JF1109: Hall of Fame Running Back Franco Harris’ First Love Was Not Football
As he says, his first love was business. He always loved business, and since his football career ended he has been heavily building and buying businesses. Hear how he has been able to be successful in all his different businesses. A lot of great insights in this episode for entrepreneurs of all sorts! If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!
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Franco Harris Background:
-NFL Hall-of-Famer, playing for the Steelers and Seahawks, known for completing the Immaculate Reception, one of the most famous plays in the history of American Football.
-Franco is the co-founder of SilverSport®, a company using nano-silver technology to naturally eliminate odor-causing bacteria in fitness clothing & accessories without the use of harsh chemicals.
-SilverSport has expanded into the outdoors industry, with the release of their new line: SilverSport Outdoors with Mossy Oak Camo.
-Named Inc. Magazine’s “Next Big Idea,” and one of Entrepreneur’s “Strokes of Genius,”
-SilverSport® has been featured in over 30 media outlets including TheDoctors, Fox and Friends, New York 1 TV, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine
-Products are available at Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sport’s Authority, select Modell’s Sporting Goods, and online.
-Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
-Say hi to him at: www.silversport.com
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Joe Fairless: Best ever listeners, how are you doing? Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless and this is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast. We only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any fluff.
With us today, Franco Harris. Let’s see, NFL Hall of Famer and co-founder of SilverSport, which is a company – I’m gonna use the definition I have here and then I’m gonna use my own definition – using a nanosilver technology to naturally eliminate odor-causing bacteria in fitness clothing and accessories without the use of harsh chemicals… So clothing that doesn’t make you stink, basically, is what it boils down to.
Franco, with that being said, do you wanna give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus now?
Franco Harris: Well, my background – I was born in New Jersey, I had a great high school, I played football in high school, and because of football in high school, I was able to go to Penn State and play under the great Joe Paterno. And then from there, I was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and then from the Steelers, I played 13 years in the NFL. But I have to admit, Joe, one of my first loves always, since I was 10 years old, was business. I always had this love of business and getting in business. And so when I retired from football, right away, I delved into a business.
I didn’t have much knowledge about business, I just knew that I loved it, and I jumped in. Now, many years later, I’m still doing business; it has been beyond my wildest dreams, and still doing a lot of new business things all the time. So, it’s been a nice journey, and how lucky am I to do two things that I absolutely love – football and business.
Joe Fairless: As an NFL player – I’ve spoken to a handful, most recently Terrell Fletcher, I’ve spoken to Emmitt Smith and some others… And one thing that Terrell Fletcher mentioned is that when you’re in the NFL, it is your identity because you have to be so focused on what your responsibilities are. If that is the case with you, then how did you transition out of the NFL, where you were so focused on one particular aspect of your life (being really good at football), to business, where you’re competing with different types of individuals?
Franco Harris: You know what, when football was over, I said, “Franco, you need to get busy.” Right? I mean, one thing you don’t wanna do is stay idly by. Even if I had to go work in a fast food restaurant, I’m gonna go do something, right? And so I decided I’m gonna start a little food distribution company, and I called it Franco’s All Natural. This was about 1985-1986.
Joe Fairless: You were ahead of the curve.
Franco Harris: Yup, and I wanted to serve all natural food products, and I just started. I loaded trucks, unloaded trucks, delivered, did all those things, and then around 1990 it morphed into Super Bakery. And Super Bakery has been beyond my wildest dreams where we’ve taken that, and it’s been great.
Then about five years ago, myself and another gentleman, Tom Davis, we were talking about business, and he mentioned about silver, and I said, “What about silver?” And he mentioned about these properties of silver, that silver is in the earth, and it is this natural anti-microbial that deals with bacteria and odor… I was saying, “Silver?” And then I looked into silver, we looked into it, and he said, “Wow, I like this.”
