The stars aligned perfectly for Enos Barger, managing partner at Castle Rental & Pawn, to sign an NIL deal with a local college athlete and recent transfer student. But theirs is a situation that other independent business owners can learn from and look to capitalize on in their own markets. Enos shares what it was like negotiating the deal, and Castle’s NIL plans moving forward.
I’m excited to announce my new NIL deal with Castle Rental and Pawn as their official D-1 “Rental” Baseball Player of the year! They’ve provided great value to their rental customers in NWA for over 40 years. Visit their website at https://t.co/KtGWwdglqg @castlerp pic.twitter.com/89w1G6eyoO
— Michael Turner (@MBTurner5) June 8, 2022
Rob Stott: We’re back on the Independent Thinking Podcast, and I always say… I feel like I start every one of these by saying we’ve got an exciting one coming up, but this is a very different type of podcast that we’ll get into for certain reasons here, and if you’re watching the video version, the background on my left side, I believe it is, when we publish this, it will give you a little hint as to what we’re going to be talking about. But before we do that, Enos Barger, one of the owners down there, managing partner at Castle Rental and Pawn, Northwest Arkansas, appreciate you taking the time and calling in this morning and chatting with us here on this podcast.
Enos Barger: Oh, I’m absolutely delighted to be here, and getting to talk about something that really have gotten excited about, and for a lot of different reasons that we’ll get to, but yeah, thanks for having me on.
Rob Stott: Yeah, not a problem. First time on the podcast, but not first time being interviewed, so nice to reconnect since Nashville when we were down there doing some videos. So, how’s everything been since Nashville? Obviously, we had Phoenix not too long ago, but since those Primetimes?
Enos Barger: Things have gone well. I came in as an ownership interest at Castle, and officially January 1st of ’21, and so it’s been a whirlwind of activity, as you can imagine, and I know this will resonate with everybody that’s an owner or an operator in an independent business, but it’s one of those things where it seems like the list of things you want to get done grows much faster than the things you’re actually getting done, but it’s an exercise-
Rob Stott: I think that relates to everyone.
Enos Barger: Yeah, yeah. It’s an exercise in discipline and prioritizing and understanding your limits and finding balance in your life. But no, it’s been fantastic. Life is so much better than I deserve, I will say. So, life is really good, and so things have been great, and have been really enjoying the relationship and engagement. I never really participated with an NMG in my prior history with industry, and it’s been really such a pleasant surprise. The way the chemistry between retailers and rent-to-own dealers, specifically, we’re obviously the smaller minority of the overall count of the companies, as well as the volume as in industry, but in our past we’ve had some correlations in other trade groups where retail and rent-to-own didn’t play well together at all.
So, I like the culture in NMG and the support structures, and I think the thing that’s encouraging to me is even though we’re such a small segment of the group, we’ve got really good leadership at NMG that takes an active interest in making sure that the rental industry doesn’t just tag along behind, which is easy to do if you don’t take intentional action to do something different than that. Yeah, it’s been good all around.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome, and we’ll circle back to that because I had a couple things I wanted to ask you. But before we dive much deeper into that, talk about… You mentioned your background and coming into the rent-to-own space. Go back a little bit further. Give us a little bit of history on who Enos Barger is and how you came into the business, and what brought you to where you are today.
Enos Barger: Well, it’s funny how it’s going to segue in, and I didn’t really even think about this until you just asked that question, but I was a young man who was in athletics my whole life, basically, and being shortsighted, I really only cared about going to college because it was a vehicle to play a sport, and in retrospect, I was very disappointed when an injury kept that from happening. But in truth, looking back now, I know that I’m physically functional at a level today that I probably would not have been just because I have a propensity for certain types of injuries and stuff. So, anyway, I ended up in… I grew up in a small town in Missouri, and if you weren’t going to college, you were either going to work in a factory or you were going to work in a fast food restaurant.
