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Vested interest Featured

9:43am EDT July 22, 2002
Verne Ticknor was a successful salesman earning top salary and hefty commission checks at a local men’s clothing store.

But there was one problem — Ticknor had peaked. Faced with the reality that he could receive only incremental raises, Ticknor decided it was time to move on.

He linked up with current partner Kevin Chernikoff, and the pair opened Ticknors Mens Clothier at Great Lakes Mall in October 1993. Within a few years, sales were strong, solid management was in place and the duo expanded to Beachwood Place and South Park Center.

When the time arrived to plan a fourth store at Summit Mall in Akron, however, concerns arose about being able to continue staffing quality management, says Ticknor. It wasn’t that the people in place weren’t good enough. In fact, it was just the opposite.

But Ticknor recalled his own experience as an employee — limited opportunities and the ease with which he was able to walk away. It was a grim scenario he didn’t want to see repeated in his own business.

Chernikoff and Ticknor tried a different approach. When they opened the fourth store, they offered long-time employee Mike Gaylord 49 percent ownership in the new venture. Gaylord agreed and anted up $100,000 for a 49 percent stake in the store.

Admittedly, it was a risky proposition, but one that had to be made, Ticknor says.

Gaylord affirms Ticknor’s concerns, and says if the offer hadn’t been made, “I think I would have definitely left. I was already considering options when we were discussing that (partial ownership) as an alternative.”

Gaylord was, in effect, rewarded for his loyalty. He spent six years working for Ticknor and Chernikoff. He was their first employee, then a manager. He also trained most of the chain’s sales staff.

His loss would have been a major blow, a fact not lost on Ticknor and Chernikoff. Besides, they reasoned, having an owner, not just a manager, running daily operations would bring a new level of responsibility and commitment to the organization.

“It puts a (person) at every location who cares as much as an owner, because they are,” says Chernikoff. “We always looked at what didn’t work with everybody else.”

So far, the new business model has worked according to plan. Chernikoff and Ticknor say that with the right personnel in place and the right business opportunity, they will open more stores using the same approach.

Says Gaylord, “It’s a terrific concept that allows you to have employees that can have long term opportunities in a business that normally doesn’t have that.”

Opportunity, though, comes with a price. Gaylord says he feels more pressure to succeed than if he were simply the store manager.

“There’s more liability,” he says. “My whole life is riding on the success of this store. If you’re just an employee and the store goes out of business, you can find another job. Here, you live or die on how successful the business is.

“And, you have to work hard to make sure things are being done the right way.”

How to reach: Ticknors Mens Clothier, Beachwood Place (216) 514-7848, or Summit Mall, (330) 864-7848

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN.