Louis Woelfel made a promise to his dying father that changed the direction of his life.
On his deathbed after a yearlong battle with pulmonary fibrosis, Woelfel's father asked him to promise to take care of the family. "He said, 'Son, I'm done. I stuck around as long as I could, but I can't do this anymore. When I pass away, don't cry or your mom will break down. Make sure you stay strong and take care of things. Make sure your mom doesn't have to work,'" Woelfel recalls. "He wanted her to live the life she was accustomed to. He said, 'She took care of you. I want you to take care of her when I'm gone.'"
To fulfill that promise, Woelfel decided to quit his job as an assistant chiropractor and start his own business, Redondo Beach, Calif.-based Spinal Fit. But to do so, he needed $100,000 in startup financing. His mother agreed to use an equity line on her home to finance the business. But starting a business was not as smooth as Woelfel expected, and when Spinal Fit started seriously struggling, not only his business, but his mother's home, was on the line.
Following an appearance in Bill Rancic's reality TV show "We Mean Business," Woelfel was able to turn his business around. Now he's on the verge of a major expansion and changed the business name to Woelfel Superior Heath Care, which now offers more medical services including a medicine clinic, natural injections, physical rehab, massage therapists and diagnostic testing. But to undertake the next big step in his company, will he have to once again put his mother's home at risk?
What was your father like?
He was a retired safety engineer for a contracting company. We were very close. He was the best man I ever met. He had a military background, so he was a very strict father, but very fair. He let my brother and me make our mistakes but helped guide us in the right direction. We didn't want to disappoint him. He was gone a lot when we were young, for months at a time, trying to find a job to make sure he supported the family. Sometimes he'd have two or three jobs -- he'd come home, eat and head out to another job. So he always had the mentality of taking care of the family.
And that's what he passed down to you? When did you promise to take on that responsibility?
He had previously survived bladder cancer and lung cancer, so when I was 26, we were driving and he said, "I'm not going to be around forever. You're the oldest and you need to make sure you take care of the family and do what I do." He treated my mom like a princess. He didn't want her to have to be stressed about money. Then when he died, I was 29, and he said he wanted me to stick to that promise the best I could. I didn't feel pressured. I just felt like, 'If that's what you want, I will respect that and do what you asked.'
How did you decide to fulfill that promise by starting your own business?
That was a tough decision. My dad raised us to be leaders, and he wanted us to have more than he ever had, and just to keep going forward. I worked at a successful clinic, which is what I wanted for myself, but after he passed away, to keep my promise and provide not only for myself but for my mom, I needed a different level of income and success.
How did you decide to use your mother's home line of credit as financing?
I tried to do it on my own -- I went to the banks, and they would laugh at me, because I was just out of school and had no collateral. That's when I talked to my mom. She wanted to do this, but we went back and forth because I wasn't sure if I wanted to take it from her. If I wasn't nervous about starting a business before, I was nervous then, because of the liability, the responsibility of using my mom's home line of credit.
And when your business was struggling in the beginning, were you concerned that ironically, your promise to take care of your mother could end up with her losing her home?
I kept her out of it, and she didn't know the struggles I had in the business, because payments were always made. I didn't want to worry her. I would cut out everything I could to make sure that payment was made -- if I had to eat top ramen, that was fine. And I never missed a payment, but it started to get to the point that it was more difficult. I thought about finding a clinic to work at during nights or weekends. I'm not a dreamer, but a doer. I guess I just always stayed positive and knew it was going to work out. I never thought I was going to lose the house. There was stress, but I didn't dwell on the stress.
But you didn't have to find another job after all. Business started turning around when you appeared on the A&E reality TV show, "We Mean Business"?
The actual show didn't do anything for business as far as being on TV, but what it did change was my mindset. Bill Rancic was great and gave a lot of good advice that wasn't on camera. Those conversations were priceless -- I took that advice and applied it to the business, and that's why business changed.
Most of my problems were caused by not knowing a lot about business, just being disorganized and not watching expenses and trying everything, like marketing and ads, and not jumping in there and cutting it off sooner if it wasn't working. I always had a good amount of business coming in, but I was letting hard-earned money I made go out the door. Money management was key.
And now that you're expanding the business and moving to a new location, did you have to tap your mom's line of credit again?
No, I didn't have to. I'm still making payments, and my goal with the new business entity is to make bigger payments and pay that line of credit off. I won't touch that line of credit again. I took out my own line of credit. I haven't had to use it yet, but I have it there as security.
How have you been doing so far with fulfilling your dad's promise? Has your mom told you anything that has made all of this worth it?
She's comfortable -- she has whatever she needs. On Easter, we were talking about the expansion, and she said how proud she is and how proud she knows my dad would be.
Would you finance your business again the same way, looking back now?
I would do it again, but I can't recommend it for others. It was a big risk, and you can't foresee what's going to happen. I'm just blessed. My father must be watching, making sure it went alright. It definitely could have gone in another direction.
And her house is OK?
She remodeling it. She's happy. The house looks great.
Name: Louis Woelfel
Company: Woelfel Superior Heath Care
Location: Redondo Beach, Calif.
2012 Projected Revenue: $1 million