Tag Archives: Akward Post

The Rise and Fall of Spearia

Part 1

Never have I seen a company just come out of nowhere and have such a far reaching presence in such a short period of time like SpeariaSpearia was founded by Danny Beckett Jr. in 2007 in Belmont as a web & marketing development company.  The company at its height employed about 15 professionals in a variety of positions, and produced over a hundred website projects for their clients.  In September 2009 Spearia moved into a two-floor, 8,000-square-foot facility at 2934 West River Drive NE in Comstock Park, which they renovated for $500,000.

Just by announcing this move along Spearia started to get a load of press from local media. And this trend only continued when they announced Comstock 09, an event Spearia created to help celebrate their new office.  So what was Comstock 09?  Here is a list:

  • Two professional motocross shows
  • Music – free performances by Delilah DeWylde and the Lost Boys, The Concussions, Nobody’s Business and Funktion
  • Hot dog eating contest
  • A wide variety of free children’s activities in Dwight Lydell Park.  Kids can bring their own bikes and ride behind the professional motocross bikers from Fifth Third Ballpark down White Pine Trail to the park
  • Water balloon fight
  • Face-painting
  • Moon walk
  • Special appearances by Miss Michigan and the Whitecaps’ mascot, Crash
  • Food vendors and a beer tent

So all this sounds extremely cool, but once again Spearia was spending money.  According to this article Beckett was putting $50,000 of his own money into the event, and was also hunting for sponsors to help defray the costs of such a massive event.  In fact after the event I began hearing rumors of vendors who helped with the event were not paid for the services they provided to Spearia.  Of course rumors are rumors but looking at the tale events unfold in the past year it looks like there might be some truth to the rumors (more of that to come).

But since Comstock 09, Spearia just pushed on ahead with even more events, sponsorships and just general spending money.  For example – the Spearia team has (or had) a fleet of vehicles at their disposal like:

All these vehicles could not be cheap and maintaining the vehicles as well could be costly.

But there is even more. Did you know that Spearia also was a part of the following:

I understand that community involvement is really important for a company, and building a brand through this could be a huge benefit.  But I would love to find out how effective these campaigns/sponsorships really were.  What was the Return On Investment (ROI) with all these activities and did they bring in any new business?  How much money was spent on these events, that could have been used to reinvest in the company (new resources, new employees)?  How far did some of these activities stretch away from their core business.  Why on earth would a marketing and web development company decide to purchase an RV retrofit it, and do a custom painting on the outside, and then go drive people around ArtPrize?  How does this make sense (they even served pizza and drinks and had a magician on board)?  Granted they did charge $15 per ticket and the proceeds were donated to WMCAT, but still wouldn’t your time, money and resources do much better if they were invested elsewhere?

So where is Spearia now?  Well look at their twitter account – not active since December 10th, 2010.  Look at their facebook account – not active since December 10th as well.  What exactly happened?

Watch the video below from Justin Vander Velde…it answers a lot of questions.
Switching Gears
from Justin Vander Velde on Vimeo. (Make sure you watch that video!)

Justin Vander Velde, a GVSU student along with his classmates Matt Dayton, Jake Dawson, and Andrea Wallace were doing a documentary on Spearia, and founder Danny Beckett,  for a class project.   The students were able to capture a captivating tale of the company,  through some interesting thoughts from Danny Beckett.  For me the video really got interesting at 5:27 mark, when they were speaking with Spearia employees about some of the challenges in working with an “Ideas” person, most likely alluding to Beckett.  Both employees phrased it well but seemed to imply that the company had little focus and was always jumping from one thing to another without much thought or analysis on how this would affect the business.   Jason Dodge, Project Manager, also caught the Justin off guard when he stated that he was no longer the Marketing Director, and that lead to a awkward exchange, which only makes you question what happened.  Then at the 6:45 mark, Beckett starts explaining that perhaps they did too much and that some of their events were “too huge”, and needed to be “more focused”, they “weren’t prepared” and had “lack of planning”.  They were “focused on the fun”, and in the end “relationships got broken” and “a lot of people we own money too.”  All these comments were related to the first event of Comstock 09.  If this was the case, then why did the company continue throwing all these other events?  The video also details that the directors lost touch with Beckett and only heard back from him 3 weeks later, and also noted in the film that Jason Dodge ended up leaving the company. Afterwards Justin and his classmates drove by the Spearia headquarters on West River Drive and filmed the empty building with a For Lease sign from DAR Development in the front window.  Also exposed during the video was that Spearia was looking for investors but ultimately the deal they had in place fell through.  Lastly, the filmmakers were able to contact Beckett and he basically stated that the company as it was known was no longer there, and he talks about his original vision and how it was just not the right vision.  I am still in shock about how honest and forthcoming Beckett was in regards to his business, and how aware he seemed of the company’s mistakes and shortcomings.  But just as baffling is why similar mistakes (in the form of extravagant events) kept on happening.

