Ted Talks: What inspired you to start a business?

April 08, 2016

This is part of an ongoing series where Ted Parrish, our fearless leader and founder of ACS, shares his story. For more, see here and here

I grew up in what is called a working class neighborhood with working parents. Most of the people in our neighborhood worked in factories or small shops around Grand Rapids.Nobody was on the high end of the wage scale. It was a fairly safe family friendly neighborhood were the kids played together. When I was not playing baseball or riding my bike with the other kids.

I was a avid reader and read books about Thomas Edison, John F Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln. I liked their can -do spirit, and how they never gave up at any cost. Men like this I felt were worth listening to and listening to their ideas. I did not grow up in a business family, and I didn’t know any business owners as a kid.

When I was 15 I worked at a local pizza shop. The owner was old-school, in the sense he drove a big Cadillac and kept a gun in the glove box. He ran a very tight restaurant, where we had to keep both feet on the floor and keep moving. I worked there for while, and later worked as a janitor at a local school.

After a year I wanted to try something new. My dad helped me get a job at a waterbed store. I started out by cleaning the store, stocking inventory and doing odd jobs. One day they were super busy and customers were not being waited on. The manager asked me to stop what I was doing and help out. I was only 17 but people did not mind me approaching them, and helping them by answering their questions about the waterbeds and furniture. Since I put the stock away and helped around the store I knew the answers to the questions the customers were asking. I did so well the manager asked me help on other days they got busy. Within a short time the manager hired me into sales and they hired somebody else to do what I was doing. I was a junior in high school, working as a salesperson on nights and weekends. My sales were high enough I was making the same wage as the other salesmen who were working 40 hours a week.

At my desk.After highschool I switched to another waterbed store. I later left that for a job in a waterbed furniture factory as a buyer. Life moved along as life does - marriage, kids and a couple more job changes, and I forgot how much fun sales was, watching the manager run the store like it was his business.

The waterbed company I worked for had 7 stores and each store ran itself like its own business. I got to see the day-to-day of opening,  operating a business and closing each night, and working on different strategies to increase sales. That experience I soon forgot about.

I then started working for a automotive parts company in Houston, Texas. My boss asked me to help sell her Blue Ford Explorer. She was the plant manager and was super busy. I agreed to help and soon the old spark came back - to be selling something again. It was not the selling that intrigued me, it was the commerce part of working the transaction. Basically the whole process came back to me. The entire process of making something, selling something, and making my customers happy.

From the simple thing of helping my boss sell a vehicle, I decided I wanted to own a business. I did not want to be a manager, or get into sales. I wanted the full challenge of, employees, keeping inventory, and managing the books. I decided since I knew little about running a business I needed to educate myself. I read books like Guerilla Marketing, books about Walmart, Home Depot and Waste Management. I read books by Lee Iacocca, Harvey Mackay and Stephen R Covey.

I listened to cassette tapes from Amway, then later podcasts about anything business connected. I began selling furniture, and making sales calls while I was still working. It was many years later before I had the confidence to quit my day job and work full time for myself. Now we have 2 locations in West Michigan, 15 employees and we ship soft goods all over the world. It did not happen overnight, there werewas a lot of ups and downs. It probably would not have happen if it was not for that the Blue Ford Explorer.