Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Fifth decade… 1988 – 1997
The 5th decade would start with increasing competition and a shrinking territory on both the Rental’s, and lawn equipment sales. One of the few bright spots was the Forks Township store. With an investment of just some plywood and drywall it was doing well despite the lack of usable facilities.
In 1987 my Father was looking for a summer building project. My Father decided to update the Forks Township Store by remodeling one of the old sheds to become an Office, Showroom and Shop with a ground level entrance. My Fathers plan was to acquire a permit to replace the Roof and while no one was looking replace the walls and enlarge the footprint.
This project would not go unnoticed by the zoning officer, and he would immediately stop the project. My Father would scale back the project to avoid need to submit detailed plans to the State of Pennsylvania. My Father also believed he could accomplish this project without hiring an engineer; we would spend the next several months drawing, re-drawing, and re-submitting my Fathers plans until they were finally accepted by the Supervisors.
The Project would now extend into the spring of 1988. The first attempt to open we would be hit by the demand of a State L & I permit. My Father thought the scaled back plans would avoid the State requirement, it didn’t. At this point my Father would hire an engineer to tweak the plans to meet L & I requirements. With the State permit in hand we moved everything into the building however the zoning officer still wasn't ready to allow us to use the building. During the repeat of his first inspection he would claim the attic was short 2” of insulation he would refuse to issue a certificate of occupancy. The cash register would be moved back to the Farm House for another week. After a third inspection that didn’t even include the attic inspection we would get approval to open the new office.
When the Forks store opened 1985 we were graciously welcomed into Forks Township. Much of the warm welcome was due in part that Forks Township was interested in a part of the property for a municipal Park. My Father assumed he was creating good will between us and the Supervisors by selling the land to Forks Township for less than ½ its actual value. The truth was once they had the land they had no longer wanted a rental store in the Township. Since the land deal we have tried several times to expand the Business each time met by rejection. Today Forks is well known as a bedroom community opposed to business development. The Forks Store still operates in 2014 however my Fathers experiment in nostalgia would prevent the store from ever reaching its potential.
The mid 1980's would bring the first Computers into the business. We would start by computerizing the back office and desktop publishing duties. In 1990 my Father gave the green light to completely computerize the business. When the full business computer system was turned on my Father would take another step away from the day to day operation of the rental business.
In another step backwards my Father would resurrect the truck rental business with our own fleet of trucks. We had been in and out of the Truck Rental Business since the early 1960’s. Over the years we had used both our own fleet of trucks and the National Truck Rental Companies like U-Haul. In the early years we would use old trucks, dealer plates and low cost insurance to reduce to costs. This would all change in the later 1960's as insurance and licensing changes would diminish the profitability of owning our own fleet of Rental Trucks. We would eliminate renting our own trucks and continue only to offer rental Trucks from the national truck rental companies. Renting the franchised trucks was problematic, dealing with complicated paperwork, and spotty availability we could never guarantee that we could acquire the proper truck for our customers needs. We had made a few other attempts to rent are own fleet with motor homes, and a bucket truck, however the lack of affordable Insurance would always be a problem.
When my Father started updating the delivery Truck fleet he would decide to insure a few of the box Trucks for rental use. He was less concerned with profits then value of having mobile billboards, as our distinctively painted and lettered trucks traveled throughout the valley. Another consideration was we needed the delivery trucks on Fridays and Mondays. Customers looking for a moving van needed a truck on a Saturday or Sunday. Our delivery trucks could generate additional income when they would normally sit idle.
The problem with rental trucks from day one was the ability to compete with the national truck franchises. The rate we would charge for a moving van was less than we charged for a Garden Tiller. With a few exceptions each truck we rented was rented at a loss. The more trucks that were added to the fleet the more money we would lose. As the rental truck fleet grew a full time mechanic would devote most of his time to just maintaining the fleet. The benefit of rolling billboards would come into question when one truck got jammed underneath a Historic Covered Bridge; another rented Truck was used in an attempted abduction of a 13 year old girl.
