Baldwin Wallace University
Storytelling brings home messages and lessons that bullet-pointed lectures often fail at doing. As author Margot Leitman noted in Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You’ll Ever Need, “good stories are universal” and they “make people root for you.” And rooting for the underdog in sports is an American pastime. As a professor of sports management at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, Charles Campisi regales local sports stories to inspire his students. He shared one of his favorite change of life stories with 1790: "Shifting Gears—Bradley Copley & Boss Pro Karting."
Down-sized in a corporate reshuffling in Oct. 2014, Bradley Copley said he was “shook out of my routine” and “not miserable but lost.” However, during this period of “soul-searching,” Copley had an inkling of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, but the key for him was making sure his immediate and extended families were, shall we say, on the same track.
At Thanksgiving, he approached his cousin, three-time World Karting Association Champion Lee Boss, and asked if he wanted to open an indoor karting facility. Boss agreed it was something he would like to pursue and Copley, with consent from his family, was on his way to assembling the business the plan for Boss Pro Karting much like he helped assemble Boss’s engines during their youth.
Karting had been a part of the Boss/Copley family, and Copley viewed this as a way to create a family business and allow fathers and mothers to work with sons and daughters and cousins to work with aunts and uncles. "Part of it was, I wanted to create a true family business," said Copley.
While Copley spent 25 years working at the Modern Tool and Die Company (MTD), karting was never far from his mind. A trip to Hungary in 2002 was something Copley always remembered. He shared his experience of walking into an indoor karting track that had a restaurant, bar, and two tracks. In addition to the massive space, the clientele was dedicated and enamored with karting.
"Guys were coming in with their racing suits on," said Copley. "I couldn't believe it. One guy came in with two guys as his pit crew, one of which had a laptop to chart everything. It was amazing."
From that point on, Copley made it a point to visit an indoor karting track wherever he traveled domestically or abroad. These experiences helped him as he began to lay the foundation for what would become Boss Pro Karting. However, while these visits helped Copley develop the design, look, layout, and set-up of his facility, detailing the financials was another matter.
Copley believed the financing would be one of the most challenging parts of launching the venture, but his background in business, understanding of racing, and willingness to reach out to small business owners in different markets (geographic and industry) paid dividends for him. He contacted various Cleveland-area business owners, including Skyzone, an indoor trampoline park, and Ray’s MTB, an indoor mountain bike park, along with kart track operators in cities across the U.S., most notably Denver and Boston.
"It was amazing how much people were willing to share with us," Copley exclaimed. "I mean, people showed us their books."
This wasn't a one-way street for Copley either. After one business owner told him to double his costs and shrink his sales projections by half before looking at his business plan, Copley thought long and hard before showing the business owner his concept. Upon seeing the plan, the business owner told Copley he thought the projected costs might be too high.
It was a moment of happiness for Copley.“I thought our finances were pretty well buttoned up,” he said, “but that was the moment I knew we were solid.”
As the financing came into place, with three of the nine banks they pitched willing to provide resources for Boss Pro Karting, Copley thought the hard part had been accomplished. He was wrong.
Copley explained, "Man, I really thought the financing would be the hard part, and the building would be the easy part. There are so many buildings in Northeast Ohio that are available, but we toured buildings for months."
In addition to the available buildings, several of Copley’s family and extended family members had experience in various aspects of the construction business, further leading to his assumption of ease of accomplishment. However, it wasn’t only the building that went into the process, but it was the old real estate adage of “location, location, location.” Copley wanted, and the market research dictated, the building needed to be at the nexus of Interstate Highways 71, 77, and 480 near Cleveland and no more than two turns off the highway. This high-traffic corridor was an ideal location, but a key feature was missing: A large enough building to house the Copley facilities.
In the end, Copley and his partners signed a long-term lease with a building partner and constructed the facility almost directly at the Highway 71/480 intersection and a few miles from Highway 77. The construction wasn’t something he wanted to do initially, but it did afford him the opportunity to build various aspects that help Boss Pro Karting attract corporate and other events.
With the location complete and the financing secure, Boss Pro Karting opened in August 2016, and a whole new challenge faced Copley and his partners: getting customers.
“We aim for a solid mix of corporate customers and individual customers,” said Copley, whose facility features a large dividable corporate meetings space for 120, free wifi, projector access for presentations, a private boardroom, and a birthday party room.
Balancing the various events and "arrive and drive" customers is a constant challenge for Copley. "We want to have as many events as we can, as that is a notable revenue stream," he said, "but when we have a corporate event, we have to turn people who want to drive away. That's not ideal for business."
The arrive and drive crowd is essential for Copley, as it's these daily drivers that support the organization when corporate events aren't happening and provide great word of mouth advertising, but the amenities Boss Pro Karting offers corporate partners is too enticing for many companies to pass up.
Along with unique meeting rooms, projectors, wifi, and racing, Boss Pro Karting provides team building and individual profiling/behavior analytics into its evaluation of the drivers. With the aim of helping organizations recognize the strengths and weaknesses that appear when racing their karts, Copley hopes to the business increase their performances in their business.
“We provide a wide array of behavioral assessments based on how drivers race and how those behaviors may impact their performance in their work role. We also try to help people build confidence by providing group and individual race instruction to the drivers,” said Copley.
He even explained how one driver shaved nearly 30 seconds per lap off of their time after the instruction period and left the facility “beaming,” after feeling timid and looking afraid during their first race.
Copley is well aware of the challenges Boss Pro Karting is facing (keeping customers happy, staffing, scheduling, employee pay, etc.) as they move into the next phase of their organizational development, growth. “A second location would be the natural path, but we’ve also discussed some other options like franchising or consulting,” said Copley. “We’ll be having some discussions over the next few months to see which options we want to pursue.”
Regardless of what the future holds for Copley and Boss Pro Karting, one thing is for sure; it's been a hell of a ride.
Other Comments from Bradley Copley:
What would tell his younger self?: "Spend more time on building relationships. I always got the job done and thought that was enough for a long time. I realize now developing those relationships is key to success."
What he would tell other potential entrepreneurs: “Plan, plan, plan, and then plan again. But, just fuckin’ do it. You gotta get out there and jump into it, but having a plan is important, as well.”
Would he have been as successful if he did this earlier in his career: “I think it would have been successful, but we would have been like everyone else. It would have solely been about the racing and not about the whole experience.”