So, I had ties in Little Rock and moved there, and kind of wanted to get my bearing about what I was really interested in from a professional standpoint before I dumped thousands of dollars into an education. So, I went down to Little Rock and started working in telephony, a tech space there doing installations and service on big phone networks and fiber optic stuff. It became very apparent to me that while I had an aptitude for technology, that wasn’t really where I was driven, and I had just so happened to start coaching Little League baseball with a guy. My stepson got on his team, and he asked, “Hey, does anybody have any experience playing baseball or coaching baseball?”
I’m 19 years old and just raised my hand, thinking I’ll help with BP or I’ll pitch some BP or something. Well, we end up coaching together for a number of years, and he was a regional manager for a rent-to-own company called Fastway that was out of Little Rock that was gobbled up in the ’90s when there was this consolidation of ownership and rent-to-own. But he was on me just practice after practice about coming in as an MIT for that company. So, I finally decided to give it a run. So, I started out just like, really, the other two owners at our company, very entry-level blue collar. I ran a route for four or five months, but I ended up getting a store before I was even legal to buy beer at the store next door to me, and it went on from there.
So, I became a regional manager shortly after that, and then a DVP, assistant DVP when some consolidation opened up, and then I realized that the larger corporate structure just doesn’t appeal to me because I have a high sense of urgency. So, when you have an idea that can really make a difference, and you have to wait eight or nine months for it to finally trickle up to someone who gets a watered down version of it just wasn’t my wheelhouse. Me and the gentleman that recruited me opened up a company for the former owner of Fastway after his noncompete ran out. Then that was bought by a couple of gentlemen that are… Fred Pearson is one of the great members at NMG. Him and his partner bought those stores, and I worked for those gentlemen for about 10 years, and then I did a stint in an operations capacity, in a leadership operations capacity at Castle for about three years, and then life took an even bigger turn, and I took a risk and went to work for Ideal Software, which provides a point-of-sale software for rent-to-own.
I did that for about five years, and that went really well. I took over the majority market share in the industry during that five years, and they’re continued to do great. I’m still their client. But the opportunity came knocking that there was an option to gain an ownership interest in a rent-to-own company, which was always something that I’d wanted to do, but the issues were, at this point, the footprint of independent rent-to-own had really shrunk, and so the opportunities mostly were all out of state, and I just couldn’t reconcile traveling to do all that. So, when this opportunity right in my backyard, literally 12 minutes to my office, opened up, it was one of those things that you don’t pass up on.
So, 27 years in the industry from delivering to I was a CFO or a controller. I’ve done a lot of things that I probably had no business doing in the beginning, but thankfully, people took a chance on me, and I owe a lot to Fred Pearson and Castle for my time there before, and all the other folks that I’ve had the honor of getting mentored by really good guys in operations and finance and marketing and human resources. So, I’ve landed here, and hoping it works out.
Rob Stott: The funny thing is the way you’re talking about it, how you’ve had so many different experiences in so many different parts of the industry, it almost… You hear so many stories in the independent space of especially multigeneration businesses where an upcoming son or daughter has… They get thrown into everything to learn the business. You did that, but without… You’re not second generation, but you have all that experience of previous generations giving you the opportunity to learn about different parts of the business, and now you’re able to apply it in everything that you’re doing, which is really cool.
Enos Barger: Well, yeah. If I would say this, and this is something I remind myself about every day, and it’s really way more appropriate now because we’re used to… Everybody understands the concepts of supply and demand, and for a long time in our industry, the supply of people that want to come in and go to work was… I mean, if you made a change today, you could hire three people tomorrow for that position. That’s clearly not the case anymore. So, when things become scarce, they become much more valuable, and when things are more scarce and valuable, then what you tend to do is rehab, refurbish, develop. So, I think in some ways the difficulty that we’re experiencing as a whole with being able to hire and train and retain workers, while it’s painful, I think it’s a much needed correction because we’ve had a disposable mentality, just like we do with cellphones and cars and everything else.