The computer understood the profitability of truck rental; I understood the profitability of truck rental no one else cared to look. The truck rental business continues today I doubt it has ever turned a profit and continues to be a draw on business resources.
In the early 90's RV Business would fall under my Fathers Microscope. For more than 10 years business resources were funneled into growing the RV Business. With all the financial resources being poured into the RV business it still could barely stand on its own. With most of the business’s profits being used to grow the RV business the rental business continued to suffer with old outdated equipment. This did not go unnoticed by an Allentown competitor who would move deep into our neighborhood.
My Father began to question the investment in growing the RV business. Eventually my Father and Brother would come to an agreement to spin off the RV Business's. My Brother would agree to purchase the RV business along with the inventory. When the deal was finalized it would be reduced to a stock swap with no cash involved. Leiser’s Inc. would not recoup its significant investment in RV’s.
Even with the constraints put on the Forks Townships by the dilapidated buildings the business was growing. The completion of interstate route 78 would complete a direct route from the Lehigh Valley to New York City. New York and New Jersey residents would discover that Lehigh Valley house prices and real estate taxes were ½ the price of comparable housing in New Jersey. New York and New Jersey residents would flood into Eastern Pennsylvania taking advantage of good roads and low taxes.
Much of this residential growth would take place in Forks Township; the shed rebuilt in 88 was now too small to handle the explosive growth. In 1993 my Father would draw up a plan to erect a modern showroom on the footprint of the original office. Once again my Fathers hand drawn plans would be rejected by Forks Township. Rather than hiring an engineer my Father would drop the planned Forks Township expansion. My Fathers refusal to work with zoning officials would handcuff both Bethlehem and Forks Township. It wasn’t 1955 anymore something my Father refused to accept. To thwart zoning officials in Bethlehem my Father would resort to using temporary vinyl covered structures to get around dealing with Township officials. Under one large temporary building my father would build a complete shop with electric, plumbing, heating and concrete floor.
My Father would make the success or failure of the Forks Township store a determining factor in naming a permanent successor. By 1994 my Fathers promise to name a successor in 5 years was now 9 years without a decision. During this period my Sister’s attacks to undermine my qualifications would become even more vicious, and bizarre.
One of the attacks from my Sister would be the Satellite business. My sister, who had never visited the Forks Township Store, would describe my staff as sitting around watching TV all day. When my Sister would bring her objection to satellite business to my Fathers dinner table he had enough. I was told I could stay in the satellite business however the showroom display had to be removed. At this point it was time to shut down the satellite business. My Sister would never understand the profitability of the Satellite business, or how it helped grow the Forks Township store. The inventory would be liquidated and the customer list was given to another dealer.
I continued to press my Father to make a decision. My Father’s response was to offer to sell me the Forks Township store. My Fathers offer to sell the store would turn out to be just another empty promise. My Father knew that Sister could not handle the business and then there was the point my Father did not want to relinquish his complete control.
When I pushed my Father to ether name a successor or honor his promise to sell me the Forks store he would set the terms of sale that he thought were impossible to meet. I was given less than 5 weeks to set up a new Corporation, collect the licenses and permits necessary and insurance. Under my Fathers terms I would then sign an open contract on January 1 1995 that would give my Father 120 days to adjust my inventory and the financial terms of the contract.
I would take over the Forks Township store on Jan 1 1995 with the 3 slowest months of the year ahead of me with no money in the cash register. I assume that my Father was surprised when he returned from Florida in May to find my business still operating and my loan payments up to date. With a change in management my Father would find the Bethlehem store stumbling through the busy season unprepared. The responsibilities that I gave up when I left the business were not picked up by my Sister or her staff. My Father would also discover that the person who was on call 24-7 to take care of any problems was no longer going to answer the phone. As the summer progressed my Father was starting to realize the scope of his mistake. Late in the summer of 1995 he would make one more attempt to get me back by canceling the contract we both signed. In his new contract he would confiscate most of my party equipment and would raise the price about 15% on an already pricey business purchase. In the new contract he would also cancel all the cooperation terms of the original Contract.
