How would you react if your ability to reach current or future customers was blocked and your income was unavailable for use because your opinions did not align with a narrative promoted by those in power? This is Part 1 of a fascinating two-part...
How would you react if your ability to reach current or future customers was blocked and your income was unavailable for use because your opinions did not align with a narrative promoted by those in power? This is Part 1 of a fascinating two-part interview Linda did with James Staake, Owner and COO of Your American Flag Store. James experienced the full force attack of big tech cancel culture, all because he produced various patriotic, custom ordered flags. Listen to the story of how this assault impacted his business, hurt his family, and how he has chosen to rise above the attacks to not only survive, but to thrive.
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Linda J. Hansen: Welcome. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of The Prosperity 101 Breakroom Economics Podcast. My name is Linda J. Hansen, your host and the author of Prosperity 101, Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck, and the creator of the Breakroom Economics online course. The book, the course, and the entire podcast library can be found on prosperity101.com.
I seek to connect boardroom to breakroom and policy to paycheck by empowering and encouraging employers to educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs. My goal is to help people understand the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity, and how to protect their prosperity by becoming informed, involved, and impactful. I believe this will lead to greater employee loyalty, engagement, and retention, and to an increased awareness of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society. Listen each week to hear from exciting guests and be sure to visit prosperity101.com.
Thank you for joining with me today for the first part of a very interesting and educational two-part interview with my guest, James Staake. James is the owner and COO of Your American Flag Store based in Harriman, Tennessee. James has been the target of corporate cancel culture, which threatened to destroy his business and his family's livelihood. James, like many small business owners in America today, has suffered greatly due to financial and social media pressures and cancellations forced upon him by corporate giants who wield power through agendas in support of policies that not only hurt businesses in America, but tend to destroy the lives of business owners and their families as they work to overcome the hurdles caused by the powerful regimes.
In this, our first interview, James and I will discuss how he and his company were targeted in our current cancel culture, and he will share how this affected the business and his family. Many people would never have survived the onslaught of multiple challenges that James faced, but he did. And in our second episode, which will follow next week, we will discuss the action steps James took to not only survive but thrive, and we will give suggestions so you can do the same, regardless of your business or situation. Thank you for joining with me, James. Welcome.
James Staake: Thanks for having me.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, your story is so unique, but yet similar to many who have struggled amidst our cancel culture time in America. Could you tell us, first, what led you to start Your American Flag Store?
James Staake: Well, four years ago, my son was playing with his friends outside our house. We were having a sporting event at our house. My wife and I were being hosts. And a couple of the dads were just in the garage, and Max comes around on his bike and decides to pitch us a business opportunity or idea. I've been a carpenter for the last 20 something years, 25 years. My wife has been an artist her entire life. So, Max asked if he could start a business where he and I would make wood flags together, wood American flags together, and his mom would put artwork. We didn't really take it all that seriously. We thought it was a great idea. I mean, it was a great idea.
But he was persistent, the next day he woke up, still had the idea on his mind. He wanted to get flag made. So, he and I got the wood that we needed and we made that flag that afternoon. Later on that day, we handed it over to my wife. She took it over, put some artwork on it. And we wrapped that flag up in our first weekend. That Monday, we had a bunch of pictures of it, just as a family project, we weren't really looking at it as a business. We were just looking at it as a cool little family project that we did. And now keep in mind, in Max's head it was absolute business from day one, although his intention was to make a flag so he could sell more. He didn't want to make a piece of art for our home, where Ginger and I were more, "What's the worst that could happen from it? We make an American flag for our house."
So, it was a win-win for us. We got to spend time with our boy and create something for our house. So, we didn't expect it, but after we put the flag on Facebook, four or five of our friends bought, actually I think six of our friends bought. They all wanted their own version of it, their own different artwork, and so we did that. So, within the first two weeks of us making a flag, we had six or seven different flag designs. We put pictures of those on social media, that turned into about 30 orders. And we're only two weeks into this.
