September 20, 2017

Entrepreneurship: Bubble Tea Purveyors Continue to Grow Along With Drink’s Popularity

“One hundred percent sweetness,” the clerk said helpfully to a customer, “is like a Coke.”

Also: Small or large? Hot or cold, and, if cold, lots of ice or just a little?

At a Boba Guys shop, descriptions of drinks help first-time customers make a selection.

Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

Whisking green tea, then adding it through a strainer to a bubble tea concoction. Customers can choose ingredients and sweetness levels. Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

Anchal Lamba, 27, owns eight Gong Cha bubble tea shops in New York City and has franchised others elsewhere in New York State and in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Texas. “My stores in Flushing did well from Day 1,” she said of a location in a section of Queens, “because the Asians customers are there” and were familiar with the product.

According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., a trade group, 87 percent of American millennials drink tea. Understandably, Ms. Lamba has made them a key target of her marketing efforts, sponsoring events at New York University and supplying drinks to club meetings there.

The drink she is trying to push further into the mainstream was created, so the story goes, at a teahouse in Taichung, Taiwan, almost 30 years ago when, on a whim, a manager poured the tapioca balls from her pudding into a glass of iced Assam tea.

After becoming a hit in Taiwan, bubble tea was embraced throughout Asia. It started to become increasingly available on the East and West Coasts a few years back.

On a recent visit to Boba Guys, Patrick Lin, a regular customer, ordered four drinks, including a matcha latte and a horchata, which is made with cinnamon and rice milk.

“I’m trying to try everything on the menu,” Mr. Lin, a restaurateur, a said.

Ms. Lamba of Gong Cha acknowledged that there could take time for some people to appreciate the chewy, gelatinous bubbles in the tea. “Sometimes, people are a little freaked out by it,” she said. “They’ll have a sip and say, ‘This is interesting,’ and then they’ll have another sip and think, ‘Hmmm, maybe I will have it again.’”

Anchal Lamba at the Gong Cha store at 75 W. 38th Street in Manhattan, one of eight she owns in the city. Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times
Tapioca balls brewing. Anchal Lamba says there is a learning curve to appreciating the chewy, gelatinous bubbles. “Sometimes, people are a little freaked out by it,” she said. Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

In recent years, iced tea and hot tea have been making inroads against coffee, but there are signs of stress: Starbucks recently announced that it would close its stand-alone Teavana stores, calling into question the future of a brand it bought for $620 million in 2012.


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Purveyors of bubble tea hope they can take advantage of the growing popularity of tea. Some shops offer dozens of beverage options — like fruit-based teas, smoothies and slushes — with some of the drinks even incorporate coffee.

But it is the basic bubble tea, or bubble milk tea, that is the main event. Vivi Bubble Tea, a franchise business, has 45 shops in the United States, most of them on the East Coast, and seven more under construction. Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Company, which is based in Taiwan, has four stores in New York City and 26 in other states. CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice has 32 locations in the country, 22 of them in New York City.

Boba Guys began in San Francisco in 2011 as a pop-up stand inside a ramen noodle restaurant. It was a testing ground for the founders, Bin Chen and Andrew Chau, to refine their three flavors (classic black milk tea, jasmine and soy milk tea) and to work on new concoctions.

“We were in the Mission area, where there were a lot of curious foodies and a lot of Asian-Americans who had grown up drinking bubble tea,” said Mr. Chen, a former creative director at a messenger bag company. He and Mr. Chau opened their first stand-alone store in San Francisco in 2013 and have since expanded to six in the Bay Area and three in New York City.

Their goal is to differentiate Boba Guys by positioning it as a premium brand, the bubble tea equivalent of upscale coffee spots like Blue Bottle and La Colombe.

Many bubble tea companies have opened stores near college campuses. The thinking, said Derrick Fang of Ten Ren Tea, “is that Asian students will introduce the culture to their non-Asian friends — and it works.”

There is also a concerted effort to guide newcomers. “We introduce people to the way to order, and we explain the toppings and the different flavors,” Mr. Fang said. “And we had to make adjustments for the U.S. market. People in America like a sweeter taste than in Asia.”

An assortment of bubble teas at Boba Guys at 11 Waverly Place in Manhattan. Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

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The Rebranding of the Bronx

That has changed. Mr. Obispo ascribes the area’s newfound self-respect in part to a spate of new building and speculation by outsiders — the South Bronx had the fastest rate of business growth in the borough from 2000 to 2011, according to the office of the state comptroller — a factor that has spurred locals to wrest back their community and reclaim it as a seat of urban cool.

Slide Show

The New South Bronx

CreditAndre D. Wagner for The New York Times

Still, the prospect of gentrification rattles. Alarming to some is the seven-tower, $400 million residential and retail complex rising along the former industrial waterfront in the Port Morris section. Keith Rubenstein, a founder of the real estate investment company Somerset Partners, which is developing the property with the Chetrit Group, is predicting strong demand for some 1,300 units, mostly by young professionals in search of upscale amenities and sweeping waterfront views.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Rubenstein incited a backlash by throwing a “Bronx Is Burning” one-night art show attended by more than 2,500 people — Adrien Brody, Naomi Campbell, Kendall Jenner and Carmelo Anthony, among them — sipping Dom Pérignon and Patrón tequila. The event drew the ire of Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council speaker, who charged that it exploited the South Bronx’s troubled history for entertainment.

Further stoking the controversy was a Somerset billboard touting the area as “the Piano District.” Other speculators were quick to chime in, proclaiming the Bronx as the new Brooklyn.

“We don’t need another Brooklyn,” said Roselyn Grullon, a partner in Bronx Native, an apparel company. “We don’t want developers to push out the locals and flatten our beautiful, diverse culture.”

But she is not averse to efforts by Bronx artists and merchants to spruce up the area. In the last year alone, the formerly forbidding Mott Haven neighborhood has welcomed La Grata, an upscale restaurant and pizzeria; Filtered Coffee, a low-key Third Avenue gathering spot; Cross Gallery, showcasing art, technology and design; and 9J, a boutique on Bruckner Boulevard that is a magnet to locals and music world luminaries.

These businesses and others are ambassadors of Bronx culture at large, said Jerome LaMaar, 9J’s dapper owner. “And what’s a brand without the right ambassador to push it?”


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Here, a look at some of those South Bronx ambassadors and their pioneering efforts in this new frontier.

