Jes McMillan: Community activist, mosaic artist and Executive Director, The Mosaic Institute

use headshotJes McMillan combined her skill and experience as a mosaic artist with her passion for community to create her career as a humanitarian artist.

 In the beginning…

While growing up in Kettering, Miamisburg, Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, Jes McMillan always “wanted to be an artist”. In elementary school, she “loved going into the art room. (It was her) favorite class”. Her talent and interest were recognized early when the teacher chose her in second grade to “paint a window of the art room for the holidays… Usually (they) only let the 6th graders paint the windows”.

How did Jes become a mosaic artist?

Jes followed her passion for art in high school. “I took every art class that was available”. She gained her first experience with handling, cutting and grinding glass when she did a fine design stained glass stepping stone project in art class. The project taught her how to cut the shapes exactly so they would fit together in the pattern with even spacing throughout.

“I did my first mosaic in high school at age 16. I got a piece of wood from the garage, 2’ tall by 4’ wide” and used glass for the pattern. Jes made a second piece which she “traded to my art teacher for a set of all the tools you need to do the glass, so then I was on my way”.

What did Jes do after high school?

After Jes graduated, she pursued industrial design. “I’ve always had a building and engineering type of mind”. She earned her Associates in Science degree in Industrial Design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. They recognized her talent and skills with mosaic art immediately and employed her to represent the Art Institute at festivals and to teach workshops on mosaics.

While she was going to school, Jes also worked at the YMCA.  By the time she graduated from the Art Institute, she was advancing “up the ladder through the child care and I wanted to be a director”. She enrolled at Point Park University in Pittsburgh to get the necessary credits for that position. She majored in Art History and Child Development and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Design & Applied Arts.

What did Jes do when she returned to Dayton?

Pittsburgh “was a great city… I loved that experience”, but family ties brought Jes back to Dayton in 2005. Despite her experience in child care at the Pittsburgh YMCA, Jes discovered the Dayton YMCA lacked openings for child care directors. “I did try being an after-school site director, but I’d already passed that point and I didn’t want to take steps back”.

Jes secured a job as an industrial designer in Franklin, Ohio, but had the misfortunate to injure her hand. “I was dealing with a lot of models and you need your hands”. Shortly thereafter, she was laid off.

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K-12 Gallery & TEJAS

Next, Jes combined her background in art with her training in child development at K-12 Gallery & Teen Educational & Joint Adult Studio in downtown Dayton as a mosaic art class instructor. In order to supplement her income, she also managed Design Sleep, a high-end organic bedding store in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

 How did Jes start combining mosaic art and community work?

Jes created her “first community collaborative piece” while teaching mosaic art at the K-12 Gallery & TEJAS. She led others to make “huge pieces of art that were affecting the community in a really big way. So that kind of changed the course for me right away”. use community mosaic MI

For almost eight years, Jes taught and directed community art projects at the K-12 Gallery & TEJAS. In November 2013, she “parted ways with them to create my own vehicle for community work”. While she considered what that meant, she worked as a database manager for Healthy Alternative, an independent chain of health food grocery stores. In 2015 she founded a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, The Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton, to carry out her commitment to community through its mission: To Inspire, Empower and Unify Community Through Art.

Through contacts made while volunteering at One Bistro, a nonprofit restaurant in Miamisburg, Ohio, Jes found a building with 15,000 square feet available in the same town. In September 2015, The Mosaic Institute use elem classroomopened a walk-in mosaic studio with bins of pre-cut glass sorted by color that customers could use to create “make it and take it” mosaics. The studio offered a full class schedule, private parties and other events.

Since 2015 Jes has involved The Mosaic Institute in almost 20 community mural projects, both paint and mosaic, in Miamisburg.   “I have done mosaic murals in every single elementary school in Miamisburg but one”, and that elementary school is scheduled to create one during the 2018-2019 school year. Miamisburg High School is also on the schedule. Eventually Jes “will have mosaiced with every child in” Miamisburg.

use blocking muralFor the 2017 River Blast Festival, Jes and The Mosaic Institute partnered with the City of Miamisburg to create a giant painted mosaic on 350 feet of levee wall along the Great Miami River. Jes and her Mosaic Institute team taped the giant mosaic pattern on the levee and gave each participant a “paintbrush with the right color and directed them towards the spaces… Everybody from babies to seniors got involved in that mural”. The project made the City a semifinalist for the 2017 Governor’s Award for Parks & Recreation.

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Levee Mural, City of Miamisburg, OH

During its first year, The Mosaic Institute also used their building’s big open space to hold ten art shows with music, performance art, and visual art. It was “a lot of fun”, but, due to the heating and cooling expenses, “the building ended up being just a monster”. Jes needed to relocate The Mosaic Institute.

Since The Mosaic Institute had been active in the community, Jes negotiated with the City of Miamisburg for some space to open a community art center. Her dream is to use her “skills and abilities in partnership with (the City of Miamisburg) to build a Rosewood Arts Center, a city-sustained arts program”. The City did provide some space in a community park, “but it was like starting over from square one”.

Why did Jes move The Mosaic Institute to downtown Dayton?

While Jes was wrestling with relocation, her friend, Mike Bisig, bought the building for

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Mike’s Bike Park, 1300 E. 1st Street, Dayton, OH

Mike’s Bike Park, which included extra space. Jes had spent many years as a young artist at The Front Street Building and knew it always had a waiting list for studio space. When she saw the available space in Mike’s building, she “instantly thought it was a good opportunity to rent these out to artists”.

Jes faced a choice: “do I start over in Miamisburg or do I take this new opportunity? It puts me back in the city (Dayton), which is where I want to be and eventually it could be self-sustaining”. In Miamisburg, Jes relied on income, grants and donations generated by The Mosaic Institute. Funding was always difficult. The Crane Studios Market business model predicted a more consistent cash flow. “Once I rent these out, I’ve got a commitment”.

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Consequently, she moved The Mosaic Institute to 221 Crane Street, Dayton, and “opened up Crane Studios Market to be a tenant in my own arts market”.

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Crane Studios Market, 221 Crane Street, Dayton, OH

“I started out with 13 studios. Each one (is an) individual shop where artists of different types are doing their own galleries/retail business”.  Jes priced the rent, which includes internet access, to be attractive to entrepreneurial artists testing the risk of opening a studio gallery. “Can I get customers? Can I market? Can I switch it up enough in my shop?”

Studios in Crane Studios Market

The leases require the artists to open their shops whenever Crane is open: each 1st Friday, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m., and every Saturday, Noon – 5 p.m. For those lacking the time to run a studio shop, Jes rents wall space and handles the sales of that artist’s work.

Crane opens a new show with a visiting artist every first Friday. That visiting artist returns on the second Saturday to give an artist talk from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. A free bourbon tasting is included.

“We’ve grown into an awesome team. We still have a lot to learn… I’m coming up on my first year as far as managing tenants and spaces, but it’s been great”.

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What community work is Jes doing in Dayton?

When Crane began attracting suburban residents to the first Friday artist talks, Jes realized “there was a huge disconnect” between the suburbs and the art activity in the city. Many people are unaware that East Dayton contains the highest concentration of artists in Dayton. In order to raise awareness, Jes developed the East Dayton Arts District.

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1st Street overpass, Dayton, OH

Her immediate goal is to brand the area and “create some unity with the artists and the arts here and just try to change the face of the East side. In a collaborative setting, art has the power to transcend the barriers of division in every way”.

Her first steps to brand the district involved setting up the website and painting the First Street overpass to be a gateway to the area. The next step will require attending neighborhood association meetings in the district to get them on board. “I think the more people that we get on board, the easier it will be for us to build the district”.

Additionally, Jes is spearheading creation of a memorial for victims of the opioid epidemic, The Wall of Perseverance. Her speech at the 2018 UpDayton Summit earned a grant for seed money for the project. The award also gave her “a team of all these professional people who do all these awesome things”.

The project will invite people to write the name of a loved one lost to opioids on the back of a tile and incorporate it into the 3-D memorial. Jes envisions it as a way “to physically do something to help rebuild broken lives”. We will “make Dayton the Capitol of Healing”.

Jes’ reflections:

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Sidewalk mosaic, Miamisburg, OH

The most difficult thing Jes does now is “managing the tenants, the different artistic personalities. I’m just trying to gather the team; that is the challenge… What an adventure! If you asked me two years ago, would I ever be a landlord to 13 people, no way that I would’ve said ‘yes’ to that”.

Jes would like to get back to doing her own mosaic work. “I haven’t had a show yet and I really would really like to”. She has been doing mosaics for 20 years now and says, “I really enjoy it, so getting back to that would be great.”

Jes’ career observations: 

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Sidewalk mosaic, Miamisburg, OH
  • Explore experiences to find out what it is that matches with you as a person
  • Remember to meet people, network and communicate in order to make projects come alive
  • Build leadership experience by getting people active and involved in projects that make a difference
  • Infuse humanitarian acts, caring and giving, into your career regardless of what you do, whether you’re doing a job you love or not
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Sidewalk mosaic, Miamisburg, OH

“I’ve definitely hit this point with opening Cranes and The Mosaic Institute here that I have this amazing team of professional creative people here with me that are helping me do everything with the community work; they’re very supportive. Team Crane and Team Mosaic are all kind of merging together… a lot of us really care and are invested and excited about making a difference… This is my 20th year as a mosaic artist and almost all of my career out of college has been dedicated to community”.

