It’s not personal ... it’s business
by Clay Neely - email@example.com
Starship Enterprises CEO Kelly Rogers isn’t afraid of a battle.
Inside his office is a vast collection of samurai swords on display, spread evenly amongst photos of family and friends, all of which seem to convey a message — Rogers is dedicated to fighting for the things that matter the most to him.
Rogers’ calm, pragmatic and positive demeanor is the perfect complement to his own personal outlook on life and business.
“I’m fond of saying, ‘If you see someone without a smile, give them yours,’” said Rogers. “I really like seeing people happy and positive. Negativity is a bad disease and it spreads.”
Originally a native of Clayton County, Rogers spent his early years in law enforcement prior to owning his own computer business.
Rogers joined Starship in 1997, a company with more than 20 stores selling sexually-oriented merchandise in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Rogers began as an assistant, overseeing a period of growth that many small businesses owners would jump at the chance to experience — opening 13 new stores in the state of Georgia alone within the last 16 years.
“The growth of the company was one of my biggest priorities when I came on board,” said Rogers. “We’ve grown pretty rapidly, but not too fast. We’re entirely cash operated; so there are no loans or financing involved with our expansions. Everything we’ve done, we’ve done strictly on our own.”
However, Rogers is no stranger to obstacles.
Since his arrival in the mid-’90s, Rogers has witnessed firsthand the rise and power of online shopping. However, he has managed to steer his company through these waters unscathed. While Starship maintains a viable web-based income, Rogers is still allocating the majority of his business to brick and mortar stores.
“You can find anything on the Internet,” said Rogers. “We have our online store, but the market is competitive, especially in this business. If you didn’t start it back in the day, it’s hard to get search engine placement unless you want to pay for it. It’s a tough field.”
One of Rogers’ proudest achievements to date is his company’s ability to survive during The Great Recession.
“Being able to keep our people employed during these last five years has been extremely rewarding,” said Rogers. “We worked hard and found other ways we could make cuts so that we could keep everyone employed. That makes you feel really good as a business owner.”
However, his latest business obstacle has found itself intertwined with his personal life.
After moving his family to Coweta County in 2001, Rogers has faced some pressure from the local government and from citizens as well.
The local Starship store only opened after a protracted legal battle that began in the fall of 2008, when Starship representatives sent Coweta County a letter to let county officials know the store was planned.
Rogers has been fighting for his Coweta store for five years now.
“They let me spend all this money all along, telling me I wouldn’t have any problems as long as I abided by their percentages and everything. At the 23rd hour, they brought in this guy from Tennessee to draft a whole new ordinance the day before my business license meeting. They then called an emergency meeting to get it voted on. I had the same problem in Columbus but they eventually saw things a little smarter and finally changed their ordinance and made things right.”
Recently, the Starship store on Highway 34 East near Thomas Crossroads was issued a citation for violating the obscenity ordinance.
“It’s old country and a lot of people don’t want change,” said Rogers. “Look at the alcohol laws or anything else that doesn’t fall in their belief system. Obviously, I have no problem with anyone’s personal beliefs but they want to pass them along to everyone.”
“If you read any story about us, the reader comments are 90 percent pro-Starship, but they’re not the ones who are calling up the county offices. You always hear from the small minority who don’t like it,” said Rogers.
However, as a Coweta resident, Rogers felt the fallout of his decision to open a store on a more personal level.
At the time, his daughters were then enrolled in East Coweta High School.
“It seemed to be in the news almost every day when we first started. My daughters would tell me about debates that happened in class because it was considered to be local politics,” said Rogers.
“There was so much craziness since our family was involved with the band and colorguard. I was dedicating 40 hours a week supporting both of my daughters. I was at their practice, I would do their music for them. We went to all their games, home and away, hauling equipment with the two trailers I bought. It was a full-time pursuit, but we enjoyed it and it was a lot of fun.”
