Spotlight – Mike Thalasinos, Owner, Boulder Designs of DFW, Irving, TX
DALLAS/FORT WORTH – Mike Thalasinos is not afraid of starting new things. Which is why, after starting and selling several businesses, he knew right away that he wanted to own his latest venture, Boulder Designs of DFW. But will it be his last?
Tell me a little bit about your early years.
I was born in Groton, CT. on the New London submarine base. My dad was 20 years Navy, so I’m a Navy brat. We moved mostly up and down the East coast and were in Bermuda for a little while. When my father retired, when I was in high school, we lived just outside of Manhattan.
I went to college at William Patterson University and got a degree in psychology with a minor in business. I had no plan to use psychology, but it’s kind of like philosophy in that you use it your entire life. After that, I worked for Prudential Insurance in their group claims department. After about nine months, I just had to get out, since I was not well suited to a corporate environment. I left Prudential after a year and started my own business providing a service to the insurance industry.
What kind of business did you start?
I coordinated medical evaluations worldwide for the insurance industry. I way underestimated what it was going to cost to get the business off the ground and profitable. I just had $800 to my name and that was gone really quickly. So to make ends meet, I pumped gas at night until I was robbed at gunpoint and decided delivering pizzas was a better alternative. It was about three years before the company was generating enough to support me and my wife and two kids.
A few years later I was at an insurance conference when I met a sales guy from another company based in Salt Lake City, UT that worked on the healthcare side of insurance. He was lamenting about the lack of outpatient surgical facility data that was needed to adjudicate health claims. After some market research, we became partners in the new venture. We ran it for about four years before we were approached by a venture capital group to whom we eventually sold a minority interest. Our computer systems weren’t where they needed to be for them to make the financial commitment so I relocated from New Jersey to Utah. The original plan was to spend about 8 weeks in Utah but after living in a hotel for the 2 months, I got a place to live and ended up living in Utah for close to 18 months.
How did you find your way to Texas?
My business partner came to Texas to hire a regional manager for the company and I came down about six months later to visit customers in the DFW area. I met the woman he hired, Carrie, who later became my wife, and that’s how I ended up in Texas in 1992. Concurrently, I also had an indoor sports facility business in New Jersey that I sold to my partner.
I was looking for the next thing to do and the guy who built our house had sold his home building business and so we spent a year trying to find the “next thing”. We had stumbled across this product in China, which was an art form four or five centuries old, where they painted on the inside of glass – really detailed and unbelievably gorgeous. We started the company on Sept. 11, 2001 and as we checked in to our Shanghai hotel we learned about the Twin Towers coming down. In order to create a product that appealed to North American consumers, we licensed well-known art that we recreated at our factory in Lang Fang. We had 150 artists in China creating our product and we wholesaled to over 2,000 retail stores located mostly in the U.S. and Canada. We had that business for 10 years before selling it to a major player in the gift industry who was in acquisition mode.
Another business sold! So that was business No. 3?
There were others in between, but those were the major ones. After I sold that business, I was looking for the next “unique” product when I identified Boulder Designs, which I eventually bought in to. I always wanted to work with something that was unique, not easy to duplicate and was a franchise. All of my other businesses I had started from scratch and I wasn’t ready to develop another business from the ground up. That’s how I got into the rock sign business.
Our manufacturing is in Irving and I office out of Flower Mound. We build the rocks, deliver them and install them. Since we build all of the rocks, we can do any size, shape, color, text or font with sizes ranging from 100 lbs. up to over 10,000 lbs.
What do you enjoy about this venture?
What I really like is the product is produced locally and our customers are local. I’ve never had that. In my other businesses, I produced in China and sold worldwide, and the insurance business was nationwide. This is the first time everything is here.
The best thing about the product is when you deliver it to a customer the reaction is always “Wow!” People just gush. It’s really kind of cool.
So many of the entrepreneurs I interview have had many businesses, but the businesses are usually so different from each other. I would think it would take faith to start a business believing it will succeed, especially if it was different from the last.
What I’ve found is that although the product or service may differ, the fundamentals of running and building a business are pretty much the same. There’s always a learning curve with a new business, but, at the end of the day, it all comes down to customer service. Really, when you get down to it, you may sell a product, but you’re selling the customer service that supports the product. I’ve enjoyed every business I’ve had and have always looked for something that was unique and had limited competition.
I’ve known you for a few years now, and I know that you are a strong supporter of hiring veterans to work in your business. Explain why that is important to you.
My dad served on submarines during his 20 years in the Navy and my business partner, Gary Grubbs, is retired Army with 22 years of service. What I find is that veterans have been in an environment where it’s a lot more demanding then what we do on a daily basis. They’re more reliable, goal-oriented and have a “get it done” mindset. You give them a time and they show up, they can take direction and they understand what’s needed.
What are your plans for the business?
I think most businesses want to grow and that is also our goal. Our mantra is that “boulders sell boulders”. They really are our best advertising when people are able to see and touch them.
What do you like to do when you aren’t building all of these businesses?
Our family is all local and my wife and I have 4 grandchildren in Denton. We have a 14-year-old grandson (Caden), a 13-year-old granddaughter (Kaley), an 18-month old grandson (Tucker) and our new baby granddaughter (Charli) who was born two weeks ago. They’re a lot of fun. Between attending the older kids sporting events, having them all spend the night with us on Friday or Saturday night and having everyone over for Sunday dinner, the weekends are pretty full.
During the week, my wife commutes to San Diego for her job with a company that is involved in the field of proteomics and, of course, I’m working with Boulder Designs. I also donate a half day of time each week with the local Salvation Army and so our week is pretty hectic. Occasionally, my wife will need to stay in San Diego over the weekend for a board meeting, so I’ll go out to San Diego.
What name do your grandchildren call you?
I’m “Moosie” and Carrie is “Mimi.” When Caden was about 5, he asked why I was called “Moosie”. I told him that a moose was big, ugly and smelly and pointed to myself. He thought for a while and said “Oh yeah”, and just walked off. I was hoping for some disagreement but it didn’t happen!
Love that! Do you have any little ones around the house who have fur?
We have two dogs. One is a Yorkie/mutt and then we have a Coton de Tulear. It’s a breed that was just recently recognized by the Westminster Kennel Club. They are from Madagascar (her name is Maddie) and were originally circus dogs and lap dogs. They’re really friendly, fluffy white dogs that don’t shed and are hypoallergenic.
Will Boulder Designs of DFW be your final business or will you always be looking for the next idea?
It probably will be, unless something else comes along that complements it.
Boulder Designs of DFW specializes in creating, delivering and installing custom-crafted, one-of-a-kind rock boulder signs for both commercial and residential applications. –mjm
Need a Reprint?