TEGA CAY -- The tree city is about to become very important to major big box retailers across the country.
It is the home of Warp Robotics, a mom-and-pop operation that fixes mechanical problems for large retailers such as Wal-Mart, Costco and Lowes Foods. From motorized shopping carts to automatic doors, Warp Robotics is the go-to repair firm.
"Everywhere you walk in within 150 miles of Tega Cay, you'll see a Warp sticker on the door," co-owner Patrick LaRive said.
Soon, he can say the same thing about stores east of the Mississippi and, by the end of 2008, the West Coast. Although it appears Warp Robotics was on its way to eventual success, the backing of Sean Yasbeck of "The Apprentice" gave the company a quick boost.
LaRive and his wife, Lynn, started Warp Robotics four years ago in their home. At the time, Patrick LaRive was a mechanical engineer working on large industrial robots.
"I was burnt out on big industrial equipment," he said. "I wanted to see what other things I could do."
He bought a plane ticket to Chicago and crashed the Wal-Mart table at a major trade show.
"I had heard the CEO was going to be there," LaRive said. "He wasn't, but some other top executives were. I guess they liked me, liked that I had the guts to crash their table, because it only took me two weeks to get a vendor number with them."
After that, he began repairing the motorized carts at Wal-Mart stores near Tega Cay. Through that relationship, he hooked up with Amigo Mobility International, which manufactures direct to consumer motorized scooters and several styles of motorized shopping carts used by retailers all over the country.
"Kmart wanted me because Wal-Mart had me, and all the grocery stores wanted me because Wal-Mart had me," LaRive said.
Until recently, Warp Robotics consisted of three people: Patrick LaRive, CEO; Lynn LaRive, the majority partner and operations chief; and Joe Maurer, consulting partner. Then, a few weeks ago, the LaRives got a phone call from Yasbeck, who won season five of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice."
"He said he was coming to Charlotte, and he wanted to meet," Patrick LaRive said. "We had a great meeting at the airport."
They met for five hours at the airport, Yasbeck said in a recent phone interview.
"Patrick sold me himself, his personality, I see a lot of my traits in him," Yasbeck said.
Before competing on "The Apprentice on NBC," Yasbeck spent the previous decade working in the staffing business, even owning his own firm. His company provided highly trained staff members on a temporary and long-term basis for telecommunications and other high-tech businesses all over the world. The London-born businessman lives in Miami and is setting up a U.S.-based staffing company that should launch early next year.
He also is a new partner in Warp Robotics.
When Yasbeck's venture takes off in 2008, it will provide staff members to Warp Robotics, which plans its own expansion beginning Jan. 2, according to LaRive. As 2008 opens, Warp will be expanding into nearly every state east of the Mississippi River.
LaRive said he needs 10 to 15 service technicians for each region and hopes to have 30 employees by March. The Southeast region includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. The Northeast Region includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
Later, the company will expand into, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin, Arizona, California and Nevada and Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. LaRive is looking for staffers in those states.
"We have literally 3,500 retailers begging us to come in," LaRive said. "Sean (Yasbeck) is going to be meeting with the corporate-level clients, introducing Warp to the different regions we're going to take over."
By next December, LaRive plans to have 50 employees.
"This all started as just one guy in an office trying to figure out how to make a living," LaRive said.
LaRive has a "amazing opportunity," Yasbeck said. "The business model is good. There's a huge opportunity to make money looking at what kind of technical staff he needs, wearing the Warp badge, doing what needs to be done."