During this period my Father would write in one of his letters that he was being forced to return to the day to day operation of the business. In 1995 my Father would return to a desk that was very unfamiliar to him. For past 20 years he had the ability to come and go as he pleased without worry about the day to day operation of the business, with myself and my Brother both gone he would need to be consulted more often. Still much of my Fathers time in the store would be greeting customers and staring at a computer he refused to touch.
One of the examples of the problem of my Father running the business from Florida was the winter of 1995. The early 1990's would bring some snowy cold winters, Snow throwers would be in very short supply. The supply was so thin that Toro would limit even preseason orders. Most snow thrower dealers were sold out well before the Snowy Winter of 1995 started this even included Sears Home Depot and the other big box retailers. While we had snow Utah was dealing with a snow drought. Some enterprising Toro Dealers in Utah began to contact eastern dealers hoping to unload unsold inventory. I would make my Utah purchases to a level to meet my customer’s needs; other Toro dealers would do the same. My Father would follow the snowy winter by reading old local Newspapers that were sent to him. My Father would decide to order almost 100 Snow throwers from Utah. By the time the deal was put together and the snow throwers arrived the snows were melting and less than a quarter of that shipment would be sold. The remaining snow throwers would gather dust in the warehouse until being liquidated years later.
One of the losses with my departure would be the ability to have someone walk the fences every day. In all the years that I was working in Forks Township Palmer or Macungie I would spend enough time at each store to understood the business. I worked on the Tent crew, I knew the equipment, and I knew who was really working and who was smoking Weed. While my Sister wanted complete control of the business she seldom left the counter or even walked out into back lot. My Sister had never visited the Macungie or the Forks Township store. After I was gone my Sister had the job of managing a business she didn’t understand. My Sisters employees would see her weakness’s and take advantage of her lack of leadership. Did it take two three or four people to install a 30 x 60 tent my Sisters didn’t know? They would be blind as to what the delivery crews were doing.
During the 5th decade the Party Business would continue to lose market share. My Sisters would discontinue marketing at bridal shows and other person to person events. My Sisters would ignore these marketing opportunities because they refused to work the extra hours. Bridal Shows are not enjoyable to work but they are very important to the Party Rental Business. At Bridal shows we don’t only market to the bride; it’s a party rental marketing opportunity to also show family friends what we can provide. The party services we offered were no longer in front of interested consumers. Our absence at shows that our competitors attended equaled lost market share. Leiser’s was no longer known for putting on the big events; however a new competitor across town was gaining a reputation
As the 50th anniversary was approaching the future of the business was an open question. My Father would write in one of his letters that he would never turn the business over to my Sisters. My Father would validate the statement in the letter as he began to distribute company stock to employees outside the Leiser family.
The business was on solid financial ground. Selling off the RV Business would not bring any cash into the business; however there was now cash available to rebuild the rental business. One of the problems that would arise would be putting the money where it was needed.
During the previous years when I would accompany my Father through the Rental Show, I understood what our needs even though many times my opinions were overlooked. I couldn’t stop My Father from unneeded purchases, however I understood how to distract him and move him past most of the Keg Cooler disasters.
The date of the Rental Show would fall in the middle of my Fathers 6 months in Florida. My Father would travel directly to the show without a review of the upcoming year’s needs. During this time back in control my Father would make the final decisions on all purchases. My Father would mostly ignore the replacement of our obsolete equipment. Instead of drawing old customers back with updated inventory, my Father would look for the unproven and unusual rental item. My Father was still looking for those hidden gems that he found in the very early years of the business. The rental industry was mature we knew what our customers wanted, the brands the models. While we should have been focusing on rebuilding the core my Father still wanted to experiment. During this 5th decade the average age of our powered rental equipment was 15 years old.
