In 1977, Don Baldwin, a local Reno grocer and owner of Warehouse Markets, had only one task to offer the two eager brothers asking for jobs: “Retrieve my shopping carts.” The young men, both of whom were still in high school, accepted. Between classes and football practice, they began not only retrieving shopping carts with their grandfather’s borrowed truck, but over time also started repairing them, cleaning them, and putting pride into their job. Twenty-four years later, they have expanded throughout the western United States, have more than 250 people on the payroll, and earn annual revenues exceeding $10 million. Furthermore, they have implemented a national rollout to be accomplished over the next 24 months.
Their regional company, RetailOne, a dba of Alliance Retail Services, Inc., has an impressive client list and eight equipment service centers located in the West. The firm’s Web site, retailone.com, offers previously-owned equipment and related services to an international customer base.
RetailOne bases a great deal of its operations on what it calls the “equipment life cycle,” a system that offers retail businesses, from the mass merchandiser to the independent corner deli, not only the equipment they need, but a full range of services for that equipment, from cleaning it to replacing it. It’s a simple strategy based on a philosophy explained by Tom Lyons, CEO and chairman of RetailOne: “All we do is listen to and answer our customers’ needs. Period.” Jack Lyons, senior vice president of sales and the other half of the tandem that started the company in 1977, adds, “Through all the sales, acquisitions and strategic alliances, our goal and cornerstone is still to listen and provide.”
Business was something Tom and Jack grew up with, and they still credit the lessons taught to them by their grandparents, Gerald and Katherine Lyons, as the most integral component in their daily operations. “Talking shop over dinner was just something we grew up with,” Tom said. Both Tom and Jack studied business administration at The University of Nevada, Reno while building their company.
In 1981, the brothers began expanding beyond just addressing the requirements of shopping cart maintenance. They started cleaning, repairing and servicing other grocery store equipment, and steam-cleaning sidewalks and storefronts. In 1985, they sold their company to the Huffy Corporation, well-known for manufacturing bicycles. Three years later, they reacquired it. Lyons Equipment Company, Inc. expanded its services into California, Arizona, Oregon and Washington, and added misting system installation and assembly to its arsenal. Along the way, it merged with other companies and acquired still others.
In May 2000, at the Food Market Institute Tradeshow in Chicago, the Lyons brothers launched their Internet name brand. Today, RetailOne is the leading provider of equipment and services to the entire retail industry. Albertson’s, Kroger, Costco, Safeway and Wal Mart, to name but a few, rely on RetailOne to handle everything germane to their equipment. Home Depot and Lowe’s also depend on RetailOne for assembly of products, as well as the repair and maintenance of in-store paint-shakers, panel saws, carpet carousels and display items. According to Gerald Evans, president and COO of RetailOne, “This is an industry we helped create by finding a niche and filling it.”
The equipment life cycle is a popular philosophy with RetailOne’s customers. Joe Scolari, past president of the California Grocers Association and a long-time customer and supporter of RetailOne’s service, said, “It’s convenient for grocers because they take care of everything.”
As far as the retail marketplace is concerned, Scolari’s assessment isn’t far off. RetailOne’s sales division handles rental, sales and consultation of new and previously-owned equipment and parts. Its logistics division oversees the pick-up, delivery and storage of equipment. The installation segment of the company handles placement, hook-up, testing and assembly. Along with maintenance and reconditioning, RetailOne also conducts what it calls “store tear-outs,” preparing grocery outlets for relocation or closure of their entire operations.
The Lyons brothers feel that this is only the beginning, and plan to ultimately bring RetailOne to Wall Street. Outside the office, Tom and Jack work just as hard – perhaps harder. Both participate in Ironman Triathlon events, and their business meetings are often held on bikes or during epic jogs. “I think it’s a credit to Tom and Jack,” Evans said. “They’ve imbued the passion and hard work they display during competition in everyone who is part of RetailOne’s success.”