It takes more than a cream to soften a heart |

It takes more than a cream to soften a heart

“It’s great to be a giver,” J.C. Huizenga, chairman of the Huizenga Group, told CBS News last week. “I would recommend it to anybody.”

Huizenga recently sold his two automation businesses in western Michigan and, on the way out, disbursed nearly $6 million in bonuses to 575 employees.

“I’m a son of a garbage man, so I can appreciate people for what they contribute,” he said.

If I owned a business, I’d like to think I’d be that kind of boss, too. It’s unclear to me what kind of boss Cos Bar owner Lily Garfield is, although at first glance, suing a former employee of 14 years, Elizabeth McGuire-Chappell, doesn’t exactly point to her being a model of warmth and fuzziness.

After having lived in Aspen for more than a decade, I walked into Cos Bar for the first time ever last year to buy hand lotion for a friend’s birthday. While busying myself inspecting face cream as the gift was being wrapped, one of the salespeople asked if I wanted a sample.

“Sure, thanks,” I said. “If I like it, how much is it for a small jar?”

“It comes to just over $600,” she said.

I set down the cream and backed away slowly. The ability to rid my face of fine lines would be lovely, but the idea of spending that much to do it would easily cause more wrinkles than it could possibly erase.

My mom has warned me about the dangers of trying to count other people’s money. I finally get what she means, because estimating how much Garfield and her husband Ron (of Garfield & Hecht P.C.) are worth could give you vertigo from all those zeros. Even without much speculation, though, it’s clear the Cos Bar (and Garfield & Hecht), in business in Aspen for nearly 40 years and now in 12 other locations, has done well.

Presumably, Garfield must be a good enough employer if one of her employees stayed with her for more than 14 years. Likewise, McGuire-Chappell had to have been at least a competent employee if she kept her job for that long. Still, in her lawsuit, Garfield claims McGuire-Chappell violated the terms of her employee handbook by sending solicitation emails to Cos Bar customers. While the sentiment behind Garfield’s assertion is understandable — I frequently feel violated by emails — in this day and age, it’s hard to say with a straight face that email addresses are proprietary information.

Furthermore, can Garfield (or any employer) reasonably expect her employees will never go off and start a competing business, as McGuire-Chappell has done with a hydra-facial machine at the Ultimate Salon (“at a more reasonable price,” she allegedly said in a blast email). On the other hand, was McGuire-Chappell sufficiently honest, grateful and graceful about her intentions while still on Garfield’s payroll?

Either way, maybe the Cos Bar has lost some business to McGuire-Chappell, but in the long run, it would be surprising if the competition holds up. People patronizing the Cos Bar presumably know they could get many of the same services and merchandise elsewhere for less money. However, part of the allure (and price tag) is the experience, which comes from a cocktail of product selection, decor, ambiance and the time and care the informed employees spend with customers.

The Ultimate Salon, on the other hand, is really just where you go for a cheap pedicure (well, Aspen-cheap, anyway). While the staff there is lovely and does a fine job, no one walks out feeling like a million bucks, only like they didn’t have to spend that much to clean up their cuticles. If it’s a bottom-line contest, surely the Cos Bar will always get the gold.

It would seem as if there are two kinds of employers: Those similar to Huizenga, who want their employees to thrive (“I’ll take people over assets all day long,” he said), and those similar to Garfield, who want their business to thrive. There’s nothing wrong with either — everyone has to make a living — although one is more likely to engender hard work and loyalty from their employees than the other.

Perhaps, though, Garfield was generous to McGuire-Chappell, hence her legal aggression. Should Garfield emerge victorious in her suit, though, will what she wins really be worth having demolished the comparatively modest entrepreneurial gains of a former longtime employee?

If only Garfield could use some of the potions and lotions she sells to find the strength and inner beauty that Cinderella demonstrated in the recent movie reboot when she looks at her wicked stepmother in the end and, instead of exacting revenge, bravely says, “I forgive you.”

Otherwise, Garfield might simply consider channeling Elsa from “Frozen” (with the face creams peddled by the Cos Bar, looking fossilized shouldn’t be too tough) and let it go.

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