As the school year comes to a close, many college students are joining a mad rush to find summer employment in a stalled job market. But a few USM students are employing themselves instead.
Junior marketing majors Ry Russel, Patric Brophy and Tyler Wells are taking over management of the Saco Drive-in theater, opening for business May 27.
According to Russell, the idea occurred to him in February after his father noticed a “for lease” sign outside the theater and suggested Russell give the owners a call. The next weekend Russell met with owners Pat and Barny Roberge to begin the process of leasing the drive-in.
Russell said he was confident from the start. “I thought it was definitely something that was do-able,” he said. “I’d been toying around with different business plans, and I wanted to do something other than just work for someone else.”
Russell knew Brophy and Wells from taking classes together. Both Brophy and Wells are members of the USM group Students in Free Enterprise, and Russell said they seemed like good business partners. “They had proven themselves in school and in SIFE, so I just thought they were good people to bring in on this team, and I was right,” he said. “We make a great team.”
Russell said he intentionally picked people he knew but weren’t friends. “I didn’t want to bring friends in on this. I wanted to bring in people who are as motivated as I am,” he said.
Brophy said he was taken aback at first by the ambitious project. “I thought he was a little nuts,” he said. “It took a few meetings before I realized he was serious.
Brophy, Wells and Russell said they all have a desire to have work experience beyond an hourly wage, and running a real business like the Saco Drive-In was the perfect opportunity to make themselves stand out to future employers. “This is going to give us a real chance to apply what we know,” Brophy said. “If we make mistakes, awesome, we’re learning from them.”
Pat Roberge, whose husband bought the Saco Drive-In in 1986, said she didn’t realize how young her potential lessee was until they met in person. Still, Roberge said she was never worried about the students’ ability to manage the theater. “I was very impressed at how focused and intelligent all three of them are.”
Roberge said they have leased the theater out for others to manage it for most of the time they have owned the theater. According to Roberge, business at drive-in theaters depend heavily on the weather. “If you have good weather, normally you have good attendance,” she said.
In order to take on the lease and pay the start-up costs of running the drive-in, the partners needed to come up with $20,000. “That’s definitely a lot of money for three 21, 22-year-olds, but we did it,” said Russell. According to Russell, the business received investments from friends and family. “People want to help, but we’re also taking responsibility,” he said. “Yeah, family is investing in us, but we’re still going to give them a return.”
Russell said they had managed to raise $15,000 within three weeks of meeting with the owners of the drive-in.
In addition, Russell said a small business financing group in Scarborough has offered to loan them any deficit between their investment and the required $20,000.
Russell said the three have gotten advising and encouragement from a number of professors in the School of Business, including professor Frederic Aiello, who specializes in entrepreneurship and small business management.
Aiello said he is confidant in the team’s ability to run a successful business. “If you have people who are highly motivated, the probability for success is pretty high,” he said. “I like their venture a lot.”
Aiello also said it’s a unique business that will draw customers due to its novelty, and the nostalgia associated with drive-in theaters. “You’re not going to see drive-in theaters succeed on a large-scale basis, but they have a great summer location. It’s a high-traffic area and an entrepreneurial team that I think is really going to work hard,” he said.