(512) 887-2407 [email protected]

ActionCOACH WilCo – Andy O’Brien is proud to present his ninth “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.  

MasterCOACH 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.


Jay Hoffman, Eagle Office Products and Printing LLC

AO: Tell me about your business.

JH: The name of the company is Eagle Office Products and Printing. The company has been around since 1988. I took over in 2012. I have a long history in retail and when I left retail, I went into the IT business and then into the printing business and the office supply business and the copier business. I kept mentally going back to the office supply business because it doesn’t limit me to any one sector or one avenue of helping the customer. So, in this business, there’s really no limit to what I can do to help business owners and small businesses to get what they need and work efficiently. 

AO: Are you still in the copier business or did you move on just to office supplies?

JH: We do sell some small desktop copiers and some printers that are multifunction. But, as far as the large office copiers, we’ll pass that along to a referral partner. And truly, with the way the technology is right now, there’s really not a whole lot of people that still need these large business copiers. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

JH: Somebody with a brick and mortar presence; large numbers of people in the same place. We service a gamut of industries: manufacturing, financial, insurance, medical, and a little bit of government. Our best customers have between 200 and 500 employees and a brick and mortar facility or several. 

AO: Where are you located at?

JH: We have an office and a small warehouse, in central Round Rock. We service mostly Williamson and Travis County; little bit of Bell County. We can support anybody in the continental United States, but we’re relationship-based and it’s hard to have a relationship like that. So, we do have some customers that are based here, have presence here, that have satellite offices that we will take care of. But, somebody from Phoenix, for instance, called me and said, “We want to do business with you.” Well, we can’t have a relationship like that. Generally, a relationship like that is based on price and we’re never going to win that game and we can’t provide a true service to those people. So, we don’t seek business from around the Country. We’re looking to take care of our own local peeps. 

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

JH: Our hearts go out to those families suffering from the virus, whether it’s medically or financially or emotionally. There’s really three issues that we’ve addressed. First of all, it’s forced many of our customers to use technology and work remotely. That puts a strain on us, because we’re making more deliveries to people’s homes as they’re spread out versus delivering to an office. We’re accommodating them, it’s just much less efficient for us. We also have some customers, as a result of the quarantine and forced closures, that have closed permanently. The second thing is that we have supply chain issues. Aside from the obvious PPE supplies, there are many other items that were and are still in short supply or much more expensive. For instance, anything acrylic has doubled in price because they’re making shields. Because the workforce has moved home, there are shortages in webcams, computers, headsets, microphones, and small printers. And, part of the issue is that all of these things are made in China, which further complicates the supply chain. Lastly, we’re a relationship-based customer company and we can’t go out and see our customers like we had been. We can’t do office site surveys and we can’t make in-person sales calls. 

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

JH: One of the main things is to keep things as normal as possible. I have not reduced our business hours. I have not reduced the payroll hours or laid anybody off. And, we’ve stayed as close to the norm as possible to help keep my team attitude good. That shows in how we continue to interact with our customers and the stability has really helped a lot. Second, we have not dictated a COVID policy to our customers. For a while, everybody’s emails filled up with statements about what companies are doing to deal with COVID. We never did that and we won’t do that. We have allowed each customer to tell us what they’re comfortable with and how we can accommodate them and they’re much more comfortable with us with that as we adjust to their level of COVID response. 

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

JH: I’ve learned that I can’t do everything myself. And, you’ve got to hire early, even though you may not think you can afford people. If I had hired five or six people eight years ago when I bought the business, I would be in a much different place than I am now. People think, “I need to hire salespeople for revenue before I can hire administrators or support people,” and it’s backwards. You get yourself in a problem. If you increase sales, you can’t support them. Also, you have to leverage yourself through others. The most difficult aspect of this is to find dedicated, hardworking people and get them to share the vision. Another big thing that I have found is using business coaches and mentors is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength and willingness to learn and improve. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

JH: The resilience of people. I’m really happy to see my friends, neighbors and customers learning the facts about COVID, exercising their innate freedom and getting back to work or church, regardless of the political aspects of COVID. They’re resisting and they’re going back and taking control. 

OFFER: A FREE onsite survey up to two hours, for businesses in our service area that are not home-based, to audit workflow areas, workplace safety and purchasing habits. No obligation to buy anything. (A $500 Value)

How To Reach Us:

Jay Hoffman

Eagle Office Products and Printing

512-388-1188

www.eagleop.com 


Laura Hoy, Rala Concepts LLC

AO: Tell me about your business.

