Start-Up Examples

It’s a lot more fun to read stories and get the inside scoop about how things really happen, so enjoy. Here’s the real story about founding and building 3 national companies that most people will not tell you: I got an MBA 1n 1977, but got my real world MBA the hard way, by going bankrupt. Some people, like me, learn more by screwing up than by succeeding. I hope this helps you avoid the same mistakes — there are plenty that I haven’t made yet you can try.

Decal Specialties — My Sticker Company
(The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)

Back in 1980, I met a guy, Brian Crane, who had a screen printing press and a small business making custom printed souvenirs, while I was running another company nearby making Frisbees for the ad specialty market. I was looking for decals to put on our Frisbees.

The business was Brian, his wife, Pat, and one employee. After some discussions about some product idea ideas I had, we decided to set up a new company with to do marketing. He was using a “prismatic” vinyl material for souvenirs and they were selling well at truck stops and to South America through a distributor in NY.

The first year, I sold $100,000 of printing and realized the custom work was a big pain in the ass and lot of work for each dollar of revenue. Being real quick on the uptake, there were by now (1981) 200 companies printing kids “stickers” and it was the newest hot thing. I noticed it at that point and wondered if stickers made from our materials would sell.

So we tried it — we were company # 201.

We started with gift shops and Hallmark stores (another semi-long story), and after doing $1 million in our second year, I decided we were ready for the “big time” and I drove up to Target’s Headquarters (we were in Northern Iowa and Target’s HQ is in Minneapolis) with the intent of selling them stickers at $0.75 per package.

A brief introduction to reality.

After several trips, they really liked the stickers. They agreed to do a trial order at $0.375. But that was still OK because I could make them for $0.10.

On the first order from Target they made a mistake. They meant to order a small test order for $5,000, not to be stocked in the warehouse, but shipped straight through to the stores. But the order we got was for $50,000.

The buyer called a couple days later to correct the order but I told him, “Sorry, it’s already shipped” Of course, it hadn’t and we handle to scramble big time to get their order out the next day and back date the shipping documents. (Not quite ethical, but I did promise you the real story).

Since Target wasn’t expecting so much product, and because we didn’t have a warehouse slot, it all went straight to the stores. Because it was 10 times the amount they planned for, they had to give us more space in the stores to make it fit.

Here’s what happened…

Kids loved our product it sold out right away!

Target reordered, featured our product in a 2-for-$1.00 ad, and to make a long story not so short, 4 years later we had 20,000 retail accounts and $1 million per month in sales.

At this point we had made it to #3 in the sticker business (after Hallmark & American Greetings) with subsidiary companies in the UK, Canada and Australia.

And then, with my apologies to Paul Harvey, here’s “the rest of the story”…

3M approached us to buy our company and since my partner and I felt we could do nothing wrong, walk on water and the whole bit, and were sure we were headed for $50 million the next year, we didn’t pursue it.

My partner was in charge of manufacturing and I was in charge of sales and marketing. He used to say that “he could make more than I could sell” and I always said “I could sell more that he could make.” All well and good if we had someone to control the finances, but since we didn’t,

Within a year we were bankrupt.

Here’s what happened…

During the sticker craze, retailers bought assortments of stickers without tracking sales of each design. Eventually, after the good designs sold and the bad designs didn’t, and because they kept reordering the same assortments, they had a display full of product nobody wanted.

Our sales went form $1 million per month to $250,000 per month in one month. Since I was basically clueless about financial management, had inadequate working capital and high overhead, a few months of this and no matter how much we cut back, we still had to file bankruptcy.

Here’s what happened next.

Another Company

After spending a year helping the bank recover their investment, We could have just bailed but we didn’t, and because the bank respected that, my partner was financed by the same bank to go to the auction and buy the equipment back to start over.

I wanted to be in marketing and not manufacturing so I moved to Colorado. One thing I did right before the bankruptcy was to sell the rights to all our artwork to Brian’s wife, Pat, and my wife, Marilyn, for $5,000 each. The court approved it.

