Entrepreneur

Long Hair Repair: From a Borrowed Bike and Borrowed Tools to Small Business of The Year

Long Hair Repair on Oklahoma Ave in Guthrie Oklahoma

If you have a chance to have breakfast with James “Long Hair” Gallant, do so. You will never forget him. Long Hair and I had coffee a week back to connect and visit about his past and his future. Long Hair runs a remodel and repair business that is thriving in and around Guthrie, Oklahoma. He has long hair, a full beard, quick wit , remodel skills and an amazing story. The name of his thriving business is, Long Hair Repair. Take a few minutes to check it out. I promise you, his story (and language) is colorful, interesting and inspirational.

Good morning, Long Hair. First of all, let’s start with the name of your business, Long Hair repair. It’s interesting for a home remodel and repair business. How did you come up with the name?
Hell, I didn’t. Von Coburn and Patricia Cornforth [both Guthrie based realtors] made me start my business. Von said, ‘you’re starting a business, what are you going to call it?’ I didn’t even know I had a business to start, let alone have a name for it.

I thought for a minute and said, well, everyone I work for says, ‘get that guy with the long hair to do it.’ Von said, ‘That’s it! Long Hair Repair! I’ll get your business cards printed.’ My sister made the logo. Then Von printed the cards.

Then, they kicked me in the ass and said, ‘you need to start a business.’

Let’s do a flashback, Long Hair. How did you make your way to Guthrie, America and end up running Guthrie’s Small Business of the Year?
In 2006 I was working as a hotel maintenance man in Canada on Prince Edward Albert Island. My Mom had a stroke so I came to Guthrie, Oklahoma to help her and my sister.

Did you start your business as soon as you arrived in Guthrie?
Hell no! I didn’t even have a car.

So, how did you start Long Hair Repair?
I was offered a free place to stay in a house on 1st Street. It was free but I had to remodel it. So I did that. But, it didn’t pay me cash. I needed cash to live, you know? So I borrowed my Step-Dad’s bike and some of his tools and went door-to-door.

Would you explain what going “door-to-door” looked like?
Well, I just rode around Guthrie on my borrowed bicycle with borrowed tools and looked at houses. I saw stuff that needed fixing. I’d knock on the door and tell ‘em I could fix anything, sheetrock; doors; windows; downspout; fence picket; lawnwork; painting; whatever. They’d ask me, ‘how much?’ I’d say, whatever you think is fair.

I’d do the work and they always paid me fair.

What happened next?
I met Patricia. She was the cog, the main cog that got me started with my own business.

How so?
I was remodeling the house I was living in, remember?

Patricia Cornforth is a realtor and she came by to look at the house. It looked good! And she asked, ‘what company did the remodel?’ I told her, ‘hell, I did it.’ That’s when she started referring me to her clients that needed work done. Then I met Von Coburn and she started doing the same thing.

Then, they kicked me in the ass and said, ‘you need to start a business.’

You went from a bicycle and borrowed tools to a full crew, multiple trucks and now, Guthrie’s Small Business of the Year. How do you feel?
First of all, it’s not really me. That happened because so many people helped me along the way. Von and Patricia helped me get work. Larry, my main man, has been with me from day one. Larry knows how to do everything. Brenda Welch does the books and keeps the business in order. I do work for James Long and he refers people too.

There are just so many people I’m thankful for. I’ve done so much work for so many people in Guthrie. Without everyone I wouldn’t even have a business.

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But, you do. Congratulations! What surprised you most during your first couple years as a business owner?
All the work it takes to just run a business. Me and my crew can fix anything. But, running a business, the paperwork was just crazy. Without Brenda Welch, I’d be lost.

What are the keys to success as a business owner, Long Hair?
Honesty and hard work. At every job we do I ask myself, ‘would I want to pay for this work?’ If I’m not happy with it, why would I expect someone to pay me? My people are the key. Everyone that helps run the business and helped get it going.

