December 01, 2016
In 2006, I lost my job when a Driver Education School I ran was acquired and my job was down-sized.
It was a bitter cold February in SouthEastern PA, when I found myself living in a tiny attic-space in a local farmhouse. The place barely had running water and all manner of farm and wildlife. It may sound bucolic, but it was a desperate and desolate moment of awakening. Had I come to the end of the road ? At age 44, is this all that I could expect from my life......continued struggle and a bleak future of combining restaurant,driving and other part-time jobs to cobble together a meager existence ?
So one day, my phone rang, and it was the Owner of the Driving School in MD that I had worked for before being let go in the management shake-up. He was offering me a position- back with the school- driving kids that had been left stranded when a competing Driving School had gone out of business. I hesitated, because it was a BIG step-down from my $1,250 a week job, running and marketing the school. I accepted though, as it beat the $28 I was making nightly at Ruby Tuesday, plus the odd hours and $225 a week doing fulfillment for Starbucks Stores.
Little did I know, that was the best stroke of fortune that I could ever hope for !
I went back to work for the man- but could not really trust that there was anything there. He had violated my trust, letting me go after adding over $700,000 in business to his Driving School. Foremost in my mind was the idea that I had better find or create another opportunity AND SOON, because whatever I was doing for him was not likely to last.
As I was logging 40-50 hours a week driving kids on lessons, one Monday I saw the Owner and he said that he needed a 'Training-Brake' for the Driver Ed Car. The old one was failing and he needed me to drive up near to Harrisburg, PA and get the Brake. Of course, I obliged and was soon on my way. I drove to the off-site facility looking for the place where the group manufactured and assembled the Teacher-Brake. Pulling up to the place- a small metal 'Butler' building (resembling a Tennis Barn), I thought I was in the right place, but the space was empty- saving for a "For Lease" sign in the over-sized glass front window.
Something was definitely up, so I called the main number. "Oh, that site has been closed and we do everything here at the main office" replied the female voice on the other end. Soon, I was on my way back to the main facility. As I walked into the small and old fashioned waiting area, I was impressed with the scope of the company. Satellites were pictured on one wall, High-Tech Blueprints on another and all manner of gadgets and gizmos described. I recall the first inkling of a 'disconnect' washing over me.... what's a company so big and varied doing with such a small product ? And, it's a Driver Ed/Safety thing and they are a multi-million dollar company- does'nt seem to jibe with their work at all !
So, after a while the receptionist appeared, and handed my the Training-Brake that I had come for. I thanked her, turned about, placed the unit in my car and was back off and down the highway to MD. On the 45 minute ride back, I glanced back for traffic in my Rear-View Mirror-- seeing the box holding the Brake. I also saw the company mail that I had collected for the owner- there on the other seat in the back. It was a multi-colored catalog, offering Driver Ed School Supplies. As the School's Manager, I had seen that for years, and never paid any real attention to it. The offerings were outdated and we got our stuff locally.
Maybe I was overtired, or, just inspired, but on that ride back to MD, it all kind of came together in my mind.... this was a business !!
The Company doing the supplies for Driver-Ed Schools had the right idea-but the wrong products. The PA Company making the Training-Brake had the right product, but was way too far afield from their strongest market/core-competence. In fact, the Training-Brake could be the cornerstone of a NEW BUSINESS-- my own Catalog Company Offering Driver-Ed Supplies, NATIONWIDE.
I took the concept and ran with it, doing further research and contacting- although somewhat surreptitiously- staffers at the company that made the Training-Brake. Over several months, I made in roads to a series of meeting with the 41 million-dollar company that ultimately led to me landing a deal to represent them in the Driving School market, with an option to potentially buy the rights to make the unit in the future.
To Be Continued..........
December 01, 2016
December 01, 2016