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Episode 119: How NWA Serial Entrepreneur Brant Barnes Found Success in Authenticity

Spread the Ozark love

IANWA – Brant Barnes

TZL Open [0:11] It's time for another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. The podcast covering the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship and life in general here in the Ozarks. Whether you are considering a move to this area or trying to learn more about the place you call home, we've got something special for you. Here's our host, Randy Wilburn.

Randy Wilburn [0:42] Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host, Randy Wilburn, and I'm excited to be with you for another episode of the podcast. I'm here today with Brant Barnes, and Brant is an entrepreneur. I connected with him as I always do through somebody else that I know and that individual, just a quick shout out to Mark Zweig for introducing us. I got a chance to sit down and chat with Brant before us doing this podcast to learn more about him. Brant owns a Papa John's franchisee, owns many real estate, and is an insurance agent. He runs Shelter Insurance here in downtown Fayetteville. And so I'm sitting in his beautiful office right off Spring Street and finally getting a chance to learn a little bit more about him, and I wanted to introduce him to the I am Northwest Arkansas audience and tell his story to everyone here. As we always do, our focus at I am Northwest Arkansas on the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship and life here in the Ozarks. And hopefully, we will hear a little bit of all of that from Brant as he shares his story. And so, without further ado, Brant Barnes, how are you doing today?

Brant Barnes [1:49] I'm doing great. I'm pumped to be here. I got to speak to Mark's class. That’s where this came from. Mark asked me to talk to the entrepreneurs at the college. I work with a lot of the kids over there, and I have got three classes in a row with Mark and hear the same stories repeatedly. So he reached out to you, and he knows I've been in the weeds of entrepreneurship and had my ups and downs and I appreciate that.

Randy Wilburn [2:13] You have done a lot. You are short, 41 years on this earth, and not that I put your age out there, but I mean, you still have a lot of life in the tank and a lot more to do. So I would love for you just to share, and we talked about this earlier, for you to share your superhero origin story with our audience. And that's the one question that we always ask on this podcast because I believe that everybody's hero's journey is important, but I would love for you to give us the cliff note version of how you got here. It’s not like you woke up one day and all of a sudden, you’re like, I'm going to buy some Papa John's. I'm going to buy some real estate. I'm going to be an insurance agent, or I'm going to be a pilot. All of these things were built on the other. And so. I would love for you to give our audience a glimpse into who Brant Barns is?

