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Meet Lester Li of Town Planner Community Calendars – Corona & Riverside

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lester Li.

Lester, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My parents made their way from Mainland China to Hong Kong to Hawaii in a grand plan to create a better life for their children in America. Born in Hong Kong, I came to Hawaii at the age of 4. As neither parent made it past middle school while growing up amidst hardships of post WWII China, they hammered home the importance of education, hard work and doing the right thing. Early on, we struggled to get by – our first apartment on Oahu required sharing a community bathroom with other tenants. Only as an adult could I truly appreciate their courage and sacrifices in moving to a new country where they didn’t know the language and culture to start over with four young children.

Leaving Hawaii, I graduated from Bradley University (Illinois) and used my engineering degree to rise through the ranks of Corporate America, obtain my MBA from Indiana University and eventually work as a Chief Financial Officer for 20 years. The good, steady paychecks fulfilled my parent’s objectives, but I constantly yearned to be an entrepreneur. Furthermore, the demands of a CFO didn’t always align with my business and personal values.

Three years ago, when my son Karson turned 11, I faced the cold reality that his childhood years were passing quickly, and Corporate life was preventing me from going to every karate practice, every baseball game. Our talks in the car while driving him to his activities would later create defining father-son moments, which I would forever cherish. I know raising Karson to be a happy, successful and well-functioning adult is the most important thing that I will do in my lifetime.

Being a Town Planner Community Calendar franchisee/publisher provided a low-investment opportunity to own a business and maintain a flexible work schedule, and since I am the only franchisee in Southern California, the growth potential is huge. Plus, I am a part of a larger, close-knit family of franchise owners who provide much-needed inspiration and support.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As a corporate manager, vendors were constantly calling on me — now the tables are turned! I quickly discovered fellow business owners saw me as just another service provider pitching my wares. Community advertising via my Calendars was a new concept to most. Selling value and building relationships required sincerity, integrity and patience.

I am a one-person company and, although Karson helps out, learning to be a jack of all trades was paramount. Balancing my business and personal life was a 24/7 endeavor; no fill-in was available when personal challenges took me away from work.

SoCal has many communities, each with its own unique demographics, culture and personality. The big question was, “Where should I introduce my Community Calendars?!” Corona was one of two towns where I first began, and where I later focused on expansion. The first Riverside edition was slated for 2021, but COVID-19 will delay its start.

Town Planner Community Calendars – Corona & Riverside – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Every December, Town Planner Community Calendars publishes a large, family-friendly calendar for the following year. The calendar is a comprehensive scheduler/organizer for annual community events, festive outings, local school schedules and phone numbers for critical government services. These free Calendars are sent via US Postal Service to nearly 30,000 Corona homes.

Market research has found the Calendars have two enviable characteristics: 1) Nearly 80% of households continue to use paper calendars and 2) Town Planner Calendars are kept and used by nearly 80% of households receiving them. An advertisement in the Calendar means the client gains visibility through multiple, consistent views of its advertisement; value through branding over the Calendar’s year-long shelf-life; exclusivity in the client’s business category; and valuable community engagement. Large date blocks facilitate writing in personal notes. The Calendar becomes a fixture in the household and a client’s advertisement is “On Display, Every Day”. Town Planner also includes a website, e-newsletter and mobile app for scheduling personal appointments and reminders. New for 2021, the use of QR codes will allow for updates to events and customer promotions.

The Calendar is a powerful vehicle to deliver a positive message. For the 2019 Calendar, the theme was “Helping Hands… The Spirit of Corona” whereby each monthly picture highlighted the amazing work done by one of Corona’s many nonprofits. The 2020 Calendar theme was “Kids First in Corona… Positive Messages for Our Children” – for each month, a positive messaging children’s poem and accompanying photo appeared. I also created a children’s placemat which featured all the poems in the 2020 Calendar. The planned theme for the 2021 Calendar is “Everyday Acts of Kindness” – serving as a gentle reminder that kindness matters.

I fully commit to helping my advertisers grow their business – from using their services/products to introducing others to their businesses to highlighting their businesses via social media, especially when I patronize their establishment. Moreover, as an Ambassador with the Corona Chamber of Commerce, I host grand openings and anniversary events for my clients. For example, I treasure my relationship with Patricia, owner of Corona’s favorite Mexican restaurant Super Taco and was delighted to host Super Taco’s 26th Anniversary celebration this year. Thankfully, Patricia was the first to take a chance with me when other Mexican restaurants balked. What SoCal community calendar is complete without featuring a Mexican restaurant?! I also hosted the Grand Opening in 2019 for Sunday Dinners Soul Food (Corona), owned by Shariese, a former nurse who fulfilled her dream by opening this restaurant. Her restaurant’s unique offerings cater to people all over SoCal.

With people being overwhelmed daily with digital media messaging, the Calendar’s simplicity and top-of-mind branding power provide for an effective, comforting contrast. It’s psychology versus technology. The Calendar hanging on the refrigerator is something each family member sees several times a day, every day.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I was fortunate both my parents were around to see my first calendar edition (2018). My efforts in positive messaging, promoting community events, highlighting nonprofits, and supporting local businesses culminated in being awarded The Corona Chamber of Commerce Ambassador of the Year for 2019.

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