Disappointed by the court’s decision, the advocate for many who lost their life savings in Stanford Ponzi scheme calls on the SEC to appeal.
By Leslie Turk
July 26, 2012
In yet another disappointing ruling for the victims of Allen Stanford’s $7 billion Ponzi scheme, a federal district judge for the District of Columbia rejected a request for an industry-backed fund to start a process for compensation.
By Leslie Turk
July 26, 2012
Lafayette General Medical Center is the only hospital in the state to be recognized as one of the nation’s 200 “Most Wired,” according to results of the 2012 Most Wired Survey in the July issue of Hospitals & Health Networks magazine.
With no plan or vision for the future of higher education coming out of the Jindal administration — just cuts — Randy Moffett announces his retirement.
By Leslie Turk
July 26, 2012
It certainly appears that UL System President Randy Moffett, 65, has had enough. In the past four years of the Jindal administration — the time frame in which Moffett has been president of the system — higher education institutions have been hit with a 41.7 percent reduction in state appropriations, their budgets slashed a total of $615.3 million, according to numbers released in early July by the Louisiana Democratic Party.
LHC Group’s Legal Woes Continue
Local home health provider, which last year paid the feds $65 million to settle a dispute over its billing practices, now faces a potential class action.
By Leslie Turk
Photo by Robin May
The law office of Scott & Scott, headquartered in Connecticut, is seeking class action certification for a June 13 lawsuit it filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana alleging securities fraud against Lafayette-based LHC Group. The complaint was filed on behalf of people who bought or acquired the company’s stock from July 30, 2008, to Oct. 26, 2011.
Filed by the City of Omaha Police and Fire Retirement System against LHC Group and Chairman/Chief Executive Officer Keith G. Myers, the suit alleges violations of the Exchange Act, claiming that from July 2008 to October 2011 the company issued false and misleading statements concerning its business and financial prospects. Specifically, the suit claims the defendants failed to disclose that much of the growth in LHC Group’s home-based health care segment was created by the company intentionally increasing the number of Medicare home therapy visits to trigger higher reimbursements. The suit alleges LHC Group manipulated the number of patient visits, “regardless of patient need, to maximize revenue.”
In its June 14 8-K filing, LHC Group acknowledged it is aware of the suit, saying it believes the claims are without merit and intends to vigorously defend the allegations. The company had no further comment.
According to the plaintiff’s press release announcing the suit:
The complaint alleges that the truth began to come to light on May 12, 2010, when LHC announced that the Company received a letter from the Senate Finance Committee asking LHC to respond to questions regarding therapy utilization in prior years. It is alleged that this partial disclosure caused LHC’s stock price to sharply decline, removing some of the stock inflation. Then, following the Company’s July 13, 2010 announcement that it had received a request from the Securities and Exchange Commission to preserve all documents relating to LHC’s Medicare reimbursement practices, the Company’s stock fell further on heavy trading volume. The complaint alleges that this decrease in the price of LHC’s stock was a result of some of the artificial inflation caused by defendants’ misleading statements coming out of the price.
On October 3, 2011, the Senate Committee released a report on its investigation that found that LHC and two other home health care companies engaged in practices that “at best represent abuses of the Medicare home program” and “[a]t worst, they may be examples of for-profit companies defrauding the Medicare home health program at the expense of taxpayers.” That day, the price of LHC shares fell $1.42 per share, or 8.3%, to close at $15.64. Finally, on October 26, 2011, LHC disclosed that the Company was lowering its earnings forecast, in part because of a payment to the federal government to settle an inquiry into whether LHC improperly billed for home health services that were medically unnecessary. On this news, LHC’s stock price fell an additional 15% in a single trading session.
As noted in the June 13 complaint, this federal suit is the latest in a string of problems the company has faced over its billing practices. The settlement with the feds, which ended a civil inquiry involving Medicare reimbursement for home health services from 2006 to 2008, cost the company $65 million.
When it announced the settlement in September 2011, LHC Group said it cooperated fully with investigators. It also said it disputed the government’s claims and maintained that the agreement was neither an admission nor determination of wrongdoing.
