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

LMG headshot

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…

LMG age 4
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.

Shaws-Crab-House-2
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.

Use Wileys front
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”.

wileys-sign-e1530132351953.jpg
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.

Clothes That Work 2016
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)

Use FB front
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.

Art Ball
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.

Premiere of The Way
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.

LMG pouring beer
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.

Dayton dining
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”.

class of 2016 woi
YWCA Dayton Women of Influence class of 2016

Hamilton Dixon, Metalwork Sculptor

use Hamilton by Bill Franz
Photo by Bill Franz, http://www.billfranz17.com

Hamilton Dixon combines his artistry and expertise in metalwork with his interest in old buildings to thrive as a full-time metalwork sculptor and entrepreneur.

In the beginning…

Growing up in Rome, Georgia, Hamilton Dixon “was a bit of a loner. We lived on a piece of property that wasn’t near many other houses, so I spent a lot of time charging around through the woods by myself with my dog, rigging up booby-traps for invisible bad guys”. His father collected cars, mainly Morgans.

use Vintage Morgan car1 red
Vintage Morgan

“He ended up opening a car shop to buy cars, fix them up, and sell them”. Hamilton spent time there “learning to be mechanical and how to weld”.

How did Hamilton build his metalworking skills?

“I had some welding classes in high school and I really liked that”. Hamilton also had a friend in Jasper, Georgia who worked with metal in an old-style blacksmith shop. “He’d heat metal up in a forge and hammer it on an anvil and he was very particular about techniques. And that interested me a lot”.

Following high school, Hamilton joined a friend to work “offshore on an oilrig out in the Gulf of Mexico, just trying to find my way. I liked the welding and fabrication. It was grueling work. You’re on 12 hours and you’re off 12 hours. When you’re off, you aren’t doing anything but sleeping, because you’re just totally ruined”.

After about a year of working on the oilrig, Hamilton traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico to hone his metal working skills at Turley Forge Blacksmithing School .

use Turley Forge

Then Hamilton returned to Rome, Georgia and began “tinkering around” in his father’s car shop. When his dad decided the car shop was no longer a viable enterprise, “I kept the building and started doing stuff on my own”.

How did Hamilton build his reputation as a metalwork sculptor?

use bench 1
The Bench

“Somebody said, ‘Hey, they’re doing a streetscape project for Rome, Georgia. Do you have any good ideas for a bench?’” Hamilton immediately produced a sketch, which the project planners liked. After some negotiation, they ordered 60. Eventually, he made over 200 benches and sold them to other communities and some colleges. “So that kind of put me on the map with people”.

How did Hamilton transition to Dayton?

In 1990 Hamilton relocated to Dayton, Ohio to join friends. Following a search, he found inexpensive space for his shop in The Front Street Building in downtown Dayton.

use Front Street Bldg1
Front Street Building

“That was my headquarters. I knew everyone in Front Street and pretty soon I got a couple projects”.

During the Dayton Art Institute renovation in 1997, the planners asked Hamilton to submit a design for the rotunda handrail. After lengthy negotiations and revised drawings, the planners selected his design.

use DAI railing cropped
Detail, Dayton Art Institute railing

“It was 130 feet of huge railing. That is a lot of forged steel”. Since he was on a tight schedule, “everyone who ever stopped by and hung out at my shop…helped do portions of that railing”.

“After I did that railing, I was getting calls to do all sorts of stuff for all sorts of people – interior railings and you name it. So that’s what I’ve done ever since”.

What is Hamilton’s process to go from a drawing to a finished piece?

Often people have seen one of Hamilton’s existing pieces and ask for something similar. “I’ve always been able to draw just free-hand drawings of a thing. That’s how I talk to a customer”. He sketches his idea, they discuss it, and then he does a more refined drawing. At that point, they generally reach an agreement and Hamilton begins production.

use drawing design 1
Drawing on the work table

 “I’m at the person’s house, and I’ll draw on a piece of paper. When I come to the shop, I’ll do a drawing on the table. I figure out life size – how big is that from here to here, how much steel is that? I literally lay a flexible tape measure on that and I’ll just measure the length. All the steel I use starts out as straight bars of steel.”