On the Sales side the Wheel Horse Lawn Tractor Contract would be returned to us by Toro. Toro would also give us a contact to sell Commercial lawn equipment to Landscaper’s, estates, and Industrial users. We were not Toro’s first choice; however Toro was dealing with a large number of Dealer failures in our area was looking for stability. The Toro distributor understood we were no longer committed to the lawn equipment business but understood if nothing else that we could support the existing customers left stranded by the failed dealers.
As we were making a new push into lawnmowers Toro was inking a deal to supply Home Depot with a stripped down version of the lawn mowers we sold. It was Toro’s time to turn their back on the servicing dealers and sell their soul to a big box retailer.
The Bethlehem stores retail showroom continued to shrink as the Museum my Father built for his Hunting Trophies expanded. The final expansion of the trophy room would take the entire Lawn equipment showroom. A few of the new mowers and a tractor or two would be jammed into the front corner of the rental showroom.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Sixth decade… 1998 – 2007
The 50th anniversary would come with one of our 1960's style open houses, except without the Helicopter. (Apparently the FAA was now a little stricter as to where you could land a Helicopter). The Store would be cleaned the advertising would be extensive. Money was once again being spent on updating rental equipment. With all the problems the business encountered during the previous 20 years, the longevity and name recognition would still attract customers. We were selling lawnmowers and renting equipment to second and third generations of the same families. One fact that remained written in stone for 50 years, when the front door was unlocked in the morning customers would walk in.
For the 50th anniversary my Father would put on one last big push into lawn equipment sales. We increased advertising; we had a warehouse full of new Toro mowers. The Toro Wheel Horse factory rep was on hand trying to revive Toro sales. It would be too little too late, a one day push was not going to revitalize the Lawn equipment business. My Father would finally realize the effect the Big Box retailers had on the independent lawn equipment dealers. As soon as the anniversary sale was over the mowers were pushed into the corner of the showroom and would again be ignored by the staff. I am not sure if my Father was even aware that the Home Depot just a ¼ mile away was selling a cheaper version of the Toro mowers we were selling. The Toro Company was also slow to understand the effect the Big Box retailers were having on servicing dealers.
By the year 2000 my Father had a warehouse full of Toro Mowers left over from the 1998 anniversary sale, and snow throwers from 95 Utah purchase. My Father would liquidate the entire Toro inventory. The 52 year relationship with the Toro Company would end. In 2002 my Father would close the lawnmower repair shop and auction off the remaining parts and accessories.
As the business passed its 50th year there were some serious questions that needed to be answered quickly. It was very apparent that my Fathers health was failing. My Father would never see a doctor unless it was absolutely necessary. He had some non-treated health issues were taking an overall toll on his body. The question was if my Father was not confident that my Sisters could run the company than who could? He had some loyal long time employees, however as loyal as they were they had never had the opportunity to learn the inner workings business. Another problem was my Fathers refusal to share financial information with the board of directors. If my Father had found a leader outside the family how would a transition take place?
Over the decades my Father would be approached by investors interested in purchasing the business this period would be no exception. However he seemed less interested than he had in previous discussions with prospects.
The only positive aspects for the 6th decade would be the lack of any changes. The other Allentown competitor would open a large branch equipment store in our neighborhood. A third party rental store would open in our area.
My Fathers ability to be active in the business had ended by 2003. His time in the store would be reduced to short visits. As my Fathers health continued to decline he would attempt to reward some additional long time employees with shares in the business. My Sisters did not want their own stock diluted by my Father’s planned gifts would consult a Lawyer in an attempt to fight the distribution plan. The Sisters would learn they had no legal right to stop my Fathers disbursement and the employees would receive the stock gifts from my Father. In a letter my Father wrote to my Sisters during the employee stock distribution fight, he would describe my Sisters actions as “Vultures”.
My Father would leave for Florida in the fall of 2005. During the winter of 2005 – 2006 my father would complete setting up his estate. My father would return home to Pennsylvania in spring of 2006. His health had deteriorated to a point that my Father would never return to work. My Father would pass away a few weeks after returning to Pennsylvania in May of 2006.