So, my wife and I, we thought, "Well, we're not doing anything else with our weekends, why don't we see how this would go at a local show in the little town that we're in?" And it's called Valley Center in California, they have a big festival every year, a pumpkin patch festival, where people from all over Southern California come and get pumpkins and do the pumpkin patch rides and a maze, and all of that stuff, it's a really cool event. So, we set up a booth there and the sales were unbelievable, but the response that we got was really what convinced my wife and I that this could really be something special.
We had tons of customers just wanting to buy what we had already made. Then a lot of them were asking us, "Could you put this on it?" Or, "Could you put that on it?" Some very complicated ideas for designs that people had, involving lasers where we cut out stars and have lights behind them, to just different types of artwork. So, we took all of that from that first event, by the end of the event, we had sold about $8,000 worth of flags. So, we knew that we really did have something special, so we started to put a little bit more of our time in taking what those customers had mentioned at that first event and making more flags that represented more views, more people's ideas and passions and that kind of thing.
So, the next year that we had, I think we had about 20 flags displayed rather than just 10, and the sales reflected that too. But still we had people saying, "Could you do this on a flag?" Or, "Could you do that on a flag?" So, we would do those ones and we'd take those to the next show. So, after doing that for about two years, we realized that there was no end to the designs. Everybody, either they liked what we did or wanted a little twist on it. And because of my wife being an artist, I mean, every single flag is painted by hand and brush, so every single star. She's done, I think, 400,000 stars by hand now, just her hands.
Linda J. Hansen: Amazing. It's truly amazing.
James Staake: It is. And she's in the art studio right now, painting flags. So, because of her, we were able to really do something that nobody else could do. Every time we went to a show, we took a certain design. Sure, lots of people liked the design and bought it as is, but a lot of people saw something else in the design, where they would want to add something that personalized it to them. And that's what really made us stand out among everybody else.
When we first started, there was probably about 20 flag making companies in the country really, and today there's hundreds, but what really makes us stand apart and still to this day, we're the only ones that do the fully, everything is hand done from start to finish. So, people would just ask for just very small customization like a, "Don't tread on me," flag. People would want us to put, maybe their family name on it. Some people just wanted their flag with just their name on it, like ours would be the Staake family.
So, that's really what made our brand, I guess you will, special, is that we were very custom. It was one family to another family, not necessarily business to a family, but really our family to another family, and other businesses that bought with their logo and that kind of thing on it. So, that allowed us to have a relationship with our customers that, I think, prepared us for the growth that we saw and being able to transfer from a face-to-face business that we had built a business on prior to COVID. But all those conversations, we're talking tens of thousands, we went from San Diego to Reno, Nevada, to South Dakota, to Sturgis, with the flags.
I mean, we literally built our own booth, hung our flags that we made, in the booth that we made, and traveled all over the country with our family on about a two year adventure. It was awesome. It was a lot of hard work. We didn't have a single day off in our first two-and-a-half, three years. Our kids worked their butts off. They'd go to school. Right after school on Friday, we'd bring them home. We'd load up the truck. We'd go to a show. Work our butts off all weekend, not get home until Sunday, one, two in the morning. Kids would be asleep in the truck. We'd carry them inside, wake them up for school Monday morning and start making the flags that we made during the week.
Linda J. Hansen: That is such a inspirational story, and I think it reflects so many small business owners, how they start. I mean, even if you think of Hobby Lobby, David Green talks about the beginning of Hobby Lobby and their kids were out helping to put these things together in their garage. It was a family project. And I know my family, we used to have a woodworking and craft business many, many years ago. And the kids knew how to sand all the items. They knew how to put bows on or how to put the little stickers on for reorders. I mean, it was great. It was a family business and we traveled around a lot. We did shows as well.
We chose not to continue with that, because God had us in other areas of enterprise and service, but it was a great opportunity for our family to learn. And for those who are starting small businesses, they all know exactly what you went through. So, you were working very hard and building this up, then COVID hit, and there's a couple changes that happened. One, COVID hit, so you could not do in-person sales anymore. And two, you moved to Tennessee. So, were those two at the same time? Or tell the listeners what that story is.
