BEAUTIFUL BRANDS: Why Franchise Bullying Backfires

David Rutkauskas, CEO of Tulsa-based Beautiful Brands International (BBI), publicly unleashed a string of insults and expletives on me that would have been shocking coming from a 7th grade boy, much less the founder of an international franchise company.

On his Twitter page, right next to the picture of his wife Camille and their two children, Mr. Rutkauskas (without the use of asterisks) called me a “#@!* face,” “fat ugly #!@* face,” and “ugly mother #!@*.”

(I have withheld the screenshot of the attack for the moment, but may include it in a future post).

What specifically set Mr. Rutkauskas off was Julie Bennett’s unflattering Franchise Times article  (Reality Check), which had been prompted by my reporting about BBI on UnhappyFranchisee.Com.

But the deeper source of David Rutkauskas’ rage, in my humble opinion, is that his attempts to bully writers, his former franchisees, employees, service providers and partners is backfiring, big time.

Mr. Rutkauskas and his attorney, Robert Sartin of Barrows & Grimm P.C., haven’t caught on that bullying, in the Internet age, will do much, much greater damage to their reputations than the original criticism.

Old School Bullying Backfire #1

Last July, UnhappyFranchisee.Com published a post on the high SBA franchise loan default rate (58%) of Beautiful Brands’ Camille’s Sidewalk Café (CAMILLE’S SIDEWALK CAFE Franchise Complaints).  The posting prompted numerous former Camille’s franchisees to share their experiences and their complaints alleging deceptive franchise sales tactics, lack of support, and overall indifference to their success on the part of BBI and Rutkauskas.

Franchisees who posted with their real names almost immediately received threatening letters demanding they retract their comments.  UnhappyFranchisee.Com removed the franchisees’ names, but refused to take down the comments.

In fact, the bullying of the franchisees by Beautiful Brands & Sartin prompted several more posts, and encouraged UnhappyFranchisee.Com to look deeper into what else BBI was so intent on hiding.

Bullying Backfire #1.

Twitter Threats & Libelous Attacks

In addition to its own franchise brands (Camille’s, Freshberry, Rex’s Chicken), BBI provides franchise development and outsourced sales services to “partner brands.”

After UnhappyFranchisee.com reported on the seemingly high attrition and low success rates of BBI “partner brands,” (BEAUTIFUL BRANDS Partner Program: Behind the Hype) two anonymous Twitter accounts (@MissTroothbeTold, @FuckOffLiars) posted threats, insults and libelous comments about several former BBI partner brands, the former President of BBI, a former franchise sales service provider to BBI, and me.

These Twitter attacks falsely alleged that one former BBI partner’s stores were closing and its founder had been ousted, and another partner brand was being sued for food poisoning.

@FuckOffLiars threatened me directly using both my real name and Twitter name: “…We are watching u and your lies… we know where you live.&.HaHa…#GunsareLegal.”

I reported the threat to the FBI with my suspicion* that it could possibly be David Rutkauskas or a close associate.  Bullying Backfire #2.

David Rutkauskas and Robert Sartin have reached the moment that every bully dreads:  when that one crazy kid doesn’t run, even when his nose is bloodied and his jeans are torn.

The truth is, in America we have this thing called the 1st Amendment.  We have the right to state facts, as long as they are true.  We have the right to express our opinions, as long as they are clearly stated to be our opinions.

BBI Files Suit Against “John Doe” (aka Me)

BBI’s hometown paper, Tulsa World, published an article (Camille’s empire copes with setbacks) on the decline of Beautiful Brands which included a scathing commentary on Camille’s franchise support by a franchisee who lost everything, including his marriage, in the ordeal.  Posting as Unhappy Franchisee, I left four pretty innocuous comments on the article.  Many of the other 29 comments left on the article were less innocuous.

BBI attorney Robert Sartin filed suit against “Unhappy Franchisee” (as “John Doe) and subpoened Tulsa World and Google demanding my identity.  It’s no big secret that I run UnhappyFranchisee.Com, so I believe the real motive was to send a bullying threat to those who dare express their opinions about BBI, even anonymously.  A story and the suit itself appeared in the Tulsa Journal Record (along with the obligatory deception that BBI has “297 locations around the world,” when their websites list 72 locations) the day after the complaint was filed .

Attorney Jonathan Fortman, of St. Louis-based Fortman Law, has agreed to defend me against the bullying tactics of David Rutkauskas, BBI and Robert Sartin.  I waived my anonymity, as I am not afraid to defend my views and actions out in the open.  I hope David Rutkauskas is ready to do the same.  I expect the discovery process will prove to be Bullying Backfire #3.. (and more).

Why Franchise Bullying Backfires

On UnhappyFranchisee.Com, I expressed my opinion that David Rutkauskas and Beautiful Brands International have used four publications in particular (Tulsa World, The Journal Record, QSR, Fast Casual) to promote the illusion that BBI is a thriving, successful, growing franchise company when, in fact, more BBI-owned franchises have closed than are successful and many of its “partner brands” have parted ways without selling a single franchise.

David Rutkauskas responded with tactics that have worked, to a limited degree, in the past:  bullying and legal threats.

But David Rutkauskas and Robert Sartin have reached the moment that every bully dreads:  when that one crazy kid doesn’t run, even when his nose is bloodied and his jeans are torn.

The truth is, in America we have this thing called the 1st Amendment.  We have the right to state facts, as long as they are true.  We have the right to express our opinions, as long as they are clearly stated to be our opinions.

In my opinion, none of the fact-based criticisms that I have expressed come close to impuning the reputation of Beautiful Brands and David Rutkauskas as do their remarkable personal and unprofessional Twitter attacks (Bullying Backfire #4) and their attempts to use the legal system to strip good people (the former franchisees and partners who bought Rutkauskas his house and Mercedes, and who provided the funds for Sartin’s invoices) of their 1st Amendment right to free speech.

Potential franchisors would do well to watch how well bullying works out for David Rutkauskas and Beautiful Brands International.

As is so often the case, the attempted cover-up will, IMHO, prove to be much more damaging than the initial allegations.

* I don’t have proof that Mr. Rutkauskas posted these threats directly.  I hope to find out the identity of the Tweeter via subpoena if our lawsuit advances.

Also read:

BEAUTIFUL BRANDS: Standing Up to Corporate Bullies

BEAUTIFUL BRANDS INTERNATIONAL (BBI): Behind the Hype

DAVID RUTKAUSKAS Are His 500,000 Twitter Followers Fakes?

 

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TAGS: Beautiful Brands, BBI, Beautiful Brands International, David Rutkauskas, FreshBerry, Camille’s Sidewalk Cafe, Rex’s Chicken, Robert Sartin, Jon Fortman, Sean Kelly, franchise opportunities, franchise hype

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