LHC Group and its home health competitors have been hit hard by reimbursement cuts and federal investigations into their billing practices. Two days before the June 13 lawsuit was filed, LHC Group announced that it had concluded a strategic review process it launched in November to enhance stockholder value. The company said it has decided to stay the course on its operating plan, including the possibility of repurchasing up to $50 million of its outstanding common stock with cash on hand or borrowings under existing or new debt facilities.
The process, which the company’s board privately agreed to commence shortly after the settlement with the feds, involved an objective review of all of its strategic alternatives, including execution of its operating plan for 2012 through 2016. Such reviews also typically involve the possibility that a company will put itself on the sale block — and they often lead to any number of rumors and speculation about the direction a company may be heading.
In February, to address some of the speculation that had begun to disseminate — company spokesman Jamie Webb says such reviews aren’t typically announced until the end of the process — the home health provider confirmed the review in a public statement and said it had hired J.P. Morgan Securities LLC to advise it on its options.
Citing unnamed sources, Reuters reported in March that private equity firm TPG Capital LP was considering making an offer for LHC Group:
“Private equity makes more sense at this point,” said Kevin Ellich, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co. “You take the company private and deal with the regulatory and reimbursement headwinds in the next couple of years.”
It’s unclear whether talks between the two entities ever materialized, but LHC Group now says it will stay the course it was on before undertaking the review. As a result of the analysis, its board of directors unanimously decided that the best opportunity to enhance shareholder value is for the company remain an independent public corporation.
“We engaged in this evaluation from a position of strength and, with the assistance of our legal and financial advisers, carefully considered various alternatives,” Myers said in announcing the conclusion of the review process. “This thorough process has affirmed our belief in the long-term value of our company based on our proven ability to grow through our industry-leading model for hospital partnerships, to improve efficiency by leveraging technology and to control overhead costs.”
Twilley returns to LSU
Photo by Robin May
A little more than 22 months after being named vice president for research at UL Lafayette, Dr. Robert Twilley has been named executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, an LSU-based program that, according to its website, promotes “stewardship of the state’s coastal resources through a combination of research, education and outreach programs critical to the cultural, economic and environmental health of Louisiana’s coastal zone.”
Between November 2010 and April of this year the respected coastal researcher wore two hats, also serving as the interim CEO of Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise. But he’s no stranger to the Baton Rouge campus: Twilley served as associate vice chancellor for research and economic development at LSU before taking the VP position at UL.
Louisiana Sea Grant is one of 32 programs located in coastal and Great Lakes states and Puerto Rico under the umbrella of the National Sea Grant Program.
“It’s an honor to lead such a distinguished program,” says Twilley in a press release announcing the hire. “Louisiana Sea Grant has accomplished some extraordinary things, from responding to coastal stakeholder needs following devastating hurricanes and the recent oil spill in the Gulf to sponsoring innovative research and nurturing new scholars across the state. This truly is an exciting opportunity for me to continue my passion to promote solutions to living along coastal Louisiana.”
Twilley tells ABiz he owns a condo in Baton Rouge but plans to maintain his Lafayette residence and remain active in the community. — Walter Pierce
Let the Sports Talk Competition Begin
Dyed-in-the-wool Acadiana sports fans now have two listening options in their cars and workplaces.
By Dan McDonald
Delta Media Corp. in Carencro, which operates five radio stations and four low-power television stations, switched formats on the former SNAP 103.7 the morning of June 4. The new entity, known as 103.7 “The Game,” becomes the first 24-hour FM sports talk station in the region and joins traditional outlet Sports Radio ESPN 1420 AM of Lafayette in the genre.
The new station carries national programming from FOX Sports Radio as well as nationally known sports radio personalities Dan Patrick and Jim Rome in its lineup. Its only locally produced show airs from 6-8 a.m. daily with 103.7 Program Director Chris Numan and KLFY-TV weekend sports anchor Jeff Horchak. Delta Media General Manager Chuck Wood says more local programming will join the lineup in the near future.