Jerome LaMaar, at 9J, enthroned in chair by Sicis, known for its elaborate mosaics and home furnishings. Credit Andre D. Wagner for The New York Times

Jerome LaMaar

The Wiz of Bruckner Boulevard

“I want to be the Jeffrey Kalinsky of Bruckner Boulevard,” Jerome LaMaar said, referring to the merchant whose luxury fashion emporium was vital in transforming the once gritty meatpacking district into a high-style fashion destination.

At 32, Mr. LaMaar, a Bronx-bred former designer, has a similarly lofty goal: to turn his boutique 9J into a fashionable anchor on Bruckner Boulevard. Today the shop attracts locals and high-profile outsiders like Tina Knowles and Jennifer Lopez’s lively entourage, their implicit endorsement fueling Mr. LaMaar’s ambition.

“At first, I wanted to tap into the local culture — that’s home,” he said. Now he envisions his store as a club, one that draws a heady amalgam of local artists and borough bigwigs along with deep-pocketed sightseers and businesspeople.

Not that he would neglect his assorted friends. “They’re skaters, drag queens and young professionals of all ages and colors,” Mr. LaMaar said. “This is a place where they can feel like themselves and not be judged or ostracized.”

On a practical level, it’s a place where they can shop. The store is a tidy bazaar stocked with kimonos and embroidered peasant smocks, jewelry, T-shirts and pastel-tone sneakers, the prices varying from about $3 for an adult-friendly toy, say, to $3,000 or more for substantial, and colorful, home furnishings. He hopes to take his vision, loosely modeled on the fabled Parisian concept store Colette, global.

Yet his roots remain in the Bronx. A production of the “The Wiz” that he saw as a boy, formed his aesthetic and is still informing his fantasies.

“The movie wasn’t about fashion per se,” Mr. LaMaar said. “It was about the Wiz, how he was dictating things, how the look of those things should shift and change. That’s the way I see my store, my career, my life.”

Flora Montes, the force behind Bronx Fashion Week. Credit Andre D. Wagner for The New York Times

Flora Montes

She Rules the Runways

Flora Montes, 52, started Bronx Fashion Week three years ago with her last $200 unemployment check and gumption to spare. “I have to believe that somewhere along the line I was meant to be the vessel that brought it to life,” she said.


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Fashion enthralled this Bronx-born single mother of two from the time she saw her first runway show in Manhattan, in 2014. “That was a Saturday,” she recalled, “and on Sunday I started to get the legal paperwork together and reach out to my small network of supporters. I thought, ‘The other boroughs have their fashion week, and now it’s time for the Bronx to step up.’”

Her first event, stretched over three nights in September of that year, drew close to 1,000 visitors who watched models of diverse races, ages and body types strut the work of local designers and others. Some designers were short on cash. “But I don’t turn my back on anyone,” Ms. Montes said. “I don’t have the heart to say, ‘No, you can’t show because you can’t pay a fee.’”

For Ms. Montes, a poet and chef, the show’s success seemed surreal. “I had no connection to the industry,” she said. “I’m no fashionista. My daughter used to tease me: ‘Mom, you used to walk around the house in sweats and a ponytail. When did you become a fashion thing?’”

For her next event, on Aug. 26 at the Mall at Bay Plaza, Ms. Montes hopes to lure a few Manhattan dignitaries, among them Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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Entrepreneurship: The Blobs in Your Tea? They’re Supposed to Be There

“I can’t say that everybody who tries it loves it, but there’s a misconception that people have to have bubble tea,” Ms. Lamba said. “We have plain tea, too.”

So far, bubble tea “hasn’t hit anybody’s radar in terms of the next big trend,” said Peter F. Goggi, the president of the Tea Association of the U.S.A.

“In order for a trend to latch on, you have to be able to get it anywhere, not just in small tea shops,” he said. “It’s got to make it into quick-serve restaurants, into food service, into the refrigerated aisle at the grocery store. It’s about access.”

But, Mr. Goggi added: “Innovation is important to any product category, and you’re getting a different mouth feel with the tapioca, and you’re getting the sweetness. It’s making tea more palatable to the soda generation.”

In recent years, iced tea and hot tea have been making inroads against coffee, but there are signs of stress: Starbucks recently announced that it would shutter its stand-alone Teavana stores, calling into question the future of a brand it bought for $620 million in 2012.


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Bubble tea purveyors hope they can fill the void. Some shops offer dozens of beverage options — like fruit-based teas, smoothies and slushes — and some drinks even incorporate coffee (talk about steeping with the enemy).

But it is the basic bubble milk tea that is the main event. Vivi Bubble Tea, a franchise business, has 45 shops in the United States, most of them on the East Coast, and seven more under construction. Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Company, which is based in Taiwan, has four stores in New York City and 26 in other states, while CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice has 32 outposts in the country, 22 of them in New York City.

Boba Guys began in San Francisco in 2011 as a pop-up inside a ramen noodle restaurant. It served as a testing ground for the two founders, Bin Chen and Andrew Chau, to refine their three flavors (classic black milk tea, jasmine and soy milk tea) and to work on new concoctions.

“We were in the Mission area, where there were a lot of curious foodies and a lot of Asian-Americans who had grown up drinking bubble tea,” said Mr. Chen, the former creative director at a messenger bag company. He and Mr. Chau opened their first stand-alone store in San Francisco in 2013 and have since expanded to six in the Bay Area and three in New York City.

Their goal is to differentiate Boba Guys by positioning it as a premium brand: the bubble tea equivalent of upscale coffee spots like Blue Bottle and La Colombe.

Mr. Chen emphasizes Boba Guys’ use of freshly brewed teas (rather than powdered), organic milk (rather than nondairy) and made-from-scratch jellies and fresh fruit. (For the record, other bubble tea shops make similar claims for their ingredients.)

Many bubble tea companies have opened stores near college campuses. The thinking, said Derrick Fang, the manager at Ten Ren Tea, “is that Asian students will introduce the culture to their non-Asian friends — and it works.”

There’s also a concerted effort to guide newcomers. “We introduce people to the way to order, and we explain the toppings and the different flavors,” Mr. Fang said. “And we had to make adjustments for the U.S. market. People in America like a sweeter taste than in Asia.”

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Entrepreneurship: When a Scented Candle Just Won’t Do

Drugstores and other retailers are fully stocked with low-cost home fragrances, from room sprays to candles and wall plug-ins. Now, thanks to Air Esscentials and other such firms, there are options on the higher end: compact yet high-powered diffusers that will infuse scent throughout a room for hours or days at a time.

