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Former Air Force Pilot Hits A Home Run With Play It Again Sports Franchise in Omaha

Rich Messina, owner of Omaha’s Play It Again Sports, didn’t start out thinking being a business owner would be part of his future after he retired from the military.  He found, however, after attending entrepreneurial training offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration he had been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. 

Messina had enjoyed 22 successful years as an Air Force pilot - a career that took him all over the U.S. and around the world.

When Messina finished his military career at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska in 2014, he anticipated moving into a career as a civilian pilot with a major airline. But he found himself grounded with the desire to explore becoming a small business owner.  He attended an SBA Boots to Business entrepreneurial workshop before exiting the military.  In two days, the course acquaints transitioning military members with the possibility of a future in business ownership. Following up, he attended SCORE’s two-night Entrepreneur Workshop and began to toss around real small business ideas.  These workshops offered him “some good ideas I wouldn’t have gotten from anywhere else.”

Messina has always had an interest in sports, and as the father of two active and athletic boys, his house was filled with sports equipment.  While scouting out franchise business opportunities, he was immediately drawn to the Play It Again Sports franchise.  After researching the opportunity he purchased a franchise in March 2014, with the help of an SBA-backed 7(a) loan. He spent the next six months securing a lease, buying inventory, and meeting requirements for opening a business in Omaha. 

Finally, the store’s grand opening took place in October of 2014.

The business took off much faster than he anticipated. Almost immediately, Messina recruited the help of his wife, Cyndi (who is also a USAF vet) to join him. Without her, Messina believes, the business wouldn’t be as successful and he credits as well a team of employees he’s assembled, whom he calls “outstanding.” 

The store has significantly exceeded all annual sales goals that Messina predicted in his initial business plan. Messina credits this success to offering quality new and gently used sporting goods and fitness equipment at a fair price and providing an outstanding customer experience. He spends a great deal of time building relationships with the customers and the community. He enjoys having conversations with players, parents and coaches that frequent his store, and he is also active in the local community.  Messina serves on the Southwest YMCA Board of Directors and their Property Committee and his business donates equipment, cash and gift cards to many local youth sports programs and other non-profits. Messina says that, “a big part of what we are here for is to support the community.”

Being a business owner comes with challenges.  Messina notes the most challenging aspects of owning his business are finding good employees and navigating government regulations. He also says that the “hardest part is the unknown. I’m learning every day, especially about retail.” 

One thing Messina definitely knows, though, is how to be a good boss. His philosophy is that you “take care of your employees, make it fun, and be passionate about what you do.” 

Messina’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs would be on what to do with business profits – “split it evenly between paying down debt, paying back the owner investment, and re-investing into the business.” 

Messina’s future plans for the company include expanding to offer an indoor training facility with batting cages in the coming year.  He wants to provide local community organizations and teams a place to practice and believes it will allow his store to host more sports-related events.

Even though he’s busy after three years of running his successful franchise, Messina finds time to support the SBA’s Boots to Business program on Offutt Air Force Base. He has spoken as a veteran business owner to each B2B class held over the past year, inspiring other military retirees to consider small business aspirations with his success story.

The Play It Again Sports story shows how a military work ethic and skills can translate into small business success. Messina credits SBA’s Boots to Business and SCORE workshops as being valuable free resources for other military members in transition and believes in how the SBA can help make second careers in small business ownership a reality.

Company Name: 
Play It Again Sports
Location: 
Omaha, NE