“I’ve been involved with every sports station that Lafayette’s ever had,” Wood says. “There’s not a day that goes by, whether I’m at the golf course or a UL function or anywhere, that someone doesn’t ask me when we’re going to put sports on FM.”
ESPN 1420/KPEL-AM went to an all-sports format in 1998 and at the time also had only one locally produced daily show: Jay Walker’s “Bird’s Eye View,” which still airs from 3-6 p.m. daily. Since then, ESPN 1420’s local programming has increased to cover most daylight hours, including Steve Peloquin’s “Thinking Out Loud” from 7-9 a.m.; Kevin Foote’s “FooteNotes” from 9-11 a.m.; Billy Ryckman’s “The Sports Note” from 11 a.m.-noon; Walker from 3-6 p.m., and Scott Prather’s “The Great Scott Show” from 6-7 p.m.
“You look at the fact that we do nine hours of local radio every day, and we’ve been doing that for so long, that’s a strength,” says Peloquin, ESPN 1420’s station manager. “We pre-empt a lot of ESPN programming, shows like Mike and Mike, Colin Cowherd and Doug Gottlieb. There’s a reason they’re at ESPN radio, because they’re very good, but our numbers show people want to listen to local radio rather than national. We also try to give them different tastes with all our shows, and I think that’s why people pay attention to us.”
ESPN 1420 is the home station for UL sports play-by-play and aired approximately 170 UL events during the past athletic year, including all football, men’s basketball, baseball and softball games — becoming the first commercial station in the country to air an entire collegiate softball schedule. The station also carries Acadiana High football.
The Game is the new local home of LSU sports, shifting the Tigers from Delta’s 107.1 spot.
The station will also carry St. Thomas More High football, and Wood says The Game plans to add a regular golf show and an on-location football show to its fall lineup.
Wood maintains that the stronger signal on 103.7 (currently 3,000 watts at 1,000 feet) will be a boost to nighttime listeners.
“Music programming is all about morning drive,” he says, “but there’s more listening to this format nationally in the afternoon and evening. Our goal is to put out a quality sports product on a local level that people can listen to 24 hours a day and offer coverage that hasn’t been available before.”
ESPN 1420’s 1,000-watt AM signal covers the Acadiana area during daytime hours but drops off sharply at night. The station supplements its UL coverage by simultaneously broadcasting Ragin’ Cajuns football and men’s basketball on its Townsquare Media sister station Hot 107.9 FM — which has a 100,000-watt signal — and also airs UL baseball on weekends over NewsTalk KPEL-FM 96.5. Townsquare Media operates seven radio stations from its Lafayette studios.
“We have the ESPN name and people recognize that as the leader in sports,” Peloquin says. “People here are used to what we’re doing, plus we’re 14 years old. People know we’re not going anywhere.”
Delta Media launches ‘hot AC’ format
Delta Media Corp., which launched a new sports talk format on June 4, a week later changed the format of 107.1 FM to hot adult contemporary. The new station, MIX 107.1, replaces KOOL 107.1, which played tunes from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
Mix 107.1 plans to compete against long-popular AC station KTDY 99.9 FM and contemporary hit radio station KSMB 94.5 FM, says Chuck Wood, general manager of Delta Media. “The format is designed to sit right between KTDY and KSMB,” Wood explains. “Not as young leaning as KSMB and not as mature leaning as KTDY.” The new station’s target demo is women 25-40 years old, he says.
Wood worked for KTDY’s owner, Townsquare Media, before returning to his old job at the KSMB group of stations in mid-2009. After that group’s owner, Cumulus, let Wood go earlier this year, he joined locally owned Delta Media.
MIX 107.1 includes nationally known personality Kidd Kraddick from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. “Kidd Kraddick is ranked as one of the most listened-to shows in America,” Delta Media’s Chris Lamke says in announcing the change. “MIX 107.1 will bring his unique star power to Acadiana listeners along with today’s best hits.”
