A Brand New Game

For these athletes, entrepreneurship is the next playing field

forces with an experienced partner was critical, says Houston , who was signed by the Knicks as a free agent in July 1996. “It’s hard to start something up while playing, so it’s important to partner with someone who is knowledgeable and successful.”

While Hod manages the day-to-day operations, Houston provides creative input and develops new contacts by networking at high-profile events
such as fashion shows. “I play whatever part I can, sitting down with Ayal and with a manufacturer that might be helpful to us,” Houston explains. “I also tell him what I think would be a nice fashion-forward style–what other people and my peers like.”

Top Gun Leather is an integral part of Allan Houston Enterprises, a holding company with assets that include a 50% interest in the retail store, a 43.5% stake in an NBA apparel license expected to launch this spring, and the recently launched H20 Productions, a venture Houston hopes will produce family entertainment such as training videos, books, and inspirational music artists.

Houston came from good entrepreneurial stock. His parents’ ventures include a stake in a Louisville, Kentucky, grocery store, a fast-food restaurant, and two trucking companies: Automotive Carrier Services and Dallas & Mavis Specialized Carrier Co. The trucking companies have been perennials on the BE INDUSTRIAL/ SERVICE 100. Houston was inspired by his parents’ business pursuits to develop Top Gun, which is expected to gross some $1 million for 2002. The store specializes in leather and suede goods and features brands such as GUESS?, Steve Madden, Avirex, and Kenneth Cole. Houston says Top Gun has not needed to rely on his celebrity status or an advertising campaign, claiming that most sales have been driven by word-of-mouth, brand recognition, and spontaneous mall shoppers. Recently, the outlet has been involved in cross-promotional campaigns on several urban radio stations in New York City, where daily winners have received a jacket from Top Gun. Prices at the store range from $99 to $2,000.

Looking ahead, Houston plans to open another Top Gun Leather in 2003 or 2004 and develop ad campaigns that will run in urban magazines. He also plans to continue to develop the store as the model for future franchises through upgraded point-of-sale and inventory software. According to Houston, Top Gun’s draw is its superb customer service, which all employees are taught to provide in a rigorous training program.

As Houston learned in the NBA, winning comes by way of effective teamwork. And his team must play for a championship ring every day–market share.

Cris Carter is proving he can do more than catch touchdowns. When the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver isn’t on the field or in the studio taping HBO’s Inside the NFL, he and his brother, John, are plotting the direction of their company, Carter Bros. L.L.C.

The Atlanta-based firm, which is 50% owned by each brother, provides security and construction-project management for corporate clients such as ADT Security Services and Bank of America, as well as government agencies like the General Services Administration.


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