Phil Castle, The Business Times
Jon Labrum starts businesses almost as though he were following some sort of entrepreneurial shampoo instructions. Identify an opportunity. Launch a venture to serve the market. Repeat.
Labrum first opened an information technology company, but then added two quick-service sandwich restaurants and a flight school.
That’s not to mention a consulting firm that helps businesses streamline their operations or still another venture that assists businesses in obtaining telecommunications services.
While his Grand Valley enterprises couldn’t be much more diverse, Labrum brings a common approach to management that’s like the golden rule, and that’s to treat customers and employees the way he’d like to be treated. “All business is done between people,” he says.
It also helps to actually relish the hard work that goes into creation, he adds. “I enjoy a challenge, and I love the startup process.”
His success as a serial entrepreneur has not only led to a spate of new businesses, but also earned Labrum recognition for his efforts. His selection as Entrepreneur of the Year was announced during Entrepreneurship Day at Colorado Mesa University. CMU, the Business Incubator Center and Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce present the award.
Jon Maraschin, executive director of the Business Incubator Center, says Labrum could serve as a poster child for entrepreneurism. “He is really kind of the epitome of what an entrepreneur can be.”
Labrum owns ProVelocity, an information technology company that offers a range of computer and network support services to businesses and individuals.
But Labrum also owns Jimmy John’s gourmet sandwich shops in Grand Junction and Clifton as well as Crestone Aviation, a flight instruction and aircraft rental business. Progressive Business Consulting helps clients use technology to improve efficiency. OBJ Group assists businesses obtain telecommunication services.
Labrum’s businesses employ a total of more than 50 people.
In addition, Labrum was among four partners who launched Spin City, a family entertainment center in Grand Junction. Labrum and two other partners sold their ownership interests in the venture to the remaining partner soon after the center opened late last year, however.
Maraschin works with Labrum, who serves on the board of directors that oversees the Business Incubator Center. Maraschin says Labrum shares traits with other entrepreneurs in that he can turn ideas and hard work into successful operations. “He’s amazing. He has that wonderful ability to see an opportunity.”
As for Labrum’s passion for starting new ventures, that’s another common trait among serial entrepreneurs, Maraschin says. “I think it’s addictive.”
Labrum says he’s been an entrepreneur since before he understood what that word meant. While he was growing up in New Orleans, he’d help teachers and others set up computers. At first he worked for free, then for meals and finally for wages. “It was really just I enjoyed doing it,” he recalls. “I didn’t realize it was a business until a year or two later.”
That effort evolved into a business in which Labrum would assemble and sell personal computers. Before he opened a business banking account, he used his mother’s credit card to purchase parts and then reimbursed her with the proceeds from sales. “She was the bank at the beginning.”
Labrum moved with his family to the Grand Valley and graduated from Fruita Monument High School. He continued and expanded on the computer business he’d started in New Orleans, a venture that become ProVelocity.
Labrum says he built business by focusing on service rather than profits, responding quickly to requests and then following up to make sure customers are satisfied. “What’s important to us is helping them solve the problem.”
Labrum diversified his operations in opening a Jimmy John’s restaurant in Grand Junction and then a second location in Clifton. He recalls that experience as something of a crash course in franchise systems and processes.
The experience also offered a crash course in delegation — hiring the right people and empowering them to their jobs. “I learned to trust people and they could do just as a good a job without me,” he says.
In addition to running his businesses, Labrum pursued another passion in learning how to fly airplanes and ultimately trained long enough to pilot multi-engine commercial aircraft. He turned that passion into yet another business in opening Crestone Aviation.
There are advantages to running more than one business, even far different ones, Labrum says. “A lot of the processes are the same. I learn things in one business that apply to other businesses.”
Labrum also captures economies of scale — using the same bookkeeper for all his businesses, for example.
The challenge, Labrum says, usually involves time management — bouncing between businesses, answering e-mails and telephone calls and helping employees address problems. Labrum tells his employees he’s always available and makes a point of always thanking them for calling.
Taking care of customers is just as important, Labrum says. That includes responding to complaints within the same day.
As for offering advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs, Labrum says success depends not only on big things, but also lots of little things. Keep promises. Charge fair prices. Pay bills and taxes on time.
“Businesses are really about people,” he adds. “Be yourself. Be generous. Build relationships.”