The size, shape, and textures of the design determine Hamilton’s next steps. In order to bend and shape the metal, he fires the natural gas forge he built, which can be heated to 2,000 degrees. “A piece of steel can be heated up to bright red in about 15 minutes” and ready to shape.

use anvil 1
Anvil

For certain effects, Hamilton hammers metal manually on his anvil. “Basically I have to beat the crap out of it to achieve the textural element”.

For pieces requiring greater force, he uses a power hammer built in the 1940’s acquired from an old metal shop and foundry in Rome, Georgia. “I can hold steel with both hands and then operate this machine. I can hammer steel pretty quickly this way.”

use forge heating 1
Forge

To create twisted shapes, “I rush from the forge with a piece of bright red steel” and clamp it in the vise. “I get a big crescent wrench and a big leverage bar. I’ll put a bunch of pressure on it and begin to twist it. Sometimes I hang on it with my entire body weight and other times, I can just twist it easily with one arm. The bigger the piece is, the more difficult it is, but the longer it will stay hot. The smaller it is, it will cool off so quickly that you have to rush”.

use turning metal 4
Demonstrating twisting a steel bar

 “I learned a lot of that stuff from the guy in Jasper, Georgia. It’s the same technique as doing little stuff with little jewelry. There’s a million steps to working with metal”.

 How did Hamilton get started renovating old buildings?

Hamilton and his wife, Carli, were friends for a long time before they became a couple. Their first adventure renovating an old building together started when they were deciding where to live after the birth of their first child. They quickly realized Carli’s house was too small for a baby and Hamilton’s collections. They put her house up for sale and began renovating Hamilton’s 1876 house, which needed a lot of work. “There’s no electric and there’s no running water and there’s no kitchen”. Carli’s house sold quickly, however, and the buyers wanted immediate occupancy. “So we had to move into my house and put a temporary wall up in the downstairs and live in the front half of my house with a new baby”. Ultimately, they finished the house.

 When did Hamilton combine renovating old buildings with his metalwork?

Driving into Dayton, Hamilton frequently passed a block of old buildings for sale. “It was basically cordoned off and this building was boarded up”. When Hamilton wanted to move his shop out of The Front Street Building, he and Carli walked through the buildings and the “giant rooms” sparked their imagination.

use Attaboy
Old Atta Boy gas station

The sellers didn’t want to separate the three parcels – the 18,000 sq. ft. building (905 E. 3rd St), the Atta Boy gas station (817 E. 3rd St) and a smaller building (811 E. 3rd St), but Hamilton and Carli didn’t need all that space. They made an offer for the smaller building that was declined. After a year, “we got a nudge to go make them another offer. We worked some miracles financially and made them an offer for the whole parcel.” After a lot of negotiation, they struck a deal.

use Hamilton's shop
Hamilton’s shop

In the first phase of renovation, Hamilton set up his shop in the smaller building, rebuilding the floor and adding three-phase power for his machines. In the next phase, they tackled the larger 1880’s era building. “It was full of abandoned donations for Hurricane Katrina victims. It was pitch-black dark in there; everything was boarded up”. Hamilton and Carli spent thousands of dollars to bring the building up to code and install utilities.

Then they rented space on the first floor to Shon Walters and the Zoot Theater Company. “So we were pulling in a little bit of rent”.

use 905 E 3rd St cropped
905 E. Third St.

In time their tenants needed more space and moved out. By then Hamilton and Carli were ready to relocate her business, Bloombeads by freezeframe, from Clayton, Ohio. Since Carli’s business needed space both upstairs and downstairs for production and her showroom, they had to make additional renovations. “There was an old rickety stairway that went up into the ceiling and that was the only access to the upstairs. In order to have a legitimate upstairs, you had to have a code-meeting fire-rated stairwell”.

With help from family, friends and multiple contractors, Hamilton and Carli devoted the time and money necessary to clean out the building and redesign the area in the front. In 2013 they moved Bloombeads by freezeframe into the building.

use entrance to 905
Entrance to Bloombeads by freezeframe and The Brightside

Now they are in the next phase of their vision, creation of The Brightside Music and Event Venue. They completed the bar area in the room behind Carli’s showroom and are finishing the big back room. To learn more about their renovation efforts, watch their video story.

