David’s Lifelong Business Journey

After having been self-employed for over forty years and orchestrating the start-up of several successful small businesses, Dave has written this series of e-books to give something back to the capitalist system in which he so strongly believes. The books are meant to help anyone who wants to improve his or her working knowledge of real-world business—from students completing a business assignment, managers wanting to improve their skills, men and women from all walks of life desiring to fulfill a passion to launch a new start-up, leaders of non-profits who want to hone their business skills, to all of the owners, presidents, and CEOs who want to improve the management and leadership skills within their companies.

About David

Dave developed his interest in business by observing his family. And as he interviewed the founders of businesses many years later, he saw that many times their passions kindled the same way: by what their parents did for a living, the topics discussed at the dinner table, their perceptions of positive family experiences, and sometimes from a drive to do the exact opposite as their parents. Dave’s father worked with his brother during the first eight foundation years of his brother’s company, later using that experience to start his own business in appliances and ultimately furniture retailing.

Dave watched his father’s business grew from nothing to one of the leading specialty Early American furniture stores in the Twin Cities. His father’s actions supported the verbal lesson he was so fond of repeating, “As long as you are willing to do what others are not willing to do, and you are committed to sacrificing personal time for long hours of productive work, you can be successful.” He also said that it was wise for a future business owner to generate seed money while he or she was still single and living costs were lower. In other words, find a way to make some money, save it, and invest it for a future start-up before you are married with children. Saving and investing rather than spending and accumulating debt were basic principals among Depression-Era parents.

So, as a teen, Dave engaged in business conversations, read business books, magazines, and trade journals, and participated in business activities. Like many business owners, he wished to be in control of his future and use his creativity, determination and discipline to survive in a competitive business environment. Passion to succeed at building a business must be relentless; and a business owner must be willing to make any sacrifice.

Before you take the time to read about the pros and cons of the individual business models in which I have been involved, it is instructive to consider the various twists and turns that the journey takes. Every road to success is filled with roadblocks and decades of struggles. More than the financial rewards, an entrepreneur must be motivated by the excitement and satisfaction of building a successful business; in most cases it is the love of the “doing” more than profit that allows business owners to survive long-term.

David’s First Business

In 1964, at the age of sixteen, Dave borrowed $1,600 from his father to start a chemical lawn care business. They named it Guaranteed Spraying Service, later renamed as Guaranteed Turf Care. His father helped him develop a direct mail piece and assemble the spraying equipment, and his mother answered the phone out of their home. During the season, Dave worked seven days a week every minute he was not in school. The time was spent knocking on thousands of doors, working with a few employees to perform lawn services, and working the telephone after dark, soliciting business. He made a profit the first year, and paid his father back within ninety days.

Everything Dave would accomplish financially in the future would be generated from the opportunity created by that ninety-day loan, together with his parents’ outstanding principles and support—and later, a dedicated and helpful wife. It is important to remember that none of us succeed alone. We all depend upon other people to help us.

By the time Dave was in college, the business had ten employees and was one of the three largest chemical lawn care companies in the city. The earnings from Guaranteed Turf Care were invested every year into equities and real estate investments. Dave established written net worth financial goals at the age of seventeen, recording his achievements every year relative to his goals. Like many entrepreneurs, he loved the learning experiences associated with building a business, and craved knowledge to help him become a better businessperson. He also derived personal satisfaction from increasing investment assets that would continue to grow his net worth, and exceed his written financial goals.

It was these written targets that ultimately propelled Dave to start additional businesses to generate more cash that would fund more investments that would help him meet his net worth targets. Guaranteed Turf Care continued to grow and prosper as a successful business model, while Dave continued to learn from the school of hard knocks.

Out of college and soon to be married at the age of 23, Dave was still operating Guaranteed Turf Care when he started to work with his father in his retail furniture business. “With,” because he was one of those fathers who graciously knew how to let go of control, allowing Dave to take over the management of several key departments.  Within a short period of time he was responsible for the buying, merchandising, display, and customer service, as well as the hiring, training, and management of the sales team. He also gained experience through his involvement in every other facet of the business: including the marketing, warehouse distribution, and accounting functions. There were many six- and seven-day weeks and thirteen- to fourteen-hour days in those years; however, the passion to be involved in building and growing two businesses was rewarding.

Needless to say, so many new business experiences exploded the growth of Dave’s learning curve. Dave believes, as long as you are learning from new business experiences, and are fully engaged mentally and challenged creatively, you can find the strength to work endlessly toward your goals.

David’s Second Business

Because Dave was falling behind in his written net worth targets, he pushed himself to start another business to generate another revenue stream. In 1974, he decided to risk his entire portfolio of assets to start a residential land development company, asking his father to join in as an equal partner. Neither had any experience in residential or commercial real estate development; his father was in the process of retiring to Florida for the winter months. Yet they called the company Gabbert Land Development, and in the midst of the 1970s’ recession, began their first projects.

The stock market was down 48 percent, mortgage money was over 12 percent, business loans were over 18 percent, and there was gas rationing. The homebuilding industry was in a depression, too. The story of those first few projects are interesting ones—and they add credence to the adage, “It’s better to be lucky than smart.” As a reliable business model was developed in this high-risk business, Gabbert Land Development prospered as a residential land development company. You can read more about this precarious yet ultimately successful venture in the supplement to Book 1, “If I Knew Then…”: Case Studies that Could Save Your Business.

In the pursuit of yet another income stream, Dave and his father rezoned and converted an eight-year commercial real estate investment into a specialty retail center with an enclosed mall. Because of the high periods of inflation during the seventies, the higher rents realized from rezoning and converting the building generated an immediate positive cash flow. The investment and conversion has successfully provided a positive return on investment over the long term.

