It was 1999, I was a brand new college graduate, working full time as a contractor for the Department of Justice as a Junior Computer Programmer. This was a job my Dad helped me attain and I enjoyed working with my Dad but that was the only job perk. Back in 1999, everyone was getting jobs in the tech industry and I was just like everyone else. Working a job I had little passion for, checking the proverbial “life” boxes, paying the bills, and spending most of my disposable income going out with friends on the weekends. I, like many in their mid-20’s, came to the realization that this was it: a job was a means to an end.
One day, that all changed. Strolling down King Street in Alexandria on my way to meet a friend for lunch a sign caught my eye: Runners Wanted for Part Time Work. Being the act-now-think-later kind of guy that I am, I walked in, inquired about work, and took my first shift the next week.
Pacers Running Store, a one-door operation, had been in existence since 1991. Owner Steve Fryxell managed the store and worked alongside his employees 3-4 days a week. I was hired to be one of the many part-time weekend employees, often not the most desired shift in retail. Who wants to give up their weekends anyways? Still maintaining the drags of my full-time job, I found myself excitedly looking forward to every weekend shift at Pacers. I loved my work there.
Soon after my hiring, I picked up a weeknight shift in addition to my weekend schedule. I found myself looking forward to each shift and sacrificing free time to be in the store. I felt empowered working with customers and that I was actually making a difference in each customer’s life. My day job was a far cry from the satisfaction I felt at Pacers. Eventually, I quit my day job to become a manager at Pacers.
My friends thought I was crazy. Why was I forgoing a better paying job to work RETAIL? When you are 26 years old your weekends are sacred they are the ray of hope in a week filled with: bosses, data collection, suits, packed lunches, commuting, and deadlines. Not only was I now unavailable to partake in the weekend shenanigans, I wasn’t able to afford those adventures anymore.
Fortunately, my parents didn’t think I was crazy, they saw I was happier and passionate about what I was doing. Later in 2002 I started talking to them about my dream of opening up my own store and they believed I could do it. They were in the minority, but they held the only opinion that mattered.
By the end of 2002, my parents and I along with the owner of the store, Steve, began visiting new potential locations all around Northern Virginia and DC with the though of expansion. Our goal was to work a franchise deal with Steve and open a second Pacers location. In the early 2000’s, there were very few specialty running stores, at that time, believe it or not, I counted 6 stores total. Today, I lose count at 35+ specialty running store locations in the metro area.
Steve was never comfortable with any of the locations I suggested yet was very impressed with my drive and commitment to the business. He could see I had a knack for the industry and believed I could do what he had done a dozen years earlier, open my own store. So on a slow, cold, February day in 2003, he asked me to take a walk outside to ask the question, “What do you think about buying THIS store?”
Steve is a savvy businessman; at some point he knew he would sell. Although the timing was earlier then he initially envisioned he saw I was a good fit and a great store operator. He had come to know my family and their belief in my ability meant a lot to him and gave him additional confidence in me. He thought maybe, just maybe, my parents could fund the deal. But they didn’t have the money, not the amount of money he was asking for at least, and at 26, I certainly didn’t have it either.
I knew this was what I wanted to do and knew this was a great opportunity for me. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else for a career and I knew I could grow the business.
Naively I though I could use the store sales as collateral, simply show how much money I thought we could make and get a loan from a bank. I drew up a business plan and went to the local bank my parents had banked with for 20 years. We met with the Loan Officer and I gave him my business plan. After about five minutes he looked at me and asked, “So what are you buying, Blue Sky?”
The problem the bank had (as did all the other banks we visited) was the fact we didn’t have any collateral for the loan we were requesting. I could try to open a new shop on my own for a lot less money, but there was no guarantee I’d be successful, or that I’d even win the approval of the shoe vendors I desperately needed a relationship with in order to have anything to sell. Buying a store with brand recognition, a strong following, a 12-year track record, was a no-brainer- in my mind, buying Pacers was our only option.
My dad worked 25 years as a Government employee and was an entrepreneur on the side as a computer programmer. My mom was an entrepreneur as well, working as a house painter, among other things for most of her adult life. My parents saved and saved. They put their four kids through college and somehow managed to pay off their house. Their house was the only leverage we had.
I did my best sales job of my life in the Spring of 2003. My parents were in; they were going to mortgage their house, again, to help me realize my dream. On June 23rd, 2003 we closed on the store. The customers wouldn’t have realized a thing, but we were open for business. Farley Enterprises, DBA Pacers was now the business on 1301 King Street in Alexandria Virginia.
13 years, 6 more stores, and 18 owned road races later I bought my parents out. Their belief in me still drives me to this day. That and the Blue Sky I’m still chasing.