Per Beckett, Spearia’s vision was to be a “leading experience based creative firm” and he later stated that was a “false vision.”  Now I am not sure if it was a false vision, because being a “leading experience based creative firm” sounds like a great goal, but it just seems that the approach to get to that vision was flawed.  Focus on your product and your service, instead of worrying about making a big splash or being the company that everyone thinks is “cool” or that has a fleet of vehicles for tooling around town with.  Just focus on what you do, and do it well.  But the whole thing about owing people money and breaking relationships that part is not cool at all.  You have to pay who ever you do business with, vendors, banks, partners, whoever and by not doing so is one of the quickest and easiest ways to break relationships.  I can’t help but wonder if this story would have been different if Spearia used all their time, money, and resources on their company instead of “events” and community outreach.  Maybe all these extra activities soon became a weight to great to bear for Spearia.

Oh and I guess this did not help the whole Spearia money situation either – Someone hacking into their phone system and racking up over $20,000 in charges.

It’s just kind of a shame that West Michigan lost another company.  I am sure that Spearia employed lots of hardworking people who did their jobs well, but ultimately it looks like a multitude of decisions may have lead the company to unravel.

So did anyone work with or worked at Spearia?  How about go to the Free Lunch Fridays or any of their other events?  What are your thoughts?  What happened?

This is Part 1.
Part 2 – With insights from the filmmaker Justin Vander Velde is now posted.
I will have one more follow-up post with some insights from a former employee of Spearia.

For more reading and discussion on Spearia check out Urban Planet message board and the mlive – GR Press article on Danny Beckett.

Advertisements

Business Schism in West Michigan

I was once told by a business adviser that when entering in business with a partner, you better know everything about your partner, because you will be “sleeping with your partner”.  Rereading this statement, I think he stated it much more clearly and concisely, but the point is things are about to get really intimate with you and your partner, so you better know them inside and out, have a similar vision, and be able to work together well.

Inevitably lots of times these business partnerships do not always work out for one reason or another.  But wouldn’t you love to know why?  What happened? What are the grievances?  Well I have compiled a short list of businesses in West Michigan which were started by two partners (in most cases or families) and now they have split up and each partner is doing their own thing, most often in the exact same line of business as the one they worked with their partner in.  Awkward!

Case 1:  New Holland Brewing Company & Brewery Vivant

New Holland Brewing Company was started by two friends (grew up together in Midland, and both attended Hope College) Brett VanderKamp and Jason Spaulding in 1996.  Spaulding sold his shares in NewHolland in 2008. The only reason I could find on why he sold his shares was to “focus on economic development work with Lakeshore Advantage.”, where he worked as Vice President of Business Services. After his stint at Lakeshore Advantage, Spaulding attended a brewing school in Munich, Germany and after that we worked as a bar manager at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. Now just  two years later, Brewery Vivant, a Spaulding creation at 925 Cherry Street SE Grand Rapids, MI has a scheduled opening of December 2010.  Could it be a non-compete agreement has expired?  Luckily to avoid some of the awkwardness, the breweries are located in different cities.  And what is up with Rooster logo – I like roosters (here & here) as much as the next guy but roosters are like this year’s “it” corporate animal.  I would what will be next – perhaps the stately Goat.

Case 2: Crazy Horse Steakhouse & Saloon and Salt & Pepper Savory Grill & Pub

In 1997, Mark Herman and Mike Karas became co-owners of Crazy Horse Steakhouse & Saloon in Holland, MI.  After 12 years of ownership Karas sold his share in the restaurant to Herman, in 2009.  Then in summer of 2010 Karas opened up Salt & Pepper Savory Grill & Pub at 11539 E. Lakewood Blvd in Holland.  Of course Karas declined to provide any details on why he sold his ownership in Crazy Horse, and he had the following quote from the mlive article on his new restaurant “I think he wishes me well.  I wish him well” regarding Herman.  It is not hard to read between the lines and assume that there might be some bad blood there, either that or someone is taking the high road.  Not surprisingly Karas got right back into restaurant business by opening up his new place just about a mile away on the same street as Crazy Horse.

