April 10, 2020

Heeding the Call - Free Enterprise Leaders Rise to the Challenge Amid the COVID-19 Crisis – with Tom Rothstein [Ep. 15]

Heeding the Call - Free Enterprise Leaders Rise to the Challenge Amid the COVID-19 Crisis – with Tom Rothstein [Ep. 15]

This timely episode was recorded in March of 2020 amidst social distancing, quarantines, and the war against the coronavirus (COVID-19). Businesses large and small are heeding the call to help our country at this critical time. New technologies and supply chains are emerging as a result of this crisis, and our free enterprise system encourages and allows the private sector to rise and meet challenges quickly and efficiently. 

Listen as Tom Rothstein shares how one of his companies, PurLite, is joining the fight by providing sanitization equipment to meet the growing demand.  In addition, Tom shares tips and ideas for effectively communicating with employees regarding policies that affect their paychecks. He feels employers need to be intentional in communications with employees, now more than ever, and that communication will be key to business survival. Be intentional. Listen today! 

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Linda J. Hansen: Alright, today I welcome a friend and special guest, Tom Rothstein. Tom Rothstein is the founder and co-owner, he is the president of SeQuel Response, a direct marketing agency based in the Minneapolis area, Eden-Prairie, Minnesota actually. They have about 40 employees and it was about 10 years ago, Tom, you started that company?

Tom Rothstein: That's correct, yeah. My partner Jay Carroll and I started it with, I think seven employees about 10 years ago and now I think we're just over 40 people, so pretty exciting.

Linda: Yeah and you, I know you just have your anniversary year this year and it's just really exciting. For those of you listening, Tom is a good friend, a colleague on several projects and I'm just so thankful to bring him to the podcast right now because he has a unique insight. But Tom is also a part-owner in two other companies that provide eco-friendly solutions to improve our quality of life. They are Nature Star and PurLite. Tom, I'd love for you to introduce Nature Star and PurLite to our listeners.

Tom: Sure. Thanks, Linda, again for the opportunity today. Nature Star is a resin-based company which we have the technology to replace plastic today in certain applications. And so, it's very much front-page news what plastic is doing to our environment relative to bags and straws and cutlery and a number of certain plastic bottles. All this stuff ends up in the landfill. And because recycling just can't keep up or the economics don't make sense for people to as a recycler as a business because there is just no profit in it, most of the products that we think we're recycling do end up in the landfill. So, we, through our chemist John Oakley, have come up with a formulation using a starch-based product that's completely organic that, for instance, our plastic bags perform very similar to our current plastic bag, but they'll be dissolved in the ground at probably eight to twelve weeks. So, it becomes food for the microorganisms in the ground. And so, it's amazing that we have all this, a 100% biodegradable and compostable product that we can use in several applications. And so, it's pretty exciting.

Linda: It is exciting. And to our listeners, I would just say that I have personally touched, held, used some of these products and they are amazing. And I know in one of my previous podcast episodes, I was with Steve Moore, he was talking about how certain people do not want us to ever use plastic straws. But, to those of us who have used cardboard straws, we hate the taste, they don't function well and to everybody listening, I want to say the Nature Star straws are amazing. They actually work just like a plastic straw, but we can know that we can put it in our backyard compost pile and it would be an ecological friendly solution that actually works. So, congratulations to you and your teammates at Nature Star. It's really fascinating and much, much needed. 

Tom: Yes, thank you. That whole industry, I mean, and when you think of the eco-friendly solution whether it's recycled paper, when you think of my industry, we are a large direct mail and digital agency, SeQuel. And so, there was a big push to use recyclable stock to take on a moral conscience. Everybody was on board until it costs more and so, everybody wants to help and go and pass that money. So, we recognized that with Nature Star and it's either been too expensive or a performance issue with some of the alternatives that are out there to plastic today. I think Nature Star has been able to kind of bridge that from a performance standpoint and a cost standpoint. So, it's pretty exciting, I think, today to see where that company goes. 

Linda: Well it really is and it just seems to be the perfect time to--

Tom: Yeah absolutely.

Linda: If people would like information, what is the Nature Star website?

Tom: It's just naturestar.com so it's just how it sounds I guess would be the way to--. Sure.

Linda: Okay, great. And then, the other company I'd like to promote here too and talk about especially in light of we're recording this interview in the midst of coronavirus quarantine and social distancing, self-isolation, all of that. But the PurLite sanitization units, could you tell us more about PurLite.

