Friday, July 28, 1995

Independence Leads Russell Down Home Office Career

By Kim Rodgers
Journal Record Staff Reporter

There was a time when Tom Russell drove to an office to work each day.

It lasted one year.

Except for that year, the 56-year-old has worked from his home his entire career. He has sold brushes for Fuller and videotapes to insurance agents. He was self-employed as an insurance agent for 20 years.

For the past four years, he has owned a franchise of Kitchen Tune-Up, a wood refurbishing service. It was founded in 1989 by Dave Haglund. There are 250 franchises nationwide.

.He wears Kitchen Tune-Up's uniform, a road-construction orange shirt and cap, and hands out equally bright business cards. It is a different image from the dark blue suit he would have worn had IBM hired him after college.

He sold for Fuller Brush company to help pay his tuition to Arlington State College in Arlington, Texas. When he completed his bachelor of business administration degree, he did what many other business graduates did in the 1950s and 1960s -- applied for a sales job with Big Blue.

. "I think they sensed that I'd found my independence. They wanted someone to fit the mold, and I wasn't-going to fit the mold. I didn't get the job, and I think that was their wisdom in not hiring me."

Russell's need to be independent and his interest in marketing drove him to several decades of sales jobs where he was based out of his home. In 1969, a job brought him to Oklahoma City, where he has lived and worked out of the same house ever since.

He was selling insurance a few years ago when he decided he needed a career change.

`There's been a lot of financial turmoil in the insurance industry. There was a time when you could tell a customer that he was covered for a certain amount and you would know that what you were saying was true, that the claim would be paid. I started to feel more and more like that was no longer the case.

"I got a case of the burnout, and when you're in sales and you're not excited about what you're selling, you need to get out."

Russell's brother worked for an Austin firm that did wood refurbishing for businesses. He asked the company to train him to do the same thing so he could work for the company, either in Oklahoma City or in Austin. The company didn't hire Russell, but it got thinking about wood refurbishing.

He saw a newspaper advertisement for kitchen Tune-Up, an Aberdeen, S.D., based company that sells wood refurbishing service franchises.

That was four years ago. The business' sales were around $50,000 the first year and were close to $75,000 last year. He works with one part-time employee.

Despite the company's name, Russell doesn't work just on kitchen cabinets. lie refurbishes trimwork, doors, furniture, railings - anything made of wood.

He has worked in modest homes and big, downtown banks.

He cleans the wood, and applies a scratch-covering sealant, followed by an oil developed by Kitchen Tune-Up. The oil mimics the wood's natural oil,

See RUSSELL, Page 2, Column 3