. But yeah, you know, I made it through.

BP: Yeah.

ML: Yeah.

BP: Well did you get a degree?

ML: I did.

BP: What in?

ML: Bachelors of Science in Horticulture and Greenhouse production.

BP: And what did you want to do with that?

ML: I have no idea.

BP: Because that doesn’t have anything to do with horses.

ML: That doesn’t have anything to do with anything. I love the science. I love science. I love plants. I was living in California. When I worked at the horse farm. We weren’t far from Santa Barbara. They had this huge Orchid Farm there that I would go and so I’m like, okay, I’ll do Horticulture and then I get out into the real world and I’m like why I don’t like any of these jobs – they don’t pay a whole lot. And so then I was stuck again. I didn’t know what to do with this degree. So I’m taking odd jobs here and there and then, you know computers start to come online – the one computer I had in college. I you know dried my my undergarments on I don’t think I ever turned it on. I paid somebody to write my, you know, to type my thesis because I’m you know, I’m like I can’t type anything. I don’t know what’s going on. And I think they gave us an email account where you had to go and professor You had to go to the library and you had anyhow, it’s email just scared me. I’m like, I don’t understand what they’re talking about. They’re like they’re going to send us a message on in this computer thing – I’m like how we’re going to know and so yeah and I started taking computer courses and I put my resume out on Monster and I had a call one day from a website that needed a DVD buyer. And so they were they sold adult DVDs and so I went in for an interview, pickings were slim, went in for an interview and I’m sitting there and they’re asking me all these questions and you know, when you’re in your 20s, you’re you’re you’re just nervous about everything – you’re just all you do is you want a job to pay the bills so that you can sleep at night. You don’t know where the next paycheck is coming from and so they offered me a job for 40% more than I was already making and I didn’t know a thing about porn not a thing – not a thing. But I’m like, okay if you think I’m qualified…

BP: Oh my gosh!

ML: You know, I’ll just kick the can down the road and get a couple paychecks and see what happens and I actually loved the job. I loved it, you know. It and I think it kind of goes back to how you love business. I like business. I just happened to sell toys and retail stores toys and lingerie but I love just business.

BP: Right.

ML: And so I love the, I love the operations of the business and and getting to know people it’s a very small community and they were very nice people, really cool people. I think people would be surprised at the type of people that we met in the adult business. Wonderful people.

BP: Well, how did how did you transition from there to wanting to own your own store and opening up your own store?

ML: I kind of went through the chain of things where I was a buyer for a while and in there in there was a husband for a little while, but I went from buyer to working for a studio that was making movies and I started out as a receptionist -which bored me to tears in about you know a week- so I started poking my head around going. What can I do here? I surely I can make this quicker, faster, better. So I started helping make box covers. Then I started running the the board for putting things out for release dates and stuff like that and doing the purchase orders and then still bored, you know, I’m still consuming more stuff. And so I did some camerawork. I was helping some of the producers go out. I would go to Hollywood just to pick up some extra dollars and buy some of the clothing and the outfits for the girls and maybe interviewing some of the girls and kind of putting in. We had a are our studio had about I think probably five or six directors at the time so and we’d have agents bring in people and I was just sorting that all out. I’m like, you know, there’s just paper everywhere. Let’s just put this on a spreadsheet, we’re going to organize it and everything is going to run really smoothly. Everyone’s going to know where everyone’s at and it’s going to be great and I started doing the compliance the federal compliance paperwork. And so I just kind of move through the ranks then eventually I took a job in sales. So I was selling DVDs direct to retail stores, big chain stores, that kind of thing and then I started I work for a company a repped company that was based out of Europe. I did some of their North American operations and sold their products. So there was rights. I sold rights. You have countries the majority of the porn at the time was made in the in the U.S. In Chatsworth. And so, you know, France, Italy places like that would come in and ask to buy the rights to certain movies. So I was selling rights to countries. And that was just I was that was the the deal for me because when they started having me travel, you know, there was a lot of European shows and I never been to Europe before and they’re like, you know, do you want to go to the Berlin show and I’m like my God and you’re going to pay for it. I get a stamp on my passport. I’ve been carrying this passport around but ever I don’t think I’ve been to Mexico maybe but once and not further past Tijuana, you know, and so then you know there then it took me to Paris and then you know Spain and I just I just started traveling and it was it was amazing. It was amazing.