Brant Barnes [2:56] l think it starts with exposure as a kid, just exposure. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you know? What does your dad do? What does your mom do? What does your aunt do? What do your friend's parents do? I grew up in Mountain Home, Arkansas. I’m just an Arkansas kid. We are 30 miles from Missouri, but I knew Springfield, Missouri, Fayetteville, Arkansas, Memphis, Little Rock. That's what I knew. That's where we went. That's what we did. Dad was an avid Razorback fan; as you are in Arkansas, we are a one-state team. So we were huge Razorback football fans. My dad and I grew up flying. My dad was a pilot. He flew in sales for eight years for a company out of Cotter, Arkansas, and he decided after traveling for a long time he wanted to settle down and be around. He's gone two weeks and home two weeks, and that was just not good. I had two older sisters. So, my dad, in 1983, 84, was interviewed with Shelter Insurance to be an agent in Mountain Home. And it was a district sales manager that said can you come by for an interview this afternoon at five o'clock, I'm at the Ramada Inn and my dad said I had got my son with me, but I can come. He said to bring him. So I was four years old at the Ramada Inn in Montana Mountain Home and my dad being interviewed by Bob Lewis, and they hired him for a Shelter Insurance agency in ‘83. My dad started with Shelter, still with them, planning to retire on July 1st this year. He has been there 38 years. I guess that's the math, and I think it's 38. He hired a lady named Vicki, my dad's secretary when she was 18. And she's still there, which is amazing. She picked me up from school, things like that. So my dad was a hybrid business owner. That’s what I call it. He owned his agency in Mountain Home and I grew up watching him. He never lost the flying bug, so we flew a small plane everywhere we went. What I knew was Arkansas. I knew Batesville, Conway, Greenboro, Mountain View. We all knew somebody through Shelter; it’s tight-knit. We know the agents in Jonesboro and Batesville. The agent in service is a good friend of mine, and so through Shelter, traveling and sports, we played all these teams. So we began to play Rogers and Little Rock Catholic and go to Marion from time to time. Mostly Arkansas, we never really ventured in Missouri. One of my dad's best friends was an older gentleman that was best friends with Eddie Sutton and he was tied to Charles Ballantine. He was a guy I met when I was five years old. Charles Ballantine stayed at my house when I was six, and he was my idol. I mean, he was just the man. And so, the older gentleman that was friends with Eddie Sutton had a jet and we used to get to fly to games. And then we went to Oklahoma State when he was friends with him. And so, Razorback was in my blood. Mr. McClain was a businessman; I looked up to him. I was like, I want one of those planes. I want to do what he does. I would ask him questions about how you get into business? What do you do? From an early age, I knew I wanted to be a business owner. I knew I wanted my business. I wanted the freedom to go anywhere in the world, anytime and I didn't want money to be a barrier. I wanted to live a life to do whatever I want. And so, I knew I wanted to be a pilot and my own business. I didn't know what type; I didn't know where I just knew that. I played all sports in high school. I was good at everything, great at nothing. I could play anything from racquetball to tennis. I was Catcher’s State Championship team in 1997. I won the state championship not to veer off but just crazy how small the state is in small areas. When I came to college, we won the State Championship. We beat Sheridan in the finals, and we got in a fight afterward, and it was well known. It was a big brawl and some people got hurt. I came to college over here and my fraternity brothers, four of them were on that team, and we all ended up great friends; bygones are bygones. I flew to Pine Bluff, Stuttgart and Benton last Thursday, and a guy picked us up, he’s a banker, and he's from Sheridan. It's just how the state ties together. I got out of high school in ’97 and we came to Fayetteville for every game. My dad and I sat through every Razorback football game and that's just what we did. We were here for the game. Yeah, we tailgate a little bit, but we were here for who's the player? Where is he from? Is he from Jenks, Oklahoma? How do we get him and what are his skill sets? We would go an hour before the game and see the pregame. We wanted to see him kick and punt and how so and so look in the day. My dad and I enjoyed the game and so that was probably my fondest memories of Fayetteville, Arkansas of us going to ball games. I got out of high school in ’97 and went to UCA for a year. I got a scholarship, a much-preferred walk-on deal. At UCA to deep snap. I weighed 225 pounds at that time. I played middle linebacker and deep snapper at UCA; I was mostly a deep snapper and met people from all over Arkansas. There were guys from Rogers. I learned at UCA that those guys were just as big as the guys at Fayetteville. They’re just not as fast. So they're two-tenths slower in the 40s, they bench press 50 pounds less, and are about two inches shorter, but they're close, and it was athletic. So, we did that for a year and a half and then I just said, I'm going to Fayetteville. I'm ready. I skipped out that Christmas, I guess in ’99. I moved back up here and went to school here. What's interesting about this is that seeing Northwest Arkansas from afar is different. I was from Mountain Home. We flew here from the Drake Field, got a ride to the game and went home. I knew Herman's. I knew this that, but all I knew was this little piece. Then when you come to college here, now I got Dixon, I can put that in my bag. And so I'm here and I'm learning Dixon and learning a little bit about it. I worked in Springdale for a guy named Bill Bakewell, who was tied to baseball. In my junior senior year, he introduced me to coach Brian. I started going pheasant hunting with a bunch of guys, Scott Taber and a bunch of guys who played baseball. I met Kevin McReynolds and Johnny Ray. It just blossomed from here, my meeting the people from Northwest Arkansas. And so from there, I get out of school and I'm like, what am I going to do? And I think that's the moment where I was just like I wanted my own business. I knew I wanted to fly to work and to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to chart my path. I didn't want anybody in front of me saying, you can and can't do this. And so, I needed to get out of Fayetteville and Mountain Home at the time. And I was like, I'm going to look around. A friend of mine wanted to do a start-up in Memphis, and they said, if you go there, we will get you started. So I moved to East Memphis and didn't know anybody over there. It was scary. First time I'd ventured out where if my car broke or something happened, I didn't know who to get a hold of. I had connections in Fayetteville and Mountain Home, all over the state, but Memphis was new territory. Six months into being over there, my dad reached out. He said there's a Shelter Insurance Agency in Senatobia, Mississippi that is opening up and they will interview you if you want the interview. There's a guy that's retiring, an older gentleman. I said I would go to the interview. I went to the interview; they got me to a second interview. They hired me and I'm like, where's this? It was 30 miles straight south of Memphis down Interstate 55 Senatobia, Mississippi. I took over for an older gentleman that had been there for 32 years named O. C. Burns. He just took me in and helped me get that going. So from there, I started my venture into Shelter Insurance and moved into a place I knew nobody.

Randy Wilburn [10:08] Just so for the audience’s sake, when you say they hired you, they hired you to run that agency?

