Brandon Johnson

Brushy Creek Dentistry

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

BJ: I went to dental school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I’m from Northern Virginia. Afterwards, I was going to go back to D.C., I had job offers in D.C., Philadelphia, these big offices, but I met my current wife in dental school and she’s in the army. So, she got stationed at Fort Hood and that’s what brought me here. Thankfully, she’s been told she gets to finish up her commitment at Fort Hood, so when that happened, I’m like I’m buying a practice. I found an office in the Brushy Creek area and I have another doctor who works with me right now, Dr. Tatyana Haddock, and bought this practice September 1st of last year. With COVID though, we were basically closed for two months. We were mandated by the governor just to see emergency only patients. So, I was just doing free emergency exams for people. I wanted to keep my staff employed, of course, and was just trying to help people out. We saw a fair amount of new patients who were just having emergencies and having pain while we were closed. So, that was helpful. Now we’re trying to open back up and it was busy at first and now it’s slow, so we’re just staying consistent. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

BJ: We’re like a family dental practice, so we see people of all ages. I still see kids. Dr. Haddock is more in the cosmetics and seeing adults. Whereas, I just see whoever needs a dentist. So, I don’t really have an ideal patient, just someone who’s looking for a dentist. 

AO: What’s the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

BJ: The governor’s mandate required us to see emergencies only and there’s a lot of confusion amongst the dental community, like what constitutes an emergency. So, of course, we need to follow the law, but at the same time, if my front tooth broke, to me that’s an emergency. Oftentimes, emergencies are subjective. I wasn’t a high-risk person for COVID-19, so if someone is telling me that they’re having pain or if they’re having an emergency, I’m going to go in and see them. We kept a skeleton crew, alternated days. It was good to keep the staff employed because a lot of them couldn’t file for unemployment for various reasons. It definitely wasn’t a very profitable month, but it allowed me to keep people employed and help people out, so I’d call it a success. 

AO: Those one or two actions that you took, how is that working out for your practice today?

BJ: It’s tough to measure direct results from that. I can’t put a dollar amount or like I can count the new patients that we saw, but I think it’s really helped us just build our reputation. 

AO: Have you had any type of pivot strategy session with a consultant or coach in your business before?

BJ: I have a consultant, but I spend a lot of time trying to educate myself just clinically. I want to be the best dentist possible, but also from a business standpoint, there's been talks of the economic impact of COVID-19 pushing us into another financial recession. So, what I'm thinking, and I'm planning for worst case scenario, is we're in a recession. People aren't coming in and saying, hey, I want to do veneers or Invisalign. So, I've really tried to sell my brand as an emergency practice. I don't know if you've ever had a toothache or dental pain, but when you do, it's something you want to get taken care of for sure. That's a recession proof model. So I figured if we could be known as the office who does stuff to help people out and does the free emergency exams and is good at getting people out of pain, I figured that we'd have a strong point in our community as someone who’s kind of recession proof. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

BJ: I haven't gotten stuff in writing. When I found this practice, the seller was just trying to get rid of it. So it was being sold on a short sale. We were going to get a discount on it. I submitted an offer to buy it and the bank wouldn’t finance it. I needed to get partners in order to finance the office. So I got partners and I originally had a deal set up to buy into an office downtown, and this one we just did on trust and a handshake deal. And we're all still good friends, it's just things didn't go according to the timeline that we agreed upon. So in hindsight, if I would have gone back, I would have said, hey, we can do a trial period, but I need these things done by these dates because even though intentions were pure, I jumped through a lot of hoops and wasted a lot of time on something that didn't work out because I didn't have a plan set in place and I didn't have the paper inked. So, I’d say inking things and following the timeline is the biggest lesson that I’ve learned. No more handshake deals for me in the future. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

BJ: Throughout this time, I've really tried to press into my relationship with God. You know, we had our best month in the middle of March and then we had to close. I was so discouraged. My joy was robbed of me and it just made me open my eyes and realize, like, wow, so much of your identity is tied up in your career and your office. This thing was temporarily taken from you and you lost all your joy. I was like, God help me re-prioritize my life. Let me come to you first and my family first and friends first. Career, money and all of that stuff is just so insignificant at the end of the day. COVID, even though it was rough, really helped me prioritize what was important to me. So, just focusing on God, my family, my friends and the things that really do matter has definitely been inspiring for me.

OFFER: FREE custom whitening trays for any new patient (You must specifically ask for this promotion). 

How To Reach Us:

Brandon Johnson

Brushy Creek Dentistry

512-580-9200

brushycreekdentistryaustin.com

Back to Series Page


Ben Johnson

Aim and Focus Karate

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

BJ: The journey started 30 years ago, looking for a place for my stepson to gain some confidence. So, we went to a local martial art school and after signing him up and taking him to class for about a month, I thought, “I can do this.” So, I started training. And, it was something that we could do together. Technically he’s my stepson, his father is still alive and very active in his life, but I was looking for something that would be kind of unique for us and so I started training. We all progressed. My two daughters started training. We started enjoying it. It started becoming kind of a family thing. Then in 2000, I left IBM, I’d been there 17 years, and started Aim and Focus and Karate out of my desire to be a teacher [and] to share the martial art. I spent a short period of time at a dot-com as the IT director and that company went out of business, as many companies did in ‘99 and 2000, and I met 81 people at the door and said, “You don’t have a job anymore.” I was the site executive, so that duty fell on me. I just didn’t want to do that anymore. So, I left the technology sector and started Aim and Focus Karate. That was 20 years ago, and I have been training now for 30 years and I hold the rank of fifth degree black belt. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

BJ: It’s kind of a mixed bag. The way we look at it, we have a lot of children that come through the facility, not a lot of them achieve black belt. So, my goal is to teach them what I can while I have them. And, it’s not about kicking and punching, it’s about discipline. It’s about self-esteem. It’s about being humble. It’s about trying to be honest. It’s about trying to be the best person that you can. So, I don’t define my success by cranking out black belts. Now, on the flip side, I have promoted many students to black belt, and I’m very proud of the quality of individual that they are. Again, not so much the kicking and punching, but they are very nice people. The slogan of our school is developing peaceful confidence, and in Korean peaceful confidence is Pyong Ahn, and so what we strive to teach is a sense of calm Pyong Ahn. The ability to defend yourself is like a byproduct of that process. That’s not my initial goal. I have trained many tremendous fighters, but I don’t train them to fight, I train them to be good people. The byproduct of that training is they are great fighters. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

BJ: The biggest impact is a significant number of my student base are school-aged children, kindergarten to high school age, and virtually overnight that disappeared. We are a state licensed daycare provider and we had an after-school program with 120 kids enrolled. Overnight that dropped to zero. That dramatically affected my business. We have done the PPP program. We have done SBA loans. I have taken significant amounts of money out of savings and retirement. I mean, we are managing to stay in business, but we are hurting a lot. We currently have in-person classes. We also have zoom classes. We also have outdoor classes. We are slowly trying to rebuild our business. We went from 250 active students to 90 in the course of two months. We have now rebuilt to about 130. So, we’re doing the best we can, but we’re a services industry and in an economy where no one wants to be served. 

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference?

BJ: We have a core of very dedicated parents. They have continued to support the school. We have a core of very dedicated black belts. They have continued to support the school in whatever ways they can. We have about 30 active black belts. They’re all original white belts of mine, so they don’t come from anywhere else. The only place they’ve ever trained is here. They’re very loyal to Aim and Focus Karate. We have taken advantage of what government relief programs are out there. 

AO: Have you ever had a business strategy session? 

BJ: Yes, I have a very close-knit circle of friends that are also professionals. I’ve had the same attorney for 20 years. I’ve had the same accountant for 20 years. One of my daughters is a CPA. My son is an engineer at IBM. And, I have several adult black belts that are working in various industries, some of which are corporate officers. So, we have a kind of ongoing circle of this network of people that help me make business decisions [and] marketing choices. One of my most senior black belts, his wife is a big shot in commercial property, so when lease negotiations have to take place, Jennifer is the first person I call. I am very fortunate that my landlord has been very agreeable; very willing to work with us. I’m the largest single tenant in this building, and it’s a pretty good-sized retail space. Well, when COVID hit, nobody could pay rent, so the landlord had to stop the lawn care services. So, starting in May, we started cutting the grass every week and we continue to do it even to today. The other thing is, I’ve done this for 20 years. This is my only source of income. I’m a lifelong learner. So, I spend a lot of time staying current; staying abreast of what goes on.

AO: What mistakes have you made, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

BJ: I think the mistake I probably learned or reflect on the most is the effort that is required to be a successful business owner. It’s not a nine-to-five job. It’s a lot of hours, a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, and you need to glean satisfaction from a hard day’s work. If you get other benefits, whether it be sales or income or whatever, that’s great, but to try to not become bitter. Particularly in difficult times like this, you have to glean some sense of value from just putting in a good hard day’s work. And, you have to be willing to accept responsibility for things that you cannot directly influence but, yet, are impacting you. It’s a lot of work owning your own business, but it’s also a great deal of gratification seeing your business flourish, particularly if you’re passionate about it. When I worked in corporate America, I was very successful at IBM, but I didn’t get a lot of personal satisfaction from that. After 17 years, the paycheck wasn’t making it worth my time anymore. I make half as much money now as I made in 2000. Forget about what I’d be making if I stayed in the technology sector. I’m a lot happier and healthier person because of it. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

BJ: To get an email or a phone call from a former student who has had some life experience that crystallized something I tried to teach them. So, I get a college student, I get even an adult, that I worked with as a young person, when they call me up and say, “You know, when you told that story about this, this, this, and this, I now know what you meant because what you taught me helped me avoid a potentially disastrous situation or helped me keep my family safe or my friends safe.” 

OFFER: FREE introductory class on Fridays. No obligation. Available to anybody 5 years and older. 

How To Reach Us:

Ben Johnson

Aim and Focus Karate

512-257-8552

aimandfocus.com

Back to Series Page


Carl Joiner Jr.

Quality Tree and Lawn

Leander, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

CJ: I do full tree service, doing the rope and saddle harness work, taking trees down over buildings. One of my biggest projects was 2016/2017, a four-mile hazardous fuel reduction removal for Williamson County Regional Park, which was 50 feet by four miles long, all the cedars around the perimeter. Had quite a few guys then, down to myself now. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

CJ: My dad did it when I was a kid, but actually officially started a company in ‘98. It was a different company name, but it progressed to Quality Tree and Lawn. 

AO: Who is your best customer? 

CJ: That’s kind of hard because years back my advertising in the phone book wasn’t working very well, but I would just go door to door and talk to people and that’s the only thing that would pay my bills. Some customers I’ve had for 10-15 years. The county jobs sometimes are nice because they pay a little better, but the smaller people kept me going when times are tough. Two of my kids tested positive for COVID, so I let the homeowners know and they’re like, “Carl, [we’ll] keep our distance, you can still come work.” They allow me to keep going. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business? 

CJ: Money and some stress. There’s some people that do want to work for me, but since everything is going on, I don’t want to hire anybody right now. 

AO: What one or two actions have you done through this transition and how it’s working? 

CJ: Wear my mask at the right time, wash my hands at the right time, to where I just do my job well and be kind and respectful to people and their property. 

AO: What mistakes have you made in business, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

CJ: The hands-on experience, because you can sit there and read a book, study trees in college, but actually, physically, do it and had things happen and know, don’t do this again because you made a couple of errors, and just learn from it. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

CJ: People’s care and compassion for even allowing me to work knowing, in my HOA even, that my kids are positive, and they still come by. Even the neighbors are allowing me to work at the places that I’ve been working since my kids tested positive. The compassion, it’s nice seeing that. Sometimes you feel some of that’s gone, but lately my neighbors and customers have proven different. 

How To Reach Us:

Carl Joiner Jr.

Quality Tree and Lawn

(512) 260-9915

Back to Series Page


Connie Kurtz

Hair O’ The Dog Pet Salon

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

CK: We’re a dog grooming business. We’re a mother-daughter owned salon and we’ve been in business about four years, going on four and a half. My daughter is a dog groomer and she was working for [a different] company before, they sold the company and [she] bought the client list and created her own business name and entity. I’m not a dog groomer, I’m a business person, so we go into business together and it’s been really great. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

CK: We have a maintenance program where people come through regularly and so our best, target customers would be those folks that are loyal and come in every week or every month for maintenance. They’re loyal no matter what season or economic environment. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact of COVID-19 on your business?

CK: We had to close for two months. After that we started back at not full capacity. Some of the practices we put in place we’re going to keep after COVID settles down and one of them is that we just have one customer at a time within our lobby. That has really worked out well because it helps with the chaos that happens sometimes when there’s multiple dogs and people waiting to be checked in or checked out. It allows a lot of individual time with each client, which has been beneficial and expressed from the customers that they really like that better. So that’s something we’re going to continue to do. 

AO: Is there anything else that you’ve implemented that has really helped your business move forward?

CK: Just real basic stuff like everybody has to wear a mask, of course. We used to have customers that would bring their dogs back to the grooming and we stopped that practice to keep everybody safe. 

AO: Have you had a pivot strategy session or a strategic plan update?

CK: I do have a business consultant that I have met with to kind of reset and look at numbers and that type of stuff. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

CK: If I could go back and tell myself something it would be to be more flexible in expectations as your business is starting because one of the main goals is to be very smooth within your sales cycles and have them even out and the nature of the earning business is that it is very up and down, especially when you’re starting because it’s seasonal. There’re times when people don’t put their dog a priority, like back-to-school is one of our worst times [when] everybody’s thinking about the children. You’re going to have times where your employees leave for various reasons, so you’re not going to have the capacity. So, it’s just to be flexible within those times. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

CK: People that can come in and have a good attitude and be friendly and gracious with everything that’s going on. 

