Tag Archives: small business

Oil Play

May 13, 2015 by

This article originally published in Summer 2015 edition of B2B.

Saudi Arabia is changing the world economy with the continued pumping of oil as well as statements regarding reduced oil demand. Consumption has been going down since 2006, so there are other forces at work here. This Saudi production has pulled the price of oil to their targeted goal of less than $60 per barrel, a program that will remain the same with the new King Salman. The reasons why they are doing this are much more than the simplistic surface statements offered by media pundits and talking heads. Let’s examine a few here:

ISIS – The advancement of the Islamic State in areas with prolific oil supplies, and resulting black market sales to fund their operations, has a lot to do with the $60 target price. ISIS has to sell at a discounted spot market price and the lower overall price cuts deeply into their revenues. This benefits Saudi Arabia because it weakens an obvious military threat without direct combat.

Compensation – The lower energy price benefits the United States, which compensates for the renewed military presence in Iraq, a presence that will further degrade the ISIS threat.

Sanctions – Lowered oil prices offer another form of sanction against Russia, which depends on oil and natural gas sales for hard currency. This has been perceived as a threat by Russia, which may manifest some sort of retaliation.

Fracking – The lowered oil price has had an immediate impact on oil production permits where expensive fracking is required. As I write this, there has been a 40 percent reduction in permits. This reduces the notion that North America will be self-sufficient with oil. Though, I think this is temporary, as $60 is a price still profitable in many locations with high fracking use. Lower than $60 and we will see most domestic drilling stop until prices increase.

Speculator Devastation – Sadly, the trading in oil futures has been dominated by speculation with over 80 percent of the trades being by those who could never take delivery of the oil being traded. Historically, speculator involvement was no more than 30 percent. While this directly benefited oil-producing countries, the cost to energy consumers has resulted in a wealth transfer from the middle class and poor greater than most financial calamities.

Deleveraging – Some are indicating that the significant change in relative currency values is at the root of this commodity devaluation.

The 800 Pound Gorilla has a protector, and that is the United States. The price for U.S. taxpayers is much more than what we pay at the gas pump.

As with most everything in life, the sword cuts both ways. The horror that is ISIS and the threat they pose to the Middle East is resulting in lower energy costs for American consumers. We will see how this plays out over the next couple years, whether the alarm from the Middle East of another World War are a real concern, or not.

Bottom Line: Small businesses will get a break in transportation cost for the next couple years. Make the best of it, but keep an eye on each vehicle replacement with the most energy efficient option possible. This is because these discounted fuel prices won’t last long (The Saudi’s indicate five years). Think of it as a big sale, and use this as an opportunity to save money. But just know it’s not permanent.


Business-Momming from Home

July 22, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Leah Lukowski taught in the Omaha Public Schools district for five years before she decided to stay home with her son, Caleb, and her daughter, Erica. “I’ve been home for three years now,” she says. “My husband, Lukas, and I weighed the benefits, and it was kind of a no-brainer.”

Last September, however, Lukowski stumbled upon an idea for a small business that she could run from home while watching her kids. Her brother, a local acoustic musician, had mentioned how he wanted to book more shows but was struggling. “Most musicians have day jobs, so it’s hard to get seen,” she explains. “And private events usually have a hard time getting in touch with musicians for hire. That’s when my brain started ticking.”

Leah Lukowski, owner of Omaha Musicians Live.

Leah Lukowski, owner of Omaha Musicians Live.

Lukowski did some research, finding several websites listing musicians for hire around the country, but she never found one specifically for Omaha musicians. That was the impetus for Omaha Musicians Live (OML).

Not only does Lukowski provide listings of local musicians, she also schedules their gigs with bars, restaurants, weddings, and corporate and private events. From home, she is able to handle contracting, work with clients on music selections, and recommend appropriate soloists or groups. “It’s just like event planning, only just the entertainment side,” she adds.

She works about 30 hours a week, not including attending the events, which she often does to help the musicians. But that’s because OML is all about customer service. She even follows up with clients after events to make sure things went smoothly or to see where she can improve her services.

Lukowski handles contracting, work with clients on music selections, and recommends soloists or groups.

Lukowski has been running Omaha Musicians Live (OML) for about a year.

