Ten Star’s Screen Print Growth Leads to New Products Division

Ten StarAfter years in management with some of the best corporations in the world, Donna and Jack Killoren were excited to apply what they’d learned toward owning their own business. They had an opportunity to acquire Ten Star Supply Co., which had an attractive customer base, skilled-employees and a stable, twenty year history. In just five years, the couple doubled the company’s revenues, extinguished the firm’s debt, improved operational processes and improved employee morale. However, their success has not come without a few bumps along the way.

Not long after purchasing the existing business, the couple encountered several challenges they had not anticipated. They immediately sought help from the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida (SBDC at USF). In addition to attending the SBDC’s one-on-one consulting, the Killorens started attending business courses to gain valuable information while meeting other small business owners with similar interests. The couple says that taking the time to engage with other business owners is probably one of the best gifts a small business owner can give themselves.  More recently, in 2012, they took advantage of the SBDC Growth Acceleration Services to create a strategic roadmap for continued growth.

“The SBDC consists of people who are absolutely passionate about helping small business owners improve and succeed. There’s something here for everyone – whether you’re struggling with a specific issue or would just like an independent review,“ said Donna.

The company’s primary service is a screen printing process which allows for direct application of a printed label or graphic on commercial products of all shapes and sizes – from cylindrical shaped bottles, jars, or buckets to irregularly shaped objects of all kinds. Through their growth, they’ve been able to diversify their products and have launched a new promotions division in which the company sells advertising specialties and executive gifts.

Here are the Killorens’ candid answers about the highs and lows of purchasing and growing their business through the help of the SBDC:

1.   What has been the high point in growing your business?

We set out to create a company environment that inspires employee pride, teamwork and a passion for excellence. The highpoints were introducing employee benefits for the very first time in Ten Star’s history; investing in technology and equipment; standardizing the highest quality inks and screens, implementing strict quality control procedures; and introducing continuous improvement processes.

Ten StarWe found creative ways – especially important during the lean times – to continue to show our employees how much they’re valued. When the right people feel motivated and empowered to work together with a clear objective, the results are amazing. The collection of complimentary customer emails thanking us for the great print job or quick turnaround says it all.

2.   What was the low point?

We believed that the same drive, positive attitude, and lessons learned from our previous successes in the corporate world would enable us to solve any problem that came our way. The low point for us was when we realized that we were on a fast train going absolutely nowhere.  We had an impossibly large balloon note looming and we were still not profitable.

That’s when we reached out for help and, with guidance, took bold steps essential to our survival:

  • We had to redesign our approach to pricing.
  • Armed with data, we renegotiated our original purchase agreement allowing for a quick payoff, leaving Ten Star with zero debt.

In hindsight, several assumptions that contributed to our initial business model were no longer valid.  We’d learned that we needed to readjust the business valuation. We also discovered our pricing structure did not reflect the current environment.

3.   What specific advice has been the most helpful?

Jim Parrish, SBDC finance consultant, provided financial analysis and advice for the price action that literally gave us a second life.

We went into the Growth Acceleration project knowing that we had done a great job of transforming our production and operations and now needed to do the same for marketing and sales. Bill McKown’s (Growth Acceleration marketing consultant) thorough analysis of our business and industry gave us the roadmap and detailed data to move forward with a new sense of urgency and confidence in our sales and marketing efforts.