How To Reach Us:

Connie Kurtz

Hair O’ The Dog Pet Salon

(512) 258-9195

hairothedogsalon.com

Back to Series Page


William Leake

Apogee Results

Austin, TX

AO: Tell us about your business.

WL: I run a digital consultancy that focuses on ensuring that its clients are found online by the people they want to be found by, working with all the big platforms: Facebook, Google, Microsoft. Once they’re found, these prospective future customers actually engage with the company and the way the company wants to be engaged by. So, a combination of digital customer acquisition with improving the conversion and credibility of the web properties upon which these prospective customers land. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

WL: I started in digital marketing back in the late ‘90s. 

AO: Who is your best customer or your target audience?

WL: It can be all over the map. We do help people that are really small and have just one location, but typically our customer is somebody who might already have a business in the low millions to the hundreds of millions in revenue. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

WL: We’ve already been working remotely; we have a pretty good culture and the work is getting done. We hired really well in terms of building the team. They’re self-motivating and self-validating individuals. 

AO: Have you had to take one or two actions that are making a difference?

WL: There have been some challenges. We have lost a few clients. There are a number of companies that have gone into panic mode and frozen parts of their budget. We’re also getting a lot of new inquiries because people are sitting around realizing, “I’ve been neglecting my online presence longer than I should have.” We were able to offer businesses in Austin a little bit more on the front end in terms of a free consultation. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

WL:  I’ve made so many mistakes over the years. One comes down to attitude versus aptitude. I have in the past been willing to tolerate some really talented team members who have the aptitude, but they rot the culture and it’s better to not go there. I’ve also made the mistake on the attitude side. One of the more frustrating things is when you find somebody of good heart, but they just don’t have the skills. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

WL: We’re all going through it together. I’d like to be optimistic that having a shared experience might lead to the ability to rebuild some trust and bridges down the road. I’m excited about the opportunity for change, rebirth, and regrowth. 

How To Reach Us:

William Leake

Apogee Results

512-381-7000

apogeeresults.com

Back to Series Page


Paul Lebus

Austinscapes

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

PL: Austinscapes is a landscaping company. We’ve been in business since 2003. I worked in high-tech prior, decided that wasn’t for me and started this business to get out of that environment. I had experience with it when I was growing up, so it’s something I went back to. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

PL: One that is going to utilize all of our services. For example, we don’t just do maintenance, we do projects. I want to be able to use my project crews, as well as the maintenance crews. Maintenance is a small part of what we do. So, customers that not only need maintenance, but will take advantage of maybe some stone masonry services or some type of project-oriented services as well. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

PL: I have nothing but a positive response to COVID, because we’re a mobile business. We’re a service, services are essential. When you get a lot of folks staying at home, the home has to be maintained pretty well and that’s a lot of what we do. Because it’s a mobile business, roads are much more clear, so my crews are able to get from point A to point B quicker. It happened to coincide with lower fuel costs, which helps out as well. And increased demand. All three of those things kind of go hand in hand and help out service-oriented business like mine. 

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference? 

PL: Well, certainly I had to have discussions with the crews when this pandemic began, explaining to them that we had to keep our distance from our clients as much as possible, cover our faces and things of that nature, but that wasn’t so much an issue with our business because we don’t necessarily mingle with the customers. Occasionally a customer will approach our crews and want to point out a couple of things that they want done differently, and my crews have been briefed to keep distance, wear face coverings, and things like that. 

AO: Have you had a pivot strategy session in your business?

PL: I meet weekly with a business consultant/CPA. We’ve been doing business for years and we meet weekly to go over current challenges the business is having and discuss ways forward. 

AO: What mistakes have you made, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

PL: The one mistake that I have made in the past, simple thing to avoid, is pricing your services without knowing the cost prior. When I was young in business, I felt like I would just shoot from the hip when I was giving pricing and think, well, this area of land looks this big, I think we can do it in this amount of time, things of that nature. Whereas, it’s so easy to get a spreadsheet together that itemizes your costs, and maybe take a little bit of time to go through something like that before giving pricing because you can really go under quick by undervaluing your business and just throwing it out there. 

AO: What is inspiring to you today?

PL: I think what’s most inspiring, I listen to local and national media, and as concerned as I am and as anybody is about the COVID-19 pandemic, I think that we’re starting to see maybe a little bit more adventurous spirit when it comes to going out there and getting business done. At the same time, more people are willing to use masks and things like that. I think that’s important also. Just kind of a can-do attitude when it comes to getting the economy back up and running. 

OFFER: FREE Estimates. 

How To Reach Us:

Paul Lebus 

Austinscapes

(512) 695-9335

austin-scapes.com

Back to Series Page


Eric Levenhagen

ProWise Financial Coaching 

Mason City, IA

AO: Tell me about your business.

EL: My business is ProWise Financial Coaching and I am the only financial consultant who helps primarily private practice medical professionals and some other professional service providers. We help them improve the financial health of their practice with a proven process, which reduces their taxes and increases their after-tax profits by at least $10,000 in the first year guaranteed if we take them on as a one-on-one client. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

EL: I’ve been on my own almost 11 years. 

AO: It hasn’t always been financial coaching, though, has it?

EL: No. It’s definitely progressed. I started out as a tax preparer, tax preparation, and I took on a lot of once-a-year tax prep clients. The reason I started the business in the first place was to help, primarily business owners, register tax liability through proper and ethical planning strategies. That’s where I started. In the early phases it was one of those, I gotta hit a certain level of sustainability, and so I took on a lot of project work and less consulting work. Over the years that has really shifted into the opposite of that, more consulting and very little compliance work. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

EL: I serve two major industries. One is private practice medical professionals, like optometrists, dentists, chiropractors, etc. The other group is a lot of coaches and consultants, and a lot of marketing consultants and agencies. Outside of the industries, my real ideal client is somebody who wants to learn, wants a better level of clarity around their own money, typically a single owner private practice, and they’re looking to get more out of their business than having it turn into a job that they own. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

EL: I think I was in a real fortunate spot during this whole time because I was already virtual when COVID started. I’d already closed down my brick and mortar office and moved to more and more of my clients were coming from across the country. So, I had that, which was one less thing for me to have to focus on in-house and I was able to take that energy and focus on helping others back when the different SBA and government programs were just rolling out, new laws were getting passed that it seemed like the rules were changing by the hour. So if there was a negative around this whole COVID, that’s been the greatest impact of the negative side. But, I feel pretty fortunate that I was in the position I was in already to be able to turn that energy back around to help people. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

EL: I would say one of my biggest mistakes was dragging my feet and not seeking out the right types of help right away. One of the inherent downfalls of the accounting personality is, and that’s how I was traditionally trained, to overthink things. I would say just getting out of my own way on really developing and morphing into that business that I wanted from the start probably could’ve happened faster if I would’ve sought out the right help in terms of mentors, consultants, coaches. Just knowing where my weaknesses were and then actually plugging somebody in that had a track record of fixing that weakness. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

EL: On the outside it looks like a lot of people are attacking others or critiquing others. I think if you look in the right places and look a little bit beneath the surface level, you do see the better side of humanity through this turmoil we’re going through. You see the generosity of humans, because this is affecting people worldwide. 

How To Reach Us:

Eric Levenhagen

ProWise Financial Coaching

(641) 424-3990

prowisefinancial.com

Back to Series Page


Kana Livolsi

Dos Mundos Creative

Austin, TX

AO: Talk to us about your business.

KL: I am a CEO of an agency in Austin, Texas. We work with brands from local nonprofits to fortune 500 companies. We have a wide array of clients in a lot of areas, from tech to fitness. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

KL: I’ve been running my business for over five years now and I’ve been in the industry for a little over 19 years. 

AO: Who is your target audience?

KL: We work with people who are interested in challenging both themselves and the status quo. We work with people who are mission-driven brands, whether they’re at a small level or a larger level client. The ones that work best for us are the ones who have a little less red tape to get around because we can be more effective. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact of COVID-19 on your business?

KL: It’s a lot more nonstop. I had no idea when you’re working from your home, it’s very hard to turn it off. You just feel like there’s so much of a need right now and so many people are asking for help, that it’s very hard to say no. 

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference?

KL: I brought together different leaders in business and put together a series so the experts could be giving advice to businesses where they need it. We did group counseling with people for what they need, whether it was finance, legal, or marketing, just across a wide spectrum. I got a group of experts and leaders in our field who are now doing the interim expert team. We give people a one-stop solution where we put together a team in 48 hours that can be working with you in the interim to help make sure that you’re becoming profitable again. 

AO: Have you done a pivot session for your business?

KL: We have had to shift the model a little bit in order to be helping more people. We were able to take our current way of doing things and expand it by adding on all the other services that are very complimentary to that. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience? 

KL: Employees have tried to take a business from me, I had a mutiny at one point. It was really hard to deal with, but I didn’t stop trusting because of that. Just build in better systems to protect yourself from that happening again and make sure that you’re listening and have a more in-depth HR process when hiring.

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

KL: People who are passionate about needing to change how things are done and not just adhering to the old stereotypes that seemed to work in marketing before. My team is incredibly inspiring to me, how much each of them has gone through and how much of themselves they put into their work. 

How To Reach Us:

Kana Livolsi

Dos Mundos Creative

dosmundoscreative.com

Back to Series Page


Dawn Marks

All Star Tool and Fastener Inc

Georgetown, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

DM: The name of the business is All Star Tool and Fastener. My husband actually got hired on to [a business] similar in nature to [ours] when he got out of college. Through some hostile takeovers and some selling of the company, it kind of went in a direction that he just couldn’t do, so he struck out on his own. And, here we are today. 

AO: How long have you been in business? 

DM: We’ve been in business since ‘96, in some form or fashion. We had a solo business. We started a partnership with some other guys to become a “buying house” so that they could get the product cheaper. They just banded together. They had all formerly worked for this other company. Then, slowly over time, we kept buying out each partner and now we’re the last one standing and have sole ownership of it. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

DM: We sell directly to the framers. Most of our business comes from residential buildings. We sell directly to the framer building the house. We do some builders, but the majority of my customers are the actual contractor swinging the hammer. So that’s my number one customer. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

DM: Probably the supply chains. It’s just the manufacturing and getting product in here. My business has not slowed down. Interest rates being what they are, they’re still building houses and Texas having the kind of economy and sustainability, is still attracting other people from throughout the nation to come here. It’s an attractive market for people coming to this area, and they all need housing and apartments and everything else. They’re coming, but it’s been hard to have the manufacturers with the plant shutting down. You know, I still have business. My doors are open. We’ve not missed one single day since this started, but trying to get product in here has been a struggle. 

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference?

DM: In the very beginning, we heeded all of the safety precautions of, you know, we didn’t allow anybody in the building and we gave some of our employees [the option] to stay home. It went so long, they wanted to come back. I couldn’t keep them back, so I said, “Yes, if you want to come back that’s fine.” So, we are conducting business as usual. We do have a retail location that we have people in our store, but the public is not really in my store, so we don’t have lots of traffic in the showroom per se. We’ve always kept our showroom clean; we continue to keep our showroom clean. We do have two trucks that are out in the field with salesmen in them and they service right on site. So, they’re coming directly to the customer, they’ve always done that, so I can’t say that we’re really doing anything truly different than just being cautious of our customers for their sake and ours. 

AO: Have you had a business strategy session?

DM: Actually, the location that we’re in, we are renting. We will sign on property to build our own building and hopefully some other buildings in that commercial park. So, that’s really been our focus on where this business is going. We need a bigger location, so we’re making that happen. Once we get into that location, we have several ideas about how we would like to see the business grow. 

AO: Where’s your new building going to be?

DM: It’s actually going to be on the same street that we are now. I think it’s less than a quarter mile down the road. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

DM: We’ve made a few fumbles that we won’t do again in our negotiation powers. Really knowing your product inside and out, and everything about it, so that when you’re buying product you’re making sure that you know precisely every detail to ask about that product in those negotiations. I think we’ve learned, too, that making the investment in the company also has a better financial return, not to just get by with things like software and programing for the business and vehicles, and really look at what you expect out of something and then try and get the best that you can for your money, not the cheapest necessarily. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

DM: To me, is that America is coming back to a work ethic that you don’t get anything in this life for free and you gotta go work for it and that there are people out there willing to work for it. I hope that’s not lost on a younger generation. I hope that aspect of our society grows. I hope people can look for what they can do to improve themselves and not look for somebody else to make it happen for them. 

How To Reach Us:

Dawn Marks

All Star Tool and Fastener Inc

512-748-6129

Back to Series Page


Annette Maruska

Aladdin Carpet and Interiors

Taylor, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

AM: Mostly it’s remodel, new construction, home improvement, that kind of thing. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

AM: We came here in ‘86, so about 34 years. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

AM: Well, they’re all our best customers, but our builders, residential and commercial clients. Our residential clients each have given us 7 to 10 repeats and constant referrals. Our commercial clients that are state or federal, they require a security clearance for our business, dollars and artisans. Our builders just bring in a set of plans and we take it from there and stay within their allowance. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

AM: Lack of personal contact has been a challenge, but we have found ways to work through that. 

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to work around that?

AM: I interview the client and decide what sanitized products to leave at their door. We do curb service as well. When they narrow down their choices from the samples, I go in with sanitizer and mask and make recommendations and measure the areas. I then produce a drawing for our installers so that they will know what they’re getting into. Our procedures have been working well for just about all that are concerned. A few complete remodels have been rescheduled because of the heat and some because of the virus. 

AO: Have you had a pivot session or a re-strategy session in your business?

