From Marine Officer to MBA and Business Owner, Alex Lodato on how he has leveraged his diverse background to drive his own business success
Editor’s Note: Alex Lodato is a former Marine Officer and logistics specialist, who has built a successful new franchise in Mission Viejo, California. We sat down with Alex to learn more about his business and what has allowed him to ramp up so quickly in a completely new industry.
Q. What was your background prior to owning your own Franchise?
A. I grew up in a military family. My brother and grandfather were both marines and although I didn’t originally intend to go down that path, once I got older and went off to college, I came to the realization that it was the right fit for me. I ended up enrolling in Officer Candidate School in the Platoon Leaders’ Course and loved it. By 2008 I was commissioned as a Marine Corps Infantry Officer and led Marines through a combat tour in Afghanistan as well as a peacekeeping and training mission in the greater Middle East. Upon completion of my second tour, I decided to transfer my leadership experiences into the civilian sector. For the past seven years I have been working in airfreight as the Director of Operations for a midsize airfreight company. I learned a ton about the industry as well as myself and really honed my leadership and operational skills. It was truly a great experience but, since college, I had been longing for something more and wanted to become an entrepreneur. That’s when I found IQ. It was the perfect opportunity at the perfect time.
Q. After evaluating so many opportunities, what ultimately attracted you to IQ?
A. I was looking for a truly turnkey solution in an industry with long-term stability. Getting a new venture off the ground can be difficult and I wanted to make sure that whatever opportunity I chose had all the tools and resources available so that I could hit the ground running. Ryan and the rest of the IQ team are truly interested in building something special. They’re willing to listen, but also willing to lead, which makes for the perfect environment to build my business. I have all the support I need to succeed coupled with the freedom to do exactly what I want. So much of what I buy into in this organization is the people. I couldn’t imagine doing this alone.
Q. How would you characterize the work environment at IQ
A. We’re always talking: bouncing ideas off each other, complaining, coming up with better ways to do things. It’s a great environment to be a part of. You have this small fraternity of guys who are going through the exact same thing as you. You’re running this business, but there’s still the built-in support system and camaraderie that makes the work environment so much better. I think a lot of entrepreneurs feel isolated and never have the people around them to help them through the tough issues, which is why I’m happy I chose IQ.
Q. How have you been able to leverage your background to succeed in the Office Products industry?
A. There are a lot of murky waters and archaic practices within office products and that’s why you need a dealer like IQ to help you navigate your way through the process. It’s very similar to the logistics industry in the way that you need to be resourceful, gritty, scrappy and elbow your way through things to be successful. Some people see it as a challenge, but there’s an incredible amount of opportunity that comes with that challenge. If you’re willing to go that extra step and 90% of other dealers aren’t, you will always have the edge and you’ll deliver a consistently better experience for your customer. It’s the challenges that get me up in the morning. I’m constantly thinking of how to find a better solution for my customer.
Q. How do you think COVID has impacted the Office Products industry?
A. It’s certainly been an up and down time, but the volatility has created enormous opportunities. Not only has PPE grown significantly, the whole experience has made people give more thought to how they run their business. The suppliers who are delivering value and are true business partners have a lot to gain in this type of environment. It has also opened up new opportunities for work-life balance and flexibility. I can go out of town and still work, so the virtual setting has been great in that regard.
Q. What makes IQ stand out from other dealers?
A. It seems to me that most dealers try to fit the customer to their solutions. It’s an industry with strong established norms and dealers naturally fall into that pattern after years of operating in that way. It can be difficult to break that inertia, but IQ has been able to build a different model. We start off by determining a solution for each client and customize the business process around their needs. Where others would try to fit the business in a pre-defined box, we will find a way to be successful and make sure our partnership makes sense for both sides. It becomes more of a two-way business partnership and clients appreciate the time and effort we put into customizing our solution to the way they do business and not the other way around.
Q. How has the excitement of starting a franchise matched up with the reality of running your own business on a day-to-day basis?
A. One of my biggest questions from day 1 has been “am I going to get enough support”. It’s a classic complaint of franchisees, so it was something that I was very wary of from the beginning. But the reality of being a part of this organization, of working with the Ops team, Ryan, Bryan and everyone else is that it’s not the standard franchise experience. I can clearly tell that it’s not about selling a franchise, it’s about building something bigger. The IQ experience is about building a movement and we’re all in it together.
Q. What tips would you give to new Franchisees?
A. You’re gonna fail a lot and be really bad at things. You have to know that going in and don’t think your business will be upended because of it. You will not be alone. Don’t be afraid to ask, don’t be afraid to speak up. Dive in headfirst and learn. Test yourself, test your sales tools, your website, test everything and you will come out on the other side a success.
Q. What drives you and what are your primary goals as you continue to expand your business?
A. I don’t ever want to BS anybody and I don’t ever want to lie. Business can often be about smoke and mirrors, some of which is on purpose and some of which is more systemic, but my whole philosophy is to be open and honest with customers upfront. For me, it’s about building the partnership through a genuine interaction that lasts. It’s making a little bit of money over a long period of time and building something that can benefit everyone. In the end I want to have a long-term successful business that I can be proud of and that can make a better life for my wife and 2 little kids.
Questions for Alex? ALodato@IQtotalsource.com