It’s always been Robert Ragland’s (EMBA ’10) dream to start his own business. By day, Ragland is an ordinary Assistant Controller with Mondial Assistance USA. His typical work day involves cash flows and financial reporting. By night, Ragland sheds his corporate attire and enters the extraordinary world of classic custom cars, or “hot rods,” as they are known to enthusiasts.
This is his hobby and passion -- the passion that recently gave way to his dream with the launch of the new online store called Classic Rods and More (ClassicRods.com).
“I’m spending a lot of time on the website,” says Ragland, “I spend more time outside of work doing [the website] than I ever did doing schoolwork.”
Classic Rods and More is the brainchild of Ragland, his father-in-law, Larry Hooper, and a close family friend, Jay Sims. According to Ragland, Hooper has been building custom cars for over 40 years with a 1930 Ford Sedan and a ’66 Chevy II SS under his belt. Sims has been building cars for 20 years and is currently working on a ’55 Chevy.
“We all have a passion for cars,” explains Ragland, “These cars are custom -- there isn’t another one out there on the road.”
Ragland’s dream began to materialize into a bona fide business venture in early 2010 when the group agreed there was a place in the market for an online parts and accessories store for custom automobiles. During his waning semesters in the Executive MBA Program, Ragland supplied the business know-how to jump-start the planning process. He also served as the “geeky finance and IT guy.”
“There is a strong presence in the market for mail order business and in-store business,” explains Ragland, “but, the new generations of people getting into the hobby are looking for an online place for shopping.”
As a class, EMBA students pick three electives in January to be completed during their final semester. Coincidentally – or fortunately – Ragland’s class selected Dick Ash’s entrepreneurship course, which requires the creation of a business plan.
“While going through the program everybody talked about [[Prof. Dick Ash’s]] entrepreneurship class,” says Ragland, “If I was going to work on a business plan it was going to be for a real business.”
Ragland and company began developing their business plan last January and Ragland received extra assistance during the entrepreneurship course. Plan in hand, the trio headed to the bank, received seed money, and prepared to launch the website by the end of the year.
“I would not have gotten into this business without my classes and the information and support from the professors,” explains Ragland.
Ragland launched ClassicRods.com in December with a goal of differentiating the company from the rest of the market. The site has a small product offering and guarantees 24 hour shipping.
“When you are building a car, you want to know where the part is and when you are going to get it,” says Ragland, “We are trying to fill a void in the market.”
Ragland grabbed the reins for the business side of the operation and began to notice the value of all his general management coursework learned at William and Mary.
“You have blinders on in the accounting world. The great thing about ClassicRods.com is that I get to wear more hats,” says Ragland, “I handle sales, manage the website, IT, marketing, and working with the graphic designers. All the marketing classes helped a lot with thinking differently.”
Ragland credits his experience in the EMBA Program and its professors with preparing him for the planning process and supporting his entrepreneurial spirit.
“The EMBA Program gave me the confidence to see on paper that this had potential,” he explains, “Without the program I wouldn’t have had that level of confidence.”
Ragland also believes that the support from his classmates allowed him and his company to overcome obstacles he did not know would be present. He offered this advice to current students interested in beginning their own small business:
“If you're thinking about starting your own business let your professors and fellow classmates know about your ambitions early on in the program. Take advantage of the time you have with them to test your ideas and learn from their experiences.”
Since its launch, ClassicRods.com has enjoyed a steady increase in business and has big plans for the future.
Ragland, Hooper, and Sims are in the process of building a hot rod bearing the ClassicRods.com branding. And the company entered into a joint venture with a Canadian firm, Welders Series, to manufacture and promote an independent front suspension (IFS) front end. Consumers can purchase this product in kit form or completely welded to install on their own car.
The group also plans to take their business on the road and participate in hot rod shows around the country.
With all that is currently on Robert Ragland’s plate, the road ahead is bound to present a bounty of new possibilities, but with very few pit stops.
“The scary thing is,” laughs Ragland, “I kind of miss school.”