Local personalities Hope Ford — who was doing middays on Snap 103.7 before it switched to 103.7 The Game — will follow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Local personality “T.J.” — Tyler Robicheaux — takes over from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Robicheaux was previously with Cumulus, doing afternoon drive on Rock 93.7 FM and weekends on KSMB (known by the on-air name “A.J.”).
National talents Dave Perry and Susan Huber pick up through midnight and 5 a.m., respectively.
MIX 107.1 offers a blend of today’s hottest artists, including Kelly Clarkson, John Mayer, Katy Perry, Nickelback and Gavin DeGraw. The station also offers local news, weather and traffic. “Hot AC has been missing from this market, and Delta Media plans to deliver it to those wanting today’s best hits without any offensive programming or songs,” Wood says.
Carencro-based Delta Media Corp. owns five radio stations and four TV stations. — Leslie Turk
Catching up With: Julie Kelley
You can take the girl out of Cajun Country, but, well, you know.
Television news anchor Julie Kelley is still at ABC affiliate TV3, only this TV3 is in metro Washington, D.C., not Lafayette where she spent a decade as a reporter and anchor at KATC. The 38-year-old Vermont native, who graduated from Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Public Communications in 1996, met her Cajun husband when she was covering a story during her first TV reporting job in Upstate New York. New Iberia native Mac Mire was in the Coast Guard at the time and, as Julie recalls it, informed his mother soon after meeting her that he was going to marry that Yankee girl. Julie says Mac’s Cajun cooking is what reeled her in.
We caught up with Julie recently via Facebook and email. She’s been away from Lafayette for nearly three years now, but South Louisiana is never far from her heart.
ABiz: Tell us more about your life in the D.C. area.
JK: We live in Winchester, Va., a hidden gem near Shenandoah National Park about an hour outside of Washington, D.C. I am a 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. anchor for TV3 Winchester, an ABC affiliate covering a small section of the Washington, D.C., market.
I have become a dedicated yogi in my time here. I practice yoga about five times a week. I also love enjoying the mountains around here. We’ve hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail and biked trails along the Potomac River. Our next bike trip is a 30-mile ride into Harpers Ferry — I can’t wait. I’m also the second baseman (and not a bad hitter) for my TV3 softball team.
And in the fall, we spend our Saturdays and Sundays cooking and watching football (cheering on LSU, the Cajuns and the Saints). Well, truth be told, Mac does the cooking; I sit in a big chair in the kitchen and keep him company.
ABiz: What do you miss the most about living in Louisiana?
JK: Our family and friends.
I’ll never forget my first crawfish boil. I actually asked for melted butter. (Right, such a Yankee.) Now, I wouldn’t eat it without my mayo/ketchup mixture.
We were back recently to mourn the loss of Mac’s dad, our Pop, and one of my favorite people in the world. I’ll miss walking through the door and hearing him say, “Whatcha know?” It’s how he greeted us — with a big hug, too.
Every time I say “boo” or “come see” to someone in the newsroom, I am reminded how much of Louisiana got into this Vermont girl’s heart.
ABiz: What’s the best thing about living in Virginia?
JK: I get to spend lots of time with my family. In fact, I wish my mom and dad would just move in; I enjoy seeing them so much. We’re also within driving distance of all three of my older brothers.
ABiz: What are the most satisfying and frustrating aspects of television news broadcasting?
JK: I have so much fun with the people I work with. Many of them are just starting out and I love to see how quickly they become good journalists. They’ve taught me so much about enjoying life, and I’m definitely cheering them on all the way.
I always tell our other anchor that I don’t like logistics. My mind wants to be creative — I can’t wait to talk about story ideas, how to tell great stories and being live during breaking news and weather on the air. I’d rather not think about what car a reporter is in or who has what equipment. Thank goodness other people around here are good at that.
ABiz: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
JK: I would listen more and worry less.
I keep a prayer next to my bed my grandmother wrote down and it is all about not worrying about tomorrow — that God will provide what we need or provide the strength to handle whatever comes our way. I believe it, but sometimes I just need a reminder.
ABiz: Other than Mac’s family, do you keep up with anyone from Lafayette?