BP: It just opened your eyes.

ML: Oh gosh. Yeah.

BP: Well, so then then how did you wind up in Texas, Fort Worth, Texas to open your store?

ML: So I was…

BP: This is no Paris or no London.

ML: So I had a customer that I was selling DVDs and novelties to, I work for a student for a little while for a novelty manufacture doing sales and had a customer that had chain of stores. That was I think in five states and they had been after me for a couple years to come do buying and some operations and I’m like man, it’s 70 and sunny in California. I love it here. I’m traveling all over the place and then my dad got cancer and so living in Louisiana, so I called him up and said hey, you know, I’ll consider the job and moving and had this grand notion that you know, I’m going to move home and everyone’s going to get along because we got along so well

BP: When you left.

ML: When I left! So I took the job and I had the opportunity to live in, Tennessee, Iowa, Texas and, Colorado. And I’m like, well, I don’t like the cold and I’ve always loved horses and I’ve always loved cutting horses. And so Weatherford is the cutting horse capital of the world. So I’m like, I’m going to pick Fort Worth. Perfect. So that’s how I got to Texas and I got the job and I hated it. It was awful. The owner did not put a lot of money back into the stores. His people were paid barely minimum wage and I think now looking back on it that that people thing and treating people nicely always always there.

BP: Sure it was.

ML: Because he and I battled all the time just non-stop, you know, we had a store in Memphis that I visited one time that you know, I feel like you need to take pride in the place that you work. And so that was one of the first things I did was just start cleaning these places up and organizing them and there was a store in Memphis and I walked in and he had these custom monogrammed, entry mats, you know to wipe your feet on as you come in the door and it was crooked and so I’ve been told first thing I did I walk in and I bent over to straighten it and the girl says no, please don’t do that. And I said well, why would you have a crooked Matt here? And she’s like, it hides the blood stain. She says someone was bludgeoned here and they won’t change the carpet and I’m like this is unbelievable. The ceilings are leaking and you know, this is just not the way I was raised. So, you know, I took this job with all these promises and I was just so unhappy and everyone was unhappy and I’m like, I just can’t do this. And so at the same time a couple things were happening. The one of my biggest clients was a chain of stores in Dallas. They have stores in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, in Florida, and I knew their buyer and so I called him and I said, you know, hey, it’s Marcelle and I live in Texas now, and I don’t know anybody and he’s like, whoa, okay that’s interesting and and so we kind of developed a friendship a little bit more and he’s very inquisitive about competitors. And so he would ask me lots of questions and I would answer all of them and in and in the interim, we probably raise the sales and the morale of the stores. I mean at least 30% maybe 40% one of the ones that I was working for, but I had told him I said, you know, we were sitting around talking one time and I said, I think I’m just going to move back. This is just I’m pretty unhappy -on top of being in Fort Worth of who in 2007, you know, keep in mind. I lived in La so you have everything available in LA and I’m like, there’s no Ethiopian food people eat hamburgers and barbecue all the time. Neither which I ate.

BP: Starbucks!

ML: Yeah. I mean, I’m like this is this is this out, you know struggling and then on top of that I couldn’t make friends very easily you know at my age. I was still single I didn’t have I wasn’t married. I didn’t have kids. So like I didn’t have anything in common with anyone and I was just struggling terribly. And at the same time in 2008 the fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a law in the state of Texas making sex toys illegal, and and what that meant was vice would come through the stores and we had to have these stickers on them that said for cake decoration only and they had to be like on a certain tile. It was just it was really ludicrous that taxpayers were spending money on living law enforcement come in and make sure that there’s a sticker on a sex toy somewhere in a building and but they were but at that time the fifth circuit overturned it and we had a fantastic attorney use one of the top First Amendment attorney Steve Swander, in the country that you’re here.

BP: I knew Steve.

