No matter the levels of success, businesses come and go. That fact is at the heart of the entrepreneurial concept of risk/reward.
Ultimately, if you don’t try something, you’ll never really know.
Nothing But Net was a small local company born out of demand. What some people don’t know about it was that the enterprise was a subsidiary of Royer’s Flowers.
While Nothing But Net no longer exists, it came about at a time when the internet was in its infancy.
“The thing I’ve always thought about Nothing But Net is that it wouldn’t have gotten off the ground if we hadn’t allowed people to bring it up,” said Greg Royer, the chairman of Royer’s Flowers. “Saying ‘yes’ was how the business got started. The fact that we said ‘yes’ gave it its start. Taking some risks can give you some really good results.
“It really came from our IT group, which was headed by [Royer’s Flowers Vice President of Finance] Kevin Laicha,” continued Royer. “It was like, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ It was regular income, and we were very economical. If someone was going to beat our prices, they were going to have to go very low. It’s a lot different [now] than it was then.”
Perhaps the best way to tell the story of Nothing But Net is to start from the beginning.
Royer’s Flowers, the early internet adopter
The time was the late 1980s, early 1990s, and the internet had not yet emerged as a major societal influence, especially locally. Always ahead of the technology curve, Royer’s Flowers was searching for a way to connect its products to new customers.
“What really started the whole thing was me being at a meeting, where a guy was talking about making a better path to your customers,” said Royer. “I was the lone person in the room who said his business was communicating between stores with computers. We needed to provide customers with a way to connect with stores. But we needed equipment. We needed bandwidth.”
That conversation, Royer said, snowballed into a business that took on a life of it’s own.
“In the early days of the internet, there weren’t a lot of local internet service providers,” continued Royer. “We started something revolutionary back then, and that was a website. During the process of putting together a website, we thought we could be a provider of internet services. We figured if we could get a hundred customers, it would be worth it.”
So Nothing But Net became one of the earliest internet service providers in Lebanon. Back then, the now-archaic dial-up service was the most realistic way to go.
Nothing But Net opened an office in the Quentin Circle Shopping Center on Isabel Drive in Lebanon.
“We had the flower business and it was doing well,” said Royer. “We could use the profits to help support Nothing But Net. If it didn’t work out, it was going to sting. But it wasn’t going to be like selling the farm.”
As business began to boom, so did the competition
Most of Nothing But Net’s income, Royer said, was fed back into the company. That led to rapid growth.
“It was a neat business. How do you not keep going?” Royer said. “But eventually we would’ve needed a lot of upgrades to compete. Everyone who offers that kind of service now is national.”
Royer said that Nothing But Net charged local residents about $20 per month for its services. Ultimately, other local companies began offering internet services.
“We kept getting more customers,” said Royer. “We kept adding more lines to it. We had customers in the four-figures at one point in time. We were also selling internet services to other florists. People were seeing that florist’s prices and ordering from that florist.”
There was no middle man, Royer said. But they weren’t the only player in Lebanon.
“There were other people who were doing it. We had competition. There were AOLs you could sign up with,” Royer said. “But for someone who just wanted to get on the internet, [Nothing But Net] was a really good deal.”
Successful enterprises like Royer’s Flowers – a fourth-generation family-owned business – are always re-inventing themselves, looking for ways to improve and for different ways to generate revenues. But never before or since has Royer’s Flowers spawned anything like Nothing But Net.
“We’ve been looking for opportunities that would be ancillary like that business,” said Royer. “We’ve looked at some other things, but we really haven’t found that nugget yet. What we have found is that the best return on investment is putting flower shops in other markets. We tend to get the best return on our investments that way because people like our products. We keep trying to do things with our flowers.”
As internet technology continued to evolve, dial-up service became more and more obsolete. To stay relevant, Royer’s Flowers would’ve had to pump large sums of money into Nothing But Net.
The sale of Nothing But Net
Around the turn of the 21st century, Royer’s Flowers sold Nothing But Net, after operating it for about ten years.
“We weren’t looking to get rid of it,” said Royer. “In hind sight, we were a year or two away from making a tough decision. It wasn’t necessarily a bad time to do it, because it still had value. It was a business we really enjoyed having. It was a totally different business, besides the fact that it helped us sell more flowers. Computers and the internet became an extension of the telephone.”
Keeping the business growing, Royer said, would have required a significant investment.
“Subscribers would know, but if you weren’t a subscriber, you didn’t know it was part of Royer’s Flowers. It was its own entity,” Royer said. “It became self-sufficient pretty quickly. Most of the things that happen here are collaborations. Someone will throw an idea out, but you’ve got to follow through with it.”
Especially when the potential reward for outweighs the risk.