JK: One of my dearest friends, Tonya Lacoste, started out at KATC soon after me. Tonya has seen me through so much and she will always be one of my dearest and treasured friends.
Liz Robichaux, a former KATC producer and Jamie Angelle, a former KATC assignment editor, both live in the DC area. We went to a BBQ with them last weekend.
And, thank goodness for Facebook, because I get to keep up with many more people from my Louisiana days.
ABiz: What are your career and life goals?
JK: I want to continue my work as a journalist on television and online and also start a family. It’s time to share all this love and fun with some little ones.
ABiz: Why broadcasting?
JK: I loved writing and listening to people’s stories. I almost went to Tulane University in New Orleans — I loved everything about Louisiana even back when I was 17. But, when I visited Syracuse (it was raining, of course) and saw that college TV studio, I knew I had to do it.
My brothers will tell you I also like being the center of attention.
ABiz: If you weren’t an anchor, what would you be doing?
JK: I can’t think of anything else that would be as much fun and so rewarding.
Romacelli takes over Marcello’s spot in BR
Romacelli, the Lafayette-based Italian/Mediterranean concept with restaurants in River Ranch and Sugar Mill Pond, is taking over the space occupied by Gene Todaro’s Enoteca Marcello’s Wine Bar & Café on Perkins Road in Baton Rouge. Romacelli assumed Todaro’s lease June 13, at which time the restaurant closed.
“It went from us being open to them taking over,” Todaro says, calling the deal a “good opportunity” for both parties.
Stuart Ottinger, corporate manager for Double R Restaurant Group of Lafayette, says minor décor changes are under way, with an expected opening in mid-July. The restaurant is located at 4205 Perkins Road, between College Drive and Acadian Thruway.
Double R Restaurant Group, owned by Lafayette’s Rodney Savoy and longtime business partner Robert Gagnard of San Diego, is also the franchisee for Another Broken Egg, which opened a Baton Rouge store late last year in the former site of Harold’s clothing store in Citiplace. Ottinger says the group has signed a letter of intent for a second Baton Rouge location and also has signed an LOI in New Orleans. Another Broken Egg previously operated in the Capital City but shut down its two stores — one of them reopened under a new name but closed after the franchisee was sued for violating a non-compete clause and allegedly using trade secrets, according to 225 magazine.
Along with Robert Daigle, Savoy and Gagnard developed River Ranch and Sugar Mill Pond. The duo’s Double R Restaurant Group, which does not own the Lafayette location of Another Broken Egg, also has been expanding the breakfast/lunch concept in North Carolina and Atlanta, Ottinger says. –– Leslie Turk
MidSouth doubles BR footprint
Lafayette-based MidSouth Bank announced June 12 the acquisition of two new bank locations in Baton Rouge, a move that, subject to regulatory approval, will double MidSouth’s presence in the capital. The bank purchased the former Hancock branch on Sherwood Forest Boulevard and the former Whitney branch on Jones Creek Road. MidSouth hopes to reopen those locations in September and October, respectively.
“These former Hancock and Whitney locations are a perfect distance from our two existing banking centers, allowing us to expand both our commercial and consumer reach in the Baton Rouge market,” says MidSouth Bank Regional President Paul Judice in a press release announcing the acquisitions. “The investment in these two locations will support our future growth in Baton Rouge and into surrounding parishes, while providing more convenience for our existing customers.”
Along with a branch in Carencro expected to open this month, the Baton Rouge acquisitions will expand to 43 the number of MidSouth banking centers operating in Louisiana and Texas.
Poll says La. small businesses support health exchange
Six out of every 10 business owners surveyed in Louisiana say they support the creation of a state-run health care exchange to increase options for insuring employees and pool purchasing power through a virtual health insurance hub.