You give back to the community. You donate time and labor to Neighborhood Solutions, Kiwanis, the local schools. You hire people that need a second chance. You’re a small business, why do you give back?
I came to Guthrie and no one judged me, so many people gave me a chance. I just want to help other people in the community. So, anything I can do to help is my way of saying. ‘thank you.’

This could all go away, my business could all go away if it weren’t for people in our great community.

You also throw one heck of a Christmas Party.
It’s a big one for sure. It started out as an employee party and it’s just grown. Really, the party is a celebration of the community we serve. Again, without the people in this community giving me a chance, I would have nothing. The party is just my way of bringing all kinds of people together to say, ‘thank you’ to all the businesses who support us.

What advice would you give to others as they start or manage their business?
Be yourself. Be honest with yourself and to others. Also, don’t let others’ judgement get in the way of doing your thing. There are always critics. Learn from them but don’t let them control you. And, do quality work. Whatever you do, learn to do it well.

Thank you Long Hair. Congratulations. You’ve come a long way, we’re proud of you and grateful for the work you’ve done.
Hell, I’m more surprised than anyone. I’m thankful to everyone that has believed in me along the way. Thank you.


About Made Possible By
Made Possible By is the new way community minded companies manage and share their grant, sponsorship and charitable gift requests. Made Possible By is reinventing the community investment process for companies with an easy to use, online toolset that saves them time and money and helps them earn community and customer trust. Learn more at our website or blog.

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John Vance Automotive Group, Three Generations of Business Success and Community Impact

John Vance Automotive Group is a mainstay in Guthrie, Perry and Miami, Oklahoma and represents twelve automotive brands in 3 communities. I knew they invested in each community but, when they became the lead sponsor of Guthrie’s Red Brick Nights summer concert series, I had to learn more about them, their history and their motivation. I recently spent a few minutes with Megan Vance Ochs, Vice President to hear their story.

Good morning Megan. John Vance Autogroup has been around for a long time. Tell me a bit about the history.
This industry is in our blood. Both sides of my family have been connected with the automotive industry for 3 generations. My grandparents, Mike and Carolyn Vance, were big supporters and always very well respected in the dealership. My grandfather, Phil Galleher, was a service representative for Pontiac for 30 years. That’s who inspired my dad, John Vance, to started selling cars at Ernie Miller Pontiac where my Grandmother Mary was the Controller. My dad worked his way up to General Sales Manager and then, in 1983 he and my mom bought the first dealership in Guthrie. Family is a huge part of our business. My Uncle Mark worked here until he passed away in 2005. My brother Garrett, cousin Derek and I plan to carry on the legacy. 

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The Guthrie Dealership was probably a lot different in 1983 than it is today, correct?
Oh yeah. When he bought it, it was a small, GM dealership in a wheat field. He grew that business and then began adding more. He became the youngest Cadillac dealer in the nation. He then added a Chrysler and Ford store; added a mobility department; then more stores in Kansas, Perry, Texas and Miami, Oklahoma. We’ve since sold the Texas and Kansas stores and started our latest venture, Vance Insurance, May of 2014. It’s been a great run and we’re grateful for it.

You grew up in and around the dealership businesses. But, you haven’t always worked there.
That’s right. My first job was at the Prairie Rose Cafe which was next to Guthrie’s Blue Bell saloon. I worked at Granny Had One and a carpet store during college then, my first “real” job was at the dealership.

“I love to make things better—people, processes, you know—with whatever ability and means I have”

That’s interesting. How did those roles prepare you for what you do today?
Well, traditionally, people advance in the auto sales industry through the sales path or finance path. In my role in Customer Relations, I was really focused on process development, process optimization and customer experience.

The core and heart of our business is taking care of people. That’s how I’m wired as a person and that’s what my prior experience shaped in me. It was really a great way to start my career in the automotive business.