James Staake: We actually met in Las Vegas, a couple, they told us Tennessee and how great it was. There was just something about their story that really stuck with Ginger and I, that we started looking into Tennessee. And so, all the time we're driving around the country, we're trying to think, California's not the most business-friendly state. And if we're really going to grow the company, all of this extra money we're paying for it to be in California, could be used for growing the company, or time off that we could just spend with the kids.
So, we decided that the best thing for us and the business is to move to Tennessee, before we could do that, COVID hit. And business is perfect, we're literally living the American dream. So, we had to transfer from the face-to-face sales to online marketing with Facebook and Google and that kind of thing. We didn't have a lot of luck with Google in the beginning, so we put all of our efforts into Facebook. Facebook, we did very good. We duplicated and then started improving on the numbers with Facebook, because we no longer had to go to these far away places on weekends and sell and set up a booth. Our booth took a half a day to set up and a half a day to break down. So, all of that extra time where we're not driving and setting up and selling, now we can just make the flag, and the sales are happening through social media. So, Facebook really, outside of them canceling people, being prejudicial to people and really doing all that kind of stuff, it has a great platform.
Linda J. Hansen: So, you said Facebook has a great platform prior to their cancellation and the things that they were doing to businesses such as yours.
James Staake: Yeah.
Linda J. Hansen: Let's take a leap. So, your business was growing, COVID hit, you had decided to move to Tennessee. So, I take it now you're in Tennessee.
James Staake: Yeah.
Linda J. Hansen: Which I'd like to point out, because this podcast is really focused on helping people understand how policies affect their families, their businesses, everything. There were clear policies in California that were not business-friendly, that made it harder for you to do your business, to spend time with your family, to raise your children the way you wanted to, so you moved to Tennessee. And all of this is happening, so the change of COVID, the change of Tennessee, but your business is picking up because you are marketing online and through social media. So, tell us what happened with Facebook. When did you notice there was a problem with Facebook?
James Staake: Okay. So, January of last year we saw a huge dip in overall activity. So, for about nine months before that, or I'm sorry, about five months ... No, about nine months before that, we were about nine months into COVID. We'd completely transferred now over to everything that we have is online now. And it was working really, really well. We get here to Tennessee.
In January of 2021, we noticed something was going on with our advertising. It was not performing the way that it had done all the months before that. So, figure out why, and it's because our ads are no longer showing on Facebook. So, we don't have any way to show our business anymore, because we were excluded from the platform because what seemed like our political view.
Linda J. Hansen: How did you know you were no longer showing up? How were you testing that? And how can you help other business owners to know if the same thing might be happening to them, and they don't even know it yet?
James Staake: So, the Facebook marketing platform has all kinds of analytics that show you who's clicking on what, how long they're spending on the links that they go to. So, you can look at all of that. And it was real clear that one minute, one day, we're having a ton of activity through clicks and click throughs, meaning they're clicking and they're going and spending time on our website, not just seeing a website and saying, "Oh, wait, I don't want to go here." And they leave. So, it shows that they were on the website for maybe 10 seconds or so, clearly they're not interested.
But then you also have those clicks where it'll show that someone was on your website for 20 or 30 minutes. So, you know that they're shopping, they're looking, they're interested. And we started seeing that we weren't even getting clicked for 10 seconds. There was just nothing. It was just crickets. So, we knew people were not seeing our ads anymore and people were not responding. It just wasn't happening. So, we got a message from Facebook saying that our ads were suspended because we had products, which they were against their community standard.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, and I-
James Staake: Now, for the three years before, or two years before this, all the same product, we didn't add any new products. It's been the same entire time. Well, for whatever reason, at that point in time, the rules changed and we were apparently going against those rules.
Linda J. Hansen: Okay. So, this was January of 2021 and I know in conversation I had with you prior to recording, we talked about how the times of January 6th and what happened at the US Capitol and what happened in the media after that, likely had an effect on this in terms of what you were allowed to advertise. And you had several patriotic flags with images of people, places, things, names, everything, but you think that possibly one in particular, flag that you made, may have triggered this response from Facebook. Could you tell the listeners what that flag was?