We’ve had a disposable mentality with people, and if they didn’t fit this preconceived box that we had for a position, they didn’t get it. So, many times we hired for the position, and we hired the wrong personalities or the wrong mentalities. So, what it’s forced us to do now is be a lot more creative with leveraging the talents of the people that you do have, and getting rid of that paradigm where I have to be very structured and this position does this, and what we’ve really been delighted by is that people never tend to fail to surprise you. Sometimes that’s in a negative way, but sometimes that’s really in the best ways. So, I would encourage people, if you have employees that are passionate about doing something, give them a way to feed that passion.
It may not be all of their job, but I was so blessed to have people who took a chance on me because I think my biggest quality all along that’s carried me through is just a fearlessness about failure. I don’t like failure any more than anybody else, but just being… If someone said in a meeting, “I just can’t get this done,” I was just like, “I’ll take it.” Part of that was being young, wanting to prove yourself, but the good news is it ended up being a tremendous blessing, and I wouldn’t be in the spot that I’m in today, or want to be in the spot, frankly, that I’m in today without having the kind of foundation that got built really with someone else’s money at risk. So, I’m very thankful for that, but I would encourage people to really look at ways to leverage people’s strengths rather than to try to force them to grow into an area that maybe they’re not suited for.
Rob Stott: Yeah. No. I love how you turn the challenge of that around and look at it as a way… It’s also an opportunity to find the diamonds in the rough that maybe you would’ve passed up on when you had that oversaturated market of people looking for work. But that brings up the question, what other challenge… Thinking about just the difference between rental and regular retail, are you guys… Is it very similar challenges to the retail community out there? As far as you mentioned, obviously, the talent and finding people, but supply and other things as well?
Enos Barger: Sure. Yeah, and we happen to be a little bit tight with… I think we’re a little tighter squeezed here than maybe in some areas because Northwest Arkansas, a lot of people probably don’t know much about Northwest Arkansas, so they assume Northwest Arkansas is like all of Arkansas, and they lump it as this flyover state, but Northwest Arkansas is home to Walmart, Sam’s Club, Tyson, J. B. Hunt, and other big industries that support them, and we’re actually scheduled to double in population growth from about a half a million to a million in the next 10 years. So, you’ve got what’s going on wholistically with the workforce, and then you’ve got a very concentrated area where people are trying to move in, but cost of living is rising, and so now wages get driven up, and just… It’s a lot more expensive today than it was even two or three years ago to hire even your entry-level wage pool.
So, we are definitely seeing the tightening there, and rent-to-own operations tend to run pretty lean. I mean, most rent-to-own stores have five to maybe seven, eight employees. So, that’s a little different than a waitstaff of 60 people where if somebody calls in, you’ve probably got someone you can get to come in. So, rent-to-own is… Our margin for error when you have short-handedness, it’s brutal because we do so many things out of that one spot. Yeah. We’re definitely struggling with that and trying to find creative ways to bring in the right people, and honestly, if you truly think about business these days, you may very well be marketing harder to get people than you are necessarily sometimes to get people to come through the door and buy. I don’t think I’ve ever known of a time in my history that that was the case.
Rob Stott: Wow.
Enos Barger: But hopefully, the hard… We tend to only grow when there’s difficulty, so hopefully, even if the job market gets better, we’re better employers as a result of that, and so I think in some ways, difficulty is healthy because it forces us to adapt and grow.
Rob Stott: Yeah. You talk about the difference between just the number of staff that one location might have as opposed to a traditional retailer. For the retailers listening, what is an… You walk into a Castle Rental, what do you see, and how different is it from a traditional retail experience?
