Michael Grothe's entrepreneurial family had been in the oil and gas delivery business for 100 years by the 1980s, when he was a teenager.
But the small family business in central Pennsylvania was essentially killed when the corporate parent that oversaw it went through a restructuring process. The collapse scarred Grothe. “I never thought I would be in business for myself,” Grothe says.
It took 20 years, but the recession altered those plans.
In fact, after two decades in banking, Grothe has now run his own business for the past six months. He is the owner of a Gulf Coast franchise of ShelfGenie, a suburban Atlanta-based firm that retrofits cabinets and closets. ShelfGenie uses its trademarked Glide-Out system to transform a cabinet or a pantry into a rolling space saver.
In going entrepreneurial, Grothe also represents a small but growing Gulf Coast demographic: the displaced banker. With consolidations, mergers and failures, the amount of jobs per banker in the region has shrunk significantly in the recession.
Grothe has been laid off from a bank three times since 2009. “Since my first layoff,” says Grothe, from the Sarasota-Bradenton commercial lending office of Jacksonville-based EverBank, “I began to toy with the idea of doing something on my own.”
Grothe made it official in late 2010.
Grothe's ShelfGenie operation covers two territories that wind through Bradenton, Sarasota, parts of Clearwater and east Hillsborough County. Grothe declines to comment on what he paid the franchise units. But ShelfGenie says the initial investment ranges between $70,100 and $125,500, including a $40,000 franchise fee.
ShelfGenie was founded in 2000 and its owners turned it into a franchise in 2008. The company, which has since been named a top 500 franchise opportunity by Entrepreneur magazine, is in the middle of a growth spurt. It has 100 locations in 27 states plus Washington D.C., with plans to surpass 175 locations by the end of 2011.
Grothe first investigated other post-bank career opportunities, from driving a bread truck route to buying a tutoring education center. But through Rick Bisio, a Bradenton-based franchise consultant, Grothe heard the former local ShelfGenie owner had put two units up for sale.
The owner had health issues and had done little business the past year. Says Grothe: “It was essentially a startup.”
Grothe finds clients though referrals, advertising and leads from the parent company. He focuses on snowbirds who seek to downsize or elderly who can use the Glide-Out system to lessen the amount of bending they do. He uses freelance designers and installers to complete the work, which ranges from one cabinet to an entire kitchen.
Sales have grown each month, says Grothe, and have exceeded expectations. He says he hit his September sales projections in May.
Grothe has also been rejuvenated by the entrepreneurial life he says he never wanted. He says he doesn't miss the fast pace — and the lunches, dinners and golf outings — that came with being a banker during the Gulf Coast real estate boom.
Grothe's resume from that era is a bank regulator's cheat sheet of under-capitalized institutions. Past employers include TIB Bank and Stearns Bank.
“I haven't looked back,” Grothe says. “I should have done this a long time ago.”