“Those who can have the responsibility to”.

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Mural in Miamisburg, OH

You can find more information about Jes at:

City of Miamisburg levee painting (WDTN.com, December 14, 2017)

Art projects in Miamisburg with The Mosaic Institute (Dayton Daily News, August 26, 2016)

Meet 2018 Artfest Featured Artist Jes McMillan (Dayton Local.com, August 22, 2018)

Dayton Wall of Perseverance to Memorialize Opioid Epidemic Victims with Art (WYSO, May 28, 2018)

Lisa Grigsby: Owner, Planned2Give; Executive Director, FilmDayton; and Curator, Dayton Most Metro

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Lisa Grigsby used her experience in the restaurant business to succeed in the comedy club world. She leveraged that experience to launch an event planning business, market Dayton’s film opportunities, and publicize community events.

In the beginning…

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Lisa at a tap recital, age 4

When Lisa Grigsby was growing up around Washington, DC, she thought she was going to be a banker, “because I always liked playing with cash registers and money”. Her interest in finance continued after her family moved to Chicago. “My junior and senior years in high school, I had an accounting class that I absolutely adored”. She also served as her high school football team’s statistician. Working with numbers felt right to her, and she began college at the University of Oklahoma as an Accounting major.

Lisa chose the University of Oklahoma for two reasons: it had a football team and nice dorms.  Although Oklahoma was “kind of culture shock”, she found a place with the football team as a trainer doing stats and other tasks. “I was the first woman team trainer in the Big Eight at the time…and my coach was not real pleased”. After several days of sending her “through (the dressing room) thinking it would rattle me”, he realized she was unflappable. She relished the work and says, “I got to go to some great bowl games”.

At the same time, Lisa discovered that accounting bored her. She stayed in business, however, and earned her degree in Marketing.

What did Lisa do after she graduated from college?

After graduation, Lisa returned to Chicago and got a job as a lingerie buyer for a department store. The job was more inventory management than marketing and lacked challenge. “I would dread getting up in the morning and going to work”. She lasted for nine months and quit.

While she considered her next steps, Lisa got a waitressing job. To her surprise, she recognized “that I really loved that”.

How did waitressing influence Lisa’s career path?

Lisa knew she wanted to do more than wait tables. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) was opening a Shaw’s Crab House in a Chicago suburb, and Lisa applied for a job.

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Shaw’s Crab House, Schaumburg, Ill; photo by Midwestern Adventures, February 11, 2013 at Midwestern Adventures

When she interviewed with the general manager, she noticed a picture of Phillips Crab House on the wall. She was familiar with Phillips from summer vacations and commented on the photo. After chatting for 30 minutes, the general manager created a plan to prepare Lisa for management by exposing her to all aspects of the restaurant. She waitressed, worked the bar, and finally spent time in the kitchen, so she would be able to perform any task.

One day a man sat down at one of her tables and pulled out a cigarette. In the 1980s, smoking was still permitted in restaurants. Lisa immediately pulled out her lighter and lit his cigarette. He said, “I really love your attitude,” and handed her a $100 bill. Then he introduced himself. He was Rich Melman, one of the LEYE owners and, thereafter, one of Lisa’s mentors.

Lisa had additional mentors who taught her the restaurant business, but eventually she was ready to move beyond Shaw’s. She found a manager’s spot in different restaurant.

How did football push Lisa into the comedy club business?

Lisa wanted to see the University of Oklahoma play in the Orange Bowl, but, since she was no longer with the team, she needed a second job to afford the trip. She started telemarketing for a comedy club, The Funny Bone Comedy Club and Restaurant in Chicago. She worked from 10am to 2pm, calling people to say, “You just won Yuck for a Buck!” She got paid $0.15 per person who actually attended the show. After 2pm, she went to her restaurant job.

When Lisa decided that it was time to leave her restaurant job, she told the Funny Bone’s manager she needed a job and he offered her one. At that time, Lisa had never been to a comedy show, so she didn’t know what to expect. The manager said, “It’s got to be like running a restaurant… you just help seat people”.

In the 1980s comedy clubs were hot. The Funny Bone was located inside a hotel. The club handled ticket sales, the door and the talent, and the hotel ran the restaurant and bar. The manager was a comic.

After observing people often tipped her in order to sit up front, Lisa convinced the manager to offer VIP seating for $5.00 and pay her $1.00 for each one.  She also noticed the restaurant servers weren’t very attentive, so she met with the hotel’s food and beverage manager to let him know, “you’re missing sales and you’re leaving money on the table”. Each suggestion made her aware of the difference between the manager’s artistic brain and her business brain.

How did Lisa get started opening comedy clubs?

The Funny Bone’s corporate office noticed, “You guys are making a lot more money than you’ve ever made”. Consequently, the corporation’s representative came to visit. When he told Lisa they wanted to open another club, Lisa asked about their business and marketing plans. He said, “You’ve got a lot of questions; you want to do this?” He wrote Lisa a check for $50,000 and said, “Here’s your seed money; go find a place in Atlanta.”

Use FB signLisa identified the factors which helped the Chicago club draw an audience: the nearby presence of a TGI Fridays and close proximity to apartment complexes. She instructed a commercial realtor in Atlanta, “Find a spot that’s within a quarter mile of a TGI Fridays and it needs to be within a quarter mile of a highway”. The Atlanta club was successful and “I ended up opening 26 clubs around the country”.

Each time Lisa opened a new club, taking it from concept to operation, she chose the décor, contracted with vendors, hired staff and planned scheduling. She quickly “learned to take on more and more and not bother” the general office. Some clubs already had a manager, some wanted her to find a manager, and some said, “We’ve got this guy who’s not quite ready; see if you can get him in shape”.

Experience taught her to think quickly on her feet. “You have a show and you have a crowd full of people. The show starts at 8 o’clock and it’s 7 o’clock. (The limo company tells you the main act’s plane) is not going to land for another hour… all right what am I going to do?”

From football teams to comedy clubs, Lisa was used to working in male environments. “In the comedy club world, 90-95% comics are men” and it was her job to shepherd the them around town, including bars and strip clubs. “I had to take them to the radio in the morning… to promote the club…you’d knock on the door, they’d be hungover from being out drinking…I’d throw water on their face, get your clothes on!” “I just got used to working in that world”.

When did Lisa come to Dayton?

In 1991 Lisa had been working in comedy clubs for five years. She was in Covington, Kentucky teaching a new Funny Bone franchisee how to run the club, when she got a call seeking her recommendations for a manager for a comedy club in Dayton. Lisa asked, “Is it Wiley’s or Jokers?” The caller didn’t want to disclose that information, but Lisa pointed out, “Jokers has a full restaurant and bar and Wiley doesn’t, so they’re different skill sets”. She agreed to meet and signed a nondisclosure agreement in order to discuss the question further.

Jokers logoThe club in question was Jokers Comedy Cafe. Mike Bowling, creator of the Pound Puppy stuffed animals, had opened the club in 1985 and “had never made a penny”. Lisa agreed to come to Dayton for 90 days. “We’ll turn the club around and get the numbers all in line, then we’ll find a manager”. After about 60 days, Lisa reported the club’s numbers looked good and recommended they hire a manager. Instead, Bowling offered her the job for a year. Lisa declined, because “Dayton was probably the smallest city I’d been in” and she knew nothing about it.  “When I came here for 90 days, all I did was work that club”.

Bowling persisted. “At the time I had an apartment still in Cleveland, my winter clothes all in storage in St. Louis, expired plates on my car from Georgia and an expired driver’s license from Illinois, because all I was doing was going around from club to club”. Lisa decided that maybe it was time to settle in one place, “so I named what I thought was an outrageous amount of money and they said okay”. She agreed to stay for a year.

What led Lisa to work at Wiley’s Comedy Joint?

In 1992 Bowling sold the business to Tim Mehlman, a Cincinnati-based purchaser who had never owned a club. Lisa offered to stay for 90 days to teach him the business, and he agreed, but thereafter showed little interest. Consequently, Lisa continued to run the club. “At that point, I’d just gotten lazy…this is easy. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing”.

In 1993 all the paychecks bounced twice and Lisa handed in her notice. She agreed to stay on the condition that Mehlman remove himself as an authorized signer on the checking account, “so he couldn’t drain the club’s profits out of the account”. They continued to have disagreements, however, and a month later, Mehlman fired her without cause.

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Wiley’s Comedy Joint, 101 Pine St, Dayton, OH 45402

Lisa immediately called Dan “Wiley” Lafferty of Wiley’s Comedy Joint, the other comedy club in Dayton. Over lunch, she offered to work for him for $100/week. “Until I figure out what my next step is… I got time on my hands and nothing to do”. When they went back to the club, Wiley interrupted their conversation to help move an ice machine. In the process, he cut his finger badly enough for a trip to the hospital, leaving Lisa alone at the club. In the course of that afternoon, she accepted deliveries, answered the phone and made reservations. “So I ended up working for Wiley’s”.

