Christopher Darden literally grew up in the RTO industry. At the age of 8 he was in his parents', John and Donna Darden, ColorTyme Rent to Own store most days after school. During this time, Christopher began learning how to care and upkeep the product properly as well as interacting with the diverse customer base. At the age of 16 he was out on the truck learning to professionally deliver and service product as well as learning how to effectively manage customers' accounts. Now he is opening his own store, partnering with the man who gave him his start - his Dad, along with his former supervisor Mike Hubbard.
Christopher's parents opened the first Rent-To-Own store in Charlottesville, Virginia with the assistance of the late Willie Talley. John worked for Willie in Texas and as a result of John's solid production for his company, Willie wanted to put John and Donna in business for themselves. "Who better to learn the nuts and bolts, particularly in regards to sales, service, and the financial end of the rental business than from Willie Talley" said John. Joe Arnette, current Director of Training for Rent-A-Center, hired me into the business in 1976. Joe taught me store operations and also instilled in me the highly positive attitude for the rental business that I have always carried. He also taught me that "if you break the product you pay for the product. It was Willie Talley who built upon the vast knowledge and experience that Joe gave me and took it to the next level. I have truly missed him!!"
The Dardens owned three ColorTyme stores in Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. The company had grown to a point where they recognized the need to start hiring quality manager trainees. A good friend of theirs knew they were looking for their first manager trainee and asked if they would be interested in interviewing his brother. This was in 1983 and this was when they were first introduced to Trooper Earle. Trooper came on board as their first manager trainee and this was the start of a relationship that continues today. Trooper had performed incredibly. The Dardens, along with an associate of John's, decided to open a new company with the idea of Trooper running the operations. "Trooper has an incredible work ethic and a solid grasp on the numbers that make our industry successful" stated John Darden. Under Trooper's direction this new company quickly grew from 1 store to 5 stores in just a few years. In February 1990, John sold his 3 stores back to ColorTyme corporate and went to work full time with Trooper. In October 1990, John and his partner agreed to sell to Trooper their share of the company and Trooper became the sole owner. John remained with Trooper running the operational side of the company. John says, "Troop is terrific at looking at financial matters and determining what it takes for a financial forecast to work. My strength has always been operations - it was a great team!" The company quickly grew from 5 to 16 stores and was one of the largest ColorTyme franchises in the country. In 1995 John decided it was time to take a break from RTO and left the industry. In 2000 a friend called and asked to meet. This was the beginning of John's return to the business that he truly loved. In 2001 he went to work for a medium sized regional RTO company where he took underperforming stores and quickly turned them into profitable stores. This is where he met his close personal friend turned business partner Mike Hubbard. This also marks the time when Christopher decided to leave his restaurant management career and return to his home - RTO.
Mike is a 21 year RTO veteran who spent his entire tenure with one company. Mike was a very successful Regional Manager and sales trainer for the company he worked for and really developed the potential that high end product offers both the company and more importantly the customers. "Our customers deserve to be able to have access to every home furnishing product that the entire buying public has access to. It is good for the customer and good for business" said Hubbard.
Mike, John, and Christopher bring well over 50 years of combined RTO experience to their business. According to Christopher they are ready to offer the industry something special: a commitment to exceed customer expectations while offering great value." Christopher feels that by not being strapped down with the bureaucracy of a larger organization that they can "explore our creativity while concentrating on our sole mission - servicing the customers."
With that as their shared mission, the biggest issue was to research all of the available options for the financing of the store. After reading of the great success Trooper was having with assisting new dealers in the starting of their own business as Premier dealers, Christopher decided to give him a call. Impressed with the program, as well as Trooper's easy, fair, and no pressure style, the three partners felt that joining the Premier family would support their goal of setting up a successful operation.
"Trooper and Dan Whitsell, Premier's CPA, walked us through the process of obtaining SBA financing," said Mike Hubbard. "There is a certain art to dealing with banks in particular. Trooper and Dan did a great job of educating us on how the Small Business Administration's system works. Dan Whitsell is a solid professional whose knowledge of the finances in the Rental Industry is critical in preparing and implementing your financial forecast. He has been with us every step of the way" said Christopher Darden.
The name of their corporation is Eklesia, Inc., Latin for "the called out ones" according to Mike Hubbard. "We feel we have been provided an opportunity to use our God given talents and we plan on making the most of the opportunity that God has provided us with," said Mike.
For John, his new partnership is a "dream come true. I had hoped that one day I would have a business with my son. The fact that we can begin this venture with someone as talented and as gifted as Mike Hubbard makes this experience that much more surreal. I have been very blessed. The plan is to stay focused and we feel like we will be very successful!"