Examples include Aera, a $200 device the size of a paperback book that its parent company, Prolitec, says can perfume a room of up to 2,000 square feet, with fragrance levels adjustable through an app. Each fragrance capsule costs $50 and, according to Aera’s website, will last about 60 days if it is placed in “a 450-square-foot room, on an average setting running for 24 hours per day.”

Jeanette Wolfe, a holistic health educator, is a big fan of such devices and a big believer in the power of scent to increase energy and “drop you into a calm place,” as she put it.

Dimitri Gallit, the chief executive of AromaTech. Credit Martin Tessler for The New York Times

She used to rely on old-fashioned methods to perfume her Victorian home in Princeton, N.J.: dried flowers and squares of muslin that were infused with essential oils and placed in the air vents. “But it wasn’t as strong or clear or efficient a scent as I wanted,” Ms. Wolfe said.

Now each floor of the house has its own fragrance dispersed by an AroMini, one of several styles of cold-air diffusers for the home made by AromaTech. According to the company, AroMini, a 12-inch-tall cylinder that costs $279, is strong enough to imbue fragrance in a 1,000-square-foot room. The essential oil or aroma oil refills cost $16 to $180, and last about a month.

Citrus, typically a combination of mandarin and bergamot, wafts through the first floor of Ms. Wolfe’s home, while frankincense and sandalwood perfume the bedrooms on the two upper levels. And to get rid of the “old house” smell of the basement, Ms. Wolfe favors “grounded scents” like evergreen, pine, mint and spearmint. “But I change them seasonally,” she said. “I’ll add spices during the holiday season. I’ll shift them if I’m having a dinner party. I’ll shift them depending on my mood.”

The home fragrance market is a $6.4 billion business at the retail level, according to a 2016 study by Kline, a market research and consulting firm in Parsippany, N.J. Using data from a Simmons national consumer survey, the online research company Statista calculated that 73 percent of Americans used room deodorizers and air freshener sprays last year; the figure is poised to hit 77 percent by 2020.


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More than just a way of eliminating odor (we’re talking about you, Fido and Frisky), home fragrance has lately become a means of self-expression. “It’s an element of design, like the colors on the wall or the furniture — it’s a way for people to communicate who they are,” said Richard Weening, chief executive of Prolitec, the Milwaukee-based commercial air care company that recently introduced Aera.

“I do not think I’ve met an individual who doesn’t respond to scents,” Ms. Wolfe said.

Actually, some don’t respond well. Consider the people who are allergic to perfumes or just don’t like them. The “fragrance free” movement, which uses the tagline “think before you stink,” has tried for years to beat back the use of fragrances in public places, in deference to the scent-sensitive.

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Still, there are many who consider lemon-infused air to be a luxury, maybe even a necessity. “The general principle is: People like places that smell good, and they don’t like places that smell bad,” said Mr. Weening of Prolitec.

To hear him tell it, the conventional tools deployed for making a place smell good — candles, sprays, wax melts, reed diffusers, and so-called liquid electricals like plug-ins — leave something to be desired. The scents are heavy, inconsistent and, in his view, maybe just a bit unrefined. “It’s that New York taxicab smell,” Mr. Weening said.

Two years ago, Dimitri Gailit, the chief executive of AromaTech, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, noticed that his company was fielding calls from clients who wanted their residences to smell as inviting as their stores.

Aera is a $200 device the size of a paperback book that its parent company, Prolitec, says can perfume a room of up to 2,000 square feet.

“So we decided to make every one of our products available for home use,” he said.

The devices, sold through the company’s website and Amazon, include the AromaCube ($30), a battery-operated diffuser meant for a small space like a bathroom; the AromaPod ($129), designed for up to 500 square feet; and the industrial-strength AromaPro ($849), which comes with an HVAC adapter, meaning it can work through a customer’s home heating and air-conditioning system.

The company’s cold air diffusion process breaks down aroma oils and essential oils — the most popular are white tea and thyme, and oriental garden — and disperses them in the form of dry vapor.

Depending on the device, customers can digitally adjust the intensity of the vapor as well as the hours that it is dispersed. Control of the diffusers via an app is in the planning stages.

“There are people who are buying our machines for aromatherapy,” Mr. Gailit said, “and then there are customers who want to create a certain ambience in their home, like when they’re having a party. They may be having a tropical-themed party or a chocolate fondue party, so they’ll disperse a fragrance like coconut spice or chocolate.”


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Customers have responded, Mr. Gailit said: “Since we introduced our consumer line, we have significantly increased our business.”

Mr. Weening said he had had the same experience since Aera hit the market. “We’re way ahead of where we expected to be with sales,” he said. “People are buying multiple machines.”

Aroma360’s clients are mostly commercial, “but a lot of business owners asked for scents in their home as well,” said Meghan McMahon, the company’s director of marketing. Residential customers can choose from cold air diffusers that range in price from $149 (for 300 to 800 square feet) to $1,499 (to cover up to 6,000 square feet).

ScentAir, too, ventured into the home fragrance market at the urging of commercial customers. But rather than sell directly to the consumer, ScentAir has made its home fragrance system — which is essentially a high-end plug in that costs $130 — available exclusively on the websites of hotel clients like Marriott and Westin.

“It’s a nice tie-in for us,” said Edward Burke, ScentAir’s vice president of customer strategy and communications. “And by offering the home version on the hotels’ websites, it helps us be a better partner.”

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Entrepreneurship: A New Lure for Spa Customers? A Salt Cave

Nonetheless, salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, a venerable treatment in Central Europe and Asia, is now being offered at spas, resorts and stand-alone facilities in the United States in the form of salt beds, salt rooms and salt booths. Floors and walls that are lined with salt blocks and salt crystals, and zero-gravity chairs (recliners designed to relax the back), are the norm. A device known as a halogenerator grinds sodium chloride into a dry aerosol, then disperses it to mimic the microclimate of a salt cave.


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Perhaps unsurprisingly, salt spas seem to be sprouting in pockets of the United States that attract the rich. For example, at the Montauk Salt Cave, which opened two years ago in the Hamptons, a session costs $40 for adults. There’s a children’s hour ($40 per child, but adult guardians may enter free) as well as yoga classes and reiki healing amid the Himalayan salt. At the Wellery, a pop-up “wellness center” at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, weary shoppers can refresh themselves in one of several salt booths (10 minutes for $25) until the end of October.

“The ability to look at salt and see its helpful properties has become a significant part of our business,” said Allan Share, the president of the Spa Industry Association.