Tom: Yeah, what an exciting product. The technology is not necessarily that new, using UVC light today. When you're in a hospital as a patient and once the patient leaves the room to go home, they wheel in a large, it's almost like a robot but it's got UVC light reactors all over it and so that will spend three hours in that room flashing the walls in the room, anything in that room totally disinfecting that room and replacing chemicals and other things that they use to do to scrub down that room to disinfect and sanitize it. So that technology obviously and also the US Navy has been using UVC light as a cleaning solution and sanitizing solution. And so, we have taken that similar technology but put it more in a conventional size. And so, it's probably an oversized toaster as the size we have today, but the applications are far-reaching and like you mentioned, with the COVID-19 today and corona, it couldn't be more timely as a sanitizing solution. So, when you think of your cellphone and your car keys and your sunglasses and your remote control or your mouse and your computer, there is all of these things that need to be disinfected and sanitized. And this simply PurLite machine, you put that item in there and it has a 360-degree cleaning solution. So, within 30 seconds your phone is completely disinfected or whatever the item is in there. So, it's pretty amazing and we're having a lot of different discussions with, like in Homeland Security has a potential solution for some of the disinfecting of the masks because it does kill corona. So, lots of opportunities beyond just the normal business day to day function that it can provide.

Linda: Exactly. Part of the reason we timed this interview now, although we've been scheduling this for quite a while, but we bumped it up to now is because of the coronavirus and what we're seeing. As you and I discussed earlier this week, it's almost like this will be the new normal in terms of sanitization. I think we will find sanitization units at office buildings. I was even thinking of places where you have your visitor ID badges and everybody turns their badge in when they leave and things like that and it just seems like it has such great application. I took a PurLite machine over to the assisted living facility where my mom works or where my mom lives, I should say, and all of the employees now use it to sanitize their phones, their car keys, anything they bring into the building when they report to work. So, it's just one step that we can help especially at this critical time. But I know you mentioned that they can help to sanitize the masks which is just an incredible application as well. 

Tom: Yes, it is and I think you make a good point. This has become the new normal. I think corona, we will get our arms around it and we will get beyond it then the country will move forward and hopefully we'll come back to a country that we all recognize if we could get this solved quickly. But I think you're absolutely right. I think people are so sensitized now to just, Dr. Oz calls our cellphone our third hand that never gets washed. And I think that's so true that we just, we got about our day so insensitive to all of that stuff and corona just kind of put it on the frontline. And so, I think you will see the application for our PurLite machines all over the place whether you're checking into your health club, checking into a hotel, checking into an airline flight. You'll have this at the counter to just, people to use it to disinfect the pen you used to just sign for your visa charge. So, the applications are endless. We are certainly seeing it in the cosmetology's channel in the things. There are just so many applications for UVC light as a cleaning solution. 

Linda: Right, and we have talked before about how this can absolutely help in dental offices. I know I was talking with some dentists about this and they said that this would decrease their time for sanitization like remarkably which helps them save costs, helps them serve patients more quickly and effectively. It's really a fantastic technology and we thank you for bringing it forth and I'm glad that it's around especially at this time. 

Tom: Yeah, it's exciting. On the dentistry side, we are having a machine built just that would reside in your bathroom to use for consumer's retainer, their Invisalign, their toothbrush, that it would just be kind of your sanitization solution inside your bathroom which we all know has a lot of bacteria. So, the dentist channel really seems like this is going to be a game-changer. So, pretty exciting.

Linda: Right, that's great. Well as a former orthodontic patient, I hope it makes a retainer taste better. 

Tom: I know, I didn't make more of it.

Linda: You got a little flavoring with that light? Now, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you as well is because your faith, your family, your business, I mean these are all, it's part of who you are, your ethics as a person, but also your patriotism in terms of your love of country. We have shared how much we appreciate the opportunity to live in a free society, a capitalistic system where our businesses can thrive and our employees can thrive and we can help them to rise. So, as you think about how capitalism can help us emerge from this crisis, this coronavirus crisis, and this immediate downturn in this thriving economy that we've had, what are your topline thoughts?

