Forzani Brothers: Successful in Business
Nov. 11, 2002
By: Jeremy Seeley, Athletic Media Relaions Student Assistant
In the mid to late 1960s, three young men from Calgary, Alberta, came to Utah State at different times, for different reasons. They all ended up playing football. They all graduated from USU. They all returned to Calgary. All three played in the Canadian Football League for the Calgary Stampeders in the 1970s. Then they started a business together. They still live in Calgary. They get together with their 88-year-old mother every week to watch sports and drink wine. They are brothers, and they stick together.
Joe, John and Tom Forzani have shared much of their lives. "We just kind of followed our older brothers," John said.
The business they started, which is now the Forzani Group, ltd. is the largest sporting goods retailer in Canada. The group has 360 stores and with sales revenues nearing $700 million (U.S.) and controls 20 percent of the sporting goods retail market in Canada.
Joe, the oldest brother, was the first to come to USU. As a fullback in high school, Joe had been heavily recruited, but chose to attend Utah State University in 1964. "I had various scholarship offers at the time," he said. "Logan reminded me of Calgary, actually. It reminded me of Alberta, the farmlands, the mountains. And I really liked the head football coach, Tony Knap. He was a real solid guy."
At Utah State, Joe was moved to the linebacker position where he lettered three times before graduating after the 1967 season. "I enjoyed the four years at Utah State," Joe said. "I mean, it was the guys. There were a lot of guys from all over the United States, primarily California, that I really got close to. I guess I grew up. I remember that distinctly."
One memory in particular still makes Joe chuckle. Utah State traveled to Wichita State. A Wichita State receiver caught a pass, landing out of bounds near the USU bench. A USU player made a late hit and a fight broke out.
"I remember looking up, across the field, and I saw their whole bench running toward us," he said. "Some of the guys on the team took their helmets off. I buttoned mine down tight. I remember taking two or three of them on. But it was over quick. Oh boy, that was quite a vivid memory."
After four years at Utah State, Joe was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in a late round, but was cut during training camp. Joe then returned to Calgary to play in the CFL for the Stampeders. While playing for the Stampeders, he also taught physical education in high school.
Though he traveled throughout Canada with his football career, it was his teaching career that took him to Germany. He taught high school at the Canadian Air Force base at Baden-Soellingen , Germany.
Upon returning from Europe, the Forzani sports stores were in full swing and making money. He quit his job as a teacher and went to work managing his stores. He recently bought an outdoor sporting goods franchise, R&R Sporting Goods.
He is now 56 years old with two children, but still thinks fondly of Utah State. "I'm really enjoying life," Joe said. "I'm healthy. I really enjoyed my experience at Utah State. People there were always so nice. Everyone was an inspiration to me. I'll never forget it.
Before Joe's final season at Utah State, John joined the team. "I think the four years I was at Utah State were the best four years of my life," John said. "I really enjoyed the camaraderie and I really enjoyed Logan and the Cache Valley."
John played at the offensive guard position, lettering in 1968, 69 and 70. He enjoyed his experience at USU so much, he decided to take a piece of the Cache Valley home with him.
"I married a girl from Cache Valley," he said. " And I still go back there at least once a year." Ironically foreshadowing his future, John married Linda Larsen, daughter of Al Larsen, owner of Al's Sporting Goods in Logan. They are still happily married with two children, a 26-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son.
After graduating in 1971, John also returned to Calgary to play for the Stampeders. He played seven seasons in Calgary, but while playing, he had an idea to open a sporting goods store. He convinced both Joe and Tom to invest in his new company and the three brothers opened the first Forzani's Locker Room in 1974 as partners.
In nearly 30 years, the company has grown from a 1,200 square foot store with earnings of $7,000 in its first year to a projected $700 million (U.S.) in 2002.
"I started the business in 1974," said John. "Then we just grew from one little store of about 1200 square feet to 360 stores and about five million square feet. It's just something that happens over a 30-year period. It just kind of grew every year, and here we are."
John has been successful not only in business and family, but has won several awards for his charitable work through the Forzani Group Foundation. The foundation has raised and distributed more than $300,000 to various charities since its creation in 2000.
"I think it's a great thing for a company to have a social conscience," John said. "We do quite a bit in Canada, literally from coast-to-coast helping a number of charities and hospitals. We raise money through our stores and through our supplier base. It works out pretty well for us. Our staff really likes it, too, so it's a win for everybody."
During John's last season at USU, his younger brother Tom decided to come to Utah State. But unlike his brothers, Tom came to play basketball.
"I actually had a scholarship to play basketball at Utah State at the beginning," he said. "My parents and my brothers had a talk with Chuck Mills, the head coach at the time for the Aggies. He said he would give me a football scholarship if I made the team."
To the good fortune of Aggie football, he made the team. In 1972, his senior year, Tom caught 85 passes for 1,169 yards and eight touchdowns. In 1993, The Herald Journal had its readers vote for the Utah State All-century Team. Tom was chosen as the receiver for the team.
"I don't think a day goes by that I don't reminisce a bit about Utah State," he said. "I really miss Logan."
One of his favorite memories came in 1970. "In my sophomore year, we beat Kentucky," he said. "We were something like 35 point underdogs and we went down there and beat them by 29. That was an outstanding game."
Like Joe and John before him, Tom returned home to play for the Calgary Stampeders. The three brothers played together on the team from.
Tom was one of the original partners in the Forzani's Locker Room, but decided to leave the business in 1976.
"We were partners and I just felt that I didn't really belong in sales in a store," he said. "I probably got out of it much, much too early. I still have some shares, so everything is going fine."
Tom started his own real-estate and mortgage company.
He is now 52 years old and has three children. One is studying at the University of McGill in Quebec. Another is in the 11th grade and his youngest son is in the ninth grade. Like his father did, he plays basketball. "He quit hockey," Tom said. "Now's he's playing basketball and he's quite good at it."
Joe, John and Tom.
Throughout their lives, they have taken similar paths. They went to school together, they started a business together. The played football together. They succeeded together. Their days of football at Utah State are now just memories, but that doesn't stop these three brothers from getting together to shoot a round of golf and reminisce.