Jessica and Elliott Helmer, owners of the Salt Suite. Credit Kali McCarthy for The New York Times

In 2012, there were a dozen halotherapy facilities — places with halogenerators — in North America, according to Leo M. Tonkin, the founder and chief executive of Salt Chamber, a supplier of dry salt therapy equipment, based in Boca Raton, Fla.

“In the last four years, the number has grown to 300 salt chambers,” said Mr. Tonkin, who is also the founder of the Salt Therapy Association, a trade group. “There’s been a rapid growth in stand-alone salt facilities and in resorts adding a salt room as an amenity. Day spas have taken an underutilized area and turned it into a salt room, and clubhouses of some high-end residential developments are adding salt rooms.”

Economics are a big driver: A visit to the sauna or steam room is generally included in the basic spa fee at hotels and resorts, but salt rooms often cost extra.

Adding salt therapy to spa services is another moneymaker. At the Four Seasons Resort in Oahu at Ko Olina, 25 minutes in the salt chamber costs $65. The so-called Ha Ritual — which involves 50 minutes in that chamber, with guided meditation, a dry salt foot scrub and a massage — runs $190.

But there are occasional bargains. At the Breathe Salt Room on Park Avenue in Manhattan, the “salty yoga” classes are $35, the same cost as a standard salt session.

When the Linq Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas opened a new spa two years ago, its two salt caves with halogenerators were a way “for us to differentiate ourselves,” said Joy Matti, Linq’s spa operations manager. “Several spas on the strip have salt rooms, but don’t have halogenerators.”


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Linq’s salt caves feature zero-gravity chairs and soft music. Guests who book a spa service for at least $50 are welcome to breathe in the saline air at no additional charge. Otherwise, a 45-minute session runs $40. “We have guests who try it, then come back the next day because they got the best sleep of their lives,” Ms. Matti said.

The caves accommodate up to eight people “and are generally booked from 8 a.m. until the last session at 6 p.m.,” she said.

Supplies for salt spas in Leo Tonkin’s Salt Chamber warehouse, in Boca Raton, Fla. “It’s a great business model because it’s low labor,” Mr. Tonkin said. Credit Kali McCarthy for The New York Times

Entrepreneurs have taken note. Mr. Tonkin estimates there are 100 stand-alone salt facilities around the country, generally two- or three-room studios that charge $30 to $50 per session, though discount packages and membership arrangements can lower the price considerably.

Many of these spa owners have a side business in salt lamps, bath salts, skin scrubs and Solé, a concentrated salt solution, to create another revenue stream. To appeal to parents who believe that halotherapy can relieve symptoms of allergies and eczema, some facilities have a dedicated children’s room, with salt on the floor to suggest a sandbox or beach and fish-themed murals.

The décor can be a big part of the lure. Some of the spaces are outfitted to look like Zen relaxation rooms, some resemble caves, and some have backlit blocks of amber and pink salt.

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“It’s a great business model because it’s low labor,” Mr. Tonkin said. “You don’t need instructors. You don’t have people providing services. And once the facility is built, the operational expenses are low. The only consumable is the sodium chloride that goes into the halogenerator.” A 10-pound bag is $25, he said, and is enough for 200 to 400 sessions in a salt room depending on the size of the room and the length of the session.

“It’s pennies a treatment,” Mr. Tonkin said. “This is a very lucrative business for an owner-operator.”

Five years ago, Jessica Helmer and her husband, Elliot, of Delray Beach, Fla., were looking for a business opportunity. “We were ready to do our own thing,” said Ms. Helmer, 36, who had previously worked in corporate sales.

When a friend came back from a trip to California raving about the halotherapy center that had soothed her allergies, the Helmers were sold. In 2012 they opened the Salt Suite, a wellness center in Delray Beach with three rooms.


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“It was a slow ramp-up but in Year 2 it jumped,” said Ms. Helmer, who subsequently opened a salt studio in Lake Worth. She and her husband have since sold Salt Suite franchises in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Palm Beach and have fielded inquiries from people in New York, New Jersey, California and Texas “without even doing any marketing,” she said.

Leo Tonkin, founder of Salt Chamber, in his supply warehouse. He’s also the founder of the Salt Therapy Association, a trade group. Credit Kali McCarthy for The New York Times

A single session is $35 and an unlimited monthly membership is $99. The Helmers’ clients — mostly mothers bringing their asthmatic children, and adults over 45 with assorted respiratory ailments — visit an average of one to three times a week.

Finding the right locations has been a challenge. “This isn’t a massage or haircut,” Ms. Helmer said. “It’s like a gym — it needs to be accessible so it can be part of your daily routine.”

But first, Ms. Helmer has to explain exactly what she’s selling. “No one has heard of salt rooms, so we have to explain what they are and explain that people have to come in for three or five sessions in order to see a small change,” she said.

But the low profile of salt rooms is also a selling point. “People are intrigued,” Ms. Helmer said. “We have the ‘Aah!’ factor. And now some of our customers are interested in franchising a studio.”

William Dunai, the owner of the Salt Cavern in Clifton, N.J., opened his doors in 2010 and struggled for three or four years. Groupon deals helped build the business, and now, during busy times on weekends, it operates at 95 percent occupancy.

Each of the two rooms can accommodate up to seven customers. A 45-minute visit is $50, but there is a buy-one-get-one-free option as well as an eight-session package for $150. “Some people meditate or pray or sleep while they’re here,” Mr. Dunai said.

Regulars come once or twice a week, though some clients show up only when they are sick. One customer has been coming daily since December, Mr. Dunai said, “and he told me he’s going to keep coming as long as he stays well.”

So far, so good.

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Feature: Aleppo After the Fall

Back in the souqs, I kept trying to superimpose my memories of the place. We passed near the silk merchants’ area, now blackened and silent. Before 2011, I used to stop there and visit a flamboyant young trader with a round, cherubic face. He would give me tea and drape me with scarves. His little stall was covered with pictures of gay icons like Judy Garland, a reference that his Syrian partners seemed not to get (or perhaps they just didn’t care). I still have his business card, with a picture of Oscar Wilde and the quote: “I can resist everything except temptation.” Aleppo in those days was a magnet for footloose journalists and adventure tourists. We would spend hours getting lost in the souqs and then stop for drinks in the dimly lit bar at the Hotel Baron, gazing at its old unpaid bar tab left by T.E. Lawrence, our heads swimming with nostalgia for an era we knew only from books.

