There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Scott Fitzgerald, the president and CEO of The Curb, a retail return center in Tempe, Arizona, that “banks on the busts of big-box retailers.” Over $260 billion worth of merchandise is returned to retailers every year. Scott buys these returns from stores such as Costco, Home Depot and Walmart and resells them for a lot less money—generally 30 to 70 percent off retail prices from his store or online.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Scott Fitzgerald: Growing up I was a big fan of the show “L.A. Law.” It made being a lawyer look so glamorous and important! I went to ASU [Arizona State University] intending to become a attorney, majoring in Justices Studies. However, during my schooling one of the assignments was to go to some state Supreme Court cases; I was so bored I fell asleep. That’s when I realized being an attorney was not as glamorous as I thought, and that it was lots of research all the time. I knew in that moment I would never be happy being an attorney.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Fitzgerald: While attending ASU I got a part time job working in a Play it Again Sports franchise. The owner was an absentee owner so I quickly gained many of the responsibilities of an owner–purchasing, payroll, payables and hiring. It was then I knew I would only be happy working for myself. After [graduating], with the help of my parents, I purchased that franchise I had worked in and then opened a second store a few years later. Although I sold them in 2001, I realized I could never work under a traditional corporate structure.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Fitzgerald: In early 2001 I was on some buying committees for the franchise I owned and the discussion was about whether or not franchises could sell online. The franchise CEO’s decision was that online sales would never be a significant part of the owner’s sales, and it was not worth disrupting the traditional franchise agreements which only allowed you to sell in specific regions. I believed online sales would soon eclipse traditional brick-and-mortar sales, so I excused myself from the meeting, flew back to Phoenix, and sold my stores within months. This turned out to be the best business decision of my life.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Fitzgerald: A mentor of mine once told me that the number-one killer of small businesses in America is debt. Specifically, that many people get into business with good ideas and intentions, but are far overleveraged and when a bad spell hits–which they always do–those business usually fail first due to their debt load. Those businesses that are debt free can ride out the hard times.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Fitzgerald: For me it has been to always maintain a healthy relationship with my key employees. Employee turnover is a real problem for small businesses. You can never grow if you are constantly looking for employees and training new people, so understanding employees’ goals and personal aspirations is very important. You can always shape their position within your organization to better suit their desired career goals. It is not only money that keeps employees—they are part of a small family. Make sure they know how important they are to you!
Lesonsky: Do you have a small business prediction?
Fitzgerald: From the industry publications I read, the economic downturn over the past decade has hit small businesses the hardest. It is important to adapt to the changes transforming our economy. These changes are creating whole new industries for small business to expand. For example, The Curb’s entire business model is based on the growing problem of online sales returns for big retailers. The big-box stores’ problem of what to do with these returns has created our business.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. I loved the book, both movies, and the author has a great name!
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Fitzgerald: It may seem corny or just very simple—however, it has been my motivating quote since I was a young man. To me, the movie Rudy was a true story of how the human spirit can overcome unthinkable odds and persevere. Rudy Ruettiger personally signed a jersey for me as a kid with the quote “Never Quit.” This has inspired me the most, because you can only lose in life if you quit trying.
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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at email@example.com, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.