Developing a Strategy of Growth for an Economic Recession

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It’s that time in the business life-cycle that comes around every eight or nine years, usually following a period of sustained economic growth. The watchdogs and self-appointed proponents of doom and gloom are beginning to crow their shrill warnings of a pending economic calamity. Even though the U.S. economy is growing at respectable rate, 75% of ultra-high net worth investors are predicting that we will experience a recession in 2020, according to a recent J.P. Morgan survey.  Earlier this year when Bill Gates was asked if he believed we were about to experience a financial crisis like the one in 2008, he said, “Yes. It is hard to say when but this is a certainty.”

His answer is consistent with all the others who find themselves in the business of predicting the economic future. In life all things are inevitable and recessions are as inevitable to economic life-cycles as death is to the cycle of life. It is one of those opportunities where, given enough time, you cannot be wrong. As usual not all the money experts are in agreement.

Anthony Collard, head of J. P. Morgan U.K. and Nordic investments, said, “Until we see clear imbalances building, and policy approaching a point where it really constrains economic activity, we lean towards a view that the cycle will continue to expand.” Saker Nusseibeh, chief executive at Hermes Investment Management is in agreement. “We do not see any indications of the U.S. economy entering anything like a possible recession. What we do see is clear indication of a stronger-than-anticipated U.S. economy.” Business leaders both large and small are well aware of how the health of their businesses can change rapidly due to fluctuations in the overall economy. Both predictions have critical implications for managing a business’s finances.

Having a strategic plan in place to deal with economic fluctuations is important for businesses in order to maintain and sustain long-term growth throughout the business life-cycles. While the alarms of pending downturns often insinuate decline in growth, many smart and prepared leaders of industry will navigate the dangers of economic recession successfully and some will even prosper. Sustaining business growth requires a strategy to retain and expand the customer base, improve upon best business practices and establish reasonable and measurable performance metrics that expand opportunities while limiting risk.

Making customers a priority, providing customers with quality service and products they desire is a marketing strategy that will lead to customer retention, particularly in a shrinking economy that motivates consumers to be more deliberate in making their purchase decisions. It’s increasingly important to develop strategies to measure the effectiveness of marketing activities and focus efforts on those campaigns that deliver.

Managing the quality and productivity of staff to produce cost savings without negatively impacting morale and effectiveness will preserve constrained budgets. Achieving more with less and cross-training employees to perform multiple organizational functions will keep structured costs in line with the current business reality and may produce significant growth opportunities for employees and the business when the economy emerges from the recession.

For more on how you can develop a strategy to emerge stronger and more competitive from the other side of recession, contact Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) at 678-686-1125.

The Technology that is Poised to Change the Way Businesses Interact with Consumers

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Chatbots, a computer program or artificial intelligence which can simulate a convincing conversation with humans, are predicted to be the latest technology to revolutionize many aspects of repetitive commercial and business functions. Typically used in dialog systems for various practical purposes, including customer service or information acquisition, Chatbots are poised to impact the customer service functions of just about every business. Artificial intelligence (AI), which continues to improve and become more conversational, is predicted to replace 16 percent of American jobs associated with customer service, sales and product education by the end of the decade.  According to Forrester’s 2018 predictions on the impact of AI on sales and service, more major brands will likely phase out email in favor of real-time, customer-agent communications like Chatbots and chat. But companies are being advised to put off eliminating humans in the call center; at least for now.

Current AI deployments still lack the basic capacity for the natural language comprehension and back-office integration necessary to completely replace those friendly human voices, but rapid improvements to the technology’s performance is on its way, and while millennials find conversing with AI more desirable than humans, other generations of consumers are slow to accept the machined personalities on the other end of the conversation.

“Millennials are accustomed to giving and receiving immediate feedback,” said Imran Tariq, a lead generation expert and the founder of Webmetrix Group. “When they want help or information, they’d much rather interact with Alexa or Google than read a manual or interact with a human being who likely has to search for the information as well. Bots can provide this immediate, human like response that millennials crave.”