Now parts of the city were literally unrecognizable. In al-Hatab Square, once one of the prettier spots in the Old City, I found only a giant, uneven mound of rubble and earth that rose 15 feet above the street, with grass growing in it. I almost stepped on an unexploded Turkish gas bomb surrounded by yellow spring flowers. On the square’s edges, half the buildings were destroyed. It was hard to believe this was once an orderly urban setting, lined with restaurants and hotels. The last time I was in Aleppo, in late 2010, I stayed at a beautiful old boutique hotel near the square, the Beit Wakil. I remember the owner taking me down into a dark, earthen-walled subbasement to show me a network of tunnels built centuries earlier. You could travel all the way to the citadel — the great medieval palace that towers over the Old City — without going aboveground, he said. They were built during the 17th century, when intermittent wars often made streets too treacherous to walk. “Perhaps we will need them again,” he said.

What destroyed Aleppo? It was not the sectarianism that is often held up as a key to the Syrian war. It was not just “terrorism,” the word used by regime apologists to fend off any share of blame. Those things played a role, but the core of the conflict in Aleppo, as in much of Syria, was a divide between urban wealth and rural poverty. It is not new. Travelers in the Ottoman era used to describe the shocking gulf between Aleppo’s opulence and the countryside surrounding it, where peasants lived in almost Stone Age conditions. Later, this divide mapped onto the city itself, as eastern Aleppo spread and filled with poor migrants. Deeply religious and mostly illiterate, smoldering with class resentment, they became the foot soldiers of a violent insurgency led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s. That rebellion burned for years and culminated in the Syrian regime’s notorious massacre of 10,000 to 30,000 people in the city of Hama in 1982. Hundreds of people were killed in Aleppo, too, and a siege atmosphere marked the entire city. The Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa, who grew up in Aleppo during those years and wrote a novel about it, told me in 2008 that the city’s cosmopolitan traditions had helped protect it. But he added: “All this has harmed Syrian society so much. If what happened in the 1980s were to happen again, I think the Islamists would win.”

One tragedy of Aleppo is that this rift between rich and poor was slowly mending in the years just before the 2011 uprisings. An economic renaissance was underway, fueled by thousands of small factories on the city’s outskirts. The workers were mostly from eastern Aleppo, and the owners from the west. A trade deal with Turkey, whose border is just 30 miles to the north, brought new business and tourists and optimism. I remember sitting at cafe table with two Turkish traders just outside the citadel in late 2009. Tourists thronged all around us, and the two men talked excitedly about how new joint ventures were melting the animosity between their country and Syria. “Erdogan and Assad, they are like real friends,” one of them said, referring to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.


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This kind of optimism was one reason the revolution took so long to reach Aleppo. All through 2011, as the rest of Syria erupted in protest, its largest city was quiet. But by 2012, in the villages just beyond the city’s edges, weaponry was flowing in from across the Turkish border and battalions were being formed. “The countryside was boiling,” I was told by Adnan Hadad, an opposition activist who was there at the time and belonged to the Revolutionary Military Council in Aleppo, a group led by Syrian military officers who defected. The council was eager for more European and American recognition and sensitive to Western calls for the preservation of most of Syria’s state institutions. But local rural people tended to side with a more Islamist and less patient group called Liwa al-Tawheed. Tawheed’s members “considered themselves more authentic” and had begun getting their own funding from Persian Gulf donors, Hadad told me. In the spring of 2012, Tawheed’s members began pushing for a military takeover of Aleppo, accusing the council of excessive caution and even secret deals with the regime. The council resisted, saying they should move only when it was clear that the city’s people wanted them to. In July, Tawheed took matters into its own hands. Armed insurgents flooded eastern and southwestern parts of the city, taking over civilian houses as well as police stations in the name of the revolution. Hadad considered the move a “fatal mistake,” he told me, and resigned from the military council.

By then, eastern Aleppo had become a rebel stronghold. In early 2013, elections for provincial councils took place, giving the rebels a civilian veneer. But the councils, initially funded by the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, were soon under pressure from the Nusra Front, the Syrian Qaeda affiliate, and other hard-line groups. Later, ISIS forces captured parts of the city and forced residents to live by their rigid code. In theory, Aleppo was an embattled showplace for the Syrian revolution’s aspirations. In fact, most civilians were dependent on a patchwork of armed rebel factions for food and protection. The constant pressure of war left almost no room for a real economy, and many of the city’s factories had been repurposed by the rebels as military bases.

Now Aleppo’s great economic engine lies in ruins. One afternoon, a 45-year-old factory owner named Ghassan Nasi took me to the industrial area just west of Aleppo called Layramoon. The sounds of the city dissipated as we drove west, and when the car stopped, there was an eerie silence. An entire district that once hummed with 1,000 small factories was now abandoned, most of its buildings shattered and burned. “It is a 100 percent loss here,” Nasi said. We walked down a dusty street to his factory, a textile and dyeing house that employed 130 people who worked 24 hours a day in three shifts. The door still had its metal filigree gate and marble steps. “This is where workers stamped in and out,” he said.

The roof of the Aleppo Eye Hospital, which rebels used as a military headquarters. Credit Sebastián Liste/Noor Images, for The New York Times
Inside the hospital. Credit Sebastián Liste/Noor Images, for The New York Times

Inside, the huge factory floor was burned black and strewn with rubble. The rebels had used it to make weapons, he said. His old office had been used to house prisoners. Nasi told me quietly that he collapsed to his knees upon seeing it again last summer. “I lost $10 million in machinery, $4 million in land,” he said. “Even if we rebuild, the machinery is gone, and with the sanctions, we cannot buy new machinery.” On top of that, there is inflation: The American dollar was worth 47 Syrian pounds before the crisis, and now it trades unofficially at about 520. And Turkey — where much of the Aleppo factories’ machinery was transported and sold, often with the collusion of Syrian owners who wanted to avoid losing everything — now sells similar textiles for less. Reviving Syrian industry, and the social glue it might once have provided, is next to impossible.

I asked Nasi what had become of his workers. He said about 70 percent of them joined the rebels. He didn’t seem bitter or surprised about this. Some lived nearby, so when the area was divided, they had little choice. As for the others, they were poor and ill educated and religious, and the rebels promised them a lot. “The average salary for workers was about a hundred dollars a week,” he said. “The rebels paid more.”