Case 3: Holland Transplanter & Mechanical Transplanter

Yes this is the second time I have mentioned these companies in my blog, and yes I am just as surprised as you are.  Both these companies produce transplanting equipment for the agriculture industry are both are located in Holland.  Holland Transplanter was founded in 1927 and Mechanical was founded in 1953.  From what I gathered, the current owner, and descendant of one of the founders of Holland Transplanter, has a brother-in-law who runs Mechanical Transplanter.  Those family get togethers must be quite interesting.  This is almost as bad as it can get.  Not only is the company a direct competitor, but they are in the same city, and they are in your family as well.

Case 4:  Wild Dog Rescue and Wishbone Pet Rescue

Alright  I am having a hard time nailing this one down, but here is what I know (I did get an update from Chuck who is involved with Wild Dog- see comments below).  Laine Mossey founders set up the Dog Rescue operation in Saugatuck and also ran a dog shop in the area.  The original name was Wild Dog Rescue, which was later changed to Wishbone Pet Rescue.  The Wishbone Pet Rescue was involved in the very unfortunate Chance story.  The dog was savagely beaten, poisoned, and hung to die, fortunately the dog survived and was left in the care of Wishbone.  At some point during this process Laine (the president) brought on a board of directors to help out with the pet rescue portion of the business.  But apparently there was a difference in philosophy between the president, who wanted to solely rescue pets and the board, who wanted to help the Allegan County Animal shelter.   Now there are two Dog Rescue organizations in Saugatuck area, Wild Dog Rescue (which also runs the Wild Dogs store, and a kennel called Mossey Hollow) and Wishbone Pet Rescue.
One more side note I found this website – http://wilddogsaugatuck.com/ which looks like it was started by the owner Wild Dog, the rescue and pet store, and their issue with the Douglas restaurant called Wild Dog Grille.  Though I think they can choose to name their restaurant the same name, since they are not in the same industry, but it still smacks of poor taste to take on the same name especially in a small community like Saugatuck/Douglas.

Case 5:  Gary Crane UPick Farm & Cranes Orchards

Drive down M-89 in Fennville and inevitably you will come across a stretch of road with orchards on both sides of the road, and with signs on both sides talking about Crane’s U Pick Orchards.  Well although they share the same name (kind of) they are not the same.  In fact ask anyone working at either place and they will definitely tell you they are not associated with the other.  I wonder what happened.  First here are the players – The Gary Crane U-Pick Farm or “Crane’s U-Pick”at 6017 124th Ave is on the North side of the street, and can be recognized with their large white barn.  Cranes Orchards is located on the South side of the street at 6054 124th Ave, is highlighted by the large red Crane’s restaurant.  Interestingly enough both Gary Crane UPick and Crane Orchards offer a detailed history of the family and the two farms.  Here is Gary Crane UPick version and here is Crane Orchards version.  I am not going to dig into this one too much because it hurts my head but it looks like the grandsons of the original founders, ended up going out on their own and operating their own farms in 1985.

Special Case: Adidas & Puma

Some of these stories are eerily similar to the Puma and Adidas story.  The Dassler brothers (Adi and Rudolf) who founded the original company, eventually split up and created separate companies in Puma and Adidas.  Now both companies are located in the same small German village of Herzogenaurach.  Raise your hand if you knew that Puma and Adidas were founded by two brothers, and if you did, let me know and next time I see you, I owe you a high five.

Apparently these individuals were not too please at having to go to bed with their partners.  Does anyone have any more examples of schisms with business partners?  At risk of sounding very tabloid-esque or gossipy… does anyone have any details on what caused these above splits?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Twisted Rooster – Emphasis on Twisted

Please read the comments section for an update & for a good example of customer service

Twisted Rooster is now open, and I am feel a bit conflicted.  Even though I am a lowly blogger, I feel that I have contributed to Twisted Rooster’s successful launch and opening of their restaurant (but if it fails then I hereby retract the previous statement).  Let me give you some background and you can let me know what you think.  On May 27th I wrote my “Breaking the Chain – O’Charley’s becoming Twisted Rooster” story.  I also tweeted the story at 1:19 PM on May 27th.  On the same date  Twisted Rooster retweeted my tweet (screen shot below and you can also visit their twitter page and scroll down to May 27th on their twitter page and see it). 