AM: Patience and perseverance is very important and with every project there’s a challenge, some large, some small, and some unexpected. If something happens that’s beyond our control, maybe a delivery, we just say a little prayer and we work around the clock to finish the project as promised. If our promise is good, then we will get referrals from it, so we try to honor our time schedules. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

AM: I’ve found that if our work and our interactions inspire others to dream more and to learn more, to do more and become more, then we’ve accomplished our goals in bringing a better quality of life to our clients in their surroundings. I have learned to stay on schedule, and sometimes if you get off schedule, it’s like a domino effect. You can’t get upset over that. You just have to keep working through it to please everybody's concern. I like to stay on top of things and when something goes wrong that’s beyond my control, it was hard to deal with. I’ve learned through the years that if you work through it, it comes out and it’s a beautiful project. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

AM: People believe in the United States and they believe in God, and that gets everybody through and it’s encouraging to see them not get their heads down when these things hit them so hard. It seems that in our little community, everybody is helping everybody, and if that happens all around the United States, we’ll be a lot better off. 

OFFER: FREE interior designs services with the purchase of cabinets, countertops, back-splashes, etc. and FREE measuring and bidding. 

How To Reach Us:

Annette Maruska

Aladdin Carpet and Interiors

(512) 352-9200

aladdincarpetandinteriors.com

Back to Series Page


Jeremy May

Mayday Tower

Hutto, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

JM: We do cellphone and radio towers, mainly lighting and modifications and stacking. So, we build the structures and we just maintain the structures. I don’t do the carrier end of it. We got into business, I was working for a large tower company and just saw a need, so we went ahead and filled that need. We saw a gap in the industry, so we just capitalized on it. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

JM: We started the business January 1, 2018. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

JM: Well there’s three large tower companies, we work for two of them, American Tower and SBA, those are our target customers. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

JM: Traveling. We travel everywhere. Right now I’m in Kingsville, tomorrow I’ll be in Louisiana, this weekend I was in New Mexico. We do a lot of traveling, we put 80 thousand miles a year on the trucks, and there’s no hotels. So we ended up having to buy campers so we can continue operating because we couldn’t be in the general public, we can’t afford to get our guys sick. We travel together at all times, our guys are together at least five, six days a week. We had to keep ourselves pretty clean so having sleeping arrangements and having places to stay that we know are clean is the hard part. We invested money and bought two campers. It was either that or we quit working for a couple of months until they start opening hotels back up.

AO: You just talked about you as a company, in order to continue to do business, bought campers for a safe sleeping environment for your team. Is there anything else that you had to do in your business that allowed you to be successful?

JM: We had to write-up a, luckily our HR lady was quick on it, she wrote a whole COVID handbook for us. One of our customers, American Tower, told us that we have to have weekly calls with them and explain what we’re doing to combat COVID-19. So, we told them about the campers and we made sure that the guys had hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks and whatever had to happen. We had to have a talk with our guys. We had to make guidelines with them for the weekends, we can’t dictate what they do in their time off, but we had to ask them to just not get in crowded areas. They want to go out and party on the weekends and we just couldn’t do it. We told them that we’re a small business right now, we have 10 or 11 people working with us, and if one of them gets it, it will take down the whole business for a period of time. So, we just had to make some guidelines and ask everybody to abide. Luckily, the guys all stuck to it, a couple of them have been tested, and everybody’s come out clean, so we’ve been really lucky about not having any issues with that. 

AO: Have you ever had a pivot strategy session in your business?

JM: We’re still kind of a fresh business and we consulted with our CPA that has really taken care of us very well. When it first started out, we talked to her and we decided that we’re gonna sack away cash, we’re going to sack it away for a rainy-day type thing. So everything that came in that we made for the past two months, we sacked away. Kept ourselves afloat during that period of time because it was a little bit slow. It allowed us to keep everybody employed throughout the entire time. We didn’t make much profit, we just kept even. I think we ought to be pretty happy about that because instead of losing cash we just maintained everything and didn’t have any issues. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

JM: When I first started business, I knew about the industry, I know all about the tower industry, I just didn’t know about the business aspect. I underestimated how much paperwork, not getting a CPA right away, not discussing the LLC with people, I just kind of jumped into it headfirst. Which is fine, it cost a lot of money, it worked out at the end of the day. I was unaware of the amount of paperwork, even in an industry that doesn’t seem like it takes that. It might sound pretty ‘no brainer’ to you guys, but I was hoping to go do work and then get paid and then go do work again. Instead, I was going to do work then write 20 pages on what work I did and report that to the CPA and the CPA was going to give that to somebody else and it was just back and forth. It was a big learning curve. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

JM: People are trying to get back out in the world. People are trying to deal with this scenario that we’re in right now. It’s good to see people getting back out there and businesses trying to get back open. 

How to Reach Us:

Jeremy May

Mayday Tower LLC

maydaytower@gmail.com

Back to Series Page


Darby Meyer

Blind Faith

Cedar Park, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

DM: My company is called Blind Faith and we are a window covering company. We do blinds, shutters, shades, [and] drapery. We’ve been in business since 2007 and I’m actually a third-generation window covering professional. Both my grandfathers were in the business. One grandfather had a little shade shop down in Corpus [Christi], and the other grandfather sold his business to make window coverings. So, that’s how they met. And then, my parents met through them and they started a manufacturing plant in 1980. Then they grew it to [be] the largest manufacturing plant for window coverings in the United States. So I grew up on the shop floor. After I graduated from college [I] went to go work for my dad and in 2007 started Blind Faith. We have a little showroom in Cedar Park, it’s by appointment only, but most of the time we’re out in people’s homes, and it’s just me. At one point I was growing and I had salespeople, an office manager, all that fun stuff, but I found that my clients get much better service when they’re dealing with me. Now all of my customers get to deal with the owner of the company. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

DM: Somebody with a lot of windows. People who are moving into new homes without window coverings are a great client for me. Also, I love to work with remodeling contractors. So, people that are remodeling [their] home and now maybe they turned a window [into] a sliding glass door or they put in doors where there used to be walls. They do a lot of that in Sun City and I have a great contractor I work with up there. Also, interior designers are great clients for me as well. A lot of times designers have a vision, but they don’t know necessarily how to make it work right. So designers will use me to make sure that we have all the right number of support brackets on our draperies and that kind of stuff. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

DM: For the first three weeks, the shutdown. People didn’t really want me in their house, which is hard to sell window coverings and install window coverings when you can’t go into people’s houses. So what we did was we started doing Zoom consultations. I’m lucky that in the Austin area there’s a lot of new construction, so I would go into new homes and measure the home for the client and leave them samples so that they could see the samples in their house, but we didn’t actually have to be in contact with each other. That’s kind of how we made it through the first initial weeks. Ever since then, most people that are calling me are not as concerned. We wear masks. All my installers wear masks. A lot of my customers, once we have decided on everything together and the installation comes, those that are really concerned about it will usually go somewhere and let my installers do the work, that way they don’t have any contact with them. 

AO: You said that you started doing Zoom consultations, is there anything else that you had to do or actions that you’ve had to take during COVID-19?

DM: No. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

DM: I’ve made so many mistakes. I was really blessed when I started Blind Faith because I was able to go get another job. I lost my dad’s manufacturing plant and I went and got a job as the operations manager for a balloon company, we sold balloons to grocery stores around the United States. I feel like I did a pretty good job of this, but I started Blind Faith and was [working] in the evenings and weekends. Then I slowly grew and went part time with the other business and then finally became fully [Blind Faith]. I think I made some mistakes originally with advertising. I spent a lot of money in advertising, and this is back when I had employees. I did a lot of print advertising, a lot of Google Ads, I just went a little overboard with advertising [to] try to fill the pipeline for salespeople and a lot of the advertising didn’t work. What I found was [that] much better usage of my time and money was networking and making relationships. So about six years ago or so, I dwindled off with my advertising and I went and got involved in a lot of networking groups. That really was helpful for my business. Not only did I not spend all that money on advertising, but I was also making great relationships with people who I could help and forming those bonds and that referral network is great. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

DM: I would have to say my dad is most inspiring to me today. He is 72 years old and he is out installing window coverings right now as we speak. He’s the one who got me into this business [and] he taught me a lot when I was working for him like [the] chain of command. My husband and I also own another business called Baldy’s Jeep Shop, we have a lot of employees over there, and it’s important to know who reports to who and where you need to go. When I was working for my dad, I had a boss. I couldn’t go directly to my dad about an issue, I need to go to my boss first. So, I think my dad is most inspiring. He is an extremely hard worker. 

OFFER: Receive 10% off any custom window covering. 

How To Reach Us:

Darby Meyer

Blind Faith

www.facebook.com/AustinBlindFaith/

(512) 373-3630

Back to Series Page


Trey Meyer

Baldy's Jeep Shop

Cedar Park, TX

AO: Tell me about your business. 

TM: My business is Baldy’s Jeep Shop. It’s kind of a funny name, but I’m a bald guy and we like to have a little fun around here, so that has a lot to do with the name. We are a Jeep specialty shop and we do everything from lift kits, light bars, wheels, tires, to oil changes and repair, custom fabrication and axel swaps and things like that. We can do everything from your daily driver, ‘mom wagon’ taking the kids to soccer practice up to full-on hardcore rock crawling machines. I got in the business [because] this has been my hobby since I was very young and it’s a passion turned into a business for us. I just enjoyed working on jeeps and after begging my wife for 10 years, she finally gave me the go ahead. I just love jeeps; I love the jeep people [and] the community. When we started this business, this is mine and my wife’s third business together, we decided to take a little different approach. For one, we wanted to give more to the community and our employees than we take ourselves. We do a lot of charity work, fundraising, [and] events and it’s really turned into something that is just a huge positive thing in our lives. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

TM: We started in 2017. It started really small. We had a little 2,000-sq. ft shop down the street, me doing all the work, answering the phones, doing all the ordering, and it has built up to what it is now with eight employees and we moved into a bigger space that’s about 10,000 sq ft. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

TM: Our best customer is going to be a Jeep owner that loves to go off-roading. Really, all Jeep owners, but the ones that love to go off-roading are the ones that are truly going to capitalize on everything we offer. There’s a lot of shops in town where you can go get your lift kit and tires and then have a nice day, but to us that’s not where it ends. We like our customers to have the full experience. I’m a Tread Lightly Certified Tread Trainer, so we hold those classes here. We hold Winching and Recovery classes. We take new Jeep owners out to Hidden Falls Adventure Park as well as our Christmas Trip [where] we take around 25-30 Jeepers out to Big Bend National Park. Our [best] customer is that customer that owns a Jeep and likes adventure. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business? 

TM: The biggest impact was definitely in the beginning [when] people did not want to come to the shop [because of] the fear of exposure. Being a public place and there’s other people, that you don’t know what their health conditions are, in and out of the building all day. So that was kind of a fear. Any small business owner that has success knows you have to adapt and overcome, and we found ways around that with contactless drop off and cleaning Jeeps and things like that. We found a workaround, but in the beginning, everybody was really worried about dropping their vehicles off and becoming exposed. If you think about it, people are driving down the road touching their steering wheel and sneezing on it and everything, so obviously we didn’t want any of [the mechanics] exposed. We learned quickly how to take care of those things in a cleanly fashion. 

AO: What one or two actions did you take in your business and how are they working out? 

TM: The first action we did was a concierge service [where] you would call us, send us an email, Facebook message, or however, and you would leave your keys in your vehicle at your house [and] we would go to your house and load up the vehicle, bring it here, do the required repairs, upgrades, or whatever it is they wanted us to do, and then deliver it to the customer’s home and do a complete scrub down in their driveway of all the touched surfaces before we call and tell them that we’re done. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience? 

TM: I’d say one of the biggest things is not planning for rapid growth. We were sure it was going to take five years to get this thing off the ground and it did in six weeks. We were not ready. We didn’t have anybody interviewing. I signed a three-year lease on a building that I outgrew in six weeks. So, it put us in a real bind and immediately we started having poor customer service because we weren’t prepared for the growth. I would say [the] lesson learned is don’t doubt yourself and plan for the growth, otherwise you’re going to find yourself in a bind and you may hurt your reputation right off the bat. And that was us, we had a parking lot that was full, nobody had a place to park, they would say park in the neighbor’s spot, and they would get upset and the neighbors would get upset with them. So, the experience right off the bat was: there’s no place to park and the neighbors are mad at me and I’m uncomfortable here. That’s the last thing you want, your new opportunity to pull into the driveway and already feel like they don’t belong. It was really tough on us [to be] working in a space that was really confined and we should’ve picked a building or spot that we knew we could grow into if it took off quicker than we expected. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

TM: The small business awareness [on social media] that you typically didn’t see before. I see all the time, especially in Jeep pages where people [are] looking for ‘x’ part and somebody would say it’s on Amazon, and almost always I see somebody post, “Hey, shop local. This shop has it for the same [price] or it’s $10 more and the money stays at home.” I just absolutely love that people are becoming more aware of why buying from a small business locally is so much more important than keeping Amazon fed. [Also] there’s a lady in Georgetown that’s really inspiring to me. There’s a [charity] called We Are Not Broken that we promote, and she goes in the studio and takes pictures of women with scars from cancer surgery or accidents. This empowering women [organization] that my friend, she was a Jeep customer at one point, [started] has really taken off. I look at it from two ways, how wonderful it is that she can do this for somebody and how rewarding it is to be able to do something like that. She’s inspiring to me because she gets to do that. 

OFFER: Mention this Newsletter and receive 10% off any labor service. 