Brant Barnes [10:15] In that situation, Shelter owns the client base. So they pay off Mr. Burns, he leaves and put me in charge of a couple of 1000 policies. I got a ready-made business and now it's up to me to do whatever I want with it from there. They want me to grow it and add my team, but I'm an independent contractor and own my own business, and I'm in Senatobia, Mississippi. So I started a small client base and then here we go. And so, that started in ’02 and that was new territory for sure. I had no idea what I was doing. I did it for three years and that's all I was doing. I was buying and selling cars. I've been buying and selling trucks, four-wheelers, anything I get a hold of since I was ten years old. I've been reading magazines about real estate and everything. The ambition is there; just where do I go with it? So I was buying stuff. I bought a condo in Destin, Florida, one of the best deals I've ever done in my life. I got lucky. I bought that in ’04 and that was the first thing I bought when I got the job. I bought a three-bedroom, two-bath condo in Sandpiper Cove right in the heart of Destin. I held it for two years and was able to make some money. I just got lucky and got a huge offer, and I sold it. I took that money in ’05 and my dad was in on it, so we split the returns. I bought two rental houses and a good friend of mine, he’s a banker, said we ought to start a Papa John's and I'm like, we should. Then I said, hold on, why should we start a Papa John’s and he's like because it's really good. It is good so let's do it. So it's like myself, this banker and a third guy. We drive to Louisville, Kentucky. I'm in insurance. I got about three rental houses now. I’m buying and selling trucks, and I go to Louisville, Kentucky and we come out of this one day. They sell us on the franchise. We were going to put it in Senatobia, Mississippi and they're like, the demographics aren't good. You don't need to be there. If you're going to do a store, you need to put it in Hernando, Mississippi, halfway up to Memphis. A little bit bigger town, but it is right along Interstate 55. This all goes down Interstate 55 out of Memphis. So I looked at the guys and said, what do you think? One guy says, well, they wanted 250,000 pretty much to get open. That's what it’s going to take. We needed 75,000 cash, and we had to beg for 175. People don't want to borrow money on restaurants. They just don't. So, one guy goes, I don't have 25 grand. And I'm like, well, why did you come to Louisville? So he's out. And my other buddy, who's a banker, is a Senatobia guy. And he says if it’s not in Senatobia, I'm out. I don't want to do it 50 miles. Okay, so here I am, it wasn't my idea, but I'm that guy that once you plan it, my head it’s happening. I'm getting the pizza place. My wife had met a friend from the gym, her husband. They kept telling us we should meet. So I met with him, and his name is Mike Hensley. Mike went to school at Southern Miss for architectural engineering. He got a four-year degree, came out and worked for six months and didn't like it. He quit, decided to go to law school at Ole Miss. He goes to law school for four years, passes the bar and becomes an attorney. Six months into being an attorney, he decides it's not for him. So he and I meet and he quits his new law job to start a pizza store and his wife hated me. Pretty much like, what do you think, he just spent ten years in school and now you're going to pull him out to start this pizza gig? So he and I met, we started talking about how we're going to do this deal. And he's like, I'm in. He's like, they didn't want to loan us the money. So I'm now stuck on how am I going to get the money? I think this is an interesting story and I have to say it because it really did chart something for me in learning about mentorship. We're kind of stuck. We can't get started. We don't know how to get this story yet because I can't get the money necessarily. I met an older gentleman in Senatobia, Mississippi. His name is James May and he owns about three pharmacies. He had 14 or 15 video shops, 150 rental houses in a small town in Senatobia, Mississippi. He was the richest man that ever lived. You know, big fish, small pond. They were like, oh, this man is mythical. I called him one day because he had a piece of land that I was interested in buying to build the office for my insurance agency. He comes and picks another guy and me up. We look at the land and we're done in 10-15 minutes. We head back to the office. The other guy gets out of the truck and I just looked at him and I said, Mr. May, I said, I've heard a lot about you and I want to be like you. I want to do what you do. And he's like, really? I said yes, sir. And he's like, it's not as easy as you think. And I said, I understand, but how did you get started, if you don't mind me asking? What could I do to be like you? He put the car in drive and started driving and he drove around for three hours. He showed me everything he bought and talked about how he got here. He told me his story. I mean, from riding a bicycle in a small town in Mississippi into Senatobia in 1976. He was a pharmacist. And at the end of three hours, we were sitting there and he said, that bank there, they bought it from me, and I'm going to build this over here. And I looked at him and I said, what I want to do is a Papa John's pizza. And he said, Papa John's, that's my favorite pizza. And I was like, all right. And he's like, where do you want to do it? I said, they want me to do it in Hernando, and he goes, I told you, I'm closing these video shops. They were VHS shops with tanning beds. He was closing them in 2005; it's over. He said I got a video shop right on the corner at Commerce Cross from Kroger, AutoZone, and Hernando. He said I would put the building up as collateral. You and your buddy put 25 in and I will put 25 and we will be third partners. You guys will rent from me, and he's like, we will do a Papa John's. And we shook hands in three hours. He's still my partner today. That will be 16 years, September 15th. I opened Papa John's in Hernando, Mississippi, the day my son was born, September 15, ‘05. We opened at three o'clock. My son was born at 10 am that morning. Mr. May and I have talked every month for 16 years. He's like a second dad, just a great guy to lean on. He told me, I'm never going to make a pizza. I'm never going to come by there; that’s not my gig. My gig is to put the capital up and you and your partner’s job was to run it. He’s just a great guy and just the mentorship. He said to me, you're the greatest partner I've ever had. You're the most hands-off person and he's still a partner today. That's the only store that we're that way on, but that was ‘05. It was a couple of years. It was a train wreck. The first two or three years was a train wreck. I had no idea how to manage people, and I had no idea what I was doing. At that time, I had 10 or 11 rental houses. I still had insurance going on. I'm working insurance during the day, and I'm doing pizza at night, and we're breaking even at best. We're barely paying the bills because I didn't know how to manage people. I didn't know how to run the pizza business and it took me three years to figure that out. I hired a guy to work for me in insurance, so he was selling. I was handing him deals. By ’08, ’09 and ‘10, we began to really learn how to run the pizza business. By this time, I'm up to 22 to 24 houses. I'm still buying houses left and right, just pulling my hair out doing 14 things that I shouldn't be doing- buying and selling Japanese mini trucks. I just keep my eye off the ball. So in 2010, we finally got the store making money and we finally feel okay. In ’08, ’09, I hired a really good guy named Shawn Jenkins to sell insurance for me. I was meeting people. I was handing him deals, and he was closing and we won agent of the year for the United States for Shelter Insurance in ’08, and the pizza store started doing well at the same time. We came in second in ’09 and ‘10 with the Shelter Insurance. Second out of about 14 - 1500 agents across the country.

Randy Wilburn [17:55] I don't want this to be lost on anyone, but 2008 to 2010 were the most challenging years in our country. We talk about the financial meltdown, the crisis and everything, yet you were figuring out ways to excel even during downtime.