Enos Barger: I mean, the first and most obvious difference would be there’s going to be pre-leased, pre-owned product on the floor. So, that’s probably the biggest marker in difference. Generally, the showrooms are going to be a bit smaller, and that’s actually played in our favor with the shift to more drop ship, being able to get a short amount of goods without having to take truckloads and those kinds of things. So, we’ve stayed lean in that way. Our footprints are generally a good bit smaller than most traditional furniture, appliance, electronics retailers. Then our stores are really unique in the fact that five of our six rent-to-own stores also have full-service pawnshops in them. So, you kind of have this Mason-Dixon line in the store between the two, but the challenge is how you put forward the very best image that you can while on average, having a mix of about 60% new and 40% pre-leased.
So, a lot of our attention is where do things get placed, and how are they refurbished, and how are they presented and sold and all that. That’s probably primarily the difference. Many times, the areas of town that rent-to-own has traditionally been in has been maybe not the more high-end areas of town, but I’m finding that most rent-to-own companies are moving really somewhere to the in-between because we’re not a cash business as much anymore. I mean, a very small percentage of our business is cash business, so now with technology, with our point-of-sale software, our customers can pay online, pay by text, pay over the phone, recurring payments through ACH. So, we’re seeing less of that weekly, biweekly, monthly foot traffic than we have in the past, which allows you to distance yourself a little bit and get in the middle because your customers aren’t driving your store every week to make a payment. But I think that’s probably most of the difference.
Rob Stott: We kind of talked about the challenges that you’re facing a little bit. What are some of the things that you’re seeing that are working for you right now, the successes where we stand right now with the way the industry is?
Enos Barger: Sure. Well, one of the things that, and this is really basic stuff that’s not going to be a surprise to anybody, but one of the things that we did was made a real strong initiative to solicit reviews. So, over the last few years, we’ve been able to… We don’t do anything… We don’t pay for reviews. There’s no discounts for reviews. We just solicit them, and so we’ve driven our reputation ratings on both Google and Facebook up into the 4.7 to 4.9 range, and in two industries that you’re going to get a fair amount of unfair criticism just because something went wrong with someone’s payment, and we could help them out six times over eight months because of all the various times that different people, this is an example, get COVID, and then you finally have to pick them up after extending so much grace and help, and then all of a sudden they post a review and it’s like, “I paid great for six months, and first payment I missed because of COVID, they picked up my stuff,” and then you can’t defend yourself.
So, we know we’re fighting an uphill battle as it comes to reviews, but I think one of the things that set us up really well for something we’re going to talk about later is the fact that we’ve garnered a fair representation of the kind of customer interaction that we have, and so that’s been a success. I think we’ve gotten a lot better at strategically managing our inventory. Again, one of those things where when things are easy to get, you become sloppy. You’re not as refined in your approach. Through COVID, it taught us if you’ve got only certain things available to buy, we need to merchandise. So, we’ve gotten more strategic in what we buy, our inventory flow, our receiving process, how we move inventory around the company to try to keep showrooms from getting stagnant with aged inventory and those kinds of things.
Then I think thirdly, I think the thing I’m most proud of is the culture we’ve built as a company. It was really good to begin with, but we’ve taken it and shifted it a little further to where we have a value system in the way that we manage people, the communications, honesty, authenticity, integrity, and basically, valuing human capital, human interaction, and valuing our people, and being much more in tune with what’s going on in their personal lives, not being nosy, but just the whole days of leaving it at the door, that’s never worked. You’re not disconnected from your life the minute you walk across the threshold at work. I think those things… We retained employees a lot better than a lot of companies did through that period of time, and I think that’s an unforeseeable benefit of that. But those are the things I’m probably the most proud of over the last two years.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome, and a lot of great things too, and things that could’ve been struggles that you’ve turned around and made into successes. I’d argue to say there’s a fourth, and it is the segue into what got you here, and that’s marketing. You guys have done pretty well with that, being able to market and talk about yourselves in some unique and different ways, and I don’t want to steal the thunder, so I’m going to let you tell the story of how… Well, first of all, I guess we should give a little bit of background on what NIL is for those that don’t know. So, it’s the name, image, and likeness policy or initiative that the NCAA, college sports, their governing body put into effect just a year ago.
