Billings Gazette, Mont.
After 12 years with Charter Communications, Brett Maas found himself looking for work. He and his wife, Brenda, had been interested in starting their own business for a long time.
Before long, they started considering franchises.
"To us, it meant not re-inventing the wheel while still offering opportunity to personalize and operate our own business," Brett Maas said. "We wanted a business that was casual, social and fun."
After doing lots of homework, the couple settled on Big Frog Custom T-shirts & More of Billings at 820 Shiloh Crossing Blvd., Suite 5.
The company can print logos or images on just about anything, and can print one item or 1,000.
Here's what else the couple had to say about building a franchise business:
Question: What is the nature of the business?
A: In a nutshell, we decorate garments -- T-shirts, polo shirts, shorts, sports uniforms of all kinds, plus personal items like blankets, aprons, mouse pads, coasters, can koozies. If an item is porous and can take ink, we can print it.
Different from traditional screen printing, we use a process called direct-to-garment, so the art is fully digitized. That allows us to print just one T-shirt at a reasonable cost. And, we have the flexibility to print 16 million different colors, change the design and print on a variety of materials.
We also decorate sports uniforms and bags, among many items, at wholesale prices. If you can imagine it, it's likely Big Frog can create it.
Question: Why start this business?
A: Brett has spent his entire career in sales, with the most-recent 12 years in the cable/communication industry as a director.
Question: How long have you been in business?
A: We opened in June 2014 and it took six months or so to get up to speed.
Question: Your biggest challenge?
A: Finding the right location. We looked all over Billings, comparing lease costs to traffic, to timeline for renovation and so on. The decision was crucial.
More recently, our challenge is allowing for the business to grow while paying a decent wage to our employees. We believe in a positive work environment with a team focus on goals and individual growth.
Question: What is being done to overcome those challenges?
A: We met with many commercial representatives. Brett sat in parking lots at different times of the day and observed shoppers. He studied traffic counts and rooftop numbers. We drove into and out of business locations at all times of the day -- was it easily accessible or could the visitor only leave by turning right?
We ultimately selected our location in Shiloh Crossing between Subway and Candy Town.
Regarding the second goal, we follow the Golden Rule and treat our employees as family -- a day off for their birthday, flexible hours for family, frequently checking in with them regarding new products/training.
Question: What is being done to expand the business?
A: Brett knows that consumers value product, service and reliability. He delivers on those; but most importantly, buyers need to feel valued.
Brett continues to expand his network, meeting more business owners, school administrators and other organizational decision makers. The Big Frog brand is built on personal service, quality custom products and having fun during the process. We enjoy the one-on-one we have with customers, as they see their creation come together right in front of them during the design process.
Question: Your best business decision?
A: Aside from hiring some dang talented graphic artists, we are proud to be community partners in Billings. We offer free "online stores" for any organization that wishes and can build a fundraising component into it (see www.bigskyfrogs.com for examples). Purchases automatically generate funds for that organization with very little work on their end. For example, we gave back 15 percent of gross sales to the Billings Scorpions Lacrosse and Billings High School Lacrosse clubs last spring.
Question: Your worst business mistake?
A: Not having enough patience.
Question: What advice do you have for someone running a business?
A: Be completely honest with yourself and partners. What are you good at, what are you willing to learn and what do you despise doing? Do the first and do it well; do the second but pass it off if it becomes an obstacle to the ultimate goal; and, for the third, hire professionals to do what you hate or are not good at doing. Question: Number of workers?
A: Depending on the work load, we employ three to four, including ourselves. We have two designers, plus Brett, who have a wealth of creative experience. Plus, Brenda and our boys have been known to work late hours to get a project done right and by deadline.
Question: What's your five-year plan for the business?
A: Continue to treat our customers as the valuable resources that they are, plus grow partnerships with more community organizations. Build more school spirit within Billings' four high schools. Kids who are proud of themselves, their school and their community are known to make good choices.
Question: A question you would ask other entrepreneurs?
A: How do you find time to take a long vacation?
Question: If you weren't doing what you are now, what would be your dream job?
A: For Brett, that's easy...fishing and hunting guide, maybe a full-time swim coach. Brenda would rather work as a history and travel researcher/writer, a biographer of the "average Joe" or an English teacher to children in a Spanish-speaking country (maybe in 10 years or so).