MILFORD — One of the marks of a successful entrepreneur is the ability to persevere regardless of the roadblocks thrown in his way. In Phil Bouchard's case, his path to success with Phil's Old-Fashioned BBQ in Milford has demanded he not simply navigate his business around a few minor potholes, but rather maneuver past a number of gaping sinkholes.
A victim of the Great Recession, the downsized 50-something salesman found himself unable to find work and in danger of losing his house in the fall of 2008. Seeking to control his own fate and encouraged by friends and relatives who had long told him that he could make money selling his barbecued meats, he asked himself, "Why can't I do this?"
Bouchard contacted SCORE, and working with mentor David Wood, began to refine his idea and develop a business plan that called for the purchase of a mobile trailer from which he would sell a variety of barbecued meats and side dishes. So, literally betting the ranch (or, more specifically, his family's log home), he took his plan to what was then Laconia Savings Bank (now Bank of New Hampshire) seeking a $48,000 loan to purchase the equipment.
In May 2009 LSB arranged for Bouchard to receive New Hampshire's first loan under the SBA's Patriot Loan program, which provided small business assistance to veterans as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
By June, the 30-foot-long trailer, manufactured by Southern Yankee Barbecue in Indiana, had arrived, featuring a 12-shelf wood-fired rotisserie smoker, a 4-foot charcoal grill on the tongue and a 15-foot full approved kitchen over the wheels. Phil's Old-Fashioned BBQ was ready to launch, but it was also the time when Bouchard's determination first began to be challenged.
All through that spring, while the trailer was being fabricated, Bouchard had been in negotiations to lease a high-traffic spot on Route 114 in Goffstown near the new rotary. But planning board issues and an abutter's objections wound up pulling the rug out from under him at the last minute.
With the season moving inexorably forward and Bouchard needing to generate revenue, he decided to give the fair circuit a shot while he sought another, more permanent location. Though the high cost to rent space at the fairs and the accompanying weather-related risks proved to be unprofitable, Bouchard was able to secure a temporary permit to set up shop on West Main Street at the corner of Route 202 in Hillsborough, a terrific spot across the street from McDonald's. After only three weeks there he had developed a following and business was starting to boom.
But once again, fate, in the form of the Hillsborough Planning Board, stepped in, denying him an extension on the permit, making onerous demands on him and citing the lack of a town ordinance dealing with mobile food vendors. Scrambling once more to wring some sales before the weather turned cold, Bouchard was able to secure a spot that fall near the Milford/Wilton town line for a one-week test that demonstrated the area's promise.
With the season now over, Bouchard had the entire winter to contemplate his next move and lock up a location for the following year, knowing that long-term success demanded he find a permanent site. Debating the merits of Hillsborough versus Milford, he ultimately chose Milford because of its larger population, higher median income and more business-friendly climate.
After negotiating a deal with the town, Phil's Old-Fashioned BBQ opened the 2010 season at a spot in front of the old Milford Police Station on Elm Street. Now beginning his fourth full season at that location, he's seen sales increase each year, including a 33 percent jump in 2013. Last year he made the final payment on his equipment.
Now a fixture in Milford, Phil's is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., April through October, staffed solely by Bouchard and his wife, Kristin. The menu includes five meats — ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, sausage and chicken — all prepared with Bouchard's special rubs, plus side dishes that include cole slaw, potato salad, beans and corn bread. There are picnic tables and parking on site.
"If you've got $10 to $12, you won't leave hungry," Bouchard says.
Bouchard credits his good fortune to "the quality and consistency of our products and the continuity of a stable location." He also cites the assistance he received from SCORE and the SBA as being "crucial to our success."
His SCORE mentor, with whom Bouchard continues to maintain contact, believes that's only part of the story.
"Phil has never flinched or felt sorry for himself when circumstances set him back," Wood says. "He's just picked himself right up and found a way to move towards his goal with a ferocity that we don't often see in our SCORE clients."
Phil's Old-Fashioned BBQ is located at 589 Elm St. in Milford. For more information, check out its Facebook page.