LH: We are wholesale fine paper and large format media distributors. We work with print shops, sign companies, government agencies, anybody that has to do a lot of printing. We don’t do printing ourselves; we supply the fine paper or the commercial commodity paper and also large format medias like banners and window perfs and things like that. We’re pretty specialized; it’s business to business. We have been in business for about 10 years now. 

AO: How did you get into this business?

LH: Many years ago, I guess you could say really from the time I was growing up, I’ve just always been fascinated by printing. We traveled a lot when I was growing up and I remember so many times we’d go to antique places or museums and the things that fascinated me the most were the printing abilities at the time. Push forward years after that, I grew up, got married, I had a print shop in Alabama for about 14 years. I learned so much from that, but always said that if I ever had the opportunity, I wanted to be on the end of the business that I have now, which is actually supplying media and paper to printers and sign makers and the opportunity opened up for it after I came here to Austin, so I took advantage of it and loved it. Another thing too, I am a woman-owned business and I’m in an industry that’s pretty much a male-dominated industry. So, there’s not many women that are in my position in this particular industry. 

AO: Who is your best customer?

LH: The one I’m talking to at the moment, they’re always my best customer. It’s really difficult to say. We do a tremendous amount of wide format, which means that people who are in marketing and want to have signs made or have their logo reflected to get out in front of people, the people that actually make this, we sell to them. We also work with a lot of state and government agencies, supplying their print needs. And, a lot of that is really specialized fine papers. We do some commodity papers like bond paper, copy paper for machines and so forth, envelopes and all that. Mostly, we do specialty type paper. 

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

LH: I would say two things, mainly financially and emotionally. When COVID really hit and the stay-at-home order came, it just pretty much shut down everything. Everything stopped. When everything stops, that means money is not coming in, but your expenses still keep going. So, we’ve been hit really hard by COVID-19. Emotionally, you’re in doubt and wondering, okay, where are we going from here? But I think over the months that we’ve had to contemplate all of this, and with some of the adjustments and things, we’ve taken a long look at. I think attitude is probably one of the biggest things, you just make up your mind, you’re not going to let this thing beat you. You’re going to keep going no matter what. 

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

LH: Well, one thing, we took a good long look at our company. We’ve streamlined a lot of the ways that we’ve done things, whether it’s our expenses or scheduling or whatever fluff that we really didn’t need at the time. We’ve always kind of taken for granted before, but one of the biggest things that I think will have the biggest impact on us is that we’ve taken a look and looked at different options of new ways to contact customers, to attract customers. We’ve always worked on the premise of one-on-one. You know, we build relationships and I know a lot of businesses say that, but I mean this is very true. And, it’s really proved true to us for this COVID-19 because our customers called to check on us. I really appreciate that. And, they weren’t exactly able to order anything because nothing was going on, but we have taken a very long, strong look and taken steps to actually market ourselves in a different way. With social distancing, sometimes these one-on-one cold-calling operations are not the best idea. You still have to get your name out there and help people with what they’re needing. And so, we’ve signed with a company that will actually help us with our marketing. 

AO: Have you had a business strategy session?

LH: Yes, I would say so. Pretty much every day is a strategy session. 

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

LH: Well, I most definitely will say, I’ve made mistakes. I tend to be a very trusting person and things are not always as they seem on the surface. One thing I have learned to do is to be more aware and do a little bit more research on whoever I’m dealing with as far as suppliers or people in the financial world, just anything that affects us deeply. It was something I didn’t do before because I kind of took everything at face value, and it was okay. I mean, you get bit sometimes, but then sometimes you really get bit. It’s like my mother used to say, “If you make a mistake, there’s no need to have or make a mistake if you don’t learn something.” And so, I did. So, I make it a point of doing more in-depth research and making sure of who I’m dealing with. 

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

LH: Seeing and talking to the people of Texas, to see the heart and soul of these people, of our customers. I can’t tell you how many times, you know, through all these months that you’re concerned, because that’s just normal. You worry, “Am I doing the right thing?” But then when you see people that you’ve worked with, that you’ve known for years, they were actually concerned about you and they put forth that effort. That just to me is very inspiring. I have been watching on the internet and on TV, on the news broadcast, people who have done like I’m doing. You come up with new ways, the old ways may not work, but you can keep doing what you’re doing, you just have to be open-minded and adjust. We live in difficult times and changing times, so we adjust and change with it. 