A customer entering the store the day, month, or year after my Father’s death would not see much of a change in service. The quality of customer service had been on a slow steady decline for many years. The department lines drew by the Sisters would allow the counter staff view a customer waiting for a Propane refill without taking action because this was a line they would refuse to cross. The Customer would need to wait until someone answered a call made across the PA system. There were other black holes in customer service that customers would occasionally fall into.
The 6th decade would be known for its stagnation. My Sisters had the opportunity to step up in my Fathers absence and didn’t. Competition would continue to chip away at the foundation. Proper employee training couldn't take place because My Sisters and the other managers didn't have the knowledge to train them. For years the Sisters would assert that they could improve the business with their ideas. The Sisters had control of the business however there newly implemented plans set the business on the wrong path.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Seventh decade… 2008 – ?
The Business would turn 60 without its founder. Despite the ups downs and mistakes the business had excellent name recognition after 60 years in the same neighborhood. My Father’s estate planning would unravel as his end of life plans would slowly surface as my Sisters would decide to share them. My Mother would receive a trust that would continually grow as loans my Father made were repaid. My Fathers collection of mounted animals and a one room school house would be supported by a foundation that was funded by my Fathers share of the business. My Fathers favorite charities would receive cash gifts. As complete as my Father’s estate planning was there were no documents that would address the business transition. If a transition plan existed the Sisters and their Lawyer would never produce them.
My Sisters would take total control of the business claiming my Fathers deathbed instructions would allow them to share the position of President. My Sisters who were minimal stockholders would ignore the legal procedure of including all the stockholders in a re-organizational meeting to elect a new board of directors. On a list of shareholders my name would be second on the list after the foundation with my 18% ownership, my Sisters names would be 4th and 5th on the list of shareholders.
My Sisters would now make major changes to the business. The Sisters would reward themselves with huge benefit packages. They would discard company's policy and procedures guide, and would elevate themselves above the other shareholding salaried managers. The Sisters would run the business as if they were majority owners.
Sister one would bring one of her sons into the business and install him as operations manager. He would receive a large compensation package that would include the business purchasing and maintaining a truck for his personal use. His only qualifications to execute the position of operations manager would be a few months during a summer break many years before. He would enter the business with a college degree however with no real business training.
While my Father never spent a great deal of time poring over financial records he understood the seasonal and economic up’s and down’s of the business. My Father understood staffing, and understood how far the business could be stretched financially before it broke. This knowledge was beyond my Sisters, or the board of director’s ability. While the business had a competent Accountant he would not be consulted as the Sisters made major changes to the business.
The main deficiency in the business’s management would continue to be the understanding of human resources. Even before my Father’s death my Sister would increase the staff, the payroll and benefit costs were growing faster than income. Our business is very seasonal. During May through October cash comes in by the bucket full. The period during late fall to early spring the money goes out by the bucket full. What my Sisters never understood was how to budget for the seasonal ups and downs to carry the business through the seasonal slow periods.
During the slowest season my Sisters would work as Ski Instructors. They would continue to receive full salaries along with keeping additional staff in place to replace them when they were instructing. Another noticeable problem was most of the staff was receiving overtime during the slow winter period. During the short daylight hours work in the warehouse would end an hour or more before closing. The staff would be paid overtime while they were not even working.
The Sisters would set a new vacation policy that would allow the salaried employees up to 8 weeks of paid vacation. It wasn’t only the cost of the long vacations that would hurt the business; additional staff would be needed to cover the extended busy season vacations.
The plan of the Sisters serving as co-precedents was a disaster from the start. As the staff was asked to take sides the morale among the other managers was now becoming a problem. My Mother who had been asking me to get involved in the business since my Father’s death was now pressuring me to get re-involved as she found herself in the middle of Sisters bickering. I had no interest in returning to the business; however I did own a large percentage of the business that needed to be protected.
My Mother and I would meet with the business’s attorney to get an understanding of our rights as shareholders. After the visit with the lawyer I met with some of the employee stockholders and asked for help to legally reorganizing the business, and elect a new board of directors with a single president. The employee stockholders clearly saw the problem however felt attempting to separate the Sisters as co-presidents would make workplace life a living Hell.