Tom: I think it really is true. I mean I looked at the end of the solution for every economic crisis is jobs. At the end of the day, what fixing is going to be jobs and I think, we had the unemployment report came out today at 3.2 million which was a little bit lower than what they expected but certainly a significant jump. And not terribly surprised, but there is that tremendous fear that comes from that because at the core of everything is the ability to generate money, which generates commerce, which, you know, I think this new stimulus package is going to have a huge impact to just reduce fear and gain some confidence back in the American public that look at our country, it's not going to dissolve and erode. We're not going to become a third world country and I think President Trump is trying to communicate that we're going to be back on our feet sooner than later.

Linda: Right. You mentioned that the solution is jobs. And I have heard it said that liberals often, they all want jobs but they hate employers. So when you think about the regulatory environment moving forward, the tax environment moving forward, obviously this is a short term stimulus moving that we're using to kind of jumpstart the company or the country hoping that we will have a V-shaped recession and not a very deep U shape but hoping it will be a bounce down, bounce back up type of scenario. But when you think long term even for your company and companies over the last 10 years and looking forward to the next 10 years, what would you love to see government do to support your business and help your employees?

Tom: Yeah, I think that's a great point. I think one of the benefits of corona and other crisis and I think just in life that I played a lot of sports and in hockey we learned a lot more from losing than we get from winning. When you lose and you'd stop and take kind of inventory of why. When you win a lot of times it would gloss over a lot of mistakes you have made. I think when you think of our country going through this hardship and for us particularly, we are having goods made in China and other parts of the world and it becomes now critical for us to become less dependent on that. So, I think as a country, we're bringing manufacturing back to the US which is, I think, been the focus of this administration and I think long term, if we can keep jobs here and good-paying jobs here, our country is gonna be far better for that. And so, some of this hardship that we're enduring as a company and the companies I'm involved with, we had to come up with solutions that I think long term are going to be better for us and better for the country. 

Linda: Right and you bring up the whole aspect of buying American, I know that when President Trump was elected, it was buy American, hire American, build in America and I have long been an advocate of that from energy independence to manufacturing independence. We can see now with even the medical supplies and pharmaceutical industry that we've become dependent on a foreign government for our medicines which is just in my mind, criminal. And a lot of people have criticized big business but I would also say that the consumer is also at fault because yes, big business has often gone overseas to manufacture more inexpensively. But they do so because consumers have not wanted to pay the higher price. So, it's a chicken and an egg situation. So, if consumers say we value items that are made in America versus those that are made overseas, we can really help make our country strong and build our manufacturing facilities back up. The ones that are empty and the communities that have lost all of those jobs, we can build them up in new manufacturing things. I noticed you said that you're bringing a lot of things back from overseas and I know with the PurLite, you now have the ability to build the PurLite systems domestically right here in the USA and I really salute you for that and for ramping up that effort to make sure that that could be done and bring new job to the United States of America. So, you want to talk a little bit about how that decision came about and--

Tom: Yes, absolutely. I think obviously with the Trump tariffs, it motivated us even sooner and we wanted to bring that technology back here and you make a good argument. I think of we as a consumer our worst, we're guilty as charged so to speak when you talk about jobs because I think of when growing up and I got my first bike, I don't pay much more today than I did for that bike. I got, wow, when I was six years old because we can manufacture it in these third world countries. And so, these jobs are lost and as a consumer, you know, we now expect that, "Oh, I'm gonna buy the least expensive or the less expensive product." And so there comes that moral conscience that am I going to recycle? Am I going to support America, buy America, made in the USA goods? And the consumer has demonstrated time and again that they are less concerned where it's produced as much as they get the best price. And I think we're feeling the effects of that and we're trying to turn that tide.

Linda: Right, creating morals

Tom: Yes, with our two companies, Nature Star and PurLite, we're bringing domestic manufacturing on both of those and so that certainly will create jobs. We feel like the US is the leader in technology, the leader in just that when you think of the food products we're doing with Nature Star and the packaging that is involved, a lot of our clients here will want it done or have it done domestically. So, we're excited about bringing the jobs back here. We know it comes at a little higher cost. But we think that the end result will be a big win for us.

Linda: Right, well and as we educate consumers, I think possibly the coronavirus crisis is a way to educate consumers and the general public about the importance of these 'buy American, hire American, build in America' policies. You know, we have seen through history that a strong America makes for a stronger world. This is not about ignoring the needs of other countries or anything like that, but as we look at what America can provide to the rest of the world, not only with quality products and innovation but also monetarily, as America is stronger economically, we have more to share for crisis situations in other countries. I mean, a strong America makes for a strong world. So, when we really support our own country and the policies and principles that made this country great, we are really truly supporting a global community even if they have different philosophical or political ideologies than you hear in America.

