How did Firehouse Guitars/GearTree.com come to fruition?
My business partner, Matthew Chilvers and I were in a band together in our early 20s. Matthew started his own business in the music industry making transit cases to hold amplifiers; I went to college and got my degree in chemistry, which teaches you problem solving (and that’s what business is all about).
Working in research development for Sherwin-Williams and Amway for eight years, I found that the comic strip “Dilbert” was much too closely resembling my reality. So after Matthew sold his business, he was ready to move onto a new venture, as I was. In October of ’97, we did a market analysis and felt there was room for another music store in Grand Rapids. We decided we were going to go for it: In six weeks, we went from nothing to the reality of having a retail store.
How did you approach taking your business from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce?
We began GearTree.com (Firehouse Guitars’ online marketplace) in 2005. It required an entirely new staff. My brother, Matt, had been managing our Holland store for five years; he was one of the main people we brought onto the e-com side. We’ve been moving harder and harder toward that side of things ever since.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome as a small business owner?
Getting the right people on the team and the chemistry among your employees is an initial hurdle. The old adage of ‘a bad apple can ruin the bunch’ is the truth. You want people who enjoy working together, and I’m so happy with my team right now. We truly have a team atmosphere.
What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
It’s not one single thing, it’s the diversity of what I get to do. And that’s what drove me crazy about the jobs that I had with big businesses, doing the same thing all the time.
What policy issue is most concerning to you?
The hurdle I’m most anxious about is Internet taxation. You never know what the government’s going to decide is the best way to handle things.
Why did you choose to become an NFIB member?
My ideals line up with NFIB’s ideals: The freedom to own a business and operate it as you see fit, which means as few government entanglements as possible. To let competition drive the market instead of regulation and quotas are important factors to keep Michigan and the U.S. competitive.