We studied the history of silver and how it was used thousands of years ago for its properties, and around the 1800s in Europe, all through Europe, how all the doctors used it. And you look at the utensil that you put in your mouth, the gateway to your health and well-being – that was made out of what? Silver. And how did they know that way back then to make it out of silver, that that fork and that spoon would never have any germs or viruses or anything on it, even though you don’t wash it? I mean, how did they know that?
So, silver had been used throughout history in many different ways, and now with our technology, our silver clean technology, nano technology, we’re able now to bring the uses up to the 21st century, and all new uses for it and in new areas, and to expand the use of it to really help the fight against bacteria and also the fight against odor in a lot of different ways.
Joe Fairless: Food distribution company, morphed into Super Bakery, and now you’ve got SilverSport… Were there any other ventures that you’ve done between post your last day in the NFL to today?
Franco Harris: Oh sure, there were some little things that I did along the way. I bought Parks Sausage along the way, I did some other little things here and there, like… Even with our bakery now, we’re getting into some hydration business stuff, we’re doing some spin-off of other things from the textile industry… I looked into the medical marijuana business, and I’m still looking in some aspects of that.
So, as I said, I just love business. I don’t mind starting from the ground and building the business up. Matter of fact, a lot of times, that’s what I kind of prefer, and [unintelligible [00:08:22].23] that I like to do. I like talking with people about business ideas… But one thing that I tell players, because you’d make your money back when I was playing, as I’m sure you know, but the money that they make now is pretty incredible and I try to tell players, “Don’t buy your way to the top, to the presidency. Learn the business, learn every aspect of the business.” That’s what really helped me – I delivered, I worked [unintelligible [00:08:57].06] so I know every aspect of it and know how it feels to do it. I know how it feels to unload the tractor trailer myself. I know how it feels to drive an hour to deliver something or drive three hours for a business appointment, and all those sort of things.
Knowing those little aspects of business and what people did to start a business – pretty incredible, and I respect a lot of people who start a business from nothing. When I read Sam Walton’s book, I said, “Wow, that’s pretty…”– but you look at things like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, people who started from nothing, it just makes you feel good that that type of spirit is alive and well.
Joe Fairless: Are you based in Pittsburgh?
Franco Harris: Yes, I am, I’m still…
Joe Fairless: Alright, cool. So, I imagine that people recognize you, especially since you’re living in Pittsburgh, and because of that, I suspect that you get pitched ideas. You said earlier that you like talking about business ideas… How do you determine which business idea you pursue and which one you push aside?
Franco Harris: You know what, there’s no certain criteria. Well, I guess, number one would be the idea, and is it unique enough and is there a space for it? As you said, back in ‘85 when I started Franco’s All Natural – you’re right, all natural food products were not the norm. And so here I go, doing that sort of thing, you know what I mean?
I started the silver business with our different products, with our clothing and with our paint, which happens to be the best paint in the world against mold and mildew, staph, MRSA, E. coli. It’s the best paint in the world, our SilverArmor paint. But you kind of look at an area that is kind of new, not saturated, and start it up. And sure, when you start up, there’s always a challenge, and we know that. There’s a learning curve, as you know, a lot of different things. Even back in the day, I was gonna get involved in water. Way before this water thing, I got involved in a soda that was fortified with vitamin C and vitamin A and vitamin D, but something happened there where it didn’t happen. But I was looking at unique things, things that were different, and that’s what I still look at today.
Joe Fairless: We’re gonna talk about SilverSport in more detail here in a second, but what’s a venture that you’ve lost the most money on from a business standpoint? Something that flopped.
Franco Harris: Well, at one time I started a T-shirt company, and that didn’t work out. But there were some exciting times with that, when some of the things were hot and you’d jump in on that sort of thing.
I bought Parks Sausage, and I tried to turn that around, the whole plant in Baltimore. I really wanted to make that work because that provided jobs. It had a nice plan involved, but we weren’t able to make that work.
