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Choose a business you know and with which you have experience.

Norris Randall, fresh out of the Army and holder of a college degree in industrial arts, had a job offer to teach high school. Then his father called for help.

Louie Randall had owned a successful men's clothing store, but in 1956, he was talked into starting a tile installation business by a guy with big promises: ''We can make $100 a day building bathrooms, and we'll split it 50-50."

It was a business neither father nor son knew anything about. If Norris had stuck with his training, he would have gone into woodworking. He had, in fact, built several houses before his father's leap from retailing to tile work. 

Louie bought a used pickup truck and some materials, then asked Norris if he'd like to learn the tile business from his expert partner. "Big mistake," Norris admits. "It quickly became apparent that the man did not know much about business record keeping and the need to make a profit." The partner, for example, didn't bother to figure the cost of materials and shipping into his pricing. After a few months, the tile man was gone, and Norris continued Randall Tile Co. in Phenix City, Alabama, learning on the job. 

After three years in business, Norris thought the company was doing well until an accountant friend helped him figure his income taxes.

"After we figured out that I had made $4,400 for the whole year, he said, 'You might as well go out and get a job.' That's when I realized this was not a game," Norris says

Fortunately, Norris's wife had a nursing job to support the family. That financial exercise was the wakeup call Norris needed to get a handle on each project's costs. In the past, when Norris bid for a job, the customer would claim that a competitor was willing to do the work for less. Norris would meet the lower price to get the work.

He stopped meeting competitors' bids and stuck to his own terms. As Norris's reputation grew, customers started giving him the work anyway because of his quality, reliability, and references. Much later, Norris figured out that many of those lower bids were phantoms. In 1960, after the birth of the Randalls' third son, Norris's wife quit her nursing job to keep the books for Randall Tile Co. Nine years later, the company stopped accepting installation work and concentrated on supplying tile and related materials to contractors. As a supplier with one location, Norris was better able to manage his workforce than he had been with dozens of work sites spread over a wide area. 

Norris is semiretired now, and his son, James, runs Randall Tile Co.

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