Leading in the Unknowns: A Message From Robbie

In summer 2002, this is what Eclectic Eye looked like. A skeleton of sorts, waiting for the dream to be fulfilled.

On March 18th, 1992, Mike and I eloped at the courthouse. Today is our 28th wedding anniversary. We have built an extraordinary life. I am grateful.

I walked into Eclectic Eye yesterday feeling compelled to document where we are. I want to be transparent about what this little ol’ small business is encountering. How are we? We are definitely not ok. And, we are grateful too. How are we functioning? One step at a time. I don’t want to hide the good, the bad and the ugly from anyone. I don’t want the deep-rooted shame I am feeling to live without purpose. I am exposed and raw just like the picture from 2002.

The smell of bleach permeates the space. My hands are so chapped that it’s hard to type. The wood countertops have been sanitized so often these last 10 days that the finish is starting to erode.

Kelly English’s social media post Monday reduced me to a clump on the floor. Kelly is such a fierce small business advocate (especially for our restaurant communities) that to see the fear in his eyes and hear the anger in his voice released the tide of emotions I’d been holding back. I am grief-stricken and sobbing. And, I am getting back up. There are decisions to make.

What is there to say? How can I be as open as possible about what we are experiencing? I thought I had enough in savings. 3-6 months. I don’t know. I thought I’d acquired the right insurance. Apparently, according to my broker, we just aren’t covered for pandemics. This certainly seems like a “business interruption” but, alas, whatever I have been paying for isn’t that…. I never thought of this. I feel like a failure already. In clearer moments, I am saying… “I’ll just build it all back if I need to.”  And, I will always be proud of what we have done. But then, I collapse in the unknown again. I am unsteady and resolute in the same moment.

At Eclectic Eye, I’ve returned to operations as a CFO for the moment. The new business I’ve been excitedly bringing to life has come crashing to a halt. My priority right now is to put pen to paper to support my Director of Operations, Lindy, through this process as best I can. Lindy is a beautiful, thoughtful, steady, 10-year Eclectic Eye veteran who has earned her way into a role that is perfect for her and us. But, this new reality requires me to step back in calmly and gently. Be present. Be available. Be strong? No, that’s not right – that’s old conditioning. Be honest, be real, be vulnerable – these are more authentic.

Lindy has teared up a few times, but her strength is showing in her ability to handle with grace all that is being thrown at her \. There is also a timid but palpably driven enthusiasm, through the terror, that makes her truly a gift.

Monday morning, she suggested we meet with the team who is left. Sunday, we had to accept a resignation early from one staff member, and had to lay off another.”

My goal is to keep the remaining team employed if I can. Maybe 30 days, maybe not. I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers yet. I am glad Lindy suggested we meet together. I think it’s important to be honest about where we are. There isn’t an endless supply of cash to tide us over. I could see their fear and their gratitude. We asked hard questions like, “Tell us what your breakeven is in order to survive.” I am wondering: Is it better for people to simply get laid off and seek unemployment immediately if the inevitable is coming? I don’t know. But, I’ll be looking into these questions immediately. I have already reached out to some HR people to help me wade through all the misinformation out there but they, too, are overwhelmed at the moment.

These aren’t questions we want to be asking. But, we are walking through it together. I know that Mike and I will, effective immediately, take nothing from our company for as long as our personal savings can keep us afloat. And, I am grateful I have enough for a little while. Not long, but longer than most. I am aware that is a luxury.

Here are some of the other things I am doing to stop the bleeding from the loss of cash.

I have slashed all the variable expenses I can, and I am painfully aware of the damage I’m doing to the livelihoods of the vendors who are used to my monthly support. It is a horrific line item exercise with each decision. I’m fortunate that I’ve never taken terms on my product. And, I don’t have unsecured debt. What I have is ours so I can keep it and I don’t owe anything on it. But, the trickledown effect is disastrous, I know. If I suddenly stop spending $100,000/month or more in variable expenses, that’s a big hit to my vendors. I am also incredibly grateful at this moment to be a cash operation which carries no accounts receivable. I know this too is a luxury.

Not all my expenses are variable, though. I have taken a hard look at what cash is needed to support those expenses that are fixed each month. I started the process yesterday for a secondary line of credit with my bank so I can hopefully tap into that if need be. Eclectic Eye has almost 20 years of outstanding credit, so I hope there is no problem getting that. I detest debt, but the thought of losing my business is much scarier, so I’ll take on the debt to survive.

What about the $50,000+ in cash we donate to our local nonprofits that are doing important and necessary work? That is indefinitely paused. I’ll look for other ways to support and hope to return to that very soon.

I am literally praying that our federal government makes available easy loans for all of us to access quickly. I remember all too well after Hurricane Elvis that the barrier of entry to even obtain the SBA loans was next to impossible. We almost lost our business then.

And, back to my team. The very real people who are going to be affected the most by how we handle this situation. I feel like I am looking through a filtered before and after lens at them, no pun intended. Truly, I think we are there. Life before this pandemic and life after.

Randall and I have worked together for the better part of the last 18 years and I am choosing to believe that we will work together for at least another 18 years. He seems OK right now.

What about Chris, Lindy’s husband, our lab guru? He still has lots of sale jobs to produce and could be busy for at least another week creating fantastic eyewear prescriptions. What happens after that?

What about Johnathan, our Retail Manager and resident cheerleader? He looks a little shell-shocked right now. He wants all the answers and to have so few is affecting his normally enthusiastic disposition. I get it. My heart hurts for Maddie, our brightest ray of sunshine, who has been at Eclectic Eye a few years and is getting married May 2nd…well, was getting married May 2nd.  A week-and-a-half ago, we celebrated her and her groom at our house on a glorious Sunday. They just bought a house. I truly want to cry with her.

I was appreciative of Dave earlier this week taking a moment to reassure me (that’s right…reassure me) that he was thankful for our proactive approach. I don’t feel very proactive, so I am welcoming this view. And he brought us all a great quote on fear:

“You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown – only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”

– Captain Kirk

And, our newest employees, who haven’t been with us that long, but whose energy is already collaborative and healing. I want to keep this team. This is the priority. I can be in the foxhole with this group. Maybe a socially distant foxhole, but I can fight for our business with these people.

I am also watching my husband calmly, on the outside, navigate what it means to help the patients whom he needs to help and change all of his processes. He loves what he does and he is trying to be a good steward of their needs while being realistic to the social situation in which we now find ourselves. We have been married 28 years today, so I can tell that he is practicing his relatively new skills of staying in the present to keep from panicking. Mike and I aren’t necessarily great at holding space for each other’s fears, but we have learned a lot in the last five years, so I am hopeful we will come out personally stronger on the other side of this.

I am also trying to keep my mental health in check. No scrolling Facebook (I have already failed at this a few times) and no desperate googling for the answers to whatever (I have also failed at this a few times). I am honoring my morning routines of meditation and journaling. I am walking my puppies who are completely unaffected by this. I must continue to fuel my mind and spirit with the healing energy. It is too easy for me to descend into the rabbit hole of panic. I used to dwell there chronically, and I know myself well enough to comprehend that I won’t help anyone, especially my team, if this happens. I am hoping for nicer spring weather soon so I can make myself available to be in space with my neighbors, even if we have to shout at each other from across the street.

This is the best I know how to lead right now. It’s not great but it’s all I have. Really, I just don’t know.