How To Reach Us:

Trey Meyer

Baldy’s Jeep Shop

baldysjeep.com

(512) 968-0772

Back to Series Page


Alan Miller

Vortex Tools LLC

Georgetown, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

AM: Our company is an oil and gas service and support company based in Georgetown, TX. We help oil and gas companies improve efficiency, which is kind of an oxymoron of the oil and gas industry, but we actually help operators improve the recovery of their existing wells rather than them drilling new ones. [Our] name is a play on the flow that we developed which is a spiral vortex. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

AM: Since 2001. We relocated to Texas in December of last year. We still maintain an office in the Colorado market, in the Denver suburbs. In large part, we moved to Texas because most of our customers are here and regulations for oil and gas companies in Colorado become quite oppressive and scarce. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

AM: The small and medium-sized oil and gas companies. That would be companies like Pioneer Natural Resources, Occidental, not the majors but the smaller or medium-sized companies, many of which are under stress right now. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

AM: The customer decisions to reverse prior budget approvals. Companies that previously said, “Yeah, we’re going to buy that, deploy your equipment,” then coming back and say, “No budgets will be withdrawn.” So reversal of budgets, it’s particularly hard on companies of our size and scope because it takes many months to process a relationship with a customer and when that engineer or operator says, “well, we’re not going to do that,” what it does is pushes us back probably years before we can actually approach that customer again. 

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference?

AM: Believe it or not, right now the best thing to do is not bug them, because if you call them too often all you’re doing is bugging them. So stay in touch, be supportive, encouraging, and try to show your company has an advantage, like an identifier for our company, our solutions. We’re trying to add additional technology capability to what we have so that we can offer a broader set of solutions to our customers. 

AO: Have you had a pivot strategy session in your business during COVID-19? 

AM: Yes, but it was more of a question that I asked myself. I posted on LinkedIn, “Do we still have a business to operate?” In that question I posted, I posited that the only way we can survive is to pivot. We as a company have some advantage, we got other markets that we could and should be pursuing. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

AM: Most people who form a business do so using family capital, friends, and people that they know. Then there may come a point in their business when the company is not going to make it, and one of the mistakes I did was trying to find a way to allow my investors to exit in a way to give them something back. I realized that investors are risk takers. Business owners are risk takers. You have to marry the two together but understand that they have different forces that dictate their decisions. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

AM: I can just retire, it wouldn’t be good, but I would be okay. But I still have the fire in my belly and I still feel that the world needs what we have to offer. So for those reasons, I’m going to continue to push and promote my business and our solution. 

How To Reach Us:

Alan Miller

Vortex Tools LLC

(303) 761-7570

vortextools.com

Back to Series Page


Bogdan Negru

SourceMatch

Austin, TX

AO: Tell us about your business. 

BN: SourceMatch [is] a non-conventional recruiting business. We are active, not just in Austin, Texas, but also at a national and international level. We’ve got an office in Europe that we also run our business through. I’ve been in business for 13 years. We took the typical recruiting process, looked at what was missing, and built depth into all of the stages of searching for a candidate starting from defining what the employers [are] really looking for. We engage with the customer [and] candidates at a deeper level and that helps us really understand expectations on both ends. 

AO: Who is your best customer? 

BN: We serve three types of customers. You’re going to have the small companies that have been doing recruiting themselves and they’re doing great. However, they reached a point where either it’s a location or it’s a type of position they haven’t done before, so they need help with that next step. Then you’ve got the mid-sized businesses, 1000 people or more, and they’re expanding into new countries. Where they need help is to get that key person in place around which they’re going to build their next office. The third is enterprise level where these companies have tens of thousands of employees. They are not getting enough candidates through the pipeline and that’s an issue. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact of COVID-19 on your business?

BN: We had clients who we were working with through some of the searches and they said, “Look, we just need to freeze the process. There’s so much uncertainty that we need to figure this out before continuing. Are we doing what we should be doing, or do we need to change strategy?” This created an interesting opportunity, not just for our business but for the industry. There are a lot of candidates that either have lost their jobs or they’ve been furloughed, and so for those that are still hiring that’s a tremendous opportunity. 

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference and how’s that working out? 

BN: We’ve made ourselves more available to our clients. We’re providing them with the information and helping them understand things a little bit better and adding clarity. Something else we’ve done is encourage them to think over the long term. Right now, even if you’re not hiring, keep in touch with candidates that you would love to have in your business. 

AO: What mistakes did you or have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs or business owners learn from that mistake?

BN: When I have an idea, I fall in love with it immediately. The temptation is to take that idea to your client and start selling it. Problem is, I forget about the customer’s need. I need to remind myself that I need to fall in love about solving problems and needs for my clients, rather than feeding them everything I know. 

AO: What is most inspiring for you today?

BN: What is extremely encouraging to me, and I want to encourage everybody, is to look at the goodness of others around us across the world. 

OFFER: 40% Discount on our normal rates for your first hire with us. 

How To Reach Us:

Bogdan Negru

SourceMatch

512-441-7000

sourcematch.team

Back to Series Page


Cheryl O’Hern

Spin Markket + Digital 

Fort Dodge, IA

AO: Tell me about your business.

CO: We are a digital marketing company. We work with our clients to make sure their information online is correct, that they’re found, that any digital campaigns they’re doing are taken care of, and if they’re a big business we do everything from graphic design to event coordinating. We have an excellent dashboard that is real time for clients to keep track of everything: social media, reviews, email projects, digital campaigns, return on their investment, how they look on over 300 directories. Just a really comprehensive dashboard that they can evaluate and determine how they look online and how they’re doing in marketing their business. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

CO: I started this in 2012. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

CO: We actually have a nonprofit group that we started in 2017 called Dental Connection, I handle the marketing, and we work with dental clinics all across the state. That’s one big group we do. We also do a variety of smaller businesses as well. Our best clients are the clients that understand that the digital world is where we’re at [and] that it takes a lot of education. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had in your organization?

CO: Businesses are figuring out they should’ve been digital before, now they’re trying to scramble and get going and it’s hard for them to understand it doesn’t happen overnight. 

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference in your business?

CO: I’m going in and setting up the dashboards and implementing a better education program with our new clients. I’m seeing that being much more helpful and getting them to better set their expectations. 

AO: Have you done any type of pivot session? 

CO: I’m on the Goldman Sachs project. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

CO: Thinking that all I had to do was put my sign out and say, “Hey, we do digital marketing,” and everybody will jump on board. I’ve been talking to deans of colleges saying, “You guys got to start teaching this,” and they’re saying, “We’re frustrated, we don’t know how to teach it. We don’t have Professors that know how to teach it and the books can’t keep up.” I said, “I know, you have to be in the trenches. You need to hire teachers that are doing it day by day.” 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

CO: I’m so inspired and impressed with the creativity, the tenacity, the spirit, and the resolve that the small and medium-sized businesses have been able to put forth out there to stay in business. I think it’s put a new perspective on small and medium businesses to the rest of the world, that they understand that these businesses are the backbone of their communities. 

How To Reach Us:

Cheryl O’Hern

Spin Markket + Digital

512-302-8026

spinmarkket.com

Back to Series Page


Dennis O’Neill

Pack Solutions NA

Cedar Park, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

DO: I started it in 2014 and Pack Solutions is an independent manufacturer’s rep. I formed the company and I have relationships with packaging product manufacturers which includes not only consumables, like tape and stretch film, but also my main business is the actual machinery that is used to automate packaging lines. So, anybody from a local distribution house that’s sending out product that people buy on a website, all the way to major manufacturers that make different products. Food is a big industry for a lot of my distributors. I’m supplying distributors with a conduit to the manufacturers and I’m basically a contract salesman for these manufacturers. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

DO: I’ve been blessed because the manufacturers that I represent have also been blessed and seeing a significant rise in business because we’re supplying the companies that a lot of companies that are deemed essential during this pandemic and have seen a significant rise in business. E-commerce, that business has risen 300% or so since this pandemic and the folks that are in that business needed to get the orders out. BestPack Packaging Systems is the foundation of my company and probably 60-70% of my time daily is done on BestPack projects. Obviously there’s been some companies that are struggling and have shut down or closed their doors because they’re not essential businesses, but the companies that are have shifted gears. For instance, distilleries are now making hand sanitizer instead of vodka. A lot of distributors that I sell packaging distribution, their customers are the ones that have seen an increase in their business and therefore it trickles up or down. 

AO: What one or two actions have you had to take to make a difference in your business?

DO: I cover a five-state area, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, part of Louisisana and Missouri, but I also go where my distributors go. If my distributor had a customer in California or North Carolina and my expertise was needed on the ground there, I would travel to those marketplaces. However, during this pandemic traveling was restricted and so I had to switch gears and operate by business remotely. In doing so, I’ve had countless number of conference calls, Zoom meetings and also initiated some webinars to educate and keep in front of my customers. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

DO: The biggest mistake, and it’s the same for any sales person, when you get so busy that you fail to look at the details and follow up with customers that you’re dealing with. You start something, you open the door, but by not following up you fail to go through that door and close that business. No matter how busy you are, you need to follow up on it. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

DO: Industry-wise, I think the ability of the folks that I deal with to adapt to the changes that were thrust upon. You take adversity and you change it to advantage. 

How To Reach Us:

Dennis O’Neill

Pack Solutions NA 

packsolutionsna.com

Back to Series Page


Michelle Olsen

Hat Trick Promotions

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

MO: I own Hat Trick Promotions and it is a marketing company that specializes in corporate gifts and items that the target market is going to find useful. So, it’ll be long-lasting, they’ll appreciate it, and it’ll keep the business [on] top of [their] mind. I started the business about three and a half years ago. When I started, I had had a lot of changes in my life. I had previously taken a six-year hiatus from my previous career, which I was a diagnostic medical sonographer working in a hospital, to homeschool my kids. In 2014 a lot of changes happened in my life. The kids [were] going back to school and I needed to go back to work. However, the hospital industry, which I loved what I did, wasn’t quite as conducive to the flexibility I needed with everything we had going on [such as] kids' activities, sports, [and] volunteer[ing]. So, I decided I need[ed] to do something that’s going to be more flexible and I came across this idea with the promotional marketing. I scheduled a couple of interviews with some close friends that had businesses and just wanted to talk to them about what their thoughts were, if it was some service that they would find useful, and with both of them I walked out with orders [and] I wasn’t even set up yet with the business. I was really just doing some research ahead of time to try to come up with a business plan and is this even something I’m going to do? So, it all happened faster than I expected, and it’s just gone gangbusters since then. Mostly word of mouth, networking, and referrals from my customers is how I find new clients and I’ve really enjoyed everybody I work with. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

MO: [In] our industry, a lot of the pre-COVID talk was about the importance of having a specialized vertical, and I never really developed a strong vertical market because of the word of mouth and the referral. The way customers tend to find me, or I find them has been not necessarily relegated to any particular industry. I used to think I should hone in on my target market, I keep hearing how important it is, however since COVID has occurred some of our promotional product people are struggling because their vertical markets are not doing well. Honestly, I’m thankful that I have a wide variety of industries that I work with. So, what I would say instead of a specific target industry, I’m going to say my best customer is the people that want to build their brand awareness. Maybe they want to increase their revenue or their customer loyalty, which I can help show them how to do that within minutes with promotional items. Or, if they want to show appreciation to their clients or employees, especially right now with COVID they’re trying to find ways to connect with their employees, and so giving [company] gifts that they can share over Zoom and makes it a little more fun, engaging, or just even feeling like part of the team. So, best customer is going to be open-minded and they’re going to want to collaborate on these things and they think of me as an extension of their marketing team. If they know their goal and who their target market is, I can work within that budget that they have to give them great ideas and in the long run it’s going to save them time because they’re not trying to research the internet for items that they can think of and they don’t even know what else is out there, that’s my specialty. So, someone open-minded. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

MO: When everything first came to light locally [in] mid-March, early April, all of the events [my] clients had coming up and any kind trade shows, conventions, things like that, all of that stuff when it got canceled was like, well, we don’t need any of that anymore. So, there was definitely a big halt when everybody was just trying to figure out what they’re going to do. I’ve got to tell you, I was just thankful everybody was still wearing clothes because I was doing a lot of, and still doing a lot, of apparel; embroidered polos [and] technician shirts. I do have a lot of service industry clients like plumbing, HVAC, and roofing [and] those kinds of clients are essential and were still working through the pandemic and hiring and growing their businesses, so we definitely still had a lot of clothes orders going on through that. Then, of course, the shift to PPE; your masks [and] neck gaiters. I’ve been doing those for various clients. And then other things like pop-up tents for outdoor events or shopping bags for deliveries and things like that. There was a pause there for a little bit while everybody kind of gathered their thoughts and figured out what they’re going to do next, and that happened with me as well. But I think we’re moving ahead, doing well, and my clients are too. 

AO: What one or two actions did you take to make a difference?

MO: I had to change the visits, for one. For a while some of my clients weren’t in the office, and some were but not meeting one-on-one [or] face-to-face as often if at all, and I miss that a lot. I love the relationships that I build with people, and not that it has changed, it just looks different. Then the other thing is, I’m going to admit I’m still not 100% into what I need to be doing: going more virtual and video. I don’t know why video terrifies me like it does. But I’m doing continuing education that does include ways I can interact with my clients over social media and video, but I’m going to admit I’m not there yet. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

MO: I’m not great with the administrative, back-end office type stuff. It’s just not fun. I enjoy the research part and working with the clients and the brainstorming, [but] billing and bookkeeping and taxes [are] not my favorite things. So, I have finally affiliated with a company that works with distributors all across the nation to basically take care of my account’s receivables and payables, and they do the collection of the taxes and document everything for me. I’m thankful I finally did that, but it took me way too long to get there. I should have done that a long time ago. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

MO: I think 2020 has been quite an interesting year and people have had to be very creative. I think it’s pretty inspiring when you see the different stories of how others have adapted, whether it’s personal, family life, or business, [to] the new normal. It is inspiring when you think about how much we as a whole have adapted. We’re modifying in business our procedures, our expectations, [and] sometimes the entire service or product is having to be modified. And, people are being more patient with the understanding that business is not as usual, and I think that’s pretty awesome. 

OFFER: Receive a FREE consultation. 

How To Reach Us:

Michelle Olsen

Hat Trick Promotions

512-400-0599

www.hattrickpromotions.com

Back to Series Page


Key Palmer

Coyote Moon Coffee

Georgetown, TX

AO: Tell me about your business. 

