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Carol and Steve Sandlin after Steve received the 2007 Small-Business Person of the Year Award from the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce. Sandlin was unable to stay and enjoy the fruits of his labor: Work called.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Carol and Steve Sandlin after Steve received the 2007 Small-Business Person of the Year Award from the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce. Sandlin was unable to stay and enjoy the fruits of his labor: Work called.

Small-business award
Chamber honors owner of Pay-Less Pharmacy

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com · 340-2435

When Steve Sandlin opened his first Pay-Less Pharmacy in 1976, he was amazed the city required him to install two bathrooms.

He was, after all, the only employee. And he expected few customers.

The customers came, though, and the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday named him the 2007 Small-Business Person of the Year.

Sandlin is a founding partner in Pay-Less Pharmacy Group, which owns three pharmacies in Decatur, two in Athens and two in Ardmore. He employs nine pharmacists, 15 pharmacy technicians and 25 clerks. Last year Pay-Less had $20 million in sales.

The reason for his success was evident Thursday: hard work.

Sandlin, 59, rushed from the Small Business Breakfast after receiving the award, hurriedly shaking hands en route. He had to get to the store.

Later in the day, called by this reporter, he apologized profusely but hurriedly.

“I’d love to talk to you about the business,” he said, “but one of my pharmacists didn’t show up. I’ve got people lined up from here to Lawrence County. I’m just snowed under.”

Small to big

Such is the life of an entrepreneur, said Woodville native Shannon Terry, founder and chief executive officer of Rivals.com. He was a guest speaker at the breakfast, although his formerly small business no longer meets the definition.

When Terry started the company in 1996, four years after graduating from Lipscomb University in Nashville, the Internet was in its infancy.

The Web site he started with a partner was Bama
Online.com, now one of hundreds of high school and college sports teams featured in Web pages on Rivals.com.

Terry and his partner — “a technology geek” — each scraped together $30,000 to start up BamaOnline.com.

“BamaOnline worked from the beginning,” Terry said. “By the end of the first year, we had a full business going that was consuming all of our time.”

Like Pay-Less owner Sandlin, they also were putting in 18-hour days.

Then came the dot-com bubble. Through planning and luck, Terry came through it not just unscathed, but rich.

In January 2000, Rival Networks bought his business for $3 million.

Before the ink was dry, Rival Networks became one of the many dot-com casualties of 2000, forced to cancel its planned initial public offering.

Three months after selling his business, Terry bought Rival Networks out of bankruptcy for $500,000.

“The math worked out pretty good,” Terry chuckled.

Even without the fortuitous timing, Terry’s company probably would have weathered the dot-com crisis.

Most Internet sites went belly-up because of a decline in advertising revenue.

“We always swam upstream,” Terry said of BamaOnline.com. “In 1996, everyone said you can’t have subscriptions; you have to rely on ads.”

He did sell subscriptions, though, and lots of them.

By 2000, he had 10,000 subscribers.

Today he has 180,000 subscribers and annual sales approaching $35 million.

The two-man operation now has 90 employees at its Brentwood, Tenn., headquarters, and 300 writers, reporters and publishers scattered throughout the nation.

The company has syndication agreements with ESPN, Fox Sports, USA Today, AOL, Yahoo, MSNBC and others.

Terry said good employees are the central requirement of any successful business.

He said his goal is to
surround himself with executives who are smarter than he is.

“I hire smart people I can learn from,” he said.

“I want them to have intelligence and integrity, and to share my passion for the business.

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