My name is Brian Hruska. The Hruska Group represents my life’s journey in various business adventures. After graduating college in 1981, I distinctly remember asking my grandpa Glenn if I should get a job, or follow my entrepreneurial itch. His response was simple: “You’ve got nothing to lose now son.” From that time forward, my path has been the winding road of the entrepreneur.
My journey has taken me through the land of banking, computer software, insurance, sports bars, and a plate full of real estate deals. The Hruska Group represents represents this menu. At times its been quite spicy, and at others a bit bland. As always, I cannot help but wonder where the next meal and opportunity will come from.
Helping entrepreneurs in the beauty, spa & wellness professions.
Suite Properties was my brother Jeff’s idea. He had been looking for a new business after we sold Shark City Billiards & Sports Bar. The sports bar typically had 40 or more employees, so he hoped to simplify his life in a more streamlined business, with less stress and fewer employees. This search lead him to the business of leasing salon suites to professionals in the salon, spa, and wellness space.
The Salon Suite Business Model
The Salon Suite business model is a fascinating one. Essentially it is a real estate play. We typically buy a mid-sized office or retail condo, split it up into a number of individual fully furnished upscale suites, and then lease them to beauty & wellness professionals who want to start their own businesses.
We truly enjoy the entrepreneurial aspect of this business. First, we feel this is a good business for our own financial well being. Second, each of our tenants has the opportunity to realize their own entrepreneurial dreams by branching out on their own. They have full access to their own suite, set their own schedule, and manage their clients as they see fit. Most importantly, they no longer split their revenue with the salon owner, and this can lead to a doubling of their income!
I was compelled by this business model. It’s an easy sale to make on our end. We even created a Salon Suite Profit Calculator to help them see how leasing a salon suite can increase their income substantially.
We opened our first location in 2007 in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Since then we have opened a total of five locations, all branded under the name InStyle Salon & Spa Suites. Our largest location is in Algonquin, IL. Finally we opened another location in St. Charles, Illinois.
A Team Effort
Once again Jeff brought a nifty idea to the table, but it took lots of hard work with our wives Betty and Karen to bring it to reality. Betty again pitched in with her keen eye for design, and Karen keeps us all in balance. We have been financed by 1st Community Bank and Trust in Beecher, Illinois where I have been on the board since 2010. This has truly been a HruskaGroup effort!
People always need a place to live.
I’m very fortunate to have an entrepreneurial family. It has opened many doors for investments. One of the most profitable over the years has been the world of apartment complexes. Frankly, today I wish I had done much less stock market and more multi-family real estate. I would certainly have many more eggs in my basket.
My brother David is a bit of a real estate mogul. Grandpa Glenn always said David had the highest IQ in the family. You would never have known it when he was a small child, walking aimlessly around Flossmoor taking things out of the neighbor’s garages. But the truth is, David has a very analytical finance mind, and I have benefited from that greatly.
After college he went to work for Lloyds Bank in Chicago, and later branched out to start his own investment company called Mid Continental Capital. While helping others find financing for some apartment investments, David was offered a slice of equity in a property in exchange for his investment services. This was the beginning of his career in the Multi-Family real estate world.
David relocated from Chicago to San Antonio in the late 1990’s because you could buy more property for your dollar down there. After Applied Systems I was smart enough to begin investing with him. Over the years we have bought five different properties. Each has been a different kind of battle, but thus far we’ve won most of them.
Central Park Apartments
This 90 unit complex located in Victoria, TX got wiped out by hurricane Harvey. We're finally finished both the repairs and refinancing!
Community Banks are a backbone of this country.