The Brightside offers a venue for music, parties, art shows, wedding receptions, and other events. They have a liquor license, “so we can now have our own programming going on here. We’re hoping to get a few more people to invest to get this final room breathing again”.

Hamilton’s observations:

  • At first, to set the prices for the small pieces he started showing in small galleries, he looked at the prices charged by other artists for similar work. Once he sold a few pieces, he had a better feel for his base prices.
    use piece
    Functional sculpture, http://www.hamiltondixon.com

    Pricing big jobs was hard, though, because “I had no reference point”, but he discovered his “old friend down in Jasper, Georgia had good reference points for things like that; he helped me figure stuff out”. He also learned that asking customers the scope of their budget helps determine pricing.

    use gates 1
    Gates by Hamilton Dixon that will be repurposed to create a headboard
  • Hamilton and Carli work as a team. “Carli’s the brains behind the thing; she’s the one with the ability to juggle spreadsheets and employees,” while Hamilton provides a wide range of mechanical skills.
  • When Hamilton is overwhelmed, Carli will break the project down into tasks. “A lot of times I’m paralyzed when I come to this building. There’s everything that needs to be done”. Carli will say, “’let’s just do this part right here first; just work with me for 30 minutes’. And four hours later, you’re almost done with the whole thing”.
  • Hamilton advises, “Learn how to be self sufficient…learn how to do mechanical things, stuff you need instead of depending on someone else to do it for you”.
  • In conclusion, Hamilton said, “Try to just do the things you know are good and right”.
HD Jewelry
Jewelry by Hamilton Dixon; http://www.hamiltondixon.com

You can learn more about Hamilton and view his sculptures and process at http://www.hamiltondixon.com/ You can find photos of Hamilton at work by Bill Franz at https://billfranz17.com/2015/08/09/hamilton-dixon-steel-sculptor/

use welding by Bill Franz
Welding; Photo by Bill Franz; http://www.billfranz17.com

For information, photos, and booking options for The Brightside Music & Event Venue go to: https://www.thebrightsidedayton.com/

In the Dayton area, Hamilton’s artistic metalwork can be found at the Dayton Art Institute Rotunda, University of Dayton Serenity Pines, the weather vane at Delco Park, the Kettering City Building, Hospice of Dayton entrance sculpture, and many other places.

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.

Partners
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?

Cannery Bldg
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,

SQ1 Dayton exterior
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.

Therapy Cafe
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.

use Sq1 Centerville front corner street
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.

use-sq1-columbus-interior-collage.jpg
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.

Use SQ1 New Albany collage
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:

use SQ1 Brown St front
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.

Owners
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”.

Use Sq1 Dayton interior collage
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:

Sq1 Centerville back door
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”.

use Sq1 Brown st back
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

maria-head.jpg

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”.

Cyprus 1
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’”.

Invitations set2

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/

Invitation1
Maria Gossard Designs
175 E Alex Bell Rd #204
Centerville, OH 45459

	

Andrew Kline, President, Green Generation Building Co.

use Andrew
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”.

use YS sign
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”.

12660048373_2c8b6f4383_z
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. 

use YS downtown1
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”.

use 515 Dayton front
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”. 

use 324 W Davis St porch
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”. 

use GG sign

Green Generation Building Co.

www.greengenohio.com

937-361-9705

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

Tom Mitchell, Proto BuildBar

use T Tom 2crop no smile

Tom Mitchell combines his apprentice PGA golf pro skills with his knowledge of industrial engineering technology and his experience in manufacturing to lead the innovation and maker mindset at the Proto BuildBar. I asked Tom how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.

In the beginning…

Although Tom Mitchell started playing golf when he was two years old, it was not his first love. “I just always took stuff apart and put it back together and made things”.

When Tom was about eight years old, his parents started a manufacturing company, Mitchell Golf Equipment Company, making tools to build and customize golf clubs. The company sold their tools to a niche market of golf pro shops who used them to customize a club’s loft and lie angles to improve a golfer’s swing. Tom worked at the company after school and on weekends, doing things like “deburring metal and cutting it and running machines”.