ML: And Steve was a wonderful man, and it’s just even our friends. He went to UCLA and I think it’s UCLA. So, you know, we were I think the only two Democrats and we knew each other and we sort of just Now there are three. now you know me. That’s yeah, so Steve and I were talking and he said, you know, there’s there’s room for something that’s really nice here. And at the same time we had some female manufacturers that were coming online with toys that were beautiful packaging. It wasn’t all realistic kind of stuff. And I you know, I had carried around this notebook with me. I still have that notebook. It’s like 10 years old and I would just I would see things in retail stores going oh I like that table. That would be really cool. And I like this feature of thing that feature and I just had put something together in my head about what I would have this dream store looking like that. We everyone was happy and and and my business partner and I he’s my business partner now, but we were talking and he said well what else would you do and I decided explain to him the concept and he’s like He’s well, that’s interesting. He’s why don’t you just do it and I said why don’t I really have half a million dollars lying around and or anything lying around for that because you know, I lost a house in 2008 and the whole housing debacle, California. And I mean it just you know, I was I was I was just not in a place to be able to invest in starting in a business and so we decided to do it and I think he comes from he’s second generation adult stores coming from Drive-Ins and things like that and and not that there’s anything wrong with those stores. I mean, there’s a place for everybody They’re just technically wasn’t a place for you know, what I would call our customers at the different clientele. They totally different clientele. Like there’s nothing wrong with any of the stores. It’s just it’s just different clientele different Niche and I you know, I think he thought it was going to be kind of entertaining. I’m like, you know, we’re going to kind of like a little experiment and we did it and it was it was it was very successful. It was hard but successful. You know, I mean, I remember him talking to someone one time and and I think was my financial advisor and she says, you know Marcelle is doing so good and he’s like really and she’s like, yeah, she’s breaking even and 18 months and he’s like, oh, this is what would you call good? She’s like, well, what would you call good? He’s like it he’s we had one story that took us almost a week to break even but yeah, and I yeah and you know, so I think he was entertained about the whole thing. And and now he’s on board and over the last 10 years retail is just changing. I mean, it’s just changing and so here we are.

BP: Well, do you find that you’re you’re talking about changing, talking about moving towards online rather than retail itself?

ML: Both. I think I think online retail really hurt, You know, I probably would do double my volume of business if I had to guess but it did it did take a quite a chunk out of retailers, especially adult retailers, but it’s not gone. I mean people people still need an experience, you know, you can go as husband and purchase a sex toy on Amazon, but what do you do with it? How do you how do you introduce that into the relationship where you know, it doesn’t sound like you’re coming home and saying honey, there’s something wrong. I don’t know if it’s with you or us, but I brought this home and you know, what does that look like and then you’re on the couch for a week? So, you know Amazon doesn’t handle that. So there’s people prefer to pay a premium saying hey, you know, this is how you can work this into your life. We also have classes we have online literature that you can get some ideas from, we have a spice things up page that gives you, and it’s all about communication. I mean, it’s communicating expectations, you know to your partner.

BP: Yeah, you know, it’s not like communication to about between couples but communication to your customers and communication from you to your employees, and I know you and I have talked about a the book Traction and the EOS system of operating a business and when I first read that book it just it floored me it revolutionized the way I thought about my business and we implemented it and I know you did too, but I think the thing that really forced me to do was find my culture. It’s not that we didn’t have a culture it was here. It was just kind of underneath. We didn’t we didn’t recognize it and so once we identified it and really brought it out into the open it made all of my employees much more appreciative of their workplace. They enjoyed it. They knew what we stood for. It was it was identified. Have you found that same thing to be true when you?

ML: Absolutely I think a lot of people say what traction says but traction gave you the map that it just gave you the map and so, you know, we took the map and went down the road and that was that was big for us and culture, It’s you know, it takes years to develop that and but now, you know our core values we came up with those core values together. You know, I didn’t just decide one day we’re going to have some core values. I mean we sat in a room for three days with our executive team and it got heated sometimes but you know, we have to come back come up with why we come to work and what we do why we do what we do and we all have to be on board and then we have to hire people that are going to you know, share those same values and and and our values in our culture is everywhere, you know, we we train with it, we coach with it, we evaluate people with it. There’s I mean our culture in our core values is everywhere. We use it on a daily basis.

