by J.D. Roth
Dad was an entrepreneur.
He was always starting businesses, or trying to help others start them. When I was very small he operated Steve’s Lawnmowing Service. We still have the sign for this venture sitting out in the Custom Box Service warehouse. Nick loves it. So do I.
He also sold World’s Finest Chocolates. He would bring boxes of chocolate bars with him to church, and sell them after Sunday School. I can remember standing on the front lawn of the Mormon church in Canby, waiting for Dad to sell chocolate bars to all the parents. (I can also remember getting into a box of chocolate bars one day, and eating two of them before Dad found me, smothered in goo.)
He tried lots of other things, too: he was a flight instructor, he sold Shaklee (I think), he raised nursery stock.
But his first real success came with Harvest Mills. Dad started Harvest Mills in the mid-seventies. He built a wheat grinder from scratch. He like it so much — and so did his friends — that he decided to sell them. He developed a system for manufacturing them in a production line. Then, further capitalizing on the craze for health food, he developed the Little Harvey food dryers. These were an enormous success, and before long he had purchased one of the first plots of land in what was to become the Woodburn Industrial Park. Harvest Mills was a success.
Dad sold the business in the late-seventies for a large sum of money. For reasons that are no longer clear to me, he never saw full payment for the business. (My memory is: he sold the business for $300,000 payable in ten yearly installments, and that the buyer went bankrupt and somehow we only saw the first payment.)
The next six or seven years were tense. It was the early eighties, and the economic outlook was poor. Dad moved from one sales position to another: selling staples, selling industrial supplies, selling boxes. On his fortieth birthday — 31 July 1985 — he left his job as a box salesman and founded what would become his biggest success: Custom Box Service.
Died died ten days before the business turned ten-years-old, but his children (and nephew) have kept it running since. None of us are entrepreneurs, though. We don’t have that drive. Sometimes I sense a glimmer of it inside myself, but I recognize that in order to prosper as an entrepreneur, you need to be chasing a dream that you believe in one-hundred percent. Boxes are not my dream.
When I was a boy, Dad tried to get me to develop an entrepreneurial spirit, with mixed success. He encouraged me to sell seeds from a magazine. (I was too shy to knock on doors.) He tried to teach me to peel chittum bark that could be sold to god knows where for use as a natural laxative. (Carving bark from trees didn’t appeal to me.)
The only entrepreneurial bits that took hold were those that I developed myself. In fourth grade, in order to generate money for new comic books, I would take my old comic books to school and sell them to the other students. I would take my Star Wars trading cards and repackage them, selling each thick package for twenty-five cents each. I sold my Hardy Boys books in much the same way.
Now, for the first time in twenty years, I’m beginning to feel a bit of that entrepreneurial spirit. I have an idea, a plan, a vision. I know of a way to do what I love and to make money at it.
I will become an entrepreneur.
Updated: 26 April 2006