Business Tip – June 2017

Is your employee handbook up to snuff?

By Bob Scavone, Labor and Employment attorney, Jackson Lewis P.C.

“Do you have an employee handbook?” No matter the size of the business, or type of industry, this is one of the first questions I ask employers when speaking with them about their business practices and how they can lower the risk of liabilities. Having a handbook and providing employees copies, however, may not be enough to protect your business from legal liability or other unintended consequences. Lawsuits and agency claims, employee turnover, and poor public relations are a few examples of the unintended consequences that can result from outdated or unlawful handbook provisions, or ones that are misinterpreted or inconsistently administered by managers and supervisors.

To reduce your exposure, your employee handbook must be

1) Comprehensive

2) Tailored to your specific business and industry

3) Regularly reviewed and updated, and

4) Compliant with federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

Liability and an incomplete employee handbook

Why are employee handbooks important? First, handbooks set employer expectations and employee responsibilities. For example, your handbook should explain that the company expects its business practices and internal communications to be kept confidential and outline the consequences for breaching confidentiality. Similarly, your handbook should outline what constitutes prohibited conduct and establish consistent guidelines for disciplining those who violate company policy. Absent such guidelines, your company may be open to legal claims based on arbitrary or inconsistent discipline.

Second, a properly-designed handbook can protect your business against legal liability. For example, handbooks that do not include comprehensive anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies can expose employers to charges of harassment and discrimination. Your handbook should include policies that prohibit unlawful employment practices and explain to employees what to do if they are harassed or discriminated against and how to report such conduct. Ensuring your employees sign an acknowledgement form when they receive the handbook and any updates can significantly improve your chances of avoiding liability.

A comprehensive, carefully-developed employee handbook can be a valuable resource, providing important information about an organization’s history, mission, values, and culture, as well policies, procedures, and benefits. Consulting with an employment attorney is the best way to make sure you are covering all of the bases.

Company- and industry-specific

No two companies are the same, even in the same industry. The employer who uses cookie-cutter or off-the-shelf handbook templates to craft a handbook takes an unnecessary risk. First, templates rarely cover all of the topics that may be important to your business and typically do not address specific state laws and regulations. For example, many states have recently passed laws regulating whether (and under what circumstances) employees may store firearms in vehicles parked on company property. Even if an off-the-shelf handbook covers this issue, it likely will not cover the law specific to your state (or states, if your business operates in more than one). Moreover, a generic handbook may contain policies that are inconsistent with your company’s practices or customs.

Review. Update. Repeat.

Federal, state, and local labor and employment laws are changing constantly. For example, state and federal anti-discrimination laws are in flux with regard to whether discrimination based on sexual orientation is unlawful. Conduct that may not have been illegal when your handbook was issued may now be prohibited. With the assistance of employment counsel, your human resources professionals should monitor changes in the law and update your company’s policies regularly.

In addition to changes in the law, your handbook should keep up with changes in your company’s policies and practices. For example, your handbook should reflect changes in your IT policies or vacation matrix on a timely basis. Your employees must have access to the current policies to reduce your company’s exposure to liability.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote is particularly relevant to employee handbooks. Let me be blunt: each of your employees is a potential plaintiff (or cause of litigation). Making sure you have a comprehensive, tailored, up-to-date handbook could save you a substantial amount of time, money, and grief. If you do not have an employee handbook, I strongly recommend that you get one. If you have one, check when it was last updated. If it has been more than a year since its last update, it is time to get your employee handbook up to snuff.

Robert Scavone Jr. is an attorney at Jackson Lewis P.C., which represents management exclusively in workplace law and related litigation. Its attorneys are available to assist employers in their compliance efforts and to represent employers in matters before state and federal courts and administrative agencies. Prior to becoming an attorney, Robert was an executive with one of the nation’s largest commercial flooring contractors and a member of the NTCA’s Board of Directors and Technical Committee. He works out of the firm’s Miami office and can be reached at 305-577-7619 or Robert.Scavone@JacksonLewis.com

This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney/client relationship between Jackson Lewis P.C. and any readers or recipients. Readers should consult counsel of their own choosing to discuss how these matters relate to their individual circumstances. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited without the express written consent of Jackson Lewis P.C.

 

Business Tip – May 2017

NC changes tax requirements on installation labor

 

Labor may now be subject to state sales tax

By Paige W. Smith, Neuse Tile Service, NTCA Region 3 Director

This is an important development in tax laws that affect contractors that is taking place in North Carolina. Important in its own right, it holds even broader importance when one considers that once a single state passes this sort of law, other states will likely consider it or follow suit. Tile contractors should check with their tax accountants about any changes or revisions to laws in their own state related to sales and use tax. Forewarned is forearmed. – Ed.

