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How I Used My First Business to Fund a Second One

By Chris Couri, CEO, We Do Lines, Ridgefield, Conn.
My father purchased Young's, a lawn care retail and landscaping company in the late 70s. I started sweeping floors in the shop at age eight, and eventually took over as the company's president. But competition from big-box stores was hurting our retail store, and I knew it was time to downsize the operation and find other revenue sources. And after 15 years of landscaping jobs, I wanted to try something new.

So in 2008, my business partner at Young's, Dan Rella, and I teamed up with our mutual friend Tom Darrow to start a parking lot line-striping company, We Do Lines. In the meantime, I kept my role at Young's, using its profits to help fund our fledgling startup. It was a challenge running two companies at once: I was trying to get We Do Lines off the ground while adapting Young's to fit the changing times. I worried that taking on too much at once would run both companies into the ground.

We piggybacked off the first company
As it turned out, owning the first company helped us grow the second one. Parking lot line striping has a strong overlap with the landscaping business, which allowed us to take advantage of many of Young's resources in building our new company.

The primary client base for both types of businesses is commercial property owners. Our initial customers were already clients of our landscaping company, who hired us to stripe their parking lots as well. We also had safe, reliable crews lined up from our first business, which cut down on networking time. And I already had the pick-up truck needed to transport our crews and equipment. As soon as we opened shop, we were ready to start working.

To keep overhead low at We Do Lines, my business partners and I have opted out of salaries to keep overhead low. There's no way we would have been able to do this if it weren't for our salaries from Young's, and Tom's income from his own first company. It has given us the financial freedom to invest more in the business. Within a year, We Do Lines had grown from a part-time project to a full-fledged company.

No success without compromise
Meanwhile, I was still president of Young's, and responsible for overseeing marketing and budget initiatives. But I spent most of my time focusing on franchise development and branding at We Do Lines -- about 60 hours a week, compared to 10 at Young's. I spent one day a week at Young's to review weekly reports and profit and loss statements, but left my trusted partner Dan Rella in charge of day-to-day operations.

As We Do Lines began to grow and consume more of our time and energy, we realized we would have to cut Young's down to a more manageable size. We decided to eliminate the retail store entirely, leaving only the service aspect of the business intact.

Our revenues took a big hit -- in the seven-digit range-and we had to lay off a couple of employees. Downsizing the business and firing staff was really hard for us, but we just couldn't compete with Lowe's and Home Depot on price, and we'd been losing customers for a long time. Closing the store gave us the time and focus to make the next big step with We Do Lines.

Both companies are growing
In 2009 we decided to franchise We Do Lines, and made our biggest investment to date -- $5,000 a month -- in a national marketing and PR firm. We thought franchising was the best way to grow without becoming overwhelmed with too much responsibility. Now we have 11 franchisees, and have tripled our system sales from $60,000 in 2008 to $180,000 in 2010. I am busy developing and refining our brand image, and responding to more than 50 franchise inquiries we received after being featured in Entrepreneur Magazine. We expect to begin drawing salaries this year.

In spite of it all, I've by no means abandoned Young's. In fact, the company is currently developing a 700 square-foot show room, where customers can view our products and hold landscaping consultations. We'll make a few new hires to sales and management positions in the coming year.

-- As told to Harper Willis

Chris Couri lives with his wife and two sons, and is currently in the process of adopting a baby girl. He spends most of his free time fishing or snowboarding.

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