Twenty years ago, 30-year-old Randy Goodwin seized an opportunity to become an entrepreneur.
His growth has been hard to miss. Goodwin’s business, PRI Productions, produces events from weddings to concerts to Jacksonville Jaguars game days, and public and private parties and meetings in between.
Now 51, Goodwin, who moved to Jacksonville at the age of 4 and is the youngest of four siblings, has taken the company to more than 80 employees and about $7 million in annual revenue.
His business is based in the San Marco area at 1819 Kings Ave., a former skating rink and the former operations area for Brandon’s Camera. PRI moved into the building in 1997.
PRI has a large footprint in Jacksonville, using almost 100,000 square feet of space. The main building is 30,000 square feet and PRI Media occupies about 3,500 square feet across the street at 1830 Kings Ave. Goodwin stores a lot of the props and equipment in a 65,000-square-foot Springfield warehouse.
Goodwin has won awards, serves on boards of directors and produces many of Jacksonville’s signature events, like JAX Chamber functions and annual galas.
PRI is a part of more than 2,000 events a year, and most are in Northeast Florida.
You’ve been in business 20 years, including during the worst recession since the Great Depression. You own lights, equipment, decorations, props, furniture, and other assets needed for a wide range of events. What’s your secret? What took you through that?
I love producing the live event. Realizing what the people that hired you are trying to achieve, and trying to make that come together for them, is very satisfying. In regard to the downturn in the economy, we had a strength in the amount of assets we owned.
I tried to work with our clients in recognizing they were dealing with the same issues that I was dealing with. Letting them have access to a lot of our assets allowed me to keep their costs down. It helped me and it helped them, and it did work for us.
But I did have to spend a tremendous amount of time, not looking just at the money that we were bringing in. The biggest thing that allowed us to survive was watching the money that went out.
How do you work with those clients to make the event happen?
The biggest thing is trying to understand why they are having an event. There’s got to be a reason. They’re trying to educate somebody, they’re trying to inform them about something, they’re communicating in some way.
Maybe it’s just celebrating, maybe it’s just entertaining. We really focus on why they’re having the event and what they’re trying to achieve.
Give an example of one of the most fun or challenging events that you’ve produced.
In any type of event there are things we did that I think were cool, so it’s hard for me to just pick one. I grew up an NFL fan, I was actually a Houston Oilers fan, so I found it fascinating when the Jacksonville Jaguars came to town.
I was working with the Jaguars at the very beginning, even before it was called the Jaguars and was Touchdown Jacksonville. Then we got the team and I got started working with them. Then we got the Super Bowl in Jacksonville.
There are so many other things in our community — working with Ed Austin with the River City Renaissance, with the Delaney administration doing the Better Jacksonville Plan. It’s hard for me to just pick one
Talk about your relationship with the Jaguars. What do you do with the franchise?
Contrary to what some people might think, I do what I’m told.
I’ve been fortunate and very blessed that they have looked to us for all these years, but when it comes time with these new (video)boards, which are just over-the-top crazy amazing, we helped in providing the additional staff to be able to execute their vision.
We do provide probably 60 or 70 people who are working to execute the audio and video and everything that would happen inside the stadium. Outside the stadium, there’s the game-day experience, and they pretty much outsourced that to us. There are probably another 70 or 80 people helping us execute the outside.
Now they have the Prowl, where the team comes out and the fans can give them a high-five as they walk to the field. When they get out on the field during the warmups, you’re hearing this big sound system and that’s to pump up the players and I’m out there when that happens. That’s really cool.
When volunteers are handing you things, we’re coordinating that. That could add another 100 or so volunteers. We’re always looking for more volunteers.
At a Jaguars game we try to help out with what they’re trying to achieve. We’re an extension of them, but we’re not really the deciders like people and my family might think. I don’t decide what song gets played. I do what I’m told.
What did you see yourself doing when you were growing up? Was this it?
I went to Sandalwood High School. I played trumpet. There was a time when I thought I was going to be a trumpet player for the rest of my life, but I wasn’t really that great at it.
But I was the band president, so I learned about trying to get people to all follow and work toward an objective.
