Making the leap from sports to business can be a tricky proposition for athletes, even the superstars. For every successful jock turned entrepreneur, such as Magic Johnson, Venus Williams and John Elway, there are plenty who have tried and failed. On the plus side of that balance sheet is former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher (18,355 yards). Today the Pro Football Hall of Famer is making millions in real estate development and management, infrastructure construction, personal endorsements and, most recently, franchising upscale men's barber shops.
The Gents Place, based in Dallas, where 47-year-old Smith lives and operates his businesses, was launched in 2008 by Ben Davis, a former partner at Goosehead Insurance (formerly TWG Insurance) in Irving, Texas. He bills it as "an ultra-premium men's grooming and lifestyle club" — services range from haircuts and straight-razor shaves to manicures and Scotch whiskey tastings — and a player in an estimated $5 billion industry. Davis, 33, opened four locations in Texas and Kansas before deciding last year to franchise the business nationwide and invite Smith to invest as co-owner.
Smith sat down with CNBC.com to talk about his latest venture, his shift from the locker room to the boardroom and his advice for other athletes considering the transition.
CNBC: How did you end up becoming co-owner of The Gents Place?
They were part of one of my charity events [last year], where we had a variety of vendors. I'd never had a straightedge-razor shave on my head or my face, but I sat down in the chair and got my first one. Afterward I said, Okay, that felt good, and I looked and felt like a million dollars when I went out that night. Then I met Ben and got to know about the business and understand what he wants to do with it.
CNBC: What was your due-diligence process?
The first thing was the product. Second was understanding the vision. How is the business doing? What are the margins? In expanding, where are you looking to go? Nationally? How can I help you bring brand awareness to the franchising program, because I like what you're doing.
As an entrepreneur, I saw an opportunity in a growing marketplace, where men want to look good because they want to impress the people they're around. From a professional services standpoint, this is perfect. For me service is extremely important, because so much service has gone out the window. And at the end of the day, we want to make sure people get what they pay for — service and value.
CNBC: Your "help" became an investment in the privately-owned company. Can you say how much?
No, because I don't have to [laughs]. But I once heard someone say, 'Where you spend your money is probably where you should be investing it.' I've been going to The Gents Place once or twice a month [gesturing to his neatly shaved bald pate and trimmed beard]. That process enlightened me.
CNBC: What's your involvement as The Gents Place looks to sell 150 franchises?
My role is to bring more brand visibility and awareness to what the franchising program looks like.