Many people dream of taking their passion in life and starting their own business based off of that. After graduating from high school, Chris Green decided that instead of going to college like all of his peers, he wanted to take his passion for car audio and turn it into a real business. So at 18-years-old, he incorporated USP Motorsports and started contacting wholesalers to open up accounts. With zero inventory, Chris bought products as he got orders for them and eventually saved up enough money to acquire a brick and mortar location. A slow, steady growth and transition into e-commerce transformed his business into a million dollar venture. Today, he runs USP Motorsports with the same passion and drive as he did from day one.
What was the trigger that led you down the path towards entrepreneurship?
I wouldn’t say that I had a lot of influencers that were entrepreneurs. My grandfather did own a funeral home business, and some other family members had businesses as well. However, I wasn’t inspired by that. I was more inspired just by having a passion, and a lot of people telling me “You’re not going to make it. You need to go to school.” I was inspired by little quotes that people would tell me.
After high school, all my friends were going away to college, and I was waking up at 11 o’clock thinking, “What am I going to do?” I choose not to go to school, but I had no idea what I was going to do.
I always had a passion for cars so to turn my hobby into a business, I incorporated USP Motorsports (right out of high school) and was able to set up wholesale accounts and start selling parts at a markup. I didn’t have a brick and mortar store at that time, but that was the goal. I looked forward to that.
One thing that helped me that I would recommend to anybody was to never look at your passion and see money behind it. Money comes along with it, but never look at to it and say, “Hey, I’m going to do this, and I’m going to get rich.” Instead you should be saying, “I’m passionate about it. If money comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” That’s 100% the way that I looked at it when I was 18-years-old. I never saw money in my future whatsoever.
Did you have the capital when you first started USP Motorsports?
Many people come into my life or my store and think, “Oh wow. This is definitely family funded or something.” What makes it a great story is that it literally started with a $60 speaker box, and it turned into millions of dollars of inventory, a store, and many employees. It wasn’t a get rich quick business. A lot of people say “It takes money to make money,” but really it takes time to make money.
What did you focus on and how did it become USP Motorsports?
When I was in high school, I started getting involved in car audio which was big back then. It was a business that I stepped into and dominated. I was really good with my hands and working with wood building speaker boxes, so I started making speaker boxes for about $60 a piece. I probably had about $20-30 cost into it, so at the time $30 profit looks great. Then I started selling speakers as well as the speaker boxes to make a little more money. I started out of my mom’s garage for a year until I was about 19-years-old. It was getting to a point where cops were being called on me because I was working until 2AM, and the neighbors weren’t happy about it.
I eventually saved up about $15,000 in a bubble gum jar (literally a bubble gum jar) and decided to look for a place of my own. I didn’t need a lot of space; just enough to put a few cars, to work wood, and install car audio. That’s realistically how it started. With that $15,000, I was able to get a store in Coral Springs, Florida. I walked into the store with about $7,000 for lease and security, and I had another $7,000 to put some carpet in the showroom, build a wall with my father, and just do some basic stuff to get the store going. When I started the store, I had not a drop of inventory. If I needed something, then I would order it; and that’s realistically how I started the business with $15,000 that had I saved up over about the course of a year.
I didn’t have $1 for advertising, so at that time I believed that all I would ever do is word of mouth. That’s why I figured the more cars I would touch, whether I was charging a lot or a little, I looked at it as word of mouth advertising. The more cars I would work on, even at a lower cost, I didn’t care because I figured that was the ultimate version of advertising. Essentially for about eight years, I ran with that. I never spent $1 in advertising, because I didn’t have to.
When I first opened the brick and mortar shop, I knew it was going to be tough. I needed X amount of dollars just to break even, and anything more than that would be a profit. I told myself that I would give this a run for a year, and if I didn’t make it then I could go on back to school and say I “lost” a year of my life.
Thankfully, I didn’t fail. The reason I didn’t fail is because at that time, I was young so I didn’t need a lot of money to do things. I would say if I had to start the business now, it would be pretty tough because you need money to be established and live on your own. It was a great time for me to start the business when I didn’t need a lot of money for living expenses. After the first year, I saw that I didn’t fail and said to myself, “Well, let me keep at this another year and see what happens.” Then it just started slowly evolving.
