|By DENNE GOLDSTEIN|
Barret Ersek is a 'can do' guy. When he sets his mind to do something, if it is within his power, rest assured it will be done.
When Ersek was 12 years old, he wanted a dirt bike motorcycle, but his dad wouldn’t buy it for him. “My dad told me I could have anything I wanted; I just had to work hard and save my money,” he said. “I was really eager to get a job so I could buy my motorcycle.”
When he was in seventh grade, he applied for a job wherever he could get an interview, but nobody would hire him, because he was too young. He decided to sell candy and soda at school, in between classes. It turned out to be a pretty good business; after paying for the inventory, he was averaging between $50 and $100 a week in profit.
Ersek got his motorcycle, but the teachers shut his business down, saying that he was disruptive in class, selling candy and soda. “My income dried up,” he said. “Now I was really eager to find a job.” One day, on the loudspeaker in school, an announcement was made about a lawn care company looking to hire some kids for a telemarketing job.
He got an interview, but they laughed at him because he was so young. The following week, again he heard the announcement for the same company. Again he went for another interview, and again, he was told that he was too young. “I really want this job and I’m going to keep coming back and at some point, I’m going to be old enough,” said Ersek. “Then you will give me this job.”
“Finally, they said, ‘When you get your working papers, you’ll be old enough to work here’,” said Ersek. “I couldn’t wait to get the job. They were offering $4 per hour when the minimum wage was $3 per hour. I couldn’t believe that they would pay me $4 an hour to sit in an air-conditioned office and just make telephone calls.”
“I went to see the principal and said, ‘Look, you took my livelihood away; I’m going to lose my motorcycle. You’ve got to get me my working papers.’ The principal responded that I was only 12 years old, and I needed to be 16 to get working papers, unless I was able to get a job on a farm. You’re allowed to work on a farm at age 12. I said, ‘Mowing grass is agricultural, so give me the working papers,’” said Ersek. “The next week, I showed up with agricultural working papers. They didn’t know the difference, and gave me the job.”
It was a boiler room telemarketing operation. They gave him a list of names to call, a script, and told him that if he couldn’t get four appointments an hour, not to come back the following day. “I also noticed that the men were separated from the gals, and the gals seemed to generate more leads. I saw that people didn’t hang up on the girls,” he said. “I was 12 years old and my voice hadn’t changed yet, so I became Kimberly Ann and I had a southern accent. I got more appointments than anyone that night.”
Ersek loved working there; he went to school during the day and worked every evening and on Saturdays. He was making a lot of money and already owned three motorcycles. At the age of 16, he kept bugging the manager to let him go out and make sales calls. To make a long story a little shorter, Ersek became one of the top sales guys in his region, earning $20,000 at a part-time job by the time he was 17.
He had been with this company for five years and one day he realized that he was as far as he would get in this company. He decided to go into business for himself while in high school; he graduated in 1990.
The business was going to be a part-time long care service while he was going to college. His father had a Ph.D in education and his siblings all have master’s degrees, but after sitting in a classroom for about three weeks, Ersek couldn’t stand it. He wanted to work his business, so he quit school. He was 18.
A year later, his high school sweetheart became pregnant, so they decided to get married. “Which was really a wonderful thing,” said Ersek. “It forced me to get serious about the business. It worked out okay; I’m still married, 20 years later.”
He was a happy camper. At the age of 29, Ersek’s lawn care business was doing more than $2 million in revenue, and the company was making lots of money. “I had a nice lifestyle, a nice house, and we were really quite happy.”
“Scotts kept calling me, wanting to buy my company, and I kept saying ‘no’; I liked what I was doing. They kept giving me new and crazy numbers. Eventually, in 2003, I couldn’t say no.”
He sold but he was not happy. Sure, he had $3 million in the bank, but he needed something to do. He had signed a covenant not to compete, so he couldn’t work in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, where his business was based. However, Baltimore, Maryland, was far enough away so as not to compete.
Ersek started his new company in January 2004, in a snowstorm. He went to Iowa, hired a 100-seat call center and rented an apartment; he would sit with the telemarketers and work with them. “I went to Iowa to sell lawn service in Baltimore,” he explained.
By the end of the first year, he had 5,000 accounts and in a period of four years, his volume jumped to more than $10 million. “My vision was to create a $30 million lawn care company in the Mid-Atlantic region, but then things changed.”
“The ‘do-not-call’ list came into play, so my telemarketing virtually disappeared,” said Ersek. “Then the price of fertilizer went up 60 percent one year. So I bought a half year’s worth and stockpiled it. The building caught on fire and burned to the ground.” Not only did he have a big financial loss, but getting material was a major problem.
Ersek continues, “I ran into this crazy scientist who had this organic fertilizer and out of desperation, I started using the material. I didn’t expect it to work, but it was better than just putting down water. I thought in a month or two, I would be able to get fertilizer and go back to those customers and make an application.”
The results, according to Ersek, were tremendous. “I was blown away when I saw the results,” he said. “I could see the agronomical advantages. I couldn’t believe that this product had not already hit the world.”
Sometimes, from your greatest adversity comes your greatest opportunity.
Ersek had an epiphany about what he could do with this product. At the same time, TruGreen began calling, wanting to buy his company. He decided to sell it and devote all his energies to this new product.
In 2010, Ersek sold his lawn care company and formed a new company called Holganix. So what is the product that Holganix markets? It’s not an organic fertilizer, exactly. “People lump us in with organic fertilizers, but Holganix has a 0-0-0 analysis; there’s no fertilizer in our product. Our philosophy is to build a thriving, robust microbiological ecosystem with the right balance of beneficial bacteria and beneficial fungi,” said Ersek. “That food web will do a lot to feed the plant naturally.”
Holganix is off to a good start. The results are astounding and being ‘green’ positions his company for strong, healthy growth.
The success of any company depends on its founder and his passion and commitment. He can then inculcate this culture to his management to ensure the company’s continued growth. is the epitome of that ethic. He loves whatever he is doing, and because it’s not work, but fun, he is living life to the fullest, and enjoying every minute.