For many Aleppans, caught up in a conflict they had tried to avoid, the only rule was survival. On a warm spring morning in 2013, a 22-year-old man named Yasser lay bleeding in the middle of a street in eastern Aleppo. Moments earlier, he had carried his mother, mortally wounded by a sniper, into his grandparents’ car. As he watched the car pull away, three bullets struck his legs and left arm. He collapsed into the street and could not move. Shots rang out over his head: regime soldiers trading fire with rebels on either side of him. The soldiers heard Yasser calling for help and told him to come toward them. “I can’t move,” he shouted. Then a rebel spoke from a nearby building, promising to help. When he answered, a regime soldier called out, “Who are you talking to?” The rebels quickly warned him not to answer or they would kill him.

“I was very scared of both sides,” Yasser told me later. “If I went to one side, the other would kill me.” He lay there, his limbs going numb, too frightened to move or speak for more than four hours.

I met Yasser in March in Sha’ar, the most devastated neighborhood in eastern Aleppo. He was short and solidly built, with a snub nose and a gruff manner. He was selling tomatoes and cucumbers from a stand, on a block where many buildings were in ruins. Across the street was a fruit stand, and next to it, a loud generator, set up by the government to supply electricity. Surprising numbers of people walked the streets. This place had been almost completely empty a few weeks earlier, but now that Russian mine-clearing teams had been through and the rubble was mostly pushed aside, Sha’ar’s residents were returning to their homes. (More than 100,000 went back to eastern Aleppo between January and March, according to the International Organization for Migration.) Yasser said he was one of the first people to come back, right after what he — like everyone else I met — called the liberation. It was a gesture of defiance, aimed at the rebels. “What we lost, we will get it back,” he said. He wore military fatigues, and he told me he re-enlisted in the military after he got out of the hospital in 2013. “My blood type is O-Assad,” he said.


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Later, Yasser showed me the place where he was wounded. It was the first time he’d been back since it happened, and the block had changed, like most of eastern Aleppo. “There was a checkpoint here, there were sandbags there,” he said. He pointed out the first-floor window where an old man had talked to him through curtains as he lay on the street. He showed me the building where he thought the sniper had been hiding, about 100 yards away. He explained how his ordeal had ended: An airstrike hit the building, and the sniper vanished. A man on a motorbike rescued Yasser, carrying him to a house, where someone cleaned his wounds. Later, he was taken to a hospital, where a doctor told him that his mother was dead. The doctor put a needle in his arm and told him to count to three, and he blacked out.

I found Yasser’s story credible, and his uncle later backed it up. But as I stood on the street with him, I found myself wondering: Did he really know who shot him? Bullets were coming from each side. As he lay there bleeding, whom was he more frightened of — the rebels or the regime? Yasser clearly knew how his government is portrayed in the West and seemed defensive about it. He told me a rebel group tried to blame the regime for his mother’s death. Later, he said, the same group admitted its guilt and offered blood money, which the family refused to take. This seemed less plausible. He walked me down the street to his uncle’s house, where he said we would hear another story about what the rebels had done.

Yasser’s uncle was a big, heavyset man with a jowly face and a look of weary resignation in his eyes. He welcomed us into his tiny apartment, where he offered me a stool and sat down on his old brass bed. He sighed and apologized for being unable to offer us tea. Then he showed us his scarred arm and told us the story of how his family was devastated in January 2013. He was driving his pregnant daughter to the hospital when machine-gun fire riddled the car, killing his wife instantly and wounding everyone else. He told me rebels from the Free Syrian Army pulled them from the car and rushed them to a nearby hospital. I asked who fired on them. “I don’t know,” he said.

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Economic View: Why Women Don’t See Themselves as Entrepreneurs

Research shows that women around the world are less likely to consider entrepreneurship as a career path, largely because they don’t see other women entrepreneurs as role models.


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They’re also less likely to have the management experience that can lead to starting a company. Just 19 percent of top executives are women, according to a and McKinsey report, and a main reason they don’t rise is because they are less likely to have mentors in senior leadership.

That changes when women run companies. The gender pay gap shrinks, and women are more likely to be promoted, according to research of public companies by Linda Bell, an economist and provost of Barnard College. “Whether by cause or effect, the presence of a top woman executive has a really robust impact,” she said.

Women are also left out of financing networks, which are predominantly male and often operate through referrals from friends. They are more likely to invest their own money instead of outside capital in their businesses, and when they seek investors, they ask for less.

Networks are important for another reason: emotional support. “Launching an entrepreneurial venture is a lonely and sometimes scary undertaking, and you need to have people to talk to,” Ms. Coleman said.

Incubators — physical spaces where people start businesses and meet other entrepreneurs as well as lawyers, accountants and investors — don’t help. In a study of 18,000 firms started in incubators, only 6 percent were by women.

Another factor could also be at play. Women are generally more risk-averse than men. That makes them better equity investors over the long term, studies have shown. It also discourages some from entrepreneurship, and from trying to build high-growth businesses. In some cases, that might be a wise investment decision, too, considering about half of new businesses fail within five years.

Cattle at Three Sisters Farm and Dairy. Credit Matt Nager for The New York Times

Jennifer Dionisio said she had no female role models when she started her company, Three Sisters Farm and Dairy, last year. She sells goat milk and beef, and she hopes to start a cheese shop and farm-to-table restaurant.

Living in a small town, Pueblo, Colo., made it easier, she said, because she knows the local lawyer and bankers. “I would be apprehensive if I didn’t,” she said. Even so, she says, people at the local feed store assume she can’t load bags of feed or drive tractors, and others come to the farm and ask for her boss.


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She said she was trying to be a role model for her three daughters. She named the farm after them and hopes they will take over someday. “Then they can work for themselves, be independent and still make a living,” she said. “Even my 7-year-old daughter can run a Bobcat” tractor now.

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Silicon Valley is even more of a bubble than the rest of small-business America.

Founders of start-ups financed by venture capitalists are almost all male and white or Asian, according to a study by Paul Gompers, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Sophie Wang, a Harvard graduate student.

They wanted to find out whether the problem was not enough women with the education, training or desire to start companies, or whether it was factors like bias or closed-off networks.

They concluded there were plenty of qualified women. Women earn 40 percent to 50 percent of degrees in science and engineering, and they represent 30 percent of the software industry work force. But they are less likely to have information about how to become an entrepreneur, to see female role models and to know venture capitalists.

Female venture capitalists are more likely to invest in female entrepreneurs, Mr. Gompers has found. Yet 91 percent of venture capitalists are male. Eighty-six percent are white, and 11 percent are Asian. Most worked in investment banking, private equity or consulting, and went to Harvard, Stanford or the University of Pennsylvania.

Unsurprisingly, the backgrounds of venture-backed entrepreneurs are pretty much the same. Ninety-one percent are men, 80 percent are white and 16 percent are Asian. Most have degrees from a similar set of colleges and have worked at big tech companies like Google or Microsoft.

