Victory & Good Vibes

Miller: "We kicked ass" on swipe reform; Life is good's Jacobs spreading optimism

CHICAGO -- Swipe-fee reform was the "biggest legislative victory in [our industry's] history," Miller Oil Co. president and NACS chairman Jeff Miller said during the 2011 NACS Show opening general session. Not only will the industry and its customers see $830 million in savings because of swipe-fee reform, but the victory "showed what happens when we come together and we speak with one voice."

He added, "It was something no one outside our industry thought would ever happen. But we thought that it could happen. We fought together. And we won together."

Readingfrom a news report about the swipe-fee fight, Miller said, "Big banks have not lost many legislative fights in Washington. …Wall Street can beat almost anyone in a legislative brawl, but it cannot defeat the entire American retail industry,"

"Let me summarize that," Miller said. "We came together. And we kicked ass."

Keeping with the positive spirit, speaker Bert Jacobs, "chief executive optimist" at Life is good Inc., said that his concept started at the family dinner table. Jacobs grew up knowing that he had to be there at 6:00 p.m. every evening "no matter what was going on; no matter what was happening in the house." And he knew that his mom would look around the room at her six kids, and say, "Tell me something good that happened today."

He told attendees at the NACS Show's opening general session: "It's a very simple thing, but it made us focus and start a conversation around something good that was happening. … Our mom really embedded that optimism that became 'Life is good'."

He said that optimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. "As soon as you believe that there are opportunities there, opportunities open up. … Optimism is the most powerful tool you have--not just for your business, but for your life."

Bert and his brother John started the Life is good clothing company, known for its designs focused on the company "mascot" Jake and its quirky optimistic sayings, with a combined $78 in 1994. Prior to that, the two sold t-shirts out of an old used van they called "The Enterprise," which they hoped would "boldly go where no t-shirt guy has gone before."

One day, they were discussing negativity in the media. "We realize that difficult things happen in the world. But good things happen too. And we talked about the impact of always being told what's wrong with the world, and rarely being told what's right with the world."

John told Bert: "What if we created a hero whose power was his optimism, so he's like Superman, but his power is his disposition and he's always happy. … And therefore, he's capable of anything."

Out of that conversation, Jake was born. The first batch of 48 Life is good t-shirts sold out in 45 minutes to a mix of people that included a Harley-Davidson guy, a schoolteacher and a kid on a skateboard. "And we thought, 'People are starving for good news. … People are starving just to celebrate life."

Without any advertising, and relying solely on word of mouth, Boston-based Life is good has grown from that $78 into a $100-million company.

It also has a few other unique distinctions: The company is active with its Life is good Playmakers, a nonprofit dedicated to helping kids overcome life-threatening challenges. (Jacobs' speaking fees go to the organization.) It also holds music festivals to raise money for charity and has even become part of the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most lit Jack-'O-lanterns displayed (30,128) at its pumpkin festival.

"To us, the trick is to blur the line between work and play. If you can make your work about your play, about what you care about the most, then you have it beat," he said, adding that the company's motto has become: "Do what you like, like what you do."

Going forward, Jacobs said Life is good is now looking at extensions of its offerings, including home goods, footwear and international expansion.

He added that from the beginning, he and John realized they might be onto something special. "If we could make this thing work, this simple artwork and this idea of spreading optimism, spreading good vibes, we thought: That could be something."

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