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Wiley’s Comedy Joint – June 15, 2018

Since Lisa didn’t have a noncompete agreement with Jokers, she was free to call the agents handling the big name acts she’d booked at Jokers. She told them that if Jokers “doesn’t pay the deposit on this act, call me. I’ll honor that date at the club across town”. Three days later, the calls started coming in.

Gradually Lisa convinced Wiley to include urban comedy, which hadn’t been part of the repertoire. They “bring in a different crowd which means, hey, I have a larger audience to pull from”.

How did Lisa become the owner of Jokers Comedy Cafe?

In 1995 Mehlman defaulted on his balloon note, and Mike Bowling suddenly owned Jokers again.  He convinced Lisa to return to help him understand the club’s situation. Use Jokers RockAtell PromoThey learned that Mehlman hadn’t paid the sales tax, as well as owing numerous vendors. Lisa determined that Jokers owed around $65,000 in back sales taxes and even more to unpaid vendors. Bowling agreed that she would run Jokers for one year and at the end of the year, she would buy the business for the remaining amount of debt. A year later, Jokers was hers. Eventually, she bought the building, too.

In 1998 Lisa got involved in the Dayton community. It was summer and hot when a young woman came in to apply for a job wearing short shorts and a cropped top. When Lisa offered her something to drink, she asked for a beer. Lisa didn’t hire her. “That night it just kept bothering me. Why doesn’t she know any better? Who’s going to tell her?” The next day, Lisa searched for programs to train people for job readiness, and found a new program, Clothes That Work. She was their second volunteer.

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Clothes That Work Luncheon 2011 – Doris Ponitz, Lisa, Ginny Strausburg, Sue Zickefoose

Gradually Lisa realized that she liked Dayton. “You can do something in Dayton, have an idea, make it happen, watch it succeed and it doesn’t matter how deep your pockets are, because people here care and they will connect.”

When a prominent Dayton community leader, Doris Ponitz, suggested Lisa go through the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce’s yearlong Leadership Dayton program, Lisa balked. As a small business owner, it was expensive. She discovered, however, “it was a great eye opener to what Dayton has to offer, because I came here not really getting out of my little bubble, and I just worked in the club.” She gained an additional benefit. “It also made me have to trust my staff a little more, because I’d be away for a whole day, so they got to grow… That was a big growth experience for me”.

In the ten years Lisa owned Jokers, she successfully operated in an essentially male-dominated business, expanding the club’s offerings with specialty shows, open-mike nights and corporate events. She also developed a reputation for nurturing rising young comedians. (Dayton Daily News, August 13, 2006)

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Funny Bone Comedy Club & Restaurant Dayton at The Greene, Beavercreek, Ohio

In 2006 a tornado blew down the Jokers marquee and Miami Township wouldn’t allow Lisa to rebuild it. At the same time, The Funny Bone was about to open a 325-seat club at a new shopping and entertainment complex, The Greene. Lisa doubted Dayton was big enough for three comedy clubs, and she negotiated a merger of Jokers into the Funny Bone chain which included all of the Jokers staff. “I knew that this will either be great or a colossal failure, so I had a 6-month contract with them. I made it 9 months before they fired me”. Lisa fired an act she thought was “creepy and unethical”, but corporate management said, “you don’t run your own club anymore; this is our decision”.

What did Lisa do after she left the comedy business?

As Lisa was figuring out her next steps, she did some contract work for the Miami Valley Restaurant Association, Culture Works, the Aids Resource Center (ARC, now Equitas) and the Humane Society of Greater Dayton. ARC asked her several times to be their fulltime events planner. Once they negotiated a provision that Lisa could work her own hours (no mornings), Lisa agreed.

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Lisa at the Dayton Art Institute’s Art Ball

Lisa loved the challenge of staging events for ARC in unusual venues, such as the Roundhouse at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. “It doesn’t have much electrical. It doesn’t have bathrooms, so it was a challenge to figure out how to make it work, how to put it together”. She was used to working frugally and finding ways to bring events in below budget added to the challenge.

By 2014 the ARC had become more “corporate” as the organization expanded in both scope and geographical reach, eventually rebranding itself as Equitas Health. “It wasn’t where I wanted to be anymore. It had become too many layers of corporate for the entrepreneur in me”.

What did Lisa do next?

In 2008, sponsored by the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and some major corporations, Richard Florida came to Dayton to kick off DaytonCREATE, a yearlong effort to inventory the community’s assets and to assist the community with developing some practical ideas to persuade talented youth to stay in Dayton. (Dayton Daily News, April 6, 2008)  Lisa participated as a Catalyst (volunteer).

During the process, DaytonCREATE founded FilmDayton as a film festival and identified the need for a community calendar. Dayton Most Metro, a downtown message board, became the source for event information and positive news and reviews. Lisa got involved in both.

When Lisa left the Aids Resource Center in 2014, FilmDayton was out of money. Lisa volunteered to work for the summer to get it on firm ground.  Since then, she has continued as the Executive Director.

Previously, Dayton had partnered with Columbus and Cincinnati to petition the State of Ohio to adopt a tax incentive to foster a film industry in Ohio. The State created the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit (OMPTC), but it didn’t help Dayton much, because most movies were made in Cincinnati and Cleveland. In 2016 the Board of Trustees of FilmDayton decided to shift from a film festival to a film commission to market the area as a film production location. After Lisa earned her official certification as a film commissioner, FilmDayton relaunched as a film commission in April 2016.

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Premiere of The Way with Lisa, Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Ron Rollins, Karri O’Reilly, Shaunn Baker and Eva Buttacavoli

As the film commissioner, Lisa reaches out to movie directors to encourage them to film in Dayton. “In a perfect world, you fly them in and get a copy of the script and go okay here’s what your script would look like in our town. (Except) FilmDayton doesn’t have any money, so that’s really hard to do”. Lisa works with Film Cincinnati to encourage producers to employ people from Dayton and promote Dayton as a scene location. For example, Miles Ahead, a biopic about Miles Davis, was based in Cincinnati, but the director filmed scenes at the Refraze Recording Studios in Kettering and the Montgomery County jail.

In order to demonstrate the economic impact, Lisa persuaded “a couple of the County Commissioners to come do a (movie) set tour, so they could see what goes into the business of film,” including the cast of 12 or 15, around 100 extras, a crew of 75, the food, the parking, etc. Consequently, the County awarded FilmDayton a small contract to expand its work.

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Lisa pouring beer for Dayton Most Metro

In addition, Lisa developed Dayton Most Metro into an online magazine covering a variety of topics such as such as Arts & Entertainment, Dayton Music, Dayton Theatre, Active Living and Community. Dayton Dining is her favorite.

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Dayton Dining Facebook page

She started Dayton Dining as a newsletter to publicize Dayton restaurants and eventually added it to Dayton Most Metro. “I think I still have the heart of a restaurateur and I know how hard it was when you’re in the day-to-day”. Restaurant owners may intend to work on marketing, but then “the dishwasher didn’t show”.

Also in May 2014, Lisa “decided to take the summer to put together a business plan to launch Planned2Give”, an event planning business she created with Jeff Jackson. Before they could finalize the plan, however, Jeff started getting calls. Many nonprofits recognized it was cheaper to hire Planned2Give than to keep an event planner on staff. With Anthony Bourdain

What is Lisa doing now?

Currently Lisa works part-time as the Executive Director of FilmDayton and runs Planned2Give with Jeff.  She also manages Dayton Most Metro as a volunteer. It gives “me all these things to work on and I can work on all of them autonomously when I need to… Keeps me from doing the same old, same old”.

Lisa’s observations:

  • Take more chances
  • Figure out what success looks like for you, not for someone else
  • Meet people for the fun of it; don’t always have an ulterior motive
  • Don’t bitch; find a way to make it better
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Explore; there’s tons to do
  • Get involved
  • If what you want doesn’t exist, get out and start it
  • Find partners, trust them and don’t micromanage them
  • “Sometimes you have to do things just because, and not because it’s going to benefit you at that moment. You’re just building goodwill somewhere along the line”.

“The overriding thing to my whole life is I don’t panic…things are just going to happen as they’re supposed to. Or maybe they’re not the plan I had, but nobody knew that plan and however it comes out, it comes out…I never knew what comedy club I was going to open. I never had a plan to buy a comedy club. My fall back is always that I can still waitress… that gives you a lot of freedom. The worst that’s going to happen is they’ll fire me”.

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YWCA Dayton Women of Influence class of 2016

Lisa Wagner, Executive Director, Levitt Pavilion Dayton

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In the beginning…

Lisa Wagner enjoyed her childhood with her extended family in Allentown, Pa. “I spent my leisure time with my cousins and they were like siblings”. She had freedom to play and roam the city, but “there was a lot of accountability. I couldn’t get away with anything”.

Everything changed at the end of 7th grade when Lisa’s nuclear family moved away to Dayton so her father could take a job with NCR. Lisa played volleyball, basketball and softball in 8th grade, but when she started high school, “I became intimidated about not fitting in”. Nonetheless, “I seemed to be able to fluidly move between all these sub classes of The Breakfast Club”.

What did Lisa do after high school?

Lisa wanted to go to Ohio Northern University to study law, but her father insisted she attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio to major in business. Lisa had other ideas. “I hated business and wanted to teach secondary math and went into the education department”.