Brant Barnes [18:11] The more aggressive and proactive you are, the better things will happen. I had 20-25 houses at that time, too. And I had about seven or eight I was flipping and I couldn't sell them. So what I did was to put them on rental. No matter what happens to you, you've just got to pull on and okay, what's next? I can't change the past. What’s next? And I just think that's what's important. And so, I learned a lot of lessons right there in that ’08 to ‘10 range. In 2010, we decided how to do one store. Let’s do a lot, which was not the smartest move, but we signed a deal to open Searcy and Cabot, Arkansas, Papa John's. I had my young guy killing it in the insurance. I was checking on him and running that when we made the deal in Searcy and Cabot, Mountain Home came up for sale. I'm like, well, I got to buy that, it's where I'm from. I bought that Papa John's. Hot Springs came up for sale, so I bought Hot Springs. And then we open Searcy, we opened Cabot. So now I'm at five stores by 2011. So, I had gotten my pilot's license out of high school in college. And so I was flying at the time. We bought a little Cherokee 180 that I had at Tunica, Mississippi. So that's where the plane was. We would fly to Mountain Home, fly to Searcy and Hot Springs. And that's how we got to the stores and back, so I was living the dream. I'm flying to work on my little plane, but don't get me wrong; I would be in the stores till 10 – 10:30 at night, get in the plane at 11:15 and land at midnight. It was long, long days. It was better than driving. Sometimes, you can ask my partner this; we flew so many times from Searcy or Hot Springs. Tim McGraw says it, and he flies a Cirrus SR22, the same plane I have and he says there's no more peaceful place than me and my airplane at 11,000 feet because nobody knows who I am and everybody leaves me alone, even the air traffic controllers. He's like some of them know who I am and sometimes you can tell they're like okay, but he said, for the most part, I'm up there away from everybody. And I think sometimes coming home at night in that airplane was these moments because the lights you can see Mountain Home, Little Rock, Jackson Mississippi from 8,000 feet. It’s just a time for reflection. It was a time just to say, what the heck am I doing here because it was stressful. So in 2012, my agent that worked for me got offered an agency from Shelter, so they hired him. I lost him, and when I lost him, I felt lost a little bit. I had all my eggs in one basket with him. It was that time where I was like, I've been here close to ten years in Mississippi and I'm ready to go back. I want to move one time and I want to live in Fayetteville. I don't want to live in Rogers, and I don’t want to live in Springdale. There’s something about the place. I loved it. I told Shelter that if I get a shot, I will go to Fayetteville. And it just so happened that in 2012, Bill Shackleford, who was on MLK out by Whataburger, who has been here 32 years in Olomay* and had an amazing agency here. He decided to retire and our Vice President in Marketing called me and said Bill's retiring. Do you want it? And, of course, I said, well, let me think about it, so I discussed it with my wife. At that time, I could fly from Fayetteville to Hot Springs, Searcy, Cabot and Mountain Home just like I could from Tunica. I could always go back to Memphis once a month and check on the rental houses and the pizza business, which was my philosophy. On April 12, I moved back here and I was able to transfer the insurance here. I still had 25 rental houses down there and five pizza stores at the time. Once I got here, we moved our corporate pizza office here. So everything is based out of our office here. So we got back up here, hired some really good people in the insurance business. We've had an amazing run up here and probably about 2014, I started flipping some houses. I got in business with some other guys. Mr. Mike Kinsley, my original partner, we are 50-50 on the four stores: Hernando, Searcy, Cabot, and Hot Springs. When I got back up here, one of my lifelong friends I played baseball grew up with since kindergarten, Heath Stanley. He and I partnered up and wanted to get into the pizza business. So he bought my other partners 50%, and then we opened Van Buren, Muskogee, bought Branson and West Memphis. By 2017, we had nine stores, and we ended up selling Muskogee, so we went down to eight. So we have eight stores, 50-50 with Heath on Van Buren, Mountain Home, West Memphis, Branson, and then 50-50 with my other partner. Still in the insurance business. We have doubled the agency since we've been here, bought some real estate up here. I've had Airbnb and vrbo’s in Mountain View and Destin. I'm a car dealer. I just buy, sell and trade. Two things determined my life. I wanted to horse trade. I wanted to buy and sell, and I wanted to flip. I think that's the basis of business in general; it's just a horse trade. I will give you a sack of barley, and you give me two gold pieces, and then I'll trade it for something else. That was my passion for business. I'm an Arkansas guy too. That's where I'm at today. We have spent a lot of time in the last three years getting out of control to organize. And sometimes you have to almost pull everything out of the garage to put it back and organize and that's what I've been doing.

Randy Wilburn [23:33] So, getting back to your story, which has been really exciting. I don't know if anybody else is benefiting from this, but I'm taking a million notes here as Brant shares with me how he has built his empire. One thing that continues to stick out to me is just the importance of relationships. I would love for you to talk about how you have continued to develop those relationships personally but even on a business level because it seems like that's been one of the key ingredients to your success.