Without a commitment of help from the employee shareholders I could only stand back and watch the business I spent a lifetime in implode.
The Sisters began cementing their own personal power by using company money to repurchase stock from those employees who had received stock as a gift from my Father. My Sisters would convince the selling shareholders that the value of the stock was only about 25% of its actual value. Locking away voting shares in the company safe would decrease any chance of losing power in a legal election. The Sisters would even go into my Fathers foundation and remove stock at the discounted price.
The Sisters lack of financial knowledge had the business sliding towards insolvency. My Stock, some of it that I had held since 1970 was decreasing in value. I asked my Sisters to purchase my Stock they would offer to have the business purchase my stock at the same price per share they used to cheat the employees. With each share of stock the business repurchased my influence in a stockholders vote increased. If the Sisters wanted complete legal ownership they would need my Stock.
The Sisters and their Lawyer would broker a deal where my Mother would purchase my stock after the complicated agreement was finalized in early 2010 the final value I received was about 75% of the value my Father had put on my shares in 1995. If the company could stay profitable the stock would be a financial asset to my Mother, or would it?
No sooner than the Stock Transaction between my Mother and me was complete the Sisters would go into my Mothers accounts remove all my Mothers stock including the shares my Mother just purchased from me. The Stock that the Sisters removed would be split between themselves. By collecting the shares from my Mother my Sisters would completely control the company without spending a dime of their own money.
My Sisters would undertake one more transaction to close out the 65 year old story. The Sisters would hatch a plan where one Sister would gain a complete control of the company, the other Sister would sell her Stock to the company for a large retirement and benefit package. My Sisters would enter into the agreement without consulting the accountant or informing the Bank. The deal would be completed even though there was not enough cash in the business to complete the transaction.
This problem would send the Sisters back into my Mothers account and remove the Mortgage on the business’s property. This would allow my Sister to mostly stop paying the rent on the property. Today the company safe contains a large stack of almost worthless stock certificates. My Sisters and Nephew have stripped the business of all its cash, the business is almost a year behind in rent, and a line of credit used to cover winter payroll is maxed out.
In hindsight it is very easy to spot the mistakes. I can tell you from being involved all my life they were not so easy to spot while they were happening. My Father built a very successful business starting with only a Jeep and a Rototiller. He enjoyed building the business; he did not enjoy running the business. My Father loved hunting and he loved traveling, however the true love of his life was building. When my Father started building houses in Florida he was truly happy. During the last 20 years of my Father’s life he had his airplane, his rifle and he had his hammer, this is what his life was all about for him.
There were many mistakes made over the last 65 years this happens with every business. Some business’s survive most don’t. This business had the depth and strength to shake off the mistakes and move forward. For someone who has been involved since early in the second decade it is sickening to watch the greed of my Sisters and Nephew take down something I worked at building since I was 7 years old. Statistics will show that more than 50% of family businesses will fail when the second generation takes over. After the transition into the third generation 90% of family businesses will fail. This statistic seems to be true.
How is the Business doing in January of 2014? Still operating but most likely financially damaged beyond repair. The management is not willing to invest the time and sweat needed to save the business. They refuse roll back their own benefit packages, cut waste and commit the time needed. My Sister and Nephew and the rest of the board of directors will take what they can until the bank pulls the plug.
How is my Mother doing financially? Who knows Sister 2 and the Lawyer are keeping my Mothers financial status hidden from the rest of the family.
Do I believe my Sisters hid the business transition documents? Not likely; it was more likely by reading my Fathers letters that he knew the business would not survive after his involvement ended. My Father spent the last year of his life updating his estate plans. If he felt the business needed to be addressed he would have.
My Sisters never wanted to invest the time to learn the Business. My Nephew never worked in the business before taking the helm. The story that you have read is completely unknown to my Sisters and the Nephew. The Nephew is now at the helm of a sinking ship, with no experience, and no map. He was offered help he refused.
