Steve Grubbs, 47, started his career in politics, before parlaying his campaign experience into a business in 1997. Victory Enterprises, based in Davenport, Iowa, provides consulting, website design, and other services to companies and political candidates. Because elections come around only every couple of years—he launched a second venture, VictoryStore.com, in 1999. The site sells more than 500 kinds of customizable products, including high school banners, pizza boxes, 4-foot-tall greeting cards, and political signs. Grubbs's two companies have revenue of about $22 million and 90 employees, many of whom are friends and family members.
I get a half-caf coffee and spend an hour at my almost-reserved corner table, writing e-mails on my laptop. I'm referred to around here as Starbucks Steve. I feel like I can concentrate better at Starbucks. At the office, I'm tempted to go check on things and talk to people.
The building used to be my elementary school in the '70s. I bought it for $105,000 when the school district put it up for auction 10 years ago. I was emotionally attached to the building. Plus, it's close to the airport, which is important for shipping our products.
I check in with my assistant, Betty Fogle, who is 78 years old. She was my Sunday-school teacher when I was a kid. She is loyal and sweet. She handles all my scheduling. She usually texts me reminders about what I need to be doing. I like hiring people I know.
One of the first things I do at the office is a 20-minute walk-through of the production facility, where we make most of the products for VictoryStore.com. Part of it is inside my old fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms, and the rest is in a couple of new buildings I had constructed next to the school. There's about $1 million worth of production equipment here—from a $500 screen-printing machine to a $300,000 digital printer for giant banners.
I check to see what orders are coming in. Walking around is how I learn what's really happening in my company, what's working and what's not. It can take a long time for an issue to work its way up a company, but if I'm saying hi and asking people how they're doing, they volunteer the information I need to know.
Several new ideas pop into my head every day, and I have to fight them off, because at some point the business risks losing focus. With every new idea, I ask myself: Can this be profitable? Is anyone else doing it? Does it fit within our scope of products and services? Is it a potentially big market? Our newest product line is custom iPhone cases. Corporations are switching from BlackBerrys to iPhones, so it struck me that they'll want branded cases for their employees.
About 60 percent of our business comes from political clients, so our revenue is much higher in even years. My staff and I provide local and national candidates with strategic direction and polling services. We also handle advertising, social networking, and marketing, and we build campaign websites and apps.
As a business owner, I get lots of free stuff—sports tickets, theater tickets, gift baskets. At most places, these perks get handed out to whoever's lucky enough to be walking past the boss's office at the right time. I want those incentives to go to the employees who want them the most, so I created an internal auction site five years ago. Employees bid on what they want, using points they earn from their managers.
One of the few changes I made to the school was raising the basketball hoops in the gym to regulation height. Twice a week, I play basketball with friends after work. I supply the jerseys and towels. I do more laundry at the office than I do at home.