Sellers of Amazon: Boots to Business

Today, Rodney Marshall is the President and CEO of Aldevra LLC, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 2021, his company surpassed the $1.6 million mark in sales in Amazon’s store, and he routinely works with the federal government to provide equipment and services across the country. As a Marine Corps veteran who struggled to maintain employment after being honorably discharged, founding Aldevra is only one part of Marshall’s story.

From teenager to boots

Born in Lansing, Michigan, Marshall was about 15 years old when he started getting into some trouble. He was looking for ways to stay on track and began gravitating toward discipline through competition, participating in multiple sports in his youth. It was through sports that Marshall found an inner fire, pushing him to search out discipline as a way to stay on the right path. “I had to figure out something other than what I was doing.”

Rodney Marshall in Marine Corps uniform in early 1990s
Rodney Marshall’s Marine Corps portrait

“I was a really good athlete, so it helped me at least to have a baseline of discipline. [Through sports] I could achieve something, other than getting in trouble all of the time. I was pretty good at competing. That’s what made me. That fuel—my fire—was competing, whether win or lose. It’s the effort you put in, because at the end of the day, you go home wondering if you could have given more. I never wanted to have that.”

As Marshall’s high school years came to end, he faced an uncertain future. Unsure of his next move, he reflected on the common themes he’d found purpose in throughout his life. “I had to do something other than what I was doing [getting in trouble]. I never wanted to jeopardize my freedom. So, joining the military was a way to get out, make a little bit of money, and see some things I never in my life dreamed of seeing.”

Once Marshall decided on the military, he looked again to his core principles to decide on a branch for enlistment. “I chose the Marine Corps. It offered me the discipline and the physicality I needed in my life at that time.”

At 18 years old, Marshall entered a new reality—including a war halfway across the world. He was deployed to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield in 1990 as an infantryman, eventually serving as a squad leader during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. That feeling of responsibility is what Marshall remembers most, sharing “any kind of war is a scary experience. You have not only yourself to take care of, but you have other Marines you have to take care of and look out for. There’s the matter of trust you have to have from your unit. It’s different when you’re back home and you’re doing drills, this is actually live and for real.”

Marshall fulfilled his four-year commitment to the Marine Corps and separated from service with an honorable discharge. In his four years in uniform, Marshall forged bonds that have lasted a lifetime. “It was worth it. The experiences I had, the people I met. I’ve got relationships that I’ll cherish forever.”

When Marshall returned home, he struggled to figure out the next path in his life. “I couldn’t stay employed. I didn’t know I was suffering from issues [from the war]. Being a Marine, I’m tough. I didn’t need to go see anybody, but I was getting fired from jobs. I wasn’t going to work because I was depressed.”

 I tell kids, everybody can’t be Kobe Bryant… But you can be a Rodney Marshall, a business owner. You can be a regular person and live an extraordinary life. You just gotta believe it. 

From boots to building a business

Marshall was finally diagnosed with PTSD, which helped explain why he struggled to keep a regular job. With that knowledge, Marshall looked inward to try and find his way forward. This is when he decided to take the small business owner route. He and his wife Maggie launched Aldevra, LLC (named for their children) in 2009, and both dived head first into being entrepreneurs.

Marshall leaned on past experiences early on, but it wasn’t an easy journey. Their first office was in his son’s bedroom, and the bank wouldn’t give them a loan, so their “loan” was on eight credit cards. “She [Maggie] would be working until midnight and then have to get up and go to her full-time job as a communications professional in a hospital at 6:00 a.m. She’d get frustrated, and one day I saw her on the bathroom floor crying,” Marshall remembered. “That’s the struggle we went through to get to where we are now. It is very gratifying to be in the situation we’re in now. And, you know, we have great employees, I have to say we’ve been blessed and lucky in that we’ve hired the right team.”

Rodney Marshall and his wife, Maggie Bullard-Marshall, stand in front Aldevra, their family-owned business
Rodney Marshall and his wife, Maggie Bullard-Marshall, stand in front Aldevra, their family-owned business in Kalamazoo, MI on April 1.

Taylor Glascock

Aldevra first started selling in Amazon’s store in 2016 through a pilot program version of today’s Amazon Business program. Gradually, Amazon has become a bigger part of Aldevra’s success. “Amazon Business found us,” Marshall said. At first Marshall thought “we don’t have time for this. That was before we understood the magnitude and the opportunity Amazon was presenting to us.”

Fast forward a decade, and Amazon now plays a key role not only in Aldevra’s current success, but its outlook on the future. “Amazon is a very big factor. Let’s just say Amazon is a very major part of Aldevra’s company strategy, and will be, especially going forward,” Marshall said.

What’s Marshall’s secret to his success? If you ask him, it’s the people closest to him that drive him the most. “The secret sauce is Maggie. When we got married, I told her, ‘You handle all the small stuff. I’ll handle all the big stuff.’ And nothing big has come up yet.”

Giving back

As Aldevra’s business continues to thrive, the Marshalls are giving back to the neighborhoods that helped make them who they are today.

“We try to serve the communities that I grew up in. I try to do my part in helping them see that people do really care. I tell kids, ‘Everybody can’t be Kobe Bryant. Everybody can’t be Michael Jordan or Patrick Mahomes. But you can be a Rodney Marshall, a business owner. You can be a regular person and live an extraordinary life. You just gotta believe it.’”

Leave your comment