BP: Yeah, it really is true because we hire, fire, motivate all around our culture and our core values and really whenever I’m talking to to a lawyer or a paralegal or or anybody for that matter, that’s that’s an employee of the firm. We always centered around well but are we really achieving this core value by doing that? You know, this is how don’t you think? It’d be better? We’d go this way rather than that way and Achieve what the ultimate goal is from that rather than looking at you weren’t here from 9:00 to 5:00. You know, that’s that’s nonsense. but what were you doing? Why were you not here? Let’s figure out are you getting towards that core value? Are we are we taking care of our customers and our clients appropriately and that that was mind boggling in some respects to know it was there but just find it all of a sudden. Yeah, like getting the road map to it.

ML: Yeah, then get new people to stick with it. You know, I think my biggest achievement in the last couple years is I’m an Avid Reader and I’m either reading, you know, like historic history historical fiction or leadership books and I read a lot of leadership books. And so I started wanting my executive team to read leadership books and cannot ask them and they would kind of begrudgingly do it, but it’s taken probably a couple of years till now they’re chomping at the bit wanting books because they’re seeing how it impacts their life. I highly recommend. I think the turning point for us was Jim Rohn. Jim Rohn never wrote a book, but he was he was a motivational speaker that – gosh that was really big in the 90s and I remember buying is I remember standing there at a leadership thing in the 90s and wondering if I could afford the extra money from the video cassette to the CD because CDs and just come out. Oh man. I’m like do I spend the extra money? And it was the art of exceptional living and he was a coach to Tony Robbins, but he was just really funny. He’s you know, he always threatened to write a book, Jesus and children should pay taxes and here’s why, and and and he loved coaching children as well. And you know, if you could and you should and you don’t it’s probably neglect these kinds of things. I mean just things that live with you that that are just basic life principles and coming up with your own personal philosophy rather than you know sailing through life with you know, no rudder, and letting life happen to you and he talked a lot about gratitude and and you know saying, you know, this is the best country in the world. He says people come here for opportunity. No one ever says, you know, if I could just get to Poland then things would be great, you know, everything would fall into place if I just get you can have anything you want in America and in that type of gratitude and that was the big turning point, I think for my people that really stuck with them and but we read a lot is a group in order to work for us. You have to read a lot to run a store and be on the executive team, You have to get through a Gateway of probably half a dozen books even just you know, sit at the executive table and then continue reading with us.

BP: Well, how big is your company now? How many stores does Velvet Box have?

ML: We have five stores.

BP: And how big is your executive team?

ML: Eight.

BP: And how many employees on average do

ML: 25 to 30.

BP: Yeah, so so it’s a constant. Yeah. Do you find that your sales associates stay with you for a while or is it the always kind of a rotation?

ML: You know, the biggest thing for me with scaling is figuring out how to create because I can’t you know, I can’t do it all. So how do you inspire and create leaders at the store level that are going to take care of the people and coach the people with the same mind frame and mindset that I have at the store level to say. Yeah and Rob it’s it’s tough It’s a huge challenge. It’s tough, you know, and I mean, I think you can drop ten million dollars in my lap right now and I don’t think I would open 50 stores because it would it would tarnish the brand. We wouldn’t have those same people with the same core values. You just can’t go out and hire a bunch of people and go. Hey, you know be a great employee and and you have to embrace radical Candor and you know and all these things and you have to start reading it just it just won’t happen that that takes time. You have to hopefully bring people up through the ranks and and have them with you for a while on top of that. A lot of people just shopping centers. Just most of the time won’t take our money.

BP: So you kind of hit on that a minute ago, but the lawsuit with Hillwood and I was going to ask you what has been your biggest challenge as far as getting into the shopping centers that you because because you’re not trying to get in some little strip mall down on go Highway in the dark you you’re looking for high profile high traffic.

ML: Type A centers.

BP: Yeah Type A centers. And so how has that been for you?