Where did Tom focus his attention in high school?

Tom lit up when he described the industrial engineering technology program he entered in his junior year at Centerville High School which included:

  • Welding
  • Light forging
  • Casting
  • Manual machining
  • Operating CAD (Computer Aided Design) to produce objects with CNC (Computer Numerical Control) lathes
  • Using PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers which are the basis of robots and automation)
use T Mitchell cnc controls
CNC machine control panel

When the CNC machine was new, Tom was eager to demonstrate that 3-D machining was possible despite the teacher’s skepticism. “I always take things apart, so I’m taking apart the code to see what is happening here”. By manipulating the G code which controlled the machine, Tom successfully used a piece of lexan (hard, clear plastic) to make a soccer ball. Point proved.

What did Tom do after high school?

The track for the industrial engineering technology program was two years each in high school, Sinclair College and University of Dayton. During his first semester at Sinclair, Tom vehemently disagreed with his industrial design professor’s approach to a project. He left. “Not the right choice when you look back on it, but I wouldn’t probably be where I am now if I would’ve finished college”.

Tom found a job doing landscaping, “the really manual laborer side of landscaping – planting trees, cutting trees down, taking out stumps” and quickly recognized “I wasn’t going to do that for the rest of my life”. He also realized that he might take over his parents’ company at some point and he “needed to know the industry…start working at golf courses…learn my customer base”.

In order to understand the business of golf, Tom enrolled in the PGA Professional Golf Management Apprentice Program. The PGA apprenticeship is a multi-year program designed to teach the apprentice “how to run a golf course and teach people how to play and hopefully better the game”. The PGA requires the apprentice to:

  • Complete three levels of coursework and pass the qualifying tests for each level
  • Pass a playing ability test
  • Work full-time at a PGA recognized golf course
  • Complete the program within eight years

The apprenticeship curriculum includes:

use T golf carts

  • Business planning
  • Customer relations and human resources
  • Inventory management
  • Teaching/Club performance
  • Tournament operations
  • Golf car fleet management

In order to maximize his time, Tom moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina. His first job in the bag drop area was at Shipyard Golf Club, a 27-hole resort course,. “I was the guy that stood outside where you pull up the car. I would help you get your bags out, put them on the cart. When you finished your round, I would clean them up and put them back out there and help you load them in your car… bottom of the rung”.

After a year and a half, Tom moved to Moss Creek Golf Club, a 36-hole private resort club where he worked the bag drop and in the pro shop.

use M golf shot
Tom takes a tee shot on the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club

While he was at Shipyard and Moss Creek, Tom studied for his apprenticeship tests and practiced his golf game in order to pass the playing ability test. As a PGA apprentice, he could play free at any of the courses whenever a slot was available, so long as he tipped the bag drop guys.

Did Tom stay in South Carolina?

After three years, Tom returned to Dayton and got a job as the second assistant pro at Sycamore Creek Country Club. He worked in the pro shop selling merchandise, running junior golfing clinics and teaching the kids.

After a year, Tom’s parents needed help, so he left Sycamore and joined the company. As a result, he lost his apprentice status before he could complete the PGA program. Tom felt, however, he’d achieved his goal to learn the industry.

During high school, Tom had worked in many divisions of the company and he stepped in easily. Since the company’s pressing issue was meeting production and shipping deadlines, Tom tackled shipping/receiving and inventory management first. After that, he moved to operations, then general management of sales and, finally, assumed the CEO role. “I could do anything there. I could build any of the machines. I could make any of the stuff. I could sell it to anybody”.

What challenges did Tom face?

The biggest challenge was getting sufficient parts to fulfill orders. Before Tom left to go to South Carolina, the company machined all the parts in-house. While Tom was gone, management slowly pushed all the machining to external sources. By the time Tom returned, the company was struggling to fulfill orders. “We were too small to have all of our stuff outside, but we were too big for some of those shops to keep up with our stuff”.

An additional challenge was that Tom and his parents disagreed on the problem and the solution. Tom worried that the delays in completing orders was driving the company down. Tom made a difficult decision. “I finally knew that I needed to go, because I needed to make it easier for them to do something with the business and not go bankrupt…They’re not going to make the right decisions if they’re still thinking about me, trying to protect me”.