On June 14, the Small Business Majority, an advocacy group for small businesses, released the results of a survey of small businesses in Louisiana that gauges opinions on the federal Affordable Care Act, the legality of which is currently being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Of the business owners polled (those with 100 or fewer employees), 58 percent responded that they would consider using a state-run health care exchange for finding health care coverage for their employees:
One of the law’s crucial components, which has tremendous small business support, is the health insurance exchange — an online marketplace where small business owners will be able to pool their buying power when they purchase coverage. By a 6:1 ratio, owners say they would use their state exchange or at least consider using it, compared to those who say they would not consider using it when they provide benefits. The majority of entrepreneurs find specific features of the exchange very appealing, and 6 in 10 support Louisiana applying for federal funds to set one up.
State-run health care exchanges are a key provision of the federal health care law, and Louisiana is one of only a few states in the country that hasn’t yet agreed to establish the online health care resource on its own before the feds step in. Gov. Bobby Jindal and his Health Secretary Bruce Greenstein are adamantly opposed to the idea. — Heather Miller
Delhomme Joins MidSouth Bank as Advisory Director
QB serving as bank’s ‘goodwill ambassador’
UL Lafayette great-turned-NFL quarterback Jake Delhomme was named advisory director at MidSouth Bank by the bank’s board of directors May 24.
“The MidSouth Bank Board, like anyone who knows Jake, has long been impressed by his energy, enthusiasm and drive,” MidSouth Bank President and Chief Executive Officer Rusty Cloutier said in a press release announcing the addition. “Never has anyone been told ‘no’ so many times and proven people wrong so many times as Jake Delhomme.”
Cloutier also said the bank plans to utilize the leadership skills Delhomme honed on the football field to inspire and encourage young leaders at MidSouth and to instill a strong work ethic in them.
MidSouth Bank Board Chairman Will Charbonnet explained that financial institutions commonly use advisory directors, or consulting directors, as a useful resource for the elected board. He said they provide additional business and professional expertise and often serve as goodwill ambassadors in the bank’s market. “Jake is an accomplished athlete and avid horseman who has a tremendous following and network of contacts, and we could not be more proud to have someone of his caliber represent our financial institution in every community we serve,” Charbonnet commented.
The only true freshman quarterback to start for a Division I school in 1993, Delhomme had a passer efficiency rating that ranked second among NCAA freshmen quarterbacks. On the field with Delhomme when the Ragin’ Cajuns won the Big West Conference twice, and finished with three winning seasons, were NFL wide receiver Brandon Stokley and offensive lineman Anthony Clement.
“The 29-22 victory Jake led the Cajuns to over Texas A&M in 1997, during his senior year, is still the biggest moment in UL history for so many of us diehard fans,” Cloutier said. “The goal posts came down, and the entire city celebrated for what seemed like months. Well, let’s just say it ranks right up there with the Cajuns’ bowl victory last year.”
Delhomme was signed by the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in 1997 and went on to a successful career with the Carolina Panthers, where he holds multiple franchise records and led the team to Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2003, setting a Super Bowl record for his 85-yard touchdown pass. It was the longest offensive play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history. Despite his personal success in the game — 16-of-33 for 323 yards, three passing touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 113.6 passer rating — the Panthers lost to the New England Patriots on a last-minute field goal. Two years later, the Breaux Bridge native was named to the Pro Bowl. Delhomme signed a two-year deal with the Cleveland Browns in March 2010 and was picked up by the Houston Texans last year. He is now a free agent.
— Heather Miller
Ema’s joining Bailey’s
On May 25 Ema’s Restaurant closed its doors in the Acadian Village shopping center on Pinhook Road to join Bailey’s at the Centerpiece Shopping Center on Johnston Street. As part of the move, Bailey’s Seafood & Grill is being renamed Bailey’s Bistro.
Owner Ema Haq says beginning June 4 the new location will work to complement both restaurants, with Ema’s serving breakfast and lunch and Bailey’s Bistro offering only dinner and event catering.
“We want to create a culinary destination,” Haq says, noting plans to build outside patios, as well as three meeting rooms holding as many as 90 people.
The move will help Haq dedicate more time to both businesses. “I just have limited time and need to concentrate on one location,” he says. Ema’s took over the Pinhook Road spot after Edie’s Restaurant closed, choosing to open a smaller operation on Bendel Road.Since 2006, Ema’s on Pinhook served patrons a variety of traditional Southern lunch dishes, including red beans and rice, chicken fried steak, fried catfish and shrimp and grits. It also offered breakfast.
