The American Dream and Shop Sharing
The duo of Cheng Lor and Binh Le have a strong belief in "paying it forward" not only on a personal basis, but also through their airport concessions company, Aero Service Group (located at hubs in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Baltimore-Washington and Des Moines, Iowa).
Here, family needs are just as important as profits, and workers who are going through hard times (homelessness and those in legal trouble) are not automatically canned: "We've been to that food shelf and we've been in public housing-there is no luxury there," said Lor (he comes from a restaurant background; after the family arrived from Cambodia to the U.S., he and his parents worked in various restaurants. Then eventually, Lor worked in his parents' own restaurants. But once in college, he studied accounting and went to law school, becoming a corporate attorney.
In 2005, Lor, thinking of ways to set his parents up for retirement, pursued an airport-based restaurant because of its built-in traffic and his parents wouldn't need to be there everyday (and to his surprise, he discovered a love of restaurant managing!).
Le joined Aero in 2008 (an entrepreneur who also runs several other Minneapolis-St. Paul businesses, he brings a marketing and conceptual knack, while Lor excels at financing).
Aero Service Group has 170 employees total at the three airport hubs (under licensing argeements, Aero's brands range from Arby's, Ben & Jerry's to Mexican and Italian restaurants. Revenue has quadrupled in the past five years; the company's currently bidding on a new concept at the airport.
Aero offers health insurance, paid vacations, sick pay and time-and-a-half wages for working holidays. Nearly 75 percent of transit fees are company-subsidized. And kitchen staffers get free meals; servers and bartenders receive huge discounts.
Annual turnover is well below the industry standard of 65 percent, according to general manager Robb Siever.
When Tony Krogius first looked for a retail space to open his shop (String Tennis), he only wanted about 500 square feet; just enough room to sell shoes, bags and equipment. But all the spaces he found were 900 feet or more, which meant he had to fill that extra space with more inventory than he wanted.
Krogius later met fellow shop owner Aaron Faygenov (Running World, launched in 2010); Faygenov was trying to figure out ways to better market his business. "We came up with the brilliant idea: Why don't we offer both services in one place?" Krogius said.
The duo combined stores in early 2014 (Krogius moved into Faygenov's space, providing an instant win-win: Each man's rent was cut in half. "This is the perfect synergy for two small businesses, to help each other out without wasting money," Krogius said.
And there are other benefits: The shared space means that Krogius and Faygenov can help each other out when one or the other is sick or needs to take a break. At times, some tennis customers have been drawn to the running side of the store. And vice versa!
Sources: "Former refugees feed the American dream"-Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS)-The (Sunday) Vindicator, June 28, 2015 and "Sharing a shop benefits owners"-Orange County Register (TNS)-The (Sunday) Vindicator, February 8, 2015