OML has kept her fairly busy. In fact, she’s currently managing Midtown Crossing’s Street Vibes concerts, which run through October. But working for herself has its advantages. “I set my own schedule, coordinate with my husband so that one of us is always with the kids, and am able to be home if one of my kids gets sick and needs to leave school.” Eventually, she’d love to expand OML with a storefront and a staff.

Still, like all moms, she worries about how much time she’s giving her kids, even though she is home with them. “I think there’s always a conflict between business and raising your children. It’s a constant struggle,” she says.

Sometimes, that struggle can even be something as simple as just being able to work with clients without the kids interrupting, says licensed esthetician and mother of three, Joy Sakalosky.

“It would be easier if I had an office to go to [because] working from home has its distractions,” she adds. “But you really can’t beat the commute of just walking downstairs and not having to pay rent!”


Joy Sakalosky, owner of Via Mia Spa.

Sakalosky has been running Via Mia Spa, a state-licensed, in-home spa since 2011, providing waxing, skin-care services, and makeup artistry to a clientele mostly consisting of other moms “because they know they can bring their kids along, if needed.”

She always knew she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. “I did try part-time when my oldest was born, and even that was too much time away from him for me. My husband, Todd, and I eventually worked it out so one of us was always home with him.” By the time she had her second child, she was a full-time mom, doing freelance work for a cosmetic company.

When her oldest started kindergarten, however, it got Sakalosky thinking about what she would do while her kids were in school. “I wanted to have the flexibility to go on field trips and volunteer in their class activities, but I wanted to do what I had been licensed to do. We were outgrowing our starter home anyway, so we decided to look for a house that would accommodate an in-home spa.”

Via Mia Spa is a state-licensed, in-home spa that provides waxing, skin-care services, and makeup artistry.

Via Mia Spa is a state-licensed spa in Sakalosky’s home.

Like Lukowski, Sakalosky is glad to run a business she loves and still have the opportunity to raise her kids from home.

“That’s why [working from home] is great,” says Megan Filipi, who makes personalized albums for her business, Quote Ya! “It’s flexible and convenient. I can work when I need to and still pick the kids up from school or go to their activities.”

Filipi worked as an RN for a while before deciding to stay home with her kids, Aidan, Lucy, Jack, and Maeve. “I couldn’t imagine caring for someone else as an RN while someone else was caring for my child. So after the first two kids, my husband, Aaron, and I chose the stay-at-home plan.”

Megan Filipi, owner of Quote Ya!

Megan Filipi, owner of Quote Ya!

Quote Ya! actually came about after Filipi received requests for personalized mementos. “We did our own personalized guest cards at our wedding, and it was such a hit. Guests loved writing to us, and we loved reading their sentiments. It is so much more personal than a guestbook filled with signatures. And then we kept hearing from people about those cards, so we created a business based on that experience.”

The albums Filipi makes are for (but aren’t limited to) weddings, funerals, showers, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, new babies, and retirements. “Customers purchase albums, which come with cards specific to the occasion. Then, guests can write quotes, thoughts, feelings, or draw pictures on the cards so the moment is captured forever.”

The best part for Filipi is that her business allows her to be creative and relaxed. “I’m able to laugh, have fun, [and] spend time talking and reminiscing about favorite quotes and experiences with my customers. No one is watching over my shoulder, telling me what to do…[I’m] on my time.”

Filipi had personalized guest cards at her own wedding, which gave her the business idea.

Filipi had personalized cards at her own wedding, which gave her the idea.

Both Filipi and Julie Sudbeck, owner of vintage store Hunt and Found, have it easier than most stay-at-home moms turned business owners because they have online stores that reach more customers across the globe.

“The benefit of having the online shop is I may not be working, but the shop is always open, and shoppers are always shopping it,” says Sudbeck, who has been a stay-at-home mom for 21 years now.

“It was my decision to give up my career to stay at home with my kids,” she says. “We were fortunate that we could afford it financially.” Sudbeck and husband Chad have four children: Madison, Alexa, Sydney, and Blake.

Julie Sudbeck, owner of Hunt and Found.

Julie Sudbeck, owner of Hunt and Found.

