Boots to Business Play It Again Sports Thriving Under Messina’s Ownership 1/14/19 01/14/19 10:40:23 AM
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Owner Richard Messina poses for a photograph at the front of his store, Play It Again Sports, just off 84th and Center Streets in Omaha. Messina is a retired veteran that revived the franchise in Omaha four years ago after several local Play It Again Sports locations closed. (Photo by Antone Oseka)
Boots to Business
Play It Again Sports Thriving Under Messina’s Ownership
By Andy Roberts
The Daily Record
The warm, cozy office in the back of the Play It Again Sports store off 84th and Center tells you a lot about the man who owns the place.
You can figure out he’s been to dozens of countries from the collection
of flags on one shelf. The collection
of Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics and Patriots memorabilia provide a strong hint of his New England roots.
You’ll also see some items linked to his military service, because, in addition to a world traveler and a sports fan, Richard Messina is an Air Force veteran.
His transition to an entrepreneur
came about, in part, through the Boots to Business program, a national initiative of the Defense Department’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) which partners with Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and the Small Business Administration. But more about Messina.
He grew up north of Boston and went to school in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. At the age of 17 he went to the University of New Mexico where he enrolled in Air Force ROTC. Graduating in 1991, he went on active duty the following year and spent 22 years serving our country. In 2010 Messina and his family moved to Offutt Air Force Base for his final assignment.
He refers to his service career as “a great adventure,” and recounts having learned a lot of leadership and management skills that aided his transition to civilian life.
His wife, Cyndi, had served some years as an Air Force nurse during his two-plus decades. “Always excited
about travel,” the couple and their three children did a lot during his Air Force days and they still do.
“I had a great career ... we actually
moved here from a NATO assignment
in Norway,” Messina said. Having moved up in rank, he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, originally planning on a second career as an airline pilot. “It was the logical progression
... all my peers were getting hired.”
However, he always had wanted to be his own boss and that desire won out. Messina opened the Play It Again Sports store in 2014 after finding an opportunity to buy a franchise.
“And work twice as much for half the pay,” he laughed.
Messina recalled putting in about 80 to 100 hours a week the first year while launching the business with about five days off.
As someone who always had beena big sports fan – he played baseball, basketball, soccer and lacrosse and now enjoys hockey, golf and snowboarding
– it was the right move.
“It was a good fit,” he said. It also made sense as he found himself with a garage full of sports equipment and felt sure there were others in the same situation.
TAP’s Boots to Business class is a two-day curriculum that examines the basics of founding and funding a business plus other legal aspects of forming a company and removing obstacles to success.
“Or how to avoid them along the way,” Messina said. The experience also helped him secure an SBA loan.
Messina now volunteers and mentors for SCORE, which hosted a two-night “entrepreneurship” workshop
while he was going through Boots to Business. He fondly remembers
“It gave me not only the bigger picture, but some of the details I needed to consider going into business,”
Messina said. “The advice has proven beneficial ... so now I try to pass on what I’ve learned.”
That is in addition to running a successful retail sporting goods operation.
He’s four years in and it’s going well.
“We paid off our loan,” he said. “We’re growing every year.”
The same can’t be said of other sporting goods stores in a highly competitive market, and he listed a number in the metro area that have closed in recent years.
Play It Again Sports stocks about 40 percent used equipment and 60 percent new product these days. It was roughly the opposite when he opened the doors.
“It’s always easy to order more new (product),” Messina said, pointing
out he never knows what sorts of goods may come through the door.
Play It Again Sports does keep a wish list for customers seeking items and uses the majority of their marketing budget to encourage people
to come sell their gently-used equipment.
“That’s the lifeblood of our business,”
he said. Another big part is giving back to the community by sponsoring teams: “It’s a big part of what we do.”
The biggest sellers are baseball and softball equipment, fitness gear, hockey equipment and golf.
He’s the biggest supplier of hockey gear in the area, with skates priced from $15 to $950 a pair, but check out Play It Again Sports for any area of athletic competition.
“What sets us apart is we have brand new and quality used gear; both entry priced-point and high-end gear,” Messina said. The shop also gets close-out gear – last year’s model they can also sell at a great price.
Messina seems to love being his own boss as a business owner and commented on how it’s his team that makes it all work.
Play It Again Sports provides equipment to young people and adults at an affordable price, which allows many who otherwise wouldn’t be able to compete the opportunity
to participate in the pursuit of their dreams. Along the way he has developed some great relationships
with players, parents and coaches. “That’s exciting.”
Such relationships are reflected by the manner in which he runs the business. Messina said he always seeks to operate with integrity and as such is a trustee for the Omaha Business Ethics Alliance – the only such organization in the nation.
“Integrity, service above self, and excellence in all you do,” he said, are the core values he learned in the Air Force. “I obviously try to apply those values in my life and business ... there are a lot of things we do that are not in the interest of the bottom dollar, but the right thing to do for our customers and community.”
That does provide good deals to Play It Again Sports customers. So does the policy for buying used gear.
“We’re the only place the customer
can create their own discount by trading in equipment that’s no longer
being used for something brand new,” he said.
Messina pointed out he has three options for people who want to get rid of their used gear. They can sell it for cash, trade it in for 20 to 30 percent more in-store credit, or sell on consignment.
“All three of these are win-win,” he said. “That model works very well.”