Our guest speaker in Midwest Entrepreneurs class Thursday 28 March 2013 was Mr. Alex Melvin ‘05, President of Rural King (a family-owned, Mattoon, IL-based chain of nearly 70 retail “farm stores” doing business mainly in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio). The company’s webpage can be found at: http://www.ruralking.com/.
Key themes that emerge from Mr. Melvin’s presentation include (1) You Can Do This Too, and (2) Business As it Can and Should Be.
You Can Do This Too
Alex Melvin graduated from Monmouth College in 2005 with a degree in Business Administration. He informed Midwest Entrepreneurs class students and guests that when he came here, he came in with a very low ACT score (relative to other incoming freshman). Further, he also told us that, during his time here as a student, he was not one of the “best and brightest” students in his classes.
Today, Mr. Melvin is the President of a rapidly growing chain of highly successful retail stores poised for even further growth in the future (e.g., seven new stores were added in 2012; eight new stores will be added in 2013; by 2016, plans are for the chain to consist of 100 stores with sales in excess of $1 billion).
Not bad for what many might be tempted to refer to as a “less than average student.”
Mr. Melvin’s message to the students in attendance was clear: You too can achieve what I have achieved. Alternatively: Being the best student in class does not necessarily translate into post-college success.
The extraordinary entrepreneurial success of Alex Melvin can be attributed to (1) learning the family business inside and out, (2) uncanny business sense (in terms, for example, of cost control and profit-and-loss issues), (3) an extraordinarily strong work ethic, and (4) unrelenting determination. It is my sincere hope to see as many as possible of our current students take a similar approach to their careers—entrepreneurial or not—and experience similar success after their graduations.
Business As it Can and Should Be
Earlier in the semester, the title—and primary theme—of my class blog entry for local entrepreneur John Twomey was “What Entrepreneurism Can and Should Be.” There are many parallels between the presentations and businesses of Mr. Twomey and Alex Melvin; although Melvin’s Rural King is more like what most people think of when they think of “business” in general due to Melvin’s current focus on short-term and long-term company growth.
The greatest similarity between the two entrepreneurs and their entrepreneurial ventures is that they do things right; both in a standard business sense and ethically. This realization came to me as Alex Melvin discussed the growth of Rural King under his father’s direction. Starting in 1978, Alex’s father grew the business from 3 to 40 stores. The primary reason cited for this growth was twofold: (1) the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s, and (2) the fact that the tax savings experienced by Rural King were invested back into the family business. This is nearly word-for-word what John Twomey cited as the driving factor behind his family business’ most significant period of growth when he spoke to the class!
My point here is this… Bear with me; this will be long-winded…
When these two family businesses had significantly enhanced profitability—resulting from the tax savings coming their ways via the Reagan tax cuts—what did they do with it? Did, they, for example, keep the profits for themselves? Did they say “we have made our money, now let’s lay some people off”? Did they take the profits and hire lobbyists to structure laws and regulations in their favor (and, perhaps, to the detriment of their customers)?
NO!!! They invested the money—all of it—back into the family businesses.
The Melvin and Twomey family businesses are not the businesses we hear about in media reports of “corporate greed” and varied other sordid scandal. These entrepreneurial businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them are truly what business can be should be (and that is what Midwest Entrepreneurs class is all about).
With Alex Melvin and Rural King, we have a keen focus on growth but not growth with the negative externalities too often associated with it. Yes, Rural King is focused on growth but Alex Melvin knows that long-term growth is predicated significantly on doing things right; both in a standard business sense (e.g., controlling costs and increasing both sales and the profitability of sales) and ethically (e.g., satisfying customers and being a good community citizen).
With regard to the ethical side of doing things right, consider this… While Alex Melvin is fiercely competitive and his company is expanding rapidly, he noted in class that Rural King chooses not to compete head-to-head with rival Farm King (a chain of similar retail stores based in and around Macomb in West Central Illinois). In fact, when one looks at a map of the locations of Rural King stores, West Central Illinois is the one part of the state where there are essentially no stores (see: http://www.ruralking.com/store-locator/). This avoidance of competition is not fear-based; I get the impression that Alex Melvin fears no competitor. Instead, it is based on the fact that the Melvin family respects the family that runs Farm King and realizes that there is no need for anything akin to “complete market dominance.”
I would like to write more about Alex Melvin and Rural King but I am off for Easter vacation (and family is waiting for me to join them).
Back next week… Until then…