As the President recovers from COVID-19, Bret Keisling believes that the economy will not recover without consumer confidence. For now, that means masks.
Episode 120 Transcript
Bitsy McCann: Welcome to the EO Podcast, where we amplify and celebrate all forms of employee ownership.
Bret Keisling: Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. I'm recording and publishing this episode on October 6th, 2020. I'm taking a break from our multi-part series "Where is EO?" where I discuss my premise that EO is absent as a movement, both in a time of very important historical political debate and we're also absent as consumers. I hope you'll visit our website, www.ESOPpodcast.com or wherever you get podcasts and take a listen. We'll be back in the coming weeks with a few more episodes in that multi-part series, but I'm taking a break from that today because a couple of things happened over the weekend, one national, one personal, that just bring me back to the issue of masks. And I'll be honest with you, I want to scream. Literally. I would scream except I don't want to hurt your ears and I don't want to have to figure out how to translate a scream for our website transcription.
Bret Keisling: As you know, President Trump contracted coronavirus last week and he was admitted to Walter Reed on Friday and spent the weekend there. I sincerely hope he recovers fully and I hope all of the many people in his administration and in the White House and in the Senate who have contracted coronavirus similarly recover.
Bret Keisling: On Saturday morning, I went for a haircut. It's a place I'd been to in central Pennsylvania three or four times in the last year, loved the place very comfortable, and I was even there in June or July after they had re-opened after Pennsylvania had lifted its business closure restrictions, and everybody was masked up, everybody was following all the guidelines and I felt very comfortable as a consumer getting my hair cut there.
Bret Keisling: So this Saturday, I went into that place and the manager wasn't masked up customers weren't masked up and I, as a consumer, did not have the confidence to spend my money there. So I explained it to the manager. She offered to have somebody wear a mask while they cut my hair and I said, doesn't do any good if everybody else is without a mask. I also pointed out that President Trump was in the hospital at that moment and I hoped that more people would understand the contagious aspect of coronavirus. Well, that hope didn't work out. So at any rate, I left there just as a consumer and I went and I wrote a Facebook post. My contention, and I've talked about it on several of the podcasts, is that until consumer confidence really returns then our economy is not going to be repaired. While half the country is adamantly against masks and talk about things like their personal liberty and et cetera, et cetera. a whole lot of people, myself included, are reasonable in our concern. The pandemic is a thing. The contagious aspect of it is a thing. So we're not going to have the confidence as consumers to spend money locally until we are confident that we can go into stores, restaurants, et cetera, relatively safely.
Bret Keisling: I understand that masks may not be the end all be all. I've never really spoken about the efficacy of masks. I don't care. I understand, but reject people's liberty argument as you'll hear shortly, What's one off shoot? Online sales are just through the roof. Consumers are spending money, but not in our communities, not in our local shops. And I will contend very respectfully that although there was certainly plenty of devastation due to businesses being shut down and I've talked about them a lot on the podcast, the fact of the matter is we are at the point where even as businesses and most places open or begin to reopen until consumers feel confident walking into a location, they'll spend their money online.
Bret Keisling: I'm going to play for you now two episodes from the Mini-cast archives that cover my main two points: "Anti-mask is Anti-employee," which was Mini-cast Episode 89, and "We Need Masks Nationally" which was Mini-cast Episode 95. These will lay out my views.
Bret Keisling: Folks, if someone disagrees with me on this podcast or any other I'd love to hear from you, and I'd love to bring you on the podcast and talk about it, but I'm going to say quite confidently, it's going to be hard to rebut the connection between masks and consumer confidence.
Bret Keisling: One other thing, for the last six months, I've been including relevant data in terms of coronavirus deaths. I've been doing it as kind of a marker for those who will listen to the podcasts in the future to know where we were along the coronavirus. To that end, as of October 6th, we are slightly more than 210,000 dead Americans. Listen to the past episodes, which were just at the beginning of the summer, and you'll hear death counts. Folks. I point it out just because it's getting worse, it's not getting better.
Bret Keisling: Here is Episode 89, "Anti-mask is Anti-employee," followed immediately by Episode 95 "We Need Masks Nationally." Enjoy!
Bret Keisling: Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. We often cover general business topics on our podcasts because we've always understood that employee owned businesses are first and foremost businesses.
Bret Keisling: Similarly, those of us who advocate for employee ownership understand that what we preach about goes so much further than the company's capital structure. To be an employee owner is only part of the story; first and foremost, they're employees. So to advocate for employee owners should be by extension advocacy for employees generally.
Bret Keisling: As we release this episode on July 3rd, 2020, the United States in the world continue to roil from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of today, the United States has surpassed 128,000 deaths and infection rates are increasing in 36 states. Indeed, the United States saw two days this week, where new cases exceeded 50,000.