Tile installation contractors who work in North Carolina should be aware that some of their labor may now be subject to state sales tax. Previous legislative changes had only applied to installers who were also retailers, but, on Jan. 1 of this year a new state law was enacted which requires the application of sales and use tax to all “real property contracts.”

The N.C. legislature has come up with its own statutory definitions of “real property,” “real property contract,” and “capital improvement” as well as a new tax form, E-595E. Tile contractors will most likely fall under the classification of “specialty contractor.” There have been several attempts to clarify which types of work are considered repair/ replacement/ reconstruction/ vs. remodeling, but the distinctions remain open to some interpretation.

The N.C. Department of Revenue Directive issued 11/15/2016 included 15 pages of definitions and “clarifications,” and on 3/17/2017 another 12-page Notice of “Additional Information” was issued. Accountants in the state have issued differing opinions on which aspects of tile work will be taxable, and contractors will definitely want to get in touch with their own tax advisor.

The new law is very confusing as evidenced by the continued “clarifications.” I’ve been to quite a few seminars on how we should interpret the new statute, and each time the answers seem to be slightly different.

Sales tax on repair work

Generally, for any repair work or replacement of existing tile, contractors should now be charging  — and paying to the state — sales tax on the total invoice amount (both material and labor). The sales tax is based on the rate for the county where the work is done. Most installers will want to become “tax exempt” for their purchases so that some material tax will be paid in as “use tax” and some as “sales tax.” It has been explained that those who work exclusively for general contractors will usually be exempt from the new tax on labor IF the tile installer gets the general contractor to complete the “blanket use” portion of the new tax form.

Repairs or replacements in which the tile contractor is including the work of other trade specialists (i.e. a plumber & glass door company) are not so clearly delineated as to whether they are “repairs” or “capital improvements” under the legislation’s definitions. I went to a forum in which even the head of the N.C. Sales and Use Tax Division said he was still trying to figure out how to answer many of the construction industry’s questions.

For now, contractors should be sure to speak with their local tax advisor, set up a system for tracking county tax rates, and charge sales tax on their work when required. The link to the N.C. Department of Revenue’s March notice can be found at www.DORNC.com/taxes/sales/realpropertycontractors

 

Business Tip – April 2017

Your journey to emotional ownership

by Ed Rigsbee

Pain and pleasure are such close cousins.  In life, it’s painful not to experience pleasure.  Too often though, it’s the holding on for dear life to familiar pain that keeps us from having what we say we really want.

In 1988 I joined the National Speakers Association, a trade group for professional speakers.  No, I wasn’t a speaker yet, but I wanted to be.  I had closed down my manufacturers’ representative company to accept a position of vice president for my principal manufacturer. Two years later, I found myself without a job.  It was now time to fish or cut bait.  Was I going to pick up another line and go to war with the manufacturer that fired me or was I going after my dream?  I went after my dream.  A decade later, I’m a nationally recognized keynoter on business alliances.

This experience, for all of the pain and pleasure, has yielded a path, my path to emotional ownership.  Since discovering this path, I have interviewed several business leaders and found that my path was also theirs.

Whatever pleasure you seek; there is usually pain in the way of having that pleasure.  I believe this path is also your path to the emotional ownership, of staying the course to having what you want in your life, both personal and professional.

In your personal and professional life you continually have challenges.  Challenges without solutions or answers generally cause extreme pain.  To solve or remove this pain, you must either move into action or simply do nothing and hide out.  Action means possibilities. Doing nothing is a formula for failure.  Doing what you have always done and expecting different results is called experiencing insanity. Nobody intentionally wants to be insane.  You will succeed at what you want through understanding and remaining on your path.

What is your challenge?  What would you like to do you are currently not doing?  What major decision would you like to make?  Your first step will be to think up ideas on how to deal with your challenge.

1. Idea:

Some ideas are gold and some are worthless. You must constantly seek possibilities to your challenges.  Earl Nightingale would sit with a yellow pad thinking of solutions to his day’s challenges every morning before the rest of his family awoke. Dr. Robert Schuller’s idea of possibility thinking is to list no less than 20 ways to solve your challenge.  His 20th is how he started the church that is known today as the Crystal Cathedral.

2. Excitement:

When an idea crystallizes, excitement sets in. Your view of the challenge is like a world of possibilities.  All is right as you are moving closer to dealing with your pain.

3. Hope:

Hope is the apex.  Hope without how will get you nowhere.  From this pinnacle the slow degrade begins.  As the reality of the challenge sets in doubt begins.  Unfortunately, at this point, hope turns into nope!

4. Reality:

When the reality of the steps, work and pitfalls involved in creating a solution set in, a feeling of hopelessness is not far behind.

5. Desperation:

Many people are living lives of quiet desperation.  Even people who are moderately successful find it difficult to make a new decision that would position them for greatness.  When the pain is at a level so high that anything else must be better, the point of decision is near. This is where tension can help you to mobilize, but too much tension can immobilize you.

