A Slice of The Good Life

He’s got a passion for pizza: Aurelio’s franchise owner shares his recipe for success.

Can you tell me more about yourself?

My family’s expertise was in real estate land development. We did that for about 25 years. This building that we’re located in was at one time a branch of Chase Bank and it sat for a couple of years. They were trying to rent it.

What made you decide to get into this business?

I think that for all entrepreneurs the money is in the idea, which means you can make your money in an idea and the idea was that there wasn’t good pizza in La Grange, Ill. My wife and I had been coming here to dine because it’s kind of a dining Mecca. But, they didn’t have any what I would call outstanding pizza. So the idea was that La Grange needed a really good pizza place. Not an average pizza place but a really good pizza place. We studied the demographics. Besides building and contracting, I spent 10 years as Director of Sales and Marketing. My background is in analyzing markets and trying to come up with business plans for those markets. After we studied the demographics of the La Grange area it indicated that these were above average income individuals that had a lot of value in their homes and we felt that a premium pizzeria would be the best way to go rather than just a carryout or a commodity pizza. We selected Aurelio’s because my wife and I back in high school started eating Aurelio’s at the original location in Homewood, Ill. and that got us hooked. We got to know the Aurelio family as customers and as business people and we enjoyed the product. And it became a family tradition for us eating Aurelio’s in Homewood.

What do you like on your pizza?

The simpler, the better. A simple pepperoni and cheese, sausage and cheese or plain cheese is the best, because it allows all of the flavors to come through. The more you put on a pizza, the more complicated it becomes for the palate.

What would you say are the top three skills

needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

Number one you have to have an idea. Next, you have to be willing to open that idea to others. And third, be prepared for resistance. And then just persist if you believe in something. I think it starts with an idea. Try to find either a need for a service or product that’s not being met and that’s the hard part. Running a business once you find the hole in the market isn’t as challenging as coming up with the idea.

What motivates you?

I wanted to be my own boss. I’d done it before. I’d been in other businesses by myself before. But, after being out of owning my own business for about 10 years, the urge to be my own boss and to own my own business became pretty powerful. There’s a good saying, nothing motivates better than a bad boss.

How do you define success?

I think when you’re working for somebody; you can only measure it financially or by title. But, when you own your own business for me at least, it’s satisfying the customer need. Finding that missing thing and filling that void for people and having them enthusiastically embrace your discovery. And here it was discovering that this town did not have great pizza and once we figured that out and we opened the restaurant, the reception we’ve gotten has been unbelievable.

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern of

formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

Yes. And I believe its persistence. And I would recommend to anybody who’s thinking about starting a business to do a little soul searching and to read a great book. Read at least one book that has nothing to do with the business that you’re thinking about getting into. And if I were to suggest one book, it would be Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

What is your favorite aspect of being a business owner?

Control. The ability to set the course for my own business and form my plans and watch my plans unfold.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business so far?

The Grand Opening in May of 2008. Being mobbed. Seeing that idea born and actually come to life. You don’t know until you open your doors for the first time. You can have people come by and tell you “Oh, it’s a great thing that you’re here,” but when you actually open the doors and this mass of humanity is there, it’s humbling.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs out there?

Make sure that you have your finances lined up. Great ideas poorly financed become terrible ideas. You have to make sure that you have financing. That can be self-finance, that can be SBA loans, or you can go to private investors. But you have to make sure that you know where the money is coming from. And plan that the first year may not be as successful as you dream. Be ready to put in a lot more work than you imagined and also more capital. Most businesses fail for lack of capital. So it’s better to hold your idea in your heart rather than to start too soon.

How do you go about marketing your business and what’s been the most successful form of marketing?

The number one way to market your business is to market it before you start it. Which means do your homework. Make sure there is a market for your service. And that can be done by talking to people in the area, it can be done by going to the census bureau and looking up demographics and statistics, household income, household formation, how many people own their own home vs. rent. There are statistics available to anyone and everyone. That will tell you how strong and large the market might be for your service in this particular area.

What is your customer service philosophy?

Say no to no. Try to say no as little as possible.

What would you say is the motto that you run your business by?

It’s a lot easier to find a good employee than it is to find a good customer. Which means training of your employees, people that are going to help you execute your idea, is critical. Because, if those employees do a poor job, it’s very difficult to find new customers. It’s easier to find new employees. For us, the customer is really the source of our success. We’re customer satisfaction driven. No customers, no business. We’re customer driven. We’re customer satisfaction driven. —Lynn Celmer

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