In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re taking a look at the career of President of OES Global Incorporated, Melissa Schechter. With multiple companies over the last thirty years, Schechter has become what she deems a serial entrepreneur. She started in an era where entrepreneurs were rare and social media was a distant dream.
Studies show female entrepreneurship is up 114% over the last two decades, but this was not the case when Schechter set out on her career path. In 1986 when she graduated from Florida International University, women made up less than a third of all small business owners. She graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management and had no idea what the future had in store for her.
“I didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur,” said Schechter. “It was kind of born out of necessity and really happened organically. Once I started to have success, I never looked back.”
How it all began
Upon graduation, Schechter began working for Victoria Station, a national steakhouse chain that was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Realizing there wouldn’t be a chance for upward mobility, the 23-year-old began looking for another opportunity. She continued on as a manager of Victoria Steakhouse during her search, where she was asked to stock the restaurant’s first-aid kit.
This would seem an insignificant task to many, but for Schechter, it was the first of multiple times she would identify opportunities that others did not see. Schechter had been advised that first aid giant Zee Medical’s kits were simply too costly. She’d need to make a Publix run and fill up the first-aid kit on the cheap. A light bulb went off.
“There had to be a more affordable option than a large scale supplier like Zee Medical,” thought Schechter. “When I couldn’t find one, I thought ‘I’ll do that!’ And so I started knocking on doors during the day and waitressing at night.”
Restaurant Medical Supplies was born. Schechter went on to work two jobs for about five years until she had created a solid foundation. In the beginning, Schechter bought her materials from a local pharmacist; eventually she increased her profits by going directly to manufacturers. Clients for her first-aid kits grew to include not just restaurants but hotels, factories, stadiums and more.
“I’ve never been afraid of hard work. When I was building my businesses, I always had another line of income until I could afford not to. Back then, there was no internet or social media for a quick return,” laughed Schechter. “Success takes time. I remember looking into advertising on AOL, which was extremely cost prohibitive. There was a time when they had a hold on the market and the prices were cost per impression. It’s unbelievable to think about with all we have available at our fingertips today.”
She never dreamed that industry giant Cintas would one day purchase her company and bring her on as a branch manager. Schechter had never worked in a corporate setting for a Fortune-500 company and liked the structure it offered. While she was open to the experiences of corporate life, Schechter once again found herself asking “what’s next.” She was only 35. And so, she began looking for her next move.
“You have to be able to pivot. You have to be willing to try. So many people are too scared to try,” said Schechter. “Confidence comes with experience. You have to have faith in yourself and your ability and be passionate about what you’re doing. If you’re willing to work at it, things will happen for you.”
Eventually, one of her long time clients, Andy Brahms of Armchem International, tapped her to help him build his first aid and safety business. She was on to her next venture. While she enjoyed working with Armchem, once again having her own company was never far from her mind. Soon enough, a client requested a huge inventory of Gatorade.
“It was the largest order of Gatorade I’d ever seen,” said Schechter. “I was curious. Who needs that much Gatorade? I came to learn about OSHA compliance and the importance of keeping industrial workers safe on the job. The more research I did, the more I thought there was a real market out there for industrial hydration.”
Hydration Depot was born. Not long after came Traffic Cones for Less. Once again, a client had a request that was not easily filled in the current marketplace: he needed a huge supply of traffic cones on the cheap. Schechter went to work, did her research and filled the need. OES Global Inc., is the parent company to both Hydration Depot and TCFL, as well as Absorbents for Less, a third brand in the line.
Schechter has put her true entrepreneurial spirit to the test multiple times. She describes herself as fiscally conservative, having been influenced by her time in the restaurant business.
“The restaurant business is anything but financially conservative. There is a ton of risk and you have to have a considerable investment to be successful,” noted Schechter.
“Safety or traffic are not as sexy, but there is much less risk and it’s been incredibly lucrative for me. People don’t think you can be passionate about Gatorade or traffic cones, but it’s about what they represent. I’m fulfilling a need in the market, while running my own company and growing it into a success. That’s what I’m passionate about. And I’m still working on my unicorn concept.”
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
On her sales technique: “I’m very persistent. That’s my technique. If I put my mind to it, and it means something to me, I’m going to try every angle.
On her secret to success: “Nothing replaces putting in the time. Social media changed the business model a bit but you still have to pay attention, look for the opportunity and the put in the work. Sometimes that means working two, three jobs to get your rent paid. But nothing beats that feeling when you see you’re succeeding.”
On fighting entrepreneurial boredom: “When you’re working for yourself, you have to be passionate because the second you start to get bored or complacent, you won’t put in that same effort – and someone else will come in and outhustle you. When you start to get bored, find your next project.”
On work-life balance: “I love to stay busy. People who appreciate a more relaxed lifestyle, this may not be for you. Personally, I’ve always been able to turn off when I need to. But if success drives you, if you are self-motivated, if risk doesn’t frighten you – there’s a really big marketplace out there. Don’t be scared to find your piece of it.”
On being an entrepreneur: “You have to have thick skin in this business. It’s not easy to walk into a business and ask to see a decision maker. You have to be comfortable with rejection and continually finesse your pitch. Pay attention to what you learn each time. What did you take away from the meeting you just had? You have to be able to learn from each encounter.”