When Lisa’s parents subsequently divorced, Lisa needed financing for her education. At that time, she had a summer job with Key Bank and they offered her a full-time job in loan operations. The offer included tuition reimbursement, enabling Lisa to continue part-time education classes at Wright State University. Time, however, became an obstacle. “I kept getting promoted and taking on more responsibility at the bank and I didn’t know how to do both”.

Did Lisa stay in banking?

In 1989 Key Bank moved its loan operations to Cleveland. They offered to move her, too, but Lisa declined, because she and her husband decided to stay in Dayton to raise their children.

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Christopher’s Restaurant & Catering, Kettering, Ohio

While Lisa was at home with her two children, a church friend opened Christopher’s Restaurant & Catering. As the catering portion expanded, he asked Lisa to join him. Since extra money was attractive, Lisa agreed help with that portion of the business.

In order to ensure she could fulfill her arrangements with catering customers, Lisa enrolled in the culinary arts program at Sinclair Community College. “I would sell it and then I would cook it. I’d load it up in the car; I’d go out and we’d serve it and then bring it all back and we’d clean it up”.

Eventually, Christopher’s catering got so busy, Lisa didn’t have time for school. “Christopher’s was nights and weekends and that’s when the classes were”.

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Lisa learned the catering business requires a proactive mindset. “You always have to be anticipating worst case scenarios” in order to provide solutions on the spot. “I always had to know where the nearest grocery store was in case I forgot something”.

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Did Lisa stay in catering?

After ten years of catering, “my body really started to break down, so I took a break”. In 2002, however, “the economy caught up to our family in a real way”. It was time to go back to work.

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Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, Dayton, Ohio

In 2003 the Schuster Performing Arts Center was under construction. Lisa saw a posting for a job there in event operations. She applied, and due to her catering experience, was hired by the Victoria Theater Association (VTA), which owns and operates the Schuster Center.

How did Lisa’s life change as she settled in with VTA?

In addition to its theaters, the Schuster includes a full service restaurant and bar, Citilites. Prior to the 2003 opening, “I was very involved in hiring all the service staff – Citilites and the catering staff”.

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Citilites Restaurant at the Schuster Performing Arts Center, Dayton, Ohio

Once the Schuster Center opened, Lisa became “the execution element”, managing all the details for events held onsite, including the flow, layout and setup, decoration, service style, etc. “I went from kind of working very part-time to working almost 70 hours a week. And we did not have a kitchen in that building until September of 2003 and we probably did close to $1,000,000 worth of catering prior to that”.

How did Lisa move from event operations to ticketing?

VTA surprised Lisa when they asked her to become the Director of their ticketing operation, Ticket Center Stage, and address the issues between Ticket Center Stage and its licensees, Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Dayton Opera, Dayton Ballet, and Human Race Theatre Company.

Lisa’s reaction was, “What? I’ve never sold a ticket in my life!” The VTA assured her, “you’re really good with customers and you manage people really well”.

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Schuster Performing Arts Center Box Office

Nonetheless, she had a steep learning curve. “I spent probably the first month shadowing ticket agents. I sat in the box offices and listened and then I got on the phone and learned how to sell tickets over the phone”.

Lisa observed that the culture within the department did not promote collaboration and needed to change. In order to do that, “I spent a lot of time working on team building; I spent a lot of time asking for input. No matter what level you were within this little organization, I valued what they had to say. I spent a lot of time in the trenches with them”.

As Lisa worked to purge the negative dynamic, she also quickly identified two superstars. These two young woman “were very out of the box thinkers”, willing to approach problems from fresh angles. Working with them led to some of Lisa’s favorite moments: “seeing people that I have developed blossom and really enjoy their success”.

How did Lisa’s responsibilities grow?

In 2009 the CEO and President of the VTA, Dione Kennedy left to head another organization. During the subsequent management reorganization, the interim CEO and the new CEO and President of the VTA, Ken Neufeld, decided it made sense to have a person with culinary experience oversee the food and beverage team. Consequently, VTA created the Vice President of Ticketing and Hospitality position, and asked Lisa to fill it. There is no equivalent position across the country, because in other preforming arts centers “the food and beverage team is not an internal team”.

Lisa and VTA leadership believed the food and beverage operation was a brand connection, making quality control imperative. Regardless of whether catering is provided internally or by outsiders, if it is botched up, “people see it as a reflection of your venue”.

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Schuster Performing Arts Center

Periodically, Lisa asked her boss, Ken Neufeld, President and CEO, for additional challenges. As a result, he eventually added the audience services experience team to her portfolio. Managing that team fit into her hospitality focus, since the team manages the lobbies during a show, supervises the volunteer ushers, and solves any customer problems which arise before a show begins. Lisa led the team to give “the very best experience to the patron from the moment they walked in the door. And that was fun”.

How did Lisa grow into her career?

Lisa met with Ken Neufeld on a regular basis for wide-ranging conversations. “I was allowed to ask anything about the organization, the Board, anything”. Additionally, Ken encouraged her to consider further education. First, Lisa enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania – Executive Program for Arts and Culture Strategy, which featured virtual programs on strategic leadership, finance, fundraising, governance, and marketing.

In 2015, Lisa participated in the National Arts Strategies Senior Management Institute.  One of the Institute sessions was a thought-provoking career visioning process, which explored, “This is what I do now. Is this what I’m passionate about? What would I want to do?”

Lisa realized that “being connected to impact was really important to me”, but that much of what she was currently doing was more operational and “one off from the impact”.

Why did Lisa leave the Victoria Theatre Association for the Levitt Pavilion Dayton?

Lisa loved working with the VTA, but when she attended a community meeting about the Levitt Pavilion project, it intrigued her. “It ignited something inside of me”.

Members of the Dayton community organized the Friends of the Levitt Pavilion to develop neglected green space in downtown Dayton into a community-gathering place with access to the performing arts for all. In 2017 the Friends of the Levitt Pavilion was awarded a grant from the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation to develop the Levitt Pavilion Dayton.

Lisa recognized that she had influenced VTA, but the concepts of impact and legacy sparked her. “I felt like this was a really great opportunity to be on the ground floor of this amazing community asset”.

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Artist rendering of the Levitt Pavilion Dayton

Consequently, she applied to be the new organization’s first Executive Director. “I was terrified of leaving a well-oiled machine, a $16 million organization to a start-up, but there was something really exciting about being part of the Levitt legacy”.

The Friends of the Levitt Pavilion, now serving as the Board of the new nonprofit organization, Levitt Pavilion Dayton, selected Lisa to become the first Executive Director.

The Levitt Pavilions’ premise is that free, high quality outdoor concerts will increase participation with the arts. “I know for a fact there are people that think they can’t afford an arts experience. If we give you a free concert, we’ve taken away that obstacle”. Beginning in the summer of 2018, Levitt Pavilion Dayton will present free concerts on the Pavilion’s lawn featuring high caliber and diverse local, national and international musicians.

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Artist rendering of the Levitt Pavilion Dayton stage

By increasing participation with the arts, the Levitt Pavilion Dayton will provide a place for residents “to come and connect. Not only connect to music, which I feel is one of the most beautiful universal languages in the world, but then also” to each other as they listen on the lawn. Lisa envisions “diverse socioeconomic generational people all sitting on the same lawn, experiencing a common experience” and sharing conversation. “’Hey, I forgot my mustard, would you pass me the mustard?’ All of a sudden I don’t care where you live, I don’t care what you do, you’re my neighbor now”.

How has Lisa’s work changed now that she’s leading the Levitt Pavilion Dayton?

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Levitt Pavilion Dayton job site; photo by Andy Snow

As the Executive Director, “I’m coming into a universe where now I have to be challenged in areas that I may not be as familiar with, such as a construction project or other nuances of a start up.

In order to open the Levitt Pavilion Dayton in time for the 2018 summer season, Lisa is working with the Board to build the new organization. Together they are engaging in big picture activities like strategic planning, mapping the organizational structure, hiring new staff members, programming and defining the customer experience, to ensure that everyone is invited, everyone feels welcomed and when the lawn is activated that audience members feel connected.

Lisa’s observations:

  • Be true to what feeds you
  • Be open to new experiences
  • Be open to new skill sets. “Don’t fear what you don’t know. Embrace it”
  • Recognize that “you’re not the smartest person in the room, that everyone around you offers you something that can either be put in your tool box for later or that can help develop you”
  • Network, network, network. “Make meaningful relationships, be honest, be humble, be authentic, be accountable”
  • Ask a lot of questions or for help. It’s better to admit you don’t know and do some research

Lisa believes her journey has prepared her for this new phase of her life. “Now I have the skill sets and I have the fundamental pieces of where I can do something, but it was the impact and the legacy piece and the passion of wanting to be part of a different conversation – it just felt like the timing was kind of all falling into place”.

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Levitt Pavilion Dayton, August 17, 2018 Band: Kyle Dillingham & Horseshoe Road

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Brent Johnson, Owner, Square One Salon & Day Spa

Brent 2Brent Johnson combined the business and customer service skills he learned in retail and occupational therapy to build his salon business. Today, he and his partners own and operate six Square One Salons in Dayton and Columbus.

