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Bill Kirby Jr.: A post mid-life business decision, and Jeff Mozingo has no regrets

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Jeff Mozingo learned long ago from his father that if you plan to own your own business, be there.

“He gets tickled with me,” says Mozingo, 53, the majority owner of Play It Again Sports in Westwood Shopping Center. “He says, ‘Now you get to see what it’s like to drive the bus.’”

Mozingo isn’t afraid of hard work or long hours.

Before Play It Again Sports came along, he spent 21 years in the insurance business working with his father, Jim Mozingo, who knows insurance like the proverbial back of his hand.

“I was primarily doing commercial insurance, but I did personal and life and health, too,” Jeff Mozingo says. “I got out of the Air Force in 1999 and went straight to work for him on July 5, 1999. I started out as a receptionist and did filings and claims.”

He watched a father’s work ethic.

“I can do this just like you, I told my dad,” Jeff Mozingo says. “I stayed inside learning and learning. He turned me loose after five years” to do it all.

“I was scared to death.”

But, like his father, Jeff Mozingo had a knack for selling insurance. He was personable.

He had a way of gaining the trust of potential clients, and he always was there for them to explain the scope of their insurance coverage. Life was good working in the McPherson Square office and later along South McPherson Church Road alongside his father and his wife, Tracy. Later, when he wasn’t selling insurance, you could find Mozingo coaching the couple’s young son, Josh, on the recreation baseball fields.

“I was making a good living,” Mozingo says before the opportunity to move on to Play It Again Sports came along, ”and I didn’t have to do this.”

‘For sale’

But Mozingo had a familiarity with the business as an insurance agent.

“I was a customer here, too,” he says.

And he was a friend of Bruce Jackson, then the manager.

He knew, too, that Dean and Anne Mathias owned five franchise stores in Wilmington, Raleigh, Greenville, Durham and Fayetteville. He also knew Chad Guise, general manager of the stores, who eventually purchased the Play It Again Sports businesses in Durham and Raleigh.

And then Mozingo saw the “for sale” sign at Play It Again Sports.

“I knew what Play It Again Sports could do” Mozingo says. “I don’t mind a challenge. I knew how to take on a challenge.”

He could feel the business calling his name.

Next stop was a discussion with his wife.

“When Jeff told me he was thinking about buying a local retail store and leaving his secure career in insurance, it honestly did not come as a surprise,” Tracy Mozingo says. “I was definitely supportive of Jeff when he told me what he was contemplating. Jeff is a leader and a success in whatever he is passionate about. I had absolutely no reservation about him leaving his incredibly successful career as an insurance advisor to pursue this dream of company ownership. He had insured Play It Again Sports for many years and had witnessed its prior success.’’

First, he would have to make a pitch to the Winmark national headquarters based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then another pitch to Bruce Jackson.

“I told him I would buy it,” he says, “if he would consult with me.”

And there was that final conversation with his father, who had taught a son every aspect of the insurance business.

“That was a tough one,” Mozingo says. “He didn’t think I would leave in a million years. I wasn’t tired of insurance. It was just to try something new.”

With that, on May 26, 2020, the deal was done.

‘Here every day’

You’ll find just about everything at Play It Again Sports from treadmills, ellipticals and fitness equipment to skateboards and bicycles and sports items to include tennis, golf, soccer, basketball and football.

“We’re a sporting goods store,” Jeff Mozingo says. “Sixty percent is new and 40 percent is old.”

He explains, for instance, that folks might buy an expensive treadmill after a knee replacement. Once recovered, they bring the equipment to Play It Again Sports and sell it. Tired of those old drivers and irons? Play It Again Sports will buy them back and pay you on the spot.

But baseball, Mozingo says, is the big drawing card.

“A mom and dad has got to outfit three kids for baseball, softball and soccer,” he says, “and we can take care of every kid, with all the amenities.”

And, Mozingo says, at significant savings.

“I work this like I worked the insurance world,” Mozingo says. “There is a different challenge every day. In this business, I have to handle the back of the store to the front. I still mop the floor. I take out the trash. They say in business that if you want to be successful you’ve got to be there. I have to get the register set up in the mornings, check orders and I push the bikes out. Then I come back in and start doing the ownership thing. I’m going to be here every day.”

A family affair

Tracy Mozingo never had a second thought about what her husband could do with the business.

“He has done a fantastic job of filling the store with items people want and need, as well as marketing the store throughout the community,” she says. “Many of our friends and Jeff's former clients in the insurance world have supported him wholeheartedly in this new venture, and we have been so grateful for their encouragement, their visits to the store, their posts on social media and, yes, their purchases.

“Jeff has made Play It Again Sports a family endeavor by bringing in our 15-year-old son Josh, a freshman at Terry Sanford High School, to learn a servant's attitude in sales, as well as how to display items for maximum exposure and how to order items that will move off the shelves. Josh, like Jeff, has a knack for connecting with people, and they both tackle any challenge head-on,” she says. “So, working together has proven to be a bonding experience for them. If Josh decides after college that he wants to join Jeff at Play It Again Sports permanently, I know Jeff will welcome him into that legacy with open arms.”

Epilogue

You’ll need a measure of courage to go into business on your own. There are no assurances you’ll be successful. Call it a leap of faith.

“I loved the insurance business, and I love this business,” Mozingo says. “I’m still learning. I’m still humbled with this business.”

And Jeff Mozingo would do it all again.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., Play It Again Sports, Jeff Mozingo

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