James Staake: The flag that we believe triggered it, was our Trump flag. Now, the Trump flag, we did not set out to make it. We had a customer call us, and as I said before, we're custom, that's what we got known for, is if you want something special on a flag, that's really what we do. So, a customer called and asked us if we would put President Trump on a flag. And I want to make it clear, I would put any president, any a president throughout our history, if you want it on a flag, that's what we're here to do. So, this particular customer wanted President Trump on a flag.
We made it for them. We sent it to them. They took a picture of it. They tagged our business saying thank you to us for making that flag. Then that is what triggered, we feel, the whole thing. After that moment, any Trump flags that we had, any, "Don't tread on me," flags, several of our military tribute flags were taken down, our Christian flag. These are things as early as last week, I posted on our social media, if people want to go there. You can see there's a video of me taking a video of the screen, scrolling down on all of the products, our flags, that they've canceled.
It's like that airman flag. It's an air force tribute flag. We have our multicultural flag. Our business has nothing to do with conservative, liberal, it's American. One of the flags that we wanted to make is a flag that reflects the melting pot culture that we live in. And I didn't actually come up with the idea, a friend of mine from high school did. She fell in love with a guy from Britain. He loved her so much, he moved all the way over here. They started a family here. It's a beautiful story. And she wanted it to be reflected in their home, for their daughter to grow up. So she said, "Will you make me a flag that has both the American flag, that's half American flag, half the Union Jack?" And of course we would, their daughter's going to grow up in a house with a flag that shows all the culture.
So, we made that. When we displayed pictures of that, we had people from every walk of life you could possibly imagine. We're talking from Argentina, from Mexico, Canada, Italy, South Africa. I mean, I could go on. I think there's 30 different countries of Americans who wanted to reflect their culture in their home, the melting pot that their home is. Now keep in mind, we always put the American flag on top and it shows the canton and all 13 stripes. We never take anything away, any important aspect of our flag away. And we use the other part of the flag to incorporate the other culture that they're from.
We even made one of those flags, we had a customer call in and ask if we would make them a 50/50 American and gay pride flag. Of course, we made it. There's pictures of that on our website. We're not about making flags that we necessarily support. Everybody's vision of patriotism is different, and that's the kind of company that we want to be known for. So, yes, we'll make a flag that supports anybody's passion. Then Facebook decided to take that flag down and cancel it. So, the melting pot flag, a multicultural flag is somehow racist. When you try to figure it out, it just completely blows your mind.
You're taking literally, as far as I'm concerned, some of the best parts of our culture, the service people, the Christians ... And again, if someone were to ask me to do a Jewish flag or whatever, we're not excluding anyone from this American ... What do they call it? The American experiment. Everybody's welcome. And our company reflects that. So, people like to pick one little thing that we did, and then say that that's all we do, blow it up and make it seem like we're some kind of company, or people, or family that we're not. My wife is an artist and I'm an artist. All we want to do is make American flags.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, exactly. But you are representative of so many people in America today, who just want to do their job, but they just want to serve their customers, provide for their family. And when they may have a business that promotes patriotism or America first or honors the military, they want to do that because of their sense of national pride. I mean, we who have grown up in America, most of us understand the beauty of America, that we truly are, like you said, the melting pot, but we have been the land of opportunity and the land of freedom and the beacon light of freedom for the world. And there's a reason for that.
And it did not come about by having business owners being canceled, by having their communication, their speech, their art, their business practices being canceled. Now, you saw this happen with Facebook, your advertisements were canceled, your designs were taken down off of the internet, so you were not able to reach customers, but what happened? Something happened as well with PayPal. And that's another whole story that people need to understand. Another level of cancellation, another level of difficulty for you to proceed with your business. What happened with PayPal?
James Staake: Okay. So, after Facebook, news stations picked up the story and we made national headlines and that created some orders. I don't think big tech liked that, because they were trying to keep us from getting orders. And keep in mind, we're still on the big tech platforms, we haven't moved away from them yet, so they can monitor what they're doing and are monitoring what we're doing.
