Meet the Owners
So, how many years ago did you two start Recreation Unlimited?
Carey: Well, the first company that we started was the Invisible Fence Company. We were one of the early dealers for that product in 1986. In 1989, Brad met a playground manufacturing company at at the Indy Home Show that built playset structures in a small factory in Minnesota. We began selling that product in Indiana establishing Recreation Unlimited, Inc. and with that we had our second business. In 1995, we saw an opening in the residential in-ground hoop basketball market, and decided to start a third company. This was the manufacturing company for Goalrilla Basketball Goals. In 2000, we sold Goalrilla to Escalade Sports, a publicly traded company in Evansville.
Awesome. Let’s switch gears a bit here. What’s it like to work with your spouse every day? Challenges?
Brad: First of all, I acknowledge that our business wouldn’t be what it is today without our teamwork and complementary skill set. Carey brings her financial background and I provide sales and marketing experience. Not many people can do what we’ve done, as far as working together every day, and it has worked well for us.
What has made it so successful thus far?
Carey: One of the biggest things is our willingness to allow each other veto power over our areas of strength. We are both allowed to provide input into each other’s respective areas of expertise, but final veto power is exercised when we don’t agree on something. I have veto power in financial, HR and logistics, and Brad has it in Sales and Marketing. I think we have very complementary skills. The old newspaper article up there is correct, (he points up to a plaque on the wall). It was an interview we did for the newspaper years ago describing us as a tandem basketball duo. We pass the ball back and the forth, figuratively speaking, even when we talk, finishing each other sentences and such. And at our foundation, we have certain important things we strongly agree on. We don’t like a lot of debt and we do like moderate risk, for instance. That said, there are things that we fundamentally agree on, but there are day-to-day things that we definitely fight about.
Brad: Right, and how did we grow? Every year we did something new, every year–something new. When one branch of the tree died, we pruned it off and grew a new branch. Whether that was a new company, a new method of distribution or a new product line. In this way, we hedged and weathered the ups and downs of the market and the economy.
Carey: We never really had like a huge discussion where we were like, let’s take our company in a new direction, it was more like this situation isn’t working as well as we would like, let’s try something else. Where else can we grow? And, what needs to go?
Great. What do you like most about what you do at Recreation Unlimited?
Carey: For me, I think that I kind of enjoy the smallness of it. I like the fact that we’re local. I like the fact that we get such positive feedback when we tell people what we do and our business. Most of the time someone will say “oh yeah, I’ve been to a birthday party there” or “we bought a playset from you guys a long time ago, our kids got a lot of use out of that.” That makes me feel good. I guess that local smallness is something that I appreciate. Especially in light of the fact that we had fast growing businesses in the past and have lived through those demanding times. And I have to say, the ability to work with your employees every day and have that fundamental ability to make an impact on their lives–that has been the best thing about being an entrepreneur, in a general sense. Even with a charity, you can’t do what you can as a business owner. An employer who really cares about their employees can make a difference in their employees’ lives and their family’s lives. There’s a reach to that, which is awesome.
Brad, what about you?
Brad: Hmmm…I just like the everyday challenge of selling. When I sell a product, I really feel that I have completely conveyed to the customer my true belief……I am better than my competitors at giving you the best product for the best price.
Carey: And you can see the results.
Brad: It’s a game to me. I win and my customer wins. And, my competitor does not. That’s fun. I’m a competitive person.
Anything new in the works for Recreation Unlimited?
Brad: We have a brand new out lot off of SR 31 in Cicero displaying sheds, barns, cabins and gazebos. We have updated our spa showroom in Noblesville with 10,000 square feet of hot tubs. We are really making a dent in the out building structure market in Indianapolis. Pergolas, pagodas, gazebos, horse stalls, pavilions. On another note, we are now the largest full service commercial playground company in the state selling to schools, parks and neighborhood developments. Although we have had that division for many years, taking the lead role in Indiana in that arena is something we are very proud of.
Carey: And I think the best part about outdoor shade structures, is that while these had been done by small shops in the past, like maybe a landscaper or an individual contractor, we are able to bring our established professionalism and consistency to this custom type product.
Brad: Right, people have trusted us in their backyards for 25 years.
Carey: Right, and now we are bringing that nichey, semi-custom business into a more professional system of selling, delivery and installation.
Gotcha, and you are planning to expand your parking lot? Lots of visitors, sometimes the lot is full.
Brad: Actually, we are expanding our parking area to accommodate another 50 cars and we are also adding an outdoor display area to display some of these new outdoor structures.
When are those expected to be completed?
Brad: Should be done by the fall of 2015.
So, I hear that a new humane society is slated to go into development next door to Recreation Unlimited? Is this true and how did it come about? Are you involved in the development of the new facility?
Carey: The new shelter, assuming the local authorities give us the go ahead, will actually be built next door to Recreation Unlimited on land we have donated. Our first business was Invisible Fence, and as such we became very involved in the animal community in the Indianapolis area. The more we learned the more we knew how much needed to be done to help displaced animals. We started rescuing dogs ourselves, and in the process of doing that we met Rebecca Stevens at the Humane Society for Hamilton County who is truly a tireless advocate for animals. She simply didn’t have enough space or the right space to meet the needs of animals in Hamilton County. And as the wealthiest county in the state it was just so frustrating. There was so much inadequacy and Rebecca really had a dream to do more. We began to look for land with Rebecca to start a new facility. In the end, it felt like our land right next to our showroom, was the perfect fit. Hamilton County will have a facility that is twice the size of its current space. The other thing is that part of that land will remain green space. It is our hope that that green space will be used as a dog park as well as an exercise area for the shelter dogs. And maybe we can pull off some animal-related events there, music on Fridays, or something like that, to benefit the animals…..connecting the community to the animals that share our space and our hearts. It feels right at this time in our professional and personal lives to give something back to the community that has given so much support to us and our businesses.
That sounds terrific. Best of luck with that and thanks for your time.
Brad: Thank you.
Carey: Thank you.
-Interview by Grant R. on 5/7/15