Brant Barnes [24:03] Well, the first thing you learn about relationships is how others treat you. What do I think of this person or that person? Why did I look up to this gentleman? And I think that what you find is you've got to be a giver. You have got to give first. You got to bring value to other people. If you don't bring value to other people, they don't have any reason to help you. And I think that sometimes we go with the taker mentality. We go to people and say, how can you help me and then you know that maybe one day I will help you. But if you go to people and say, let me just help you. Let me help you in any way I can. What can I do for you? And then from there, the minute you meet people, you've got to really study them. You've got to say I want to do business with great people. I want integrity. I've had three partners in my life. My dad, Mike, and Heath were the three people I've ever been in business with. And I've always said that if I can't give you $10,000 and say, hey, bring it back to me by the end of October, no contract. I throw you a band of ten grand and if I have any doubt that you're going to bring me that money by the end of October, I'm completely out. I don't want anything to do with it. No matter how much money we can make, it's not worth it. My life's not worth it to live with that stomach ache and worry. So I think that you have to analyze every relationship that you have. There's a guy name Rhodes Thompson that owned a bunch of AT&T stores and he and I ate lunch every month. He was good at what he does. He would always tell me to do something well and do it over and over and over. When I met him, he had 24 AT&T stores over eight years. He grew it to 116 stores, and he sold them. He's from Helena, Arkansas. He made him aegis Rhodes Thompson and he is just who he is, but he's real and legit. He was doing it and he was living it, and I saw it. Another was my wife's best friend, Terry Kurz. Terry Kurz, a guy in Memphis that has built like an absolute beast of a business in the rental property business. He buys houses in Memphis, fixes them up, sells them to investors, and manages them. He's just a rock star. Terry and I would eat lunch once a month for eight years. His business was booming, and I always had to think, like, why would he want to go to lunch with me. Because if I go to lunch and try to sell him something or try to ask favors from him, he's going to quit asking me to lunch. But if I can add value to those conversations, he will want to keep going to lunch with me. I remember one time he complained about this girl who was an older lady who worked for him that just didn't do a very good job, but it was like a friend's mom. One day I looked at him and said, if you don't do something about Donna, I don't want to eat with you anymore because I'm tired of hearing about it. You need to deal with it. And he's like, alright, and so it was about three or four months later, he's like, Donna went somewhere else to work. And he's like, I’ve got this new vibrant person, and they're killing it. And so, I felt like I added value, and sometimes I think when you deal with entrepreneurs and wealthier people, they're guarded; they're going to guard themselves. I have seen it. I don't mean this, but I go to a chamber event, or I go to events, and it's like, I have to leave because nine people have already tried to hit me up trying to sell me something. I already know who they are. That's not how you do it. You get to know me, I get to know you, and then we let business happen naturally. And I think that a lot of wealthier, successful entrepreneurs will hide in the shadows. The ones that are doing it, you don't see them out there everywhere because they're busy and they have a million things going on. But if you can provide value and help them, then that's a different story. But I think a lot of people go with that taker approach. Let me go hit this guy up because he has three new employees, and I can get a big lick and make a big sales on this. I'm like, how about this, how much will you get to know that guy? Figure out how you can help him, and at some point, ask him, or he'll ask you about doing business. And so, I think that relationships are hugely important, but it takes time. You always hear about the emotional bank account, like are you putting in debits or credits? Which one are you doing? Because if your account is bankrupt with that person, you're in trouble. Because when you go call on some money, there's no money in there because you've never done anything for them. And that doesn't mean quid pro quo. It doesn’t mean it's like that. It just means to be always thinking, what value do I bring? What value do I bring to my wife?

Randy Wilburn [28:43] If I could add, one of the reasons why I did this podcast was because I like storytelling. I like doing podcasting. It's something that I'm good at, but I just figured everybody has a story to tell. That's what opened the doors for me to meet so many people. People are always saying, how do you know all these people? It’s because I've talked to them and become friends with people. I leverage a relationship with Mark, but I've already put in all the credits with him over 24 years. I can make some withdrawals now, and I don't feel like I shouldn't be doing this because he's a mentor of mine. He's a friend, but he's also a mentor. And so, I think that's an important message that people need to hear. I love being able to have conversations like these because many people listen to this podcast and just listen to any type of information, in general, to figure out ways for them to advance themselves and be better. I'm doing that. So even just sitting here listening to you is fuel for me to say, oh, okay, here are some things that I could do differently in certain relationships that I want. And if I'm going down the road like you went down and I'm trying to build something, then I need to be very methodical about how I do it, and I need to be giving as much value as possible from my end, even if I don't think I have something to offer.

Brant Barnes [29:58] And let it be authentic and genuine. Let it find its path. I didn't set up this meeting with Mr. May to manipulate him into letting me have the pizza store or help me get started. I didn't. It naturally happened. And when he bet on me, I felt obligated to win for him. He put his neck on the line for me, and I got it. He told me he wasn't going to make pizzas and he never has. So I think what's important is that you be genuine, authentic, and truly have the best interest of everybody in mind and let the cards fall where they may. But sometimes, we force things that are not there. So I think what's important is being authentic, genuine and they will know.

Randy Wilburn [30:47] Again, we're still in the midst of this when we're recording this; it's March 2 of 2021. We're still dealing with the pandemic, the fallout, and the residual effects of the pandemic. How have you maintained your business and just keep what you're doing through this period?

Brant Barnes [31:07] It's been interesting. Anybody that's our age probably where were you at 911? I remember where I was. I was actually skiing in Vermont last year in February with a good friend, Neil. And, you know, next thing, it just was a ripple when it all went down. But I think with everything, and not to venture off the subject, but my dad and I had a plane crash five years ago.

Randy Wilburn [31:54] I remember hearing about that.