How To Reach Us:

Laura Hoy

Rala Concepts LLC

512-466-6664

[email protected]m


 

Dawn Marks, All Star Tool and Fastener Inc

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


Ben Johnson, Aim and Focus Karate

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

[email protected]


Lily Ann Suharto, Caprine Artisan Soaps LLC

AO: Tell me about your business.

LS:  We mainly make soaps and other bath products. My sons and I have a lot of allergies, and so we started checking the ingredients of the products we have been using. We saw that those products contain a lot of chemicals. In fact, the soaps that are readily available in the stores are actually detergents. So we started making soaps. 

AO: How long have you been in business? 

LS: We have been in business for officially 8 years. We have been making soaps before starting the business. We started with soaps then we got into lotions. We use fresh goat milk, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil and essentials oils in our soaps. We do not have any chemicals in any of our products. From soaps and lotions, we branched out to other products like sugar and Dead Sea salt scrubs, massage oils, essential oil sprays and creams. We do a lot of research in order to give our customers the best products we can give them.

AO: Who is your best customer?

LS: We serve a variety of customers. Some customers just look for soaps/products that are all natural and unique. All our customers are happy that our soaps are very moisturizing. Some customers are particular about not having chemicals in the products. They are aware that the body absorbs all these ingredients, and do not want anything that could give them any illnesses like cancer. Some customers, who like myself, have had surgeries and are taking medicines which can make their skin very dry. They share with us their concerns and we do our best to come up with products that will help them with their issues like making soaps which are super moisturizing. Scrubs which help exfoliate their skin and lotions which will moisturize their skin more, etc. Some of our customers have stopped using Aveeno. We have a customer whose doctor stopped giving her steroids after using one of our soaps – Fleur De Lis. The main thing is that our products are natural and chemical free. These are the discerning customers we serve. 

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 earlier this year. We’ve had to go farther in search of events that are open. Presently, we have events in Marble Falls and Bee Cave. Georgetown markets have started to open so we have events there. We were shipping abroad in the past but that has stopped due to COVID-19. Some shops carry our products but some of them have closed. We still ship nationwide as that has not been adversely affected like our international shipments. We enjoy going to events because that is where we have one on one talks with customers. They share with us their concerns and that is how we learn how we can best provide them with products which may help them. 

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

LS: First, we have had to give discounts to customers. That is working for us very well.  Second, we also do not buy materials in bulk anymore. Third, some oils and materials that we use for our regular products are not readily available so we have had to improvise by making other products whose oils and materials are available.  We make our products in small batches and we make everything ourselves.

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

LS: We had a business partner at the beginning of the business. We bought her out in 2017. So this is solely our family business.

AO: Have you had a business strategy session through COVID-19?

LS: We basically strategize as a family. One of the main things we all agree on is participating in local events. As mentioned earlier, this is when we talk with our customers, learn about their family and concerns. This is one of the important things for us – letting our customers know that they are all very important for us. 

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 along the way. The number one thing which would resonate with a lot of the other business owners would be the tendency to be a perfectionist. When we started the business, we needed a website. It took three months for it to be up and running because everything had to be perfect – from the font, size, colors, etc. This held us back from growing the business. We realized as time went on that we didn’t have to be perfect in every way. We could make mistakes and learn from it as we went. We learned to relax a bit and adjust to situations as they presented themselves. We are also more accepting of things that are very different from what we thought things ought to be. One thing we are going through now is marketing through social media. This can be very overwhelming. We are learning as we go and our sons help us a lot.

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

LS: We noticed how kind people have become. Most of the people we have encountered have been reaching out to help others locally, especially small and local businesses like ours. They’re more understanding, and not as demanding as before. Due to COVID-19, a lot of materials have not been readily available or shipments do not arrive when they are supposed to. When we explain the situation to customers, they tend to understand and are more willing to give us a break. 

OFFER: Receive 15% off entire purchase using code THANKS15 from October 26, 2020 till November 8, 2020. 

How To Reach Us:

Lily Ann Suharto

Caprine Artisan Soaps LLC

www.caprineartisansoaps.com


MasterCOACH Andy O’Brien wants to interview you! If you’d like your business to be featured in one of our upcoming “Business Owners Speak Out” interview series, please submit an interview request HERE and a member of our team will contact you to schedule your interview.