I went to college knowing that I one day wanted to open my own business. My education consists of two associate degrees, two bachelor degrees and an MBA. After college, I spent 10 years with McDonnell Douglas supporting the design and build of aircrafts and the International Space Station.
When I was asked to relocate my family to Houston to keep my job, I told them I wasn’t interested. I decided to instead stay in southern California and open a sports equipment resale shop, something I had become interested in while earning my MBA. I opened my Play It Again Sports franchise 1996, and we recently celebrated our 20-year anniversary, which was even more special because of the two years that almost ended it.
Every entrepreneur knows there is unpredictability in business. From 2004 to 2006, the plaza where my store was located went through a complete renovation. The front of my business became a construction site filled with bulldozers, fences, gravel and workers that created an obstacle course for customers. It was a constant battle to get people in the door and subsequently put a hefty financial burden on the business.
When faced with the reality of the situation, my wife and I had to decide if we were going to stick it out or walk away. We had bills to pay, employees to support and young kids at home, so we chose to persevere.
The entrepreneurs who make it are adapters; they find solutions to the speed bumps encountered along the way. My wife and I decided we would make it through the two years by focusing on the factors we did have control over.
Maintain a positive outlook
Your attitude and feelings about how you’re going to work through challenges that come your way will make or break you. You will have control of your drive. I tell my employees that once the doors are open, it isn't my day anymore; rather, it belongs to the customers. I leave my frustrations at the door and make customer satisfaction a priority.
Of course, there are days that I can't please a customer and will later come across a bad review on social media, but I've learned to take it with a grain of salt. It’s about feeling secure in yourself and knowing that you’re staying true to the owner you set out to be.
Lean on the support system of good employees
I have the privilege of working side-by-side with great managers and hardworking, dedicated employees. They make it easier to go to work with the right attitude, ready to meet the challenges of the day.
Burnout becomes inevitable when a business owner insists on wearing all the hats, so owners must trust their employees to take on some of the daily responsibilities. Being a sports man myself, I know the importance of teamwork and the impact it has on the success of the business. We have manager meetings two to three times a month and staff meetings once a month to align ourselves with the store goals and celebrate the benchmarks achieved.
Seek outside resources
To keep things in perspective, it’s important to connect with other business owners and resources outside of the four walls of your business. When I face any unusual challenges, I use Winmark’s network of franchise owners to see if they've ever encountered a similar situation and find out how they dealt with it.
During the two-year construction, Winmark Corporation played a vital part in my turnaround with on-site visits throughout the year, technological support, phone conversations and advertising promos with big named brands. We even hosted a giveaway of 35 bats in 12 days, encouraging folks to visit the store to sign up to win – and hopefully make a purchase.
Cut back the expenses
We know there are unavoidable expenses, but we cut back where we can. My wife and I sit down to dissect every penny in our personal life and business. Between the both of us, we take a lot of cuts to stretch our funds. Any extra money goes right back into the store to invest in the future.
We've also learned to be smarter with our expenses by seeking the best bang for our buck. Owners must consider what is going to move the needle, what can wait and what they can do on the personal level that will strengthen the business.
Provide exceptional customer service and embrace grassroots efforts
We’re on Yelp and Craiglist, making sure our equipment is posted on the platforms our consumers are using. As a parent myself, I know that behind a number of these baseball and softball leagues are busy mothers and fathers volunteering their time and putting everything together, so connecting with them is critical.
We take pride in maintaining open communication with residents on how we can help their teams and organizations save money. By getting in front of our audience, we can better provide for their needs and wants. For instance, we’re able to keep our consumers informed when new bats come in or when that treadmill they’ve been eyeing arrives in the store.
The construction was finally complete in 2006. A decade later, my store received the Growth Achievement Award from Winmark. In 2016, we saw revenue surpass $700,000 – something no one expected in the two years that nearly killed us.
No matter what “construction site” your business is facing, remember to focus on the factors you have control over and watch the influence it has on the success rate.Credit: Play It Again Sports (Fullerton, CA)
About the author: Al Silva is a Play It Again Sports franchisee in Fullerton, California. With around 285 franchised stores in the United States and Canada, Play It Again Sports buys, sells and trades quality used and new name brand sports and fitness equipment. Play It Again Sports is franchised by Winmark Corporation, which also franchises Once Upon A Child, Plato’s Closet, Style Encore and Music Go Round. For more information visit www.playitagainsports.com and www.winmarkfranchises.com.