Brant Barnes [31:56] As an entrepreneur, I didn't even know this was happening. I think that as an entrepreneur, you've dealt with so many things. You've dealt with so many employees, so many COVID type things, not COVID necessarily, but just a lot and they keep coming at you. My dad and I took off five years ago. We were headed to Tunica to stop, and then we were going on to Atlanta. We got to 9,000 feet. I was flying and my dad was in the right seat. My partner and a guy that worked for me, Ross Ingram, were in the back and the engine started sputtering. It started knocking, and it got worse and the prop froze mid-flight 9,000 feet single-engine plane with no engine. You were in a plane with 80 gallons of fuel with people is not very long. So you immediately go, okay, what's next? Okay, I will go to Marshall, Arkansas, 38 miles and I’ve got 22 miles to go. Not making Marshall air traffic controller, go to Russellville. So immediately when something happens, you think of options. What are my options? He's like, turn to Russellville. I can't. I'm not going to Russellville. There are too many trees and mountains that way. I'm not going to make it to the airport. I got to find something soon. I found a place in Hector, Arkansas. A little road ran down the street, and I just looked at my dad and said I'm putting it down right there. I've been trained for that. I was like 19 or 20 when I got checked out. So we're going down, and I was in a good spot to get on this road. But there was a power line which you couldn't see until you got there, so I had to make a split decision to pull up or go under. I decided, and I knew if I pulled up, I would lose airspeed and possibly stall and kill us. I was like, we got to go through it. So I just dove the nose went through the power line, yanked the power out to the whole community, hit the ground, right and front gears collapsed and we just skidded down this little county road down in a ravine, hit a pole and stopped. And I just remember looking at my dad and nudged him. Are you alright? Yes. I looked in the back and they’re alright. We lived and I don't think I'm hurt. There's some fuel we can smell it and we're hurrying, trying to get everything shut down and get out. My partner, Heath, couldn't get the back door open, so he jumps through the front of the cockpit, hits my dad in the head with his elbow, swings open the door, and just starts running down the road. We are out of the plane for about five minutes, and my mind went, we're going to need a van, or we're going to need something to rent. We got to be in Tunica, Atlanta. We're still fine, and we're going to make it. I couldn't even comprehend yet that we crashed. My mind was already on to the next thing and I think that's entrepreneurship. I think when COVID started, it was like we are in the delivery business. We don't cook food for the most part. Our food comes off of our make-line and goes through the oven. Anything that would be on a pizza would be burnt off through 480 degrees. We don't touch the product after it's done. It's in a box that’s sealed and delivered. So we immediately talked to our employees to make sure that they understand where we are. You have to do all these things and put steps and measures in place and listen to Corporate. All of a sudden, Corporate has a podcast or meetings every week; here’s what we're thinking. And so you just shift to that. So we have gone to that where customers can pick up. They don’t want any contact. We know the delivery will spike a little bit, so we're going to have to add drivers. [RW- That was an understatement] Yes, we knew that and we also knew that it's a delicate subject with employees, depending on seasons and stuff. We employ 160 to 180 people and out of those 180, I would say 100 to 120 of them are under 21 years old. So you're dealing with youths and lack of knowledge. There's a lot of media saying one thing and another, so you've got to have one consistent message. And the leader always has to say we are going to be alright. We don't have an engine, but we will land over here and we are going to get out of here and learn from it. And I think that what they can't hear is fear. What they can't hear is you're scared. What they can't hear is unknown. We have made a lot of shifts in people. It's been a tough year. I'm a bootstrap entrepreneur, and I didn't know what I was doing. I just tried to figure it out. Probably a mistake I made that I wish I could have done a little differently is Papa John's. It grew in the 90s in the early 2000s and we came into the multi-unit game in 2010 and after. Well, they had already picked out Little Rock, Jonesboro. We couldn't get a cluster of stores. What you want is a store, ten stores in Memphis, where you borrow employees and move food around? We are in Mountain Home, and we are a two-hour drive to get to store to store. Well, the bad about that is if you have a store and someone gets COVID, well, you just lost your whole staff in Hot Springs or Mountain Home. It's not like you can borrow them from another store, so that was a negative. So we had a couple of stores shut for two or three days to clean things up and figure out who was exposed. We dealt with that for a year, and that's been tough. But the positive, and this is something I think that entrepreneurs have to do, is see both sides. If you have eight stores in Memphis and you start sharing employees, then the possibility of it gets spread to five or six stores with it, where when we had one, we are at home for a couple of days, but it's only one of the eight stores, so that was a good thing. So sometimes, the way your setup can be good; there are pros and cons to everything. We had an excellent year in sales. It was a tailwind for Papa John's. We have a new CEO and John left after a couple of years. Sometimes in the franchise world, you deal with things that you didn't do. We are at the mercy of what they say and what they do. I'm a lot happier to have Shaq than John, let’s put it that way. We have a great CEO now. He was at Proctor and Gamble for two and a half years in Bentonville. He's not from here, but he knows the area. I was able to speak to him a few months ago and that was awesome. I think his direction, along with some COVID tailwinds of sales, puts us in a really good spot. It's going to be interesting to see what goes down. We are still guessing as we go. We were just talking about Branson this morning. He owns the store up there. What's Branson going to do, its spring break. Is there a real spring break, or is there not? I hope that answers your question.

Randy Wilburn [38:36] It does. I appreciate you sharing that. This idea always has a plan, and I always think back to Glengarry Glen Ross, one of my favorite movies when Alec Baldwin is talking about always be closing, and you got to have that mindset. In that closing, you've got to be ready, able, and willing to do it whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Brant Barnes [39:02] I thought about this earlier when we were just talking and I think it's worth saying. We are talking business a little bit here, right? I mean, there's culture and I get relationships, but when you're talking business, what value do you provide? I think anyone is listening to this call right now. If you work for Walmart, JB Hunt, or you work with Shelter, you own your own business. What do you provide? Are you valuable to your organization? Because if you're not, I'd worry about your job. We got to have results. One of the most cutthroat things I've ever seen is an NFL quarterback. They get one shot. They come out of college and there’s always a new guy. Think of all the people we've seen, be it the Heisman and all this stuff, and it's like they get one and maybe a second shot. And what they say is go 24, 32, three touchdowns, one interception and we'll give you 10 million. Don't do that; we are going to cut you. Welcome to the world. Welcome to business. It is the way it is. The quicker you understand that sometimes that is the value you provide to a relationship you have with Walmart or JB or Papa John's as a franchisee. And it's not all about that, but it is about that. Even sports, we are Razorback fans. It's been a lot more fun the last couple of weeks than it was four years ago. It just is. In the SCC, you better win eight. In football, you got to win eight; it's the magic number to stay. If you're at Auburn, it doesn't matter anymore. I don't even think Kentucky except six or seven. You got to win eight; it’s just results.