ML: Well, it’s the stigma, you know, I don’t have a passion for Real Estate. So it’s been hard finding a person that’s going to represent us appropriately and properly and use the right terminology and we’re not an easy. We’re not where you know, we don’t sell Fried Chicken, you know, everybody knows what chicken involves, you know, everybody knows what dress is involved, but you need to be able to be polished enough to be able to talk about our brand and most of the time – it’s the stigma, you know, most people were new. No, no one’s done what we’ve done right in the U.S. They’re starting to now but I mean, we just we I think it was really radical when we said we’re just not going to have DVDs. We’re not even going to make this place 18 and over. You know, we’re I mean if you want to bring your toddler in it might get awkward if you bring your 16 year old in but you know, but you know little ones can come in if moms are you know going about their errands during the day and they need something they can come in and and and the kids won’t know what it is, but the stigma of the average adult store is still there. So people don’t know and so you have to get people you have to get landlords comfortable with that and then and then I think the biggest challenge is just even getting them to come into the store. And and that’s that’s that’s what I generally try and have them do is say hey, you know visit us -is this what you had in mind because I’m just as picky as they are, you know, I like a nice shopping center. I like a well-run shopping center. I like a super clean shopping center, you know, I mean, I mean even even going into the training of the employees when they go out and they pick up the parking lot, you know, they you know, this West 7th location. I mean if they look to our neighbor and I neighbor has trash they pick up the trash on both sides of them and in the street, we don’t just pick up the trash where we are, you know, we you know, we’re going to be good neighbors and and I want a landlord that’s going to be the same way. So there’s not a ton of those it’s you know, it’s slow. It’s a slow process

BP: Well, and I know from from our previous conversations that it’s not only the landlord it’s the other tenants sometimes that give the pushback.

ML: Well, they’re scared. Yeah, and then you have big chains. Sometimes that have language in there that you know their lawyered up and and there’s already existing language for adult bookstores and you know this and that and bathhouses and whatever else that they can possibly think about that. We aren’t, So it’s such a gray line. And so you have a landlord going. Well. Yeah, but it says an adult store and technically you’re this but we don’t we don’t require an SOB by the city. We’re not 18 and over. So we’re not. We don’t have to be, you know certain feet from here and there and so it’s just it’s it’s different.

BP: Yeah, it’s and that’s the he said SOB lot of people may not know sexually or any business license by

ML: so some people need licenses. Yeah, some some places need licenses and they can only be allowed in certain parts of town. Yeah,

BP: and that’s not your store. Y’all know have that and you know with all of that going on you still find time to travel which you said was one of your true passions and your horse you’re cutting horse. Tell us a little bit about the cutting horse.

ML: You know, it’s the hardest equestrian sport I’ve ever done and it it goes right in line with my core value of learning not only do I love horses but there’s so many moving Parts with a cutting horse you have the cows which are you know, a moving animal and a factor in there and then, you know, when you when you get into the herd and you pick out a cow, there’s lots of strategy that goes behind that and then when you drop your reins and then you have to help your horse with your legs, and my trainer is constantly saying trust your horse and slow down which are two things that I don’t I’m not a terribly trusting person and then slowly just it just gets reinforced over and over and go I’m learning to trust when I’m riding and I’m learning to slow down. And learning to breathe and learning to just not get let things get too fast in my head as well. So but I love it. It’s always a challenge. It’s impossible to get bored because I don’t think anybody ever gets to be if you talk to a cutter you’re not going to ever be an expert. There’s so many things. There’s some of the greatest guys in the world that that are incredible showman that still have some terrible days. I mean, it’s awfully simple or it could be simply awful.

BP: Well and you compete. I mean you do this and how often do you do you compete?

ML: It depends, you know, I mean, I’ll compete six seven times a year. Which is you know, it’s quite a bit on top of all my travel and stuff like that and I don’t try not to travel too much with the horses, but I ride almost – I try and ride four or five times a week. I have to drive from Fort Worth to Millsap, but…

BP: Early in the morning.

ML: Very early on but I’m an early riser. So I love it. There’s nothing like seeing the horse the sun come up on a horse.

BP: Yeah, I can only imagine.

ML: Yeah.

BP: Yeah, we can only imagine. Well in travels. I mean you you’ve taken the EO on to, to , I guess broaden your range and to become more involved on a not only a local level but on a worldwide level I guess to some degree. You’ve traveled to the different countries where these events are being held tell us a little bit about that.

ML: Well my one of my first you they have different they have different. I’m on the on the board. So I joined the board so that I can do some traveling and meet other EO hours in other countries. We travel to the Global Leadership Conference every year and it’s held in different parts of the world because it’s in 60 countries. So not everybody can be traveling. You know, it’s sometimes it’s in Asia sometimes in the Americas. This year it’s going to be in Cape Town. And so I do that and one of the the my favorite trips is they have something called an exploration. So I generally don’t love to travel to someplace really far and sit in a conference room listening to…

BP: I was going to say, Im going to be travelling really far!

