Motivated Marine: Cheston Syma is the Veteran Entrepreneurship MVP
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Motivated Marine: Cheston Syma is the Veteran Entrepreneurship MVP

Motivated Marine: Cheston Syma is the Veteran Entrepreneurship MVP

Name: Cheston Syma

Title: Founder/CEO

Company: Wheelhouse Partners, LLC

No. of units by brand: 52 Sport Clips Haircuts, 3 Tommy’s Express Car Wash, 1 Semper Laser Hair Removal, 1 SweatHouz Contrast Therapy 

Age: 47

Family: Single

Years in franchising: 20

Years in current position: 20

Cheston Syma is the Veteran Entrepreneurship MVP (Most Valuable Performer) for outstanding performance, leadership, and innovation by a military veteran.

Cheston Syma’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in during elementary school when he started selling Blow Pops to his classmates for a quarter each. “My parents owned their own business, and I grew up helping them,” he recalls. Looking for ways to make his own spending money, he asked his mom for a big bag of candy. “She asked me what I wanted it for, and I told her.” Syma’s mom supported his plan, and soon he had recruited friends who helped him and earned their cut.

“I made $20 a week and had employees,” he says with a laugh. “It was great for a 12-year-old.” 

Syma credits his parents’ work ethic as a strong influence on his early entrepreneurial ventures and his efforts today. “They worked very hard, but they set their own hours, controlled their own time,” he says. “That stayed with me.” 

While Syma knew he wanted to be a business owner, he also wanted to join the Marines. He viewed it as a chance to do things he might not get the chance to do again. After serving for six years, he attended the University of Houston and earned his degree in business finance. 

After graduation, while working as a personal trainer, a client asked if he enjoyed what he did and if he wanted to do it as a career. He told the client of his dreams of owning his own business. The client worked at Sport Clips and suggested he come check it out.

“I thought it was a great model, so I filled out the paperwork and bought my first two locations from someone who was selling in 2004,” he says.

Now Syma is up to 52 locations and still growing. He employs nearly 400 people, and he currently owns the highest-grossing Sport Clips in Houston and the North Dallas area.

“They gave me a great start, working with a franchise that’s very supportive, especially of military veterans,” he says.

MVP QUESTIONS

Why do you think you were recognized with this award? Honestly, I’m not sure, as I am sure there are many qualified and successful veterans out there who deserve it as well.

How have you raised the bar in your own company? I expect my leaders to always lead from the front, which means leading by example. Do not ask others to do what you are not willing to do yourself. To this day, I will clean toilets and the floor around the toilet to show I am also there to serve the customers (not myself). I clean other things too, but that one seems to get the most attention and chatter.

What innovations have you created and used to build your company? The great thing about joining a franchise is that you are buying into a turnkey operation that is supported by a very talented support team that you as a small franchisee may not be able to afford. There will always be process gaps that a franchisee may find and can fill on their own. Many of the processes I have implemented are the innovations that have propelled my stores to the top of the leaderboard. One such innovation example is the in-depth leadership classes my top leaders and I teach. Many times, as business owners, we concentrate solely on teaching management skills but do not take the time to teach leadership skills. You never hear someone say, “I will follow that person anywhere because they are a good manager,” but you will hear someone say, “I will follow that person because they are a great leader!”

What core values do you think helped you win this award? I have adopted Sport Clips’ values as my own:

  • Do what’s right means always do the right thing. Nothing is worth violating this rule.
  • Do your best. People can never achieve their goals, objectives, and dreams without giving their absolute best effort every day.
  • Treat other people the way they want to be treated means always thinking how your actions may affect others and whether that would make them feel good. Remember that others may want to be treated differently than you. Some people prefer direct communication; others need more empathy and support.

How important is community involvement to you and your company? We strive to be involved in the community like most businesses, but it is hard to donate to every Little League team that calls. Even though we do donate to many, it is not always possible to donate to all. We try to impact our local communities most by participating in more generalized causes that have bigger impacts with national and local nonprofits that share our values.