Randy Wilburn [40:38] You said a mouthful. I mean, there's so much there that I could unpack. I don't want to be respectful of your time because I appreciate you taking the time to share with this audience. If somebody is listening to this, and they're thinking about moving here, what would you tell them? Just overall, not necessarily from a business perspective, but you could certainly share that as well. But just coming to Northwest Arkansas, what can somebody expect coming here? Because I knew in 2014, and the reason why I always asked this question, because when I came here, I didn't know what to expect. As an African American. I wasn't sure. Arkansas is a different state. My friends said you're crazy about moving to Arkansas and I had no idea. If I knew then what I know now, it would have been the easiest transition of life. So, what would you tell somebody coming here for the first time to Northwest Arkansas specifically?

Brant Barnes [41:23] I think I would say it's the best of all worlds. And I say that you get a little bit of everything. We are not a beach town. We're not a mountain town. We are not necessarily a lake town down here, but we have lakes. And I would have said 20 years ago that we could be behind times not as progressive, just a little town in Arkansas. Walmart has taken that away; we are progressive now. You're up there with the words of Amazon. The cost of living is awesome, and it's easy to get around. Twenty years ago, you pretty much had to go to Little Rock, Springfield, or Tulsa to catch a flight. Now you can fly out of here. In the last 20 years, this place has developed. If you're an extremist and you love 10,000-foot mountains, not the place for you. You'd like the beach, it’s not the place for you. If you want a direct flight to Jackson, Mississippi, and Topeka, Kansas, and you want to be able to go to South Dakota right out of XNA, it's not going to happen. But if you want to catch a flight, probably get a stop in Dallas or Atlanta and get wherever you need to go; we have that. We have got an amazing aviation community. It's just an excellent central spot in the US that is affordable and safe. I'm a guy who likes safety. I feel like my community is safe. The people around me are that way. I think that's here. I love an SEC town. I was 40 minutes from Oxford. I feel sorry for the people that live here that are Kentucky fans, right? I went to Senatobia, Mississippi, 40 minutes from Oxford. Everybody has an Ole Miss belt on. And guess who they had just gotten when I got down there? Houston. So they took our coach. Everybody can have their opinion. And they're like, we’ve got your coach, and I was the Kentucky fan in Fayetteville as the Arkansas fan in Senatobia. But, I tell kids all the time, the youth here helps. If you live in Arkansas, everybody wants to get fed, as kids and as parents. I think there's a ton of pride. Again, it's not a big city, but it's not small. And that's what I love probably the most about this place is there's just enough density to have a Dickson Street, but it's not the crime and the things you might see in Detroit or Memphis- all that blended for me. I love to drive in every day. I live out by the Blessings and I just love that curvy road. I almost love that I have 15 minutes to think on my way in. It's what I know.

Randy Wilburn [44:41] You nailed it in terms of that experience. Lastly, when you're not having pizza, where do you go to eat? Where do you like to eat here in Northwest Arkansas? I always like to ask a food question. I'm sure you're a foodie and you like good food. You mentioned Herman's earlier.

Brant Barnes [45:06] Unfortunately, I watch what I eat. I run 14 to 1600 miles a year, so I run 120 140 miles. I have run seven marathons so far. So I watch what I eat Monday through Friday, and I cheat on Saturday. This sounds bad, but I love to go to Whole Foods and get a variety of stuff. Give me some pizza and ice cream. At the Centre it’s cheap. I could eat a whole box of doughnuts. My wife and I would always say when we ate pizza. I’m going to give you a secret here, Giraldi’s. That was the best pizza. My wife and I used to get it all the time. I'll give a shout-out to Kosmos. The Kosmos an owner-operated business, and he's always making food. She comes walking up to us and super nice. They are great people. I think their food's good, so we go there quite a bit. My son loves Angus Jack's. My son is autistic and he has a gluten-free bond and a burger with nothing on it, just a burger and the French fries. So that's a staple. Those are probably my favorites. I'm not a big food guy, but I'd say Kosmos is our most staple place.

Randy Wilburn [46:27] I've been there. Their fries and Greek salad are amazing. I'm a big Greek salad person. They put the right salty olives on there.

Brant Barnes [46:38] My wife loves Indian and we get R&R curry in Springdale.

Randy Wilburn [46:42] R&R curry is really good. Mark taught me about R&R curry. I like there and I like Khana Grill, which is also really good. Khana Grill is right across the street from Kosmos. Listen, we've got great culture, and we've got great food. And you would think where in Northwest Arkansas. So it’s like, are you sure? I tell people all the time, the food's good. You come here to visit, and I’m taking you out. You're going to have a great time. Every time my mom comes here, I take her to Crystal Bridges because I want her to see that she sees something new every time she comes.

Brant Barnes [47:19] I think something can happen to you if you're not careful you take things for granted. And you do once you live somewhere a while. We have a place in Destin and I always said I wouldn't move there. I love the ocean, the breeze and the smell of the water. We had a boat there for a while. We used to go to this little spot, Crab Island and you go out for Walton Bridge. And we would go around to this spot and we had a little cabin cruiser and my son would play inside. And we could set the boat in four and a half feet of water and it was like a Corona commercial. And you could go to this other spot, it was down by Herbert Field, just pass Fort Walton in Santa Rosa and you could park in this Corona commercial spot. It was like a little island and you can park right there in four feet of water, and the Jets would come into the base and I'd watch the planes. But I always said that if I lived down there, I might lose that feeling and I didn't want to lose that feeling, so I would live up here, and we can fly in three hours in a plane get there.

Randy Wilburn [48:16] And you can appreciate it when you're there.

Brant Barnes [48:18] But if I got down there, I think I might take it for granted. I believe Crystal Bridges is an amazing place where people have traveled all over to see Crystal Bridges and we don't even go.