In the beginning…

Brent Johnson has been fascinated by business since childhood. As soon as he turned 16, he got a job in a restaurant and discovered, “I loved working”. In his last year or two of high school, he attended school for a half day and worked half a day. “I always wanted my own business, so the more I could learn, the more I could be exposed to the public, the better my confidence would become, the more I could connect with people”.

Brent’s first two managers taught him to “really listen to and be a problem solver for guests. Really listen to people and find out what they want and go deeper than their answer. Don’t be afraid to step out of your box a little bit and do whatever it takes”.

What did Brent do after high school?

After graduation, Brent quickly moved from a job as a floor manager at a store in the Dayton Mall to become the assistant manager of Benetton at Town and Country Shopping Center, and then the manager of Benetton at the Dayton Mall. The promotions enabled him to move from his parents’ house in Carlisle, Ohio to his first apartment in Dayton’s downtown Oregon District.

Brent recognized, however, that the promotions were both “a gift and a trap”. The increased money was great at the time, but it wasn’t enough to live on forever. Consequently, he enrolled at Sinclair Community College for “one class a quarter”. At that rate, he thought, “by the time I’m 86, I might actually have a degree”.

Although Brent dreamed of owning a business, he was unsure of his direction. “The financial world was sort of in crisis and I got scared I was going to be 50 years old and working in the Macy’s Young Men’s department, selling Levis”. At the time, he was a Visual Merchandiser for Macy’s and loved the creative aspect. Consequently, he decided to pursue the goal of a Masters degree in art therapy. His first step was the 2-year degree program in Occupational Therapy at Sinclair. “Art therapy was in the safe world of the medical field where I would actually have an income and health insurance”.

Upon graduation with his Associate’s degree, Brent immediately took a job at Maria Joseph Nursing & Rehabilitation Center focused on geriatric patients. After three years, he moved to the rehab services at Grandview Medical Center and continued working with similar patients.

How did Brent move from being an occupational therapist to owning a salon?

Brent never lost his dream to open his own business. When two friends, Nick and Doug, and his roommate, now husband, Josh, raised the idea of opening a hair salon, Brent was ready.

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Original Owners Doug, Josh & Brent (Photo by The Carr Photography; source: http://www.squareonesalon.com)

During their early planning, Nick left for Chicago. The three remaining partners each added different dimensions to the project. Doug, a hair stylist, had years of salon experience. Josh, a schoolteacher, had a Master’s degree in learning styles and a degree in massage, which inspired them to plan spa services in the salon. Brent said, “I don’t bring anything to the table other than a lot of retail experience, visual merchandising and customer service. And I love people”.

How did Brent and his partners go from a dream to a successful salon?

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The Cannery Building

At first, all Brent and his partners could do was dream. In 1998 a friend told them the Cannery Building in downtown Dayton was being renovated to include retail and residential units. The project planners “were motivated to talk to anybody, because the bank wanted to see retail commitments”. The bank required a business plan, however, and Brent and his partners had no idea how to write one.

When they sought help at SCORE, the mentor “thought we wanted to open a salon like a place to go smoke cigars” and admonished them for failing to wear a suit to their meeting. “It really lit a fire under us”. The partners realized they needed “to act like we know what we’re talking about”.

Then Brent broke his leg. His injury drastically reduced his hours at Grandview, because his job, which included showing patients how to move safely, was “hard to do when I was non-weight bearing on my left leg and in a wheelchair myself”. With time on his hands, Brent started drafting their business plan using a friend’s business plan as a template. It “had nothing to do with my world, but at least I saw a Table of Contents”.

They needed a down payment of $10,000 in order to borrow $100,000, but all they had was $300 and nothing to sell. The partners each raised $3,300 from family and friends, and the bank made the loan.

The partners used $20,000 to buy equipment, start a payroll and pay accounting and legal fees. They used the remaining $80,000 to refurbish the space. In November 1999,

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, Dayton

Brent, Josh and Doug opened Square One Salon with seven employees. “We had 8 styling stations, a massage room and a facial room and a bathroom and a break room and a laundry room… We thought it was important to do it all”.

Brent quit his hospital job to work full-time at the salon. At that time, he didn’t “know the difference between a facial or a highlight”, so he concentrated on customer service and the interior design.

In order afford a pay cut to help the salon’s cash flow, Brent gave up his health insurance and his car and walked to work for two years. He did home health care in the evenings or on weekends to earn supplemental cash.

Square One entered into a contract with Aveda to carry their products exclusively. In return, Aveda provided free education, a free back bar, and business guidance based on Aveda’s analytics. Early on, Brent adopted their benchmarks to measure the salon’s success:

  • Don’t pay more than 6% for rent
  • Don’t let your payroll for stylists go over 45%
  • Make sure your managers and front desk personnel margins don’t run over 8%

What did Brent and his partners do after opening the first salon?

After several years, Brent and his partners opened Therapy Café, a bar/restaurant, also in the Cannery Building. They quickly learned it was a drastically different type of business. “It was a potential killer of everything we had…we had to take out a $400,000 loan and it’s hard to make that up on $2 coffees and $9 martinis”. They also learned owning a bar/restaurant isn’t a party. “You have to stay up late, but you can’t drink”. To Brent’s relief, after four years they sold Therapy Café without going bankrupt.

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Therapy Cafe

“We learned some valuable lessons…what I call our adult college:

  • Stick with what you know; do what you do well
  • Just because you do one thing well, doesn’t mean you’ll do everything well
  • Just because it looks like easy money, doesn’t mean it is
  • Nothing is free”

Thereafter, Brent and his partners focused solely on the salon. They knew, however, their space constraints limited their team’s potential to “spread their wings”. “We had people who had been with us for 8-9 years”, and they risked losing stylists to the lure of “opening their own business” by renting a chair in a loft or salon. “They’re in charge of booking their own appointments; coming in when they want to”, which works for some, but not all.

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, Centerville

Square One’s solution was to open a second location in order to give employees opportunities for advancement. Brent found an old building with reasonable rent in downtown Centerville, Ohio. “We’re all about going into historic buildings and renovating that building”. After intense negotiations, Brent and the owner agreed to a five-year lease with the first six months free for the necessary renovations. Square One put $275,000 into the building to complete the 5,200 square foot salon.

How did Brent go from two salons to six?

“Seven years ago, we got really scared again”. Businesses were leaving Dayton and Brent and his partners worried that “all of our eggs are in one basket”. The opportunity to buy two salons in the Aveda network in the Columbus, Ohio area – downtown and New Albany – coincided with Doug’s desire to move there. Brent, Josh and Doug opted to buy them.

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, Columbus; Source: http://www.squareonesalon.com/columbus-gallery.php

Opening the new salons was “a struggle, because their culture was so completely different than ours”. In order establish the quality and customer service expected in a Square One salon, Brent made a lot of trips to Columbus.

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, New Albany; Source: http://www.squareonesalon.com/new-albany-gallery.php

Two years ago, they opened two more salons after a longtime Dayton employee warned Brent he intended to open his own salon. He said, “I want financial security; I want to own a business and be my own boss; and I want to have creative control”. Brent sat down with Josh and Doug to devise a strategy to motivate the employee to stay.

They decided to offer to sell shares of stock to certain employees. Brent, Josh and Doug retained ownership of 51% of the stock and offered 49% to qualified employees. The criteria for eligibility were:

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, Brown St, Dayton
  • Longevity – at least 10 years of employment with Square One
  • Full-time (30 hour/week)
  • Hold a leadership role

They offered shares to seven people and five accepted, including the employee in question. Sale of the shares paid for the build-out at two more locations: Brown Street in Dayton and Oak Creek in Centerville, Ohio.

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, Owners 2017 (Photo by The Carr Photography; source: http://www.squareonesalon.com)

Brent said that with the new shareholders, “I’m really motivated to make sure my employees are happy; so are they. They’re really motivated to make sure they have the education they need to provide great services; so am I. We’re all motivated to keep it looking great; we’re all motivated to make the client happy; we’re all motivated to be sure our benchmarks” are met.

What is Brent’s business philosophy?

Brent’s philosophy is simple: “It matters. Everything matters from the condition of the stairway to the cleanliness of the break room to the treatment of everyone who walks through the door”. No matter whether it’s a client or the UPS driver, everyone should be treated with respect and courtesy.

Treatment of employees also matters. Brent’s emphasis on respect and listening has led to a “95% retention rate with our stylists”. In difficult situations, Brent asks himself “three questions: is it good for the business? Is it good for the client? Is it good for the employee?” He initiates a conversation to understand the situation, discover the employee’s goals, and emphasize his expectations.

Brent believes in creating a balanced team of people with different strengths. “You need to have people who are good at doing books or managing people in addition to people who are good at doing hair”. If everyone was similar, “no one wants to do the books, because everyone sucks at doing the books, but we’re all really great at doing highlights”.

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, Third St, Dayton; Source: http://www.squareonesalon.com/dayton-gallery.php

To give employees opportunities to advance, Square One offers training in both job skills and leadership and management development. Unlike many other salons, Brent distinguishes between managers and stylists in order to benefit from the strengths of each. With training, stylists may advance as teachers and leaders “along with their career behind the chair”.

In addition, the partners demonstrate they care about their employees by providing full-time employees with health insurance and a 401(K) savings plan.

