For more than a dozen years, the APRO Charitable Foundation has annually provided scholarships to rent-to-own professionals and their families. APRO members have contributed generously to the APRO Scholarship Fund – awarding 447 scholarships totaling $1,001,750 to date – empowering students connected with RTO to pursue college degrees and successful futures.
Pennsylvanian Robert Bennett is one of this year’s 29 deserving APRO scholarship recipients, and the first-ever awardee of the Tiger Cleek Memorial Scholarship. The Cleek family – of Missouri-based Cleek’s Home Furnishings/Rental & Sales – established this new scholarship to honor rent-to-own titan “Tiger” John Cleek, who died earlier this year.
Rob, 32, began his college career 15 years ago, but didn’t last long. Dismissed from school in 2008 and not knowing exactly what he wanted to do professionally, Rob spent years working retail before becoming interested in analytics.
“I decided to pursue a career in data science,” says Rob. “Returning to school after so many years was difficult, but being accustomed to working 40- to 60-hour workweeks, I quickly learned to treat it just like a job. That way, I’ve kept a 3.95 GPA and worked on some research projects, too.”
Studying at the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Rob is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, with a concentration in Statistics. As his coursework becomes more abstract, complex, and time-consuming, Rob has fewer hours available for paid work, so he is especially grateful for his APRO scholarship.
“A scholarship opens opportunities for me to excel in my difficult classes, as well as spend time developing the portfolio, website, and independent projects I’ll need to succeed as I enter the field,” he notes. “They help take care of the necessities of student life, like a meal plan, textbooks, and supplies.”
Rob grew up in the rent-to-own business, with a dad – Michael Lerch – who has worked in the industry for more than 30 years. Beginning at age 21, Lerch has held positions with Champs RTO, Rent-A-Vision, Rentway, and even owned his own business for 14 years – Lightning RTO, which at its peak was 10 stores strong.
“As kids, we’d come home from school and go directly to the store,” remembers Rob. “We’d do our homework, then hang out in the showroom, help with cleaning, get to know the customers. We were taught to appreciate the interpersonal aspects of RTO, and how it brings people together. My best examples of work ethic, dedication, compassion, and ensuring people know how much you care about them all came from rent-to-own. Our family business surrounded me with people who lived these values, so RTO has played an essential role in developing me into who I am today.”
In 2015, Lerch and his two partners sold Lightning to Majik Enterprises International Inc., dba Majik Rent-To-Own; today, Lerch helps handle operations at the company’s Mountville, Pennsylvania, location. Rob affirms that while his dad was proud to run his own company, Lerch truly loves his current position and continues to learn every day.
Upon graduation, Rob wants to get into the data analytics arena to gain experience and strengthen skills, so that he can eventually transition to become a data scientist. And while he’s gotten a bit of a late start, he’s committed to the long game.
“Spending much of my childhood with people who worked so hard to make the business successful set the stage for my values today,” Rob concludes. “At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate how challenging it was or how long it takes to become a stable, profitable business. But as I’ve matured, it’s helped me set realistic expectations for my own career. I’ve learned that I might have to keep swimming for a while to get where I want to go, but that it will definitely be worth it!”
Rob’s is one of the dozens of positive stories that generous donations from the RTO community make happen each year. Click here to learn more and contribute to this invaluable industry effort.