KP: We are a Georgetown-based company. We don’t have a storefront. The way we got into business was my wife and I, when I was in sales [working] with national accounts with Orkin Pest Control and also government accounts with Verizon Wireless, any time we would travel we always went into record stores because I’m a vinyl junkie and we started thinking about what if we opened a place that was a record store. We thought, “Vinyl is coming back, let’s look at that.” Then, we both were talking about it and said, “We can’t. We need something that’s going to be foundational, monetarily.” Because, vinyl would maybe take off, but it’s not going to be what you should anchor everything on. So, we thought why not tie a coffee shop with baked goods that had a record store connected to it? The concept was called Groovey Bean. We started pursuing that idea and we were looking at getting coffee from different places [and] different roasters in the area and ran across Coyote Moon Coffee, which was in Georgetown and owned by a lady. We ended up buying the company from her and I came in and spent about three to four months learning what she had done as far as roasting the coffee [and] packaging it. Then, we went forward from there. Two years after we had it, we wanted to get some things ironed out and get the business going. Then we started looking at formally doing an SBA loan [and] we put together a 42-page business plan. We were a week away from that being approved through the credit union we were working with, and we had space ready, we had equipment about to be ordered, we had signage ready to go, and [then] they leased the space to another business the week before our SBA loan came through. We’re a faith-based company and we just felt like, okay, this wasn’t supposed to happen this way and we just took it as that. Yes, [we were] very disappointed, a little frustrated, but we started going a different direction. We just focused [on] keeping the business going, becoming more efficient, [and] selling more coffee. So, that led us to kind of where we are now. I’ve had the business for five plus years now, and with COVID-19 we had to reinvent ourselves because we were doing farmers markets. We had actually tried setting up at an area here in Leander as an outdoor drive up venue [but] that didn’t take off. So, we stepped back. I remembered working with Verizon and there were always food trucks that came to the office complex. So, I started calling office complex property [managers] and asking if they did that and they said yes. Then I told them about who we were [and] what we did, and by this time we had partnered with Russell’s Bakery in Austin to buy wholesale baked goods, and we started setting up on site at business parks with our coffee and pastries. We were just getting great momentum, and then COVID hit. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact of COVID-19 on your business? 

KP: COVID made us step back. When all those commercial outlets froze up, we’re like, we gotta step back. I was working on cold brew coffee at the time. I had gotten that to where I liked it and then I spent a week and a half getting the flavor the way we wanted it. We came up with a marketing idea, we came up with the packaging idea, and we made a formal launch on that. On the other side, we expanded our delivery to homes because people were working from home. We deliver [our] bagged coffee [and] cold brew to people’s homes with masks [and] gloves on. We started pushing that out through social media to get attention and do that. 

AO: Who is your target market?

KP: I would say the people that appreciate our coffee. We have a very unique product; very unique in flavor. But I would say [the] general public because we do farmers markets, we’re now going to HOA locations, I’ve got us working with Lincoln Properties which owns the higher-end properties at the Domain, and we’re going in there and doing events for 150 people with pastry and coffee. We just kind of reinvented ourselves, turned a different direction. Now, we’re booking up to two weeks in advance, five days a week, every morning from 7 to 11. 

AO: What mistakes have you made, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

KP: Mistakes we’ve made have just been trial and error. We think of an idea, we try it, it doesn't work, we take what did work from that idea and try to evolve what the concept was and see if it’s really worthwhile and if it starts to improve and take off then we put more effort into it and go forward with that concept. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

KP: When I step back and realize that I have put more of my faith in my Savior and He has led me down this path. It just blows my mind that that is how we’ve been led; prayerfully considering ideas, making mistakes and getting hard-headed and thinking I know better than the Creator of the Universe, and learning a very hard lesson along the way. And, having a wife that has stood beside me when this thing wasn’t generating very much money, if any at all, and realizing and seeing where we were going with it and her being steadfast with us and now seeing that coming to fruition. 

OFFER: Three 6oz bags of whole beans for $20. 

How To Reach Us:

Key Palmer

Coyote Moon Coffee

coyotemooncoffee.com 

orders@coyotemooncoffee.com

512-868-2557

Back to Series Page


Ann Papouchis

Northwestern Steakhouse

Mason City, IA

AO: Tell us about your business.

AP: We’re 100 years old this year. Bill’s dad, with a business partner, started the steakhouse in row houses that serve the migrants that worked at the plants here in Mason City. Bill and I took it over and have had great success in this twelve-table restaurant, with twenty-five employees and we just enjoy a great clientele. We’re very proud to be able to serve the North Iowa Community and serve great food. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

AP: Our generational families and people coming back to Mason City to visit family are probably our best customers. In years of internet and social media, it’s really grown with the travelers and people exploring North Iowa. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

AP: We had to close, tried to do curbside service for four days after we were told to close and it just didn’t quite work for us. We weren’t ready [with a] safe process [for] our customers, our staff and ourselves. So we close[d] back up and then we [reopened] Tuesday, so it’s been eight days that we’ve done curbside only. Been pretty successful and people have been very kind and generous in this time. We look forward to opening dine-in soon and trying to figure that process out, which is not easy. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experiences?

AP: The main goal that Bill and I stick with is not changing being true to ourselves. Don’t change it if it isn’t broken. So he keeps things on the menu the same and people support us in that customers tell us, “Don’t change anything.” And I say, “Well, you want us to adopt?” 

AO: What inspires you?

AP: We have a great staff that want to come back to work and have been willing to pivot with us. I really look forward to seeing people. It’s great to see their smiling faces when we bring their bag to their car. I’m looking forward to dining in and getting back to normal. 

How To Reach Us:

Ann Papouchis

Northwestern Steakhouse

641-423-5075

northwesternsteakhouse.com

Back to Series Page


Heather Parauka and John Baran

Workscape Designs

Round Rock, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

HP: We’re a commercial interiors firm. We started out as a commercial office furniture dealership and since then, maybe five years ago, we started transitioning. In addition to offering furniture, we do interior design work, data cabling, room relocation, reconfigurations. 

JB: Construction management, budget consultations, things like that.

HP: Anything a business would need to move into a commercial office space, we can assist them with or refer on. My background is in interior design. I went to school in Boston at Wentworth Institute of Technology. Right before I graduated, I met a woman up there that had an office furniture dealership. In my time working for her, I met John at a convention. I felt like we were very like-minded in our way that we approach our customers and the way we run our business. Long story short, she ended up relocating, kinda putting her business in a dormant state. So, I stayed in touch with John and called him up and said, can I work for you? And he said yes. We did that remotely, I was in Connecticut at the time, he was in Texas, and eventually I relocated down here and we ended up opening Workscape Designs in 2012. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

JB: We’re customer agnostic, because all people need furniture. If you really want to talk in terms of office space...these smaller companies that have anywhere from 10 to 50 employees, they don’t really have an in-house facilities person or a vice president of real estate. We have all this knowledge because I’ve been doing this since 1983. So we started taking that over and offering those services and then we had customers that they just moved from this space to the new space and they don’t worry about a thing. It’s all done and they’re happy and that makes for better customer experience. That’s what our goal is, to bring them from their existing space to the new space, no bumps or bruises and also not getting blindsided by something they didn’t know. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

HP: At first, since a lot of what we do is help folks move in their office space or renovate it or make it more efficient, them not being in [their office] is a huge detriment because there’s no need for us. We have some large accounts that we’ve worked with for 10 plus years and luckily they were still doing things, so that kept us moving forward. But any new business was pretty slow or none. 

JB: March, everything impacted us and we had to become COVID experts. We started to put out marketing campaigns that revolved around that. Then all of a sudden something interesting happened. There were customers that had to move. We had a bunch of construction companies, we had smaller companies, they can’t afford not to stop doing business. Then we found some larger customers wanted to return people to the office by the end of the year, so they needed to increase the height of the panels. People need more barrier, more protection. We also had a few customers call us and they’re like, we have everybody out of the office right now so we’ll never have a better time to redo our office. Construction is not slowing down; construction is still happening. We have a lot of co-working spaces opening up across the country and we’re continually getting those opportunities. 

AO: Is there any one action that you would say has made the biggest difference in your business?

JB: We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves and we basically said, this is it, it’s not about furniture anymore. It’s about getting people back in the office. We started learning everything we could about COVID. We started sending out emails, started marketing campaigns, and came up with a plan for people to return to the office in phase 1, phase 2, phase 3 and gave them strategies. 

HP: I always say small business owners, like ourselves and a lot of our clients are smaller companies, we’re extremely resourceful and I think we’re very resilient as well. We did shut down for a month, but John was at it, all the PPP funds, the different aid and things that the government was providing, we went after it and he got the majority of it that helped us get everyone back in the office by May 1st. 

AO: Have you had a pivot strategy session or a business strategy session? 

HP: We certainly have with our sales staff. We’re seeing certain specific needs, as John was saying, the Stackers, the plexiglass screens, you’re seeing them everywhere. 

JB: And varied costs. That became a real challenge for us because almost every manufacturer that we represent came up with some kind of COVID solution, but most of the prices were sky high, and we realized that we wouldn’t have any traction if we were going to have to charge these high prices. 

HP: John talked to everyone he could and aligned us with a company that could do COVID testing. So, any of our large customers that have hundred plus people, they would go onsite, they would be in charge of testing, they would set up a policy for someone if they did test positive, follow up with them to make sure they’re okay, reach out to them later. So we kind of pivoted. It still was in relation to employees in an office space and getting people back to work, which is similar to what we do, but it became very consultative and more like COVID experts than anything furniture or interior related. 

AO: John, what mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

JB: The biggest thing you can do when you make a mistake is be twice as accountable for it as you think you should be. Because the problem with it is, you’ll never fix that mistake if you’re not 200% accountable. Even though there’s things that were not necessarily within your power or control, there were still things you could have done. So you learn that format and you set yourself up next time so that way it doesn't happen again. 

AO: Heather, what mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

HP: I think one thing that, you know because John and I are partners for a good while, I leaned on him for certain things and he leaned on me for other things so the tasks that he was responsible for, I didn’t really educate myself on or even care to really be involved in because I knew he had it covered. One thing recently that I’ve learned as an owner is learn the things you don’t want to do the most. We talked to a lot of business owners, so several people they don’t like to do accounting, they don’t understand taxes, they don’t want to deal with software, they just want to be the one that goes out, gets the sale and brings it in. Instead of just continuing to do the thing that you’re good at, pivot and spend some time doing the thing that you don’t want to learn, the thing you don’t understand because that’s the one that’s going to catch you off guard and bite you in the butt. 

AO: What has been most inspiring to you today?

HP: When COVID first came out here in the States, I thought it was inspiring to see all the people that took action. Communities that helped with the food banks. People setting up services to help the elderly. 

JB: Our employees. They came to us and said, whatever we need to do you let us know and we’ll do it. 

HP: It’s almost good COVID happened because I think we all took a second to realize what’s important. Our communities are important. Our friendships and our employees and people you interact with on a day-to-day basis. I just saw a great call to action.  

OFFER: FREE Budget Consultation and 5% off your first project. 

How to Reach Us:

Heather Parauka

John Baran

Workscape Designs LLC

737-802-3130

workscapedesigns.com

Back to Series Page


Kristen Parker

Mid-Tex Auto Sales Inc

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

KP: We have been in business a little over 15 years. We’re in the used car business and we specialize in bank finance and in-house second chance lending. We started by buying cars off the [Austin] American-Statesman and flipping them in our driveway and finding that there was profit in selling them looking better than we bought them. So, that’s kind of how that started. We are located in Austin, but we’re the last exit off 35 before Round Rock, so most people think we’re in Round Rock. My husband and I, Blake Parker, we started and fully run Mid-Tex. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

KP: I would tell you that we serve our community and from the experience that we had prior to never being in the car business and me as a woman-run business basically, you know, there’s a lot of misrepresentation in the car business. I feel like we represent the honest car dealer that is not scared to tell people the good, the bad, and the ugly. We just really started with serving friends and family and it just kind of has gone from there. We’re very proud of our Google review. We tell people if you want to know what kind of business we run, just take a look. We have stories after stories for years on end of just doing the right thing for our customers. So, I would say the Austin local area and everything from the first-time car buyer to the poor credit to cash customers. We do it all really. 

AO: What has been the biggest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

KP: We had to let go of some of our longtime team members just out of the uncertainty of what all this was going to do for our business. We always like to be available on first call, first ring, and we have to manage a lot more just the two of us, so not feeling like we are able to go above and beyond for the customer as easily when we had five people working for us. That has been our biggest challenge. That and just wanting to stay open. You know, the face masks and dressing the cars with plastic and bleach and sprays, that part has been slightly overwhelming, but we just keep doing what we’re told to do. Making appointments for customers and trying to continue to serve our customers, especially the ones that we carry the loans for. 

AO: What would you say has been your number one action that you’ve taken to make a difference? 

KP: I feel like we’ve tried to put more an appointment only type structure in place and making each customer, because we have the social distancing, reaching out and making sure people know that we are a safe place to do business and that we are going to make them as comfortable as possible and that they can come out to our dealership and know that they’re going to be the only one in the office and that the car is going to be cleaned down before they take it on a test drive. 

AO: Have you ever had a pivot session or business strategy session?