What is Brent’s advice for customer service?

“Never shy away from asking a guest if they had a great experience. If you sense that they’re telling you it was great and it wasn’t,” dig deeper. “I want to know before they walk out the door”.

Brent’s process for resolving client issues is:

  • Thank the guest: “Thank you for making me aware”
  • Apologize
  • If the solution isn’t obvious, ask, “How can we make this better?” “Most of the time, people just want to be heard”
  • Thank them again

“Once you do that and you own it, people just de-escalate really fast”.

 Brent’s observations:

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Square One Salon & Spa, Centerville
  • “I’ve never quit one job without having another one in place”
  • “Just because it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it’s a great idea for you”
  • “You don’t have to have a business degree; you can learn it. It doesn’t have to be taught in a classroom; practical knowledge – for example, Therapy Café – is so valuable”
  • “Don’t try to do everything, because you just can’t master all of it”
  • “Work-life balance is really important; make sure you get your family time in”
  • Brent’s dad taught him, “if you agree to dig a ditch, you make it the best ditch, not a half-assed ditch…when you agree to do it, you do it to the best of your ability, no question”

“I love business and I love my salon, but it’s not the salon business that I love. I don’t love hair, I don’t love creating makeup and hair. I love it when it’s beautiful and I love that my client’s happy and I love watching the artist be creative and be proud of what they do”.

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Square One Salon & Spa
www.squareonesalon.com
Phone: 937.461.2222
Email: sq1dayton@gmail.com

Maria Gossard, Owner/Creative Director of Think Printing & Maria Gossard Designs

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Maria Gossard overcame significant health obstacles to develop her business featuring beautiful paper, stunning designs and artisanal printing done with close attention to the customer’s vision.

In the beginning…

Maria Gossard grew up surrounded by her extended family in Cyprus. Her English mother and Greek Cypriot father loved growing things and they raised much of their own food on their farm on the Mediterranean coast. “We worked hard and we played hard”.

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Cyprus

One of Maria’s aunts was an amazing seamstress. “She would allow me two scraps, so I could do dresses for my dolls”. After Maria learned how to sew, she decided, “I’m going to design clothes for me, not because I couldn’t go buy them, but because I found those more interesting. It was an art form”.

When did Maria come to the U.S.?

One of six children, Maria was conscious of the fact that American universities were half the price of English ones. Consequently, she enrolled at Bob Jones University in South Carolina as a biology major with the intention of pursuing her lifelong love of the ocean by becoming a marine biologist.

One night, friends invited her to go to the Art Department. Despite her limited exposure to art classes, “I just fell in love. I never knew that you could have a career in art”. Her “Greek grandfather was a carpenter. He was also a sculptor, but not for a living,” so she grew up thinking “art is what you do on the side”.

“I started doing research and talking to other art majors, ‘How are you going to make a living with this?’” After many conversations with her father, she switched her major to Art & Design. “I took off. It became effortless for me”.

Did Maria continue with Art & Design after she graduated?

After graduation, Maria secured a visa to remain in the U.S. for two years of practical training. She got a position as a “rendering artist with a leading design firm in Washington, D.C., which specialized in palatial residences throughout the Middle East”. Her goal was “to learn as much as I can, but I’m heading back”.

The job was very competitive with a cutthroat atmosphere; 60 to 80 hour weeks were the norm. “Reps visiting from top manufacturers would say, ‘we can cut the tension with a knife’. It was probably the toughest time of my life, but that’s where I learned; where my game was elevated”.

Did Maria remain in that environment?

A year before Maria intended to return to Cyprus, she met her husband, Paul. “He was my kismet”. LexisNexis recruited Paul to come to Dayton, Ohio. “The money was really good, but who lives in Dayton, Ohio? We agreed to try it out for a year. And that was 29 years ago”.

While Maria raised their four children, she freelanced as a designer specializing in interior and product design. “I would design products for the home and garden, then I would sell the ideas to other companies”. Her friend, the owner of Terra Cotta, a store in Columbus, saw some garden markers Maria made for her own garden and offered to sell them. Inspired by that success, “I went to a show with them and a big company said, ‘we’ll give you a $250,000 opening order’”. She quickly discovered “they dangle this carrot in front of you, then they justify stealing the product from you eventually after the first order, having the product mass-produced overseas, and putting you out of business”.

“In this big fish eat the smaller fish kind of world, I learned fast that anything new in the market is yours for one season”. Accordingly, Maria decided just to sell her ideas as prototypes. “That kind of kept me happy for a few years while the kids were growing up”.

 How did Maria get into the printing business?

Maria’s printer decided to retire and approached her to take over their downtown Dayton business-to-business operation, Think Printing. Maria and Paul decided to buy it. “We revamped it, modernized it, turned a 30% profit the first year and then, the big crash happened in 2008”.

Despite the economic downturn and changes in the business landscape, Maria pressed on. But, “after a few years, I got really sick with Lyme disease”.

How did Lyme affect Maria?

“I was misdiagnosed for 10 years, so I kept losing quality of life. Intuitively, I knew something was very wrong. I felt like I was dying from the inside. I couldn’t even get out of bed. I couldn’t walk from my bedroom to my kitchen. I forgot my purpose. The disease kind of rapes you of every energy and every positive thinking”.

“You go to a complete place of helplessness and hopelessness; helplessness is one thing, but hopelessness is a really dark place. But when your brain isn’t working anymore, you’re in this constant brain fog and your body aches, it’s beyond depression; it’s really, really dark. I could no longer participate in my life. I went from being a producer to being a survivor”.

Fortunately Maria’s office manager, Jeff Firestone, had already joined the business. He “became my right hand, very organized, very great work ethic, good with machinery. He actually was able to run it for me. He was amazing”.

Did Maria recover?

Finally Maria found doctors who diagnosed her Lyme disease; recovery took five years. “That time in my life was a time of fasting, praying, seeking just God’s healing. God had my complete attention. He actually showed me things in me that had to change, so it was a spiritual and physical healing”.

“I’m still recovering. Every now and then I’ll get this burst, ‘I’m actually thinking, I’m actually producing again!’ It’s going to be two years that I’m completely Lyme disease free. Big difference, because my brain started working again. Lyme disease changes your life. I’m to the point that I cannot take a day for granted; every day is a gift”.

Why did Maria move the print shop to Cross Pointe Shopping Centre in Centerville, Ohio?

Think Printing DMS was struggling due to the economy and competition from big online printing companies. When Maria’s son, Thomas, got married, “I realized how limited Dayton was in high-end specialized papers for invitations. There was no one in town doing engraving or letterpress. I thought ‘Okay, I’m going to take one more chance with the business before I decide to throw in the towel’”.

Shop3Relocating to Cross Pointe Shopping Centre in Centerville, Ohio allowed Maria to expand her market to individual consumers. “Immediately the reception and the climate and the whole direction was very strongly a positive ‘yes’”.

After a year in the new location, “we were just completely busting at the seams”. She hesitated to move, however, because she had a 5-year lease.

“I said, ‘Oh Lord, it would be so nice if I had a table to sit down with clients when they come in, especially brides, since we were doing more and more weddings, and space to showcase our work’”. A week later, the owners of Cross Pointe asked Maria to relocate since the daycare center next door needed more space.

How did this move affect Maria’s business?

Invitation2Maria officially launched Maria Gossard Designs in March 2016 with an expanded, trendsetting team. Jeff now works part-time, as he is back in school. Roger Owsley, a nationally recognized designer, leads the graphic division. Maria added an experienced silkscreen printer, Bobby Trimbach, to offer items such as golden edges silkscreened on invitations, and limited edition posters for bands and artists around the country.  A retired pressman, Mark Bundy, runs the recently acquired letterpress machines. “I’m proud of our fleet of Chandler & Price Co. manual letterpresses from the late 1800’s, 1909 and 1912”.

 How did Maria learn to operate a business?

When Maria was at a crossroads, trying to decide whether to continue or close, a client encouraged her to checkout Women in Business Networking. She did and decided to commit to their two-year Bridges to Success Mentoring Program, which required periodic training and monthly meetings with different mentors – CEOs or business owners.

“In that two-year process, I realized how much I still had to learn and how I had to grow as a person, because our success in the business world reflects our personal growth. And the 10 years that I had been so sick, I didn’t grow as a person. I shrank as a person”.

program & trimmingsShe invested in educational, entrepreneurial and leadership materials, and workshops with coaches like DaniJohnson.com. “I’m very involved with the mentoring program in the city and now I’m a mentor myself”.

What is Maria’s vision for the business?

Invitations set“Our dream is to bring to Dayton an elevated printing service that only exclusive neighborhoods in bigger cities have and help put our city on the map. It’s all about educating our community and serving them with products” so they don’t wish that they lived in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. “Instead they’ll say, ‘I got this done in Dayton, Ohio’”.