What did Tom do next?

Tom liked the interactive design projects created by Real Art Design Group and thought, “I’d love to be a part of making some of these things”. Through friends, he knew Chris Wire, the President and Creative Director of Real Art. When he discovered they had an opening for an account executive, he applied.

use T side & front cropChris told him, “we’re kind of looking for someone in the advertising field already, but I want to talk to you about something else”. They met at Proto BuildBar in downtown Dayton. Tom loved the concept, but he was startled when Chris asked, “What do you think about running it?”

What is Proto BuildBar?

use T bar crop Proto BuildBar is a “creative experience center featuring hands-on technology experimentation with 3D printing, electronics kits, and micro-computing in a full service café environment.” (Proto BuildBar – FacebookDesigned to be accessible to individuals of all ages and experience levels, the café features computer monitors with access to multiple CAD designs, 3-D printers, basic electronics and micro-controllers, coffee drinks, cocktails, wine and beer.

The goal of Proto BuildBar is “to spread innovation” by increasing people’s comfort level with this kind of technology. “We try to make 3-D printing and electronics and that whole making stuff mindset accessible…make it fun…provide those ah-ha moments for people”.

 The Proto BuildBar staff welcomes new customers. First they show people the games built in-house:

  • Guinness Book of World Records largest claw game
  • War of Currents arcade game, otherwise known as The Game That Hertz, which physically electrocutes players in certain situations
  • Tesla vs Edison racing game

Next the staff demonstrates “the sorts of things they can make, go to the computers and find something they want to print…we’re just here to educate…here to have a good time…here to make people excited”.

In addition to enabling customers to make things, Proto BuildBar offers experiences for a variety of groups, such as: 

  • Corporate team-building courses
  • Summer maker workshops for ages 7-18, including robotics, video game creation, 3D printing & electronics
  • Couples soldering night
  • Fundraising events for organizations
  • Meeting space
use-t-ee-solder.jpg
Circuit board soldering

The staff is ready to provide guidance throughout the creation and printing process. Tom recommends using Tinkercad to create 3-D shapes and models. Since the app is browser based, a person can create a design at home and print it on a 3-D printer at Proto BuildBar.

What does Tom do at Proto BuildBar?

Tom says, “I think the biggest challenge is… conveying what it is in a manner that will get them to come in and be confident and experience it…I’m doing as much community outreach as possible”. He teaches workshops, demonstrates coding and robotics using simple programmable drawing robots at area schools and speaks to college classes about entrepreneurship. Tom also works with companies and organizations to develop team building workshops, professional development sessions, and charitable events.

use T Tom plus mural

Tom’s observations:

  • Tom’s most important words are “curiosity” and “fearless”
    • Curiosity – “always be curious; always ask those what ifs…always draw in more information”
    • Fearless –”you can be curious all you want to, but if you’re not going to put any of that stuff into practice, because you’re too scared of failure, then you’re not getting the benefit”. You can learn to be fearless by being “willing to try something without the fear of failure…and you learn that by failing”
  • “I always tell everyone to go to college”. From his experience, leaving college “was a really difficult path”
  • In order to innovate, try “thinking differently; not thinking about the way we’ve always done it…what if we did this?”
  • “Most people are used to just buying something that fixes a problem they have…we want to try to show those people that maybe they can make a solution to that problem and maybe it will be different than all the other solutions…maybe it will be something super cool and super innovative that maybe changes the world”.
use T outside front crop
Proto BuildBar
534 E. First Street
Dayton, OH 45402
937-222-6253
contact@protoBuildBar.com

Simon Ward: Owner & Technician, A-Dayton Automotive

W Simon useHow do philosophy and ice hockey lead to a career as an automotive services shop owner and technician? Simon Ward has blended skills learned in both areas with his lifelong interest in auto racing. I asked Simon how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.

In the beginning…

use W Simon w Lyn St James 1985
Simon with Lyn St. James, Indy racecar driver, 1985

Growing up in Oakwood, Ohio, Simon Ward’s father exposed him to auto racing at an early age. “My dad took me to the race track for the first time when I was two weeks old…a Formula One race in Detroit”.

