Franco Harris On Building A Business, From Baked Goods To Fitness Apparel

Feb 14 2014, 9:08am CST | by

Franco Harris On Building A Business, From Baked Goods To Fitness Apparel

Franco Harris was a star during his 13-year NFL career, but when he played in the 1970s the finances of football were quite different.

“When I played everyone knew football wouldn’t take care of you forever,” says Pittsburgh Steelers legend Franco Harris. “We didn’t make that much money, so it kept things in perspective.”

As detailed in this week’s issue of Forbes, Harris moved into the food business following his retirement after the 1984 season, ultimately finding a product — a nutritious doughnut — that he built a bakery business (Super Bakery) around.

Harris learned the business from the ground up though, often loading and unloading boxes or manning a company booth at food shows, which he admits was challenging.

After all, as a four-time Super Bowl champion, soon-to-be Hall of Famer and the man who caught arguably the most famous pass in the history of the NFL (The Immaculate Reception in the 1972 AFC Playoffs), it’s understandable that Harris’ stardom would be expected to continue in retirement.

“It can be hard,” he says, “fans expect there to be a lot of glitz and glamour [and] people were in shock to see me loading a truck.”

What fans didn’t realize is Harris, who has remained in Pittsburgh, was building a business and learning lessons that he has brought to other ventures, including his latest.

Harris’ newest company, Silversport, is pushing a line of antimicrobial fitness and workout gear. The company’s socks, which profess to remain odor free even after days of wear thanks to nanosilver technology, are currently sold on the website of Kohl’s and Harris says the firm is talking to retail outlets about getting its products into stores.

Just like with Super Bakery though, Harris is starting from the ground floor. “To build a brand takes a lot,” he says. “I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to hit some niche things at the right time.”

Of course, Harris’ batting average isn’t perfect. An effort to save Parks Sausages, a venerable Baltimore-based company, failed in the 1990s and a decade earlier he gave up on what might have been his biggest moneymaker.

“I had the first license for player-name shirts,” Harris says, and he sold such apparel starting around the time he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 1984. Ultimately though, Harris lacked the financial know-how and resources to grow the business and gave up the license.

He suspects he would eventually have run up against a dispute with the players’ union — though he did give a percentage of proceeds to the stars whose shirts he sold — but still rues the venture as “the one that got away.”

For more from Franco Harris, including the advice he got from fellow Pittsburgh legend Willie Stargell, watch the video below:

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Source: Forbes Business


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