As President and co-owner of Suntan Supply, Bill Gallagher is responsible for administering the day-to-day operations of the product distribution giant, and he’s also a licensed real estate agent. Throwing himself into his careers is something he’s been doing since he was a young man, and it’s gotten him to where he is today. But what’s made Bill so driven to succeed in business and in life? ist Magazine had to find out…
One simple choice established Bill Gallagher’s lifelong relationship with the success that’s helped to define him as a person.
Tanning distribution leader, real estate agent – Bill Gallagher has a job title for nearly every day of the week. His ability to multi-task is second only to the success he’s achieved from the pursuit of his endeavors. He started on a path of entrepreneurship at a very early age and, sticking with it, he’s been able to live a life enjoying the fruits of his labors. But Bill’s story is not without its share of learning experiences along the way. Through it all, he’s remained focused on doing what’s best for his family in his own unique way… not to conquer the world, but to continue doing that which brings him happiness.
William Edward Gallagher was born October 18, 1972 to Tom and Donna Gallagher of Cleveland, OH. He was the tenth of 13 children, and Bill credits his strong entrepreneurial drive to this dynamic. “Growing up in a big family creates the need to learn things on your own and find out who you are,” said Bill. “My parents worked hard to provide us with everything we needed; but there was only so much to go around. I learned that if I wanted more, I’d have to go out and get it.” Bill got his start in business when he purchased a few packs of candy and sold individually-wrapped pieces for a nickel each – a venture that matured into different jobs over the years. His business acumen allowed him to earn enough money to purchase a $1,000 BMX bike at the tender age of 12. “While I definitely enjoyed riding it, I think I was more proud of the fact that I earned the money to buy it all by myself,” he added.
In high school, Bill discovered that he enjoyed athletics a lot more than academics, which nearly hurt his participation in team sports. “I was getting a D in history class and the wrestling coach approached my teacher and said, ‘We need him on the mat,’” Bill recalled. “Mr. Lang, my history teacher, pulled me aside and said that while I was one of the smartest kids he’d ever taught, I was also one of the laziest. He gave me one chance – I had to sew together a complete American flag or I wouldn’t be able to wrestle.” Bill finished the tiresome and painstaking process, thus pulling his grade up to a ‘C’ and going on to retain his undefeated streak on the mat. The experience also taught him an important lesson about doing what you need to do the first time. “Older people often know better and it’s good to listen to their advice,” he said.
After graduating from North Olmstead High School in 1990, Bill chose to help grow his brother Marty’s fledgling tanning distribution business. “My grandfather was a phenomenal athlete – he used to train with (former American Olympian) Jesse Owens – and my mother and I inherited those gifts,” he said. “Although I did extremely well in track and wrestling during high school, I chose to pursue entrepreneurialism instead of athletics.” While working at Suntan Supply, Bill also purchased a mini-golf course and bumper-boat business after its former owner – a tenant of Bill’s father – defaulted on his lease. “For three years, I probably earned more money than most 17 year olds were used to seeing, but I spent it just as quickly,” he said. “My dad told me that I should’ve saved some to cover my costs during the off-season and he was right. The experience taught me a very valuable lesson.” After three years, Bill sold the business to his sister, Jeanine, and concentrated on helping to build Suntan Supply.
While it started out in Marty Gallagher’s basement, Suntan Supply grew to become one of the tanning industry’s largest distribution companies. Today, it occupies a 75,000 square-foot facility in Avon, OH and Bill is proud to have been there every step of the way. During that time, he also began taking real estate courses at Cuyahoga Community College. “I pursued real estate because it’s something my dad did and he always said it was a good way to earn a living,” Bill said. “I took as many courses as I could until one day, the instructor asked me when I planned to take the state exam. I asked him what he was talking about and he told me it was the exam needed to become a licensed real estate agent – the ultimate purpose for the classes I was taking.” In 1994, Bill passed the test with only two missed answers and today, he works for Reality Choice, specializing in commercial sales.
Many good things have come from Bill’s involvement in indoor tanning, including finding the love of his life. “We were hosting one of our expos in Cleveland and I noticed a very attractive young lady in the front row at a presentation,” he said. “She smiled at me and said ‘hi’ and we had a short conversation. At the end of the night, her boss’s car broke down and they were at a payphone frantically trying to reach someone.” Since he couldn’t get the car started, Bill took the young lady – Joy Durst – and her boss to dinner. “We exchanged numbers and I called her but she never called me back,” he added. “I thought that was the end of it until one of my friends began dating one of her co-workers and the four of us went on a double date.” The couple married on September 21, 2002 and has three children – Connor (11), Grace (9) and Sean (6).
Considering Suntan Supply’s success, it’s easy to see that Bill Gallagher’s feet are firmly rooted in the indoor tanning industry. The company already has locations in two states and employs more than 100 people, and has evolved to include a varied portfolio of services. “We’re here to help salon owners in any way we can,” he said. “We’ll continue to search for the next thing that will provide our clients with the edge they need to earn more revenue and attract new customers.” Bill plans to continue his commercial real estate career, which should give him enough to do until it’s time to retire. “When that happens, I’ll probably sit at home for a week until I get bored, then I’ll go back to college to learn something new,” he added.
While Bill works hard, he likes to play hard, too. He and his wife spend time at their summer home on Kelly’s Island, where they enjoy swimming, boating and everything else that Lake Erie has to offer. “I’m glad I chose the path I did because it’s allowed me to enjoy so many opportunities that I might otherwise not have had,” he said. “And that success allows me time to spend with my children and coach their athletic teams, and it’s been extremely rewarding to watch them grow up enjoying sports.”
The families we’re born into and the places we grow up are all pieces in the grand puzzle that ultimately helps to define us as individuals. Equally powerful and formative are the choices we make, because they set us on our life’s path. When Bill Gallagher chose to follow his entrepreneurial nature, he created a life that continues to bring him happiness, fulfillment and many blessings. May his successes inspire us all to make the right choices… and see them through to the end.
A 14-year industry veteran, John "Ribby" Ribner has written hundreds of
articles for IST Magazine and, as Director of Editorial Content, has also
helped guide the publication's evolution. Ribby is a graduate of Central
Michigan University's journalism program and has brought many years of newspaper reporting experience to his position of Head Writer. He is also the author of three novels, "Legacy of the Bear," "Prophecy of the Bear" and "World So Dark."
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