So ,they're seeing all these sales and the next thing they can do, because now we don't need Facebook or Google or any of them to advertise, we had a really, really good couple weeks and it seemed like we were out of the woods and everything was going to be fine. Then PayPal comes in and takes all the money and says, "You can't have any of it, but you need to make all of the flags that you've sold, you need to deliver them to the customer. And we need to get proof from the customer that they've received it. And then we'll give you your money."
Linda J. Hansen: So, basically PayPal held all of your order money that-
James Staake: Correct.
Linda J. Hansen: Everything that came in from customers, ordering flags. And I understand this was between 80 and $90,000, correct?
James Staake: At one point it was $103,000.
Linda J. Hansen: That is an incredible cash flow shortage when you are a small business.
James Staake: Yeah.
Linda J. Hansen: And you were trying to buy product to create these beautiful flags for your customers. And how did you find out that PayPal was doing that to your business?
James Staake: We, still on literally a high from being featured on news and we were getting literally hundreds of emails from people lifting us up and telling us, "Stay in the fight." And we were literally on that high. So, I go to buy the wood to put in an order. I mean, in that week, we sold normally what would be about 10 months worth of orders for us, in just a short week. So, while my wife was a little bit panicked, I thought, "This is a great opportunity, because we're going to be able to save a lot of money on delivery fees of material, on bulk order for all of them. So, let's go order all of our material and make the biggest order we've ever done."
It was like a turning point really, like a milestone. I mean, this was the first time that we were going to order enough material that they had to send a truck to deliver it to us. We weren't picking it up in our own truck and loading it and unloading it. We had made it. So, we call them to have them deliver the load. And this is a company that we've worked with before in getting our lumber, but I have to drive to Georgia from Tennessee to go down there and get it. It's the only place within 1,000 miles I can get this quality of wood.
So, I call them and say, "Hey, I want to place an order." They're like, "Wow, what? Something's good with you guys." I said, "Yeah, let's do this. Let's take this wood here." They run the credit card and it was declined. So, I say, "No, you got to run that thing again. There's more money than I've ever had in my life in there, right now. So, run that thing again." They say, "James, I'm sorry, it's not working." So, we call PayPal and say, "Hey, what's going on? We're trying to order this wood so we can get these orders going." And they said, "No. Nope. Nope. You don't have any of your money. You need to go do everything that you're going to do, but you can't have the money that you've been given to do it with."
Now, keep in mind, when you're talking about this many orders, we're talking $15,000 in shipping fees. So, it's not like, well, just make the flags and ship them out. What's it several hundred dollars to get it out? No. And we're not a small business, we're a micro business. At this point, it's me and my wife, that's it. I make every part of the flag and do it. She does every bit of the artwork. We pack them together. We print the labels together. I stick them on. And we drive them to UPS and drop it. It's literally just that.
So, when PayPal cut off that money, we definitely needed help. And we had people willing to help. We couldn't afford to pay help. We got real lucky and the Center for American Liberty got wind of our story, that Harmeet Dhillon organization, that fights for the little guy. So, she found out, she gave us a call and wanted to know what was going on. We told her. She assigned a few attorneys to help us out. They started dealing with PayPal for us and were fighting that fight for us, so that we could come into the shop and get things started. They were so great there. They knew that they were holding our money, so the lawyers there bought flags and mailed us money, so that we'd have the money to start getting up again. So, that in the meantime, she would go fight with PayPal and get PayPal to release us our money. These are awesome people.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, that's great. And it just shows too, that so often when someone is faced with a challenge, there's often somebody right there to help. We don't often think about that. We think we're going through something all by ourselves. I'm sure you and your wife thought, "What are we going to do? This is insane." But as God would provide, some people came in to help you. So, in our next episode-
James Staake: That never got lost on us. I'm glad that you mentioned that, because when that first happened, when Facebook happened, we literally said, "What did we do? What did we do to deserve this? We've been doing everything right. We've been working our butts off. What in the world could we have done?" And we didn't know that in the weeks to follow, that all of a sudden Fox News wants to tell our story, Newsmax. And then we started seeing that God put us on a rocky path, but he put some angels in that path for us to carry us along the way.