6. Purpose:

Clarity of purpose allows you to see and understand the value of your struggle.  You must know you are playing in the right sandbox and for the right reason.  Now comes the promise of success.  Through example or belief, you now know success is possible and you can make a decision to go for the success.  If you are off purpose, are settling for less or see your world from the window of scarcity, you might make the decision of indecision and only move toward failure.

7. Decision:

The decision to move forward or to make no decision, the choice is yours. Knowing what to hold on to and what to discard is crucial to your well being.  This is where your emotional ownership comes alive.  No decision, no ownership and a continual decline.  Yet, with a new decision, all becomes possible.  Look for your emotional strength and security rather than comparing your self to what is not real. Be cautious of not falling into the impostor syndrome, thinking that you are not really good enough.  Look for your moments of decision. A friend quit drinking, and I ask him about his moment of decision.  He told me that it was one night while he was hanging out his second-story bathroom window, about to fall out and in a drunken stupor and realizing that he should change his life.  He said that he knew if he didn’t make some changes soon, he would no longer have a life.

8. Paying the price and taking risk:

This is the truth detector.   This is the point on your journey where you must internalize the intellectual ownership of your decision.  You must be willing to pay the prices.  Nothing good is free.  Having a track record of previous success and concrete examples of other successful person’s journeys will help.  It’s now time to stick your neck out!

9. Getting help:

Relationship building at its finest.  Nobody goes it alone.  Every successful person seeks help.  You may end up with some unlikely partners; especially people that can help you connect with your inner strength.  Receiving help connects you back to all your previous steps.  Also, you must accept help in anchoring back to your moment of decision.

10.  Accepting success:

Self-confidence and self-worth go hand in hand.  Accepting that you are worthy of success is key. When you have completed your journey to Emotional Ownership, you do it all over, repeatedly.  Additionally, you must realize that you are currently at different steps in different aspects of your personal and professional life.

Every day you are starting another journey in a different area of your life; personal and professional. Your journey always comes full circle; you can never just sit back because another phase of your total life journey is about to start. Enjoy your journey.

Ed Rigsbee is the consummate evangelist for member recruitment and strategic alliance success. He holds the Certified Association Executive (CAE) and Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) accreditation. Ed is the author of The ROI of Membership-Today’s Missing Link for Explosive Growth, PartnerShift, Developing Strategic Alliances, and The Art of Partnering. To his credit, he has over 2,500 articles in print and countless articles electronically published.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.

Business Tip – March 2017

Riding Shotgun

by Connie Heinlein

Connie Heinlein is the wife of NTCA technical trainer Mark Heinlein. She accompanies him all over the country and assists him as he gives workshops, participates in trade shows and conferences (many of Mark’s great photo documentation of his workshops, and people and places he visits is due to Connie’s photography skills). Here she shares her perspective on the value of NTCA, as she, “rides shotgun” with Mark. Follow her and Mark’s adventures on Facebook. – Lesley Goddin

Connie Heinlein (center) at the Mechanicsburg, Pa., workshop earlier this year at Daltile. With Connie are: (l. to r.): Scott Carothers (CTEF/NTCA); Todd DeKorte , MAPEI; Tim Phoenix , Daltile; and Dale Kreider.

I spend a lot of time riding in the passenger seat of the NTCA van, traveling all over the country to workshops and trade shows with my husband Mark. Much of that time I watch out the window as the country passes by—rolling hills in Pennsylvania, corn fields in Iowa, mountain vistas in Montana, farms with red barns everywhere, and the ubiquitous truck stops. Sometimes I read or listen to the radio. I never sleep because I don’t want to miss anything.

Most of the time I can’t help but listen in on Mark’s phone calls –what he refers to as the “Heinlein Hotline.” He gets a lot of calls from NTCA members and non-members alike. Most of them have a tile crisis. Some just want to chat. I am not always very interested in the conversations

Connie is a jill-of-all-trades; here she assists Mark in putting education sponsor logos on the new NTCA van she and Mark will be driving all over the country this year.

although I have learned a great deal in the past year about many aspects of the tile industry. I know all about mortar coverage and substrate preparation; I understand the basic complexities of a tile installation; I know that a tile job can fail for many reasons. Before I retired last year from my job teaching high school English, I never thought about mortar and grout and did not know the difference between NTCA and ANSI and TCNA.  But like I said, I’ve learned.  Tile is pretty interesting—maybe not as fascinating to me as literature and grammar, but pretty interesting. All that tile-related chemistry, physics, math and technology makes for some brainy stuff.

So anyway, I often listen in on Mark’s calls. — sometimes I even pipe in if it is someone I met along the way like a new member who joined at one of our workshops, or Mark’s boss with a  “Hi Jim.” Some of the calls are quick; an answer that Mark can rattle off easily. “What is the allowable lippage for such and such?” or “When is Coverings?” Most of the calls involve difficult situations and complicated questions. I remember one from a few months ago about a swimming pool deck that involved multiple calls and research.