“But then these girls would listen to the Sunday sermon at church where it would be about us, calling on them to sign a petition which aimed to keep us out of the community. A few of the girls refused to sign it and caught a lot of flack from their youth ministers,” said Kelly. “They were saying I’m a bad parent and shouldn’t be allowed to be involved with the high school.”
Quite often, Rogers’ found himself engaged in a spontaneous public debate with citizens who approached him out of the blue.
“People would want to debate me in BJ’s parking lot,” said Rogers. “You try to be nice to them but you can’t because they just won’t relent. I’ve thought a lot about it. They say the toys breed ‘bad things’ and they make people want to go out and rape. If it’s something you don’t believe in, that’s fine. It’s when you want to push your beliefs on others is where I have a problem.”
“You know, I’m religious. I might not go to church every Wednesday and Sunday but I do believe in God and for me, the biggest one of all is ‘Judge not, and ye shall not be judged,’ but that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
Ultimately, Rogers feels that his daughters faced more issues with the community than he did.
“I’m most proud of that the way my daughters have grown up. They’re smart young women with high moral standards and are so giving,” said Rogers. “They’re my proudest accomplishment.”
With the upcoming legal battle, what is Rogers idea of perfect closure?
“Honestly, it depends on the outcome of the lawsuit. Perfect closure is twofold. Singular, if we win the appeal, I’ll keep on operating the same old way with little involvement down here,” said Rogers.
“If I lose, I’ll sue to get the ordinance overturned and then if the ordinance gets overturned, they could have four new stores down there before they could draft a new one. I’ve seen it happen in too many other counties and cities. They’ll have an ordinance that’s either too restrictive or unconstitutional and it gets overturned. Before they can blink an eye, two or three other competitors can come in and get a business license,” said Rogers.
“That’s not what I’m after, obviously. I just want to be treated fairly — to be able to operate under the ordinance that was in place when I filed for my business license.”
Rogers hopes that his company will win the appeal but acknowledges that it’s a crapshoot.
“You never know what’s going to happen. I think we’re in the right to win but you never know how a judge will decide,” said Rogers. “The change of the ordinance was strictly to get rid of me. Since I feel that I was targeted, I’ll fight until I can’t fight any more.
“It’s the principle,” said Rogers.
How does Rogers view the future of the company?
“We’re still trying to grow and we’re looking beyond Georgia. We’re saturated in Atlanta and we have stores in Savannah, Athens and Columbus. We now have one in Tennessee and we’re looking into surrounding states,” said Rogers.
Leading by example is one of Rogers’ strong business beliefs and Monday through Friday you’ll find him in his office, working 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. “First to come, last to leave,” said Rogers. “That’s the way to do it.”
With a seemingly never-ending dance card, Rogers recently took up the pursuit of aviation shortly after the passing of his mother.
“I love to fly. I had always wanted to fly and I finally got to the point where I could afford to do it. My mom had just recently passed away at the time and we had always talked about it. At that point, I decided to go ahead and do it,” said Rogers.
“I’ve got a Piper Archer III — a four seater. The wife doesn’t like to fly but the kids do,” he chuckled.
So what does Rogers consider to be the cornerstone belief in his own personal business philosophy?
“I’ve always been a very big believer in The Golden Rule — Treat others as you would want to be treated,” said Rogers. “To me, that’s one of the best ways to conduct yourself and how you do business.”
To Rogers, it’s simple. If you don’t like his businesses, don’t support it. He feels that a free market ultimately should determine the future of his store, not governmental regulation.
“If the community didn’t want us there, we wouldn’t have survived this long. Since we’ve opened our doors, we’ve been doing nothing but great businesses,” said Rogers.
“I don’t consider us to be any different than any other retailer,” said Rogers. “You come in, get what you want and then you go home. We blend in with our neighbors. There’s no crime in our parking lots. The crime rates haven’t gone up in our area.”
“I think our biggest problem down here is people just not understanding.”