Tom: Yeah, I think that's a very good point. We're a leader there and certainly the US raises all ships as we do better and our product goes up, everybody kinda floats up.

Linda: Everybody, yes we can be great leaders. I know we were just talking about educating, educating Americans through this crisis, educating them on how capitalism can carry us through. I have heard it many times on the Internet and on TV. I have seen the pictures of empty store shelves and you hear about people waiting in line for no toilet paper seems to be the thing people talk about the most. But the toilet paper, water, medical supplies, everything and you hear people that have lived in Cuba or Venezuela or the former USSR or these countries that have not had the freedoms we have and they have said this is what it's like to live under those economic systems. Why would America want to go there? So, I think this is a great wake up call for people to see this could happen to us if we don't pay attention and protect the values that have made this country great. I know you work hard to educate your employees on a variety of subjects. You told me that you have lunch and learn meetings. You have mentioned that you discussed topics like wellness, fitness, financial education. You even had one on the importance of good sleep. You really try to empower your employees and that's of course what I try to do with the Prosperity 101™ programs. Whether it is Prosperity 101 Breakroom Economics™ online courses or we do a workshop or we work one-on-one with the employers to discuss how to explain to their employees how policy affects their paychecks. These are things that I think are important and I feel that employers are, as I have said before, somewhat the tip of the sphere to help employees understand the importance of our constitution, of our rights as US citizens and how that allows us all to prosper. I mean you can be an entrepreneur at businesses you choose because you live in America. How do you look at your responsibility as an employer helping your employees understand these principles?

Tom: Yeah I think that's really well stated and you had mentioned the lunch and learn for sure. I think it's a sense of just empowerment and education. The more they know, the better to informed they are to make their decisions. We're not trying to shape their decisions as much as give them the information that may be the right decision for them. And so, I look at today, I think you're right. I have kids in college and they all are very liberal from their social thinking. I think what happens is because of some of the social positions we take on either side it ends up, the financial side of it just gets rolled up underneath that and gets thrown out, unfortunately. And so, the message there is once they start getting a job and they see how much money is going to taxes and what it really costs to have an independent life so to speak, that we're just trying to hold the government accountable to say "Look at, let's make better use of the funds we use." We're trying to employ as an employer, more people, adding more jobs, paying good wages. But taxation's a big issue. Minnesota is a pretty heavily taxed state, and so we struggle constantly whether it's pushing back. We have a balanced budget as a state, but we're probably the top 2 or 3 taxed state in the United States. And so, we have great schools and great other things and so they always fall back that we have this because of this and it's not always that cause and effect, but they like to play that card. You had mentioned lunch and learn and I think a lot of the programs that we're bringing are for individual growth and it's around finances so we could educate them on their 401K. It's on relationship building whether it's with the teamwork within their employee or within their family network. Wellness for sure in terms of fitness and taking good care of yourself because that should lead to lower reduced costs in our healthcare. So, it's taking some of that responsibility. One of the biggest things that we drive as a company is just our level of giving. I think we feel, my partner and I, that we've been blessed with such success that has generated fruits far beyond what we thought, probably financially, that the first dollar that we make goes back to where we can help other people and we try to communicate that with our employee-supported programs doing matching programs to help fund charities that they are involved with. And so, philanthropy is a big part and at the core of our business for sure.

