President, V.P., & COO ThreeWitt Enterprises, Inc.

David Fisher, Eric Lundgren, & Brad Harber

Chicken wings. That’s what brought David Fisher and his first two business partners together; that and a few beers.

 

David and partners Eric Lundgren and John Slaughenhaupt met at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. They lived across the hall in their dormitory, which is where many life-long friendships begin. In their junior year, David and John transferred to Ohio State and started hanging out at a Buffalo wings restaurant that was part of the BW3 chain. When Eric would visit, that’s where they would go.

“Research and development,” David calls it. “We had to drink a few beers and eat a whole bunch of wings to figure out if we liked the concept.”

 

After graduating, the three hadn’t decided exactly what they wanted to do with their lives. John had a degree in history, Eric’s was in elementary education, and David was taking classes at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, working at a law firm downtown. It so happened that one of the firm’s clients was BW3. It also so happened that John and Eric saw a notice in the back of a BW3 menu that read “Now Franchising.” The planets were aligning.

 

“It was probably one of the scariest days of our lives when we picked up the phone, called our parents and told them, ‘Hey, we think we want to go into the restaurant business,’” David says.

 

“The restaurant business, after all, is very risky—very tough. But we were blessed. Our parents supported us. So we put on our best suits and went to a meeting with the BW3 people. As we walked into the front office, they said, ‘Boys, this is the restaurant business—you don’t need to wear suits.’ So we said, ‘Where do we sign?’”

 

ThreeWitt Enterprises, as they called it, opened its first restaurant near the University of Dayton campus on July 15, 1994.

 

Six years into it, the partners realized that, while they had the entrepreneurial knack they needed, the three of them—put together—would have trouble filling a thimble with their professional management skills. They called on Brad Haber, then senior director of operations for their parent company, Buffalo Wild Wings International. Brad had been working with the trio as a mentor, and he liked the way they did things. In 2000, Brad came on as chief operating officer—and he turned out to be as much of a fit as if he’d known the other three since their dormitory days.

 

At that point, the Dayton-based ThreeWitt owned four restaurants. Brad brought with him systems, routines, methods for evaluating, and the ability to look at the big picture from different angles. All that played a role in bringing their company to Aileron.

The Problem

 

As of late 2009, ThreeWitt Enterprises owns 13 restaurants, mostly wing houses, plus a Milano’s Atlantic City Submarines restaurant, and a bakery that provides bread for all the other stores.

 

“I don’t know if we could move as quickly now as we were moving a few years ago,” David says.

 

“That’s because we didn’t know any better,” Brad replies.

 

ThreeWitt needed to take a more strategic look at growth and Aileron provided the analytical angle they needed.

The Solution

 

Their association began in the late 1990s, when what has become Aileron was known as the Center for Entrepreneurial Education. That was the setting for David’s first meeting with Bill Matthews. David says Bill has been a valued mentor since then. Although David didn’t take the Course for Presidents at the time, he and Bill formed a connection that endured until David resolved to take the class at Aileron—and brought his partners with him.

 

Says Eric, “The classes we’ve taken since then have helped validate our business savvy. There were things we were doing right without knowing we were doing them right. And there were things that we have been able to correct—like clarifying our business plan versus flying by the seats of our pants.”

 

“The big Aileron difference,” David says, “is in the follow-up.”

 

“Other organizations will help with strategic planning, forming a board of directors, whatever. But when you leave, you’re on your own. With Aileron, you get that follow-up. For instance, with the board class, we all thought, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea. We should do that.’ But if we had to go out and find board members on our own, we probably wouldn’t have.”

 

“Instead, we got a call a week after the class from Bill saying we should meet again because he thinks he has someone who would be great for our board. So we met with Bill, and he took the time to make sure he understood exactly the kind of people we wanted for our board. Then he started bringing up the names of different people he knows. Turns out those people knew someone who knew someone else. Pretty soon, we had a great board, one that moved us forward.”

Maybe Aileron can be that piece now that makes Dayton a place where everyone looks to, and wants to come.

The Results

 

ThreeWitt’s association with Aileron has resulted in the company being far more analytical in its approach to growth. With many of their pre-Aileron decisions, David says the partners were fortunate in that they were able to “muscle our way through” and make up for a lack of strategic planning. The way he describes it, the company no longer undertakes initiatives simply because they sound good – even though sounding good has always appealed to their entrepreneurial spirit.

 

“We actually take time to ask questions like, ‘If we do this, what will be the possible outcomes? What should our exit strategy be in the end? Will we have enough capital to do this the proper way? What are the roadblocks? And over all, what are the reasons we should or should not do this?’”

 

“With Aileron,” David says, “the connections run deep. And that creates a ‘positive pressure’ because the last thing you want to do when these people are giving so much of their time is let them down.”

 

“And it’s not just with the staff at Aileron. It happens whenever I come out here and meet other business owners trying to do good work. This place is an incubator. Everyone you talk to is trying to improve what they’re doing. The result is a momentum that drives you to improve, too, so you’re not letting anyone down.”

 

The guys at ThreeWitt will tell you that Aileron is the best kept business secret in America.

 

“The whole country is struggling now,” David says.

 

“But the one thing Dayton has going for it is Aileron. It’s a point of difference. So, maybe Dayton really is a great place for discovery, whether it’s aviation or NCR. Maybe Aileron can be that piece now that makes Dayton a place where everyone looks to, and wants to come.”

 

“Maybe Aileron will create that next generation of great entrepreneurs who change America.”

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