KP: We have a capital lender that we’ve used for probably 12 years, 13 years, that have financed our business and our in-house finance. So we do strategy with them. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

KP: I mean, we’ve almost gone out of business the second year in business, the eighth year in business, some was our own doing and the other was 2008 when the world collapsed previously. Slow and steady is more of our strategy and obviously you have to do a lot of business in order to make a lot of profit. We’ve always felt more as long as we’re improving, as long as we’re growing. We’re not comparing ourselves to the guy next door that’s been in business ten years longer. The best advice we were ever given was by Benny Boyd, one of my husband’s best friends, he owns car dealerships as well and he said it takes seven years to turn a profit in any business. We were in business maybe six months. It was the truest thing he ever said. It was about seven years to really get the kinks out. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

KP: Honestly for us and being in a small business and losing some of our team members, mechanics, we’ve really leaned on other small businesses in our field. Mechanic shops, body shops, radio companies, interior people that we’ve used and that we know are also struggling. We reached out to them to do all the work for us and it’s keeping each other in business, like supporting your neighbor knowing they’re in the same boat. That’s actually been one of the best things that has happened because we get the best of the best service of all these different shops and we’re all in this together. We’re just taking a step forward and everybody is staying afloat so far. That feels good to support people that we’ve known for years. 

OFFER: FREE two-year maintenance plan with your purchase. 

How To Reach Us:

Kristen Parker

Mid-Tex Auto Sales Inc

512-341-2886

midtexautosales.com

Back to Series Page


Larry Perez and Meagan York

Perez Signs and Graphix

Round Rock, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

LP: We’ve been here in the same location for about 35 years. How it got started, I was working [across the street] for 12 and a half years, that was my uncle’s shop. I’m a third generation sign maker. What we do is merge the traditional way of making signs with the new high technology way of making signs. That’s how we got started; I worked for my uncle for about 12 years and he passed away and then I started my own shop across the street. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

LP: All of our customers, they’re all equal. We have a lot of vehicles that we do graphics for: 18 wheelers, boats, police graphics, the whole nine yards. Then we do billboards, banners, wraps. We wrap refrigerators, cars, trucks, floors, walls, whatever you want wrapped we can do it. There’s no one customer larger than the other. Even the small customers that come in, they’re potential large customers later on. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

LP: It really hasn’t had much of an impact. In fact, we’ve got a little bit busier. We were kind of nervous, we didn’t want to have to lay off any employees. I think the only thing that was an impact was having to wear the masks and closing the door for a few days, but it didn’t really hurt us too much. 

MY: The unpredictability, because when it first came out we didn’t know how busy we were going to be, if we were going to be able to support our employees. I take care of payroll. It was kind of scary. We didn’t know if we were going to get any help. We’re normally very scheduled-based in the business and telling our production team, hey, we don’t know what’s going to happen today. So, just getting all of our employees onboard and with unpredictability and not knowing how busy we’re going to be, not really having a schedule all the time like we’re used to. 

AO: What are one or two actions you have taken in your business and how is it working?

LP: Well, we’ve been cutting back on our overhead expenses and we’re cautious about our spending so that way we can maintain that payroll. It’s been beneficial and helps us create more of a profit for the business and continue paying the employees. 

MY: That’s really helped. We’ve been cutting back on over ordering supplies. We’re ordering supplies per job rather than just going ahead and ordering and just having it on backorder. That’s an action we’ve been taking and it’s been working pretty effectively. 

AO: Have you ever done a business strategy session or a pivot strategy session?

LP: Well, Meagan and my wife are the ones that do all the strategizing and a lot of stuff that they’ve done, they pretty much tripled our social media. That has helped quite a bit. My wife goes to a bunch of business meetings and that’s helped also. 

MY: Larry is very much the creative artist, so he is great at showing his art team that works with him. I would say my mom and I are more of the business side. We’re more of the number crunchers. We had to strategize a lot, and who would’ve thought that a pandemic would happen. 2020 was supposed to be the best year, you know? It’s been a little bit of a challenge, but I think it’s made us stronger and better as a company. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other business owners learn from your experience?

LP: Well, I think that all of that is true because I remember when I worked for my uncle I learned more from him by the mistakes that he made. He taught me a lot of the sign business, you know, the creativity and how to make signs, but he didn’t teach me anything in the business end of it. He wasn’t really a businessman. Him conducting his business, I saw a lot of problems and a lot of mistakes and I learned from those. When Meg and Denise came in, they took over that part. Really, I’m more of a creative artist and I needed somebody that could help me in the business end, you know, payroll, take care of business decisions, and basically how to spend that money. We all make mistakes and we’re still learning all the time. So, what I will tell people now is get some experience, take some classes, find a mentor, because you will go a lot further. 

MY: I would have to say investing in good employees. It’s hard to find people with the craftsmanship and the work ethic and things that we stand for as a company. Our team now, we love them and they’re great, but it took a few trial and errors to get the team that we have now. So, that’s been a little bit of an obstacle, finding those niche people and investing in them. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

MY: The way our business is growing and how we’re growing as a team. I look up to all of my team members and they inspire me to be a better person and a better business woman every day. Our customers, the fact that they’ve been with us through these ups and downs. And, 2021, I can’t wait for that. 

LP: My daughter. She pushes me and she opens eyes and makes me see what I’m doing all this for. I’ve been doing this for so long, 47 years, and sometimes I’m ready to call it quits and she comes up with some new idea that really inspires me to keep going. So, I still wake up every morning wanting to do what I do. That’s one of the main things. The other one is our customers coming in and saying how much they heard about what we do over here and how good we are, how long our signs last, that type of stuff. We always like to give our customers 110%. 

OFFER: 15% off vehicle graphics and vehicle wraps. 

How To Reach Us:

Larry Perez

Meagan York

Perez Signs and Graphix

512-255-7058

larryperezsigns.com

Back to Series Page


Dre Raindle

RoyalCanna

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

DR: It’s a cannabis-based business, CBD in particular, providing high quality and cost-efficient CBD products and services to our customers. Started in April 2019. I saw an opportunity to get into a growing business. Alternative medicine, a lot of people are looking for that now. A lot of people don’t like going to pharmacies, they’re always looking for alternatives. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

DR: Best customers have been people who have trouble sleeping or dealing with anxiety or pain management. A lot of people like our products that help them sleep at night or get rid of some of the pain that they’re having. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

DR: At the beginning, with the shut down, the government shut all of us CBD businesses down. They were saying we weren’t essential, but a lot of people were needing, like this is their alternative to medicine. People couldn’t get what they needed. At the beginning, that was really the biggest impact for us. But, on a positive note, more people were ordering online because that’s mainly what I am, an online business and I have a delivery service. So it had a positive impact too. 

AO: We just talked about one action that you’ve taken, what would be another action that you took to make a difference?

DR: The delivery service, getting it to them without them having to wait and just having to be more safe around people, keep our distance [and] masks. 

AO: Have you had a pivot strategy session before?

DR: I have not. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience? 

DR: I made a lot of mistakes. You learn from them as you go. 

AO: What one sticks out as a life learning lesson?

DR: Maybe pricing. Just me trying to be not overpriced and not underprice myself and just going with the market. There are really a lot of businesses out there, their prices are way up and some are low. I’m trying to be in that middle of not cheating yourself, basically, putting a value on your product that you know is good. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

DR: Really, my son. Being able to have this opportunity to build generational wealth for my family and him. Then ultimately being able to give back to my community and help other entrepreneurs and other young kids learn their way up, know that there’s other ways to make money and to make a living. 

How to Reach Us:

Dre Raindle

RoyalCanna LLC

512-677-7335

royalcanna.life

Back to Series Page


Tony Reil

Caliber Moving Company LLC

Georgetown, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

TR: I’m the owner and I’ve been in business for 16 years. I worked for various companies, large companies and after working for them for 20 some odd years I decided to go out on my own because I learned that I provide quality customer service and quality service to the public. I tried it and I’ve been in business for 16 years. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

TR: A couple of them are in the trucking industry, they ship transformers all over Texas and they can generate quite a few dollars every year. And then of course, we meet hundreds of people every year and they’re all good customers, it’s just some can be not quite as nice as they should be. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

TR: It’s been trying because people get scared. We were going great for three months and people were getting out and everything. All of a sudden you see it on the news, that hotspots, Austin’s one and Houston’s one, and it shuts down again. January, February, we were probably doing all right and then February came around and March, and it’s just like somebody turned the water off. It’s just been very hard to operate when you don’t have funds and your men are calling you every other day wondering, “Hey, we got any work?” I explained to them, “This is a whole different ball game. We can go out and put masks on and gloves, and you know this virus kills you. Are you ready for that?” They said, “Well, we can do what we’re going to do.” I just said, “If that’s the case, then we’ll try to secure some business.” I have been in business long enough and I operate a tremendous company, but you don’t have any business when there’s no business to get. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs and business owners learn from your experience?

TR: When you start out in business, especially in the moving industry, there’s a lot of people that will call you [with] different sales techniques. I spent [a lot] trying to get business and grow my business and after the initial time was out as far as what they sold me, a five-month, six-month deal, I actually gained little or nothing. That was a big expenditure as far as the money that I spent and gained little or no business. I learned that just being out there marketing your business and doing it yourself is far better than relying upon someone else to bring business to you. 

AO: What is inspiring to you today?

TR: What I’ve accomplished in 16 years, and you know, trying to grow my business and still being in business after 16 years because I know a lot of the guys that started in the industry with me are closed. 

How To Reach Us: 

Tony Reil

Caliber Moving Company LLC

512-422-2007

theaustinmover.com

Back to Series Page


Pat Riley

Riley’s Asphalt

New Braunfels, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

PR: I do asphalt pavement, chip paving, chip sealing, sealcoat and striping. I’ve got a business in Round Rock and another one down in Selma, TX. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

PR: Forever. My father got out of the service back in 1951 and he started doing it. In full swing about 1960, was going pretty strong. I’ve been doing it since I’d been a kid with him. I’ve been doing it on my own since I was twenty. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

PR: Mostly work industrial, residential, commercial too, but the most part of my business is ranch lanes and house driveways. That’s 80% of our business and the other 20% might be commercial. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

PR: People, they’re scared. So just being safe, wear a mask, going through all the motions you’re supposed to do to try to protect the people and yourself, keep your distance. It’s not easy sometimes because you’re so used to getting out, talking to people and shaking hands. Now when you get out and you’re looking at them, it’s just human nature to immediately shake hands and you just don’t. It’s hard to get used to. 

AO: What one or two actions have you done to make a difference? Have there been any business model changes that you’ve had to transition into?

PR: Not really. Just keeping your distance and trying not to make contact with people. 

AO: Have you or your business partners, your sons, had a pivot session as you went into COVID, or has it just collectively been yourselves coming together and making decisions based on the business?

PR: We’ve talked and all of us know to do the right thing, in other words, keep your distance. Most people, 90% of them, are cautious now and aware of it. They’re scared and I can’t say that I blame them. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs and business owners learn from that experience?

PR: Well, you’re making mistakes, you learn as you go. Most of the time you just use common sense. I had an uncle years ago, told me if you ever get into a situation that you don’t know what to do, stop doing what you’re doing because you can keep on going further into it and making it worse than what it is. If you don’t know what to do, ask somebody. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

PR: Most inspiring is hopefully we’ll get over this, they’ll come up with a cure for it and we can look to the future. Hopefully things will get better for everybody’s sake. 

How To Reach Us:

Pat Riley

Riley’s Asphalt

512-762-3982

rileysasphalt.com

Back to Series Page


Keila Santiago Otero

Perez Construction Services

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

KO: We started six years ago, back in 2014, in Puerto Rico when hurricane [Maria] hit, we were doing some projects over there. Technically we had no choice, our plan was starting in Texas, but we had no choice but to do it in Puerto Rico. We were locked over there for three months, no electricity, no nothing, no work. So, we decided to help the community and then started like that and came over here to Texas back in October 2017. 

AO: Where are you located at?

KO: Austin. We take care of the main city and the surrounding areas. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

KO: Our residential customers, definitely, we always get customer referrals through them. As long as we keep good communication in the pipeline, we’re always going to have customers. As long as people keep buying businesses and homes, we’re always going to have business. We’re always going to have work. 

AO: Who is all involved in your business day-to-day?

KO: My husband, Richard Perez, myself, and our daughters, they do pitching every once in a while. It’s pretty much a small family owned company, so Richard’s brothers, family members of mine, everybody pitches in. If there’s a bigger project, we go ahead and post on our Facebook page for local talents and we’re always trying to give back to the community that way. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

KO: Mainly residential customers not wanting to come in contact with anyone or having crew members come into their houses. We have to be really careful with that. We try to do our best to do contactless interaction altogether from point A to Z. The contract, everything is done electronically. We try to take everything where we don’t have to come into contact with anyone so customers feel safe. 

AO: How’s that working? What effect does that have on your business and their’s?

KO: Impact wise, right now it’s just affecting time. They’ve made everything slow down a lot. There’s disruptions on both commercial and residential projects. The chains, they’ve been disrupted, many projects have to be stopped, usually with the intention to resume later. For homeowners, they’re hesitant because they don’t want to become infected. We’re trying to make sure that all of our crew members get their temperature taken every morning, we’re supplying them with spray bottles to keep their hands sanitized, we're providing facemasks. We’re adapting and accommodating, everything evolves and we’re trying to follow all the rules in order to stay on our feet. 

AO: Have you had a pivot strategy session in your business?

KO: We are a small company, we always have to keep that in mind. We’ve been working with commercial, we’ve been working with residential, commercial is tougher because it’s obviously bigger. We have built a good pipeline and we have our connections and everybody is here to help each other. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

KO: I have learned, definitely. There’s no job that’s too small or job that’s too big. Never say “No” to a job. Always think of it as an opportunity to learn. An opportunity is always a good one. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

KO: As a small family company, we’re compelled by what’s gratifying. We love learning more about ways to continue forward, try to satisfy our city with our quality, expanding our horizons, successfully becoming one of the top construction resources in Austin, that’s what we aim for. That’s what’s most inspiring to us. 

OFFER: FREE estimate and a 10% discount on a first project initial deposit. 