Before I go much further into your career path, I have to ask, what makes you tick? What do you love in your work?
Wow.

[Pause]

I love to make things better—people and processes—with whatever ability and means I have. I love to see people grow. I love doing what I can to help them. I also love making processes better, easier and more efficient.

Thanks Megan. How did you land your current role at the dealership?
When my son was a year old, I got a call from the dealership to run our business development center. I brought a service oriented approach and worked hard to improve all the processes to make the shopping and buying experience more efficient for our customers.

What happened next?
In 2007, I became the General Manager. Which was interesting. It was right on the front end of a recession that hit everybody hard including the car businesses we ran.

I remember that period of time, 2007 to 2010, or longer. It was really tough. As the new General Manager, I can imagine it was stressful. That said, how do you manage stress?
[laughing]

I pray.

And, I have to choose my mindset. Stress is always around. I have to recognize that and choose to be optimistic. I also work hard to focus on doing the things in my control with that spirit of optimism.

Megan, you invest in the communities you serve through corporate sponsorship and charitable gifts. Why?
That’s easy. It’s the right thing to do.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t spend money on advertising, we’d just do good work and invest back into the communities we serve and let people tell our story. Our main source of business has always been repeat customers and referrals.

You partnered with James Long and some others through the years to launch and grow Guthrie’s Red Brick Nights. Tell me about that.
I love music. I love Guthrie and James is really enjoyable to work with. He’s a true professional.

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Are you surprised it’s drawing tens of thousands of people to Guthrie each season?
I’m happy, but certainly not shocked. We had a vision for the event. It is just the perfect event at the right time for the right community.

“Passion. That’s it. Passion drives perseverance. Going in, you have to know it’s not going to be easy—nothing comes easy. I think it was Einstein that said something like, ‘you can’t fail until you quit.’”

What do you find most rewarding?
Making a difference through all of our community investments is most rewarding. Helping teachers, students, communities grow and enjoy one another is always rewarding. With Red Brick Nights, I think it’s so fun to see many, many people outside of Guthrie show up. Last month I was in Nashville for a meeting and ran into some local musicians trying to catch a break. When I told them I was from Oklahoma they said the had been trying to get into this new venue called “the red brick”. I had not even mentioned Guthrie. The word is getting out about about what is happening in our little town!

O.K., you told me you listen to music every night. What’s on your play list?
Ha! Everything…Pearl Jam, CCR, Tom Petty, Citizen Cope, Levi Parham, Turnpike Troubadours. I could list more…

Alright Megan, last question: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs and your fellow business owners?
[laughter]

I’m trying not to sound like a fortune cookie…

Passion. That’s it. Passion drives perseverance. Going in, you have to know it’s not going to be easy—nothing comes easy. I think it was Einstein that said something like, “you can’t fail until you quit.”

Thank you Megan. You’ve inspired me and others to keep going and keep making a difference as we work to make a living. I appreciate you.
You’re welcome.


About Made Possible By
Made Possible By is the new way community minded companies manage and share their grant, sponsorship and charitable gift requests. Made Possible By is reinventing the community investment process for companies with an easy to use, online toolset that saves them time and money and helps them earn community and customer trust. Learn more at our website or blog.

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Jameson Real Estate. An Entrepreneurs Journey to Impact

I met James 6 years ago. My family had just moved to Guthrie and we crossed paths often—the way it's done in small towns. He was in the middle of his first business and starting his second. James has strong convictions, and he's vocal. He's also an accidental, astute, and now, seasoned entrepreneur. He's also committed to Guthrie, America. So much so, he moved from the edge of town to the center in order to connect with the community and make a difference. Grab a beer or fruit smoothie with him from Guthrie Nutrition sometime, you will enjoy the visit. In the meantime, read on to learn more about his journey and vision for community impact.

How did you become an entrepreneur?
Well, it started out as an accident. I was an employee for an oil and gas land/lease company. In 2007, the company restructured and began to focus on their core business. But, they had a problem and I guess I was the solution.