Chatbots are achieving more meaningful interactions with people they are helping, becoming more intelligent, taking on more complex tasks and are helping consumers and employees become more efficient. Jordi Torras, CEO and founder of Inbenta Technologies Inc., an AI vendor of natural language processing tools says, “We have seen how chat and messaging is growing even faster than email as it takes over phone calls as a customer service channel.”  Could we be approaching the end of rude and poorly trained customer service representatives?

The future is looking up as the technologies that underpin AI continue to develop. The Chatbot market is growing rapidly and is expected to reach $1.25 billion by 2025. By 2020, Gartner Research indicates that consumers will handle 85% of business interactions without a human being involved, a shocking turn of events for those in commerce who could never have envisioned computers replacing personal relationships and human interactions with consumers.

Be Responsible with Investment Dollars that Come from Playing the Funding Game

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Good news for those energetic and enthusiastic dreamers looking to embark on a journey of growing an existing business or those looking to break away from the regular paycheck world. Lending institutions are approving business financing requests at a higher rate than ever before. According to the Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index™, the June 2018 loan approval percentage rose two-tenths of a percent from May’s figure of 25.9 percent, the highest since 2015. The trend credits the continued strength of the overall economy and emerging optimism among entrepreneurs for its performance, according to a National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey.

While new businesses continue to look to personal and family savings for their initial funding, a growing number of businesses are taking advantage of an expanding menu of financial sources. Angel investors, venture capitalists and online lenders are busy investing in high-growth and high-risk opportunities. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers “MoneyTree Report” indicates that the U.S. market experienced a record second quarter in 2018 for venture capital funding activity. “Times are unusually good for Main Street businesses and their lenders now,” said William Phelan, president of PayNet, Inc. “The combination of record-high credit demand and low credit risk for main street businesses signals that higher profitability is in store for commercial lenders — especially those with technology systems currently in place that can minimize costs.”

One historic constant of business financing remains the fact that starting or growing a business requires cash; lots and lots of it.  Acquiring the necessary capital to get the shelves stocked, the doors open, and enough sales to get the revenue flowing, remains the most difficult aspect of startups and the number one reason small business startups fail. Most new businesses will remain dependent upon infusions of cash for at least 12 to 18 months until revenues from business activities catch up to startup costs. Any new or expanding venture requires funding sources significant enough to sustain the operations until revenues begin to flow.

While most organizations are applying their investors’ participation responsibly, there are reports that an increasing percentage of companies are squandering what first appears to be easy money. Some are utilizing it in bad faith and spending it like it’s their own. However, seemingly easy money comes with increased responsibility and a need for additional layers of accountability to ensure that investor capital is not squandered.

“I’ve been in or around the emerging business market for nearly 20 years and I have witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly as it relates to funding,” comments Julie Gareleck, CEO, Junction Creative Solutions (Junction).  “My advice to those start-ups who have been successfully raising money is to treat every penny as though it was your last and focus your spending on monetizing the business first.”

“The moment when you look in your bank account and see hundreds of thousands of dollars that you are in control of is a moment you never really forget. You can’t help but think about how you haven’t been paid in years, how maxed out your credit cards are, and how the hard part is over,” says G. Krista Morgan, cofounder and CEO of P2Binvestor.“We took a little time to celebrate, then poured all our resources back into building the right infrastructure and developed technology to meet demand on our investment platform. We started building out all this infrastructure to manage the client accounts we were sure would come eventually. But they didn’t. The good news is that we learned fast and started cutting back early enough to give ourselves more time to fix the problem. We took away every luxury and focused on the core of what we needed to do, which was to figure out our target market and start selling.” Krista’s advice to others experiencing the newly found cash: “Stop—breathe—and get to revenue. Spend money once you start making money.”

“Spending responsibility, while a good rule of thumb, is oft forgotten when entrepreneurs have the funding in their hands. There is no such thing as “free money” yet I see entrepreneurs wasting dollars that could fuel the company,” comments Gareleck.  “I bootstrapped the start-up on my business nearly 10 years ago.  If others could treat this funding as if it’s their own money, I think we’d see a rise in responsibly run emerging companies.”

For help on developing a strategic approach to spending investment capital wisely, contact Junction Creative Solutions at 678-686-1125.

What’s Going on in the Minds and Households of the Millennial Generation?