ML: Really father sitting in a conference room. So they have something called an exploration where that country hosts you and you get to see their country and meet the business owners there.

BP: That’s gotta be fascinating,

ML: It was!

BP: I want to do that.

ML: So my first one I just was Jordan, it was near Israel. I had a friend in Israel. I’ve always wanted to see Israel and I signed up and there was not a soul that I knew and I just packed a bag and went and I met some amazing people. It was less than a hundred people. I mean and then when also you have businesses that are in developing countries that are millionaires. It’s you know, there’s a honestly there’s a millionaire, you know, every other person in the U.S. I mean, there’s a there’s a lot of wealthier, but when you have a person in a developing country that’s got a you know, a million dollar business. It’s really something I mean, they can really show you the ins and outs of things. So we got to float in the Dead Sea in a section of the Dead Sea that was just for us like not open to the public we had this better one that in the water Rowdy Rum desert that we got to watch the sun come up and he brought us a whole slew of camels and we rode out to have tea and it was just it was just one thing after another and so I met some wonderful people from the Nairobi chapter and its people from Canada and so now Nairobe is doing one, so I signed up for that too. I love Africa. Africa is my favorite place. It just is. There’s something about when you get to a camp and they say don’t leave your room after dark or something may kill and eat you and it’s it’s it’s like Jurassic Park, I mean…

BP: You hear all the sounds at night?

ML: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It’s there’s a you know, there’s nothing like having lions roaring and the vibration in your chest wakes you up and it’s just incredible. It’s just incredible. It’s so humbling and the people are beautiful. The people are absolutely beautiful. They’re very kind and generous and there’s a sense of gratitude that I get when I’ve traveled to some of those places when people have so little and they’re still willing to give you what they have. You know, I mean really we have so much to be thankful for here in America

BP: Makes you appreciate it.

ML: I mean really really do I mean I was sitting on a boat one time in on the chobe river and there was a gentleman that he did he did a lot of the cooking he made all the breakfast. He was also the bartender and he took people fishing in the morning and I was an early riser and I got up one morning and and he just didn’t look so good and I said, you know, hey what’s going on and and he said, you know, he said cattle for them is a form of wealth and and he had three daughters and he says, you know some Lions crossed the river last night in to my Village and killed my cattle and he says I was going to send my girls to college with those three or four or five cows. You know, I mean we see cows and we’re in Texas.

BP: Right.

ML: I mean that’s nothing to us, but I’m it was just it just made me feel ill you know, and he worked three months on the boat. And then he took him like two days to get home. He had to walk the last eight miles and I mean just the most incredible stories of these people and and some of these young kids. They’re in their young men in their 20s and they can track a lion, they can serve high tea, they speak five languages and just the nicest people you’ve ever met.

BP: Incredible.

ML: It’s just incredible. It just changes your life when you get out there and you know and you talk to people,

BP: You know, you know that that’s one failing many failings, but one that I really regret is not being able to speak more than one language.

ML: Yeah.

BP: You know that that is that is such a loss. Especially when you live in Texas you have to be able to speak Spanish. I mean, it’s just ridiculous not I kick myself every time and it’s one of the things I’ve truly want to do before but this finishes, you know for the Finish Line I had learned to speak Spanish! Gosh almighty, you’re never too old!

ML: If you want to get a private coach, maybe go into that one day. We’ll find some time to you know.

BP: Do that. Yeah, you know, what I really want to do is go down to Mexico and just immerse myself – be in some little town for six weeks and get the coach or teacher and just learn it, you know, just forced myself to learning be a lot of fun. Well, so what’s on the horizon what’s on the horizon both professionally and personally?

ML: Personally, I’m looking for another horse right now looking for a younger horse. I’m kind of excited. I have a great trainer Randy Chartier and his family. I love being around them. I mean, you know, I don’t know if he knows it but he’s a tremendous leader. I was very fortunate to find them and be in their training program and I look at Randy and I’m like, you know, I travel all over the world listening to these speakers and I read all these books and I’m like and he just is he’s just the most encouraging wonderful person with the most amazing attitude and and and he’s changed my life. I don’t know if he’s no truly knows that but he has and so I’m looking for another horse and and maybe start showing even more.

