Sept. 18, 2004
Phil Hoffman knew he’d made a mistake last year as soon as he backed out of the driveway of his Ahwatukee Foothills home.
He was headed for a highpaying corporate sales job in Atlanta. Two of his college-age children would stay behind in Arizona.
His wife and two other kids, one in high school and the other in middle school, were coming, but a tad reluctant. The family had been in the East Valley 10 years and it was leaving behind many friends.
"The home we bought in Atlanta was gorgeous, it was a beautiful community, it was really, really nice, but it was clearly just not home," Hoffman said. "The way that people are treated, it’s a different atmosphere out there. It’s still the Old South, and there is still a right side of the tracks and the wrong side of the tracks. There is still segregation. There are still things out there that we really, really were not prepared to encounter. "
It took four months for the Hoffmans to return to the East Valley. A few months later they’d sell the house in Atlanta and buy a fixer-upper in their old neighborhood. Hoffman quit his management job, and opened an AlphaGraphics printing store in the heart of Chandler.
Hoffman, 48, is the exception in an area of mostly shallow roots. The old adage goes for every three people who come to the Valley, two move out. Data supplied by the Maricopa Association of Governments shows between 1995 and 2000, 559,000 people moved to the county and 342,000 left.
"I can speak to many, many friends over the course of the last 10 years who have gone and they’re not coming back," he said. "I recognize that Phoenix is home for me. I lived 37 years in Chicago and yet I firmly believe Phoenix is my home. Atlanta was never going to be that, and, quite frankly, was any city going to be for that matter."
In 1993, following several successful years at Xerox, Hoffman moved the family to Ahwatukee Foothills from the Windy City after being recruited by IKON.
"I fell in love with the place, made a lot of friends, got involved in the community and spent five years with IKON," Hoffman said. "We did very, very well."
When Xerox came calling again, Hoffman agreed to a job, but only if he could stay in the East Valley. Five years later, in March 2002, Ricoh phoned and asked him to start a national organization in Atlanta.
"What happened was I took the job and our first go at trying to find a home in Atlanta failed miserably so I actually went in and told the company I just couldn’t make the move, I was going to can it," Hoffman said. "They said ‘Don’t worry about it, just work out of Phoenix and we’ll revisit it at some later time.’ I did that for a year."
A year of constant travel and 125 nights of Hoffman in hotel rooms led the family to decide to make the move to Georgia.
"I sent my kids back after one semester in school," Hoffman said. "We came back here and we knew we wanted to to stay in the same schools. We had a very, very small geography we wanted to get back to."
Hoffman left a lucrative career. He was responsible for visiting large organizations, companies like a Motorola and Intel, and pitching on-site printing services using his company’s equipment and people.
For much of his time in corporate America, Hoffman yearned to open his own business. Eight years before the move to Atlanta, Alpha-Graphics, one of his competitors, had approved him for a franchise.
"I could go get another job, but I’ve always wanted to do my own thing so there might be some kind of a sign from someone up above saying ‘OK here’s your opportunity, it’s sitting here starting you in the face,’ " he said. "They said there’s a store in Chandler, which from a geography standpoint was convenient for me knowing that I was going back to Ahwatukee and knowing that Chandler and Gilbert are among the fastest growing communities in America, much less Arizona. I knew that was a great, great location to begin a business."
He began negotiating with the company in September and opened in June, going from managing $100 million a year in business to $600,000 and 10 employees.
"I use to get excited about a $1 million or $20 million transaction, now I get excited about a $55 copy sale coming through the door," Hoffman says. "It’s all relative because I get just as excited about that $55 job as I did about the $20 million job because now it’s in my pocket."