“Don’t climb the corporate ladder, be the ladder that others climb.” – Mike Hills – Hampden Warehouse Liquor

by laurie

The brief excerpt below is from the book; 50 Interviews: Entrepreneurs Thriving in Uncertain Times. The award winning 300 page book includes exclusive interviews with over 50 successful entrepreneurs in a variety of industries.

BACKGROUND
Michael Hills owns and operates Hampden Warehouse Liquor Mart in Denver,
Colorado along with his business partner Adam. They currently have 10
employees. Michael’s past entrepreneurial experiences include a car
detailing company in high school, a small liquor mart, and being a landlord.
At 28 years old, Michael was the youngest entrepreneur I interviewed. He
plans to have his newest project, a casino, open by June 1st 2009.

INTERVIEW
Q: How long did it take you until your business earned a positive cash flow?
A: Six months.

Q: What was the genesis of the idea?
A: I was working for a wine distributor and had been watching the business
for awhile. My business partner Adam and I, in an effort to find out how to
make a living and work for ourselves, asked “What do we know how do to?” A
liquor store was one of those ideas, and when the opportunity presented
itself, we opened a small store. Then, we had a chance to acquire a well
established failed business, and I jumped on it.

Q: How would you describe your business model? How do you keep customers
coming back?
A: Well, the business premise is simple. We offer a great selection with
great service, at a low price. We also host wine tastings once a week.

Q: What is the passion that your business fills for you personally?
A: The independence of owning my own business is huge. I might be able to
make more money today working for someone else, but I am building equity in
a business I own now. I also thrive on taking calculated risks. But for me,
my drive is on setting a goal and achieving it, despite what others say. I
really enjoy rebuilding broken businesses.

Q: Where do you see yourself and your company in 10 years?
A: My next venture is a new casino! We are well on our way already, and
within 10 years, I’ll be the owner of a successful casino. Ongoing, I see
myself owning more businesses as well as the land and property with it.

Q: What were your biggest challenges? Looking back now, is there anything
you wish you had done differently?
A: Raising money has been the toughest challenge. It has been especially
hard to raise money as someone who is young. I have faced much age
discrimination and nay-sayers. Being in my 20’s, nobody would take me
seriously and they always assumed my businesses were owned by somebody else,
like my father. I’ve learned now to do as much correspondence as I can
before meeting someone in person such as a lender, a principal, a client,
etcetera. I try to let my results speak for themselves, and in doing so, I
have found I am able to overcome the age discrimination.

Q: Are there one or two things you can attribute your success to? Luck,
meeting, someone who helped you along the way? Was there a breakthrough that
really made the difference?
A: My dad was a very positive influence on me. Education was big for me, it
taught me to think creatively and to solve problems. Finding a like minded
partner, Adam, has been huge for me. Seeking risk, and seeing things as they
really are, have helped me get to where I am today. The KISS principle, Keep
It Simple Stupid, has also made a world of difference for me. I am a firm
believer that businesses break because they over complicate themselves. I’ve
found that the key to fixing these businesses is by returning to the most
basic aspects of running a business and putting all of your focus there.
Early in my career, my partner and I held a ‘distinguished dinner series’
where we would take an entrepreneur out to dinner and pick their brains and
just learn from them. This proved to be very valuable, similar to what you
are doing with this concept! We just didn’t consider sharing the results of
those meetings in a book like you are.

Q: What is the most important attribute you look for in an employee?
A: Learn what skills are needed before hiring. You learn what they are by
doing the job yourself! Avoid hiring friends or family. Find employees who
are trainable. Some of my best employees at the liquor store are those who
work there as a second job. If they’ve held another job for a period of
time, it shows loyalty which I feel is important. Being able to make
critical decisions quickly is extra important. As a side note, having a good
inventory tracking system is very important in any retail business to
discourage employee theft.

Q: Any recommended training and resources? Books, classes, websites?
A: Just do it! Don’t be afraid of the risk. Join organizations in your
industry. For books, my best advice is to read biographies, but also read
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechter, The
Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, The Richest
Man in Babylon by George S. Clason, and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Atlas
Shrugged is like a modern day capitalist’s bible. Everyone should read it!

Q: Do you recommend an MBA?
A: I don’t feel an MBA is at all necessary. Street smarts are far more
valuable, but you should definitely hire MBA’s!

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