Sunday, October 16, 2005
My father is looking to purchase a bar where I grew up. He's pretty excited about it and I think this will be a good venture for him. Its interesting to me to look at all the different businesses he has been in which are completely unrelated to what I do for a living. When he was 18 he took over my grandfather's automobile repair shops (2 locations, about 18 bays with roughly 35 employees) when he went into the hospital. That’s a lot of responsibility for someone that young. He ran those for I think about 5-7 years and then went into the construction business for about 1 or 2. There was a lot of corruption (worse than today) in that industry with people stealing material for one job after passing inspection to use on another and keep costs down and he just didn't want to put up with that so he went back into the automobile industry but not working for his father again. My memory is a little rough but I believe that there was some split of the business where my grandfather owned and ran the gas station side of the business while my father and his brother owned and ran the repair shop side. There are less and less of these types of shops in existence today. I think the business model started to disappear with warranties (since people were forced to go get their car worked on at a dealership) and the fact that many people will lease a car for a few years and then get a new one. The old thought process was that if you had a repair shop with a gas station the more traffic would generate more business. It’s a shame that this model is dwindling because there was more of a relationship between the consumer driving their vehicle and the person doing the work since people would hit the same station a lot and have the same people working on their car.
Anyway when my grandfather died there was a splitting of assets with his second wife and my father ended up going to work for a Chrysler dealership. I think he worked there in total for 15 years. There was a period that he took I believe a year off when I was about 5 or 6 and was trying to get into the sport fishing/charter boat business. It was a natural fit really since growing up in South Florida he (and consequently I and pretty much everyone else in my family) had been around boating his entire life. His Uncle and Cousins had a few thriving businesses in the Florida Keys between a resort, B&B, and a chartering business of their own (http://www.strikezonecharter.com/). I actually worked there one summer when I was 16 but I have been going down to the keys since before I can remember really. Both my father and my mother studied for and passed the Captains test which is a really big deal. I think a few parts of the test (like the Rules of the Road) you need to pass with something like a 90% or better. Note that I'm not talking about the 6 pack license either but the full Masters license. There is a certain amount of hours you need as well, something like 500 but I could be way off on that I just remember it was a lot.
My parents ended up deciding not to go down that road. I think there were a lot of factors such as moving us down to the keys and also financially the biggest pain is buying your first sport fishing boat (and I'm talking like a 60 ft boat, not one of these POS's that weekend warriors putter around on) but it was probably a good thing. You see my father really likes fishing and in recent years it’s become more evident from talking to relatives that the real money is made by taking people out on the diving/snorkeling trips to the reefs on the catamarans. See if you can get 30-40 people on a trip to a reef its more profitable than 5-10 people out fishing for the day. Especially when you start factoring in gas, captains pay, first mate, etc. My father also really likes working on sport fishing boats. We have owned boats all my life but the current boat he owns is a 30-ft Bertram about 6 months before I graduated high school. In the summer before I went to college we trailer it onto the side of the house and built 3 horses to hoist it up (remember these things weigh like 12,000 lbs) and basically renovate this thing from end to end. Let me tell you this was the first and hopefully the last bottom of a boat that I will ever do in my life. You have to grind about 1-3 inches of paint off but not dig into the fiber glass but your holding up, many times on your back, a 7 pound grinder that after 4-5 hours feels like its 100. I still have a few scars from when the grinder got too heavy and I dropped it on my leg. We also didn't have the proper equipment to do this so my father got a friend of his that did auto body repair work to lend him an air pump and we took one of my old racing helmets (story for another day) and sealed every crevice up and built a makeshift tarp so that it would go down all the way to your waste. Then we drilled a hole into the side of it and put the hose from the air pump into it and sealed that off. Now we could grind and have a fresh air supply without having all the toxic fumes from the paint flying off get in our lungs. So after a couple weeks of grinding then you sand everything down and use special paint to not only seal the bottom of the boat but also a second coat which makes it slick going through the water. This was really the toughest part of the restoration. The other stuff was easy because you could sit in the boat and work on things (other than the engines which we thought were in good shape but once we pulled the heads off we saw that rings were needed and it was just easier to get things out of the way and yank them out and do the bottom end as well).
Getting back to the story, I noted that my father worked at the Chrysler dealership for about 15 years. My Uncle had actually been working there for a few years before my father before that and when my father left he continued. My father left because he really didn't find that industry fun any longer. When he was in high school and even in his 20's it was exciting to work on cars and not only fix them but to also make them run faster. He also didn't like working for people (a trait that I inherited and has hurt me at times inside a corporation) and wanted to be his own boss again. Also mechanics get treated like crap. It’s actually ironic because many of them are as technical as many engineers out there but because of the reputation that a few have made it hurts the whole. Even dealerships have treated them with little respect by paying them low and forcing many to work 6-7 days a week. So he decided to buy a Laundromat and get out. I was about 14 when this happened and my sister was 16. For the first year he would go in at 6 or 7 am and work for a couple hours while my mother got in at 8 and he would go to work. He came back at noon for an hour or so to help out and then go back to work for the afternoon only to return after work and then work the evening shift of the Laundromat until it closed at 10pm. I had been working in repair shops or doing other small jobs since I was a little kid with my father but this was one of the first "real" jobs I had where on a regular basis I would go to every day after school and most of the day on Saturday.
I gained most of the respect I have today for my parents for the time that I spent working there when I was growing up. I think they ended up owning it for 7 years and most people in my family and many friends worked there at some point in time. When they sold it my mother got an insurance license for something to do while they decided what the next business should be and my father spent a couple of years doing different things including trading stocks online. About 10 months ago he decided to purchase a bar with another one of my uncles (on my mothers side) and they have spent a lot of time investigating the business and tried to open up a couple in new locations but its very difficult to do. Ironically they have a new location that they have been offered and its a few storefronts down from the old laundry mat that we used to own. Things like this always make me smile because you never know where you are going to end up or what opportunities are going to present themselves.
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