Spend a few minutes with Marcus and M.J. Price and you might notice that this seemingly typical Zephyrhills couple are anything but ordinary.
"We want to build a billion-dollar-a-year company," Marcus blurted out one sunny afternoon kicking back in the office he shares with his wife.
Snickers and smirks don't come.
The Prices, both 41, have had their share of failures, but the successes have been much bigger. And while neither grew up in Zephyrhills, their business couldn't be more homegrown.
Sitting on the shoreline of Lake Zephyr is a rather nondescript building at 4941 Fourth St. that holds the fruits of the Prices' hard work. It's the corporate offices of Goin' Postal, the national shipping franchise they started nearly a decade ago from a downtown storefront at 5310 Eighth St. Actually, it's the headquarters for all of their businesses, but Goin' Postal is the most recognizable.
They opened the doors to their first shipping store on Oct. 7, 2002, and within six months, they outgrew the space and moved to nearby 38439 Fifth Ave., from which the national franchise was born.
It's a business they actually stumbled upon. Both got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug as children. M.J. sold her first RV at age 5 at her father's dealership in Plattsburgh, N.Y. by merely showing a man a photograph of her and her friends having a blast in the very same used RV. Her commission was a grape lollipop. And Marcus, the son of an airline pilot who grew up in Cheltenham, England, was about 5 or 6 when he started peddling yellow ear plugs to his father's colleagues.
"By the time I was 12, I had more money in the bank than most adults," Marcus said with a wide grin.
They each ran their own small businesses before they met while skydiving in Montgomery, N.Y. They later moved to the skydiving mecca of Zephyrhills and lived out of a zebra-striped school bus at Skydive City. They had an online business selling skydiving equipment and became proficient at packing and shipping their products.
Goin' Postal was born.
As they approach their 10-year anniversary, they not only look back with pride, they look forward to an even more prosperous future. They have about 250 stores in the 45 states. (They peaked around 300 before the economy tanked.) They hope to reach 400 in the next five years, and they continue to open new locations in places where the U.S. Postal Service is closing branches.
The suddenly renewed interest in opening up franchises has hinted at a recovering economy and has kept the Prices busy. Late last year, they purchased a rundown 27,000-square-foot warehouse at the city's airport at the corner of South Avenue and Airport Road. They have finished most of the renovations — they still plan to rip out a few interior walls, repaint the exterior and add landscaping — and are fully operational at the site. The Prices oversee building fixtures, including counters, racks and displays, for all of the franchised stores. They orchestrate the installation of the fixtures and even the carpets to keep every store uniform and drive down costs for franchisees. They hired a half-dozen employees as part of the warehouse expansion, and plan to hire more once they finalize their land deal with the city.
The city owns the land the factory sits on, but the City Council plans to sell it to the Prices rather than continue a land lease because officials have said theirs is an important business to keep in town. For one thing, the Prices hire local.
"We want to employ local people and we want to keep the money in Zephyrhills," M.J. said.
And they're big on community outreach. Marcus and M.J. and their two children — 5-year-old Bodhi and 3-year-old Ellie — rarely miss a community event. They've started programs like Postage for Patriots, which provides free postage for families sending military care packages overseas; and Luggage Love for Foster Friends, an effort to provide suitcases so foster children don't have to carry their belongings in trash bags.
Their latest venture that has started taking off is Hut no. 8, a second-hand clothing chain for teens and young adults the couple started in 2008. They buy their inventory from individuals looking for a little cash. They only purchase gently used brand name clothing that's still in style.
"We're exceptionally picky," M.J. said. "It takes the average customer 12 minutes to determine that's it's not a new clothing store."
The idea is to provide edgy fashion at 70 to 80 percent of the mall cost. The first Hut no. 8 is next to the original Goin' Postal headquarters, now a corporate-run store. Here, customers can score a Dooney & Bourke bag for $35, Hollister T-shirt for $8 or a pair of Gap jeans for $4.
"Our target demographic is 15 to 25," said M.J. "So we try to make it hip."
Hut no. 8 is also a nationwide endeavor with 28 stores and four more set to open in the next few months. New store locations include Kansas City, Atlanta, St. Augustine and Orlando.
"I hope we will be at 50 open by the end of the year," said Marcus. "The whole country is about to open up."
The Prices also are partners in Life Size Greeting, a standup card manufacturing company, and Sir Face Lift, a mobile commercial cutting board resurfacing company. They don't plan on stopping with just those, either.
"Making money is awesome," said Marcus, who said they own more than 100 website domains in case they decide to pursue some of the other business ideas.
The next one slated to roll out is Monkey Huggers, a second-hand retailer similar to Hut No. 8, but for children. In addition to clothing, they will sell toys, learning aids and baby equipment like bouncy chairs and furniture. They plan to open the first store soon, once their new software and store database are ready. Marcus said many Hut No. 8 franchisees have expressed interest in opening a Monkey Huggers location, too.
The Prices say that most people have it in them to make a go at a business, but fear gets the best of them before they can act.
"Everyone has a million dollar idea at least once a year, but it comes and it goes," Marcus said. "Don't be afraid to fail."
M.J. and Marcus laugh when they talk about the coffee shop they once opened in downtown Zephyrhills with one standard Mr. Coffee machine, admittedly not their best idea.
Through their ventures, however, they've learned the value of working hard and providing a good deal to consumers.
"It's amazing what good customer care, good products and low prices does," Marcus said.
But there's one more factor to their success: the partnership of Marcus and M.J.
"When we go together," M.J. said, "we're an unstoppable force."