In 2006 I could have legally booted my Sisters off the board of directors, and cleaned out the dead wood why didn't I? Doing so without any cooperation from the staff while I was running my own Business was not worth the aggravation.
Friday, January 10, 2014
Leiser Family War.
I mostly ignored the family war story in the History of the business; however since the late 1970’s the sibling war would take its own toll on the business. When I decided to leave the business and purchase my own store in 1994 dad would declare a winner of the battle. In a letter he would write “you let your Sister beat you”. However my Sister forcing me out of the business in 1994 would not end the war. I still owned a large share of the business that she wanted.
This will be the Story of the battle. The Leiser story is not unusual there are libraries full of books on the subject of family business’s and generational transitions. Our Father would attend and have us attend seminars on family business’s and transitions. Dad hired experts in the field and consulted with attorneys.
After over 3 decades of transition planning dad would pass away without a transition plan. The battle would continue for decades because dad would refuse to disclose a succession plan.
A transition plan would never be written number one is that dad never wanted to relinquish control and number two I believe he found enjoyment in watching the battle progress. Dad would not pick a winner or choose sides; as the war progressed siblings would fall in and out of favor with him.
As my siblings entered the business I had been there the longest and had already received a share of the business.
This Chapter is going to take a while to evolve as I continue to work on the main story. With this link getting the largest number of hits I am going to list some short stories that are not necessarily in order.
The family moved into a house directly behind the business in 1963. From this time on I spent much of my time around the store and began to learn the business. My interest was mechanical and I would spend hours salvaging and repairing old engines from the junk pile in the basement. By the time I was 12 years old I had bought and old car as a project and was working on customers lawn mowers in the shop. When I was 14 I was put on the payroll received a schedule and a paycheck. We moved out of Bethlehem in 1971 this would mostly end my siblings time around the business, however I continued to work after school, weekends and summers. As a high school senior I was on the co-op program and spent ½ my school day working at the store. College was never an option because my carrier path was set. My siblings had other carrier path ideas.
The first of my siblings to join the business was Linda in 1976. Linda was married started a family and wanted to work a few days a week. My younger brother would join the business in 1977 after he completed a new rental industry-sponsored course set up to give the next generation an overview of the rental business. The rental course ended with the students apprenticing with some of the California rental pioneers. When my brother returned from California he had our father’s ear. From day one in the business, my brother’s plan was to take control of the business and push me out or aside.
When my Brother returned from California he would invite me into the office and while sitting in dad's chair explain that he was much smarter than I was and that if I stepped aside he would always make sure that I had a job. I spent most of my childhood learning the business my brother felt he could walk in and take it all away; The War was on. The following group of short stories will chronicle the Leiser Family War.
The tactic that my siblings would use and would follow me for decades is that I wasn't mentally capable of operating the business. This would be easy because as an undiagnosed dyslexic I had trouble getting through school. My school record would be used from the first days of the war and continues today. My brother would also pick apart and complain about the quality of my work. It didn't matter that I was given few assets and still was able to patch together an obsolete rental fleet; I would start to see employee warning notices taped to my tool box for all the staff to see. I would counter this by laminating one of the more petty warning notices’ and permanently taping it to my tool box. (My original tool box with the now brittle and faded note is in my office).
Macungie; my Brother would convince our father to send me to the Macungie Store. Dad felt this would bring harmony back into the business. I would go to Macungie and replace the truck driver. The truck driver was Dad’s favorite employee and he missed having him at the main store. At the time one of my responsibilities was managing the parts and service for Bobcat Skid Steer loaders. I also handled all the on the road service calls for Bobcat. My responsibilities could not be handled by my brother or any other employees. My father would solve this problem by moving the entire Bobcat business to Macungie. The other problem that my brother would be faced with is that I had been the caretaker of a very old and out of date rental inventory. I was moving to a store with a mostly new rental inventory. What would be left behind for my brother and his staff to handle was an aging fleet of rental equipment that I had grown up with and understood.
