How I Built My Business

Stories from business builders.

How I Built My Computer Business: ComTech

Business: ComTech
Years Active: 1974-2001 (continued selling AcME until 2010)
Location: Burley, Idaho
Business Builder: Richard Hardy

HIBMB: How did you get into computers back in the 1970s?

Richard: In 1972, I had graduated in Electronics Engineering Technology from BYU and was working at a nuclear laboratory in California when my dad died. I moved back to Oakley, Idaho to help my brother Randy with my dad’s farm. I really wasn’t interested in farming; I wanted to do something I knew how to do.

M.H. King Company (a five-and-dime store similar to a dollar store today) was about to get an IBM System/3 mainframe computer that would fill a typical bedroom-size room. I told them they needed a programmer. Their office manager had gone to a couple of classes to learn how to program and he knew they needed a programmer. He knew he couldn’t do it so he talked the boss into hiring me. It was a language I hadn’t heard of before.

System34Roper’s across the street already had a System/3 and they had a programmer there that wasn’t much good. I read the books and learned how to do the programming and started to do Kings’ programming on Ropers’ computer. Eventually, Roper’s fired their guy and had me do their work too. I was just working for the two of them. Once King’s got their own computer and built a new building, I worked in there doing their programming—inventory, payroll, everything—as well as programming for Roper’s.

I made an agreement to rent time on Kings’ computer and that’s when I started my business. That was in January of 1974. I had no investment at the start. The first thing I had to program under my own company was a general ledger and I didn’t know a debit from a credit. When I was dealing with the flu, I borrowed a textbook for about three days and learned accounting. With the help of one of my potential customers I wrote a general ledger package.

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How I Built My Franchise Development Business: Franchise Foundry

Company: Franchise Foundry
Years Active: 2005-2007 (sold)
Location: Provo, Utah
Business Builder: Corey Spencer

HIBMB: First off, can you fill us in on what franchise development is?

Corey: Franchise development is helping a business owner (called the franchisor) franchise their business. Franchising is where the franchisor sells certain rights related to their branding and business model to a third party called the franchisee. The franchisee typically uses those rights to build a new store that mimics the franchisor’s store.

HIBMB: How did you get into something like that?

Corey: I was working at Omniture and a friend of mine had a house painting business called Five Star Painting. I suggesting they start advertising franchises online. They were skeptical but I ran a PPC campaign for them and they started getting leads up the wazoo. I left Omniture to help them with their franchise system and then it became obvious that I would just be their employee forever and it was a company with more risk and no benefits.

Through connections, others heard that I knew how to tap the franchise market and I blindly went into a partnership. I had never worked with these guys before but they knew they needed a marketing guy.

HIBMB: So how did the business work? What’s the business model behind franchise development?

Corey: Some of us had worked in franchising before building franchise systems and we found that there was a gap between somebody creating a successful business vs then franchising that business. Several things contributed to that gap:

  1. Capital. Taking it from a sandwich shop to a franchise business is quite capital intensive.
  2. Legal. The franchising industry is highly regulated. A lot of the capital ends up going to lawyers to create all the documentation that protects all the parties involved not to mention the fact that most franchisors end up in a legal battle with franchisees within the first few years.
  3. Marketing. You might be really good at selling a five dollar sandwich but are you good at selling a $45,000 investment? How do you reach that market?
  4. Sales. A franchise sale can take as short as 30 days and can take up to 6 or 9 months depending on finding a location, talking your uncle into giving you the money to do it, and everything else. Having processes around franchise sales while you’re trying to run your sandwich business is virtually impossible.

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How I Built My Bookstore Business: Dragons & Fairy Tales Books & Games

Company: Dragons & Fairy Tales Books & Games
Years Active: 2009-2010
Location: Eagle Mountain, Utah
Business Builder: Jaclyn Weist

HIBMB: What was your history with books before opening the store? Were you an avid reader, author, both?

Jaclyn: I’ve loved reading since I was tiny. I could finish a book or two every day after my homework was done, and went through a lot of books in the school library. Several of them more than once. I also wrote stories when I was young, but it was my senior year when I really started enjoying it.

HIBMB: When did you decide you wanted to start a bookstore and what were your aspirations for the business?

