(641) 420-8496 [email protected]

ActionCOACH WilCo – Andy O’Brien is proud to present his fifth “Business Owners Speak Out” interview series. This is a collection of short interviews and education from business owners with amazing insights into today’s challenges.  

Executive Coach Andy O’Brien (AO) virtually sits down with business owners to learn how they are working through COVID-19 and their current challenges and successes. Check out their inspiring stories for tips on how to cope with and successfully recover from this pandemic as well as ideas on how to avoid making common mistakes. 


Annette Maruska, Aladdin Carpet and Interiors

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

[email protected]


 

Keila Santiago Otero, Perez Construction Services

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

[email protected]



Dennis O’Neill, Pack Solutions NA

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 Louisiana 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 

[email protected]



Bubba Bryan, Exodus Jeeps

AO: Tell me about your business.

BB: We retail Jeep parts and build Jeeps for customers. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

BB: Three and a half years. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

BB: Off-road enthusiast. 

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

BB: Greatest impact has forced people to realize, because of COVID-19, a lot of what they would normally be doing and their day-to-day life, going out to eat, going to movies and stuff like that, isn’t available to them anymore. So, they’re going outdoors, going camping, going boating. We’ve tripled our business since the beginning of COVID because people are spending that money on their Jeeps. They’re going out and buying Jeeps, they’re fixing them up. COVID has actually had a very positive effect on our business. 

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

BB: Nothing really. It was accidental stuff that we were already doing, social media marketing, YouTube, it’s the second largest search engine. So they’re coming across all these ideas on what to do since they can’t go do their normal routines. Through that, not only was it giving them ideas on what to do, but what place to shop, us. 

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

BB: No.

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

BB: Misplaced marketing. Hiring too fast. Holding too much inventory. Marketing doesn’t work the same way for other people. For some people it works well to buy Facebook ads, in our case it doesn’t because we’re so specific. So that’s why we have to go to places where people search for things like YouTube. The marketing strategy took a while to figure out. I don’t think that we made a huge mistake other than probably trying to buy a few Facebook ads here and there that just proved to be pointless. Inventory in the beginning, we weren’t holding as much in the coffers, then over biting on inventory was a big stressor. So, using third party distribution for our inventory versus holding that inventory ourselves. Holding inventory yourself, you’re supposed to pay property taxes on that as well. By using third party distribution, you’re not holding that inventory and giving up your own money, plus they ship it for you. There’s all kinds of ways that works to your advantage. It seems that we did a fair amount of research in the beginning to avoid doing that. I would say learning the marketing strategy was our biggest hurdle in the beginning, but it’s behind us. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

BB: I see the transition is people’s everyday life that they are going to be more outdoors-oriented and that gives me hope, it inspires me, makes me feel like we’re going to be a little bit safer because people are placing more value in getting out and doing stuff. 

OFFER: Mention this newsletter and receive special pricing.

How To Reach Us:

Bubba Bryan

Exodus Jeeps

830-629-0057 

[email protected]


Pat Riley, Riley’s Asphalt

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

[email protected]



Ronnie Bleeker, Scenic Realty Inc

AO: Tell me about your business. 

RB: We’re located in Georgetown, TX. Have agents in Georgetown [and] Austin. Sell investment properties, farm and ranch, residential. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

RB: About 10 years. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

RB: Investors probably would be on [my] side. Now on the other agents, it would be single-family homeowners, the normal, typical residential sales and marketing. 

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

RB: Using technology is driving people to technology, which makes my job smoother. That’s the positive. Negative would be struggling tenants, dealing with selling investment properties. So, you got struggling tenants and struggling owner’s lack of rent. 

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

RB: I’m so swamped I don’t know if I’ve changed anything. 

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

RB: No, went into it with one goal in mind and stuck with it through the whole thing. 

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

RB: I think the biggest mistake I personally have made is getting so busy in the day-to-day routine that I don’t get enough follow-up from my past clients. You get so swamped in today and tomorrow that you forget what happened yesterday. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

RB: Seeing people’s confidence during COVID to still be able to go out and invest and believe that our economy will survive and thrive. I think that’s kind of the one big one for me is seeing people still motivated. 

How To Reach Us:

Ronnie Bleeker

Scenic Realty Inc

512-563-4628 

[email protected]



Tony Reil, Caliber Moving Company LLC

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

[email protected]



Susan Dittmar, Inspiration Glass Studio

AO: Tell me about your business.

SD: My business is stained glass. I have retail, I sell supplies, I teach classes, which is the only thing I can’t really do too much now. I teach people how to do stained glass and then once they know how to do it, I teach other things they can do with stained glass. We do stained glass repair and we do custom design work and make custom door panels, window hangings, windows, etc. 

AO: How long have you been in business?

SD: I’ve been in business almost 17 years. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

SD: Mostly hobbyists that like to do stained glass, that would probably be my biggest customer. Then builders or renovators are probably my second. 

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

SD: The inability to hold classes because that’s where we introduce people to glass cutting, to a new hobby, to new ideas. That’s the biggest impact because we moved from a great big store where it can have 10 people and still have social distancing, to a much smaller business area and our maximum we can have is five. So, when we could only have 25% that would be one and a quarter students and some of the classes are 14-16 hours and it’s not worth my time. 

AO: What actions have you taken to make a difference during this time?

SD: Well, when we weren’t considered essential, we did all kinds of things to figure out how to still provide supplies and stuff to people. I started having to take pictures of glass and sending it to people saying, “Is this what you’re looking for?” and then having to have them actually put in orders and have a check or something ready, cash, to give me that I could take to the back door and they could pull in. That’s been probably the biggest action taken. We are doing classes for family members, like I did a mother, grandmother and daughter. I’ve done that for a couple of friends that are working together anyway. And we have masks. That’s how I’ve been trying to at least have some classes. 

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

SD: Well, I’m actually living in the middle of a huge mistake right now and that’s I’ve changed my credit card company on the basis that I was going to have my own representative and it sounded really good and now I can’t get ahold of anybody. They’re charging me three times what they were supposed to. I’m going to have to go to an attorney and I hate doing that. Every time I have changed my credit card because It’s such a big drain on my income, I’ve been sorry. I would never sign up for anything without having several days to check the merchant account out. If they pressure you for an answer today, even if they send you everything in writing, don’t do it.

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

SD: People that are trying to keep on with life and making the adjustment of wearing a mask. 

How To Reach Us:

Susan Dittmar

Inspiration Glass Studio

(512) 869-6630

[email protected]


Executive Coach Andy O’Brien wants to interview you! If you would like your business to be featured in one of our upcoming “Business Owners Speak Out” newsletter series, please contact Kari at [email protected] to schedule an interview.