So, I think it’s just entering its second year where it basically gave college athletes who you think about years past where boosters would get them in trouble, and money was flowing, and it just wasn’t really out in the open, and created a whole unbalanced and unfair-looking system, but now they’ve gone ahead and made it something where athletes can go out and get sponsorships, use their name to their benefit, and build their own personal brand, and it led us to some really unique ways of then going about doing that. One of them walked, well, I should say landed, really, right in your lap down there at Castle Rental.
Enos Barger: It did, and I’ll tell you, I would love more than anything to take credit soup to nuts from the beginning to the end, but that’s just not the case, and I’ve told a number of people, we just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and all we had to do was not screw it up. So, we pulled that off, but I’ll give you a little backstory. So, we’re in Northwest Arkansas, as everybody knows, and Arkansas is a unique state from the perspective of there’s no city big enough, really, population-wise to support a level one pro team. We have a couple minor league teams and things like that. So, we also have one flagship university. Now, there’s another university on the other side of the state, and a bunch of great smaller universities that do well in their respective divisions at conferences, but it’s really University of Arkansas or bust in this state.
I’m an avid sports fan. I played a lot of sports growing up, and even on into my adult life, and being just 25 minutes away from the campus, and all three of my kids at some level in their education have attended the University of Arkansas, so we have very close ties, season ticket holders to everything. So, anyway, there was a… A little bit of backstory. So, Arkansas has had a… They’re making their ninth trip to the College World Series in the last 20 years. It’s incredibly difficult to get there, and we were spoiled at Arkansas because we’ve had a great coach and a bunch of top five recruiting classes, and the expectations were high going into the season. We had some guys come back that were drafted.
Things were good through most of the season, and then as baseball tends to happen, you go through a little bit of a slump. There’s no magic formula for getting out of the slump. It either happens or it doesn’t. So, there’s a young man who played four years at Kent State as a catcher. He was eligible for a grad transfer with one year left of eligibility, and he chose to come to Arkansas, and he had huge shoes to fill because Casey Opitz, who was, I believe, a three-year starter, was drafted fairly high with the Cubs and is in their minor league program. So, I watched Michael Turner play all year long and fell in love with the guy. Not only does he play a fantastic defensive catcher and a pitch calling catcher, the dude hit for, I think, the second-best average on the team, which with catchers is unheard of.
So, anyway, I was a fan of the young man to begin with. In a post-game conference, there was some questions being asked. Michael was one of the young men that were up on the dais talking, and someone asked, “What’s it been like playing for Arkansas?” He’s very complimentary because he’s like, “This is like playing in the major leagues compared to playing in most other college baseball.” We set the attendance record again this year for regular season attendance. He said, “But there are also some fans out there that make it hard to play here,” and he said, “We try to tune it out, but they’re vicious on social media.”
He goes, “I’m 22, 23 years old. I’m on social media, and even if I’m not looking for it, people are drawing your attention to it, tagging you in it.” He said, “So, you try to filter out all the noise, but it’s not easy to do at our age, and sometimes it’s hurtful.”
I had zero issues with what the guy said. Personally, sometimes it’s hard to be an Arkansas fan because of other Arkansas fans. So, anyway, I didn’t think anything of it, but a radio host, he took umbrage with it and let loose a… He basically said he was a loser and a jackass and a clown, and he had no business… He’s not even a real Razorback. He’s a rental player.
Rob Stott: Keyword there.
Enos Barger: Now, like I said, I’m ashamed that I didn’t think of it the moment that I heard it because within an hour I knew what had been said. Several days later, Arkansas makes it into the regional over in Stillwater. First game of the series, Michael Turner is, I think, three-for-three, probably three or four RBIs, a home run. He had thrown out two runners from second by the time we were in the fifth or the sixth inning. So, a radio personality here who’s not a sports talk radio guy, he has a regular radio show, so he tweets out, “If Avis or Castle Rental don’t do an NIL deal with Michael Turner, what are we even doing in this world?” I saw the tweet pop up on my feed because I’m watching the game, and I saw this tweet pop up on my feed, and I was like…
Rob Stott: Duh.
