Planning for the future is top strategy for local businesses

By Mark Singletary

Ask many, if not most, small business owners about future plans and it will normally include plans to grow the business to multiple locations. Two businesses that started in Gainesville have done just that. Retech, a local electronics repair company, and Darr Schackow Insurance, a full service insurance agency, are fulfilling those dreams.

Retech opened its first location in Gainesville’s Butler Plaza Shopping Center in 2010. According to Barrett Daniel, the company marketing coordinator, there was a growing need for a place for consumers to get their cell phones repaired.

“Everyone has a cell phone,” Daniel says, and the company decided to locate a retail store close to where there is lots of shopping and the service could be convenient and quick.

“Being in an area where it’s easy to get to, near a big shopping area was essential,” Barrett added.

The demand for on-site cell phone repair was significant and soon the Retech was repairing phones, computers, tablets and headphones.

The marketing was simple: convince consumers that they could drop off their equipment, go shopping for a bit and then stop back in and pick up the repaired electronics. Clearly, the concept worked and now the company has expanded to three other markets.

Expanding regionally to Ocala and Jacksonville has allowed the company to add three more locations and expand to a regional footprint. The expansion plans came naturally to the owners because they had done it before.

Rhino Video Games was a video game retailer headquartered in Gainesville before being sold to GameStop in 2007. Rhino operated more than 90 games stores that carried classic games as well as newer products in 15 states from 1989 to 2007.

The first Rhino store was opened in 1989 in Ocala. Founder Mike Vorce, with the help of Bruce Ruckle, created a specialty video game store focused on buying, selling, trading, and renting video game software, systems, and accessories. By 1992, a second location was opened in Gainesville, which would become a flagship store and eventually the site for the company’s corporate headquarters and distribution center.

Retech now has 50 employees, 20 of them working in the Gainesville location.

Darr Schackow Insurance is the result of the merger of two local companies that decided to join forces and build a larger regional footprint.

Darr Insurance Agency and Schackow Insurance Agency combined resources in 2007 and emerged as a stronger player in the competitive insurance market.

According to the company’s website, John Darr, Sr. and Ray Schackow entered the insurance business in 1992 as Nationwide agents in the Gainesville regional office. They were at separate agencies but always shared a common space. In 1993, John’s son John, Jr. (Johnny) joined his father. The father-son agents were committed to creating lifetime relationships with their customers and providing quality customer service. As a result, the agency grew significantly. In 2007, John Darr, Sr. retired and sold the agency to his son, Johnny, and son-in-law Richard Rowell.

In the same building, Ray Schackow had his agency. In late 2007, Darr and Schackow, after 16 years of sharing space, decided to merge. Darr, Schackow and Rowell still own the combined agency.

In 2008, soon after the merger, the firm expanded to Leesburg when an existing agency owner decided to retire. Darr Schackow purchased the Leesburg location and the expansion started.

“We like to keep the people that are there,” John Darr says. “We don’t get rid of folks; they have existing relationships,’ he adds.

Using the footprint of an established business gives the insurance agents a base of clients to work with and build on, with some support from the Gainesville office, but most of the work takes place where the policies are written.

As the Leesburg office grew and a regional presence was being developed, one employee, Melissa Dukes, was commuting every day from Winter Haven to the Leesburg office. That scenario led Darr Schackow to explore the possibility of opening a third location and soon the Winter Haven office was up and running.

Although the Winter Haven office gets some support from Leesburg and Gainesville, it too is primarily a standalone office.

“Melissa primarily writes personal lines, homeowners, auto and life policies. So when there is a commercial policy to quote she gets support from Leesburg,” Darr adds. “But, primarily she runs a one woman show in Winter Haven.”

The latest expansion was in Milton, where the agency purchased another shop from a retiring owner. Once again, Darr is convinced that setting works far better than trying to enter a new market and starting from scratch.

“It’s still about people and the relationships,” he adds.

When asked about future plans, Darr stated that there were no plans in place for more acquisitions or new launches.

He did talk about the changing nature of the insurance business, however.

“Twenty years ago, it was sitting at the kitchen table, then they started coming into the office, then the phone, then email and now it’s social media,” Darr says.

But, he also added that even though the initial contact methods have changed, the customers still want to talk to a professional about their insurance policies. “The contact might be through a Facebook page or a text message, but customers still have questions to ask about their insurance needs,” Darr says.

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