Joe Fairless: Was it because they’re all Ravens fans? [laughter]
Franco Harris: Never thought about it, [unintelligible [00:13:44].02]. But then you went in business, and you get in different things and you know you’re gonna fail sometimes. But I guess if you have more successes than you have failures… But also, I look at it as “This is my passion.”
The sausage business – I looked at it, I said, “Hey, this has a great history. I wanna get involved, but they’re going down… Can I come in and help them make a difference?” Then you find that there’s a lot more to it than just how you feel; you have to make it into a successful business, and if you can’t, then you have to go on.
Joe Fairless: What questions would you ask that you perhaps didn’t ask when you purchased the Parks Sausage, that for future stuff you would ask those questions to help try and mitigate the risk?
Franco Harris: Well, as I mentioned, I probably should have looked at it more from a business perspective rather than a social perspective. And the historical perspective. So, that’s probably where — so I let the historical perspective and the social perspective override the business stuff.
Joe Fairless: Okay, makes sense. Let’s talk about your main venture. Is your main venture right now SilverSport?
Franco Harris: Well, Super Bakery and SilverSport. I have to let you know, I mean, Super Bakery is kind of like my baby business, you know what I mean? Now, Franco’s All Natural morphed into Super Bakery, so that’s my heart, my love, and it’s a great business. And right now SilverSport is there also, and I love what it’s all about, I love where we’re going, I love what’s there. So, I would say both of these are my main business.
Joe Fairless: Okay.
Franco Harris: But let’s talk about SilverSport, yes.
Joe Fairless: Alright. So, SilverSport – how did you get involved as a co-founder? Was it through that conversation that you were referencing earlier?
Franco Harris: Right, right, it was the conversation that we had, and then not knowing about silver, and then learning about silver, and then I was like, “Wow, this is pretty incredible.” When you look at the history of silver and how it was used… But then we learned about the new properties and how silver can transform a product and just change the product and the properties of the product a number of different ways as we do with our sportswear, right? Because the whole thing is when you work out, why would you want to work out odor-free? And if you sweat, oh, is that bacteria on our bodies, right? So, when you sweat, that bacteria gets into the shirt, and that bacteria causes the odor.
Well, if you have our silver tee on, that’s not gonna happen because that sweat hits that silver T-shirt, and guess what? That silver goes to work and eliminates and destroys that bacteria that hits the silver in that shirt, and so there will be no odor in that shirt. And the same thing with our paints, we have our SilverArmor paint. So, you paint your walls and you get a clean environment, right? That’s what you want, a clean environment, clean work environment, where if someone coughs, or a touch, or bacteria is in — bacteria is airborne, lands on that wall, guess what? That silver clean technology goes to work, eliminates it, wipes it out, and your walls stay clean. So, we looked at this as a new opportunity and a new way to use silver and to bring it to market, but also odor-free fitness, odor-free workouts, and odor-free sports. So that’s been our whole goal with this – odor-free because, believe me, I’ve been in some locker rooms, some dudes where- you know how the odor can get…
Joe Fairless: Oh yeah, yeah.
Franco Harris: Also, the thing that really sold me, I went on a trip when I first got involved in this, and I took one T-shirt, I took our silver tee T-shirt, and I worked out, hung it up. The next day, no odor. I wore it again, sweat it, hung it up, no odor. That convinced me also that our technology works, it performs. Because number one, things ought to perform, right? It has to work. And we put this through many tests. As a matter of fact, right now we sell our SilverSport brand into the military. Well, that’s the first market we want to go into – the military.
Joe Fairless: It’s a big market.
Franco Harris: They go out onto patrol, they’re outdoors, they’re sweating – all type of situations… They can’t change their socks, can’t change their tees… [unintelligible [00:20:15].28] you don’t have to worry about soldier’s feet, you don’t have to worry about odor, you don’t have to worry about smelling. [unintelligible [00:20:21].04] for the soldiers.