Bret Keisling: Many states are either imposing or re-imposing mask requirements as a result of the increase in infections. Just yesterday, the Republican governor of Texas made mask wearing mandatory and a day or two before in Pennsylvania, where I'm based, the Democratic governor has once again made mass squaring mandatory. Despite some bipartisan movement on state and local levels, I think it's reprehensible how mask wearing has become so politicized. I can think of no clearer way for someone to show their disdain for employees by refusing to wear a mask in a place of business.
Bret Keisling: One of the silliest arguments I've heard both in the media and in my personal experiences is the customers or business patrons rights are being denied when they're forced to wear a mask. This argument can be put to bed quite simply. Try walking into the average restaurant or business anywhere in the country without wearing shirt or shoes. We all understand you're not going to be served. You're going to be asked to leave. So why do people think businesses can require shirts or shoes, but not masks? It's simply ridiculous.
Bret Keisling: 02:38 There are a couple of restaurants and retail establishments in central Pennsylvania that I've continued to patronize while following all of the CDC guidelines regarding social distancing and mask wearing. I'm horrified at how ugly customers have behaved by taking out their venom on employees in ways that in other circumstance would have them be barred permanently from the premises. Now you've probably seen media reports and I have as well about the outliers where violence or real ugliness occurs. And hopefully that is infrequent and maybe amplified a little bit. But I've seen potential customers walk in, be told they have to face - wear a mask - and get angry and ugly with team members and then call the corporate office to complain.
Bret Keisling: The employees, first of all, are just doing their job. If the business chooses, and I hope they do, to follow CDC guidelines, then the employee, you know, this, the employee is simply doing their job. So for them to be the target of venom is reprehensible. And that's why the premise of the mini cast: anti-mask is anti-employees. I can give you a number of examples from friends, people I'm actually friends with, who work in the service industry. The young lady who isn't particularly at risk is in the service industry, but she lives with her elderly grandparents. Or the assistant manager at the restaurant who has a 10 month old child at home, who's terrified of bringing, COVID not just to the baby, but wonder who would care for her child if she got sick. Her colleague who has four children under the age of six at home. I have a couple of friends who are bartenders, one who has had chronic pain issues for years, and therefore is at higher risk for COVID-19. Another bartender is perfectly healthy in her late twenties, but she does all of her errands running for her parents in her sixties. She, again, is afraid of getting COVID and bringing it home to someone she loves folks. If you take a couple of minutes and get to know or talk to the people where you frequent, you'll find plenty of stories. There's the retail manager who went through life changing surgery himself a year or two ago and he's also the primary caretaker for an 80 year old mother. The owner of that retail establishment had some heart trouble a couple of years ago, he's at risk.
Bret Keisling: And there's also one thing that I want to make clear about the people that I'm talking about. They are very much afraid of getting COVID-19, but they're also worried about their customers. They're worried about providing an environment where it could spread. I understand the economic realities about wanting to open up the economy. But the fact of the matter is, I don't know any business owner who emotionally is prepared and I've had conversations, emotionally prepared to be the site of an outbreak. Meanwhile, the people in these that I'm talking about are least likely to have insurance, in many cases, because of the nature of their work. They're also least likely to have the options about when to go to work.
Bret Keisling: They also very much want their businesses to thrive. They want to be part of the reopening. They want to earn a living. They want to be a place for their customers to come and buy their products, but they shouldn't put their health or their lives at risk, particularly when some people are just being jerks.
Bret Keisling: So for me, here's the line in the sand. If someone goes into a business and they're not wearing masks with the exception of those who truly have medical exemptions, but if the average person just goes in not wearing a mask because they're asserting their "rights," then as far as I'm concerned, that person is against the employees.
Bret Keisling: Folks. It is the July 4th weekend. I tend to love Independence Day. Our country is in a lot of pain right now. It's people are in a lot of pain right now. I hope you'll find a little bit of beauty and grace over the weekend. Find some things even in these troubling times to celebrate and be optimistic about. Make the world a little bit better for yourself and those around you. And please support employees, wear a mask. This is Bret Keisling, thanks for listening.
Bret Keisling: Here's Episode 95, my reasons for a national mask mandate,
Bret Keisling: I am very happy to be recording this episode at my offices in Denver, Colorado. Because of the pandemic this is the first time I've been here since the first week of March. As I am recording and releasing this episode, it is August 14th, but it's kind of a little bit of a sad time for me because I've decided that rather than split my time between Pennsylvania and Colorado as I've done most of the last year, I'm going to hunker down in Pennsylvania and wait for the pandemic to either subside or get under control.
