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Couple winning a gamble on Big Frog T-shirt franchise

Gail and Jeff Daily risked part of their retirement savings on a Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More franchise in Oldsmar. Business has been good so far. “I’m in a better place,” Jeff said.

JIM DAMASKE | Times\uFEFF

Gail and Jeff Daily risked part of their retirement savings on a Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More franchise in Oldsmar. Business has been good so far. “I’m in a better place,” Jeff said.

OLDSMAR

Life seemed to have shut the door on Jeff and Gail Daily last fall, when both found themselves out of work.

Then, as the saying goes, it opened another, as the couple debated whether to risk their savings to go into business for themselves.

Stepping through that door, they say, required an "act of faith.''

Starting a business is a gamble even in good times. Gail was pregnant with twins. But they were sick of trying to find decent jobs. And they believed in themselves.

Now they wouldn't want to go back to their old wage-and-hour days.

"I'm in a better place," said Jeff, 39. "It would be a mind shift to go back and have to work for somebody."

Raised in Clearwater, Jeff was living in Atlanta selling medical equipment when he met Gail, who worked in banking. They married in 2005 and as a couple enjoyed an annual income of more than $100,000.

A year and a half ago, they moved to Ozona because Jeff was eager to be back near his large family.

Gail got a job as a mortgage loan officer for Bank of America in Clearwater. The work pays on commission, and she had done well as a loan officer before. But Gail started in Clearwater as home sales plummeted and banks enacted tougher lending standards.

She was working hard and making no money. Gail, 35, tried to get a job as an assistant bank manager. She had been a bank manager once. After interviewing she was offered a job, not as an assistant manager, but the same entry-level banking position she had taken out of college.

Sometimes, Gail became so defeated she would come home in tears. She eventually left her loan officer job.

In late summer of 2008, the company that employed Jeff as a medical equipment salesman laid him off. He began looking for work, but despite experience as an accountant and financial systems analyst, nothing materialized.

He, like his wife, grew more frustrated.

"It was a series of roadblocks," Jeff said of his job search. "Most of the time it wasn't being able to get in front of somebody."

Jeff had sensed his layoff coming, and while still employed had started to consider his options. Starting a business was one, and the idea became more appealing as he struggled to find a job.

Through his parents, the couple were introduced to the owner of a company called Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More. The company uses a technology that allows any digital image to be inked on a T-shirt.

Big Frog has three franchises in the Tampa Bay area, Jeff said, and plans to open a fourth in Wesley Chapel in September.

The pair had always made it a point to save, and each had enjoyed some good earnings years. With two incomes and no children, they had been in a position to put money away.

After taking a hard look, they leveraged about a third of their overall retirement savings to open their Big Frog on Tampa Road in Oldsmar. At the time, their overall savings stood above $300,000.

They were terribly anxious about the decision but also willing to bet on themselves.

"We just felt that we had confidence in our own abilities," Gail said. "We are hard workers."

Their business opened in November and broke even in its fourth month of operation. Though they are not making as much as they did in Atlanta, Jeff said if the numbers continue to climb, they'll be back at that level soon enough.

For the time being, however, the couple have closed the spigot on their spending, as have so many Americans. There are more nights in with friends than nights out, fewer weekend getaways and more coupon clipping.

"We look more at the needs than the wants," Gail said.

As business owners, the couple work longer hours than they did as employees. And each has had moments of fear and doubt, wondering whether their new venture would work out.

Yet overall, they're gratified and proud of having created jobs for their two employees.

Gail said going into business with her husband has brought them closer. They complement each other, she said, with Jeff handling operations while she focuses on development and marketing.

Most significantly, after being battered in the job market, they now feel more control over their professional and economic destiny.

"We are able to see the positive results of our efforts," Gail said, "and I really think we are building something bigger for ourselves in the future."

Though T-shirts are working for them now, both see their Big Frog venture as a stepping-stone to starting another business down the road. Next time around, Gail said, they'll be able to rely on experience.

When that next step comes, they may also have some helpers.

The couple's twins, a boy and a girl, are due this coming week.

"We do baby clothes, too," Jeff said. "So we've got that covered, all the little onesies."

You can reach Will Van Sant at vansant@sptimes or (727) 445-4166.

About this series

Coping is an occasional series detailing how North Pinellas residents cope with the recession. If you have an interesting story to tell, or know of someone else who does, please contact Will Van Sant at (727) 445-4166 or vansant@sptimes.com.

Couple winning a gamble on Big Frog T-shirt franchise 06/02/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 6:48pm]

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