Straight to Video

by Ellen Lockert '68

We called it “stapler day.” It was a perfect May morning in 1984 when six of the eight morning show producers at KING-TV were laid off. No warning. Just the stapler holding down the note on our chairs. It directed us to come to the conference room, one by one. I was the last one to go in.

I was 37 years old and had nine years of employment, a couple of Emmys and an Action For Children’s Television Award under my belt. I was having fun and couldn’t imagine it would ever end. When it did end that May morning, I was stunned and strangely relieved. It had been a great run, but my unacknowledged truth was that I was ready for a new challenge. I never would have left on my own.

As the third generation of a small business family, I’d often thought of having my own business.The autonomy, creativity
and opportunity to create some serious money appealed to me. I wanted the control of my destiny that comes with financial independence.

And, I was pushing 40.

I knew nothing about running a business other than the principles I learned from my dad: work hard, keep your word, take good care of your customers, buy low, sell high. But I did have an idea for a business: a video-based subscription training
service. My partner, Nina Jackson, had previously worked as chief editor in the King-TV news department. She had also been a volunteer firefighter/EMT. She knew there was a need for continuing education in EMS. And, she had an inheritance she was willing to invest.Together we created Emergency Medical Update, a monthly video-based training service.

It was a great-looking product.We were proud parents.We placed an ad with our 800 number in a trade journal and then
waited for the phone to ring. Nothing.We got lists and put a staffer on the phone. She made some sales, so we added more people. The only requirement was that they were friendly. Luckily, some of them knew how to close sales.

An acquaintance told us we’d need a database to track customers. We hired her. Soon we had too many subscribers to assemble tapes in the post-office lobby.We moved from our basement to a historical building in town. We grew to eight
employees, then fifteen. We launched a second product and grew to 30 employees.

We’d joke each day that we’d strap on our crampons to climb the learning curve. What we didn’t know far outstripped what we knew. Over seven years we had many junctures where things could have gone horribly wrong. We made a lot of mistakes, but we seldom made the same mistake twice.

In 1995, after seven and a half years, we sold the company for almost three million dollars to our largest competitor. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my life, and it might never have happened if I hadn’t been laid off.

Adversity led to unexpected opportunity.

Post Script: Eight years of retirement later, we are starting another business.We missed the excitement and challenge of
being in business.