By Callie Hietala
Derrick Ziglar, a Martinsville native who left the area and found success in the real estate and tech industries, has returned to help grow his community.
He recently purchased Jefferson Plaza and the Setback Building on the corner of Bridge Street and Church Street in Uptown Martinsville. Ziglar said he plans to create a unique, food-centered community gathering space unlike anything currently found in the city.
“This is home for me,” said Ziglar, 29, who grew up on Armstead Avenue, just off Fayette Street in Martinsville. A 2011 graduate of Martinsville High School, Ziglar left home, played football as a running back at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), was commissioned in 2015 and went into the Army Reserves. He was hired by Target, working “in the leadership and operational supply chain space.” He simultaneously began investing in real estate and found success.
Two years ago, Ziglar transitioned to Dallas, TX, and eventually had an opportunity share his story on a real estate-focused podcast.
“That’s really when everything started to change for me,” Ziglar said. “I always wanted to be this corporate executive, working 9 to 5, making six figures, happy, just a traditional thing. I thought I’d invest on the side and eventually grow a nice portfolio to pay for my retirement.”
The podcast “brought a lot of people to my doorstep,” Ziglar said, of conversations that were mostly about the educational aspects of real estate investing. Those conversations gave Ziglar an idea—he wanted to create a virtual educational platform for real estate investors like himself. That idea became his startup tech company, Zelite, which he’s been diligently building for the last year and a half.
Zelite’s origins as an education-focused company lie in Ziglar’s own experiences growing up.
“My family never knew about financial literacy,” Ziglar said. “I wasn’t taught anything about money, credit, any of that. The majority of people I grew up around, if not all, had horrible credit, never had any money, so (financial literacy) was important for me.”
As a 23-year-old, Ziglar said he was already making more money than anyone in his family ever had, and he saw what a difference financial literacy could made in his life and his ability to grow his wealth.
“I always had that passion for figuring out how I could create a lane for other people to do similar things. We can all do it, but sometimes we just don’t know the information, and sometimes certain information is hard to obtain so people just don’t worry about it,” he said.
“We’ve drastically evolved,” said Ziglar of the company. His team is currently looking at implementing artificial intelligence machine learning to help users with the process of evaluating and managing properties. By doing that, “we can take a lot of guesswork that people have about real estate and remove some of the confusion and hesitancy people have to help them make smart investing decisions.”
Even as he built Zelite, Ziglar remained active in real estate investing, which ultimately led him to buying the properties he now owns in Martinsville.
On a recent visit to the area, Ziglar said his longtime friend, Hasan Davis, walked him through Uptown and told him about the city’s revitalization efforts.
Ziglar said he was initially doubtful that those efforts would succeed.
“I grew up here, I left, I’ve been gone for the last 10 years, and everything still looks the same, if not a little worse,” he said.
Then, Ziglar met Kathy Deacon, the director of Martinsville’s Uptown Partnership. Ziglar said he lived in the Staunton, VA, for four years and witnessed first-hand the success of its downtown revitalization which Deacon was a part of.
“If she was a part of that, and helped make it what it is today, then I’m sold,” Ziglar said. But he knew Deacon couldn’t do it alone.
“She needs stakeholders, she needs people who think like she thinks to help do all this.” He decided, “I want to be part of it, I want to be a driving force. I want to do something big and amazing and wonderful.”
“If I’m going to invest,” Ziglar said, “I’m going to invest in my community.”
In August, Ziglar became the owner of the properties in Uptown Martinsville.
Though he is not yet prepared to share specifics of his plans for the properties, in general terms, Ziglar said he is working to create a community gathering space centered around food.
“There’s nothing like it around here,” he said. “It’s going to be something that’s very different for the community.”
The idea came from exploring what he thought was missing in Martinsville.
“It’s about creating something for the community, and food is a huge thing,” he said, adding that people travel to Greensboro, N.C., Danville, and other places for culinary experiences. He wants to ensure those kinds of experiences are available locally.
The new enterprise is not just about adding another chapter to his already impressive success story, Ziglar said, adding that he is thinking about the bigger picture, too.
“How do we do something that’s going to help everybody out, give people a space that they want to be in, create different jobs, and stimulate a small economy? What we’ve been working towards is a great way to do that,” he said.
“Holistically, I want to be part of transforming Uptown by creating a space where you want to bring other people,” who would visit businesses like Uptown Pinball and the TAD Space, Ziglar said. “Now you’re starting to create an Uptown area where people are coming here and spending money, and that’s ultimately going to help all the small businesses around us.”
Ziglar said he hopes to have his new business up and running by spring of 2023, but “there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. It’s an old building, it wasn’t built to do anything remotely close to this, so there’s a lot we’ll need to change, adjust, get up to code.”
Currently, Ziglar said he is exploring what needs to be done to “whitebox” the building, or get it to a blank slate stage before the real transformation can begin. Though it will take a lot of work and money to get the initial renovations done before moving forward, Ziglar thinks the time and money are worth it.
“The last thing I would ever want is to have the building open and running and then we have something like flooring issues.” Once that first phase of construction is complete, “I think it’ll start to move a lot quicker,” he said.
All told, Ziglar estimated the project will cost nearly $5 million.
The new endeavor will bring about some changes in Uptown. Though Hugo’s Restaurant and Sports Bar will remain, Ziglar said the other businesses currently occupying the buildings, including La Plazita, will ultimately need to move.
However, “we have plenty of places for businesses to exist—there’s a lot of empty space around here,” he said, adding that he is committed to helping them transition to new locations when the time comes.
“My goal isn’t to ever hurt or harm business, it is just about 100 percent elevating the community, so with that, some things just have to change, otherwise you never get to that point,” he said.
Ziglar also hopes to elevate the community by using his knowledge of the tech industry and his resources to help local small businesses expand their reach beyond Martinsville and Henry County.
Also, Ziglar said he hopes to inspire local youths with his success story.
“I didn’t have many examples growing up of what right looks like, so being a young man trying to figure out life and do the right thing, I try to be the best example I can,” he said, adding that he tries to connect with local high school students to both motivate and educate them.
“They need to see people who come from where they come from who have made great money. They don’t see that here. There are people that have it, but they don’t look like me. They need to see people like them who are doing great things, who give them information, resources, tools” to be successful, he said.
He said he wants today’s students to believe in their community, engage with it, and contribute their talents as adults to helping the community thrive rather than moving elsewhere in search of their own success story.
Ultimately, Ziglar hopes to inspire others to think just as he thought when he took that fateful walk-through Martinsville’s Uptown in the early days of its revitalization.
“Come be a part of the change. Come be a catalyst for that,” Ziglar said. “You can give back, you can show the people in your community—the people who have seen you grow from the kid on Armstead to where you are now—what’s possible.”
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