How I: Ditched my global corporate career to launch a sports facility management business

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As a younger man, John Stock never thought of himself as a small business owner. The jobs he held early in his career didn’t exactly scream “entrepreneur.”

Equipped with a business degree, Stock spent a decade with PricewaterhouseCoopers, then became the acquisition director for Nabisco and chief financial officer for Canada-based Emco Distribution Group, a $1.5 billion corporation. That job led him from Canada to Cary where he became the CEO of Emco Wheaton.

Recreation Factory Partners CEO John Stock is photographed at the Orange County… more

KAITLIN MCKEOWN

“My family and I were certainly becoming accustomed to change and transformation,” he says.

That company ultimately merged with one from the United Kingdom and instead of relocating to the Northeast, Stock took a “generous package” to leave the company, but stay in the Triangle.

“We had three middle- and high-school-aged children and did not want to uproot them again,” he says.

It was a turning point for Stock.

“I suppose the more difficult personal reinventing started then to leave traditional large corporate life to become small business entrepreneurs,” he recalls.

Stock had been part of a group named Ice Ventures, a group that passively invested in the Cary Ice House and believed there existed potential to build a regional sport and recreation entity. So, they then built a Garner facility, acquired three ice rinks in Charlotte and Greensboro, built a new rink in Wilmington, and acquired the business operations of a soccer and in-line facility in Cary.

Then he formed Recreation Factory Partners, which built the flagship operation: The 200,000-square-foot Sports Factory in Wake Forest. At its peak, Recreation Factory Partners and its sister company Ice Ventures had 12 locations and $20 million in annual revenue.

Over the past decade, various groups approached Stock to purchase the facilities not in the Triangle and he sold them off one at a time. Then, New York-based Polar Ice Company acquired the Cary, Garner and Wake Forest facilities.

Separately, but at the same time, the Orange County Sportsplex was being managed by a nonprofit entity, but had average annual losses approaching $1 million. Stock took over that management contract – he had no ownership interest in the facility – and helped turn the Sportsplex into a profitable enterprise. He credits his wife, Brenda Stock, with helping make the Sportsplex profitable.

“When she first joined us to lead the effort to turn the Cary Ice House from a losing operation to one of the most profitable single-sheet ice rinks in the country, she became a permanent fixture in the business,” he says. She was then instrumental in growing the Sports Factory. Although she has no formal business training, Stock says she has some of the “most business common sense of anyone I’ve encountered,” and taught herself skills in finance and accounting. “In truth, she is an amazing story since she has an almost McKinsey-like approach to business – asking continual ‘why’ questions until she understands the root of any issue and then initiates immediate corrective action,” Stock says.

Stock carved out a part of the company set up as purely a management-services business using the staff already in place. This serves as sort of a second turning point, when Recreation Factory Partners built a successful business in managing the types of facilities that it used to own.

Recreation Factory Partners has 90 employees and about the same number of contractors who provide instructor and specialized training services.

The Orange County Sportsplex now has about 5,700 members and generates around $3.7 million in revenue per year. Orange County leaders have plans for a 50,000-square- foot addition to the facility.

The management model has been successful enough that Stock is in discussions to replicate the model in two other markets. Stock, who is 62, is also thinking about a transition, and is in the process of changing the structure from a simple limited liability entity to an S Corp. structure to facilitate added shareholders and succession.

“While I’d like to think I am still vibrant, I am likely in the last chapter of my business career,” he says.

Jason deBruyn covers the biopharmaceutical and health care industries. Follow him on Twitter @TriBizHealth or @jasondebruyn.

http://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/print-edition/2016/02/12/how-i-ditched-my-global-corporate-career-to-launch.html

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