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Much has been said about Millennials, their character traits, work ethic, shopping habits, methods of communication and just about any other imaginable fundamental behavior, and not all the comments have been positive or flattering. The millennial generation usually identifies those born between 1981 and 1996. Arriving in the era of massive technological advances, they have come of age being familiar with the internet, smart digital devices, social media platforms, and all the other technology that often baffles former generations.

Millennials are extremely tech savvy, highly educated and are on the verge of becoming the largest living generation. Learning how to market effectively to them is not an option for marketers and absolutely essential to surviving in the coming decade. “We don’t think of them as special or different any more. They are the core of our business,” says Alan Jope, president of beauty and personal care at Unilever. While some marketers can at least claim a little success in cracking the millennial code, others have just given up and returned to re-focus on what worked to attract consumers in the past. Customer behavior is changing almost daily as technology advances its influence over how consumers make buying decisions.

Grouping an entire generation of people into a single marketing demographic will not work. Like all market segments, not all Millennials will respond to the same messaging and most are fed up with traditional methods of advertising. According to a study from the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, millennials have filtered out advertising on social media and turned to other reference points. Titled, “Born and Raised in the Age of Technology,” the study states, “Millennials consume information when and how they want to.” A campaign of one size fits all is a likely pathway to failure. Erik Huberman, Founder & CEO of Hawke Media says, “Certainly, you’ll want to target age demographics to a certain extent, but your targeting should also be more granular. Instead, go right to the actual attributes of the real customer.”

Quality content across multiple mobile devices is essential to attracting members of this new power generation. An Animoto study has found that 80 percent of surveyed Millennials use videos to conduct research before making a purchase. Video is no longer an option for marketers looking to attract these consumers’ interest. Some 39% of Millennials post reviews of products or brands on social media outlets, and this generation is more likely to listen to and connect with people like them rather than celebrities. Over 60% of millennials would try a product suggested by a YouTuber. Social media reigns supreme.

A select group of analysts was recently impaneled by NPD, in an effort to find out what’s going on inside the minds and households of consumers born between 1981 and 1996. Their insights revealed a group of consumers markedly different from their parents. Millennials tend to be retail explorers, more interested in making memories than acquiring things. They tend to appreciate function over price and often feel less is more. They enjoy experiencing activities more then owning stuff and are inclined to be more focused on home activities. Arguably the group is recognized as being a bit more self-centered then previous generations of consumers. Matt Powell, Vice President, Senior Industry Advisor, Sports, says: “Millennials are constantly interviewing brands, meaning that a brand has to prove itself, every day. For Boomers, there were fewer shopping choices, shopping outlets, and sources of product information. For Millennials, those elements are infinite. On top of that, these elements are always available on their smartphones.”

Fully understanding these shifts in consumer behaviors and beliefs will help unlock fresh insights to drive a business forward. The traditional marketing and sales approach used to create “target audiences” based on a profile of gender, age, demographic, or geographic data alone is an approach that will cripple a business’s ability to successfully reach target audiences in an effective way.

Know This, Print Advertising is Not Dead

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In the United States print advertising spend has fallen from $65 billion at the beginning of this century to less than $19 billion by the end of 2016. The steady decline has many suggesting that print media advertising will continue to diminish and fall to the relentless onslaught of all things digital. However, the long history of dominance of print in advertising is making the medium more resilient against the relentless attack of new communication technologies, leading many media experts to declare that in spite of the fall from high, print is not dead. Research is revealing that readers trust the printed message more than any other medium. “The old trope that print is dead is just lazy thinking,” says Linda Thomas Brooks, president and CEO of the Association of Magazine Media.

The noise and constant clamor of digital is giving print an opportunity to live beyond the delete button and grab the reader’s attention. The rarity and uniqueness of a written, personalized message is attractive, especially to the C-level target. Luxury consumers still value tangible ad platforms, and glossy quality print collateral can still hold an audience’s attention. To be effective, print ads’ role in advertising will become one that supports the digital lead. “Print ads will be more effective if they are a complement to your digital campaigns already in play and entice readers to interact with your brand online,” says Jeannie Ruesch, of xero.com. The successful printed play will be achieved when it is fully integrated with a total campaign. At Meredith National Media Group, print revenue accounted for two-thirds of overall advertising revenue, and circulation represented 30 percent of revenue in 2017, making it the company’s second-largest revenue stream. “We see it as print and digital; not print or digital,” says Jon Werther, president.

