What is it like to be the mother of two NBA sons who have grown up in Detroit and now, are part of a family-run business in Northwest Detroit?
Sylvia Crawford, along with her husband Joe, is the mother of three sons who are former collegiate and past and current NBA players. Joe Crawford graduated from Detroit Renaissance High School and University of Kentucky and was the lone pick of the LA Lakers in 2008. He signed with their development team until signing with the New York Knicks 2009.
Jordan attended Detroit CMA high school transferred to a prep school Hargrave Military Academy where he graduated. He attended Indiana University for freshman year and transferred to Xavier University in Cincinnati as a sophomore. He sat a year and played a year and became the 27th draft pick in 2010 for New Jersey Nets (but was traded on draft night to the Atlanta Hawks). He played for the Hawks and Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics, Golden State warriors and is now with the Chicago Bulls.
Jalen graduated from Oak Park High School and attended Impact Academy in Las Vegas before being recruited to Bradley University in Peoria, IL. He transferred and played at Valdosta State University for 1 year and has not decided whether he will finish his college basketball career.
With such a talented family, Crawford started Going Pro LLC in 2005, when the recruiting process for her oldest son, Joe, had become a “circus”. Learning from this experience, Crawford started the company as a service to others by offering online advice and counsel going through an intense recruiting process, et. al.. Going Pro ultimately morphed into a sports management and consulting company focused on athlete management. For example, it also includes organizing her sons non-team appearances and community outreach events, supervising relocations and managing their household affairs.
Crawford, a marketing and communications professional who worked for the city of Detroit for 12 years, started The Pro Shop this year. The sports-related, themed business provides health and wellness opportunities for city residents in a northwest Detroit neighborhood seeking healthy alternatives.
While much has been made of significant investments downtown and Midtown, this business is focused on providing health, educational and opportunities in an area where it’s sorely needed–Detroit’s neighborhoods.
I recently talked to Crawford about her newest business venture–The Pro Shop–and her commitment of starting a business in her family’s old neighborhood.
Lee: You decided to start The Pro Shop in Northwest Detroit. Why in this particular neighborhood?
Crawford: My husband, sons and I were all raised in Northwest Detroit. We all have childhood memories of our experiences at Northwest Activities Center (NWAC) and other Northwest parks and recreation centers. Initially, when we were looking for office space to meet the administrative needs of the company, I also was informally looking for commercial space for a potential retail venture my sons were contemplating. At the time, they were not considering Northwest Detroit because there was no indication that the climate was right to launch a successful retail operation in areas outside of downtown and midtown.
A close friend and member of my advisory board suggested NWAC for my office and administrative purposes, adding that the gym and other facilities could be used to host our camps and educational workshops. We had just hosted a destination event designed for international players and tourists, so the center’s northwest location didn’t fit the global message we were seeking at the time.
However, the full-scale health and fitness center amenities and broad range of class rooms and meeting rooms would more than serve our immediate needs. After six months, we optioned a second space and ultimately discovered how to use it in a way that allowed us to share our expertise and resources to meet the needs of the health club members and other tenants and visitors. We believed that it provided us the perfect opportunity to create the kind of family business that allowed our family to contribute to the redevelopment of Detroit. For that contribution to now be in Northwest Detroit where we all grew up is an awesome dream that is becoming more real everyday.
Lee: There is significant investment in other parts of the city. Talk about the importance of establishing and investing in businesses in the city’s neighborhoods.
Crawford: As I shared earlier, The Pro Shop, a joint venture between my husband, sons and I, allows us to place a sports-related business in the heart of a Detroit neighborhood where residents of the city may not get to see a sports-related enterprise operating on a daily basis. This allows young people during their development years to see sports beyond a recreational sense but also as an economic stimulus and perhaps even an income stream.
Lee: What makes the Pro Shop different and what can consumers expect?
Crawford: The Pro Shop’s motto is to “elevate the urban health club experience.” This means that through The Pro Shop, we intend to help ensure that residents who choose to work out, train or have a fitness experience in Detroit will have access to the high quality fitness apparel, sports equipment and expertise that is available in any other demographic area, including high-end fitness centers in suburban communities.
What makes us different is that 1st, we have chosen to execute our mission in Detroit. We will offer top quality merchandise at affordable prices. Consumers are going to be respected and will receive attentive, friendly and personalized service. Experts will be tapped to provide tips on a selection of sports and expert led sessions will be offered to guide, support and motivate individuals to pursue their sports, fitness and career dreams.
