Dave Marrone, Front and Centre
January 18, 2011
BILL POTRECZ, STANDARD STAFF
Armando Caputo never had a doubt Dave Marrone would succeed in the business world.
Growing up together in Thorold, the duo often played road hockey with their other buddies after school, but not before Marrone put them to work.
"Before we played road hockey every day, we had to help him deliver papers," said Caputo, who has worked for Marrone at Front Row Sports for 11 years. "He got a paper route at The Standard.
"He started out with 20 and ended up between 150 and 160 or even more maybe. He had all of us helping him so he could play."
Marrone was about 10 when he got his first paper route and Caputo quickly realized his buddy was headed for a life in business.
"You knew he was going to be a businessman for sure," Caputo said. "He started out with 20 and just moved up."
Fast forward a decade and Marrone did the same thing with his sporting goods store, starting small and expanding quickly.
During his third year of studies at the University of Toronto, Marrone quit school and came home to open his first store. He borrowed $25,000 from his parents and opened a 500-square foot store on Albert St.
"They signed off on their two cars and I signed off on mine," Marrone recalled.
Marrone was undaunted after a less-than-successful stint in the sports cards business.
"I started selling hockey cards. I got caught up in it and I went broke buying hockey cards as a teenager," he smiled. "That (passion) evolved. I always shopped at Cupolo's and figured anyone could sharpen a pair of skates.
"I'm a wheeler-dealer type, and I thought I could do a good job. I had a passion for it and was a product-knowledge guy."
Marrone spent two years in his little store before moving to bigger digs on Clairmont St. He then hit the big time when he moved the franchise into a huge new building on Front St., complete with a loft in July of 2007. He also has pro shops in Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Williamsville, N.Y.
For Marrone and his store, bigger has been better.
"You have to take it to the next level," said the 40-year-old graduate of Denis Morris High School. "You're either progressing or if you're standing pat, you're declining. You have to stay ahead of the curve.
"That is one thing we can take pride in, always trying to be one step ahead."
Marrone never figured the business would take off to the level it has.
"Never. The market takes you there," he said. "You have to be ahead of the curve, ahead of the game. In this industry, I've always looked up to trend-setting people who were doing a good job and then you try and add your own flavour. You see what other people are doing well and you learn from competitors.
"All of our competitors are good at doing something."
Marrone puts in long hours, but figures that's the price to pay for owning a successful business.
"Mentally, you don't (get a day off )," he said. "Physically, I've tried to take a few more, but I don't consider it a job."
Fitting someone for a pair of skates is easy; it's the human touch Marrone feels is the hard part of the job.
"Managing people is a very difficult job," said Marrone, who employs between 20-30 people at his stores, depending on the season. "Anyone who manages people effectively, I commend them. It's a really, really difficult thing to do."
"I never want to discipline anybody. We have low turnover. I want people to enjoy what they do. I think that's really important.
"Not everybody thinks the same way. I'm not the most organized. I'm more of a vision guy, an idea guy. We have all different types of people and they have to put up with me, too."
That doesn't seem to be much of an issue.
"He treats us unbelievable," said Caputo, who also works with Marrone at his other passion, the Thorold Blackhawks junior B hockey team. "He's not like a boss, he's like a good friend to us.
"We respect him and it's a good place to work. He's not hard on guys and doesn't take advantage of anybody. If we need time off, no problem."
Marrone can't say enough about his staff, which includes several ex-Blackhawks, including Chris Risi and Cody Cole.
"We have a terrific staff," he said. "We have good people. "
Six years ago Marrone, along with partners Rocky Venditti and Mike Gualtieri, bought the Blackhawks.
Considering his background in sports, Marrone figured it a natural fit to own a team in his hometown.
"The hockey team is designed to be fun," he said.
"You have to put a little bit of passion into it."
Marrone said hiring veteran coach Chris Johnstone has taken a load off the ownership group.
"Chris is a true pro and full of integrity. He's made our job a lot easier," Marrone said. "He's probably cut our work down 50%. There's no more babysitting."
With a successful business -- Marrone declined to discuss specifics other than to say sales are good and have gone up each year -- to go along with the Hawks, Marrone doesn't have time for much else, although he did say he enjoys the wine industry.
"There are sacrifices you have to make," said Marrone, whose wife Katie works at Ridley College and can often be seen selling programs in the lobby at Blackhawks games. "I don't have any children right now and these are the years where you have to make it work.
"I'll never be the kind of guy to sit home on the couch. I think I'll always be doing something. I love the Blackhawks, I love what I am doing here and as long as we're still happy and still pushing forward and can put enough time into it to field a competitive hockey club, we'll keep doing it."
- +HOTTEST GOALIE EQUIPMENT
- +HOTTEST BICYCLES
- +HOTTEST HOCKEY EQUIPMENT