Several months ago Mark got a message from a guy in Detroit who wanted to get some experience in setting tile.  He said he loves the tile business and hopes to become certified but needs an opportunity to learn more. The guy asked Mark if he knew of anyone who might help him. I thought that was a pretty big request, that perhaps Mark would diplomatically give the guy some direction toward training materials or an on-line program. I admit now that I underestimated my husband. He spent quite a lot of time with the guy—I now know his name is Alaa Waleed—and discovered what he was looking for and got a sense of his seriousness about learning.  Mark told Alaa that he would think on it, and see if he could come up with someone who might be interested in taking him on.

Alaa Waleed on the job. A connection with Mark Heinlein helped find him work, and Alaa was eager to learn about tile.

Some time passed. We went on a couple more trips. I forgot about Alaa Waleed. Mark did not. He had contacted his friend Phil Kozey about Al. Phil is a great guy, an excellent tile contractor, an NTCA State Ambassador, and fellow Michigander. Phil lives downstate. Mark and I live in the Upper Peninsula. We refer to any part of Michigan that lies below the Mackinac Bridge as downstate and we say it with a bit of sympathy, but oh well, not everyone can be a Yooper. But I digress.

Back to Phil Kozey of southern Michigan. I do not know all of the particulars about Mark’s communications with Phil. I think that during this time Al called and messaged Mark a few times and Mark called and messaged Phil. We all know how these things can go. Life is busy. And then out of the blue one day in March, we were driving on the Ohio turnpike and Mark’s phone chimed that he had a message. He asked me to open it. After all, I was just sitting in the passenger seat, riding shotgun, and staring out the window. The message was from Phil Kozey. Here is what Phil said:

Let me tell you about this guy that we spoke about that said he wanted to learn tile.  He is one of the nicest, eager-to-learn guys I have ever met in my life. After working his butt off for five days straight my

Mark and Connie Heinlein take a pit stop at the Summit Diner in Somerset, Pa., on their way from Mechanicsburg to Pittsburgh.

father handed him a paycheck. An hour later he pulls me to the side and hands me back the check and says I cannot accept this. It meant a lot to me that he was actually there to do nothing but learn and did not want to make any money, but I aggressively refused… and made him take the check.

He came in knowing absolutely nothing, but he is a quick learner and takes great direction and I really think it is going to be a long friendship between me and Al. I just wanted to say thanks for linking us up because it is an honor working with him. 

Of course, after reading that message, Mark immediately called Phil and I listened in on the conversation. Phil told Mark about how he eventually contacted Al and what a terrific person he is and how he is going to make an excellent tile guy.  It turned out to be a heartwarmingly human story about motivation, talent, kindness, and of course, tile. I don’t know the conclusion to this story yet. I do know that Phil and Al are now friends and that Al has a future in the tile business. I’m proud of Mark’s role in helping make this connection between two good men, and I am proud to be a small part of this NTCA world where stories like this happen all the time.

Business Tip – February 2017

Top 5 tips to avoid ambiguity in construction contracts

By Yasir Billoo, partner at International Law Partners

Avoiding ambiguity should be a primary goal when drafting and negotiating construction contracts. This helps ensure that you get what you want, including the bargained-for benefits of the contract, smooth contract administration and fulfillment, and avoidance of lengthy and expensive legal disputes. Follow these five tips to minimize ambiguities:

1. Keep it simple.

Keep your writing simple, clear and concise. Construction contracts are read and interpreted by a wide variety of people, including judges with no knowledge of the construction industry. Using plain English and shorter sentences while avoiding legalese and redundancy will make your contracts easier to read and understand.

2. If it’s part of the agreement, include it in the contract.

If a contract appears complete and comprehensive on its face, courts will prohibit the use of other documents to give meaning to the parties’ intentions. Statements made during pre-bid meetings or negotiations will not be effective in contradicting express terms in the contract. Include all terms of the deal in the contract, or incorporate key documents by reference.

3. Define key terms.

Courts give ordinary terms their ordinary meanings and technical terms their technical meanings. But the meanings of words cannot be divorced from the context in which they are interpreted, and parties often disagree on what terms mean in certain contexts. To avoid disputes, capitalize and define terms to attribute specific meaning. Then use the capitalized term as needed throughout the contract.

4. Include an order-of-precedence clause.

Because numerous documents make up construction contracts, conflicts may arise between requirements contained within the documents, such as the drawings and specifications. One way to address these conflicts is to include a clause providing that in the event of a conflict, the specifications take precedence over the drawings, or that contract documents take precedence according to a prescribed order of hierarchy. You may also wish to include a provision stating that what is required of any contract document shall be binding as if required by all.