His grandfather liked to fix things, including cars, and often Simon helped.

use W Simon w Dad racecar
Simon with his Dad’s racecar

Later his father got into amateur racing with Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). “I was right there learning the pits, torqueing tires, learning how to make adjustments, change tire pressures, stuff like that”.

Cars weren’t Simon’s only interest. He played in the band and spent a lot of time traveling with his club ice hockey team.

How did philosophy enter Simon’s life?

use W Boulder Colo
Boulder, Colorado

After graduating from high school, Simon enrolled at the University of Colorado as an open major. “I actually didn’t know what I wanted to be”. After taking some courses, philosophy and psychology made sense to him. “At 18 years old, philosophy was a great thing to think about”.

As a result of his years playing ice hockey, Simon got a job at an ice rink, driving and maintaining the Zamboni. He also became a referee and managed the referees. “Long days, high energy, taking it as it comes, being a referee, managing all those people…I learned a lot like that”.

use-w-zamboni-e1497017803801.jpg
Zamboni

 After graduation, Simon got a desk job. He lasted three months. “Driving to work watching the sun rise, driving home watching the sun set, sitting in a cubicle all day long, just wasn’t for me”.

 Did Simon stay in Colorado?
Since Simon hated his job, he decided to return to Dayton. Using his contacts in Dayton, he found a job with a landscaping company, driving and maintaining the mowers. “That’s where I started learning how to turn wrenches”.

Simon also enrolled at Sinclair College, Dayton, Ohio, in the Automotive Technology program. “My motivation was that I wanted to go racing”. Sinclair gave him the opportunity to begin building his racecar.

Simon wasn’t sure where he wanted to go, but he kept earning his automotive certifications until “I realized, wait a minute, this might be a little more of a financial opportunity than landscaping, might have a better chance of a career path”.

use w auto repair
Brake disc repair

With that in mind, Simon left landscaping and got a job at Preferred Fleet Services (PFS), a subcontractor maintaining trucks for the US Post Office. “That’s where I turned into a mechanic”.

What did Simon do when he finished at Sinclair?
“I got my master’s certification with National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) (ASE Certified Master Technician)…I had the top score in the country, so I won the Technician of the Future Award … a big stepping stone”.

Although he’d learned a lot at PFS, the work felt like the “same truck over and over again – because it’s the Post Office”. Simon switched to John Pierce Auto Care, Fairborn, Ohio, as the lead technician diagnosing drivability issues. The job expanded his experience exponentially. “I had the fundamentals and this gave me the opportunity – all makes, all models…they gave me the hard stuff, the stuff that no one else could figure out, the stuff that no one else wanted to figure out…is it an engine issue, transmission issue, brake issue, electrical, is it mechanical, and make a diagnosis and go from there… I started realizing maybe I could do this a little deeper”.

Drivability diagnosis made Simon appreciate his background in philosophy, particularly logic systems. “These are logical beasts that we deal with: if A, then B. You have to follow logical paths to diagnose these things and I’ve found that training is invaluable in this industry”.

Simon also finished building his racecar and started racing with SCCA, mostly at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Nelson Ledges Road Course.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Simon racing his Mustang at Mid-Ohio

“It costs a lot to go racing. There’s two ways to do it: either you pay someone to do it or you do it yourself. I didn’t have the money to pay someone, so I learned how to do it myself…My racecar was not the most expensive investment. You have to get there, stay there, have all the tools there, service the car there, have all the spare parts, have all the infrastructure to support anyone who comes with you, so there’s a lot of investment that goes into that…it’s an educational opportunity to see how much it takes to get from this idea to actually driving down the track”.

In addition Simon began doing side work in his garage. “That’s when the business idea started really getting flowing”.

How did Simon move from working for someone else to opening his own shop?
Through SCCA Simon met the owner of a shop that supported multiple amateur drivers. After several conversations, the owner asked Simon to take over the company. It was an attractive idea. Simon began to review the opportunity, hiring a lawyer and accountant for the due diligence.

