AUBURN – Ford Reiche likes to turn the notion of “entrepreneur” on its head, noting that he’s been risk-averse since starting Safe Handling 19 years ago.

Rather than derring-do, the industrial transporter company’s success came from a methodical path fueled by business opportunities and analysis.

“The cliche of an entrepreneur as someone who’s a risk-taker is not a new one,” said Reiche, the keynote speaker at the fifth annual Entrepreneur’s Summit. “They’re regarded as high-fliers, opportunistic, living on the edge and associated with a high failure rate.

“That didn’t make sense and it’s not how I approach business opportunities,” he said. “Everything we do is geared toward avoiding risk.”

That philosophy and a four-step process has guided the company from its meager 3-acre site and 280 orders per month to the state’s largest rail-to-truck transporter on 250 acres, with 1,800 monthly orders and $1.5 million in monthly revenue.

Not that there wasn’t a little bluster at first. Reiche recalled when he negotiated with ConAgra on behalf of his first client, Lepage Bakeries, he was working from a home office set up in a horse barn.

“The horse kept making noise in the background,” Reiche said. “I tried to convince the guy it was truck noise.”

When the company purchased its 3-acre lot in Auburn with a small office on site, Reiche and his two partners put a sign on the building that said “Facility 4.”

“We wanted people to think we were big,” he said, smiling. The first three “facilities” were the owners’ houses, put up as collateral to get Safe Handling going.

Reiche’s comments resonated with Nora Irvine, a businesswoman from South Berwick, who came to the summit to learn how to grow her business, Journey Gift Bags. The company makes specialty fabric gift bags with attached 24-page mini-notebooks. The intent is to use the gift bag multiple times, with each gift-giver recording something about the occasion in the accompanying notebook.

“I like how he reformed the definition of entrepreneur,” said Irvine, who started her business 10 years ago. “I always felt uneasy. I’m not a risk-taker. I had a great idea, but am pretty risk-adverse, at least when it comes to money.”

About 60 people signed up for the summit, which pleased Chip Morrison of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, one of the sponsoring organizations.

“But I’m a little disappointed, too,” said Morrison as he surveyed the clusters of businesspeople chatting in the hallway of the Hilton Garden Inn. “I know a lot of local people who should have been here. There’s a lot to gain.”


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