Oakville resident, Scott Gurley, 41, is a self-described renaissance man.
Since graduating from Chaminade High School in 1988, Gurley has obtained three college degrees; one in physics, one in music composition and one in engineering.
“I don’t use any of those,” Gurley said.
Instead, his professional work resume expands the spectrum. He has held many programming positions and worked at an advertising agency as the web and new media guy. Before that, he ran a staffing company in St. Louis. Currently, he runs a website development business called 1127web.com.
His wife, Laura, 34, was a teacher for five years.
“She quit when we had kids. That was eight years ago,” he said.
Four years ago, he and Laura realized there was a gap in the South County business area.
“There used to be a teachers' store across from St. Anthony’s Hospital, called the Classroom Connection. They went out of business six or seven years ago,” Gurley said. “Laura and I saw all of our friends, who are teachers, complaining that there weren’t any stores around here.”
It was then that Gurley was hit with a revelation.
“I know about human resources. I know about payroll tax. I know about advertising. I know how to do this business,” he said. “What’s so hard about opening a retail store?”
After all, it seems that the occupations of Gurley’s diversified past were just the paving stones he needed to build his future as the owner of The Teachers' Lounge.
From the outset, it seemed that it was a very simple task, indeed. The business landscape of 2007 was still enjoying time at the top of the recession slope. Banks were ready and willing to lend money. And Gurley was confident in his capabilities.
They opened right before the recession began to take hold. And while Gurley was watching his competition crumble, The Teachers' Lounge was enjoying a surprising level of success.
“The downturn in the economy didn’t hurt us,” Gurley said. “For the first two years we were open, we kept saying, ‘What recession?’ By 2010, we said, ‘Oh, this recession.’”
For the first time, Gurley and his wife began to face some growing pains.
“We realized that 2010 was our first year that wasn’t going to be as good as the year before. That was kind of bad timing,” he said. “But it’s also a blessing because if we can make it through this recession, then we can make it anytime.”
Today, Gurley relies on some simple philosophies to garner success.
One of them is based on the Japanese school of thought called Kaizen, which translates to continual improvement. Kaizen is also known as the Toyota Production System. The notion is that small and ongoing improvements are the components that create a strong business model. The practice of Kaizen has been adopted by many companies of all sizes, including The Teachers' Lounge.
“I mean, becoming the ultimate teachers' store is impossible, but you can always take what you are doing today and make one little change today and get better and better until ultimately, years down the road, you can look back and see, boy do we do things much better now. So you can, as a whole, become better and better and better,” Gurley said.
Another, more basic idea has been inspired from a surprising source.
“We believe in the Miracle on 34th Street principle,” Gurley said.
In the iconic Christmas film, Kris Kringle is approached by a customer who is inquiring about a particular type of toaster that the department store did not carry. Kringle, in the spirit of giving the customer what they are looking for, suggests that she go another department store where they will have it.
“We regularly send people to Target or Michaels or Toy 'R' Us,” Gurley said. “While we’d love to be one-stop shopping, we can’t sell Play-Dough. I mean, we can’t buy it for the price that Target can sell it for, so why compete with Target? Send customers to Target and make them happy. We’ll sell them things we’re good at.”
The Gurleys are also hopeful that the community takes on a “buy local” attitude.
“I believe, 100 percent, in capitalism,” Gurley said. “But people need to realize that if they never buy from the local store, the local store will go away.”
Future plans are in the works and having a clear-cut vision for their business has also helped them shape the big picture for achievement.
Simply put, “We want to be the best resource for our local teachers,” Laura Gurley said.
The Teachers' Lounge is located at 4121 Elm Park Drive. For more information call 314-894-7000 or visit their website