I wanted to end this year of 2015 with a story about Howard & Amanda Potter, one of my most accomplished students! They own A & P Master Images of Utica, NY and built their business in 12 years from zero to $1,500,000 in sales in their decorating apparel business. I am so very proud of how they have worked so hard to build up a great business and of what they have accomplished in a few short years! Part of this story was written by me and part was written by Howard! I wanted to share this with you because many of you struggle so hard to even pay your bills or get to the point where you are making enough money to pay yourself a salary. I wanted you to see what is possible for each and every one of you!
Howard and I started working together almost 10 years ago and he has been a huge inspiration to a lot of people. He is kindly sharing his story with us.
‚ÄúSome of you may know of me and some may not. I am a young man that had it rough growing up in life. So rough that at certain points I was at food pantries, and going to lawn sales for school clothes with my mother. From the age of eleven until I was eighteen, I grew up in the ‚ÄúHouse of the Good Shepherd‚Äù in Utica, NY.
After the group home I went to college for graphic design and during that time I met my future wife Amanda Potter. Shortly after two years of dating, we bought a house and got married in the back yard on August 31st, 2002, at the ages of 21 & 18. Within the year of being married, we had our first child Angelena.
At that time I had an idea to start a graphics based business. I was working 60 plus hours a week pouring metal and started the business from a 15‚’x15‚’ room in our house as just a graphic design business at first. I quickly found out that just doing design could not be supported well in my area, so I started researching customizing apparel. When I was in college I learned the basics of screen printing. After some research, I came across selling promotional items, sublimation, and embroidery. I decided to still offer my graphics, and bring sublimation in house first since it was one of the cheapest options and no one really knew what it was.
I built my business up by farming out screen printing and embroidery while I was offering the promotional items. This was a good way for me to get going. I was putting in 15 to 20 hours a week with the business as a hobby since I had a great paying job.
After my second year in business we did about $30,000 in sales. Which really is not a ton, but I was having fun with the business. From there I started researching embroidery heavily and stumbled across “Tajima” embroidery machines which Joyce was a sales rep for Hirsch at the time. They got me in contact with her.
My wife and I went to her house and she showed us the basics of the equipment and took the fear from running a piece of equipment away in a matter of minutes.
From there, I had my goals set on bringing embroidery in house for several reasons.
- One I could run things and still design at the same time.
- Two it was clean.
- Three it did not take up a lot of space.
- Fourth and the most important reason. I knew Joyce could teach me how to run the equipment. After the single head embroidery machine was delivered, we set up a couple days of training with Joyce for my wife and I.
Within two days we started running orders and making money right away. My very first order on my own was for the group home I use to live in. It was a pretty cool feeling to be doing work for them. Within a year of owning our first machine. We purchased a second one right away.
When my daughter was 3 and a half, our family hit a road block. Our little girl was diagnosed with a very rare disease. She is only 1 of 3 kids in New York State that has what she has. While I was by her bedside, my employer was calling day after day to see when I was coming back to work. Which they had every right to, but I did not want to be held back by my job to be by my daughter‚’s side. I made her a promise that time in the hospital that I will always be there for her and took matters into my own hands. While I was with her, I had my computer and was working on designs for customers. That‚’s when it struck me that I could make money sitting from anywhere with my business and decided to focus on taking it full time.
I worked over the next couple of years 80 plus hours a week to build the business up the right way. By the time I quit my job to work the business full time, I had closed out all of my retirement and paid off much of my personal debt to lower my monthly bills, and created a base of customers that could support my bills. That following year we did around $120,000 in sales from our home.‚Äù
I wanted to cut in here and give you a little history about how they worked together from the beginning. Amanda worked at the bank during the day and Howard took care of both the toddler and the baby while she worked. He also ran his business during the day and catnapped when he had a chance. Amanda took over running the machine during the evening and of course taking care of the babies while Howard took a nap before leaving for his job. He worked his regular job at night during this start up time. They have been an amazing team from the very start!
Now back to Howard!
‚ÄúI am not telling you all of this to get you excited to think you can make quick easy money. My wife and I made many mistakes during these trying times, but Joyce was always there to give us guidance or teach new things that we did not know about the business. Because of Joyce we made less mistakes and were able to make more money faster on the embroidery side.
Everything she teaches you can make you money or save you money. I say can, because you have to be the one making it work. She can only teach it to you. You have to apply it. Really look at how much time and money is spent going to college. The average college degree is roughly $25,000 to $50,000 roughly, right? This is with no guarantee of making any money. Let‚’s do some basic math and see if you think this is worth it. Again, she can teach you anything about the business, but you have to work it.
I have probably spent at least $15,000 or more on teaching my staff and I over the past 10 years. Our company has produced $6,675,000.00 in sales over the past 12 years in business.‚Äù
All of the sales may not be embroidery, but embroidery helped fund buying the equipment to help grow the business. This process allows you to do more work with less people. I have two full time staff in the embroidery department and this year we have done at least $375,000 in embroidery in a 20‚’x15‚’ room, two single heads, and a two head embroidery machine. Once in a while we will send an extra staff member in to steam, fold, and box. Really think about how tiny that space is. It does not matter how much you have, but what you do with it. Always remember that.
I am now 34 years old with a 5500 square foot building and adding a 3200 square foot addition to expand next year. Our company employs 15 full time staff, covers 50% of the health insurance if they want it, and now started retirement plans for them. Our company has won over 6 national awards, done work on four covers of national magazines for our industry, and has been published over 50 times in articles for these magazines.
Your company is only going to be as good as the people you keep around you. I know professionals from every process we offer. I know all of my suppliers/ vendors.
Investing in having Joyce train you, is no different than investing into a college degree. Except you control how much you can earn, Not your employer! So, figure out what you want out of life with this line of work and go after it! Only you can stop you with the right training.‚Äù
Howard has been able to do this because he has his processes in place, thoroughly trained his staff, he plans each and every step of his progress and he knows his numbers! Howard has always known his numbers! At the end of 2015, he will be at the $1,500,000 mark! That is incredible for the amount of employees that he has. This type of growth does not happen overnight and it does not happen by accident! You must have a plan and work your plan diligently!
Amanda is in charge of accounting and is very involved with inside sales. Together they work very closely running their business and they are a true highly productive team and partnership!
Howard has stuck to retail sales, not contract work! I told Howard from day one that he would not be able to make it in this industry doing contract work for other companies and that he needed to stick to retail sales only. You need to be able to provide the product as well as the embroidery to build up a great business, especially when you are building up your business the way that he has. Contract work is done for pennies on the dollar compared to retail and unless you have a huge shop with many embroidery heads, you have to work too hard to make it happen!
Howard‚’s business is a full in house source for anyone needing any type of graphic design work and promotional products. He offers everything from pens and cups with your logo on it to car wrapping! He offers it all!
He has perfected each decorating process and each department including the right person to carry out that decorating process before going on to the next type of process. You cannot start them all at one time and expect to make a go of it, it does not happen.
You also cannot expect to be a one man shop and offer all of the different types of decorating processes. Many people make the mistake of trying to offer all types of services to their customers and they are not capable of doing any one to perfection! DO NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE!
I am proud of what Howard has become as a man, a business owner, a husband and a father. He has 2 children now and both of them have some duties inside of the business. Howard is a very devoted father and he and Amanda are raising their children right with a great work ethic and wonderful life values. He provides family vacations, and spends a balanced life between his decorating apparel business and his family!
This is possible for anyone, but it takes planning, perseverance, the willingness to implement what you have been taught and the right attitude!
Thank you Howard for sharing your story with us and I look forward to another great year of working with you!