5. Make proper use of standard forms.

Standard-form agreements such as AIA and ConsensusDocs are commonly used throughout the construction industry. However…there are risks with using such forms because they are written broadly, they may contain terms that are inapplicable to the transaction at issue, and parties often use such forms without fully reviewing them. Even if both parties orally agree to terms that differ from what is written, oral understandings will yield to written agreements, so it is important to read all the terms before using standard-form agreements. Add terms you think should be included in the contract and delete terms that are inapplicable.

Yasir Billoo is an experienced attorney in the areas of business/commercial contracts and litigation, real estate transactions (and title services) and litigation, intellectual property litigation, employment and labor, and civil appeals. Yasir’s experience ranges from representing large Fortune 500 companies in complex litigation and appeals in state and federal court, to helping small business owners with simple agreements and legal consulting.

Yasir earned his law degree from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and was admitted to both the Florida Bar and the California Bar in 2004. He is admitted to practice in all courts in each of these states.

Yasir earned dual Bachelors Degrees in International Relations and Communications from Florida International University. While earning his Juris Doctor, he was a member of the Jessup International Law Moot Court team and on the Board of the Journal of International and Comparative Law. A native of Karachi, Pakistan, Yasir, speaks English, Spanish, Urdu, Hindi and Memoni.

Prior to practicing law, Yasir managed the finances of a group of Central American companies, handling complex international financial transactions.

Yasir currently serves as a Hearing Officer for Miami-Dade County’s Commission on Human Rights, where he presides over appeals of initial determinations in cases where discrimination is alleged.

Yasir is a member of the prestigious invitation-only International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC). IADC has been serving a distinguished membership of corporate and insurance defense attorneys and insurance executives since 1920. The IADC membership is comprised of the world’s leading corporate and insurance lawyers and insurance executives. They are partners in large and small law firms, senior counsel in corporate law departments, and corporate and insurance executives. Members represent the largest corporations around the world, including the majority of companies listed in the FORTUNE 500. Reach him at intlawpartners.com

BUSINESS TIP – JANUARY 2017

IRS continues to enforce “reasonable” sharehold-employee salaries

 

 

In the ceramic tile industry there are many small businesses which may be Subchapter S Corporations, since there are many appealing tax benefits while still providing liability protection to the shareholders. If you’re a shareholder-employee of an S Corporation, you more than likely considered the tax advantages of this entity choice. But those very same tax advantages also tend to draw IRS scrutiny. And the agency has made clear that its interest in S Corporations – including possible audits – will continue. The IRS focuses on determining whether the salary of the shareholders is unreasonably low. The tactics listed below will help protect your company from this IRS examination.

 

 
What’s the problem?
The IRS pays particular attention to S Corporations because, as you well know, shareholder-employees of these organizations aren’t subject to self-employment taxes on their respective shares of the company’s income. This differs from, say, general partners in a partnership.

 
To better manage payroll taxes, many S Corporations minimize shareholder-employee salaries (which are subject to payroll taxes) and compensate them mostly via “dividend” distributions. If this holds true for you, the IRS may take a close look at your salary to determine whether it’s “unreasonably” low. The agency views overly-minimized salaries as an improper means of avoiding payroll taxes.
If its case is strong enough, the IRS could recharacterize a portion of distributions paid to you and other shareholder-employees as wages and bill the employer and/or employee for unpaid taxes, interest and possibly even penalties.

How do you define it?
By following certain guidelines, your business can ensure salaries paid to you and other shareholder-employees have a higher likelihood of meeting the agency’s typical standards of reasonableness.
For starters, do some benchmarking to learn how S Corporations of similar size (as indicated by capital value, net income or sales) in your industry and geographic region are paying their shareholder-employees. In addition, pay close attention to certain traits held by your shareholder-employees. These include:
Background and experience
Specific responsibilities
Work hours
Professional reputation
Customer relationships

 

The stronger these traits are, the higher the salary should be in the eyes of the IRS. Shareholder-employee salaries should be fairly consistent from year to year, too, without dramatic raises or cuts.
For more in-depth information about the particulars of S Corporations, visit https://www.thebalance.com/the-s-corporation-your-questions-answered-397844 or http://tinyurl.com/hp2qwna.

 
CTDA helps you succeed in your business through a variety of programs and services that include educational opportunities, webinars, and discounts on shipping, client collection services, telephone charges, auto rentals, and more. CTDA offers networking and relationship-building opportunities through participation in Total Solutions Plus all-industry conference and Coverings annual trade show. Membership in CTDA also increases your national exposure and gives you access to the annual membership survey, a valuable resource to evaluate your company in terms of profit improvement, employee compensation, distribution and company performance. The CTDA website, CTDA Educational Opportunities, Weekly Newsletters and TileDealer Blog are all free resources that will “keep you in the loop” as well. CTDA is always looking for ways to improve the benefits of membership. To learn more about membership, please contact info@ctdahome.org or 630-545-9415 visit the website at www.ctdahome.org. Like CTDA on Facebook and Twitter @Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA).

