Dan Horowitz owns and operates EmbroidMe, a promotional items franchise in Bangor. His company's slogan is, "Your Promotional Marketing Partner," and it's this approach that he counts on to differentiate his business from the competition. Dan spent some time with us discussing how he started his business and what he's doing to make it successful.
Maine SBDC: How did you decide to be in business on your own?Dan H: Well, I went about all of it in kind of a backwards way. I went to college first (UMO) and planned to have a career in law enforcement. Then I joined the Reserves and became an MP, but ended up with a SD discharge that made it obvious I had to change directions with my career goals because I didn't want a desk job. Now what? I dabbled in a few different things, considered going back to school for a business degree, and as part of this ended up at the Career Center. That was such a lucky break because they hooked me up with a Veteran Service Coordinator who directed me to the VA at Togus to find out about VR&E. Even though VR & E is mostly for education and retraining, you can have it help finance a business start, as long as you meet the requirements. I figured I needed to look into this business-on-your-own option. I had had jobs where I'd been laid off, where I worked for people who didn't know what they were doing, who didn't care, and I knew I didn't want to do that again. I gave myself three months to investigate this. And you can see where I ended up.
Maine SBDC: You said investigate. What did you do?Dan H: I specifically looked in the Bangor area for business opportunities, what kinds of businesses didn't exist, that should. I was not seeking franchises. You know, there are a lot of misconceptions about franchises. But what appealed to me is that there was already a set system in place. Market information, how to make everything work, it was all laid out and just needed to be adjusted for my particular area. A lot of the stress of being the owner of a new business is reduced when you chose a franchise. Yes, it costs money. But what I invested in was a business model that had all the kinks worked out, a support system, a pre-set network, and a corporation with buying power, even a website to plug in to. Just the other day I picked up the phone and talked to another owner out of state. I had some questions and ended up hearing about how to do something totally new for a product he had experience with. When a customer calls me and wants just 10 of something, I don't have to buy a whole case in order to give them a good price because I can take advantage of corporate contracts.
Maine SBDC: So how did you pick this particular franchise?Dan H: As part of my research I went to a promotional products trade show and learned about, well, promotion. My research showed that promotional products provide the lowest cost per impression compared to other kinds of advertising. And yet, companies generally spend less on these than other forms of exposure. So I looked into this industry more.
Maine SBDC: What were your biggest challenges in getting this going?Dan H: Doing the research...writing the business plan...getting financing. All that. The research, I could do. It just took a long time. Due diligence is key. You have to do it. Writing the business plan was easier than it could have been because, with a franchise they give you lots of information. And Togus directed me to Ann McAlhaney, a business counselor at the Maine SBDC. The VA was not going to approve funding for a business without a solid business plan and Ann helped me work through that. It also helped that I was going with a franchise: a proven business model that had a track record of success. And then there was my family. They helped too. Once I finished my business plan I showed it to them and thought, okay, this is it. They are going to hate it. But, you know what? My father told me how proud he was of me and was behind me 100%.
Maine SBDC: Do you think your military background provided you with training or experience that will help you be successful?Dan H: Well, I'm pretty organized. I completely understand discipline, how a structured program can work. And to this day I still fold my socks a certain way, if that means anything.
Maine SBDC: How do you market your business? What works best for you?Dan H: I am constantly stopping in to other businesses to let them know who I am and what we do. They might not need me now, but if they do in the future, I want them to think of me. I go to a lot of events, I want to know people in the community. I try to make really good two-way business connections. Not only do I want people to know who I am, but I want to know what they're about, too, so I can make referrals to them if it's the right thing to do.
Maine SBDC: What advice would you give potential business owners just starting out?Dan H: RUN! No, I'm kidding. Definitely do your due diligence, do your homework. Be sure you truly understand your weaknesses and then surround yourself with people who can compensate for them. Like the people who work with me. We're a great team. I'm so proud of them.
753 Stillwater Avenue
Bangor, ME 04401