Most importantly, residents won’t have to travel far to find us. We’re just steps away from their neighborhood health club and multi-purpose community center.
Lee: This is truly a family business. What were the initial challenges and how did you overcome them?
Crawford: Initially my sons were focused on being the best athletes they could be. It does take a great deal of focus and physical commitment to be a professional athlete in the NBA and as an overseas player. There is an immense amount of instability and sacrifice to be made. This is why providing athlete management services to them is especially important. The initial and biggest challenge was getting them to see beyond the physical part of the game and to branch out and give more of their intellectual ability to plan and implement their off the court interests and livelihood.
Overcoming these challenges has been long and arduous. I believe maturity and the reality of the instability of sports solely from an athletic standpoint has played a role in their growth. I also believe that my husband and my direct involvement from early on, throughout the recruitment process and as they turned pro imparted in me a level of comprehension on the business side of sports that my sons witnessed and respected. Constant communication with them and shadowing those who were paid to provide a professional service to them helped me learn and transition from mom to a credible business advisor when they needed me to step in to a role to help make an important decision.
Lee: And were there initial concerns by your family regarding this business venture?
Crawford: Not everyone was initially convinced that Northwest Activities Center was the right place to open The Pro Shop. What we did agree to was that it wouldn’t be too much of a risk to test the water and if we found that it didn’t work, we could consider other options.
Since we had agreed to open The Pro Shop on a trial basis, there was never much skepticism. However at times, enthusiasm was marginal. Once the fixtures were installed, some merchandise in stock and displays in place, they saw ideas being transformed into reality. They were more excited than I could have imagined and their reaction has been so immensely positive, it has catapulted their interest in the off-the-court business of sports and other ventures to whole new level!
Lee: What roles do your family members have? And was it difficult getting support from your family?
Crawford: My husband and sons have always been heavily dependent upon my taking on 100 percent of the administrative load and three quarters of execution. One of the most difficult challenges was getting them to see that the business wasn’t solely for my gratification but as a vehicle for each of us to have more professional freedom and financial choice. The first and a very tough task was getting everyone to operate as professionals and to acknowledge that the roles we have at home in the family context were not going to work in a business setting and therefore could not be tolerated. I fought with them and they fought back. Once we had our first family success hosting International Hoops Expo in 2013, everyone understood and moved closer to the center. It has become even easier since we launched the The Pro Shop, a venture everyone welcomes and believes in.
I am the president and CEO and oversee daily business operations. Our son Joe works closely with me on business development and sales. Jordan is involved with business development and VIP Relations. He and Joe both have strong social media followings and provide market outreach those forums. Joe Sr. is primarily involved with managing inventory, merchandising and logistic matters. All three sons, which includes Jalen (our youngest) helps with finding suppliers and making merchandise recommendations. He also provides input on our marketing plans. My sister Terri provides consultation and professional services on sales, marketing and events.
Lee: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Crawford: It’s important for entrepreneurs to believe in their own business idea. Others saw my business entirely as a non-profit. I felt a strong need to create a for-profit sports venture so that young people who aspire to have a career or own a business in sports can see that it is possible. Second, I wanted to create a sports related business where people aspiring to enter the sports profession could hone their skills. My advice is don’t let your plan limit you. My plan has evolved over time. Be on the look out for obstacles. Plan a strategy around the obstacles but don’t focus exclusively on the obstacles. Focus on the solutions. Work diligently everyday on something whether it’s paying bills, applying for business licenses or any other mundane task. The small efforts add up to big accomplishments. Others, even your closest family members are not going to make an equal contribution or put in the same hours as you. Don’t let the frustration derail you. If you need a break, take it. Don’t worry about other people stealing your ideas or beating you to the punch. No one can implement your idea better than you. Take the necessary time to develop and launch the business you envision but realize it’ll never be perfect so get out there and just do it!
Lee: Where is the Pro Shop located and when will it open to the public?
The Pro Shop is located on the lower level of Northwest Activities Center at 18100 Meyers Rd., Detroit, MI 48235. The Pro Shop is currently open for sneak previews. The grand opening is being planned for late fall. 2015. 313-330-4115. www.goingpro-online.com