“While digital continues to dominate multi-channel strategies, the art of print publications is not obsolete.” says Julie Gareleck, Managing Partner and CEO of Junction Creative Solutions (Junction). “Junction’s design team is rooted in graphic design with experience designing print collateral and publications for well-established Fortune 1000 Companies as well as small to mid-size business.” To be relevant, print content must be targeted and easily digestible and pass the skim test. The intent and purposefulness of the message needs to be readily identifiable to the reader and visually appealing. “If it looks like it was printed in 1978…the perception will be that the firm is still operating from 1978,” says Gareleck. All those tired, old newsletters must find their way to the burn pile.

Digital’s dominance has made consumers persistent multitaskers, dutifully monitoring our emails and text messages while navigating through daily tasks. Rarely do we give any message our full and undivided attention. Print content offers an opportunity to really focus and engage with the message. And to all those “print is dead” pundits, know this: According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers are most likely to start an online search after viewing a magazine ad.

Junction is a comprehensive partner that can assist with your print collateral needs, aligning with the overall brand goals and objectives. Contact us at 678-686-1125 to learn more about our print design capabilities!

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, However in Marketing Not Just Any Color Will Do

 

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Are you feeling a little blue? Or perhaps you are feeling you’re in the pink? Color is frequently associated with our moods and how we feel about a topic of discussion or to elaborate on the day’s experiences. While many of these associations can be explained through personal preference, learned behavior or a result of individual culture and experience, some research studies have shown a valid correlation of color to personal motivation and behavior.  An Institute for Color Research’s study found that 92.6 percent of people surveyed said that color was the most important factor when purchasing products, and consumers’ subconscious judgment about products is influenced in 62 percent to 90 percent of cases by color alone.

Some colors can attribute the impact on behavior because of the nearly universal utilization to elicit an unchallenged response. Red, for instance, is the most commanding color of attention, perhaps due to societal utilization of the color red for everything from stop signs, fire trucks and flashing emergency lights. People have been pre-disposed to recognize and react to anything displayed red. It says, “This is important, pay attention!”  Forty-two percent more signs and advertisements are read when the color red is used, and comprehension of the message is increased as well.

Color also plays a major role in product identification. Tomato ketchup apparently is preordained to be red, in part because ripened tomatoes are mostly perceived as being red. Just ask Heinz, who discovered the public’s inherent relationship of the color red and ketchup. In an effort to excite and attract a younger consumer by making ketchup available in various colors, the marketers of fifty-seven varieties soon learned of the special relationship of red to consumers; perception of the product. Can we imagine a brown-colored Pepto Bismol?  How soothing is that perception? Marketers commonly use certain colors because those colors elicit generally accepted emotions.  While many of us react differently, most of us react in a similar way to the paring of colors to products. But there are broader messaging patterns to be found in color perceptions.

Savvy marketers of digital advertising use colors to increase conversion and click-through rates on websites. By utilizing color to differentiate call-to-action buttons or links they are driving user-consumers to take actions and improve the conversation. Understanding how design and color can work together to influence and motivate consumer behavior is a key factor to effective and efficient messaging. Studies have revealed that color can often be the sole reason someone purchases a product. In one survey, 93 percent of buyers said they focus on visual appearance, and nearly 85 percent of respondents indicated that color was a primary reason in the decision to purchase.

Customers will only respond favorably and strongly to a brand if the right color is chosen to represent that brand’s personality, culture and menu of products.  In a study titled “Impact of Color in Marketing,” researchers found that up to 90% of snap judgments made about products was based on color alone.  Research has also found that predicting consumer reaction to color appropriateness in relation to the product is far more important than the individual color, and it is extremely important that new brands specifically target logo colors that ensure differentiation from entrenched competitors.

The psychological impact of color on human behavior is neither an exact nor a settled science. But the impact of color on consumer perceptions and motivations is undeniable. So, while roses may be red and violets may be blue, in all things marketing not just any color will do.