On the psychological side, I would be a subordinate, and answer to the uninspired manager of Macungie Store, a man I trained. I would also have my store keys taken away. I guess my brother used the key confiscation to have dad question my honesty.
In Macungie the Manager, truck driver and the part-time Saturday guy had a key, Rob Leiser didn't. This would be annoying to Dad because he would have to loan me his keys when a Farm errand included picking something up at one of the stores.
During the war, I had too many responsibilities to play these psychological games. However, when I could make one of these idiotic games blow up in someone’s face I would. The Key battle was one of my favorite stories because it would show that my siblings would neglect the business and the customers to win the war. The key battle would last for many months before blowing up in my brother’s face.
My Brother, Father, and the truck driver knew the Macungie manager rarely made it to work on time. If the Manager was late the truck driver opened the store. With the truck driver gone and me without a key, the customers and I would wait for the manager to arrive. Every morning I would pick up a newspaper, Danish, and a soda and wait for the manager to unlock the door. The manager would usually show up within an hour of opening sometimes it would be later. One morning after numerous phone calls with not answer, my father drove to Macungie and found the store closed and me sleeping in my car. I got my key back after that incident.
During the spring of 2015 I received a cease and desist order from Leiser’s Bethlehem. I was to stop using the name Leiser’s (my name) on my business. The name had been on the Forks Township store since it opened in 1995, and the right to use the name was included in the purchase and separation agreement in 1995. While I was amused at the letter my attorney was concerned. It seemed the nephew wanted use trademark infringement as a bargaining chip in my attempt to collect a large sum of unpaid rent. My lawyer was somewhat relieved when I shared the documents that showed that the right to use the name was part of the purchase agreement.
The fact that the business name Leiser’s was even trademarked surprised me since the change from Donald W Leiser Lawn and Garden to “Leiser’s” was a slow process that started years before the business was incorporated in 1970. What I would learn is that my sister Linda’s son started the trademark process several months after I started legal action to collect long overdue rent.
I assume Linda would authorize spending the thousands on the trademark ploy without consulting her board of directors. If she had consulted her board she would have known that a senior board member signed the cooperation agreement that gave me right to use the name in 1995. Linda also ignored my father’s handwritten notes, and the contract my father signed in 1995.
My attorney approached this cautiously and wanted to consult with an Intellectual property attorney. Next step was a sit down with an IP attorney. While I have a working knowledge of the legal system I found the meeting with the IP attorney fascinating and educational.
When the business’s separated I had decided to add rentalbarn to the business name as a precaution for just such a situation. I was originally prepared to drop the Leiser name when the trademark litigation started, however, after meeting with the IP attorney I decided not to move so quickly.
Why would Linda ignore the 1995 cooperation agreement? This question would be answered several times as Linda would use the trademark to force me to agreed to her terms for a settlement.
One of the consequences of the trademark ploy would cost Linda the ability to consult with the Business’s law firm when it came to dealing with the sale of the land. Since Linda’s law firm had not only worked on the 1995 separation agreement, one of the firm’s partners chose and registered “Leiser’s of Easton Inc.” for my business. Since the cease and desist order was generated by one of the firm’s attorneys this was a clear conflict of interest.
Where is the trademark litigation now? Hibernation; however, I suspect I have not seen the end of the trademark litigation
In her own words; this is a paragraph added to a settlement agreement.
Robert D. Leiser agrees that he will identify his business only with that specific complete name and specifically agrees to revise/confirm all of his advertising associated with his rental business, including building signage, internet and telephone book content to reflect “Leiser’s Rental Barn”, and further that he shall complete any necessary revisions within 60 days of closing.
Recently the Staff at Leiser’s Bethlehem has been telling customers that I stole the name. My reply is unless the nephew decides to change his name I am the last of the 3 generations of Mr. Leiser’s who have been involved in Leiser’s Rental over the last 69 years.
Recently the Staff at Leiser’s Bethlehem has been telling customers that I stole the name. My reply is unless the nephew decides to change his name I am the last of the 3 generations of Mr. Leiser’s who have been involved in Leiser’s Rental over the last 69 years.