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Entrepreneur's Corner: John Bauknight, Longleaf Holdings USA

Published: Saturday, February 14, 2015
Spartanburg Herald-Journal

John Bauknight (Herald-Journal Photo)John Bauknight is president of Longleaf Holdings USA, a Spartanburg-based investment firm he co-founded in 1997 with his business partner Nick Wildrick. The company's portfolio includes five operational business units and equity investments in several other partnerships and businesses. In 2007, the company acquired RJ Rockers Brewing Co. of Spartanburg. Two years later, RJ Rockers relocated its brewery downtown. Bauknight, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Wofford College in 1989, has continued to be heavily involved in the county's entrepreneurial community, including helping to launch the Spartanburg Angel Network in January.

Crafting a brand
What we've tried to do with Longleaf Holdings is to provide the back office support for businesses, put the right people in place and just get out of the way and let them do their jobs. With RJ Rockers, we thought the 'liquid' was great. It just needed a makeover on the design. We spent the first year working with Sims Hammond-Boumeester and her team at Launch Something in rebranding. That was money well spent.
 
Giving it a story
We've spent the past year tweaking the design a little bit. You'll notice a ribbon on all of the normal bottles. It's basically a tap handle. We're known as a brewery of characters. We're having a great time. Every beer has a story. I was just in Montana because we're brewing our Rockhopper IPA again. It has a story that's entertaining and funny.
 
Something brewing
The biggest thing (new beer legislation in South Carolina) has allowed us to do is to sell food (at the brewery). Right now, we've taken the path of using Cribb's Kitchen. What you will see in the years to come is an expansion on the event side of things. … Our phone is ringing off the hook right now. People are asking us to host wedding parties, office parties, etc. (The legislation) opened us up to more possibilities. We're going to be the craft beer partner for the Hub City Hog Fest. We're working on a fall festival right now that hopefully we will be able to announce soon.
 
Dynamic downtown
I feel like (downtown Spartanburg) is really hitting its stride right now. Before (Wildrick and I) bought our first property, we were looking at a three- to five-year window (for when downtown would hopefully take off). We lost a couple years with the recession. … It shows that if people take the leap of faith and build it, folks will come.
 
Downtown vision
The long-term vision we all have is to become a central city that has something for everyone; entertainment and activities for people of all ages. There are some really great ideas out there. The (proposed) hotels — hopefully one or both of those will stick. Those are the kinds of things that will make other communities take notice. Right now, we have people from Greenville, Charleston and Asheville (N.C.) looking at doing things here. That's when you know you're really starting to clip.
 
Angel Network
I was part of the original group of investors in The Iron Yard (in Spartanburg). I have been leading the charge on the Spartanburg Angel Network. We just had our third information session. … It looks like we're going to hit the critical mass of 20 (investors) that we want to get going. My stretch goal is to have as many as 40. This is a passion of mine. I've been at it for five years. This is another game-changing opportunity. I've never seen a startup that doesn't need capital. It will be a fun way to work together as a group on a monthly basis not only vetting companies, but making a return in it.
 
Born entrepreneur
For me as an individual, I've had an entrepreneurial interest as long as I can remember. I used to buy Now and Laters for a nickel and sell them for a dime. I've always wanted to do things on my own, and I'm a risk taker. (Entrepreneurism) is not for the faint of heart. If there's one word that sums up what I think it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, it is persistence … it doesn't just happen overnight. It's a three- to five-year window of whether you know if you're going to (be successful) or not.
 
Continually learning
The biggest things I've learned in my career have not been from the successes, but from the failures. When I'm looking at opportunities (to buy or start a business) I look at three characteristics. Number one is the people involved. For me that is the single most important thing. Who are they? Do I feel good about them? What is their culture and characteristics? We have an acronym CRISPP. It stands for culture, reputation, integrity, service, passion and persistence. I kind of check the boxes on these things. You have to think about what kind of culture you want to be in. The second thing I look at is: What is the market for whatever it is? For example, when we were looking at craft beer, it was about 3 percent of the market. Now it is about 15 percent. We didn't have a magic crystal ball. We did our research for 30 to 60 days, and all signs seemed to point to that's where the market was headed. The third characteristic is: Is it a product that's scalable? For example, can we sell Rockers beer in Spartanburg or is there an opportunity to grow it beyond?
 
Defining success
For me, at this point in my life, (success) is not a monetary thing. Obviously you have to make money. But when I look at success, I think of the team. Have you put your employees and associates in a place to do great things? If you do this, success on the financial side is going to come. Service starts with taking care of your employees. If you take care of them, they're going to take care of your customers.
 
Staff writer Trevor Anderson compiled this report.
 
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