Business Tip – December 2016

mapei_sponsorObamacare: the road to repeal

By Pat O’Connor,
Kent and O’Connor, Washington, D.C.

pat-oconnor

For the past six years, “Repeal Obamacare” has been a potent mantra, a rallying cry that energized Republicans and turned out voters. The Republican-controlled House churned out repeal legislation on a regular basis, passing over 50 repeal bills! Yet, with President Obama’s veto pen always looming, repeal was never going to happen and everyone knew it.

Only now, with the stunning upset victory of Donald Trump for president, is repeal of the massive and controversial health care bill suddenly real. Republicans control the White House and both chambers in Congress. The expectation for bold action from the Republican base is very high. Does this mean repeal of Obamacare will be a done deal in the first 100 days?

Not necessarily. In fact, the road ahead for Obamacare repeal is complicated.

Practical realities

First are the practical realities of the legislative process. Republicans are in control, but they don’t have the 60 votes needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster, a tactic Democrats would emphatically employ to block any repeal legislation.

Of course, Republican leaders can get around this by repealing key parts of the health care law through the “budget reconciliation” process, a special procedure that only requires a simple majority vote. (That is the same process used by Democrats to pass The Affordable Care Act [ACA] in the first place.) Still, budget reconciliation takes time, requiring passage of budget resolutions and other procedural niceties, and it does not allow for total repeal. While it is a likely vehicle for ACA repeal, it will be neither quick nor clear cut.

Executive and administrative options

Legislative avenues aside, the new president will have any number of administrative options to block, change or suspend key elements of the law. For example, he can cut off funding for cost-sharing subsidies to insurers (which did not have explicit appropriations and is being challenged in courts by House Republicans). Experts agree this action alone would shut down the health exchanges. Or, he could simply stop enforcing penalties for the individual mandate or for employers who fail to provide affordable coverage.

Then what?

Yet, any of these paths to repeal or cripple the ACA ignore a fundamental question: Then what?

For good or ill, the ACA has taken root. It touches the lives of every American. The entire health care industry – from hospitals to doctors to insurance companies and other providers – has adapted and reshaped dramatically in response to the health care law. Twenty-two million people depend on Obamacare for their health insurance. Will a new President Trump really want to begin his presidency stripping health insurance from millions of Americans and upending one-fifth of the economy?

That’s why the “repeal” chants shifted to “repeal and replace” over a year ago – a subtle acknowledgement that something has to take the place of Obamacare. But up until now, “repeal and replace” has been little more than a slogan, with only the broadest outlines of what the replacement might be and little analysis of the impact. As a result, Republicans are split over what direction to take. Some want immediate repeal, others see a more deliberate approach as necessary to avoid major upheaval for both insured individuals and insurance markets.

The model for “repeal and replace” can be seen in the plan passed last December by both the House and Senate through budget reconciliation (and vetoed by President Obama). It eliminated the expansion of Medicaid coverage for Americans near or below the poverty line, eliminated the subsidies for Americans to buy their own insurance on the ACA exchanges, eliminated the penalties on individuals for not being insured and on employers for not providing affordable coverage. The measure delayed the effective date for two years to allow Congress to figure out the “replace” part of the equation.

This template reveals a simple truth: dismantling Obamacare is easy – whether through Executive action, budget reconciliation or a combination of the two. The daunting political and policy challenge is finding an alternative that works.

President-elect Trump says he wants to preserve the two most popular features of Obamacare: guaranteed coverage to people with pre-existing conditions (without being overcharged) and allowing young people up to age 26 to be covered on a parent’s plan. Yet, the guaranteed coverage provision is costly to insurers and without the other interconnected carrots and sticks (such as the individual mandate and the premium subsidies that brings healthy patients into the marketplace), premiums will spike, potentially leaving insurance markets in even greater disarray. This is the conundrum that Trumpcare, like its predecessor, must contend with.

Companies should remain cautious as they look ahead, allowing events to unfold before deciding on a change in benefits strategy. No doubt, Obamacare is on its way out. But don’t be surprised if it lingers a bit longer than expected.

Pat O’Connor is a principal in Kent & O’Connor, Incorporated, a Washington, D.C.-based government affairs firm. A veteran of Capitol Hill with particular expertise in health, transportation and the environment, O’Connor works with trade associations and companies to find workable solutions to the most pressing regulatory and legislative issues. For more information, visit www.kentoconnor.com or call 202-223-6222.