How did your business evolve from car audio to performance?
When I first was opening the shop, I got involved in doing some nitrous kits. I was good at electronics: running wires, powers, grounds, etc. I got involved in doing nitrous kits for a couple of cars, and the next thing you know I got bit by the speed and performance bug. I found that I could combine performance with audio, and customers coming in to get stereo might want some performance parts as well. During this transition period of audio into performance, my mind was also slowly getting out of audio and I started getting involved in turbochargers. More and more cars were going more towards performance as well, so I knew I had to make a change before it was too late.
How many years were you in the business before you turned a profit and found that this was something you could actually live off of?
I started the business in 2000, and I would say it wasn’t actually profitable where I started seeing a future until about 2005. In 2005, Hurricane Wilma hit, and it took off the roof of our shop. My landlord wouldn’t pay for the carpet or any repairs, so I had to put about $10,000 and every bit of money I had into the business to redo some things. For some reason ever since that day, I don’t remember ever stopping for one minute for the last 10 years. Things just completely took off. I knew that there was a lot of economy stuff going on from 2006-2008, and I have to be honest with you, I didn’t feel one bit of it. I think that was just because I pushed and strived to just keep going.
What differentiates your shop from other shops that have been forced to close their doors?
The only thing I can really think of that would make me different from other shops is the pure passion. Like I said, I came into this business because of passion; not for money. I think a lot of people that got into the business around 2003-2004 came to it thinking, “Hey, I see a lot of shops starting to be successful. I’m going to get into this, make some money, and get out.” What really made me different from the next shop over is my passion about what I was doing. I would go to any trade shows I had to and take small business classes to educate myself. That really made me different from the local shops around at that time.
What was the main thing that put you on the map? Was there anything you were especially known for?
What really got me known I’d say nationally was racing sportsman/professional level back in 2003. I had a front wheel drive Volkswagen Jetta that I still have today sitting in my showroom. It’s kind of like a dinosaur. I started traveling around the country racing that car. I remember I was really scrubbing pennies doing it, but I wanted to do it and that’s what got me really well known in the Volkswagen and Audi world. Anybody who knows the company now who has been around for a while definitely remembers that car.
How has e-commerce played a role in your success?
We started e-commerce in about 2007, very slowly at first just as something that would maybe get one order a month. We built a new website, started selling parts online, and started advertising on forums. Of course it started very slowly, and I didn’t put all my effort into it at first. It wasn’t until about 2012 where I made a full push into the e-commerce.
Did the introduction of e-commerce change the dynamics of your business?
It did change the dynamics of the business. I looked at it at the beginning as just an add on, but I never thought that it would grow this big and this fast. I thought it would be nice to add on to the brick and mortar store that we could sell parts as well as install them. That has slowly evolved from 2007 until now, and in 2015 it has taken off faster than a growing child.
What was it that allowed you to take the next step in your business?
Changing with the times was the biggest thing. I saw the brick and mortar business just slowly going up, but not a steady climb, and decided that I needed to get a greater reach in customers. So that was the reason why I went into e-commerce. It has played a very significant role in my business, and I went into it once again with the same attitude as before: not to make money, but to make parts. I wanted to get involved in designing and engineering, and I was really passionate about that. I didn’t see money at the end of the tunnel, and now it has turned into a very large profitable part of the business.
What was your approach to e-commerce, and how did it differ from what the industry was doing in general?
A lot of people think that when they get involved in the e-commerce business, it’s just about price. I still teach my sales guys now that it’s not about price. I compare it to Starbucks: a lot of people pay $3 for a cup of coffee when you can go buy a whole bag of beans for $1 at Publix. It’s really about the service you’re getting, the products you’re getting, where you’re getting it from, and the support after. I don’t focus on the exact price. Of course we try to be as price competitive as possible, but we can’t compare to shops that don’t have service to the extent that we do.
Today your business is very different than when it was started in 2000. Tell me about your current structure.