Joining the Board
Okay, I’m no banker. But I have been on the board of directors at 1st Community Bank in Beecher Illinois since 2010. We are a technology savvy medium sized community bank, willing and able to service clients in a wide geographic area. If you are looking for financing, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
I met the President of 1st Community bank, Greg Ohlendorf, at Flossmoor Country Club. He’s a rather type A gentleman, and one of the smartest men I have ever met. This is a guy who, after becoming a golf course rater for Golfweek Magazine, went on a mission to play and rate all 200 of the top golf courses in the country. In a bit over four years he was at 199, with only Augusta National left on the list. Rarely does Greg only play 18 holes, as here’s always room for a bonus nine! And between rounds he’s able to run a healthy 150 million dollar community bank on the very south side of the Chicago suburbs, and be heavily involved in the national trade organizations for community banks as well.
One day on the driving range, after I learned Greg was President of a bank, I first asked him if there was any money in that bank. He laughed, and I then asked if he might be interested in looking at my brother Jeff’s idea for the salon suite business. He was very open to the idea, and from there a relationship was born.
Two years after opening our first InStyle Salon & Spa Suites location, Greg asked me to join the board of directors at 1st Community Bank and Trust. I knew nothing about banking, and even less about being on a board, but I did have a background in both technology and small business. I was actually a bit apprehensive because this was stepping out of my comfort zone, but I accepted the job.
What a time to be on the board of a bank! The PPP money was flying out of Washington, but it certainly wasn’t guaranteed early on in the crisis. Our team worked their butts off, and we picked up many customers who were very dissatisfied with how their larger bank handled the crisis.
What I’ve Learned
I must say, running a bank is a very complicated business. Through this position I have learned a great deal about corporate governance, detailed budgeting, government regulation, customer relations, and the macro economy in general. This has been very good for my brain, and I imagine I will be doing it for many more years to come.
It's all about the journey.
Below is a brief chronology of my past business adventures over the years.
Of course one looks like a genius if they tell only of their successes. My journey has included a few successes for sure, but there have also been some meaningful setbacks.
The software company we started after Applied Systems was at first unsuccessful, but ultimately morphed into what was The Sonic Network… and that turned out quite well indeed.
The adventure at Shark City Billiards & Sports Bar included a second location we attempted to open with a completely different business model (why– one might ask?), but that failure didn’t overwhelm the success we had with Shark City.
Over time I’ve concluded that most business adventures take longer than you think, cost more than you think, and you make less money than you hope for.
Let’s face it, most “overnight success stories” take about seven years!
We were a dot com before there were dot coms!
I was the original author and architect of The Agency Manager, the leading insurance agency automation software product in the world. While these efforts were a long, long time ago now, the story continues to this day. In fact, Applied Systems was sold in November 2013 for 1.8 billion dollars. Yes, 1.8 billion dollars. And no, I didn’t get any of that 1.8 billion. The reasons are long, but suffice it to say we started in a garage with just a couple of us, and when I left in 1995 Applied employed more than 500 people in the economically distressed far southern suburbs of Chicago.
We were a dot-com company before there were dot coms. We pioneered the micro computer in the insurance agency automation business. We wrote a full vertical market software package in the “C” programming language; making it the fastest and most productivity enhancing software available in its day.
I must say I was quite good at what I did back then, and I worked my ass off to help build this company to an industry dominant position. It was a wild and profitable ride, and I very proud that I managed to handled many stressful situations as well as I did.
What I Learned
I learned the value of an aggressive approach to sales. Nothing happens without the sale. Period. Bob was always oriented to the sales force, and that’s why Applied grew so quickly and became so valuable. (Of course, we had to create the great product they could sell… but hey, sell, sell, sell!)
I also clearly learned what I didn’t want to be… a dishonest and ruthless business person. Bob’s brother Tom was just that. He became impossible to work for so I moved on. I got squeezed by his ruthlessness, and chose the high route taking an exit and moving on with my life in 1995. Later in my career I had the chance to “live up to the deal” numerous times, and always did… as I remembered the pain and humiliation of being squeezed by people more financially powerful than me.
Its quite humbling to see how this business has advanced over the years. Recently it appears Google invested heavily in the business. So many people I hired, knew, and worked with have now worked for Applied for over 25 years. Very proud to have taken a lead part in creating this thriving business.
