Friday October 23, 1998
Shawn Shepherd
Staff Writer
The Business Press

Young Entrepreneur

Young Entrepreneur Breathes New Life into Old Service Sector Firm

FORT WORTH - When business soothsayers of the '80s predicted the future belonged to the service sector, Warren H. Prescott didn't give it a second thought. But today, the 25-year-old president of Rent-a-Frog is in the thick of it. Rent-a-Frog provides services from valet parking to bartending, dog walking to house chores, and everything in between. With up to 200 area college students as employees, and 15 to 20 client calls per week, the company has already exceeded its $55,000 first year goal by more than 200 percent, Prescott said. The success also has ensured the firm's future in other markets, Prescott said. He's already reserved the names Rent-a-Raider and Rent-a-Longhorn for Lubbock and Austin.

A college start
Like many college students, Prescott worked while juggling the demands of his studies. But he also saw his job connecting to his future. "I've always wanted to make my own decisions, and I was just waiting to graduate," he said. As a TCU freshman Prescott started to work for Rent-a-Frog and found himself on a lawn as a mime for a party. "There I was, not having to talk.... and at the end of the evening I made $60 or $70, and he fed us. What a deal," he recalled. But it was his in-office work for Rent-a-Frog, combined with his exposure to his parents' professional placement careers, that really directed his business acumen. "I had so many ideas of what [Rent-a-Frog j could be with some time and effort," Prescott said. With that, he started in a directed plan to one day own and operate the service-oriented business.

The learning curve
Prescott's training with Rent-a-Frog helped him move to a professional post at Pro-Staff in 1994. He was given the challenge of building a student-based temporary service. "I was given a lot of responsibility for my age at the time," he said. Unfortunately, the directive came from Pro-Staff's national office that the local group needed to focus on the Alliance corridor and eliminate the college program. In his four-year tenure with the placement agency - coupled with a free-lance valet service he had built - Prescott had learned enough to take the plunge into ownership.

Calls for help
"I realized early on that if you make an effort, people will help you - all you have to do is ask," Prescott said. And ask he has. As a college junior, he made the strategic choice to join the Fort Worth Club. "Networking is crucial," he said. Upon graduating in May 1996, he took Roger Williams to lunch to leam about how to be a success. And he continues to maintain close ties to his TCU adviser Maggie Thomas, former professors, clients and their associates. He also sought counsel from clients before capturing the Rent-a-Frog name. He still seeks advice. "I minored in business, and that was more than enough. I've got a great small-business accountant and a great attorney, and I trust them to help me make the right decisions," he said.

Rebuilding a business
Rent-a-Frog, in its third life under Prescott's leadership, hasn't always fared well in the marketplace - a challenge Prescott is confronting head-on. "One of the biggest things I battle is the previous owner's lack of effort," he said. "I take a lot of pride in what we do. Everything goes back to word-of-mouth - it all has to come back to how well we do a job." Today's Rent-a-Frog is capturing attention by doing its work extremely well, clients say. "Our business is solely dependent on the vendors we use," said Trudy Rains, a partner in Combined Concepts Unlimited, a local event planning firm. Rent-a-Frog has the right presence. Rains said, and has earned all of the firm's party business.

Service first
Though Rent-a-Frog may be best known for its valet service, this effort is less than 50 percent of the business. Temporary services are the company's bread and butter, Prescott said. I thought I could do a better job than the big firms by offering personal service," he said. "The No. 1 priority is customer service. We want to be thought of as the company that will come and do it - or find someone who can." Prescott will go to extremes for service, as he demonstrates time and again. A local woman had a 140-pound "alpha male" Golden Retriever with weight problems. Rent-a-Frog came to the rescue with a soccer player employee who ran with it every day for more than a month until it lost the weight. But the work came only after Prescott read a book provided by the owner on the alpha male and passed her informal "quiz" as to its contents. "It wasn't the most glamorous job or the biggest money-maker, but someone needed it done, and that's what we're about," he said.