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Maria’s observations:

  • Ask: “Why do you want to do what you want to do? What’s the purpose? What is your goal? Who is your mentor? Do you understand all the ins and outs?”
  • Understand: “entrepreneurs burn their relationships faster than anyone else, because it’s very stressful”.
  • “You can’t be all things. When you start a business, you cannot be the lawyer; you cannot be the accountant; you cannot be the networker, the one that sells, and the producer. You need a team…nobody can do all those things well”.
  • Avoid thinking: “I want it to happen fast; and if it doesn’t happen fast, I’m a failure. Nothing good in life happened overnight”. Place cards
  • “Having a supportive family is very important, too, and being honest with them, up front. ‘I’m going on this journey and it could be painful at times, it will definitely be stressful at times; is that okay with you?’”
  • “Always having that teachable spirit. I have to remind myself, I might be able to learn from this person or, if it was criticism, what can we learn from this experience? How can we tackle it better next time?”
  • “At the end of the day, can I sleep tonight, because the way I handled all my relationships, my projects, my peers, my clients, was honorable? That to me has far more value than anything else”.

“God has given me the opportunity to tap into my entire life experience and utilize everything I’ve been learning to actually be able to say I am having the best time of my life”.

To learn more about Maria Gossard Designs go to the website at: mariagossarddesigns.com

You can also find Invitations, fine paper, printing and design by Maria Gossard Design on the wedding planning website, the knot, at https://www.theknot.com/marketplace/maria-gossard-designs-centerville-oh-1064055, and on ETSY at https://www.mariagossarddesigns.com/etsy/

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Maria Gossard Designs
175 E Alex Bell Rd #204
Centerville, OH 45459

	

Sandy Mendelson, President, Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet

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Although Sanford “Sandy” Mendelson started with few resources and only a high school education, he has developed successful businesses, closed or revamped businesses, and bought and sold real estate. I asked Sandy how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.

In the beginning…

As a child growing up in Dayton, Sanford “Sandy” Mendelson “liked to do everything except read and write in school…I just loved building things, making things, tinkering with my hands. My dad had a scrapyard in 1955 and I started going to the yard and taking stuff apart, sorting stuff out and playing with junk and taking stuff home.”

During his high school years, “I was the handyman of the school, fixed everything… in charge of the stage crew…a lot of the things I was in charge of, because I was a go getter.”

In 1960 his father, Harry Mendelson, opened Mendelson’s Electronics on Linden Ave. in Dayton to sell surplus. “We were in the government surplus stuff, buying stuff from DESC (Defense Electronics Supply Center).” Sandy worked in the business, but by the time he graduated from high school in 1962, things were going sour. His dad’s employer went bankrupt and Mendelson’s Electronics was struggling.

What happened when Sandy’s dad died in 1963?

Three years after Harry Mendelson opened Mendelson’s Electronics, he died, leaving the family in dire straits. “We had $68 in the bank, no money at all, two homes, four kids, a mother sick with emphysema. It was a bad scene.”

The day before Harry died, “we went to look at some stuff for Max Isaacson, owner of Globe Industries. It was all Cessna 180 autopilots. He said, ‘I got to get them out of the building.’ The next day, my dad has a heart attack and passed away. Max comes to the house for sympathy for my family. He says, ‘Do you want this stuff?’ We had no money. Max says, ‘Take it. You sell, you pay me.’ So I took an ad in Flying Magazine. Cessna 180 autopilots had a ridiculous price. They flew out of here. So that was the guy that gave me the break, who started me. He gave me an opportunity to excel as a merchant and think how to make a living.” 

How did Sandy’s mother influence him?

Shortly after his dad passed, Sandy and his mother, Ida Mendelson, discovered Harry had borrowed $10,000 from Winters Bank on a personal note. “We knew nothing about it.” When Sandy and his mother went to see the banker, “I said, ‘my dad did it, we’ll honor it in one year, no interest.’ The banker said, ‘No.’ My mother was a really, really tough lady. When she got in your face you knew you’d been chewed up.” Ida stood up to leave and the banker quickly backpedaled, agreeing to Sandy’s terms. “One year to that day, I walked in with $10,000 and paid the man back and I’ve never looked back since.”

“I used to bring all the boys over to play poker and my mom would say, ‘You know the rules. It’s for keepsies.’ And she would clean us all out. She had her little purse, put the money in there and zip it. ‘It’s keepsies!’ Then she’d open the refrigerator and feed us all. We’d come back the next week again and try to beat her.”

“I learned my hawking through her. She was a tough lady, but she knew how to make a deal; she was very smart.”

How did Sandy make his first big deal?

“I was going by NCR and I see they’re scrapping stuff out. So I pulled up to the dumpster and asked ‘What’s going on here?’ ‘We’re changing our modes, we’re going from electro-mechanical to electronic cash registers.’ I was in the dumpster looking around, the guy says, ‘you can’t be in here. You got to go up and see… the head of steel purchasing.’ I go see him and say, ‘I’d like to buy this material.’ He said, ‘You’ve got to scrap it out; it’s got to be destroyed.’ So I crossed my fingers and said, ‘Okay.’ I went ahead and gave them more money than they were getting. I got some people really mad at me…because I took the deal from them. They’re throwing everything away; they don’t know if they need it for future use or nothing.” 

“We took the exact box out of NCR, put it on a skid, numbered it, had the same rack in the other building, put the same part back in the same number order it was before. After that I had 300,000 different part numbers” and it was time to talk to NCR.

Sandy took his printout of all the parts with him. It was so long, he had to use a two-wheeler to transport it. “The guy went nuts. ‘You did what? You were supposed to destroy this stuff.’ What I did wasn’t exactly kosher, but I didn’t sell the parts to their competition; I did nothing with it. I said, ‘I know you need some parts back. I know you got problems with your service areas.’ They had 3,500 service departments around the world with no parts…they couldn’t make anymore, because all the machines – they tore them down and got rid of them. They were having serious problems.”

use drawers of partsHe sold the parts back to NCR on an as-needed basis at 65% of standard cost. “They were selling it for ten times what I sold it back to them. For 30 years, we were buying surplus inventory… and we’d ship within 24 hours anywhere in the world. They would pay the freight. That’s how I got wealthy, because of them. I bought all these buildings, because I needed more space for their deals. Ten years ago, NCR started changing. The old machines were gone and I did scrap everything. It was a very good relationship.”

Has Sandy’s business changed since that first big deal?

“So many things I’ve done over the years.” Sandy started Mendelson’s Sporting Goods, which grew into four stores. “When General Surplus burned down, I started buying GI clothing from the bases. One thing led to another. I bought ten combat boots, and I bought a hundred combat boots, and I bought sweatshirts. We had skis, we had archery, clothing. We done very well for the first years, then Walmart came in and you can’t beat the big boys. Things were going real tough, so I had to close that up. I paid everybody off I owed. Someone said, ‘Go bankrupt.’ I don’t do that.” 

Sandy continued to experiment with new ways to sell merchandise. Using the outlet use MLO front doorstores in Reading, Pa. as a model, he opened The Mart Factory Outlet in 1982. The Mart offered sporting goods, housewares, clothing and appliances. “It started out doing real good. I would get 10% of the sales as the rent; we collected the money and paid the sales tax. Then that fell apart…so I put my own merchandise in here – Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet. We’ve done okay ever since.”

In 1986 Jeffrey Stahl told Sandy he was frustrated with his employer, an electronics firm. “Jeffrey knew how to sell and I knew how to buy. So we opened a company called Parts Express International (PEI). I have a lot of product, but I don’t have the means to sell it right. Jeffrey is a very professional and ethical person who knew how to put a catalog together and work it. It’s 31 years later, and it’s worked extremely well. His tremendous retail entrepreneurship gave me the fortitude to stay in that business; he’s the bones and the body.”

Did Sandy open any other businesses?

“Another crazy Sandy idea…I needed to get my trucks off the parking lot. I had the wholeuse truck lot filled full with trucks and they wanted that lot for baseball.” In 2001 Sandy bought the site with the old B&O Railroad freight terminal and parking for the trucks next to 2nd Street Public Market in Dayton. Based on the concept of the Springfield, Ohio Antique Center, he renovated the terminal as the Antique Mart in Webster Street Market with a deli and multiple consignment booths. He ordered “400 showcases and we filled them full of merchandise.”

“The first two years of the Antique Mart were phenomenal. Antiques were doing very well and then here comes eBay…and antiques go in the toilet and all my tenants started pulling out. So I said, ‘Well Sandy, let’s start selling showcases.’ I sold every showcase and actually I made some money on them. Sold them all and went ahead and decided to make a banquet center out of it.” use TOM Deli Sandy executed his pivot by revamping the market as The Deli and Top of the Market, offering a deli-style restaurant on the first floor and event facilities on the second.

In 2000 Sandy had led the effort to raise $250,000 for the Get Well Fund for Dayton police officer, Mary Beall, paralyzed by a gunman in the course of duty. Ultimately, they raised over $300,000.

In 2005 John and Mary Beall’s daughter was planning to hold her wedding reception at the Top of the Market, but Sandy wasn’t happy with his crew there. “The day before the wedding, they walked out, so I put the Sandy call out, “I need help.’ I had so many chefs, so many waiters, people stood in line, ‘how can we help,’ because I help anyone who has a problem.” 

