Scott Franko of North Topsail Beach reflects on his journey from Indiana to Topsail Island.
I remember taking a creative writing class as a freshman in college way back in 1984. I recall how much I enjoyed the process of writing and being proud of my papers. To be validated by the professor with an A was encouraging to say the least. I made it a point to save some of those papers and still have them to this day. But then I got caught up in my other classes and never revisited writing to any extent.
Fast forward to today and I was given the unexpected opportunity to write for some of the publications for which I do marketing and advertising sales. This after mentioning to the publisher that I enjoyed writing back in the day. Then I remembered that one of my customers in the Topsail area had told me he had written several books. In addition to that, he went to college in Indiana, as I had for my first year. I decided to ask him for some pointers on writing and if he would tell me his story. He is Scott Franko of Treasure Realty in Surf City.
Sitting out on his deck overlooking North Topsail Beach one recent morning, Scott and I drank delicious fresh coffee with spiked creamer. It couldn’t have been more perfect weather for the few that strolled the beach looking for the plentiful sharks’ teeth. There’s no better setting to reflect on your past and the path that brought you to this very moment in time. If you are a fan of reminiscing, you know that it is often the stories within the stories that really define you. How many times have you been with an old friend who brings up an old story that you have completely forgotten about? And the ensuing laughter takes you right back to that moment whether it was hilarious, embarrassing or both!
Scott told me he remembers coming to Topsail for the first time, tasting Anchor Steam and realizing craft beer is awesome. “That night I stayed up late and bought an Esteban Stephen Paul guitar from QVC on late night television even though I had no idea how to play one, probably after having drank too many Anchor Steams!”
I asked Scott to start by sharing some thoughts on a favorite quote of his and how it describes his journey. “’Each person’s life is a story written with crooked lines,’” he said. “In my life, it never made sense to me how I got from point A to point B or from my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, ultimately to Topsail Island.”
He continued: “Over a twenty-year period of time, these crooked lines made my life more interesting with diversions, interruptions, challenges, gains, losses, wins, defeats, new tricks, old tricks, interests, hobbies, wives, kids, dogs, pain, joy and surprises.”
Going back to the early days at Ball State, he said, “I went to college to draw pictures. I know, that’s an expensive way to do art. But for me, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Five and a half years later I finished with a degree in graphic design.”
I asked him for a good college story that we could print. And I quote: “The time where me and my roommates in college were hosting a pretty good keg party. Keg on the front porch, nice warm evening air, sun about to set all the way, jams on the radio barely above the voices from the dozens of friends doing whatever and playing whatever games were popular at the time. Then as I’m filling a glass or two with more beer from the keg on that front porch, I see the beautiful blonde by herself walking on the sidewalk. So, I said, ‘Hey, where you heading? There’s a pretty good party going on right here.’ Now the backstory is that my girlfriend at that time (my wife now) and I were doing the long-distance relationship with me at school and with her working back in our hometown. And she did not say anything about coming into town for a visit that weekend. Now back to our story — can you guess who that blonde was? And the look on my face as I finally realize who this darling of a gal really is when she reaches the house, walks up the steps and knows I had no idea who she was until that moment? She still brings that story up now and then.” I burst out laughing as he finished this story. “I bet she does!” I exclaimed to him.
After graduating, Scott started working for a small company back in South Bend. He told me this is when he began a life full of curves and stumbles.
“Another favorite quote of mine is ‘You often stumble into success, but you’ve got to be moving in order to stumble.’ My first stumble into success came at the age of 28 when all of the sudden I became the president of that company. One of the first things I did was write a letter to the employees that they received in an envelope with their week’s paycheck that Friday to deal with the negative mood and attitude that had been building up in the culture. In my style, I gave this letter some life with a little sketch and a title ‘Living Happily with Worn-Out Shoes.’ These letters were very well received by the employees and stirred positive change. So, I kept on writing these letters, more like notes, every week for Friday’s payday. Eventually they became branded and known as ‘Pay Notes.’”
Thus began his life as a writer. “Another one of the crooked lines of my life’s story is writing, and this particular one also falls into that category of stumbling into a little success because I wasn’t a writer. What I know now is that nobody is, and everybody can be. In case you miss it, that’s the take-away of this little ditty. I’m about as wise as I am good at stumbling!”
