Having spent most of his life in retailing, working at various department stores since high school and studying retailing in college, Gary Phillips, 49, wanted to find a business that would combine his enthusiasm for and knowledge of retailing with one of his hobbies, model railroads. Phillips found this ultimate opportunity while shopping at a HobbyTown USA store.
"I was in the Lexington, Kentucky, store and saw on one of their business cards that it was a national franchise. I took the business card and filed it away," says Phillips. "Then, when I got to the point where I was over being in a large corporation and wanted to go out on my own, my little memory cell came back about HobbyTown."
Phillips and his wife, Angela, who's also his franchise partner and a part-time HobbyTown employee, began looking at other HobbyTown locations in January 1999 and spent Valentine's Day at the company's Lincoln, Nebraska, headquarters. A month after visiting the corporate office, Phillips had signed the contract. His HobbyTown store, which features model railroads, radio-controlled vehicles, model rockets, science kits and various toys, games and collectibles, opened in Knoxville, Tennessee, in October 1999.
By bringing together two of his passions, Phillips has been able to build a franchise business that has far exceeded his expectations. "In November 2001, we more than doubled the size of the store," he recalls. "As a matter of fact, within six months, I realized our business was going to exceed the business plan. By the first year, we had jumped to the fourth year in the business plan." And the business keeps growing--Phillips is currently looking at a second store, located in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Unfortunately, running his own HobbyTown leaves Phillips, who has dedicated half his basement to a model railroad, little time for his hobby. He does take joy, though, in getting other people started on hobbies of their own. "I've seen people go from having just a train set around the tree to a whole garage or attic full of trains, and it was because they walked in to the store and I helped them get started," he says. "Sometimes I have to live vicariously through them, because they've got a little more time than I do to do this."