Name: Robert Shay Number of companies founded: Three Why the big appetite: Need to start over after a split with a partner
Bob Shay didn't exactly plan to become an entrepreneur three times over, but events forced his hand.
In 1982, Shay started Rightfit Sports Inc., a ski boot retailer, and in 1989 followed up with Alpine International, a company that manufactured and marketed battery-operated heaters for boots called Winter Heat. In 1988, Shay had taken on a partner, Lee Findell, who bought a 50% share in Rightfit. Together the two men built up revenues of $9 million and opened 14 Rightfit stores. But in 1994 the partnership dissolved. Shay sold Findell his share of Rightfit but retained ownership of Alpine International, which he renamed Winter Heat LLC after the product, as well as two former Rightfit stores in Utah, which he renamed Surefoot. For two years Shay did business in only those two stores, thanks to a noncompete agreement he had signed as part of the sale.
"My big worry was that I'd just have a mediocre business," says Shay. While he was toughing it out, Rightfit entered bankruptcy proceedings. Because that made the noncompete agreement effectively obsolete, Shay was back in the game. "I hocked everything I had and didn't take a salary for a year and a half," he says, "and I started one Surefoot store at a time."
Today Surefoot (#306 on the 2000 Inc. 500), based in Park City, Utah, has 24 stores and is projecting revenues of almost $13 million for this year. And Shay, 43, says he's learned a hard lesson about sizing up potential partners. "Now I wouldn't even look at you as a person. I would look at you as a business deal," he says. He has come to rely on his brother Russell, 35, who is Surefoot's vice president and second in command. Together they retain 80% ownership of Surefoot.