My parents were entrepreneurs in the insurance business. While in college at the University of Illinois my father began selling life insurance for Prudential. After graduation, he could find no company willing to pay him as much as he was making selling insurance part time, so that was the direction he set out in.
After working for Prudential for a few years, he broke out and started his own insurance agency in Evergreen Park, IL. This agency was mostly devoted to life insurance in the early years. After my mother Donna finished raising us six children (can you imagine?), she began to work in the agency and started up the Property and Casualty business selling homeowners, auto, and small commercial policies. They managed a nice living running this small insurance agency as I grew up and went to college.
After graduation, my brother Chuck began working in the agency in sales. After five years or so my parents decided to sell him the business, and my mother Donna went to work at Applied Systems selling the automation system I had developed. Chuck and his wife Jodi worked in and ran the business, and eventually needed additional capital to survive and grow. I stepped up as an investor, and purchased a portion of the business. I viewed it as a good long term investment, as well as a laboratory for the insurance agency automation product I was building with Applied Systems.
Chuck has taken the business from only a few hundred thousand dollars in premium volume in the 1980s, to many millions today specializing in property insurance. He and his wife Jodi have worked their fingers to the bone, through many lean and now more prosperous years, and today employ dozens of full time people on the south side of Chicago. I sold my interest to them in 2009, and today their entrepreneurial energies run high.
My father would be very proud of the mark they have left in the Chicago area insurance market.
In 2021 Chuck and his wife Jodi were featured on the front page of a national insurance periodical.
Recently Chuck and Jodi decided to exit the insurance industry by selling their business to Gallagher insurance, the largest broker in the mid west. It been a 40+ year career. Another overnight success story!
A Digital Audio Software Company
Jennifer ran the company as President & CEO. She also led development of all the mobile and sound library products. She is an amazing mixture of left and right brain; having both an astonishing musically creative mind, as well as a keen logical business sense. I built the online ecommerce infrastructure from scratch to suit our unique company’s needs. Donna was Chief Financial Officer as well as a key strategist in all important business decisions.
Our first great break came with when we convinced Motorola they needed to upgrade their ringtone technology beyond simple “beeps”. We developed a MIDI synthesizer software engine that Motorola then used in most of its cell phone product line. This software product went through multiple versions, was sold to dozens of cell phone and chip manufacturers, and was later sold to Google for the open source Android phone platform. In fact, Sonic Network was a founding member of the Open Handset Alliance started by Google in 2006 to create the Android open source mobile phone platform.
Sonic had two different lines of sound libraries; one for professionals and one for hobbyists. The hobbyist products were sold online as downloads, and also through a vast retail channel; most notably through GuitarCenter retail stores. Sonic invented the DVI (Downloadable Virtual Instrument), and over the years building a massive library of sound sets that were used in major motion pictures and super bowl commercials alike. This sound library and technology infrastructure was sold to Numark Industries in 2012.
Numark Industries later replaced the web site I developed over the years at Sonic, but I have placed a copy of it on my own server just for posterity purposes.
The ecommerce web site was built from the ground up in the early 2000’s, prior to any off-the-shelf ecommerce solutions being available. Early on in 2008 it utilized the Amazon Web Services S3 storage capability in the cloud to host the very large Downloadable Virtual Instruments. All the shopping cart interface was custom built to allow both downloads and shippable products. I am quite proud of this, as I built it entirely myself!
What I Learned
I must say I learned a great respect for any company that has to sell widgets to meet payroll. We managed to do so, but it was always with great sweat and effort and often without my own paycheck. My entrepreneurial adventure with Sonic Network was a winding road with both ups and downs, but in the end we left a mark on both the music software industry and the world’s largest mobile phone platform; android. And that’s pretty cool!
I had an exciting time with my mother and sister building, running, and later selling this company. Jennifer joined Numark at the sale of our company, and to run their entire software division. She later went on to start and sell another musical software company, and is currently an assistant professor at The Berkley College of Music. My mother Donna finally decided to retire at the age of 76, although she continued to help my sister Susan run her resort business until that was sold in 2022.