Enos Barger: How did I not think of that?
Rob Stott: The light bulb goes off then.
Enos Barger: So, I immediately respond. I was like, “As an owner at Castle, a former catcher, and a rabid Razorback fan, I don’t know how I missed this, but we’re going to do something, and I’m making some phone calls today.” So, that was really the catalyst that got it started. So, here’s where I will take a little bit of credit. My high sense of urgency and impatience paid off. So, I immediately tweeted at Michael Turner and said, “Hey, we don’t think rental’s a dirty word. You’re our favorite rental player of all time. Let’s talk about an NIL deal.” Now, it took two people to have a high sense of urgency. So, five minutes after the third out, he’s taking his catcher’s equipment off and evidently checks his phone, sees my tweet, DMs me, says, “Dude, love the idea. Let’s talk.”
So, I shot him my phone number. He’s texting me back immediately. So, over that weekend, he supplied me with the young lady at the University of Arkansas that’s the NIL liaison, who’s a former gymnast at the U of A and has worked in that department. He said, “She’s our girl, and she’s going to be able to help us navigate this.” Needless to say, they ended up winning, and so they traveled back Tuesday night in the middle of the night. They got back into Fayetteville at 3:30 in the morning, and I woke up Tuesday morning to a text from Michael at 4:45 a.m. that said, “I’m back in town. Let’s talk today.”
Rob Stott: Wow.
Enos Barger: So, we talked at 2:00 on Tuesday, ironed out a deal, and it was really the blind leading the blind. I said, “Michael, I don’t even know what to offer you,” and he goes, “I don’t even know what to ask for.” So, we just kind of talked about what his needs were because you can do cash compensation, you can do trade, you can give them something or whatever, and he’s in a unique position because he’s going to be going into the draft, and he’s going to go into the minor leagues and travel, and so he may need things for his home or whatever. But we had a very short period of time because the very next day was the only day to get anything done before they were heading to Chapel Hill for the North Carolina Super Regional.
So, we ironed out a very basic agreement, and that’s really the interesting thing. You don’t have to get lawyers involved. It’s really just a very simple one-sheeter that lays out what’s being exchanged for what, and then I sent that to Sydney at the U of A, and she knew the timeliness of what we were trying to do with the window, and of course, she loved the idea from the get-go because everybody there was very upset by the way he was treated and all that. So, anyway, she approved the thing at 8:00 Tuesday night from her house, and then Wednesday morning I took our Castle gear down to him, met with him at the Razorback practice facility. We signed the contract. We handed him the check and then talked about our first engagement. Then he had practice, therapy, all that stuff, and then that afternoon he posts his first post, and I did expect to get some traction with it because it was a hot story. I had no idea that that would be-
Rob Stott: No idea that it could possibly go viral the way it did.
Enos Barger: Yeah. So, this young man who was really only known to people maybe in Ohio and Arkansas suddenly trended on Twitter for an hour-and-a-half that evening. National sports writers picked it up. We were on sports… I got calls from different people around the country, in Dallas where sports talk people were talking about it that morning on the drive, and it’s… But I’ll say this. It was an extraordinary chain of events that led to something this perfect. You know?
Rob Stott: Yeah.
Enos Barger: The person I really need to give the most credit to is Michael Turner because if he wasn’t the guy that he is, this could’ve just really fallen flat. But it was a great idea by John Williams, and it’s a great young man, and then a weird chain of events that started out as a negative, but really turned into… I don’t know if anybody would go back and go, “Well, if we had it to do over again, we would do it this way again,” but honestly, I think it’s ended up resulting in Michael Turner getting elevated, finally, to a level of what his character and play deserves. So, about 10:00 Tuesday night when this thing was just exploding, I shot a text to Michael and I said, “I know this is going to help our business, and if we get one or two new customers out of it even, I’ll be ecstatic.” But it was worth every second of effort and every dollar we spent to get a chance to see this kid get the kind of love he deserved since the day he walked on the campus.