— Katie Macdonald
Tom Cox explains how he went from selling used golf balls online to nearly $15 million in annual sales. By Michael Lunsford and Leslie Turk
Entrepreneur Tom Cox put a long-held rumor to rest at the April 23 LAUNCH HOUR event at the Acadiana Center for the Arts: He did not dive into the lake at Le Triomphe to retrieve golf balls. His phenomenally successful business, however, did get its start selling used golf balls online.
“Most people want to know, ‘did you really dive in the lake?’” Cox told those gathered at the INNOV8 event to hear his “From Tee to Green” presentation. Cox said in November 1995, while he was club manager of Le Triomphe, he met some guys who were negotiating pond contracts to dive into the lakes of golf courses to retrieve old balls. He teamed up with a web developer and decided to try selling them online as a hobby, with the divers actually fulfilling the website orders. The first full year in business, 1996, the company had $17,000 in sales.
By 1998, “the hobby had become a hobby gone awry,” he said. The name was changed from Golfball Warehouse to golfballs.com and sought capital to take the business to a full-time venture. Cox joked that a large portion of golfballs.com’s sales are to “avid bad golfers. They aggressively pursue the game and aggressively move through consumables.”
Three years later, the company hit $2 million in sales, still running primarily on used golf balls. About that time, eBay hit its critical mass, doubling and then quadrupling its sales. “The guys who were selling the pond balls hadn’t quite figured out how to sell directly on the Internet, but eBay made it so they didn’t have to figure it out,” he said. Cox reminded the audience of the then-popular term “disintermediation,” or cutting out the middle man. He said golfballs.com wanted to build a direct relationship with manufacturers, but in order to build that relationship, it had to phase out used balls and focus more on customization and personalization. “We knew customization was where everything was going, so it was a relatively conservative bet.”In 2004 the company moved from New Iberia to Lafayette and opened a retail store, by then doing about $5 million in annual revenue. Since then, revenue has tripled and staff has doubled, according to Cox, with the staff of 50 swelling to about 65 during peak times. Today golfballs.com prints 1,200 dozen balls a day, six days a week, and sells all major brands of golf equipment. Sixty percent of its business is direct to consumer, with the other 40 percent in corporate and custom logos. Much of the custom products are sold through loyaltylogo.com, a companion business started in 2009 to leverage golfballs.com’s existing customer relationships. “We found out that as a golf company you can’t credibly sell huggies, you can’t credibly sell pens and pencils and those other kinds of [non-golf] items,” Cox said. “As a promotional products company, that’s related to golfballs.com, it is very easy to do that and be credible.”
Cox noted that it’s essential for a rapidly growing company to have a business plan that’s flexible and can easily adjust to changes in the marketplace. “Your business plan only works the day you write it,” he said. “It’s not a plan, it’s an evolving document that continues to move.”
One member of the audience wanted to know how the company stays on track. “We’re neurotic and analyze everything. The belly putter thing, we knew was coming, because three weeks in a row the PGA tournaments were won by guys using belly putters and the manufacturer ran out of them. Clay Judice, here in Lafayette, invented something that turned any putter into a belly putter. You watch numbers and the environment you’re in. Every day we start with a 15-minute meeting with the directors of the company.”
Brad Pecot, golfballs.com’s director of marketing, joined Cox in explaining how the company drives traffic and business to its website.
Pecot said there are two ways to drive traffic to your website through the search engines — organic and paid search results, each with different methods that give companies a “fighting chance.” Organic involves search engine optimization, and paid results are sponsored results: You are charged each time someone clicks your ad, with prices generally based on the competitiveness of the industry.
Pecot said email marketing is still an ideal channel for golfballs.com, ranking as its No. 1 traffic and revenue generator. In 2011, email marketing generated $2.5 million in revenue, he said. “While email marketing may be dead for some industries, it’s certainly not dead in the golf industry,” Pecot said after revealing that 90 percent of golfers report they are more likely to receive information from email marketing.