To learn more on how color can influence purchasing behavior and enhance a brand’s identity, contact Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) at 678-686-1125.

Opening a New Door to Opportunity

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) is an award-winning strategic agency committed to creating high impact solutions for SMBs and Fortune 500 companies. By combining the intellectual capital of a business consulting firm with the creative execution of an advertising agency, Junction is exceeding growth expectations and expanding by opening a new office in the Atlanta area. Near the Sandy Springs City Center, Junction is centrally located for easy access to Buckhead, Downtown or North Alpharetta. The new location helps better position Junction to meet the demands of its growing list of clients.

Seeing a rise in start-up companies, leveraging intellectual property, soon to hit the marketplace and with our increasing capability to perform quick turnaround Rapid and Custom Development website development projects as well as web-based applications, Junction has added qualified and experienced members to the staff, adding strategic experience across every layer of business. “Junction, for nearly a decade, has remained focused on building a team of talented professionals to not only drive our business but also our clients forward,” comments Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner, Junction.

The cross-disciplinary team, working for some of the most notable Fortune 100 and 500 brands, has proven that a collaborative, consultative approach can yield the best results.  “Our project management system was designed by engineers to streamline internal and external client communications, improve client satisfaction, and increase overall efficiencies. We don’t just talk about process, we are  passionate about implementing it,” adds Gareleck.

For more on how Junction Creative Solutions, a hybrid agency model for today’s business environment, can help your business meet its growth projections, call 678-686-1125 today.

Passion is Our Purpose and It’s Fueling Our Business

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John Mackey, as co-CEO of Whole Foods, once said of entrepreneurs, “Though they want to make money — start businesses out of passion.” He went on to say: “Physicians make money, but their mission is to heal; teachers make money, but their desire is to educate; and architects make money, but they yearn to build.” Looking at the day to day, quarter to quarter postings of profitability statistics constantly ticking across the bottom of our video screens, one would be hesitant to extoll business intentions to be anything other than making a profit. The truth, however, is that the most profitable businesses began as a dream; a vision to create something non-existent; a goal to provide a solution to the yet unsolved; a passion to fulfill a very personal need.

It’s not that a profit motive is undesirable or misguided. Without profit, even the most well-intentioned business is unsustainable over time. Perhaps it is more of a chicken or egg thing. What comes first? In today’s most competitive environments customers want to be appreciated for being more than a source of revenue. They are looking to businesses to focus as much on delivering value and fulfilling a purpose as they do on profitability.

As we look at some businesses, it is easy to recognize that intentions can be misguided. “Many entrepreneurs enter into business thinking ‘I am going to get rich quick or I am going to take advantage of a gap in the industry and over-price customers for work,’” says Julie Gareleck, founder and CEO of Junction Creative Solutions (Junction). “Financially motivated organizations tend to be here today in good economic times and gone in tomorrow’s economic down-turn. Purpose and value must be foundational to a company’s vision and must align with the organization’s financial goals for profitability.”

The Junction team of experienced professionals is passionately focused on partnering with clients to create value. “Whether developing a complex comprehensive strategy or executing digital solutions, it’s all about our customers, and the process of providing quality work. It is the differentiator in our business,” says Gareleck. “We don’t take on clients just to take on clients. We invest our time and energy into clients that want our help and want to partner with us to achieve something greater.  It is a model for success that we have proven over and over.”

“When you believe in something the force of your convictions will spark other people’s interest and motivate them to help you achieve your goals. This is essential to success.”- Richard Branson.

To learn more about Junction’s passion for helping others to achieve success, call 678-686-1125.

The Most Important Marketing Content is Video

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It is interesting that the more that fundamentals of just about everything change with time and technology, the more so many well-established truisms remain the same.  The era of content being king in marketing is giving way to a new visual medium, a rerun of the progression from printed media advertising to television more than a half century ago. Despite all the dramatic shifts in the methods of communications over time, a picture is still worth a thousand words.

