The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is interviewing the four finalists for the honor of Distinguished Entrepreneur for 2015. Learn more about each finalist, and get some entrepreneurial advice and inspiration, by reading the two posts dedicated to each before the big awards day on May 19, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Estero. You can register for the event by clicking here. https://clients.floridasbdc.org/workshop.aspx?ekey=900350028
Profile written by Jacqueline Aaron, The Wordsmith Company
Entrepreneur: Christopher T. Spiro
- Business: Spiro & Associates Marketing, Advertising & Public Relations; full-service marketing agency
- Year founded: 1988
- Location: Fort Myers, Florida
- Number of employees: 11 full time and four part-time employees
What inspired you to start an advertising agency? “I was destined to be a printer. I have printer’s ink in my blood. I’m a third-generation lithographer. My father was a printer, my grandfather was a printer, and my great grandfather was a printer.” Spiro adds that working at printers got him through college, and that he knows how to run a printing press. However, he was always more attracted to the creative versus the production side of the printing business.
Spiro says that he started his own agency out of necessity. He had been working as a graphic designer at a Fort Myers advertising agency, but when the agency lost their only “anchor,” or large account, he lost his job at a time when there weren’t many jobs available. This was the impetus for him to start The Spiro Group, his business’ name at the time, in 1988.
His entrepreneurial spirit had been cultivated early in life as the second of four children vying for attention in the context of a broken home. One truth he learned early in life is that “no one is going to do it for you, and if you want it done your way, do it yourself,” he says.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it? “The recent downturn in the economy. It about put me out of business.” He explains the sequence of news he received within a three-week period during the recession.
Week one: A process server walked into his office three different times in one day for his signature. It turns out a former client, a developer, had enacted their right to the “clawback principle,” a law allowing them to recall 100 percent of money spent 90 days prior to filing for bankruptcy. They had spent more than $541,000 with Spiro’s agency, and were suing him to recall that money. “I was totally blindsighted [by this].”
Week two: He received notice that his former landlord was suing him for $280,000, rent that they deemed “remaining.” Spiro explains that in 2007, at the start of the economic downturn, he had negotiated a reduced rent for his office space in Fort Myers. His understanding was that the difference in the negotiated price had been forgiven.
Week three: One of his banks called his line of credit, making $221,000 due immediately. Simultaneously, three lines of credit totaling $775,000 that he had taken out in 1987 when starting his business were frozen. His credit card companies also called to request immediate payment of $60,000 – $70,000 of debt.
His response was to surround himself with brilliant people. “I pulled in my attorney, CPA, wife, business partner — and we talked about it. We discussed bankruptcy and alternatives.” Spiro ultimately met with each of his creditors and structured different deals with each of them. “I never missed a payroll or tax payment — I’m very proud of that.”
“We were relentless. We persevered because we had nowhere to go. There were no jobs in this economy.” As if to emphasize the point, he flashes a silver bracelet his wife gave to him with the word “relentless” engraved into it.
What one thing would you say was instrumental to your success over the years? “Our creative. Our ideas. It’s what sets us apart…An agency is an agency is an agency…Hands-down the idea is what wins.”
*Profile post have been randomly selected based on the date received. Stay-tuned to read more about the other final four finalist and their stories.