Bret Keisling: As I traveled out to Colorado in the last couple of days, I had the opportunity, a lot of windshield time, to think about employee ownership and the country generally, and my eyes really got open to what I saw along the way.
Bret Keisling: So I want to take just a couple of minutes today and share with you some of my insights and why I now am convinced that a national mass mandate, or at least mostly national, is a very good idea. Now, to be clear and to put in context, I've done a number of episodes about the pandemic over the last three or four months and I've had topics such as to be anti mask is anti employee [Mini-cast 89]. I believe very strongly that we should wear masks and we should social distance if, at the very least in the context of employee ownership, as a sign of good faith to employees. In Episode 84 of the Mini-cast, which you can find along with all of our archived episodes at www.theESOPpodcast.com, we feature clips of North Dakota's, Republican governor, Doug Burgum, discussing consumer confidence in the context of businesses reopening. Here's a very brief clip from that episode:
Doug Burgum: So again this is up to each business to make the smart decisions about how they restore their customer and consumer confidence and they take actions that allow them not only to reopen but to stay open operating a safe and healthy business.
Bret Keisling: I think the governor's comments are spot on. Regardless of government mandates regarding openings and closings or mask wearings, businesses who deal with consumers will not really recover without consumer confidence. As our country and the world struggle to find ways to manage and eventually prevail. I'd like to share the differences in how I used to travel with my latest trip in the context of consumer confidence. It's about a 22 hour drive between Harrisburg and Denver, Colorado. I'd usually split it up into three or four days, make many stops along the way. Interstate 70 is dotted with strong employee ownership activity. So it wasn't unusual to reach out to EO advocates, practitioners, and employee owners in cities like Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis, St. Louis and St. Charles, Missouri, as well as Kansas City. I'd stay two or three nights in hotels eat all of my meals in local restaurants tip that sort of thing. I would add to the economy.
Bret Keisling: Prior to last summer, when I formed The KEISOP Group, when I was a trustee, I'd spend probably three weeks out of every month on the road traveling to client meetings and again, participating in the economy, the local economies, wherever I was. I've suspended all travel like many people, all non-essential travel, since the pandemic really kicked up. With the exception of one, a personal trip I made to Washington DC. that was very important to me I haven't gone anywhere since March, except this trip to Denver, which again is to close down an office so I considered it necessary and essential.
Bret Keisling: In this trip out to Colorado. I knew that I wasn't going to linger. So I decided I would make the drive as quickly as I possibly could. What in the past would be an easy three or four day trip I did in two days. I, rather than staying multiple nights in a hotel, I stayed at a Hampton Inn in Columbia, Missouri, which was a little more than halfway and then got into Denver. Along the way my confidence, my consumer confidence, was very much shaken. Too many places, a convivence store in Terre Haute, Indiana, for example, where about a dozen customers were in the store, I was the only one wearing a mask; several stops in Kansas, along the way, where again, a couple of places there that not only was I the only one masked up or there were very few people masked up, but I was getting looks that made me feel like I was the odd person out.
Bret Keisling: Now here's the thing, as it relates to interstate commerce, one of the keys to the recovery is going to be for all of us to have the ability to travel around whether it's across the country, as I just did or making one or two day trips. Travel, the tourism industry is oh-so-important, but consumers are going to hesitate of going out and spending their dollars while there's inconsistency in some of the very areas where there are either flare-ups or at least troubling signs.
Bret Keisling: So Joe Biden, very coincidentally, yesterday proposed that all governors mandate mask use. As I was traveling through the states, when he made this proposal, I was surprised how quickly I supported it. At the very least find a way to mandate mask use within say 10 miles of an interstate highway. Tourism is huge in this country. Business travel is huge in this country. Now, when I talk about not being able to make the three or four day trip that I've made in the past, and that I did a straight shot to Colorado and I stayed in a hotel one night instead of three, and I didn't eat in all those restaurants, I'm not complaining for me. I suspect the restaurant owners, the hotel owners, all of the vendors that I, and people like me, would do business when they're traveling would love a way to keep that business. And the only way is going to be to help ensure consumer confidence and for awhile, at least that means masks.
Bret Keisling: Folks. I know that this was not specifically an employee ownership topic, but we've often said on the podcast that the general economy and business issues affect employee owners as well. So thank you very much for joining me today. I hope you'll stop back Tuesday and check out our latest summer school episode of the ESOP Podcast. Meanwhile, take care of yourself and those around you. We're going through this together and that's how we'll get through it, together. This is Bret Keisling, be well.
Bitsy McCann: We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email Bret@KEISOP.com, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling.
Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.
A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Temi, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The ESOP Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.