How To Reach Us:

Keila Santiago Otero

Perez Construction Services

PCSFamilyOwned@gmail.com

Back to Series Page


Ryan Searight

Visiting Angels

Georgetown, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

RS: We provide in-home elder care, activities of daily living, to keep someone living in their home or place of residence. We work on all the qualifications that are needed to provide that intimacy and level of care. For the community to allow somebody to come into their loved one’s home and provide care for them, [it’s] a very difficult step. You know, the greatest generation that’s ever lived, conquered World War II, the Great Depression, all these different things, and they don’t want help. They want to stay independent. So to allow someone to come in and help them is a major step [and] a very difficult step. We work on finding individuals that can go in and get the job done and make sure they’re safe and, especially in this environment of COVID, to create an environment to keep them living at home. We believe that staying at home will provide a better lifestyle [being] around the things that they love [and] we help create that environment to make that happen. 

AO: You’ve talked about the elderly, is there anything specifically in that target market that you’re looking for that says they’ll be a good match for you? 

RS: It’s all people. We do have younger [clients]. We have somebody that could be in a car accident all the way to somebody [that] wants to get plastic surgery done and wants to have somebody come in and take care of them. We’ll see younger Alzheimer patients all the way to something more devastating such as ALS. If you go down my roster of clients, it’s all backgrounds, all socioeconomics. There are different third-party providers that can pay for our services. I really have an eclectic group of caregivers and clients. So the best client is just people who want their loved one to stay at home and that’s our focus, that’s the person we’re looking for. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

RS: Its impact has been pretty major, all the way from not having our office staff in the office for numerous months to really a smaller workforce. I always tell families my best employee is typically age 60-65 [because] of the maturity [and] responsibility because when a family wants someone from 8AM to 4PM so they can go to work and know that somebody is with their loved one, we really rely on that responsibility, and so I rely on an older workforce. When COVID came, [it] targets people who are older, so [I had] a workforce that was scared to work. At the beginning in March, [it was] a tough transition of educating because we didn’t know much about it [and] things were changing constantly. So educating my workforce and getting them PPE and getting them the tools and confidence to create an ecosystem, and that’s what we talk about with families is when we create this ecosystem of the same people, the same environment, we can really do our best to protect that person and the caregiver and what we’re doing. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

RS: I always jokingly said when I started this, I had no earthly idea what I was getting myself into. Hopefully [that] is encouraging to others in trying to decide on becoming an entrepreneur and starting their own business. I mean, I got trained for a couple of months even, but until your feet are in somebody’s home and you’re providing the service, it really doesn’t become real until you start doing it. There’s no amount of training that can help in these entrepreneurial settings, from taking out the trash on Friday and cleaning the bathroom to making major decisions and figuring out how to make that P&L work. Every day is a new adventure, that’s what I say with this job. The best part about this job is every day you wake up [and] you never know where you’re going to be at [and] the worst part about this job is you never know where you’re going to be at because you don’t know what’s in store for you each day. And so trying to prepare [for] that, trying to get the office staff all on the same page and create an environment that they enjoy coming and working at. That’s one of my biggest focuses is trying to make my employees all feel comfortable and feel like they have the resources to do a good job and step back and not micromanage them and give them the tools to succeed. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

RS: It’s my employees, going out into this COVID environment and not knowing what you’re going to get yourself into each day and being selfless and taking care of somebody else, that’s a tough thing to do in this environment. A lot of people are scared and stuck inside and afraid to not get out anymore, and my employees, since March, have been out working. So they’re inspiring to all of us. They love their clients and to be able to provide that care and keep going is definitely inspiring. 

OFFER: Receive a free assessment to help create a care plan that works for your family. 

How To Reach Us:

Ryan Searight

Visiting Angels

https://www.visitingangels.com/wilco/home

877-907-5078

Back to Series Page


Irene Selby

Cakes Chocolates and More

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

IS: Well, even though I’m considered a bakery, I’m actually a cake designer. I specialize in three-dimensional custom cakes. I don’t do just standard cakes. I carve cakes into shapes. How I started it [is] I grew up in Venezuela and birthdays are a big celebration and everything is about the cake. I had beautiful memories when I was growing up of all the beautiful cakes my parents would have for my parties. So when I had my first child, I wanted to give him the same sense of memories that I had growing up. Back in 1995 there were only a handful of bakeries here in the Austin area. I went shopping around and knew exactly what I was looking for, what I was wanting, [but] I wasn’t able to find anybody that could envision what I was wanting. So I made it a point for myself to start baking three months before my son’s birthday and I did it. I just taught myself and from there on, friends, family members, everybody was asking me to do cakes. I ended up quitting my full-time job and I stayed home doing cakes. Then I opened my storefront back in 2004 and I loved it. I decided to close it down in order to spend more time [with] my kids. Running a storefront is a 24/7 job. At the time I was working so many long hours, so I found a way to mix my kids and my cakes at the same time because that was my passion. So, I did an addition to my home and I converted it into a studio and I made it into my workshop and from there on it’s history. I think it was the best decision I have ever made. Don’t get me wrong, I love dealing with the public on a daily basis and I’ve missed meeting new customers, but closing the storefront and limiting my business has given me a sense of relief and allowed me to spend more time with what I really enjoy doing and that’s creating the unique designs and spending more time with my family. A little bit that was helpful [is] I have a degree in environmental architectural design and that’s what I think inspired the artistic side of me. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

IS: I consider all my recurring customers to be my best customers. One of my favorite parts of my job throughout the years [is] being able to create so many memories with the families which I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my passion for my cakes. If I have to narrow it down, I’d have to say that it’s the customers that trust in my artistic design and my ability to create what they want. As long as I have the trust, it’s great. That’s basically where my best customers are; my recurring customers. I have customers that have been with me since probably 1997, even before I started doing it as a business. I’m going through a third generation. I’ve been doing cakes for them, their children, and now they’ve grown up and they’re calling me to do cakes for their kids. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

IS: Well, oddly, COVID didn’t really impact my business to the extent I was expecting it to. I was afraid and my mind was going, “Oh my God, what am I going to do? My customers are not going to have big events because of what’s going on.” And, due to the way that I had been running my business since 2010, most of my clientele is repeat customers and mouth-to-mouth referrals. Now, yes, the last week of February and the first week of March my sales dropped a bit. It usually spikes up around that time after the holidays. But to my surprise, all of a sudden, even with COVID, my business grew all the way through May and continues growing considerably. The cakes have gotten smaller, I don’t do cakes at big corporate events, but demand is still there and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. I’m having to turn business away because I can only do so much. If I overbook myself or I take too many orders at once, then the quality of my work will go down and then I won’t enjoy it. 

AO: Did you have to do any pivots in your marketing or are there any actions that you had to take in order to continue to have success?

IS: I’ve always had a protocol for prevention of cross-contamination, sterilization, and we do that on a routine basis and I keep logs of it. We already had in place sterilizing [and] maintaining a germ-free environment and those have always been major priorities in my business for many years. The only thing that has changed is that I no longer do one-on-one consultations or direct contact with customers. Most of my sales are done by phone, via FaceTime or via email. And, because most of my clientele is repeat customers and they know me, [and] they don’t mind it at all. I do get new customers and they understand the situation. The second action that I do is we wear masks. If we have to make a delivery, we try to limit the contact with the person. We call them on the phone when we arrive and if they let us into their home to set up the cake we wear gloves [and] a mask. We do everything that we can do to prevent any problems. I have to be decorating cakes, this is my livelihood, this put my kids through college, so I have to keep well and not get sick. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

IS: Well, in my type of business, people come back to me because they like how I do things; the visual product. I’ve hired cake bakers [in the past] to decorate cakes, but they cannot visualize. No two artists visualize things the same way. You could describe something to me and I can see it in a certain way and somebody else can see it in a different way. So, I ran into the problem that when I would allow some of my employees to actually do the detail work on the cakes, it wouldn’t be what the customer was expecting. In order to keep consistency, I have to do most of the work when it is the detail work. I have people that help me with the baking and the icing, but when it comes to putting that design together, the customer expects what I’m visualizing. So I think my business has been successful because they know when they come to me, they know what they’re getting. Not only that, I deal with my customers one-on-one because I think that’s the best way because [if] they’re telling somebody, “I want this and this and this,” by the time it gets to me it might be something different and then the customer picks up this cake that he expects and we might miss something in between. Actually having one-on-one contact is one of the biggest things. I wanted to keep my business in a small business so I can have that relation with my clients and they can trust me in order to get the unique designs. Another lesson [is being] 100% confident in myself and my unique cake that I’m providing to the customer. If I have any doubts, I feel like I’ve lost the battle before I’ve even started. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

IS: Providing joy and making a storybook for my customers and being a part of all those beautiful memories and having my artistic design as their centerpieces. Hearing from the children that I have been able to create beautiful memories for through their childhood and now hearing from those children who have kids of their own. They’re wanting to create their special memory and this is what inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing; the memories. I’ll show up to somebody’s house and the kid is probably 12 years old and they’re waiting for the cake and say, “Irene, do you remember this cake you did for me when I was five years old?” Seeing the smile on their face, that’s what keeps me going. That’s what I enjoy the most. 

OFFER: Receive a 10% discount when you call and mention this interview. 

How To Reach Us:

Irene Selby

Cakes Chocolates and More

cakeschocolatesandmore.com

512-893-8845

Back to Series Page


Alan Stewart

Cuppa Austin

Austin, TX

AO: Tell us about your business.

AS: It’s seven and a half years old, 1,300 sq. ft. coffee shop with drive-thru, with COVID we’re strictly going through drive-thru, high-quality drinks, very good service. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

AS: We’re in a fairly high-income area, a lot of tech people around, probably 30 major ones. We’re two miles from where the new Apple campus is going, which will potentially have 15,000 people. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

AS: The major problem was trying to figure it out. We’ve always been allowed to stay open for drive-thru, but when [the city] shut down, we closed for two weeks. When we came back, it’s strictly drive-thru even when we could’ve had some people inside, we decided it was best if we just stay drive-thru. Then one of our baristas tested positive for COVID and we closed for another week. When we came back, we got very hardcore about masks. 

AO: Of those one or two actions that you took, what made the biggest difference in your business and how is it working?

AS: We’re actually close to 80% of last year’s sales. So comparatively speaking, we’re not doing bad at all. Majority of people appreciated the steps that we are taking, the precautions. 

AO: Have you had a pivot session or pivot strategy session?

AS: I talked with my managers a lot, taken a lot of their suggestions. Most of the procedures we set up at the drive-thru window, I did that very early on. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

AS: I don’t know that there’s mistakes made as much as it was just a learning thing and the guidance we got was really poor. We decided that we’re not going to open the dining area anytime soon. We’re allowed 50% occupancy and we’re not going to do it. We’re going to wait until everything calms down. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

AS: If you talked to me a year or two ago, my disappointment with the current generation is they just don’t pay attention, they don’t care. With Black Lives Matter and the [LGBTQ] thing, they’re getting involved, they’re getting interested and I think that’s a really good thing. 

OFFER: Buy ten drinks and get one free. 

How To Reach Us:

Alan Stewart

Cuppa Austin

(512) 382-6729

facebook.com/CuppaAustin

Back to Series Page


Lily Ann Suharto

Caprine Artisan Soaps LLC

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

LS: Well, my sons and I have a lot of allergies, and so I started looking at the products we’ve been using and saw that a lot of them have chemicals and most of the soaps that are sold commercially in shops right now are actually detergents. So, I started making soaps. We started more than eight years ago, but we’ve been in business for eight years now, and the products that we have been making I will share with family and friends and they started ordering and that’s how it came to become a business. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

LS: We’ve been in business for officially eight years. We’ve been making the soap for more than 20 or so years. We started with soaps and then I got into lotions. Aside from the soaps and lotions, we use essential oils in all our products. We don’t use chemicals in them. We just branched out. As we talked with customers and they told us what they needed or what their concerns were, I started to research those issues and I came up with some of the products like essential oil sprays, and massage oils as well as scrubs. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

LS: We serve a variety of people. People who are some of our customers only look for products that are all natural. They’re happy that it’s extra moisturizing. I had surgery a few years ago and as I talked with some of our customers, they would share some of their issues from similar surgeries, like super dry skin. So basically, our customers would be the ones who are very particular about not having chemicals in their products and also very discerning about how the products would be absorbed because of all of the illnesses they had. Some of our customers have psoriasis and eczema and we have products that help them. Some of them have left Aveeno. Some of them are not using steroids anymore after using our product. So, those are the customers we serve right now. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

LS: Most, if not all, of our local events have been cancelled. We’ve had to go farther in search of other events that are open. So, we go to Marble Falls and Bee Cave. We’ve been shipping abroad already; that has been impacted by COVID. We also ship nationwide. That has not been as affected by COVID unlike the international shipments we make. Some of the shops that we supply, a few of them have closed. The ones in California and a couple of shops here. We enjoy going to the events because that’s where we get to talk with our customers one-on-one and they’re free to talk to us about their issues. So, we’ve been having to go farther. That’s one of the things that has affected us greatly. 

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference in your business?

LS: Well, obviously we had to give discounts to customers. That’s working very well for us. Our customers, even some of them who have been with us from the start, have been quite loyal and they order online to help us. We also do not buy in large quantities anymore. Some of the oils that we use for the regular soaps have not been readily available, so we’ve had to improvise; go into other products, because those are the oils that are available and that’s what I make. I make everything in small batches and I make everything myself. I’m quite OCD about that. 

AO: Are you in the business alone, or do you have partners or family members?

LS: I had a partner at the beginning of the business. We bought her out in 2017. So, this is our business now. Myself and my sons. It’s a family business. 

AO:  Have you had a business strategy session through COVID?

LS: I basically do the strategy. One of the main things that we all agree with is the local events, because like I said, that’s how we get to hear about the issues of customers and that’s how I learned how to expand with the different products. My sons have been going out to Marble Falls and they’re the ones who are also looking into other events. 

