Big Business

September 1, 2005 by  
Filed under Edit

He routinely plays before packed NFL houses: Reliant Stadium’s Mr. Reliability, answering the call each and every Sunday of the Texans’ 3-year existence. With 48 consecutive starting assignments, Houston’s No. 76 mans the least glamorous and most anonymous of positions in the offensive line. Center Steve McKinney is rarely the center of attention for even the most astute football followers. His success is punctuated not by his own end-zone antics, but by those whose path McKinney clears. Financial survival for when the glory days are gone requires an altogether different skill set, although the very same furious and ferocious commitment. With the pro football career clock ever-ticking toward conclusion, McKinney is fast becoming his own center of business activity.

“My first four or five years in the league, I was going nuts in the off season. I didn’t know what to do,” says McKinney, who is now entering his eighth NFL season. “When I finally made enough money to open my own business, I was ready to go. I needed something to keep me busy and definitely fall back on after football.”

When McKinney was positioned to spread his entrepreneurial wings, he remembered back to a Texas A&M game-day gathering tradition and began to bank on biting off a bit of the booming burrito business. “Freebirds is a huge part of the atmosphere in College Station,” says McKinney, a 3-year Aggie starter and All Big 12 performer in 1997. “You find out about it pretty quick, and I did – and I found out about it a lot.”

Specializing in build-your-own burritos slightly smaller than the logs once used for the annual Aggie bonfire, pizza-size tortillas are rolled with your choice of meat fixins and sauces that run the gamut from mild to wild (habenero death?). Freebirds World Burritos are foil-wrapped meals in a hand, big enough to fill the tummies of McKinney’s Texan line mates.

“I called Freebirds and said, ‘I would like to get involved with you guys,'” McKinney says. “‘I think you have a great business. I would like to buy a franchise.’ They told me they don’t sell franchises. They’re only company-owned. So I bought 10 percent of the entire company.”

McKinney has since seen that company and its profits bulge like their signature Monster burrito. Still headquartered in College Station, the chain has grown from the single location where McKinney routinely feasted to 13 across the state, including the company’s first location in San Antonio and two here in Houston.

“I definitely did a lot of due diligence,” McKinney says. “I’m not going to jump into anything just because I like the product. I looked at their business numbers, and they do surprisingly well. It’s amazing they can sell that many burritos.”

But the Freebirds enterprise didn’t satisfy McKinney’s hunger for franchise income. Research discovered a way to meet that appetite as well as another in the market place. “Today, sports have become so competitive,” McKinney says, “that in order to succeed you have to get an edge over your competition.”

McKinney is trying to provide such an edge – for kids, for potential professionals, for any and all guys and gals in between. McKinney owns and operates a pair of Velocity Sports Performance facilities, part of a fast-growing national chain where the emphasis is on getting faster, stronger and more agile. “It’s not a health club, first of all,” McKinney explains. “It’s a performance training center. We work with athletes of all ages and skill levels to help them maximize their potential. We’re going to make them faster, quicker, stronger. We’re going to reduce the likelihood of injuries.”

A heady claim to be sure, but Velocity has proof of performance, and McKinney has put muscle behind the pitch. Since 2003, he’s opened two spacious facilities that measure between 20,000 to 30,000 square feet, utilizing state-of-the-art equipment and techniques. Each facility employs 15 to 20 full- and part-time trainers and instructors, headed by Executive Sports Performance Director Steve Kellar, the former strength and conditioning coach at the University of Houston under Dana Dimel.

During McKinney’s own formative years in Clear Lake, off-season training and conditioning was all about playground battles and backyard brawls. Generation Next is now put through the paces once reserved for only the most elite performers. “We start as young as 7-years-old all the way up to professional athletes and weekend warriors,” McKinney says.

“That’s one of the great things about Velocity”, he says. “It makes me a part of the community, which I enjoy. I get to know a lot of people who live in these communities and their kids and get to be a part of their lives instead of a professional athlete who no one can touch.”

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