Business Tip – November 2016

mapei_sponsorFalling forward – winning success from failure

By Marilyn Tam

“I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.” – Kobe Bryant

marilyn-tamPatty doesn’t just walk into a room, she takes it over. She stands tall, speaks with confidence and is always well dressed. She is friendly with everyone and remembers each person’s areas of interests and birthday. Is she actually good at her job? No one questioned it; all her colleagues assumed that she must be. Until one day she failed. Her division came in under plan for the year while all the other divisions surpassed plan in both profit and gross sales. Yet in the annual review and promotions process, Patty was one of the two people promoted. Falling forward, that’s Patty.

Do you know of someone like Patty? I worked with Patty early in my career and the lessons she taught me by example have been valuable ever since. Instead of fearing failure, she behaved as if success is hers to claim. She dove into new possibilities, took risks and came out of failure with innovative ideas on how to improve. Here are the key points that I gained from observing her on how to fall forward instead of down:

Be prepared – Patty came to work each day fully mentally and physically ready to shine. Confident, well groomed and happy to engage.

Be interested in others – you can learn from others, help them, have fun and gain a supportive network in the process.

Stretch – Say yes to the new assignment/project and then learn how to do to it. You can only improve if you take on new projects. Seek help and ask questions.

Don’t be afraid to fail – the fear of failure can hold you back from taking the risks that can advance your goals. Not trying is a recipe for guaranteed mediocrity in the long run because you can only advance if you move from where you are now. However, be aware that there is always potential for missing the mark, so prepare contingency plans in case they are needed.

Admit your mistakes – learn from them and use the insights to help you improve. The sooner you deal with what didn’t go as planned, the faster you can analyze what happened and use the new understanding to leverage the current situation to make things better.

Many people live life based on avoiding making mistakes. They are afraid of falling down, but actually you can fall forward! Patty is a great example of how you can turn seeming flops into winners. Greet each day as another opportunity to grow, improve and have fun. With a mind open to looking for possibilities for the good, you are already ahead in the game. In this autumn season, also known commonly as the fall season, dare to reach for more. You won’t fall down, you can fall forward!
Personal disclosure: I included some of the highlights of what I learned from Patty into my first book, How to Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want. May you too gain from her shining example.

“I’ve come to believe that all my past failures and frustrations were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.” – Tony Robbins

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Marilyn Tam is an international selling author, speaker, entrepreneur, humanitarian and former CEO of Aveda, president of Reebok Apparel Products & Retail Group and vp of Nike and the founder and executive director of Us Foundation. She is a regular blogger on Huffington Post. Get free gifts and insights and find out about Marilyn Tam on her website, www.marilyntam.com/books.html or connect with her on Facebook. Her latest book, The Happiness Choice shows how you can live a life of happiness, health and success. It’s her way of giving back to the world for all the blessings she’s received. The Happiness Choice tells the stories and insights from Marilyn and many experts, including Jack Canfield, Joan Borysenko, Harville Hendrix, Arielle Ford and others, on how to live the life of your dreams. The book was ranked #3 top business book, and won the Silver Medal in the Global eBook Awards.

Business Tip – October 2016

mapei_sponsorProduct and services remix could get your sales moving

If your company’s sales results were a dance floor, how would it look? Are the numbers jumping off the page, dazzling you with their lively performances? Or are they slow, sluggish – perhaps even disappearing entirely? To keep the party moving, every business needs to regularly remix its line of products or services.

ctda-logo-loresThere are many potential causes of a sales slowdown. But these troubles aren’t all bad — they can help you shape your revised offerings. Start with the obvious: Are your customers drifting away? Conduct market research to find out whether they still like what you’re selling or if their needs have changed. Evolution is normal, so be ready to adjust your menu to keep pace.

bt-ctda

CTDA membership increases your opportunities to network – and travel. This group of CTDA members enjoyed a trade mission to Turkey in 2014.

There are a few telling market research questions that are key to successful market research. Ask the consumer for his or her biggest challenges/ frustrations regarding your product, i.e. ceramic tile, and what those challenges are costing them. Next ask what goals in the near future they have regarding your product. Present your product (which would solve their challenges) and ask if they would be interested in the product and how much would it be worth to them. Finally confirm the best method of marketing by asking for the consumer’s preferred method to receive information regarding your product.

Also look into how long you’ve been offering the same products or services, and whether you’ve saturated the market. Some things have enduring value, but demand for others can wane as new products take the spotlight. Regular evaluations can help you decide whether you should:

Test a product or service in a different market or geographic area,

“Reinvent” a product or service (for instance, by repackaging or renaming it), or

Discontinue it.

Finally, don’t ignore the economy – both national and local. Market conditions can influence the sales of even the strongest products or services. Try to bolster the strongest ones, but also consider discontinuing weak ones or adding new ones that reflect the strength of the local economy. In an economic downturn, you may also find that reinventing your weak products will increase their sales; package them differently or price them competitively and you may see an increase in sales.

An effective remix of your products or services can turn a sad song into a happy tune.