Rob Stott: It’s such an incredible story, and it actually goes back to earlier, us talking, and you guys turning the situation of what employment is like right now and the talent pool, something that could’ve been a challenge, and turning it into something that’s a really awesome success story, and just to see it, the way you talk about it, and it’s only what? It’s been barely a week, maybe a week today.
Enos Barger: It was a week ago Tuesday. Yeah.
Rob Stott: Yeah. So, it’s just crazy to see how in such a short period of time it’s been able to benefit, to your point, both you and Michael. Without getting into what the asks are and things like that, what are some of the things that you expect to come down the road from this because of being able to not just capitalize on the story, but to get involved with the NIL and what that’s bringing to the table?
Enos Barger: Sure. Yeah. So, for not having given it a ton of strategic thought in the past, this last week it’s been on my mind a lot, and I’ve had a lot of people call me to talk about this, other small business owners and stuff that are not in related industries even that just happen to DM me on Twitter and ask if I could maybe take 10 minutes of my time. I’m generally going to be open to try to help anybody, but I’m specifically passionate about this because of what I believe is really just such a sleeping giant from a standpoint of building your brand, and also taking care of kids that I really think embody… What got them to where they’re at is exactly what it takes to be successful in business.
It’s getting up in embracing the grind. It’s that blue-collar work ethic. It’s teamwork. It’s battling through adversity, and I’m thinking the parallels between college athletes and independent business owners, they’re too many to be coincidental. So, it got me thinking a lot about, how could we continue to do something in this arena? Now, this is a once in a lifetime kind of deal for us. There’s not going to be another scenario that’s going to line up. The stars aren’t going to get in alignment for this kind of deal again, but that should not be the only reason you would ever do this. You know?
Rob Stott: Yeah. That was going to be my follow up, and people listening are like, “Well, a guy was called a rental player and a rental-”
Enos Barger: Yeah, it’s so obvious.
Rob Stott: “company. They went and did it.” But to those other business owners, when would it makes sense, or as you’ve considered what the future for you guys in this looks like, what are some of the things that you’re considering that would make you want to go and sign another athlete somewhere?
Enos Barger: We’re already looking at next year. So, we knew the engagement with Michael was going to be fairly short because he’s only going to be in the area for maybe another 30 days, and he’s going to be off pursuing his next level, and we’re going to support him in that. But the thing I love about it is it really allows you to get creative. So, I said, “I really want to find a way to parlay this into the future.” So, it dawned on me, there are transfer athletes that come into our university in every sport every year. What we’ve decided to do is we’re going to attempt to sign an NIL deal with a transfer player in every major women’s and men’s sport at the university next year.
We’re six stores, and we don’t have a huge marketing budget, just like a lot of the people that are going to listen to this podcast are going to identify with that. We certainly didn’t have anything scheduled for NIL in June, but we made it happen. But we’re going to designate a Castle Rental player of the year in each sport going forward, but in talking with the university about who we’re looking to sign up with, Michael was an anomaly because he’s a guy who did excellent on the field, and he has a great character, but we’re not necessarily looking for those top four or five players on the team. They’re going to get fed, and they’re going to get fed well by big companies that can afford the big budget NIL deals.
Our strategy is going to be to find people who embody the values, the type of character, the backstory, the blue-collar work ethic coming from… They weren’t at some prep school getting recruited to play high school ball. So, what we’re going to do is instead of using it as a platform to try to just push Castle, what we’re really going to try to do is use it as a platform to let people get to know that athlete, and then if we find the ways that that athlete’s experience and their history and the way they play or something keys into something in our business, then we’ll talk about that angle. But more than anything, I want to propel the quality student athletes up and get them the kind of attention that they deserve, and hopefully it parlays again into more NIL deals for them and others.