Randy Wilburn [48:29] I know. It's crazy. I have talked to people that have lived here and they're like, we don't go.

Brant Barnes [48:35] We haven’t talked about the cost of living. And so, we can’t take that for granted. I mean, 15, 20 years ago, it wasn't as progressive as now. I think we're more of an appeal to move here from California or anywhere else. And that might not have been the case 15 or 20 years ago. I met Sam Walton one time when I was young. I may have been five years old. My dad and I went to a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Bentonville. I don't know why we were there. I was five years old, and we pulled up on there. I will never forget that Silverado. I think it's a red and grey two-wheel drive or mini Silverado. We walked in and I remember my dad saying, I think that's Mr. Walton. And he was ordering in front of us. And dad's like, Mr. Walton, this is my son Brant. How are you doing, young man? And he shook my hand. Something crazy, like around here that you just never know, and to think that we have that much of a Titan of business. That was just an old farm boy from right here. He was in aviation, and he was just rambling.

Randy Wilburn [50:18] I will tell this story and then we will close it out. I had read his biography a long time ago, and then I got back and reread it and I appreciated it even more once I started living here. I have told people, just read Sam Walton’s biography, and I've run across or run past in the same room with Alice Walton and Stuart Walton and some of the other Walton family members. And just what they've been able to do with this community is amazing, and it started with them, and it’s built beyond their Jones trucking line, JB Hunt Tyson, and the list goes on and on. And, to me, the future is bright for Northwest Arkansas.

Brant Barnes [50:58] One of the things I would say on that note is what people can get from this. The one thing that comes to mind so much is we live in a society that in literally for 20 to 30 years, we've been about building comfort. Everything is easier- automatic cruise control. Automatic this, and where we learn, is on the edge of comfort. Where we learn is when we get out of control. Sam Walton knew that he had to push boundaries. He had to open in Kansas and he had open here. This guy could have had 10, 15 stores. He’s been a wealthy guy and had a twin-engine airplane in Bentonville and he called it quits. But like entrepreneurs, they get uncomfortable. They push themselves into territory that others won't. And that's not our human nature. Our human nature is to be safe, be conservative, and be careful. ‘ Scare money don't make money.’ It is what it is. And if they didn't have that ambition, and he didn't want to keep it rolling, probably when people were like, could you slow down? You have 300 stores. That's not what it's about- not more money, just more chances, more territory. I want to meet more people. I want to be in California and Arizona. You just have to get uncomfortable.

Randy Wilburn [52:16] You're preaching to the choir. I don't know about you, folks, but if you didn't get something out of this, you need to rewind this and listen to it again because Brant just dropped some serious knowledge and information. I love that quo. ‘Where we learn is at the edge of comfort,’ and I think that is so perfectly true. So I'm going to wrap it up here. We will probably have to do a part two at some point in time because I'm sure that Brant will have some more stories to tell in the near future. After all, this man is not allowing any grass to grow under his feet. So, Brant, thank you so much for taking the time. You didn't know me, but you knew Mark and you trusted that. Well, if Mark knows this guy, he must be okay. So I appreciate you sincerely meeting with me and sharing your story with the I am Northwest Arkansas audience. So thank you so much.

Brant Barnes [53:04] I appreciate what you're doing; it’s huge. It is.

Randy Wilburn [53:10] Everybody's story matters. Well, folks, that's another episode of the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. To learn about us or read or download the Show Notes from today's episode, visit We will be sure to put in some contact information for Brant Barnes. If you need some insurance and you want to check out Shelter Insurance, you'll be able to do that. If you just want some pizza, you can find out where all his Papa John pizzas are. We will make sure all of that is in the Show Notes to check that out. Please continue to listen to the podcast and sign up for our free newsletter to keep up with all things Northwest Arkansas. You can subscribe to the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast wherever you listen to it. It doesn't matter whether you're on Android or iOS, just subscribe and please consider rating and reviewing us on the Apple podcast. Our podcasts come out every Monday without fail, rain or shine. It's there for you. I'm your host Randy Wilburn and we will see you back here next week with another new exciting episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. We'll see you soon. Peace.

IANWA [54:15] We hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Check us out each and every week available anywhere that great podcast can be found. For Show Notes or more information on becoming a guest, visit We will see you next week on I am Northwest Arkansas.

About the Show:

If you are looking for motivation to get your business idea off the ground or just need that extra push for your current business bookmark and listen to this episode for great stories and motivation to achieve your dreams here in the Ozarks whether big or small.  

We recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Brant Barnes, owner of the local Shelter Insurance in downtown Fayetteville.  We connected with Brant through our friend of the podcast, Mark Zweig, a professor of Entrepreneurship at the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas.

The cool thing about Brant is that he doesn’t just own an insurance agency – his dad was a long time insurance agent in Mountain Home – but he also has a knack for running businesses. He built some strong relationships early in his insurance career that propelled him to buy into the Papa John’s Franchise in Mississippi and then ultimately he converted those successful operations into multiple locations in Arkansas and Missouri. 

Brant also has his car dealer license and he is a very good pilot that even knows how to crash land a plane and live to tell the story. You have to hear the whole story to believe it. 

This is one of our most engaging episodes and Brant shares one nugget of wisdom after another. Be prepared to strap in focus and take some notes. You will not be disappointed.

Brantisms:Yes, we made this word up but it is applicable.

“Where we learn is on the edge of comfort!”

“Always have a plan, no matter what.”

All this and more on this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas.

Important Links and Mentions on the Show*:

Brant Barnes Email

Brant Barnes on LinkedIn

Brant Barnes Shelter Insurance

Shelter Insurance Website – Brant Barnes

This episode is sponsored by*:


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