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

LS: A lot of mistakes have been made. I think the number one thing that would resonate with a lot of other business owners would be tending to be a perfectionist. When I started, I was such a perfectionist, it would hold me back from doing a lot of things. Even when we started building the website, it took me about three months before I was okay with it. Then I realized that you can change, you know, depending on how fast you agree to do the changes, when things don’t work out. So, that can be a problem. I’m learning more to adjust and let go. Meaning, okay, let’s go run with it and if it doesn’t work for us, then we can switch gears; go another direction. I’ve learned to do that now. I’m more accepting of ways that I normally wouldn’t consider before. Especially in this market, because the social media alone is overwhelming sometimes. I used to hold back before, but my sons understand it more than I tend to. I’ll follow and look at ideas I wouldn’t even consider before. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

LS: I noticed how kind people have become. Most of the people we’ve encountered have been reaching out to help others locally, especially small local businesses like ours. They’re more understanding and they’re not as demanding as before. Especially when we explain sometimes the shipment that we expected to come on a certain day would become two, three weeks later, it’s very frustrating, but they do understand that. They’re more kind and understanding and they’re willing to give you a break. 

How To Reach Us: 

Lily Ann Suharto

Caprine Artisan Soaps LLC

caprineartisansoaps.com

Back to Series Page


Bryan Tarla

Triple T Machining LLC

Georgetown, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

BT: I’m the founder. We’ve been in business a little over 15 years. We manufacture for several different industries: semiconductor, aerospace, military, oil and gas, medical, those are our major industries that we supply to. 

AO: If you look at your target market, is your business equally loaded amongst all of those industries or is there one that comes out as the number one customer?

BT: No, it’s the industries. As the industries go up and down, what I find, when one goes down the other one picks up. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

BT: It hasn’t. This has been nothing more than a bunch of other people trying to get in here and sell safety equipment we don’t need. 

AO: Have you taken any actions in your business?

BT: Everybody wears masks. We’re small enough to where we can separate. We went above and beyond on disinfectants. We have taken precautions. 

AO: On the business side, other than precautions, has there been any effects from COVID-19? 

BT: As far as industry, the oil and gas has taken the biggest hit. Medical is way up and aerospace is up. Semiconductors down, but that’s about the time of the year where that happens. 

AO: Have you had a pivot session or updated your three-year strategic plan? 

BT: No.

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

BT: I deal with Fortune 500 companies and you would think that all the people you supply to want to set you up for success, but really, they’re setting you up for failure because they’re lying to their customers. One thing we don’t do is lie to our customers, no matter what. I tell my buyers, “I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m not going to give you all the answers you want to hear, but if you’re purchasing stuff from somebody who’s giving you all the answers, they’re gonna lie to you.” I want them to be successful because their success is my success. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

BT: Just watching my business that I started from nothing grow. My employees too. I’ve created a business where they’re not a number, they feel like they’re actually a part of something. I involve them in all the decisions, and for that, I don’t have a whole lot of turnover.  

How To Reach Us

Bryan Tarla

Triple T Machining LLC 

512-627-0741

tripletmachining.com

Back to Series Page


Ike Thorpe

Galaxy Bakery

Georgetown, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

IT: We are a bakery. [This has] been my dream since I was as a kid because my dad always talked about opening a bakery and we never seized the moment. Our story is to restore goodness to Central Texas bakeries, [all] bakeries around the world for that matter because what I’ve seen growing up from when I was a kid till now is the adulteration of mass-processed, pretend, [and] fake food creeping its way into every part of what we eat. When you’re a kid and you have these nostalgic memories of going to a bakery and eating a whoopie pie or a cookie and they used real butter, real chocolate, real cream cheese, and real fruit. Then you go back when you’re an adult and [you] can’t wait to have the same experience, but [you] didn’t and you’re like, “What happened?” It wasn’t just a lack of nostalgia, it turned into an abomination. We decided that this has got to change. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

IT: This is our ninth year.

AO: Who is your best customer?

IT: The butter lover, the people who believe in real fat instead of synthetic fake fat, and people who would rather spend a little more money for quality than get a lot of food for cheap. And, we can make nostalgia real and we can bring it back to all those [older] people [and] fulfill their pastry [need] with the real deal. We have six kids now and our dream is to have them all work for us, so if the world gets really bad, they can always take what they learned and [open] up a bakery somewhere else and bring food back. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

IT: Probably just discomfort. Nobody likes wearing a mask. That’s the biggest irritation, I think. You can see what’s happening all around with social isolation and the untold carnage, but in general, just the mask wearing. Having to work in a hot kitchen all day long and breathe through a filter, it takes a toll on you. 

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference?

IT: We really haven’t changed that much. We try to help customers get over the fear of contagion, that’s a big one. As a business, we try to help people get back to normalcy as much as legally possibly. All you can do is [put] one foot in front of the other, live your life, serve people, still get out there and be part of a community, and not let fear take over and make you isolate yourself. 

AO: Have you had a business strategy session?

IT: No. We have decided [not] to change our business strategy, it’s actually to maintain the same. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

IT: Begin with the end in mind, that’s a really big one. Avoid debt because it can be detrimental to your productivity and your outlook. Focus on what’s really going to make a big impact on the outcome at the end. We use the 80%-20% rule, the distributive principle. We’re still growing, we still feel like we have 15 years of learning and growth to go. We don’t consider ourselves masters of business yet, but we feel like we are on our way. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

IT: The trailblazers, people who got off the conveyor belt of life. When people discount them and think they’re ruining everything because [they‘re] not going to become a lawyer or a doctor or a computer programmer, [but] then they do something that’s totally unorthodox and they really find something that they are happy doing and they changed a lot of lives in the process. 

How To Reach Us:

Ike Thorpe

Galaxy Bakery

galaxybakery.com

512-868-0996

Back to Series Page


Don Weckler

Starlite Vapor LLC  

Liberty Hill, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.  

DW: After 21 years in corporate America, and I got laid off, and with my severance package we started Starlite Vapor LLC July 11, 2013. We are a family-owned and advocacy-driven business selling vapor products to people wanting to kick the habit of smoking combustible tobacco that kills 1,300 Americans daily.  

AO: Where are you located in Williamson County?  

DW: 14745 West Highway 29 Ste. C Liberty Hill TX. (Must be 21 to enter)  

AO: Who is your best customer?  

DW: Typically, anybody who has been smoking cigarettes for years looking for a better lifestyle. The electronic cigarette market has greatly increased in the last decade. Our best customers are the people who realize there is a better, cleaner, and at least 95% safer alternative to combustible tobacco. The people that say “I have tried all  of the recommended ways to stop smoking and nothing works please tell me about vapor products.”  

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?  

DW: Probably the greatest impact would be watching all the stores and businesses having to shut their doors due to the outbreak. Luckily, my son Jordon and I read through Governor Abbott’s stay home orders and really tried to look at who can stay open. We said, “According to the FDA we sell tobacco products and all convenience stores sell tobacco products.” We were able to stay open because we changed our business model and offered PPE, hand sanitizer and household products to our customers. We were probably one of the places that actually stayed open after COVID hit. We have a number of customers who are in the law enforcement agencies, including a Texas Ranger. The couple of weeks when everything was closed he came in, strange look on his face, like, “How are you guys open when other places are closed?” He looked over at our wall where we have all our  PPE and everything and he looked at us and gave us a thumbs up. He’s like, “You guys got it going on.”  

AO: You took action by changing your model. How did that make a difference?  

DW: By staying open we were able to help the surrounding areas where people would come in from Marble  Falls, from Fort Hood area [asking], “You’re the only vape shop open in the area, how are you doing this?” We’re like, “Do you need a mask? Do you need hand sanitizer? Do you need toilet paper?” We just gave everything to the people, pennies over cost, not looking at making any money on any of that.  

AO: Are there any other actions you took?  

DW: We follow the CDC’s and State’s recommendations to maintain social distancing, and use disinfectant cleaning to have a safe environment for our customers.  

AO: Have you ever had a pivot or business strategy session in your business?  

DW: Just a little bit from what we do here in the shop itself. My son is a classically trained chef with years of management in the restaurant industry, and with my experience in corporate America manufacturing we feel our business strategy is sound. We have been members of SFATA Smoke Free Trade Association for years. We’ve had the opportunity to go down to the State capital and fight for vapor rights. So, we’re doing pretty well on that side.  

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?  

DW: Probably just to be flexible and don’t hesitate to adapt your business model. The vapor industry has always had a big target on its back from Big Pharma, Big Tobacco. They don’t want us to succeed. One of the most important things we have learned is the lengths our government and state agencies will go to because they are losing Tobacco MSA money. It’s not about the people’s health, they see only dollar signs.  

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?  

DW: The most inspiring thing is when we have new customers walk in the shop thanking us for helping them on their journey to a better, cleaner lifestyle free from smoking. What the vapor industry has done and continues to do in the fight for people’s health and rights while being targeted by the FDA, CDC, Tobacco, Pharma and other  groups. When COVID-19 hit, hundreds of e-liquid manufactures stopped production lines to make hand sanitizer and in many cases delivered it to front line responders at no cost.  

OFFER: 10% discount to new customers as well as all military, first responders, and NRA members. Loyal  Customers (aka “Frequent Flyers”) always receive 10% off in the shop.  

How To Reach Us:  

Don & Jordan Weckler 

Starlite Vapor LLC  

512-778-6222  

14745 West Highway 29 Ste. C  

Liberty Hill TX 78642-4393  

shop@starlitevapor.com 

https://www.starlitevapor.com/ 

https://www.facebook.com/StarliteVapor/ 

 "If yer smokin', you'd best be on fire." 

Industry Advocacy:  

CASAA Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association http://www.casaa.org/ 

SFATA Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association https://www.sfata.org/

VTA Vapor Technology Association https://vaportechnology.org/ 

AVA American Vaping Association https://vaping.org/

Back to Series Page


Judy Weintraub

SkillBites

Valley Forge, PA

AO: Tell me your business and what you do out here.

JW: SkillBites helps business owners and professionals become published authors by helping them write and publish a book. When you are a published author you have significantly greater credibility and visibility and you can use your book for generating leads or getting speaking engagements or media interviews. Writing and publishing a book is difficult, so I come in to help you with coaching, ghost writing, editing, layout design, or cover design. 

AO: How long have you been in this business?

JW: I started the business back in 2012. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

JW: My target market consists of business owners and professionals who want to grow their business and recognize that one of the best ways to do that is to become a published author. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

JW: There’s a lot of people struggling right now and whether they know that they want to get a book done or not. They don’t have the mental or financial wherewithal to actually get that done. 

AO: What has been the one or two actions you have taken to make a difference?

JW: I was offering my book writing course for two months at no charge, so that if people were stuck at home and couldn’t do much of anything else, they could take my course, learn how to get their book written and get started on it. 

AO: Have you ever done a pivot business strategy session in your business?

JW: I did a pivot back a couple of years after I started where initially I wanted to provide a resource center for business owners to find all kinds of practical resources that would help them grow their business. Then I realized that’s not where it’s at, it’s helping people get their books written. So I pivoted from the resource center to a publishing platform. 

AO: What mistakes have you or did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

JW: One of the biggest was not doing sufficient market research when I launched my business. I thought there’s all these people who want to get their book written and need help, I’ll start this business and help them. Well, having 60-some odd people ask for help was not sufficient market research to find out if there is a real viable product here that I can grow the business. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

JW: The great help that people are giving to each other. The number of restaurants who are giving free food to firemen, policemen, nurses and doctors, and the number of business coaches, like yourself, giving people some information that can help them grow their business.

How To Reach Us:

Judy Weintraub

SkillBites

855-754-5524

skillbites.net

Back to Series Page


Dion Zamora

New York Life

Austin, TX

AO: Tell me about your business.

DZ: I’ve been with New York Life for about two years. I work with everything from life insurance to college planning, retirement planning, long-term care, annuities, investments. I’m very passionate working with families, specifically families with younger children, to help them navigate and plan for those children and themselves to make sure they’re taken care of in the future. 

AO: You said you work with families that have younger kids, is that your best customer? 

DZ: Anybody, especially these days, that wants to have a conversation is a great customer because not a lot of people want to talk these days. If I can get someone that wants to have a conversation and they’re interested in planning, whether it be for their retirement [or] for their kids and college education or even business owners to help with employee benefits to position themselves and work with retention strategies and risk management. 

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business? 

DZ: March was our initial hit [and] people were getting very fearful. At the beginning of April, I began receiving a lot of phone calls, people wanting to talk about life insurance. But in May, when all of the businesses were shutting down and people were fearful of losing their jobs, they wanted to protect their family [but] can’t because they’re not sure what their income is going to look like. Going into July, I’m finding that if I stay consistent with what I do every day that allows people to continue to carry trust with me.

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to continue to build trust and how is that working today?

DZ: We’re doing a lot of Zoom meetings. If I can help people grow their businesses, that’s building a lot of trust. So, connecting with business owners and helping them advertise and market their business. I talked to a lot of business owners and there’s not much social media presence, so if I can advertise them on my social media pages and help boost them that way, that’s a great way to start a conversation. 

AO: Have you had a pivot session in your business before?

DZ: I sat down with my development managers and discussed what’s going on right now and how we’re going to work through this. 

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

DZ: I don’t think I ever stopped making mistakes. I’m constantly learning from myself. It’s realizing that I have to keep getting up to the plate and there’s a lot of times that I swing and miss. There’s a lot of times I swing, and I connect, but the more times I get up to swing, I’m going to get better at what I do. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

DZ: When I find people that are positive and are looking beyond everything that’s out there right now. They might not have all the money in the bank, they might not have their business functioning properly, but they have a good hold on life and their family. 

How To Reach Us:

Dion Zamora

New York Life

512-948-2434

newyorklife.com/agent/dmzamora

Back to Series Page