Then from the military we said, “Where do we go next?” We said, “Hey, you know what? Let’s look into this partnership with Mossy Oak for the outdoors. We formed a partnership with Mossy Oak with our silver clean technology… So the outdoors can now be odor-free. No matter how long you go outdoors, how long you’re out there, how long you walk in our socks, how long you wear our tee or a sports bra or whatever, it’s odor-free outdoors.
Joe Fairless: Have you all taken on investors?
Franco Harris: Not at this time… No, we haven’t. We’ve been self-funded. But we are now going to the next level, and we are looking at that and considering that.
Joe Fairless: And what would you use investment funds for in order to grow your company?
Franco Harris: Well, we’d definitely be looking at people. And then there’s a couple project areas that we are looking at that if these areas grow how we think they can grow, then we’re gonna need working capital. And probably working capital above and beyond where we can be self-funding.
Joe Fairless: What is your specific role as the co-founder of SilverSport?
Franco Harris: Work every day. [laughter] We talk a lot of strategy… Now, I don’t say this like with our Super Bakery… I mean, I don’t go to the plants and bake, you know what I mean? We have people who do that, but we talk ideas, strategy, future plans… You try to build your culture of what you stand for, what your company stands for. So, it’s really trying to make all the pieces fit and make sure we keep moving the pieces forward, that we keep going forward with our ideas, with our different programs, where we’re gonna be at, what the future is, “Okay, let’s make sure that we focus on this and focus on that, and that we have all the little pieces in place.”
Unfortunately, some people think I’m too hands on, you know what I mean? Like, I wanna know every little thing, and sometimes I know that gets in the way of people, but I just love it. I mean I just love to know what’s going on here, what’s going on there, and contribute this, contribute that sort of thing.
I just love the creative part of business, doing new things, new areas, how can we be different, and also how can we be the best. I mean, when you talk about sports, that’s one of the things that you always work on, where you want to be the best player and you want to have the best team, right? I was fortunate enough in sports to experience that, where I was able to produce individually and also, as you know, at that time, I don’t know how you feel, but I feel we had the best team in football at that time.
Joe Fairless: I’m smart enough not to argue with you. [laughter]
Franco Harris: I was waiting for somebody. And now in business, it’s the same thing where we wanna be great at it, we wanna have great products, and we want great performance from our products. And in our bakery business, Super Bakery, we’ve accomplished that. I mean, it’s been great. And now with SilverSport, that’s our whole mindset. We want to be the best – the best in odor-free workouts, the best in odor-free fitness, and so that’s our goal, and that’s what we focus on. We want to be the best in that category of odor-free workouts and odor-free sports.
Joe Fairless: The listeners are entrepreneurs primarily in real estate investing, but this advice doesn’t necessarily have to be directed towards real estate investing because as real estate investors, we are all entrepreneurs, so, here’s the question – what is your best advice ever for entrepreneurs and real estate investors?
Franco Harris: That’s really tough because advices keep changing depending upon the market, right? But I do want you to know that that’s gonna be my next focus – it’s gonna be real estate investing. So, I might have to talk with you some more on another basis, because like real estate, when I first got to Pittsburgh, that really was the first business thing that I did. I bought a little unit and a couple of apartments in it, but just decided to go into another direction. But I think you’re lucky enough if you’re able to do what your passion is, what you love to do, and really jump into it. And a lot of time, a lot of us hesitate, but if you have something that you love to do, jump in. It doesn’t matter where you start, but if you do the right things business-wise – we talked about some of the things – and you put the time and effort into it, you can really make some great things happen, and at the same time, doing something that you really love to do.
I can do business 24/7, and I mean that’s just what I feel. I mean, when I got into it, I try to read all these business magazines all the time. I mean, I’m just reading things, seeing what people did, how they did it, what was their mindset on when they got into it, and how did they make certain decisions, why did they make this decision at this time? We know a lot of things in life is place and timing, right? I mean, that is so important, place and timing, and sometimes, we’re just lucky to be at the right place or the right time, we get involved in the right thing at the right time, just like with real estate. There were great times to be in it, and I’m sure there were a few times not to be in it. So, it’s a lot of different things make things work, and I just love working on it every day.