Cox added that email works much better for his company than social media.
The company’s staff is “neurotic” about analysis, consistently using Google Analytics to track its sales.
“Business analytics is a growing part of running any type of business,” Cox said. “You need to know what’s going on behind the scenes.”
Pecot categorized the analytics into three categories that track where visitors come from, what they do on the site and their conversion rate.
Cox defined the conversion rate as a “percentage of people who buy [merchandise] on your website.”
“If 100 people visit your website, and three buy, you have a 3 percent conversion rate,” Cox said. “If you can get that conversion rate up just 1 percent, it’s huge.” In essence, Cox said you don’t necessarily have to build more traffic, just better manage the traffic you already have.
However, because manufacturer restrictions limit the diversity of online sites like golfballs.com, Pecot and Cox had to establish other methods to distinguish their site.
With a “100 percent satisfaction guarantee,” golfballs.com distinguishes itself through a commitment to customer service, Pecot added, describing positive recognitions from various customer service reviewers like Amazon.com, StellaService and the Better Business Bureau.
“We just solve it for the customer,” Cox said. “There’s never any question.”
LGMC takes over old Begnaud’s spot in OC
Lafayette General Medical Center is continuing to buy property and expand its medical complex in the Oil Center. Earlier this month LGMC signed a lease-purchase agreement for the former Begnaud’s Fine Gifts at 1164 Coolidge Blvd., but doesn’t have definite plans for the site just yet.
LGMC spokesman Daryl Cetnar says the approximately 4,000-square-foot Begnaud’s location will temporarily be used as a construction staging area of sorts for the hospital’s planned $55 million expansion. “Begnaud’s is going to be a place to put things during construction,” Cetnar says.
The project gets under way in August and includes a new operating room facility — “completely new operating rooms, all of them,” Cetnar says — and new emergency department. Additionally, a six-story parking garage on the Heymann Center side of the medical facility will be constructed on land the hospital is leasing from Lafayette Consolidated Government. The parking tower will have 350 spaces with direct access to the hospital, Cetnar says, noting that the Heymann Center will also utilize the garage.
Begnaud’s Fine Gifts, which was owned by Louise Ganucheau, recently relocated to the Oil Center Gardens as Stella’s. Ganucheau has retained the business, which offers a large selection of Vera Bradley bags, Tyler Candles and baby clothes and accessories.
— Leslie Turk
Lafayette attorney reps players versus NFL
Several former NFL players who had college careers at LSU and Southern University have filed a second class action lawsuit against the National Football League over concussion-related injuries and, the players contend, the NFL’s failure to address and counteract the long-term repercussions of repeated head trauma suffered by former players.
Included in the most recent suit are Charlie Granger, Allen “Jubilee” Dunbar, Raymond Jones, Clint James, Willie Teal, Lyman White and Herman Fontenot. Lafayette attorney Derriel McCorvey has been appointed to serve on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, which is responsible for prosecuting the claims against the NFL and helmet manufacturer Riddell. McCorvey is himself a former NFL player who starred at LSU in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
“With the National Football League being comprised of 67 percent minorities, my service on the PSC will ensure that former players have a representative at the table in this litigation when decisions are being made to achieve the best results for the players,” McCorvey says in a press release announcing the suit, which comes close on the heels of the death of recently retired and future Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau in May and the April death of former defensive back Ray Easterling. Both men died of apparent self-inflicted gunshot wounds and each complained about headaches and memory loss in the months leading up to their deaths. Easterling was diagnosed with dementia in 2011, and ESPN has reported that although Seau rarely missed a game during his 20-year career and was never listed on an injury report as having suffered a concussion, he confided in a friend that he had frequent headaches and had suffered countless concussions during his career.
The second suit being handled by McCorvey accusing the NFL and Riddell of fraud, negligence and failure to warn players about head trauma has been consolidated with a previous class action suit and assigned to the Eastern District Court in Philadelphia.
— Walter Pierce
in case you missed it