Virginia Varsity Founder John Lugar named outstanding entrepreneur

Junior Achievement names Lugar as one of the region's best

ROANOKE, Va. – It's a long haul from fledgling moving business to thriving enterprise.

John Lugar started Virginia Varsity Transfer in 1988 when he helped a family friend move to Florida as a college freshman.

By the time he graduated, he had a business plan and ambition – but no money.

"I think we had more insects than we did employees in there!  I mean, it was Spartan," Lugar said. 

He paid $200 a month for space in the Colonial Hill building on Colonial Avenue in Roanoke -- space that sometimes flooded.

"There was a culture built early on from this.  We didn't have much to us, and we just sort of made it work," he said.

But the plan was stronger than the adversity.  Working on a platform of trust, Lugar made sure his team was clean-cut and professional.  

"An airline pilot that's in casual clothes you wouldn't trust as much as one that's decked out.  I want my pilot decked out.  And I think you want your movers to show up and look the part and look like they are serious about things," Lugar said.

To this day, there is a dress code – and more.

"Everyone's to shave every day, and that type of thing.  I told the guys when I quit shaving, you can do the same thing," he said.  "So it's fair."

The company moved from rental trucks to its own fleet.  Later, Lugar added storage units.

"At Starkey when we first opened up in 1999, we built two buildings and 77 units, and we filled up in six weeks," Lugar said.

Today, the company offers 1,700 storage units. Put that in terms of square feet and it's about twice the size of a typical Sam's Club.

Something else in the company's DNA is fitness.  Virginia Varsity has its own CrossFit gym.

"The culture here is what we're about.  It's something that's just sort of organically evolved, and it's a special thing," Lugar said.

Growth is a part of Virginia Varsity as well.  The company recently bought the iconic Graves Humphreys building on Franklin Road in Roanoke.  

Lugar said that it's going to have some of the neatest features anywhere in the area, including over 500 units, a business center, a business meeting room and a community center.

Lugar is eyeing the possibility that some of the space may be rentable for those looking for a man cave or a she-shed.  

"The whole core is pretty simple.  Cleaner-cut people, more professional, more responsive and great customer service," Lugar said.

Michael Fleming, the founder of TORC (self-driving vehicles), will also be recognized as a top entrepreneur.  

Dr. Cynda Johnson, of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and James R. Smith, founder of Smith/Packett and Wessex Capital, will be inducted into the Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame.

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