by Rhea Lana Riner
Thank you for taking a few minutes to reflect on 2019 with me!
I’ve spent the past 12 years starting and building a franchising company. I was a stay at home mom with an idea that I thought would bless others. I had very little money and even less experience in franchising. But what I did have was a passion to succeed and a commitment to help other families like mine. This passion and deeply rooted hard work ethic came from my family. My father was a highly decorated war hero. As he led his soldiers in battle many years ago, he expected immediate obedience to his orders – because it would save their lives. As you can imagine, my father brought that same mindset into our family. I remember his consistent words to me, “Rhea Lana, you can do better. Your best isn’t good enough. Don’t quit!” He wanted the best for me, and he wanted me to know that I could do more than I thought I could – but I would have to push myself outside of what felt naturally comfortable. My Warrior Dad passed away this year, on May 26, 2019. He lived a life that modeled courage, perseverance, and leadership to me.
Less than 2 weeks later, on June 7, I found myself needing all the courage, perseverance and leadership I could muster, as I received the devastating news that I had lost my 8 year battle with the government. I had filed a lawsuit against the United States Government (Department of Labor) to protect our company and the entire children’s consignment event industry from government overregulation. This sad news meant that our basic business model (and the 30-year consignment event model) would have to change. We’d won a court decision in the first round 2 years ago, but now we’d lost the second round in this same court, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, one step below the Supreme Court. The long hard journey was finished. We’d lost the court case.
Over the years, I’d attempted to link arms with others in the industry, but in the end, the battle was up to me. If I’m completely honest, it was a terrifying, lonely journey. Millions of dollars in potential fines were threatened against me. The government sent letters to my customers inviting them to sue me. I wanted to give up many times. But deep in my core, I knew that I could not give up until I’d given it everything I had. So, I just kept fighting the uphill battle to protect the millions of American families who love our events. I kept pushing myself to do those things I didn’t want to do – meet with attorneys, walk the halls of Congress until I had blisters on my feet, appear on national television and radio, speak in front of Congressional leaders in Washington D.C, submit a bill to Congress called the Children’s Consignment Event Recognition Act, submit articles for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Forbes Business periodicals. I continued telling my story to anyone and everyone who would listen.
On that day in early June, I was deeply grieved that I had lost and not been able to protect the many families that I was representing. In the 20 years, we’ve been in business, no one has ever complained about our business model. It was an initiative totally by the government. Although I did not agree with the ruling, I respected the decision and began immediately making the model changes to comply. The first step was to tell my franchise owners. I had received the news while we were at our Annual Owners Conference in Oklahoma City. It felt like it was the worst possible news to deliver at the worst possible time.
I received the news on Friday morning. I met with a few trusted advisors in secret, and we made a plan that we would move through the festivities of the weekend, including the huge awards gala on Saturday evening. Then I would give the news Sunday morning before everyone headed home at Noon. It was truly the biggest test of my leadership to date. I will never in my lifetime forget standing on the stage that Sunday morning delivering the terrible news to my franchise owners that we had lost the court case. I opened it up for questions. As I had done consistently for the previous 8 years, I answered with complete honesty and transparency – even the toughest questions, and I admitted that I did not yet have all of the answers. Then a moment happened that is cemented in my mind forever – when the questions were finished and I’d answered each one as best as I could...I looked out into the large room and saw that one by one, my franchise owners, all around the room stood……. and gave me a standing ovation. It was so unexpected and I felt so completely overwhelmed by their support that I did something I have never done before in front of my company. I cried. Literally, tears flowing to the floor. I’d never cried in front of my company before because I’ve always felt that if I showed any sign of weakness, I would not be respected. But I’m over that now. I’m learning that acknowledging and expressing my emotions appropriately is actually a sign of strong, authentic leadership. I hope every woman reading this will deeply understand that she can be strong while also being true to herself and showing her emotions. I actually still cry every time I think about those moments on the stage of such personal vulnerability before my company, and how I felt so loved and supported by my franchise owners and my corporate team.
As I walked off the stage that day, one by one they came up to me saying, “Rhea Lana, we’re with you. We’ll figure this out together!” And they did. With 97 franchises in 22 states at the time, the mission to successfully change our business model with event season a few weeks away was daunting, to say the least. As it turns out, a really cool thing was happening during the 8 year battle with the government. Our brand was growing and many of our franchise owners were becoming successful. These women were maturing into smart, compassionate business leaders. Our business of running consignment events is wonderful – but it’s also crazy hard work. Just like in every business, not everyone pushes through to success in our business. But those who do, are AMAZING women business leaders who absolutely adore serving families in their communities! They have high capacities, they know how to solve problems, they know how to build teams and they know how to serve others. These Rhea Lana’s Leaders locked arms with me and helped me set our course for the future. I could not have done it without them. Those who are newer in our Rhea Lana’s company trusted, learned and followed. I’m just so incredibly proud of each one! With the new model changes, we experienced the best season of events in the history of our company! Our customers graciously understood the need for changes and they’ve stayed with us across the country. We’re incredibly grateful. We also reached a milestone of 100 Franchises and were named on multiple lists as a top franchise opportunity this year.
The crazy thing is that in a year with many challenges, I can truly look back and see that it was a year where I’ve grown the most, personally and professionally. That’s the goal for each of our lives, right? That each year we would become a better version of ourselves than we were the year before. This year I’ve felt deep sadness and also overwhelming joy. As I reflect on our company, I can say without a doubt that we are stronger right now than we have ever been. It feels like we’ve been through war together! We’ve locked arms, we’ve trusted each other, and we’ve moved forward as a unified team. Tough times can make or break you, but these tough times have MADE us!
A company is really just a lot of people unified around a common mission. As we close this decade and begin a new one, our mission at Rhea Lana’s remains the same: To serve with love and integrity, families everywhere, with inviting, excellent and valuable children’s consignment events.
Here’s to 2020 and a wonderful new decade!!!
-Rhea Lana Riner