Jaclyn: I told my parents I wanted to start a bookstore in high school and then again in college. It’s something I always wanted to do, and I’d love to open another one when I get the chance. I wanted to have a place where people could come to find new books, meet authors, and enjoy themselves while I was there.

HIBMB: How did you go about finding a location?

Jaclyn: I started looking on my own at first, and then I went to a realtor who had helped us buy our first home. He does a lot commercially, so he helped us look through a few places before offering a spot in his center in Eagle Mountain. It was a worry that because there were no grocery stores or anything keeping people in the town, that we wouldn’t be able to do well, but we decided to give it a try so we could provide for the community.

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How I Built My Private Investigation Business: Probert Investigations

Company: Probert Investigations
Years Active: 2000-2010 (sold)
Location: Cottonwood Heights, Utah
Business Builder: Ronald Probert (primary) and Brandon Pack

HIBMB: How did the business get started?

Brandon: My dad was a retired police officer who realized there was a big need in investigating auto accidents.  If two people got into an accident and there was a disagreement over whose fault it was, my dad and I would investigate things like skid marks to determine how fast the driver was going, light to determine visibility, and whatever else was needed to determine who was at fault. This turned into a business.

HIBMB: Who were your clients? Police departments?

Brandon: We were hired by the attorneys or insurance agencies representing a driver involved in an accident. We were hired to figure out who was truly at fault, testify as expert witnesses in court, and reconstruct what happened in the accident. If you claimed a neck injury from your accident, we might follow you, take pictures of you golfing, and nullify your claim. Those types of things. We did some other things like follow cheating spouses.

HIBMB: Did you have an office?

Brandon: Yes, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon.

HIBMB: What made you want to be a private investigator?

Brandon: Part of it was that it was interesting work for me. I was in a physics major at the University of Utah and originally had plans to take over the business and do it forever but it didn’t pan out that way. When I first started out with this business, we needed some credibility and for that we needed credentials. We needed to be licensed and bonded. I had to go buy a bond and be licensed by the state of Utah to become a private investigator to follow people and do the things that we did.

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How I Built My Computer Support Business: IT Now

Company: IT Now
Years active: 2000 (purchased)-2007 (sold)
Location: Orem, Utah
Business Builder: Jeff Watson

HIBMB: How did you become interested in computer support?

Jeff: I had been in school studying graphic design and headed out to a summer sales position selling pest control. I recently got married and quit flying radio-controlled helicopters because it was expensive. I traded the helicopter for two desktop computers which, back in the day, I felt like I was getting a pretty good deal because the computers were about $500 each. They were Pentium 2 I believe. I was interested enough to play around with them, load up an operating system, see what they could do. It was pretty easy to break them, tear them apart, and put them back together. I almost became addicted to it. I think the learning is what got me.

When we came back to school, I went and interviewed at Totally Awesome Computers. They asked me a bunch of questions to see if I knew what I was talking about. I knew a bit and there were some name brand computer boxes on the inventory rack behind the guy who was interviewing. When they asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to I’d look back there and be like, “Uh, yeah, I like the MSI brand. That’s pretty good stuff.”

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How I Built My Fitness Center Business: Body Shop Assisted Fitness

Company: Body Shop Assisted Fitness
Years Active: 1996-1998 (sold)
Location: Burley, Idaho
Business Builders: Cameron and Jennifer May

HIBMB: What made you want to build a fitness center?

Cameron: We loved fitness and fitness was the growing thing in Utah. I did some personal training around Provo, UT and was a personal trainer for athletes at BYU. I was also studying business at BYU. All that combined made us want to build a fitness center.

HIBMB: Did you need to get certified?

Cameron: Yes, we were both certified personal trainers. We had to study some materials provided by the The American Council on Exercise. They provided the materials and we had to go to a testing center to take a test. It was just a written test. There was another test that was more expensive, intensive, and hands-on but what most people cared about at the time was just the ACE certification.

HIBMB: Beyond the certification, how else did you prepare for the business?

Jennifer: While Cameron was studying business he had to come up with a business plan for one of his classes. It had to be hardbound and very official. We had to outline positive projections, negative projections, and average projections. We had to study demographics, provide pro-forma financial statements, and do all kinds of research. That’s how we ended up getting the business loan. Banks really liked to see our prepared plan. We also needed to get a business license, find a location, meet with suppliers, among other things.

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