CTDA helps you succeed in your business through a variety of programs and services that include educational opportunities, webinars, and discounts on shipping, client collection services, telephone charges, auto rentals, and more. CTDA offers networking and relationship-building opportunities through participation in Total Solutions Plus all-industry conference and Coverings annual trade show. Membership in CTDA also increases your national exposure and gives you access to the annual membership survey, a valuable resource to evaluate your company in terms of profit improvement, employee compensation, distribution and company performance. The CTDA website, CTDA Educational Opportunities, Weekly Newsletters and TileDealer Blog are all free resources that will “keep you in the loop” as well. CTDA is always looking for ways to improve the benefits of membership. To learn more about membership, please contact info@ctdahome.org or 630-545-9415 visit the website at www.ctdahome.org. Like CTDA on Facebook and Twitter @Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA). 

Business Tip – September 2016

bus-rauschWhat’s on your bucket list versus what’s in your bucket

By Steve Rausch, industry consultant

Many folks spend time thinking about, and developing a fantastic “bucket list” about where they want to go on vacations and what they want to see and do. Yet those same folks rarely put this much effort into their business or work life. It doesn’t matter if you are the owner of a company or just an hourly employee, you should be spending some time working on your “business bucket list.” I have several starting suggestions below for you to consider.

There’s nothing wrong with having a “to-do list,” but consider adding a more important list, a “to think about” list. On this ongoing list you record the thoughts, ideas, and concepts you want to think about to help improve what you do in business to earn your living.

What about spending time improving your business skills? If you are the owner of the company, maybe you want to take a course at a local college on modern business management practices. If you’re the office manager, maybe consider a class on improving your business accounting skills. Many of you are installers, obviously, and there are a range of opportunities to improve your knowledge of the products you use daily and the skills you use to install those products. (Editor’s note: Consider attending a NTCA Tile & Stone Workshop or CTEF Educational Program when they roll through your area, an industry conference, take part in a NTCA Webinar or visit NTCA University to brush up on some skills and knowledge. Visit www.tile-assn.com for more information on these opportunities, many of them free.) Knowledge does cost in terms of both your time and sometimes your money, however, the lack of knowledge costs far exceed the costs of staying current in your skills. One of my favorite statements is “IF you believe you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, where will you find the time to go back and fix the problem?”

What about spending time improving your communications skills?  The first key to good communication is to have a consistent way to gather information, knowledge, experiences and then a system that works for you to remember it, store it and have it available so that you can use it. And preparation is the key. I tried using 3” x 5” cards, however, that didn’t give me the ability to efficiently store and recall data. I now use a softcover-bound notebook so I have a permanent record. If you are using a smart phone or laptop, consider trying a program called Evernote (evernote.com), which not only takes your notes and stores them, but allows you access from multiple locations.

Everything you do somehow is affected by and depends upon proper communications, so plan to spend time weekly improving these skills. People quickly judge you by your spoken or written words; make sure you communicate that you are a person worth spending time with.

Now finally, I want to share four words with you that I learned years ago in a course I took that has returned value to me every single month since I took that class:

Interest. Sharpen your curiosity and your interest in life, work, and people. Those are the big subjects: life, work, and people. What about life? The questions you might have about life and the mysteries of life. What about work? Develop questions about how to improve where you spend so much of your life, earning your living. And finally, what about people and human behavior? This skill will make everything else clear.

Fascination. NOW, go from being interested to being fascinated. Interested people want to know, Does it work? Fascinated people want to know, How does it work? What goes on below the surface? I can see that it works, but what makes it work?  Develop your ability to ask great questions.

Sensitivity. Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes (www.success.com/article/how-to-be-more-empathetic-in-conversations). Try to feel what they feel. Try to hurt like they hurt. Have sympathy and compassion. Sensitivity is trying to understand where someone might be at the moment. The reason that they’re angry may not be obvious. Many times when folks lash out at someone, they are really angry at themselves or another situation and it just flows out in the wrong direction. The biggest lesson I’ve learned here is how to prevent this from happening FROM ME towards others.

Knowledge. So we’ve got interest, we’ve got fascination, and we’ve got sensitivity. Here’s one more word: knowledge. You just have to know. Collect knowledge in your journal, from your ongoing education. Fill up your mental and spiritual and emotional bank (www.success.com/article/15-daily-routines-that-heighten-emotional-intelligence) so that it becomes like an unending reservoir to draw from. Then take the time and effort to SHARE your knowledge with others. Consider becoming the trainer who teaches others those same skills you’ve worked so hard to learn.  Maybe even spend a few minutes writing a magazine article about what you’ve learned!

Steve Rausch has been involved in the tile and flooring business for over 30 years and is currently an industry consultant specializing in sales, marketing, and interpreting technical issues in understandable terms. You can contact Steve at Rauschsteve@comcast.net or 404-281-2218.

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