Linda: That is really fantastic and that's one thing that I try to help people understand that without a free market capitalistic system, we have no philanthropy. People cannot rise and make the income to give back. I mean there is no Samaritan's Purse. There is no orphanages in Africa funded by American entrepreneurs who want to give back and support those less fortunate. This is just a great example you're giving in terms of not only philanthropy but also just truly caring about the individual employees and their whole well-roundedness of their life. I feel that with Prosperity 101™ that's one of the things I tried to do as well is really help people understand how these principles that are in our constitution and policies that impact them every day, affect not just their jobs. But how does it affect their healthcare? How does it affect the education of their children? How does it affect how much they pay to travel? How much does it affect their retirement plans? All of that. I think once we can start to move the needle on education, people will begin to realize we have an amazing opportunity here in America for prosperity, for being able to live to our fullest potential. I know a former podcast guest, Dr. Michael Farris had it called the human flourishing. Basically, human flourishing can really open or can really only happen in free societies where we are allowed to use the best of ourselves to create, to grow and then like you exemplified, to share with others. So, one, I want to thank you and your partner Jay, your business partner for doing that. I mean that's a great example and to all the people who say employers are selfish and they keep it for themselves, here is a great example of someone who does not. And I think too with this coronavirus coming up, you see all of these companies stepping up to the plate to give back, to immediately retrofit manufacturing to meet the need, to donate supplies and without the ability to have that surplus through capitalism, they would not be able to help. Our government would not be seeing this private sector help. So, with that freedom, we are able to really grow. So if you were going to give three tips to employers, you can give more if you like, but three tips for employers about the importance of educating and communicating with employees regarding these economic principles of our government and how business and government work can interact together, the formation of our government with a constitution, all of that. If you were going to tell employers three reasons why this is important, what would you say?

Tom: Yeah absolutely. I think it's such a win-win. We have these lunch and learn at least once a month if not more frequent and we have employees where we bring lunch in every Thursday. And the benefit of that is just for us to build and share our thoughts and as a teammate feeling like you're part of a bigger picture. I think that's the key here. As with the education that you can bring them that you can make a difference and you talk about this free society. We get so many things because we are based on our constitution that we have taken for granted. And now with this self-quarantine and other things, we realized that jeez, my freedom is being hindered and it's at the very core of who we are. So, it takes something like this coronavirus to kinda slap us across the face to say, "Hey, boy we do have some liberties here that we should be more grateful for." And so it is awesome and I think our responsibility as a business owner to communicate that and best you can whether it's through a lunch and learn or if your company is too big and it just doesn't make, it's not feasible to do it, there is ways to send out that communication to educate your employees. I think everyone knows the value of a job. But your Prosperity 101 ™ goes far deeper than that and the impact of what your job has relative to policy and other things. And so yes, I think just the one takeaway for us is just education and having the responsibility to share that with your employees. 

Linda: Yes, that is great. Thank you. I think probably in every podcast episode I do is that they did, and I quote Dawson Trapman, the founder of the Navigator Ministries, but he said “They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Employers like you who care about your employees, who build these long term relationships, who show the leadership, you show an example through your personal life as well as your professional life, how you handle the finances of the company, how you support your country even like with PurLite offering up the ability to quickly manufacture these PurLite machines to meet the immediate demand for sanitization. I mean, there is so many ways we help our country as business owners, but we often don't think about the impact we have on our employees. Ronald Reagan had his views on economic policy shaped basically through his work with General Electric. And then very liberal economically before his time working at General Electric. And through an employee education program they had which was a simple book club. They had people read books like The Road To Serfdom or Economics In One Lesson by Hazlitt. And that shaped his views and so I tell employers you never know who you might be educating. You might be educating someone who is going to be able to bring freedoms to millions in the future. That dishwasher at the back of a restaurant or that assembly line worker that is working summers as a college student, we never know the impact of our education and the families that it reaches as well. So, it might not even be that employee. It might be a family member of that employee. So, education always expands and so I just want to thank you, thank your co-partners in your companies and I thank your employees too because it's a critical part of successful business and creating a successful country. So, thank you.

Tom: You're welcome and thank you. 

Linda: Yeah well and for those of you or for the listeners who would like to contact you, what is the best way to contact you?

Tom: Probably through my email, it's just tomr@sequel, S-E-Q-U-E-L and the letter D as in David, M as in Mary dot com.

Linda: Okay, that would be great. And what is the website for Sequel?

Tom: It's just SequelDM.com

Linda: And for PurLite?

Tom: It's P-U-R-L-I-T-E dot com.

Linda: Okay, well we hope that the listeners will seek you out and you will probably meet many like-minded business owners through this so I want to tell you thank you so much, Tom. Do you have any last thoughts or parting statements before we close this interview?

Tom: No, I just want to thank you and I think Prosperity 101™ is just going to play a huge role in shaping just our whole workforce and our mindset around that and you're just doing great stuff so I'm proud to be part of it.

Linda: Thank you so much. 

Tom: You bet.

Linda: Alright, well listeners, I'm signing off now with Tom Rothstein and please visit his websites and contact him and join us again for another episode of Prosperity 101, A Breakroom Economics™.  

Copyright 2020. Prosperity 101 LLC™.