Originally created 06/20/02

Living the dream



Mike Newman used to think he had business in his blood.

As the son of a banker, he thought it was only natural to study management in college and eventually found himself in the middle of a successful career as a banking officer and stock broker.

But something was nagging at him, telling him there was something better out there. His career had left him little time to spend with his young children.

"I thought about it and realized I was doing what I was supposed to do, not what I wanted to do," Mr. Newman said. "I wanted to be spending more time with my kids."

More and more he found himself thinking about one of his favorite pastimes - collecting old bottles.

His love for the hobby began when he went to work at his father's furniture store right out of college. Several employees there would bring old bottles back from their daily scavenger hunts along the Augusta Canal. When he went one day, he came back with an old soda bottle in hand and his interest peaked.

"I've always had that collector mentality," he said. "When I was younger I collected baseball cards. There was a period when I was a coin collector."

When he officially left the corporate world in December 1997 he returned to his childhood hobby and began collecting and selling old bottles.

He admits that it wasn't easy in the beginning.

"I was just bringing everything home, dirty bottles were everywhere," Mr. Newman said. "My wife could have killed me."

And there was the issue of savings - he didn't have any. Every spare dollar was spent on collecting bottles. Because his wife stayed at home with the children, there was no health insurance either. She has since earned a second degree and teaches in Columbia County.

But with all the hardships, Mr. Newman says he still has no regrets about turning a hobby into a successful business. His income from selling bottles, old pottery and other antiques on Web sites like eBay, combined with his wife's salary and the renting of their home in West Lake during Masters Week, has allowed him to continue the work he loves. Because he works from his Augusta home, he can spend the time with his children that the corporate banking world wouldn't allow.

"The toughest thing is to be a collector and a business person," he said. "When you collect something you don't want to let it go. So far, I've been able to do that."

Like Mr. Newman, bicycle enthusiast Andy Jordan turned a pastime into a business venture. But in the beginning it was more of an exercise program than a way to spend his time off from work.

"I had been married for a few years and had gained a considerable amount of weight," Mr. Jordan said. "My wife decided she wanted to buy bikes and being the stickler for perfection she is, she researched all about it."

After the first model she bought turned into a nightmare, the couple found the perfect store and the perfect bike in Columbia.

"The guy there sold us a bike and every tool known to man to take it apart and put it back together," he said.

He began riding the bike to the recording studio where he was working as a musician and when he got off work earlier than usual he found himself riding around for fun. He would make the trek to Columbia when he needed repairs or a new accessory. Mr. Jordan pitched the idea of opening a shop in Augusta to the store's owner - he would run it during the day and continue his successful music career at night.

"I wasn't sure it was really what I wanted to do," he said. "I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star."

The fact the shop made little money in its first three years and his partner in Columbia wanted out made the rock-star world seem even more inviting.

But he knew he couldn't walk away from the business he had built from the ground up.

"I felt like I had three years of blood sweat and tears in this place," he said. "You just have to work harder when you own your own business."

Things started looking up in July 1977, when their profits tripled after advertising for the first time. Now Andy Jordan's Bicycle Warehouse on 13th Street is the place a lot of Augustans go when they decide to turn cycling into a hobby.

"We had relied on word of mouth. I guess no one knew we were here," he said. "Now people come here to buy bicycles that are built to be ridden."

According to Jackie Moore, area director of the University of Georgia's Small Business Development Center, the current state of the national economy has led to an increase in small businesses.

"When the economy gets bad, people lose jobs and start businesses," she said. "That's the way it works."

But a lot of those businesses' owners aren't as successful as Mr. Jordan and Mr. Newman.

"Seventy to 80 percent of small businesses fail in the first year," she said.

Even if they hadn't made it, both men agree that the corporate world is not for them.

"I don't see myself going back to the rat race," Mr. Newman said.

Reach Jennifer Hilliard at (706) 823-3220 or jennifer.hilliard@augustachronicle.com.