BP: Would you keep the horse you have now?

ML: I do. Yeah. Yeah, I would yeah. Yeah, he just brings me so much joy. He’s not the best horse. But my goodness, he makes me laugh. I mean, he just makes me laugh. Yeah, and I look forward to seeing him in the mornings. And when I travel I look at his picture, you know.

BP: Good for you!

ML: I miss his face, you know, so yeah, I really like doing that but I you know, I’m I spent a lot of time alone. I’m kind of a you know, a lot of solitude. I don’t need big crowds. I’m an introvert. So I like spending time alone and being quiet and you know, it’s my goal to see 50 countries and I’m thinking about 30. I’m going to cross off my bucket list this may going back to Africa to a camp called Lon Delosi the Sabi Sands so that’s been on my bucket list and I moved it up quite quickly because I had a friend of ours we had that passed away at forumm, right and at way too young of an age and then I was speaking to a speaker that I met when I was learning chair for forum for EO last year and he just had his first baby, and I think he was 30 early 30s and he passed away in a random act of gun violence and I’m like, you know, I’m not gonna wait I’m not waiting. I don’t care. Yeah. What am I gonna do with all this? You know with the money I you have to spend the money. You spend the money and you can get make more money if you know, but you can’t make more time.

BP: No.

ML: I’m not going to wait. Yeah, I see my mom waiting a lot and and I wish that I could just help her with that. We’re here, you know, you just just don’t wait what he would never it’s never going to be perfect. It’s never going to be right. It’s never going to be you know, anything you just you just have to pull the trigger and do it. So Lon Delosi’s on my list and but I’d like to get to 50 countries. That’s my personal goal. Hopefully I can blow by that even more and then professionally, you know, we’re looking to grow our stores, you know, I’d like to at least double my footprint. In the next few years.

BP: So your five stores currently are in the Metroplex?

ML: Fort Worth, Lewisville and one in West Plano so and there’s a lot of opportunity here. I mean, you know, we’re growing in north Texas like you wouldn’t believe you know, and and for me, it’s super important to grow slowly.

BP: Yeah. You’d just mentioned…

ML: I think our brand is our brand. Yeah, our brand is our people and I don’t know I’m sure somebody knows, I mean Apple is doing it. So, you know, they have wonderful people. So maybe next time I see Mark Moses, I’ll ask him how to do that. How do we keep our brand like Apple and still grow at that rate? So yeah.

BP: Yeah.

ML: Yeah.

BP: That that’s a challenge no question about it. Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here today, taking time, I know you’re very very busy, taking away from your horse, from your from your stores, from your introvertedness, reading books and and talking to – your what kind of bird we didn’t say.

ML: Cockatiel.

BP: Cockatiel.

ML: Dear Little Miss Minnie Pearl. Yes. Yes, I believe she was Paris Hilton in a previous life. Yeah.

BP: Oh that would be kind of interesting.

ML: Yes, very bossy and she’s got me very well trained and I travel a lot. So I have a lady that I met at the that beautiful Park Veterinary Hospital off of 30 and Hulen and so she goes there every Tuesday and plays, you know, I think it’s for them, It’s good because it’s a you know, you go to the vet nothing good is happening. Everybody’s got a sad story and their crying, everyone’s stressed and Pearl goes and has a play date and you know, and it wears her out. She’s like a toddler so it doesn’t so then, you know, she’ll sleep it off for the next couple days and and and you know, it keeps her well socialized while I and then when I travel, you know, a bird’s not a great pet to have honestly, it’s just not there so social and and people they lots of terrible things happen to birds. So I make sure

BP: She gets her social time.

ML: She gets her social time. Yeah, she’s getting her social time.

BP: Well get thank you so much Marcel. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

ML: All right.

BP: All right, bye-bye.

I’m Brad Parker the attorney you want, but hope you never need and thanks for listening to another edition of Bar Talk: The musings of attorneys, entrepreneurs and other interesting people. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our website at Parker Law Firm.com, or please leave us a review on iTunes, Spotify, or your preferred podcast outlet. See you next time.

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