So, one of the reasons I wanted to do this podcast was, obviously, it’s a cool story and I love to tell it, but the biggest thing I wanted to do is hopefully break down some of the apprehension or the lack of understanding about how this all works because I was scared of it. But this was an opportunity that I was willing to just jump in with both feet, and it turned out I was pleasantly surprised. It’s so much easier than we would’ve probably first given it credit for. So, I wanted to hopefully have a little bit of time on this platform to really talk about what I think is a great opportunity for independent business owners because we’re not… You guys are in the same position. We’re not going to outspend our competition.
I can’t outspend Buddy’s, and those guys, but they’re also not tied to the fabric of the community the way that we are. So, they’re not going to be going and signing NIL deals with local athletes. Listen, I’m not saying this has to be a Tier One Division program. JUCO, Division Three, NAIA, those people are part of your community. That organization is part of the fabric of the community. So, what better way to get to tell their story and your story at the same time, and you’re doing something for these kids who are more than likely humble, just hardworking kids. You know?
Rob Stott: Yeah. They’ve got the same sort of… To how you’re describing it, that same mentality as an independent retailer. They’ve grinded throughout their upbringing to get to where they are, and literal blood, sweat, and tears into what they do to be able to be successful, and it meshes so well, and it shows that beyond the mention of a rental player, that there are ways that this can tie into what an independent business is and how they operate, and be able to find those unique, outside-the-box marketing opportunities to elevate not only your own business, but the player and athlete that you’re working with as well. So, incredible story, and I think just really cool to see how you guys have had success with it.
Enos Barger: Yeah. The goodwill that comes from it is… You can’t lose with it. I mean, we’ve had people from all over the state or out of state that ask us to email them a list of our locations because when they come here, they’re going to go and they’re going to buy something from one of our stores, just because we supported this athlete that is really in their home three to five times a week. There’s a purity of heart. They love the game. They’ve dedicated their life to it. How can you not benefit from supporting kids like that? You know?
Rob Stott: Yeah.
Enos Barger: So, it’s a win-win all around, in my opinion.
Rob Stott: Absolutely, and again, just cool to see how you’re taking advantage of a really unique and awesome situation but looking ahead to how you’ll be able to use it moving forward as well. So, it’s not that one-off flash in the pan type thing. So, awesome to see, and really happy to be a platform where you can share that kind of because, hey, there are so many other independent businesses out there that could find that angle and be able to do something similar and have the success that I think you guys are having, and awesome to see. But no, we appreciate you sharing the story and getting it out there. This was a lot of fun to learn about, I think educational for me too because you hear about it and read about it in the news, but to actually talk to someone that’s been able to go through the process and share what it’s like and all that, all those kinds of details, I’m sure it’ll change over the course of the years as the NCAA reviews and looks at it and refines it, but hey, for now, it is what it is and-
Enos Barger: Yeah. Get in while it lasts. You know?
Rob Stott: Exactly. But no, Enos, I appreciate you taking the time. This has been a lot of fun, and I’m sure we’ll catch up down the road and follow the Michael Turner story. It’s one that’ll certainly continue, for sure.
Enos Barger: Yeah. Please, everybody follow. @MBTurner is on Twitter, and just a great young man. You won’t be worse off for following his content. Yeah. Thank you for providing a spot to talk about it. I really do hope that we begin having a nationwide investment in these NIL deals with these college student athletes.
Rob Stott: No, it’s awesome. I look forward to seeing PrimeTime just a few weeks away. Maybe we’ll catch you there in Orlando?
Enos Barger: Hope to be, yeah. Hope to be.
Rob Stott: Good.
Enos Barger: It may have to be a quick one, but yeah.
Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, thanks again, and we look forward to catching up again soon.
Enos Barger: Yeah, sounds good. Thanks.