By STEVEN NALLEY
When the people who work for Curt Crissey ask him how to get from where they are to where he is, the first thing he tells them about is the difference between punching a time clock and owning a time clock.
Crissey owns several businesses in Starkville, including Coconuts, Down the Hatch, Rosey Baby's, and Brewski's, as well as businesses across Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and the Bahamas, and he said with that ownership comes big responsibilities. As a result, he said, he is never truly off from work, because his businesses continue to operate even while he's away from the office.
"One thing about responsibility is once you take it on, you can't take it back," Crissey said. "I employ hundreds of people. Knowing every action you take during the day has the chance to have an impact on your employees, it's something I don't take lightly."
When readers of the Starkville Daily News voted for the 2011 Best of Starkville awards, Crissey was named Best Boss, and Brewski's was named Best Package Store for the selection of liquor available at its annex, the Bulldog Package Store.
Crissey said he was humbled to receive the awards, especially when Budweiser sent him a wall decoration featuring the awards. He said the key to this and other successes has been his dedication to his responsibilities, his customers, and his employees.
"It makes you feel good at the end of the day to know the things you do are appreciated," Crissey said. "I'm very endeared to my employees."
Crissey said he is open to input from his employees, and some of their ideas have helped in the past. Even when he decides not to act on an employee's input, he said, he takes care to explain why he thinks it won't work.
"Everyone has something credible to add to a business, and as an owner, I have to have an ear for that," Crissey said. "It's a two-way street, and I try to make them all feel that way."
Crissey said his employees are just as much a part of the team as he is, he said, and he believes employees' happiness centers around letting them know that.
"I'll come in and I'll purposely do menial things like sweeping, to say, â€˜Hey, I'm just as much a part of the team,'" Crissey said. "I'm no better than they are."
Ansel Prichard, manager at the Bulldog Package Store, said one of his favorite things about Crissey is that he trusts his employees once they have been trained. Crissey gives employees a general idea of what he wants early on, he said, and employees are free to work within that idea.
"He's not the kind of boss that's always over your shoulder," Prichard said. "I think that makes for a much happier employee. He's very fair with his employees, and he gives them a lot of free range as far as working in the stores."
Part of Crissey's training, Prichard said, is sharing his expertise on the wares available at Bulldog Package Store.
"He makes sure you know what you're selling," Prichard said.
Crissey said he originally went to college studying software development, but as he was seeking employment, a friend of his asked for his help retiring from a laundry business. When Crissey took charge of that business and grew it, he said, he began buying into more and more opportunities. He said the keys to his ascent were "sheer guts" and a willingness to think less in terms of businesses he wanted to get into and more in terms of businesses the area needed.
"It takes guts to go out there and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions, on something where you don't know how the public is going to respond," Crissey said. "It's very rare that I say I want to get into something. It's really me seeing an opportunity of need in a market."
Inside Crissey's office atop Brewski's is a collection of liquor bottles. Some are antique editions of brands that are still active, but many represent brands no longer brewed. Crissey's passion for fine liquor is clear, but he said that passion is not the main reason he annexed the Bulldog Package Store onto Brewski's 14 years ago.
He saw a need, he said, and he filled it.
"I saw a huge void, in this state, of so many products," Crissey said. "â€™There are so many products that are not available in this area,' I said, â€˜and I know I can bring them here.' We are now driven more by customer requests than my own. Now we have been known as the guys who will get anything."
It's the customers who keep his businesses alive, Crissey said, so much so that he tells his employees he's not in charge of their wages. It's the customers who pay them, Crissey said, and he makes sure both he and his employees treat them that way. It's the key to getting customers to come back, he said.
"It makes them feel needed, wanted," Crissey said. "I tell employees to greet them with enthusiasm. They are creating your job."
Ultimately, Crissey said, it all comes down to being a people person.
"My job really is a study of human beings, whether customers or employees," Crissey said. "It's constant learning. I've never met a stranger."