And then when you see that, when these people come in ... I mean, you're one of them, when all these different people come in to help get our story out there, it's real hard for anyone on the outside to see how this cannot be an accident. These things are happening all in an order that if any of it happened in a different order, the result would've been different. It had to happen in such this unique order. And what are the chances of these companies like a Fox News and a Newsmax and Center for American Liberty, all coming in, and not just coming in, but coming in at the right times, in the right order? It's just that God put us on a path.
When the times get hard, me and my wife just say to each other, "You know what? We're here because..." Don't make your own plan. I got news for people, don't try making your own plan. God's plan is going to be the plan that happens for you. And sometimes, you just got to have faith in it and just go with it and go with it wholeheartedly. And if you do, I mean, in our case and cases where I've seen people just rely on their faith, it always seems like it always works out.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, it does.
James Staake: It definitely has for us.
Linda J. Hansen: Yeah. It reminds me of Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good, for them that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose." He does have a way of working things together for good and when we look back on things, we can see how it all fit together, like you're just saying. And for so many people across the country and really across the world, they've faced such oppression, whether it is through mandates, policy mandates, health mandates, whether it's through suppression of their rights, denial of their rights through social media or through their speech, their business rights, through regulatory policies, economic policies that are strangling their business. There's all these different ways that people are being harmed by the overreach of big government.
And your story is such a good highlight to it because, what were you trying to do? You and your wife, you just want to make flags. Your little son, he had a great idea. It's turned into this amazing family business that has blessed many people around the world, really, with flags that are very meaningful to them. And it helps promote things like God, family, country, that have made America great.
You mentioned that people came in your path and were able to help you solve this problem. And in our second episode, that's what I want to follow up on. So, for the listeners, I know that they'll want to know, what exactly were you able to do that helped you to emerge from this mess? But also, what would be your recommendations for them, if they might be in a same situation? And then thirdly, what are your plans moving forward as you have really grown through this experience, but also grown and have plans for helping other businesses and individuals in the future? So, if you would, I'd love to have you come back and in our second part interview, we'll discuss your action items and what you did to survive this chaos. So, James, do you have any other closing comments before we close the first part of our interview and just close on that high note of how you knew God had something in mind when this all happened?
James Staake: I think that's a perfect thing to stop with on both parts of the story, because it has been throughout and it doesn't start with just our business, on buying a home out, moving, the whole thing. I think from the very beginning, we felt that really wanted us, was guiding us towards this business. We just felt it. And in a strange way, the business has brought a whole lot of struggles. Working with your spouse, there's really no time off, and it creates a whole dynamic that I definitely wouldn't recommend it for everybody, but in our situation it only brought us stronger. It's proven how strong that we can be. It's really made our family a much stronger family.
Our kids have seen examples of how God is great, and that if you just go forward and you keep on ... I mean, there were times when we were going around the country, where we were putting all of our money into this next show, and if the show wasn't good, that was it, it was over. We were going home and asking our old bosses if we could come back, but it just never happened. Every time we would pray and make sure that God knew how this was our intent and he blessed us with great shows. We never had a single bad show. Every single time, it wasn't just a show that was successful in sales, it was a successful show in just the people we got to meet. Our customers are very special. And so, we feel that God not just putting Newsmax and Fox News and Harmeet Dhillon on our path, every single customer that we've gained along the way has been unbelievably supportive of what we're doing.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, and we thank them for supporting your company through this time. Well, we'll be continuing this conversation. So, for right now, thank you, James.
James Staake: Thank you.
Linda J. Hansen: And if people want to reach out to you and your company, what's the website? Could you please give the website?
James Staake: The website is youramericanflagstore.com.
Linda J. Hansen: All right, youramericanflagstore.com. Listeners, please go there. Look at all the flags they have and maybe order a special one for you or your family. So, thank you.
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