Scott continued to write “Pay Notes” for more than 20 years. This led to the publishing of his first two books, Pay Notes and PN2 (the sequel). His notes grew in popularity to eventually become an email and blog read by thousands all over the country each week. Then he began a podcast heard on regional radio stations and shared by owners, CEOs and managers of companies including Fastenal, the global hardware supply company. “I remember getting a call from the founder and chair of Fastenal, Bob Kierlin. Bob later endorsed my third book, Building Impressions.”
A fourth book was Scott’s biggest project, a fictional piece with practical applications packed into a modern-day parable called Old Gloves (Lessons from a Pair of Old Gloves). This book was endorsed by Mac Anderson of Succesories and by legendary football coach Bobby Bowden. It also earned an honorable mention from Writer’s Digest. His last book was actually a letter he had written to his kids when they were young and his wife, Jenny Sue, encouraged him to turn it into a book. He did and called it The Boy and His Gift.
With five books under his belt and people enjoying what he was writing, Scott started writing a monthly column for one of the larger national trade magazines of the visual communications industry. “This ongoing gig brought me a little more fame, enough to get myself invited to some cool private events at trade shows and get treated like a minor celebrity — very minor!”
In 2017 he sold his companies, stopped writing the Pay Notes and magazine articles and moved to what he had told everyone in Indiana was “his island”, Topsail Island. After vacationing here for 16 years in a row, his plan was to start a new life with his wife and three children, Dani, Abbi and Jay. He explained to me, “We came here first in 2000. I didn’t even know about the 1996 hurricane and that Topsail was still rebuilding itself. With our kids still small we rented a condo and crammed us and my parents into it. From there on, we came every year and our group even grew to 30 or 40 or so on average, with one year including over 70 friends and family members!”
I asked him for a good story relating to his career and he shared this with me. “I once hired a pretty sharp young guy named Ryan. Had him in sales. I trained him well. He was eager to soak things up, a good worker, rough around the edges and a bit green, but he had the goods. So, I invested into him from sales tactics to proper uses of humor. Apparently, the humor is what stuck the most. Fast forward. He left the company for a competitor first, which I did not appreciate. Then he got a very good job for a construction company in business development. He was also climbing the ladder of building a solid reputation in the community, and he told me many times he was thankful for my mentorship and influence on his life.”
After a refill of coffee we sat back down and Scott continued. “A couple of years ago Ryan was honored with an award at a large public event recognizing a variety of leaders having impact in that community, and he was the young leader of the year. He reached out to me here in Topsail to see if perhaps I’d be back in town during that ceremony, and that if I was, he wanted me to sit at his table as I was going to be included in his acceptance speech. As it turns out, I was able to be there. It was fun because I was able to see and reconnect with thousands of people in attendance that afternoon. Then the big moment came. He (a big guy who I dubbed “Little Grasshopper”) took the stage, got his award and began speaking. It was a good speech. He started going through all the people in his life that helped him get to where he was and explained what each did: his parents, his current boss, his former boss and then me. As I listened to the great things he was appreciative of from these influencers, I couldn’t wait to hear what I had done that had such a great impact on him. Was it my skill at sales? The books I wrote? My mastery of managing meetings? My community involvements? Nope. When it came to me, he told all those people how I taught him the value of being goofy and how to be comfortable with it. Through him, I was now gaining a new legacy character quality; after spending 25 years building myself up as a successful business leader in that community, I was going to last be known for being a goofball!” I spilled my coffee laughing out loud at that one.
Scott finished the story with, “After the event ended, I went around shaking hands with a lot of people wondering what they thought of Little Grasshopper’s speech, and how I gave that young man such wisdom and understanding in the form of goofiness. But driving home from that event it hit me. I’ll take it. In fact, I’ll embrace it. If being goofy is what I’ll last be known for, that’s perfectly fine with me!”
I can certainly relate to Scott’s story, and maybe you can too. I certainly remember when I finally started to embrace when people would say about me, “That boy ain’t right!”
Well, the morning had flown by and it was time for me to go and interview a couple about their unique pub in Surf City. I thanked Scott for telling me his story and for the spiked coffee. Before leaving, he informed me he had recently learned to play that guitar and even played me a recording of him playing Bad Company songs. I was impressed. Looks like he has his next journey in sight — to become an accomplished guitar player! We agreed to reconvene soon as I also play guitar. But next time it will be over ice-cold Anchor Steams. On Topsail Island. We couldn’t pick a better place.