When I got out of high school I was very much involved in my church and I played piano. I became part of some Christian music groups and we traveled around the Southeast performing in churches, and at that time in my life I thought I was going to do that forever. That taught me skill sets that are valuable in regard to meeting people, being able to walk up to them and feel comfortable talking to them, talking in front of people.
I was growing to the point that I was the president of the Florida Gospel Music Association and I would actually help write an article for the Southern Gospel Music News, and all of this came into play not knowing the path I was going to go down.
I guess there were times in my life I thought I was going to do many different things, but I didn’t think I was going to be doing this.
How did this come about?
Brandon’s Camera was the South’s largest camera store. I started there when I was about 18 years old. The guy that hired me was the president of Brandon’s and he was the minister of music at my church, so he would understand when I would leave many times and go hit the road with the gospel band.
The ongoing joke was that we would live on love offerings. Sometimes they didn’t love us enough so I had to come back to work.
He would always let me go and do what I needed to do, and eventually I stayed there at Brandon’s, and I thought I was going to stay there for many years.
Then the company was sold and the guy that I looked up to that was a business mentor was retiring.
I didn’t know what I was going to do and the guy that bought the company was going to take it in a different direction. It was clearly obvious that I needed to move
I did not have the entrepreneurial spirit. I didn’t have the background, didn’t have the finances, didn’t have all the things I think an entrepreneur would need to start a business, and didn’t even fully understand it.
I started a company that rented assets for a living and I had no assets and I had no money to acquire these assets. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would’ve never done it, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
And it just sort of turned out.
If you didn’t have the assets or the money, how did you do that?
I was a DJ on AM Christian radio stations. I would work there early in the morning until the sun rose. I would go in to start PRI at 8:30 in the morning. There used to be a thing called the Super Shopper, they would roll these papers and throw them in your yard. We would roll 5,000 of those every Tuesday night and I would stay up all night long and roll these papers in my mom and dad’s garage, and I would go out and throw them all night long in the Mandarin area. I did that for years.
Quite frankly, that would give me about $800 a month and allowed me to eat and keep going. Back then I was just doing AV. It was those VHS top-load camcorders. My brother had one and I’d rent that out. My mom, I’d rent her TV out. Money wasn’t accessible, and we just did what we had to do to survive.
But you got from there to here.
We survived. I would hate to have to try it again, but clearly we have all been very blessed. Some of it is luck but it doesn’t mean we didn’t work an awful lot.
Do you have such a thing as an average day?
No. A lot of people that produce events, especially concerts, will hit the road and they’re doing the same show multiple times.
In our situation, every show that we do, we do one time. When we’re kicking, which is our fall busy season, we’ll do five to 15 events in one day, which is crazy and obviously far exceeds what any one person can be a part of.
Our company is involved in so many different things. Even when we’re not at full steam, we’re planning for things that are coming up. Right now I’m working very hard for all the events. We have a very busy fall coming in our community.
What advice would you have for people who might want to start their own company?
Years ago the Jacksonville Chamber had a program called “adopt a business,” and they asked me to be the guest speaker for the graduating class. I’m sitting in a chair up on the stage, and they’re talking to people that are either expanding their business or starting their business, and they said, “You need a good lawyer, a good banker, a good CPA, a good business plan, and now here’s our guest speaker, Randy Goodwin.”
Oh, my gosh. I said, “I’m literally the poster child for how not to do this.”
Looking back after 20 years, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, which now means that I had a huge learning curve. It made me try that much harder to try to learn.
If somebody would’ve given me six figures to start this company I would’ve probably blown it, thinking “this is what I need to do,” and I wouldn’t have probably survived it.
Because I didn’t have anything, it made me work that much harder to learn it. The things that you don’t know can be a driver for you to be able to learn how to live within your means — for $5 before it’s $50,000 before it’s $500,000, whatever it is.
Don’t be nervous about what you don’t know. Just be sure you are willing to put in the necessary work and effort, and reach out to people who do know so you can start acquiring what it takes to run a business.
Man, I learned everything the hard way, but that’s probably the only way I would’ve been taught.
Talk about your facility.