Today the most important  content marketing is video. Regardless of the platform; Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or YouTube, video has become an essential part of any organization’s overall marketing strategy. Video seems to be adding value to the customer’s content experience. When both video and text are available on the same page, 72% of people would rather use video to learn about a product or service, and 85% of consumers indicate that they prefer to see more video from brands in the coming year. With such positive response from consumers, brands are responding by increasing video participation.

With 81% of businesses utilizing video in marketing campaigns (up from 63% just a year ago), 99% of those predict they will continue to use the medium in the future. Clearly content alone is being dethroned. Video is here to stay and marketers should embrace the change. The medium brings with it more opportunity for brands to be creative in their messaging. As with content alone, quality trumps quantity.

With four distinctive platforms available, videos can be created to take advantage of each platform’s unique targeting capabilities. Whatever the goal of the video, it should be defined at the outset of the process and be used to tailor a particular strategy. Consumers are becoming increasingly selective about the content they consume, so it is important to develop videos that are educational and entertaining.

The cost of producing a single video can range from $1,000 to $10,000 depending upon the level of complexity and professionalism of the production, but with 64% of consumers more likely to make a purchase after watching a video and with the potential of reaching millions of viewers with one single video, the cost is justified.

For more on how video can impact your brand’s awareness and its importance in an effective content marketing strategy, contact Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) at   678-686-1125.

Overcoming the Challenges of Succeeding in Business

 

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“The most admirable benefit to being self-employed is having the freedom to select which 80 hours to work each week.” For those unaccustomed to the realities of becoming an entrepreneur, the most common misconception is that with the ability to cut ties with regular paychecks from an employer comes freedom from the commands of another. In reality those who choose to step out from the pack and start a new business are trading one demanding 40-hour work week for an all-consuming lifestyle that is full of daunting challenges and surrounded by seemingly endless numbers of foes bent on stealing the dream.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 50% of small businesses fail in the first year and 95% fail within the first five years. So, with that statistic in mind; what is wrong with all the small business people out there?

Obviously, the challenges to achievement of success in business are many, formidable and often complex. Financing, marketing, administrative tasks and acquiring needed talent just to name a few. Most say that the leading hurdle in running a business is the demand of time. Small business ownership is generally a lonely journey, particularly in the beginning. Nearly a quarter of all small business owners feel that having enough time to get everything done each day is their most formidable barrier to formulating the long-term strategies necessary to succeed. The Small Business Growth Index found that 65 percent of small business owners believe technology innovations are making it easier to streamline business operations.

Fortunately, the technology that is providing large businesses significant competitive advantages in the marketplace is also providing endless opportunities for small businesses to automate routine and redundant everyday activities, permitting much needed time for owners to focus on long-term goals and objectives without sacrificing quality performance. Developing a reasonable and achievable plan and working the plan has never been more important to achieving success in business.

While 95 percent of all business owners admit to performing their own marketing, less than half identify themselves as being “marketing savvy.” The universe of marketing is experiencing a revolution. The Internet, social media platforms, mobile devices and an increasingly expanding range of digital technology is providing a plethora of new vehicles to connect with consumers. Selecting an affordable mix of marketing collateral that project your unique business proposition to your targeted customer requires time and an understanding of what vehicle will best suit your particular business needs. With most small businesses unable to afford in-house marketing professionals, outsourcing the marketing function to experienced marketing professionals can have an immediate positive impact on a small business.

Attracting and selecting qualified employees is perhaps the most challenging of all tasks facing small businesses today. Identifying and onboarding the talent needed to establish and grow a sustainable business is paramount to success. Filling a need for individuals who share your passion for achieving the vision, who mirror the company culture and who can bring valuable insight, skill and effort to the journey is difficult and time consuming but is essential to earning a place in the 5 percent club.

Each year there are more than 600,000 new businesses opened by people who, as statistics suggest, have something wrong with them. The reasons given by those who choose to establish a small business is varied. Some profess a need to command their own destiny or are compelled by a need fulfill a personal passion. Some relish the immensity of the challenge and still others are attracted to the game of risk and reward. The reasons, perhaps, are as many as the challenges to be overcome.

For more on how Junction Creative Solutions’ (Junction) experienced marketing professionals and business development experts can help you overcome the many small business challenges, call 678-686-1125.