“The problem when you have five white men who all went to the same business school and worked in the same firms is their networks overlap, so they don’t draw from a very wide source of entrepreneurial deal flow,” Mr. Gompers said.

Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the founder of, a service for helping families find caregivers, was surprised to see that insularity after growing up in the Philippines, where both her parents started businesses. She said one of the most important things she did was seek out male role models and mentors, not just women.

“Closing the gender gap in business is often a conversation that women have with other women,” she said. “We absolutely need to provide a supportive community for each other, but if we’re truly going to level the playing field, men have to be part of the equation.”

There are other ways to close the gap. In another paper by Mr. Gompers and Ms. Wang, they found that when venture capitalists had daughters, they were less biased against women. Networking groups for women, like Astia, or women-led investment firms, like Broadway Angels, can help. So can female entrepreneurs who speak publicly about their careers and mentor women, and would-be entrepreneurs who introduce themselves on social media or at conferences, Ms. Marcelo said.


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She also advised women to develop thicker skin. “Men tend to shake off rejection more quickly than women,” she said, “but it’s absolutely true that entrepreneurs are made or broken by how they bounce back from adversity.”

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Corner Office: Chip Bergh on Setting a High Bar and Holding People Accountable

That day, my dad sobered up and never had a drink the rest of his life. As the oldest, I shouldered a lot of that family dysfunction.

My mother was a preschool teacher at the Presbyterian Church. She was diagnosed with cancer when I was in college, and the doctors told her she had six months to live. She lived for 20 more years. She was tough.

The fact that my family was a bit broken in my younger years is part of what drove me into sports, and team sports especially, where you’re surrounded by friends and constantly supported.

I put on a face that my family was normal and I was going to get good grades, persevere and be disciplined to push through, despite everything. I’m still very disciplined about how I manage my time.

Early leadership lessons for you?

I was at Procter Gamble, which was a promote-from-within company that placed a huge emphasis on the role of the manager to develop their people. In fact, it was part of your performance review.


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My first hire was supersmart, but he really wasn’t performing over time, and I felt pressure to get this guy promoted. I basically carried him and got him promoted. But about four months later, he was gone for performance reasons.

The big lesson for me, and it stuck with me forever, is that you’ve got to be really transparent and straight with people, and if they’re not cutting it, you’ve got to tell them where they’re not cutting it. Hold the bar up high, and if it’s not a good fit, call it.

Being extremely transparent builds trust over time. I’m not a big fan of organizations where people backstab or talk behind others’ backs. So when I’ve led teams, it’s always been about how we work together to get the best results.

But politics can creep pretty quickly into any organization.

I’ve got some trusted people who will tell me if that stuff’s going on behind my back. If I see it, you’ve just got to squash it like a bug as soon as it happens and not tolerate it.

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You have to be really clear about how we’re going to operate, and if you can’t play that way, then you should probably find another team to play on.

It sounds as if you’re pretty comfortable having tough conversations.

It comes from a couple of things. The first is recognizing that people really do make the difference. Even winning teams are going to pare their rosters in the off-season. Where do we need different skills?

You have to look holistically at the people on your team and constantly look for ways to strengthen the team. I’ve never regretted moving too fast to let somebody go. I’ve had times when I’ve regretted waiting as long as I did to make a move.

That said, I also have some great turnaround stories where people were coached and showed they could raise their game. It’s a fine line on when you make the call, but rarely, looking back, did I move too early.

What are some things you’ve done in terms of the culture?

When I first got here, I interviewed the top 60 people in the company, and I sent them questions in advance, including, What are the three things you think we have to change? What are the three things that we have to keep? What do you most want me to do? What are you most afraid I might do?


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I had an hour scheduled for each of them, and by the end, I was really clear about the company’s DNA, and the values that were really important to everyone who works here.

How do you hire?

When I’m hiring for the executive team, the first thing I’m looking for is leadership. I’ll ask them to tell me about a specific leadership challenge they had and how they worked through it.

Second, do they have a clear track record of success and winning? The best way to do that is to go through the résumé and talk about their biggest wins. I want to know if they’re naturally wired to be competitive. And are they intellectually curious? Would they rather ask questions or tell somebody what to do? How do they learn?

I’ll also ask them to tell me about their biggest failure and what they learned from it. What did they take away from it? How did it change them?

What career and life advice do you give to new college grads?

Find something you love because you might be doing it for the rest of your life. Passion is worth 10 index points. If you really love what you’re doing, it’s not work.

And you’ve got to have more to your life than your career. You’ve got to have other things that drive you beyond just climbing the ladder and reaching your career aspiration. The rest of life is just as important.

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Now, Your Financial Advisers Will Have to Put You First (Sometimes)

In the meantime, here are some things consumers need to know when shopping for financial advice and investments.


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What does the rule cover, and what is effective now?

The basic obligations of the rule are in effect, which means brokers and advisers must meet a “professional standard of care,” and they must put customers first.

The rule covers most retirement accounts, including individual retirement accounts and workplace accounts like 401(k) and some 403(b) plans. Advisers making recommendations on those accounts, and on rollovers from workplace plans into I.R.A.s, are required to charge reasonable fees, and they are not permitted to make misleading statements about investment transactions, their compensation or any conflicts of interest.

But many accounts, including 403(b) accounts for government workers like teachers and church-related plans, are not covered and are still subject to ill-advised and high-cost investments. A plain brokerage account packed with mutual funds or a 529 plan, for instance, would not be covered either.

The old rules still apply there: Brokers are only required to recommend “suitable” investments, which means the product can make the adviser more money at the customer’s expense, even if there is an option that performs identically but is less expensive.

What immediate changes can I expect with my current accounts or when opening new ones?

Advisers may recommend new or different types of mutual funds or annuities that are better for investors. For instance, new classes of mutual fund shares — including “clean shares,” which charge management fees but not distribution fees — were created in response to the rule, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Some annuities have been cleaned up, the group said, offering lower fees and shorter surrender periods — the amount of time before the funds can be withdrawn without penalties.

Critics of the rule have said that putting customers first will be too expensive, and financial advisers may need to drop smaller accounts. If that happens, “take a moment to count your lucky stars,” said Barbara Roper, a consumer advocate with the federation who has been tracking the fiduciary issue for decades. “A firm that will only advise you if it can profit unfairly at your expense is not where you want to keep you money.”

Are the rules enforceable?