I left Brandon’s Camera to start what was then Presentation Resource, which is still the same company. I just called it PRI Productions.
After three years, Brandon’s went out of business and I came home to the same building that I worked at all those years, except now I’m in the corner office, which is very cool, and I will probably stay in that corner office forever just because it means something to me.
I try not to be a venue, but we do things for nonprofits once in a while, and I’ll do things that I think are good for the community.
The coolest one was when we celebrated our 20th anniversary in June. I work with Dreams Come True and they’re a local nonprofit organization that I love, and they try to grant the dreams of children that are dealing with life-threatening illnesses.
It happened to have been their 30th anniversary, so I approached them and I said, “Look, instead of me having this big sort of blowout for the community, which I know I’ve done a few times in the past, I would like to just see if we can do something special for these kids and their families.”
We brought together 30 kids and their families to PRI Productions and we brought in all these people that have helped us through the years and we had this very, very special event to give them the world’s greatest party, and that was so special.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I wind up getting back to just the core of my family and a few close friends. I’m very close to my parents. I lost my dad last year, and that was really, really tough for me.
The last eight or nine months has been probably one of the toughest times in my life. My mom now lives across the street from me. Quite frankly, I go home when I can get away from here and I go over there and we’ll play cards and I think I watch “Judge Judy” with her too much, if I’m not at an event.
I have a very close family. I have a very large family. I spend a lot of time with them, and that brings joy to me.
Do you have any special insights into the city and into the community?
This is more me talking than the president of PRI. I find it interesting, watching how people are elected, people that represent us. They have to be strong enough to recognize what is the greater good for our community long-term.
I hear things, even now with the (video)boards and at the stadium, like “we shouldn’t be spending money on all that kind of stuff.” I remember back when we got our Super Bowl. “Oh, we shouldn’t be spending.”
When we try to get businesses to relocate to our community, “Oh, we shouldn’t be giving them any kind of incentive.” It’s tough to be an elected official and recognize that you have to deal with that.
But we need to understand that these people are visiting our community and they’re using our taxi service, going to the airports, going to our movie theaters, going to our malls, and going to our restaurants. They’re coming here and dropping a lot of money and they’re going back home. This helps us as a community.
I’m all about the events and understanding that somebody that’s only working 25-30 hours a week on the average now might get 40 hours or a few hours overtime. That’s going to make a difference if they can get a new pair of shoes for their kid.
On a permanent level, working with the chamber and Jerry Mallot, I know how he’s spending so much time trying to get businesses to stay here, expand here, or relocate here.
It’s easy to say “No, we’re not going to do it,” but somebody else is. I’d like for us to do even more because it’s for the long-term greater good of our community, and that’s tough as an elected official because you’re going to lose some votes that way.
The other insight would probably be I’d like for our community and our elected officials to still recognize that you are representing all parts of the community. We have to keep looking at it as an all-inclusive. You are representing everyone, and I think sometimes we lose sight of that.
Any politics in your future?
I thought there was a few years ago, but I don’t see it now. I love what I do. I have a real good balance right now. I will continue to be involved and helping to do what I can.
What else would you like to share?
When I started the company, I was 30 but I probably looked 20. I was just the kid. Now I’ve seen a lot of change in our community. Many people that’ve been around forever doing the same jobs just moved on, and I’m still there.
Now I’m suddenly the guy that’s been around for a long time and I’m like, “When did this happen? When did I become the old guy in the room?”
I love our city. I like the changes that I’m seeing. We have a beautiful city. I’m going to do my part because I have been blessed by this community giving me a chance to be able to earn a living and make my dream of PRI Productions come into being.
I have an obligation and responsibility to give back, and I do find the joy in giving back to our community. This is why I work so much with nonprofits.
I know I’ve been blessed, and when the time comes, whenever that may be that I’m going to retire, and I’m not going to be doing this anymore, I’d like to look back and realize that in my own small way I’ve helped give back to the people that gave so very much to me and my family.
First Coast Success:
The Daily Record interviewed Goodwin for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross.
The interview is scheduled for broadcast this morning and will replay at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or online at wjctondemand.org.