Sandy’s observations:

  • The most important thing is “ your handshake. If your handshake’s good, you’ve got it made; if your hand is no good, nothing will work for you.”
  • “You have to have the green disease. If you don’t have the drive, you’re not going to make it.”
  • When faced with a problem, say, “Yes, we can. When you say ‘no’, you’re already on the defense.”
  • Find a mentor. “I want to start a thing called the Start-Up King where we would help people learn how to go into business. We need to get these people a chance to excel in retail. They’re all afraid to go into business, because no one shows them how.” For instance, “lady buys a beauty chair…and she takes it away. A month later, ‘Sandy, I’ve got a problem. I didn’t know I had to get a health permit.’”
  • Emphasize networking. “Share the intelligence of what you can do. Networking is a key. But most businesses don’t go to other businesses and talk to them. Canal Street Arcade and Deli opened behind me. ‘What are we doing? What can we do? How are you doing this thing? I’m having a problem with deliveries.’ That’s not stealing. If I’ve got good food and good parking, I’m going to get good business; it’s not a trade secret.”
  • “It’s been a great life!”
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Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet
340 E. First St.
Dayton, OH 45402

Andrew Kline, President, Green Generation Building Co.

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Andrew Kline combined his love of working with his hands, his fascination with environmental sustainability, and his dislike of white-collar desk jobs to found Green Generation Building Co. with his co-owners. I asked Andrew how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.

In the beginning…

Andrew Kline said, “I’ve been one of those people who always likes to work their hands. My parents stopped giving me expensive toys, because I’d take my little toy toolbox hammer, which had a real metal head on it even though it was only two ounces in weight, and I would just beat the heck out of the toy, so I could take it apart and see how it went together”.

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Welcome to Yellow Springs, Ohio

Andrew grew up in the Yellow Springs, Ohio area. When he was a teenager, his grandfather, John L. Kline, a local architect, designed a house for Andrew’s family, which Bob Zearfoss, a local contractor, built. “Being interested in construction, I was kind of hovering around the job site and getting in the way and bothering the heck out of them”.

For several years, Andrew was home schooled, which gave him a chance to explore working with his hands. “I worked on a lot of farms, worked with horses, making hay and driving tractors. I explored construction; I worked for contractors. I decided that I really didn’t want anything to do with construction. I’d met a lot of people who weren’t really very happy with their work lives; they were not people I was aspiring to become”. In order to maintain social contact with his peers, Andrew eventually returned to public school and graduated from Greenon High School”.

 Did Andrew go to college?

“I was not satisfied with the concept of just immediately entering the work force and not having a greater understanding of the world around me. It felt like I would be closing the door to other experiences and other opportunities”.

Andrew started at Wright State University, and then transferred to Antioch College to major in environmental studies. He liked Antioch’s Cooperative Education (Co-op) Program, which requires students to devote at least four semesters to full-time work, research or independent study. “I got to travel the country and the world and see more of life. During that period of time, I started to explore white collar jobs and a white collar career and did a number of different co-op experiences in the nonprofit world”.

After graduation Andrew worked in in southeastern Ohio in an AmeriCorps VISTA program focused on sustainable forest practices. It was a white-collar job, which “revolved around blue-collar work”.

Did Andrew remain in the white-collar world after VISTA?

“I decided I can’t sit in an office; the white collar thing is not going to work for me”. Andrew opted to try construction again and joined some friends at Stalwart Construction in Athens, Ohio. “Those guys basically showed me that there’s a different way to approach the trades. I realized that construction can be a very powerful way to make creative beautiful spaces”.

Andrew used a parable to explain his changed perception of construction. “A man comes to a stone quarry and calls down to the person working, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m chipping this rock’. The man continues on his way. He comes to a second man and asks, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m carving the rock, sculpting this stone’. Further down the road, he sees someone struggling very hard to set this heavy stone it into a wall. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m building a cathedral’. It illustrates the three ways of looking at the trades. You can be at any spot in that chain and you’re still building a cathedral. It’s just a question of what your insight into it is”.

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Athens, Ohio

While working in Athens, “I had a turning point where I realized I actually can make anything I want and it just became deeply satisfying. That helped me link what I already had a natural aptitude for to the vision of applying it. At that point, I basically dedicated myself to this profession.”

Did Andrew stay in Athens, Ohio?

As Andrew tackled projects in Athens, he periodically turned to Bob Zearfoss, the contractor who built Andrew’s family’s house years before. Gradually, Bob became Andrew’s mentor. One day “Bob called me and said, ‘I might have a whole bunch of houses to build here in Yellow Springs. Would you want to come back and build these houses with me?’ I had mostly been doing these renovation projects in Athens, so this is a chance to do new construction and I absolutely said, ‘there’s no other choice, but yes’”.

Working for Bob “was where I learned.” Bob taught Andrew to “follow the language of construction; don’t deviate. It’s the same language everyone else is using; you’re not reinventing the wheel. Our favorite phrase on the job site was ‘you have to respect the language’”.

Did Andrew continue to work for Bob?

After three months, however, Andrew left for Seattle to work with his Athens friends on a house addition. The move was complicated, however, because during his time with Bob, Andrew had met a young woman, Anisa Qualls. She was on her way to live in Boston. After a few cross-continent trips, they realized they didn’t like being apart and decided Andrew would move to Boston.

It was a rough move. “That was 2008, in a New England winter in a recession. You don’t know anybody; you have no network, no job prospects, no connections. I was out on the street, putting a resume underneath the windshield wiper of every contractor truck I could find. I went to the lumberyards; I was calling all of the major contractors and skimming Craig’s List everyday. We decided, ‘what do you do in a recession? You go back to where you do have connections’”.

How did Andrew go from no work in Boston to starting Green Generation Building Co.?

Back in Yellow Springs, “Anisa’s dad (Roi Qualls) invested in us and helped us start our little company,” Green Generation Building Co. Concurrently, Andrew and Anisa met a young architect, Alex Melamed, and instantly became friends. Alex quickly agreed to join them, becoming an owner and Green Generation’s Design Director. 

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Yellow Springs, Ohio

Andrew and his co-owners wanted Green Generation “to combine some form of environmental consciousness into our construction. When you make a building, you’re committing energy resources long past your own lifetime”.

They decided to build a passive house on speculation “to this insane level of standard in the middle of a recession. But we were going to start this company one way or the other, so we just dived in. We spent eight months planning that spec house, because we were trying to build it to the passive house standard as outlined by the Passive House institute US.”

The Germans “created this system to build a house that uses 80% less energy to heat and cool than standard construction. It’s probably the most rigorous standard of construction as far as energy consumption goes in the world”.

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First passive house in Ohio built by Green Generation Building Co.

“It was the first Passive House built in Ohio. We considered building that house three or four completely different ways, trying to figure out what would be the most likely scenario for achieving the super rigorous standard. We sold it before it was finished – in a recession. We felt like we missed the bullet by millimeters”.

How did Andrew learn how to run the business?

Andrew, Anisa, Alex and Roi “started having a meeting once a week at nighttime. Roi was a big help, because he’s run businesses before and he’d started businesses before, so he was familiar with some of the fundamental challenges that face all businesses”:

  • What does the customer want?
  • How do we design it for them?
  • What are the deliverables?
  • What are the customer’s expectations?
  • How do we meet them?
  • How are we efficient?

“Running the business really comes down to the interface with the customer” and the subcontractors. “My business is built on subcontractors. If they’re not happy, I don’t have a company. I am the go-between, between the owners and the people that are working on the project. It’s a very tricky balance. It’s endless planning, endless scheduling, endless levels of details”.

Maintaining that balance requires managing customer expectations. “If you’re buying a $600,000 house, you’re not going to get a $6 million product. The owners don’t necessarily know difference between those two things”.

Andrew and his co-owners also had to devise a bookkeeping system. “It’s way more complicated than I thought. We just didn’t know what was the important information. It took five years, maybe even six, to finally get to a system that was tracking the information that needed to be tracked, knew where the money was coming in and leaving”.

How does Andrew find customers?

“When we were able to build that spec house, that’s what got everybody to notice us. The more houses you build, the more people take you seriously. From that point, people start calling you, and you actually get more renovation projects”. 

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Another passive house built by Green Generation Building Co. 

Energy efficiency has become “the identity of who we are. But not everybody is interested in that kind of thing. If someone needs a kitchen put in, we go put their kitchen in. If someone needs their water and sewer lines replaced from the house to the road, we go do that. It’s full service”.

Andrew’s observations:

  • “If somebody wants to get into this kind of business, they just have to know what their own goals are,” because that will lead to very different approaches. Do you want to:
    • Start your own company?
    • Make a lot of money?
    • Work for someone else and rely on a paycheck?
    • Make something interesting and have people recognize how good you are?
  • “It’s really important to find the right people to work with when you start out. If you’re not working with people who know how to do the work and are showing you how to do it at a very high caliber level, you will struggle to do well. You will be getting cut when there is a downturn. People that are really good at this work always have work”.
  • Starting a company takes time. Established entrepreneurs told Andrew, “‘I broke even in the seventh year. In the eighth year, I started making a little bit of money’”.

“It’s gratifying to be recognized for your talents. We have four or five houses just about ready for signing on the dotted line and breaking ground. That’s a big step for us. And now we are limited only by the imagination of my business partner and he has a very wide imagination”. 

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Green Generation Building Co.

www.greengenohio.com

937-361-9705

P.O. Box 741, Yellow Springs, OH 45387