On the repair side, which is the brick and mortar, we have service advisors, technicians, and shop managers. On the e-commerce side, we have an operations manager, sales staff, media/graphics, engineering, technicians to test and install products, shipping managers, shipping logistics, and assembly. There are a lot of people involved to make this all one company. E-commerce has been obviously a very large part of the business, and it has grown very, very fast. Now, it is the larger part of the business as far as revenue and also employee-wise.
You own an orange Lamborghini Superleggera with the license plate “NO DEGRE.” Tell me a little bit about that: are you anti-education?
I’m definitely not anti-education; I just feel that it wasn’t for me. I would never preach people not to go to school. If they have a passion they are going for and they feel that it’s in their interest, by all means go for it. You will miss out on a lot of things by not going to school, but you also miss out on a lot of things by not following your passion as well.
I felt that at that time, my passion was so strong that I would somehow figure out how to make it work no matter what. Also, I would get a four-year head start on people that did go to school.
What was the first Lamborghini experience like? Was that a dream car and when did that happen?
Yeah it was somewhat of a car we looked at as far as research and development for products. I try not to buy a car unless it benefits the business. When we first bought the Superleggera, it was just on the pure fact of making some small parts work. I wasn’t really sure what we were going to do, but we wanted to start looking at it and use our technology to reverse engineer parts. It was definitely a car that I’ve liked for a long time just because the Lamborghini is in the Audi and Volkswagen market. I can remember when they first came out back in 2004; I always loved the car and decided that this was the time that I really make a push and see if we can make some parts for it.
I actually started out with the Porsche 996 Turbo at first, then after that I graduated to a Porsche GT2. From there I got a Porsche 997 Turbo as well as the Superleggera. So the Superleggera was the first Italian exotic I brought in.
Based on all of your experience with racing and working on cars, what was the most exciting car you’ve ever owned?
I would say probably the most exciting car is my race car, the Audi S4. That probably has gotten the most business attention than any other car, but it’s also a lot of fun and exciting as a race car.
I started out using the same exact engine out of my Jetta that I used to race. I transferred that platform into the Audi S4 and turned that into a sportsman status racing car back in 2009. For some reason, that car just took off. A lot of people loved it. They loved seeing a VR6 swap into an Audi S4, and that car is known worldwide with our racing videos. Sometimes I see people at the track and hear comments like, “Ah, I love this car. I came here just to see this car.” I really put a lot of passion in this car, and I’m glad I could make somebody happy in another country.
What were some personal struggles, whether mental or physical, you had to deal with in order to get where you are today?
Definitely the biggest struggle in business is having a personal life; you’ve got girlfriends, parents, a lot of things that can cause issues in your life that might take your focus away from the business. I’ve had different girlfriends, different troubles with different people, and no matter what, I always came into work and stayed focused on what I was doing. That was realistically my biggest struggle throughout my business. No matter what, I wanted to stay focused in business and not bring the personal side into it.
I don’t like to bring any personal stuff into business. I try to keep that out as much as possible. I preach that with any business: don’t work with your loved ones – wife, husbands, etc. It’s something that I definitely would preach in any business. I have nothing against family businesses, but I have to say more power to them.
What was the biggest change within your as a person?
When I look at myself now, I still see the same 18-year-old that started out with the same thing. I never forget where I came from, so I don’t try to be or act cool or different than I was when I was 18. I didn’t have anything. The only thing I really evolved in is setting up different processes in business, and I feel I’m just a lot smarter than I was 15 years ago with making business decisions. What really helped me start growing my business was to look at it from an outside perspective, and not constantly being in the mess.
What advice do you have for people today who are trying to be in the automotive industry?
Getting in the industry is definitely not easy today. The biggest advice I would say is you really have to work with a strong company to get your foot in the door as far as strong distributors. That’s how I got started out by getting involved with certain companies that were able to help me evolve as a business. Also, start with your own money that you made. I feel that if you don’t start out with your own money, then you’re not going to care about it. You’re not going to be as passionate about that money you’re starting that business with compared to if your mom says, “Here’s $50,000. Go start a business.” I don’t think that’s the way to do it. I don’t think you’re going to have that passion, that drive. If you want to get started in the business then go cut grass, go wash cars, save up $15,000-$20,000, and that will prove to yourself that you’re going to get started and really make it right.
Credit: Secret Entourage