The fiduciary standard will not be legally enforceable on I.R.A.s until next year, when financial professionals with conflicts of interest will generally be required to sign a contract with customers. That contract could require the I.R.A. investor to settle any claims in arbitration, but it must give investors the right to bring a class-action claim in court.

But if an adviser recommends rolling money from, say, a workplace retirement plan into an I.R.A. and a consumer believes the adviser had a conflict of interest, the consumer could pursue legal action now. The Department of Labor has indicated, however, that it will bring enforcement actions only when it does not see a good-faith effort to comply with the new rule.


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What if I want to work with an adviser who will act as a fiduciary with all of my money?

You might ask the adviser to sign a fiduciary pledge, something we published several years ago after a certified financial planner circulated the oath in an email:

I, the undersigned, pledge to exercise my best efforts to always act in good faith and in the best interests of my client, _______, and will act as a fiduciary. I will provide written disclosure, in advance, of any conflicts of interest, which could reasonably compromise the impartiality of my advice. Moreover, in advance, I will disclose any and all fees I will receive as a result of this transaction and I will disclose any and all fees I pay to others for referring this client transaction to me. This pledge covers all financial services and advice offered.



Such a pledge is likely to bolster your case in court or arbitration, legal specialists said.

Since then, The Committee for the Fiduciary Standard, an advocacy group, suggested asking advisers to sign an oath of its own, which can be found on its website.

The adviser’s reaction to any pledge will be a good indicator of how he or she operates and whether he or she is the type of adviser who always acts as a fiduciary, with all of your money, no matter the type of account. Going through this exercise “will raise awareness,” said Tamar Frankel, a professor at Boston University School of Law who reviewed the pledge. And, she added, it could help change the culture.

Does this apply to my existing retirement investments?

The rule applies largely to new advice and investment recommendations. So it may be wise to have an adviser review your situation to see if it can be improved — or to see if you’re paying too much. For example, if an adviser recommends continuing to invest in an expensive mutual fund that you’ve been contributing to each month, the new standard would apply, explained Micah Hauptman of the Consumer Federation. That means the recommendation must be in your best interest, and the adviser could not make any misleading statements and or charge more than “reasonable compensation.”

But if an investor simply continues to buy that same mutual fund based on an old recommendation, the adviser would only need to ensure that the investor is being charged reasonable compensation in the future, he explained.

What else should I ask my adviser?

There are too many questions to list here, but some of the most pertinent involve compensation: How much are you being paid, and by whom? Do you plan to make any changes in our relationship in light of the new rules? For a thorough list of 21 questions to ask advisers, read Ron Lieber’s column on the topic.

Where can I find an adviser who has the fewest conflicts of interest?

All advisers generally have some sort of conflict of interest. But choosing advisers who do not make money based on the sale of a product and are instead compensated for their time, similar to how lawyers are paid, eliminates some of the more glaring problems. Other professionals charge flat fees or a percentage of the assets they manage.

You can find such advisers through the Garrett Planning Network, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and XY Planning Network.

Some firms have decided to stop charging commissions on investments and to move customers to accounts where investors pay a fee for advice. Investors will need to evaluate whether the new cost structure makes sense for them.

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The Workologist: Stuck in the Middle (With Good Ideas)

It does sound as if you occupy a distinct spot in your organization’s culture, and as a result, you may be uniquely situated to spur improvements. But before you proceed, make sure you don’t fall prey to Irreplaceable Me Syndrome.


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That’s the Workologist’s name for a common malady: the well-intentioned belief that only you can assure the brightest future for your enterprise. (Usually this manifests itself in the form of guilt about quitting a longtime job for a plainly better opportunity.) Keep this in mind, because you’re teetering on the edge of trying to solve problems that are not your responsibility. Managers should not require a mole to understand workers’ views — and workers should not make their futures contingent on someone else’s intervention, however benevolent. Finally, being “friends” with co-workers can be a mixed blessing, so make sure you’re careful to separate professional responsibility from personal obligation.

Perhaps next time a lower-level employee expresses a legitimate grievance, you should encourage that person to formulate a way to make his or her views known to someone who can actually do something about the problem. You may even have strategic advice about which manager would be best to approach, and how. But either way, bear in mind that what feels like gathering useful intel about how an organization can be improved can very easily cross over into listening to aimless venting and grievance gossip. That’s very human, but the person it helps least is you.

You can also consider ways to translate the critiques you’ve heard into suggestions to higher-ups that won’t involve betraying confidences. (Floating possible solutions is always better than listing problems.) If you’re worried that you’ll be perceived as abusing your inside knowledge, you can road-test your thoughts: “That’s a good point about problem X, and I’m on good terms with manager Y, so what if I suggest solution Z — without mentioning any names?”

The upshot is that you need to make sure you’re thinking about your position the right way. It may be an opportunity — both for the enterprise, and for you. But don’t allow yourself to feel obligated to every constituency in the organization. That’s not an opportunity; it’s a burden.

Supervising Friends, Ethically

I was recently promoted to a new midlevel supervisor position, and several of the people I now oversee are good friends. I think they are doing excellent work, but I’m concerned that I not show special treatment. How does one supervise friends ethically? ANONYMOUS

Asking this question is a good sign. After all, it’s easy to assume your judgment and decisions are unimpeachable. Pausing to reflect shows a degree of thoughtfulness that will serve you well.

Still, you don’t want to overthink this — and end up behaving in response to your perception of others’ perceptions. It may be more useful to take a step back and frame the situation a little differently. For some input on that, I spoke to Lolly Daskal, a longtime leadership coach and consultant and the author of “The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness.

“I’ve bumped up against this a lot,” Ms. Daskal said, adding that, as with many challenges that come with a promotion, managers often focus on short-term how-to tactics.


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She suggests a different emphasis: Think about the bigger picture. This means establishing your credibility and decisiveness with all of your charges. “Invite them in, one by one,” she continued, explain your approach and vision, acknowledge that you’ll need each person’s support, and ask for feedback. Include everyone, and everyone should feel empowered and engaged.

Ms. Daskal’s broader message is that grappling with core values shouldn’t wait until there’s a dilemma: “You have to establish who you are going to be when you first start your career,” she said. But it’s never too late to start thinking that way.

And it sounds as if you’ve already done so. “This person has self-awareness, which is already one step ahead of the game,” Ms. Daskal said. It’s more typical to declare, “This is what I’m going to do,” than to back off, assess the circumstances, and ask, “How do I best handle this?” That’s what you’re doing. The trick is: You have to keep doing it, and you’ll be fine.

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