When Jason Fry won the Florida Lottery in late 2007, he did exactly what you'd expect a lotto winner to do: He started spending it.
He bought a new Cadillac Escalade and a few weeks later ferried his buddies in a limousine bus to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, where he had purchased a section of tickets on the 50-yard line to watch the University of Florida play the University of Michigan in football.
Fry, who played professional football for a short time in Canada, even spent some of the money on golf lessons with the hopes of hitting the professional circuit. “I spent four to six months hanging out and relaxing,” he says.
But Fry, 39, quickly tired of the easy life. He laughs that he couldn't persuade any of his working friends to hang out at the beach on Mondays, so he acquired a BatteriesPlus store and the franchise rights to three more.
Driven by his love of golf, Fry also acquired a driving range in Fort Myers and has plans to develop another one. One day, Fry says he'd like to run for political office as an independent candidate.
Despite the fact that he spent some his winnings on the typical millionaire toys such as cars and boats, Fry is a conservative person today. He eschews debt, doesn't spend lavishly and watches over his businesses carefully. He spends his vacations with family in Indiana. “I don't go out to dinner that much,” he says.
Fry rarely bought Florida Lottery tickets.
“I'm a big saver,” says Fry, who attributes his conservative money management skills to his mother. “My mom, she was really tight with the nickel. Mom always had a coupon. I always got the free lunches at school.”
For example, Fry winces when he sees a store with the door ajar during the summer while the air conditioning is running. “It drives me nuts,” he says.
But one afternoon after work in late 2007, Fry and a colleague purchased 10 “Quick Picks” at 7-Eleven, letting the computer pick the lottery numbers at random. He handed one ticket with five picks to his buddy and kept the other ticket.
At the time, Fry was tending bar at Stonewood Grill, a restaurant near U.S. 41 and College Parkway in Fort Myers, one of several jobs he had to make ends meet because life had taken a turn for the worse. Fry had separated from his wife and he was months away from bankruptcy after the real estate bust.
When Fry checked his numbers on the computer and discovered he had won the jackpot, he couldn't believe his luck. “I looked at it 10 times,” he says.
Fry hired a college friend from the University of Florida to manage the $14 million lump sum. He split the money between himself, his ex-wife and the friend with whom he had bought the lottery tickets. Sharing the money eased his conscience. “I can still sleep at night,” he shrugs.
Still, Fry acknowledges that money strained some relationships. Some friends shied away from him after he won, believing his good fortune had changed him. Others got upset that he refused to lend them money or pick up the restaurant tab.
Fry, who moved to Fort Myers Beach in his junior year in high school from Chicago with his parents, had been an entrepreneur his entire adult life. After graduating from the University of Florida with a major in criminology in 1996, he started a pet-sitting business and bought his first house at age 22.
Like many entrepreneurs in Fort Myers, Fry got into real estate. He bought run-down homes and fixed them up, selling them for a profit. “We made good money flipping houses,” he says. “Then the market crashed and I lost everything.”
So when he won the lottery, Fry got another shot at entrepreneurial success. With the real estate market in a funk, Fry found out about a franchise business called BatteriesPlus from a college friend who owned a store in Orlando.
BatteriesPlus stores sell all kinds of batteries, from large ones for cars to tiny ones for cell phones. The stores have benefited from the fact that people are keeping their cars and other big-ticket items longer, so they're replacing parts like batteries more often. “That's a good business during a recession,” Fry reasons. “Our business model is needs based. Customers don't come in to browse.”
Fry bought an existing BatteriesPlus standalone store on U.S. 41 in Fort Myers in March 2009 for $1 million, turning it into the best-performing store in the 350-store chain that year. Now ringing up sales of about $1.7 million a year, the Fort Myers store consistently ranks among the top three stores in the chain, which has now grown to 600 stores, Fry says.
Fry and several investors acquired the franchise rights to three more BatteriesPlus stores for another $1 million, which have since opened in shopping centers in Bonita Springs, Cape Coral and Naples. He expects each of the three newer stores to exceed $1 million in annual sales. “When you look at their numbers, it's a no brainer,” says Fry, who plans to share profits with investors by way of a dividend.
While the success of the BatteriesPlus stores can be attributed to Fry's hands-on management style, he says publicity over his lottery winnings has also helped. Fry marketed his lucky stroke and that generated plenty of coverage from local media when he acquired the first store in Fort Myers.
Home on the range
While the BatteriesPlus stores are successful, Fry says his passion is golf. After he won the lottery, he hired a golf instructor with the hopes of working his way into professional golf. “I played my whole life, but I never knew what I was doing,” he says.
The broad-shouldered Fry played football in Canada as a tight end and even competed in “Strongest Man” competitions. “The money was terrible,” he chuckles.
After a year, Fry realized becoming a professional golfer would be prohibitively expensive. So he acquired a golf driving range with a business partner on Daniels Parkway in Fort Myers for $50,000, leasing the property in April 2010. The range now generates $300,000 in annual revenues. “The range has been great for me,” Fry says. “It was a $50,000 golf membership.”
The Daniels driving range has been so successful that Fry acquired 30 acres on Alico Road near Interstate 75 where he plans to build another driving range as part of a fun park that will include batting cages and bumper boats.
Fry is also busy organizing an annual amateur golf tournament called the Sun Cup. The inaugural event this spring drew 70 players for $10,000 in prizes. “It wasn't a big money maker,” Fry acknowledges, but he's hoping to draw 300 players next year.
The Sun Cup led Fry to dream up another idea: golf-outing management. For $50 a player, Fry plans to organize golf tournaments for groups of friends, charities and corporations. The idea is to set up everything you need for a golf outing, from keeping score to putting sponsorship signs at every hole. “When you know what you're doing, it takes 10 minutes,” Fry says.
Fry is the kind of entrepreneur who continually comes up with new business ideas. “My new thing is car washes,” he says.
For example, Fry is contemplating establishing an auto-detail operation next to his BatteriesPlus store in Fort Myers because he owns the adjacent lot.
A self-described independent, Fry is thinking about one day getting into politics. He's disillusioned with both political parties. “They all work for lobbyists,” he quips.
Fry says he wants to find common ground between Republicans and Democrats and doesn't want to owe anyone. “I'll pay for my own plane tickets,” he grumbles.
Fry says he can't stay still and is always looking for the next opportunity. “I'm over ambitious,” he smiles.
Tips from the Winner
Jason Fry won the Florida Lottery in 2007 and invested the money into successful businesses. Here are some lessons he learned along the way:
•Thoroughly research a business before you jump in. Fry always wanted to own a bar, but he says his research shows it's a risky business. Instead, he says he built a “man cave” at home that satisfies that urge. “You've got to think: Is this going to survive?” he says.
•Stay flexible. You have to adjust your business to what customers want.
•Listen to people. Consider how other entrepreneurs have fared in your industry.
•Be careful with friends, especially when it comes to lending them money.
•Invest conservatively, and don't be greedy. Success won't come overnight but in small steps.
•Family is important. Fry makes time for his children, even when he's most busy.