Sudbeck describes the beginning of her business as more of a journey into her passion for decorating rather than a “Hey, let’s start a business!” kind of thing. “I always had my nose in decorating magazines, trying to see what was new in the decorating world…I would often admire the fantastic, old, vintage, one-of-a-kind furniture or décor, wondering where in the world they are getting these items.”

She got her answer one weekend while at her lake house in Okoboji. The weather was cold, so she decided to venture to her first flea market. “There I stood in a vastness of old suitcases, wood crates, chipping painted furniture, rusty metal—exactly what the magazines had in their designer rooms.”

Besides her love of decorating, one of the main reasons why Sudbeck started her business was because her mom had just passed away from a brain tumor. “I was facing an enormous void in my life, and I knew a distraction was needed.” A month after her mom’s passing, Sudbeck sat down and created her shop on Etsy, as she had collected a rather large inventory of vintage items.

Sudbeck's most avid vintage customers are from Australia.

Sudbeck’s most avid vintage customers are from Australia.

Hunt and Found has done well, too. “I sell to decorators, wedding planners, restaurants, wineries, magazines, photographers, movie sets, productions companies…I can offer vintage at what is considered high-priced for the Midwest at an affordable price to someone living in New York City.” Sudbeck says her most avid customers are from Australia. “They love American vintage!”

Mostly, she loves working from home because she can work as little as a couple hours a week to as many as 40. “Thanks to technology and my iPhone, I can answer e-mails or quote shipping while sitting at my son’s orthodontist appointment…daughter’s tennis lessons…while the kids are swimming…I really like the option of running a home business.”

Is Our Liberty to Succeed or Fail in Jeopardy?

May 25, 2013 by

It’s an issue that affects small businesses—the push for more and more sharing with others who don’t have as much as you do. This trend can be seen in many business practices, too. For example, the sales commission question below:

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This Benjamin Franklin quote, with its many derivations, points toward a simple fact that, for one to expect a government to guarantee something, a part of one’s liberty will be the price.

The questions is: How much of your liberty will you gladly trade for an increased level of governmental protection? In other words, is it the responsibility of government to feed you, house you, educate you, care for you, etc…if you are sick, unwilling, or incapable?

Most of us feel that it is the obligation of government to provide us with some of these needs and desires. Others feel that government should do that and much more.

This is the age-old contest between those rowing the boat and those along for the ride. The sales adage says 80 percent of the sales are made by 20 percent of the sales force. In school, grades tend to follow a bell curve with a few students getting excellent marks while most are average, and a few bring up the rear. Should the sales staff getting 80 percent of the sales get the same commission as the rest of the team? Should the top students share their grades with those less fortunate, thus everyone getting a grade of C? What level of “sharing” do you consider fair?

What if you were a doctor who endured many years of school with considerable effort and expense? Economic justice would dictate that the doctor’s earnings be shared with those who were not capable, for whatever reason—even laziness—to achieve the same degree of earning capability. Would you be willing to have the government decide how much of a doctor’s income gets redistributed? If so, what incentive would current medical students (or anyone considering entering into a lengthy and expensive effort) have to continue becoming a doctor only to have their efforts taken away?

To the consternation of so many, life isn’t fair. Is it the role of government to make life fair? This exact precept was explored throughout the 20th century. The direct result of these experiments offered two class societies: the ruling elite and everyone else. Sadly, the ‘everyone else’ class was considered expendable by those ruling. China squandered the lives of over 60 million in an effort to purchase world power status. The average Chinese existed and died on a daily caloric intake smaller than that of the slaves of Auschwitz. Russia bartered the lives of their bread basket Kulaks by the millions in exchange for the materials of industrialization. No, the only way a government can enforce equality is by reducing the living standard of the ‘everyone else’ class.

As America celebrates the 4th of July, a time for quiet contemplation of the uniqueness of this American experiment is due. All throughout history, tyranny is the norm. The liberty Americans have is truly unique. The thread that holds this together is the Constitution. I contend that the freedoms across the globe are there only so long as Americans remain free. Free to succeed, free to fail, free to risk their all in the pursuit of personal happiness. If Americans lose that desire for liberty, the rest of the world will lose as well.

Any views and/or opinions present in “The Know-It-All” columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of B2B Omaha Magazine or their parent company and/or their affiliates.