Small Business and Franchise Success Stories

What do environmental science and athletic performance have in common?  In this case, a lot. Environmental science was just one step in a path that led from an elementary school paper route to an exciting – and rewarding – business opportunity.

Steve Halloran grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and graduated from Bowling Green State University with a degree in Environmental Science. While enrolled he helped run a recycling program where students were paid a portion of the savings small businesses realized by reducing dumpster and landfill costs. The part-time dumpster diver said, “We literally pulled aluminum, cardboard, paper, and other materials out of dumpsters to prove our waste minimization strategies would pay off.” After college he worked for a couple of years as an environmental consultant helping companies save money, improve the environment, and market themselves as “green” at a time when the recycling movement was just starting to explode.

The work was satisfying, but Steve decided to go back to school to obtain an MBA and took a job at his father-in-law’s retail furniture business. “I really got the best of both worlds,” he says. “I was able to bring a lot of ideas into the business and at the same time learned all the different functions: Delivery, service, operations, sales – really everything about operating a small business.” He rose through the ranks and became the general manager with responsibility for operating two stores.

After eleven years and a divorce he left the family business and leveraged his sales experience into a corporate position with La-Z Boy. He worked in New York, Miami, Chicago, Baltimore… wherever the company needed him. The travel wore him down and he began noticing that his stress level was rising exponentially. “I was highly paid but never home,” says Steve, “and that started to take a toll on my personal life.” While his pay was excellent, he slowly became dissatisfied with the effect his job had on his personal and family life. “I finally realized that while I loved La-Z Boy and enjoyed helping to make people comfortable, I wasn’t really changing people’s lives… and that’s what I really wanted to do. Plus, after years of working for other people, I had a real desire to start my own business.”

His first step? Research. Like millions of other people, Steve had often imagined leaving the corporate world to pursue the American dream. He researched opportunities that would allow him to leverage his experiences and talents to build something lasting for himself and his family – while striving to build a better home-life work balance.

Because he worked with La-Z boy both from the retail and the corporate side, he understood the value of a solid brand name and a sound franchise system. Yet at the same time he wanted to avoid taking on massive start-up and investment costs. “Take the furniture business, for example,” says Steve. “That was my first thought, since I really know that business, but the costs are high: Land, building, inventory, trucks, salaries… I was looking at over $3.5 million just to get started. I quickly decided I wanted to find an opportunity light on its feet.”

He worked with a franchise consultant, Britt Schroeter, to identify a handful of opportunities that met his criteria but settled on House of Speed, a Franchise created by ex-NFL star, Don Beebe, whose mission is to “Develop better sports performance through increased speed and character.” He was excited by the opportunity, both professionally and personally. As a local business he could spend more time with his family while he works with children and athletes to help them achieve their dreams.

“Obviously I want to make money,” says Steve. “No one goes into business to lose money. But what really gets me pumped is the knowledge I can make money doing something fun and rewarding while truly helping people and making a difference in their lives.”

While he is confident in the strength of the business model, he had been worried cash flow could limit growth while his company gains a foothold in the market. The success over the past few months has helped him prove the potential in his model and he is encouraged by the results. Two hundred and twenty athletes turned out to participate in their opening weekend event, setting a record for the franchise.

“We’ve already had parents come back and tell us what an impact we made on their kid’s athletic performance,” he says. “That’s incredibly gratifying.”

Where does he see his business in five years? He hopes to take on a more strategic role, leaving day to day operations in the hands of experienced managers. His goal is to expand and have locations throughout the state of Ohio.

And he has personal goals as well: “I want to help kids who are less privileged to succeed through gaining skills and learning the value of hard work. Maybe some will even receive scholarships or other opportunities,” he says. “If they succeed, someday hopefully they’ll return to the area and give back. I truly believe because we’re giving now, we’ll get back later.”

Steve offers one piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. “People think you’re crazy to go into business during a down economy; I think the opposite is true. If I had a lot of money to invest I’d buy real estate, stocks, and businesses. Downturns are actually a source of opportunity because you can gain market share while others go out of business. Turn up the volume, gain share, and when things turn around you’re perfectly positioned. That’s my philosophy.”

Finally, how does Steve feel about being an entrepreneur? “I used to sell couches and make people fat,” he says. “Now I make them fit.”


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