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What was the problem?
They wanted to divest a small training business they owned and they offered it to me. I said, "look, you guys know what I make, you pay me. I don't have the money to buy much of anything at the moment.” But, they saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself at the time.

I think laughter and candidness helped the negotiations. After more detail and discussions than anyone cares about, it worked out. They wanted out of the training business and I got into it...

What did you learn from your first business?
Out of the gate the business did great. It generated a lot of cash. But, I didn't understand all the details of accounting, tax liability, processes etc. I did a great job marketing the business and training people. But, I wasn’t a great business operator at the time.

Hire a good accountant. Learn how to operate the business, not just do the work you do to make the money.

Fortunately, I partnered with a strong accountant near the end of the first year. It was expensive. But, not having them could have cost me the business.

What happened next?
Well, we had the real estate crisis around 2008, the credit crunch, whatever you want to call it. It wasn't directly related to oil and gas but it hit that too. My business slowed down. But I thought it was also an opportunity.

How so?
Well, it's a funny story. Houses in my home town were affordable so I called a realtor. She didn't know how serious I was so she directed me to another realtor, Patricia Cornforth. As I said, houses were affordable. I bought my first three properties that day and that's how I got into real estate.

Since then, you obtained your Real Estate license and you and Patricia opened Guthrie Real Estate. You've since got your Broker’s license and rebranded as, Jameson Real Estate.
Correct.

A moment ago you said you found opportunity in a “down market.” Explain that and, what advice would you offer to others facing their own crisis?
It just seemed that there is an opportunity amidst every crisis. I've learned to look for them. When things get bad, I look for opportunities. Fortunately I’ve found them. But, if I had been scared I wouldn’t have even looked. So, just keep looking and working.

When things get bad, I look for opportunities.

Congratulations on the hard-won experience. At every stage of your business ventures you've been for your community. You were part of the founding team of Red Brick Nights and you invest in the local schools. Why?
There are a few reasons. In general, I love my community. It’s a hell of a place—unique even. I just want the town and the people to do well.

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Tell us about Red Brick Nights.
You know, there are a lot of community parties. But, Red Brick Nights is the only one that is centered around the community, Oklahoma artists, and the town. Also, it’s an environment that caters to families and kids.

How so?
North Church sponsors a great kids’ area. This is unique to Red Brick Nights. The music is curated by Justin Fortney and features amazing talent from in and around Oklahoma. It’s an event that’s big enough to feel electric and small enough for my kids to run and get an icee and come back on their own.

How did it start?
Guthrie has a tradition of community based festivals and is a sleeper community for musicians. We had a couple of ladies that started a monthly music event several years ago, Christie & Shirley Clifford and it unfortunately ended. A few of us had the idea to restart that and rebrand it and it just rolled from there.

Did the business community and other community organizations embrace the idea?
Absolutely. Without the support of Meghan Vance with John Vance Auto Group, The City of Guthrie, Long Hair Repair, the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce and a dozen other businesses we couldn’t pull it off. The business community sponsors it and our city government supports it. The entire event is only possible with the support of the businesses, volunteers and civic leaders.

What about Schools? You’ve invested in the local schools, public and private alike. Why?
I don’t care where you stand on the school funding issue. The issue aside, the problems aren’t the kids fault or the teachers. So, let’s just get some damn supplies into the classrooms. If we won’t invest in our own children, who will?

If we won’t invest in our own children, who will?

Enough said?
Enough said.

What made you get on the City Council.
I realized I can’t live in a bubble centered around me. So there are so many cool things going on in the Guthrie community and so many challenges. I just want to be involved and help our community move forward.

Thank you James. Any closing thoughts for entrepreneurs and difference makers?
If you want to leave things better than you found them, you’ve got to get involved with people. People aren’t easy. I’m not easy. But, making a difference isn’t easy either. Get involved with the people around you.

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