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SMALL BUSINESS | LEARNING CURVE: ALTERNATE TRANSPORTATION
WHEELCHAIR

Advance Man : Planning Smooths Business' Expansion

August 20, 1996|Michael Gross, who was born without a right hand or a left foot, had so much trouble finding his ideal job that he decided to start his own business, Alternate Transportation Wheelchair. When the business got too big to run from home, he prepared for the financial burden of moving out by making as many changes as possible ahead of time. Gross was interviewed by Karen Kaplan

Michael Gross, who was born without a right hand or a left foot, had so much trouble finding his ideal job that he decided to start his own business, Alternate Transportation Wheelchair. When the business got too big to run from home, he prepared for the financial burden of moving out by making as many changes as possible ahead of time. Gross was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.

I've lived completely in the able-bodied world my whole life. I didn't enter the disabled community until I had my own business, which sells, repairs and distributes parts for wheelchairs.

After high school, I got jobs working at discount stores and auto parts stores and worked my way up to department manager. But what I really wanted was a career in electronics. I earned A's and Bs in my classes, but when I went looking for a job, I couldn't find anything. Finally it dawned on me that nobody wanted to hire me because of my disability.

So I decided to start my own business. My parents had a bicycle shop when I was a kid, so I figured I'd do the same thing. But then a relative suggested I combine my interest in bikes with my background in electronics and get into the wheelchair business.

I launched the business in my condominium. I put ads in some of the trade magazines and got a lot of customers for mail-order parts. I also did some wheelchair repair work.

Having customers drive up to my place was getting to be awkward. The homeowners association said my business could stay there as long as we kept a low profile. But I still felt awkward because we couldn't conduct business just like everyone else.

We needed to move out, but I was afraid to take that big step. I was afraid that we wouldn't be able to support the extra overhead and that all kinds of hidden costs would pop up.

The best way to manage the stress of expanding is to be prepared as much as possible. We still ran into things that we weren't expecting, but so far it's been a very smooth transition.

*

On why his company had to move out of his home . . .

"Having customers drive up to my place was getting to be awkward. . . . We couldn't conduct business just like everyone else."

*

On why he was nervous about moving the company out of his home . . .

"I was afraid that we wouldn't be able to support the extra overhead and that all kinds of hidden costs would pop up."

*

On why he made so many changes to his business in advance of the move . . .

"The best way to manage the stress of expanding is to be prepared as much as possible. . . . So far it's been a very smooth transition."

AT A GLANCE

Company: Alternate Transportation Wheelchair

Owner: Michael Gross

Nature of business: Sells, repairs and distributes parts for wheelchairs

Location: Laguna Hills

Year founded: 1991

Number of employees: 3

Annual sales: $175,000

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