What leadership qualities are most important to you and your company? Tact–how you speak to others. Dependability–if you say you will do something, will you? Integrity–can I trust you? Initiative–can you do things without being asked? Enthusiasm–do you inspire? Unselfishness–do you put others first?

PERSONAL

Formative influences/events: The leadership skills, patience, and perseverance I learned during my time in the Marines.

Key accomplishments: To be able to employ and help almost 400 people in five different states. Small businesses are the heartbeat of America, and I feel proud to be able to provide careers to so many.

Next big goal: There are so many big goals. Open 12 SweatHouz units in Austin in the next six years; open nine more Big Blue Swim Schools in Houston over the next six years; and acquire the rest of Sport Clips Haircuts locations in Houston. But to eat an elephant, you just take one bite at a time, so I do not think about big goals. I just want to have a happy team, and live by my values, and success seems to follow that. 

Hardest lesson learned: Mistakes you make yourself are the costliest form of education. Take the time to learn from others, network, research, and pilot new ideas to prevent those costly mistakes.

Best advice you ever got: If no one died, and you won’t remember it a year from now, it’s not a big deal.

Favorite book: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink.

What’s your passion in business? My passion is building—building businesses, stores, and teams—and seeing all the cogs work in unison to achieve success.

MANAGEMENT

Business philosophy: Show your team the path to success and they will pave the way for your own success.

Management method or style: Train, mentor, and coach then step aside. Give praise freely and often and always inspect what you expect.

Greatest challenge: Rebounding from Covid was and still is my greatest challenge. The business atmosphere and employee mindset seem to have changed.

How close are you to operations? I have a very flat organization. I’m not saying it’s the right way to do things, but it is the way I have chosen for this period in my life. All leaders who are not at the store level report directly to me.

How do you hire and fire, train and retain? We try to hire on personality and teach the skills. Because it is a franchise, we have a robust training program online and in person for the various brands we are involved in. Retention is based on attitude, performance, and results. There will always be a bell curve of performances, so we don’t necessarily let people go for performance or results, and that is why I listed attitude first.

COVID-19

What have been the biggest impacts of Covid-19 on your business? The biggest impact of Covid-19 has been the mental shift of the labor pool. There seems to be a large shortage of available talent now that we have returned from the Covid shutdowns, and it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the shift. I am sure there are various reasons contributing to the labor shortage, but even after three years, it seems to be a large impact on almost all industries.

BOTTOM LINE

Annual revenue: $15 million annual estimated for 2024

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? As with any for-profit company, we measure growth using YOY revenue comparison, but measuring growth isn’t always the key indicator of success. There can be sacrifices in long-term sustainability for short-term growth, so various metrics have to be measured to ensure there is growth and success. Other metrics are retention, key KPIs, and the “social web” of the company. The social web is a term I coined to describe how interactive and bought-in the employees are. If the company hosts a party, how many employees show up? The more who show up, the stronger that web is.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in five years? 10 years? In five years, I would like to see myself at 100 units of various brands and still CEO. In 10 years (or less), I would like to see myself hiring a CEO and taking more of an advisory role within the organization.

What are you doing to take care of your employees? I have always had the belief that businesses must take care of their employees first by paving their path to success. If the employees are successful, that is a good indicator the company will be as well. A happy team is a happy business. There is always a larger pool of customers than there are of good employees, so address the tightest constraint first. In my various businesses, we try to pay at the top part of the pay curve compared to our competition. We provide meaningful benefits and give employees various release valve options. Many times, employees leave because either bad people are allowed to stay or because they do not feel supported. Not only do my employees have the personal phone numbers of the entire leadership team (including mine), but we also do quarterly surveys to measure the morale of the company, we do random calls to the stores weekly, and I am constantly doing in-person site visits so that I get a true pulse of the store’s operations, morale, and energy.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? I do not have an exit plan currently. My plan is to be able to oil the machine well enough so that I can step back and allow others to lead in my place.

Published: June 1st, 2024

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