We had the good fortune of connecting with Lester Li and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lester, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
When I became a Town Planner Community Calendar franchisee in 2017, I did so because I believed in the business model of sending a free, large, family-friendly calendar packed with local information to households via the US Postal Service, where residents soon found the Calendar to be an invaluable resource guide for their community. In turn, business sponsors and advertisers in the Calendar would have their brand and marketing message be a household fixture, since the Calendars are “On Display, Every Day.”
While working as a manager in the corporate world, I often struggled with the notion there should be more to my work life than spending 9 to 12 hours a day trying to make as much money as possible for my employer. I understood profit leads to economic growth, technological innovations, and job creation — but I was seeking a more meaningful purpose that wasn’t as far removed. After my first 2018 Calendar edition, it dawned on me that I had a compelling tool to deliver a positive, inspirational or compassionate message to the community via my Calendars. My focus was on communicating to families and creating teaching moments for children. Therefore, for the 2019 edition, I decided to promote worthy nonprofits doing amazing work in the community — the Calendar cover was titled “Helping Hands…. The Spirit of Corona,” while each monthly picture highlighted a charitable organization to promote awareness and fundraising. As I had done for the 2018 edition, ad space for nonprofit organizations was donated to them. For the 2020 edition, the Calendar’s theme (and cover title) was “Kids First in Corona…. Positive Messages for Our Children.” I enjoy writing children’s poems and wrote one for each month of the Calendar that promoted a message of hope and compassion, as we can all relate to the pressures of growing up, challenges of socially interacting in school, and the resulting sense of loneliness and helplessness that can occur. My desire was for these poems to bring about understanding and empathy, and spur conversations within the family. In Year 2020, divisiveness grew over COVID policies, the presidential election, and social unrests in the streets. Therefore, I decided the best use of my Calendars was to remind people to be kind to each other. The 2021 Calendar cover was titled, “Everyday Acts of Kindness…. Remember to Love Thy Neighbor.” Each month had a simple act of kindness that each of us could impart on another individual. The outpour from Corona residents was heartwarming as many were moved by the Calendar’s messages and told me the timing was right.
I am currently working on the 2021 Calendar, with a planned theme of “Always Strive To Do Better… People Who Will Inspire Our Children.” Each month will feature a historical, but not-well-known figure whose achievements made a lasting impact on society. I want children to know that each of them can be such an individual.
What should our readers know about your business?
Town Planner is a unique play on psychology over technology. People are constantly inundated with digital messaging “noise” – texts, emails, voicemails, etc. Therefore, adding digital advertising to the usual personal digital traffic often means any additional messaging gets lost or ignored. The Town Planner Community Calendar is tactile and something to reach for if needed. The simplicity of seeing a short message on a Calendar is powerful. The Calendar has community events and local school schedules, which keeps residents engaged, while the positive/inspirational messaging also provides consistent reinforcement of the right messages. QR codes in the Calendar also help direct residents back to important online content when needed.
With comprehensive training and experience in various positions in the corporate world, I feel fortunate to have garnered the skills to be prepared to start Town Planner. Leaving the structure of a well-paying job with benefits, including sick days and vacations days, was clearly more challenging than imagined. Town Planner is just me. There is no magic pill – it comes down to being open-minded to learning and working hard. I also embrace a true partnership approach with my client owners in the Calendar, where they know I strive to look out for their interest nearly as much as my own. My business experience allows me to offer a perspective or know-how that may be useful for their companies.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The Riverside/Corona area is about an hour drive from Los Angeles, so any visitor to my home can indulge in all the offerings of Southern California. For spots close to home, my initial plans would include an early-morning walk in Mount Rubidoux Park in Riverside with its spectacular views; a drive to beautiful Laguna Beach; and then a short trip to Dana Point for some boating activities. A visit to the historic Mission Inn in downtown Riverside would also be on the itinerary. Local favorite eating spots in Corona include Bakers Dozen Donuts & Deli (excellent “Corona’s Cuban” hot sandwich); authentic Mexican food at El Taco Lucas or Super Taco (if wondering what to order, there is a reason “Taco” is in both their names); high-quality and tremendous-value sushi at J Sushi; and unique Soul Food offerings at Sunday Dinners (fried ribs on Fridays and oxtails on Saturdays). If the visit is in late May and through June, then attending the Koroneburg Renaissance Festival at the Riverview Recreational Park is a must; if in October, then haunted Coffin Creek attractions at the same location!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to my precious wife, Stormy!
Prior to starting Town Planner as a one-person, home-based business, I had a successful career as a financial executive at small to mid-sized companies. My wife Stormy traditionally worked part-time while taking care of our children at home and with school. My starting Town Planner resulted in her transitioning to a demanding, full-time job as a college professor in order to financially buffer the early years of my business. She was fully supportive of my first quest and long-held desire into entrepreneurship at such a late stage of my professional career. Being home-based, Town Planner also fulfilled my objective to spend more time with our son who was entering middle school while our daughter started college.
Stormy has been my life partner every step of the way.