Joe Fairless: We usually do a lightning round. We have some Best Ever listeners who have some questions for you. Are you ready for the best ever lightning round?
Franco Harris: Some people have questions?
Joe Fairless: That’s right, yeah, I let them know that I was talking to you before, and they submitted some questions.
Franco Harris: That’s surprising.
Joe Fairless: [laughs] Alright. First though, a quick word from my best ever partners.
Joe Fairless: Okay, Franco, the first question comes from Grant, and what he asks is what’s the number one skill that you had in the NFL that is applicable towards business?
Franco Harris: Vision, that’s when I would say. I was able to just see what was happening and what was going on and knowing the move I had to make… And I think vision has always been one of my traits.
Joe Fairless: Valerie, who’s actually based in Pittsburgh, asks — it’s kind of a statement, not a question… You’ve been successful not only in NFL but in business – what advice would you give to (this is pretty specific) an 8-year-old who you want to set up for success from a just overall good head on your shoulders standpoint? I paraphrased.
Franco Harris: An 8-year-old… That you could be a champion in anything that you do, that every direction that you go into, that you can make a difference; and I said that you could be a champion, but you have to work for it and put the time and effort into it, and go out into the world and make your mark and also make a difference.
Joe Fairless: And last question, this comes from me – favorite NFL city to visit, not including Pittsburgh?
Franco Harris: Famous NFL city…
Joe Fairless: Favorite.
Franco Harris: Favorite. Well, that’s a tough one. So, I never went to a game there, but one of my favorite cities is New York. I mean, I love New York. We played in Shea Stadium, but now the stadium is in New Jersey, and so how does that fit?
Joe Fairless: Well, so New York City though, fair enough… Well, Franco, thank you for being on the show. How can the Best Ever listeners learn more about SilverSport and what you’re up to?
Franco Harris: Oh, please go to silversport.com. If they’re interested in our silver paint, silverarmorpaint.com. Yeah, please, because our silver clean technology is incredible and I’d like them to learn more about that.
Joe Fairless: Yeah, when you use the example of spoons, what spoons are made of – that really resonated with me as far as bacteria fighting components or ingredients or elements, or composition, or whatever the right word is.
Franco, thank you for being on the show. Thanks for talking about your transition from an NFL Hall of Famer to the business world with Franco’s All Natural, which transitioned or evolved into Super Bakery, as well as your current venture, SilverSport. A life lesson that you mentioned that is applicable to all real estate investors, all entrepreneurs, is look at the things from a business historical perspective, not from a social perspective, and the reason why I say that is because if we look at it from a business and historical perspective and we are successful, then I believe there will be a positive social ripple effect afterwards. But if we’re not successful, then the social perspective, it might be a drop in the bucket, but then it will go away, and the bucket will be dry again.
Franco Harris: Joe, you read my mind. That’s exactly where I was going to go with that.
Joe Fairless: Yup, exactly.
Franco Harris: You know, like, it takes the business-
Joe Fairless: I’m with you.
Franco Harris: [inaudible [00:33:51]] happened, and I want you to know that I’m gonna get into real estate one of these days soon. I want you to know that.
Joe Fairless: Alright. Well, you’ve got my info and we’ll catch up again once you do, or maybe before and see what I can do to help you out. But in the meantime, we’ve got a daily podcast, so subscribe to it on your phone, and you can listen to every episode for real estate experts that give their best advice ever. There you go about that. What do you think about that?
Franco Harris: I like that.
Joe Fairless: Alright, Franco. Thanks for being on the show. I hope you have a best ever day, and we’ll talk to you soon.
Franco Harris: Okay. Thanks again.