Simon continued to work at John Pierce Auto Care and do side jobs on cars in his garage. One day he contacted the owner of A-Dayton Transmission about a transmission issue. use W sign2That contact lead to more conversations. As Simon was reviewing the racecar shop opportunity, he began to think, “What if this doesn’t work out, what if I did something else?” Consequently, Simon directed his due diligence team to analyze a possible purchase of A-Dayton, too.

Both the owner of the racecar business and the owner of A-Dayton called Simon on the same day and said, “Let’s do this, make this happen”. Simon chose the racecar opportunity.

He spent the next nine months traveling with the owner to racetracks “to work on cars and deal with really experienced drivers… that have the expendable income to race these fun cars”. Every weekend the two of them would go to a racetrack to support three drivers who were “paying between $8,000-$10,000 a weekend to show up and have that car ready to go”.

After nine months, Simon recognized that the racecar business wasn’t what he wanted. He’d had professional conversations with the owner of A-Dayton during that period, but nothing more. Shortly after the racecar opportunity faded, the owner of A-Dayton “contacted me back and said I’m interested, I’ve dropped my price”. Simon thought, “Now he’s serious”.

In order to structure the deal, Simon relied on his lawyer, accountant and others with broader business background. “I understood the business side of it to a certain extent, I understood cars very well. Find money – it was time for me to reach other people who knew a lot more about that than I did”. In 2014 Simon finalized his purchase of A-Dayton Automotive & Transmission Services.use-w-front-door.jpg

Has Simon’s experience with A-Dayton Automotive met his expectations?
In Simon’s original business plan, he expected:

  • He would run the office while he worked on cars
  • The services did not include transmission work

Those expectations quickly changed. He learned it was tough to run the office and work on cars at the same time. “I originally thought I was going to be out here, answer the phones, go back to work on cars. No… I was the only person here for the first two weeks…and I didn’t get anything done. The phone would ring, I would answer it, run back into the shop, turn a few wrenches, run back, answer the phone, order some parts”. Now he helps his technicians diagnose drivability issues and relies on their expertise to do the work.

use W office
A-Dayton Automotive office

Although A-Dayton had dealt solely with “American made automatic transmissions”, Simon’s business plan was “from day one we were a full service shop” with no transmission work.

Three weeks after the purchase, the prior A-Dayton owner asked to return. “He wanted to make sure that I learned the customers, learned the business”. Simon hired him on a part-time basis to work on transmissions for the first year. The prior owner’s presence “brought all the fleet service he had coming to him, all the contacts that he had out there, the other shops that would recommend work to him – that brought that all back into play and really helped build the business for that first initial year”.

In addition to teaching Simon the business, Simon also learned about transmissions – “how to build them, how they fail, how to diagnose them and I also learned that a lot of people don’t like them, including a lot of other shops, so we get a lot of work from other shops…Transmissions paid the bills for the first year”.

use W car in bay
A-Dayton Automotive bay

The prior owner bowed out after a year. Now Simon is running the business with two technicians and himself. Although it hasn’t always been smooth, Simon has learned from his mistakes and transitioned from being a technician to being a business owner.

Simon’s observations:

  • This business has similarities to refereeing ice hockey games. You have to “see what’s going on, keep your eyes open, see everything that’s happening”
  • “It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of stress, it’s a lot of responsibility. These guys got to get paid, they have families and everything else that has to ride on this stuff, too, the investors have to get paid, you have to pay the debt and you have to pay everything else and at the end maybe I’d like to make a little money, too”
  • Since a lot of trial and error goes into the first three years, a good support structure of family and friends is very important
  • “It’s not the industry it used to be”. Automotive technicians have to have computer literacy, logic skills, and problem solving ability. “You’re not just the greasy dirty guy under the car…I spend a lot more time at the computer instead of under the car”
  • Dealing with customers has exceeded his expectations. “I’ve always been hiding under the hood or driving the Zamboni…I really enjoy being up here and actually interacting with all the people…it’s probably been the most enjoyable aspect of it for me”
  • “I like the challenge…I like the hard stuff, give me a car that people can’t figure out. When we solve the problem, it’s a mutual happiness in the shop”.
use W shop3
A-Dayton Automotive
1676 Woodman Drive
Dayton, Ohio 45432
(937) 253-9934
adaytonauto@gmail.com