Also on May 27th Twisted Rooster posted a link to my blog post on their facebook page, which was “liked” and “commented” by others.  This wall posting that Twisted Rooster put on their own wall was recently removed (I viewed it earlier this week, and now it is nowhere to be found).

Additionally, as soon as my blog was being mentioned on facebook and twitter, Twisted Rooster began using the term “unchaining”, which I first used in my original post (second to the last paragraph)
“So what do you think is this going to be a continuing trend, the “unchaining” of restaurants?  Can we expect more restaurants to go this route?  What are your thoughts and is this a good thing or bad thing?”

So now Twisted Rooster is using the term “unchaining” and in conjunction with Grand Rapids Social Diary they hosted a un”CHAIN”ing Party for their soft launch on July 21, 2010.  Where they invited a list of VIPs to attend.

To recap – Twisted Rooster removed a wall post that they posted about my blog, Twisted Rooster and Grand Rapids Social Diary took “unchaining” term and ran with it, and with what could have been a nice PR move, I was not invited to the soft launch. So it seems to me like they are taking all the credit for the term “unchaining” and then trying to erase the source of this word, me.

It is not like I expect any monetary gain or special treatment, but it would’ve been nice to be recognized for my ideas.  Being invited to attend the soft launch would have been a nice gesture, but again not something I expected to happen.  Let me clarify that I do not have a problem with Twisted Rooster’s actions by themselves, but coupled together and with the Facebook wall post that was deleted (let’s just call this the straw – final one or the one that broke the camel’s back – you decide), just leaves a sour taste in my mouth.  I am having trouble coming up with any other reasons why Twisted Rooster would delete their facebook wall post, besides trying to erase their link to me and my post.  So here I am writing about how Twisted Rooster took my idea and pushed me aside instead of writing a follow-up on how cool it was that  they borrowed my idea, gave my blog great publicity, and how I stopped by for lunch the other day.

So what do you think?

a) Shut up stupid blogger, and go back to your mother’s basement
b) Yeah I can understand your frustration but that is life
c) If that happened to me, I would be super pissed and would stand outside of Twisted Rooster with the no rooster sign pictured above
d) I don’t care, just write about something interesting

Outside Validation for our “Causes”

In reading Revue West Michigan I came across Stad DiPonzi’ s Mean & Sober column (Download magazine here).  The article starts out with this

“ One of West Michigan’s least-endearing qualities is our apparent unquenchable thirst for outside validation.  It is with Sally Field-like abandon that The Right Place proclaims every cheesy top 10 list we seem to stumble onto (“Strom Drain Daily Loves GR’s Grates”).  The ever-needy nerd squad at Urban Planet even has a forum dedicated to mentions of GR in external media.”

Although this was obviously written tongue and cheek, it is an interesting statement and one that got me thinking.  Outside validation is a big deal, and getting recognized for positives attributes is very important.  In fact, I think that everyone has something which they identify with (school, region, city, organization) which when validated by outside media, you get excited.  Even for myself I am a dead ringer for this, here is my list of “causes” which I identify with:

  • Ukrainian
  • Alumni of University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
  • Grew up in Chicagoland
  • Live in Holland, MI
  • Working Grand Rapids, MI
  • Live in State of Michigan
  • Write for a little known blog

So anytime one of my “causes” gets mentioned in a positive light by outside or mainstream media, I get excited, giddy even.  I am so used to my “causes” being portrayed incorrectly or negatively, which sucks, and I get quite tired of that. For example:

  • Ukrainian – Eggs, The,
  • University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) – being known as a hyphen school and a lousy basketball team
  • Chicago – Al Capone (totally true told a cabby in Germany I was form Chicago, and he makes a gun out of his hand and starts shooting), and always behind New York and Los Angeles
  • Holland, MI – Cheap, Conservative, Religious, Dutch
  • Grand Rapids, MI -Cheap, Conservative, Religious, Dutch
  • Michigan – Rarely mentioned in a positive light
  • Write for a little known blog – I am a blogger enough said

There is a reason to get excited when your “cause” is acknowledged, recommended, or written about.  It is exciting and it helps validate everything you already know, and allows you to share your “cause” with everyone else.  Not to mention you can speak more confidently to others, because it is not just your opinion but someone elses.  So instead of focusing on the bad or the negatives why not embrace the positives.  Why not get excited?

Here is my list of positives

So tell me what are your “causes” and share with us the positives.