As liquid assets started to accumulate from the multiple business cash flows, Dave began to invest more time into gaining knowledge of fundamental and technical analysis of equities. His goal was to become a successful intermediate-term trader, creating another revenue stream from smart management of liquid assets. By acquiring new knowledge and managing the investments, Dave treated this endeavor as a business. His uncle was in the brokerage field, and acted as a mentor and catalyst. At the age of thirty, Dave’s passions for learning, creating new experiences, and building businesses was growing stronger.

A Lifetime of Businesses

During the eighties, Dave searched for a fifth revenue stream. He partnered with a long-time friend who had a business background that would compliment his own. The new venture was to become a specialty print, design, and marketing business targeting landscape, lawn maintenance, and pest control companies throughout the United States.

R.N.D. Signs & Marketing started very small with a single, new product that was not tested for acceptance in the marketplace: an injection-molded plastic stake accompanied by a printed sign to notify homeowners of a lawn care application. Except for the state of Massachusetts, which had just passed a state law requiring the posting of a notification sign, a market for the new product did not exist. By launching a tireless marketing effort and investing countless hours on the phone, Dave and his business partner conducted a successful direct telephone marketing and sample mailing campaign. We attempted to sell the idea that notifying customers of an application at the curb with a sign made good business sense; the cost of the sign, when re-designed with a promotional message, could double as a marketing tool that would increase revenue.

Over time, promotional notification signs became standard in the industry; the product is now a recognizable part of residential and commercial landscapes throughout North America. The company’s business model continued to adapt to a changing marketplace, gradually evolving into a full-service marketing business targeting niche industries. The company has continued to succeed and prosper.

Lessons and Principles

Some important questions emerge from Dave’s business path. Why spread your time so thin by diversifying your efforts across multiple business interests? Why be so focused on building multiple income streams?  Why seek comfort in building investments in equities and real estate? Those goals are not bad: but wouldn’t it be better to put more time and energy into trying to dominate the chemical lawn care industry? In the mid-to-late-1970s the lawn care industry was exploding nationally. The land development business also offered tremendous opportunities. Shouldn’t business owners pick one field, and search for additional capital or venture partnerships to expand their influence?

In hindsight, Dave grants that either approach—diversification or specialization—are both viable strategies. The downside to diversification is the loss of opportunities. Also, as Dave learned through a challenging venture in retail custom furniture, time is precious and cannot be wasted for long in a high-maintenance, moribund business model.

Overall, Dave’s approach was to be conservative and seek longevity. The best chance for long-term survival is often to expand your businesses in small steps, and keep risk minimal, liquid investments high, and debt low. Dave, like many, witnessed a plethora businesses crash and burn during the devastating recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s, and did not want to be just another casualty.

Looking back at the journey, there are certainly decisions made and paths taken that every business owner would do differently. As is always true, however, it is the wrong turns that provide the greatest learning lessons if one is willing to look in the mirror rather than place the blame on others or outside events. After devoting more then four decades to building businesses, Dave has learned that what energized him most over the long-term was his passion for building a company from an abstract idea to a financially sound business that could make a difference in the lives of customers and employees. He learned that any personal financial gain was secondary to the benefits that the businesses could generate for the consumer and the employees. As he matured as a leader, he received satisfaction from delivering what the employees needed to grow as individuals, delivering increased customer benefits, and staying a step ahead of the competition to survive financially.

Yet the most enduring lesson from Dave’s experience is this: Knowledge is priceless when it is put into action. By increasing your number of planned actions, you will increase your number of successful and failing experiences to elevate learning. Your goal must be to pursue new knowledge in the quest to become the best at what you do.

About These Books

His experiences—especially the failures—rekindled an old passion to mentor businesspeople and, hopefully, advance knowledge while reducing the number of their failures.

You see before you right now the product of that passion. Dave developed a mentoring website, www.davidgabbertbusinesscoach.com, to offer the Win at Biz® e-book series, a series of broadly focused “how-to” business books and interactive workbooks that act as the centerpiece of the site’s various learning programs. The workbooks are full of effective action steps that Dave developed for himself or tested from business books over the years . The goal for the Win at Biz® brand is to help others build a successful business foundation from the mistakes, successes, experiences and knowledge that one successful businessman has collected from many sources throughout a life in the competitive business world. The thoughts, ideas and business strategies expressed in Win at Biz® are timeless and can be utilized throughout one’s business career to build success and continued profitability.

The Win at Biz® series covers three broad areas of business development and effective entrepreneurship over time. The first presents the various topics that need to be researched as part of your “homework” before creating a winning business model. The second offers specific strategies for operating a company geared toward successfully selling product in a competitive marketplace, developing a financial system that is accountable and designed to shape a company for survival over the long term, and creating efficient business processes. The third examines how to effectively use people to grow a successful business with detailed discussions of effective hiring, training and motivational strategies as well as how to more effectively lead a team or company to a higher level of achievement.

The supplement to Book 1 contains an analysis of four of Dave’s start-up business models: Guaranteed Turf Care, Gabbert Land Development, R.N.D. Signs & Marketing, and Daltons Furniture. Like all of the interviews you will read about in the supplement, the road to success is strewn with roadblocks. To survive requires an unrelenting passion, a willingness to make personal sacrifices, a determination to learn from failures and a persistence to continue in the search for success. The struggle generally encompasses several decades; success very rarely comes easily.

May Win at Biz® help you become a more successful businessperson. The force that drives the entrepreneur is an unrelenting passion to keep learning. The more we learn and the more we give, the more we receive in return. Dave’s deepest wish is that the information provided in the businessknowledgestrategies.com website and various Win At Biz® learning tools can give you as many benefits as it has given to him to develop it.

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