Blue collar entrepreneurs

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Blue collar entrepreneurs

These five entrepreneurs took their blue collar experience and used it to launch innovative businesses.

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blue collar entrepreneurs zach green
Zach Green with his glow-in-the-dark tape

Five years ago, volunteer firefighter Zach Green was struck by how easy it was to become disoriented in the dark and by heavy smoke.

"Later that night I watched a special report about the World Trade Center and it mentioned how photoluminescent technology in the stairwells helped people get out," he said.

So the Cincinnati firefighter developed a prototype for a glow-in-the-dark silicone stretchable band to put around a helmet.

It worked so well that Green realized he was on to something. He spent the next six months making the bands and pitched them at fire stations around the city.

"I made $5,000 basically selling the bands myself," he said. In 2010, Green launched his company MN8 FoxFire.

Over the next two years, he refinanced his house, maxed out credit cards and raised $1.5 million in venture capital.

Today, he said his heat-resistant safety bands are being used by more than 60,000 firefighters nationwide and overseas. He plans to expand it for stadiums, buildings and schools around the world.

blue collar entrepreneur jeremiah
Jeremiah Graham says he's a "young man in an old man's industry."

Last year, Graham, 33, was declared "Rookie of the Year" by auto body repair franchise CARSTAR. He opened his own location in Oklahoma City just two years ago.

His success isn't beginner's luck. He chalks it up to 15 years working his way up from the bottom.

"I was waiting tables at two restaurants in Oklahoma City and I didn't have a clue about my future," he said. But at 18, he landed an entry level job at a local auto body shop. At 25, he became general manager.

He bought the business from the owner in 2013 and converted it into Oklahoma's first CARSTAR location (there are 410 locations in the U.S. and Canada).

"My blue collar roots have taught me to work hard and be persistent," he said. It's also taught him to be a savvy businessman, earning him another accolade in 2014: CARSTAR marketer of the year.

These five entrepreneurs took their blue collar experience and used it to launch innovative businesses.

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blue collar entrepreneurs selvin young

Selvin Young was a running back for the Denver Broncos in 2007-2008. But injury cut his professional football career short, forcing him to retire early.

He thought about two things -- a desire to start his own business and how much he used to enjoy working on projects with his father, a sheet metal mechanic.

Young opened a BBQ restaurant in 2009 in Houston.

"I needed a way to get more business when traffic was slow," he said. So he bought a food truck, customized it, and took his menu on the road.

He sold the restaurant and truck three years later. "But it was the truck that sold for double the cost," he said. "It's when the light bulb went off."

Young and his dad launched Custom Food Truck Builders in Houston in 2013. Young said he's hands-on with each truck, doing the plumbing, wiring, tubing and welding himself.

He's already built 28 trucks and trailers, selling each for about $50,000 -- double their cost.

"The demand is pretty high, and we're getting requests from all over the U.S. and from Japan, Taiwan and Dubai," he said.

blue collar entrepreneurs scott bennett
After bartending for 25 years and being "knocked around" in factory jobs before that, Scott Bennett was ready to work for himself.

He just needed the right concept. "All I knew was that it would have to be in the restaurant business because that's what I really enjoyed," he said.

Inspiration struck when Bennett and his wife, Arianne, visited Amsterdam in 2002.

They both fell in love with the city and the falafel shops there.

Convinced that D.C.'s trendy neighborhoods were in need of such a shop, Bennett got the ball rolling.

He wrote a business plan, secured a small business loan, used $50,000 of his own money, and tapped family and friends to raise $375,000 in startup capital.

Amsterdam FalafelShop opened in 2004 in Adams Morgan. Bennett quickly franchised the business: There are four other locations on the East Coast and another four set to open this year.

blue collar entrepreneurs ron holt
Blue-collar work was pretty much all that Ron Holt was exposed to as a child.

"My mother worked in a paper mill and my father dug ditches with the local city government in Colquitt, Georgia," said Holt.

But Holt aspired to work for himself. In college, he did a variety of hands-on jobs -- scooping chemicals from tractor trailers and working on a paper mill floor.

After landing a lab job in Atlanta, he still still took odd jobs to save money.

When he'd saved $120,000, he quit his job, sold his house and moved to Pensacola, Fla., In 2003, Holt started a cleaning business called Two Maids & A Mop.

"I became a housekeeper and cleaned nasty toilets and streaky floors one day at a time," said Holt. After six months, he introduced a "pay for performance plan."

"This was our secret sauce," said Holt. "I asked customers to rate us from 1 to 10 and that would determine the employee's compensation."

The idea took off. "Customers loved the idea and it motivated the employees," he said. "Our growth was ridiculous after that."

Last year, the business generated $6 million in sales and employs 175 people across seven states.


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