Then, I found a company who should have had a line of stickers and didn’t and licensed them the artwork for $100,000. This gave me the capital to start over.

My new company was a marketing company without any manufacturing. I learned my lesson and used other companies to make my products.

I invented a complete new line of school supplies (portfolios, 3-ring binders, spiral notebooks, pens, pencils and rulers all made from prismatic and holographic materials) and went to see Target. They loved them and so did Wal-Mart. We got a 4 foot “end-cap” display in Target due to our sell-through and won an award for “Best New Vendor” in Target’s stationery and school supply department that year.

I grew the company to $6 million in sales in a few years with only 10 employees, instead of 300 like the prior company. but I did have to involve investors to finance Wal-Mart orders so ended up losing control of my company. When the investors wouldn’t allocate funds to me to create more new products, I left.

Several years later, the investors closed down the company.

One More Time

At the same time I had the school supply company, my wife, Marilyn, and I started a consumer mail order company selling stickers direct to kids. In this company we decided to grow slower with our own cash flow so that we wouldn’t need any outside debt or investors.

My wife came up with the idea to do a mailing to pediatricians to see if they might like the stickers that sold so well in stores. Our stickers were prismatic, reflected light into rainbows and were cut into shapes. The other products being sold to doctors were all boring paper and only circles.

The doctor’s offices loved them and we got something like a 28% response to our first mailing.

After 4 years, we had 10,000 medical offices and hospital customers throughout the US and Canada and the primary company in the market bought us out for $1.2 million because they were afraid of us taking their customers away.

If There Is A Moral To These Stories, It Is:

Don’t give up. I started 2 companies and lost both, went bankrupt once, but then sold a company for over $1 million. I wasn’t smart enough to do it the first time. Persistence is the key. I drove my wife crazy by telling her that I’d go bankrupt 5 times if I had to to learn what I needed to start a business and make a million dollars. Thankfully, I got it on the third try.

Direct Marketing Examples

A varied group of marketing examples, both from companies I’ve owned and consulting clients. included are examples of how I invented, commercialized and sold over $40 million in consumer products at wholesale to retailers over 9 years.

A Promotion That Created $145 Million In Business

With the sticker company I owned, I noticed our 4 biggest competitors had sticker clubs for kids and had 40,000 to 50,000 members each. We heard retailers complaining because they felt these clubs were a way for the companies to sell direct to the consumer and bypass them.

That was never the intent, but that’s what the retailers thought, so I decided to do a club too, but do it differently by making it an obvious benefit for our retailer customers.

I set it up so the club was under the retailers name along with ours and had a large window poster, a point-of-sale display, a limited edition sticker-of-the-month, membership cards with the store’s name, a monthly newsletter and the monthly, dated, limited edition sticker. Since it was all designed around creating traffic for gift shop and Hallmark store customers, they loved it.

The Result

After 12 months, 900 stores as members, 900,000 kids as members, $145,000,000 in extra business for these stores in the first year.

Doubled Sales For A Denver Painting Contractor

A Denver painting contractor was stuck at the same level of sales and asked for help. After setting up a 39-point marketing campaign for their company including advertising, referral programs, direct mail, yellow pages, web marketing and more, their sales more than doubled in the first year. Their summertime sales from 2002 to 2004 ranged from $60,000 to $70,000 per month. This year’s sales were $160,000 to $180,000 per month.

For complete details on this program go to and read about the details. Profitable Marketing Systems is licensing this program to painting contractors in other cities outside Denver.

$20,314 Profit Sending A Moving
Announcement For A Cosmetic Doctor

This client was moving their office and planned to send out a notice letting their customers know — obviously a good idea. I suggested we combine the move announcement with a promotion for a series of pre-paid cosmetic services.

The mailing brought in $22,660 in pre-paid advance sales for services from a mailing that cost only $2,346.

$13,570,000 Of Real Estate Deals Called
Our Licensee In His First Week

A licensee of one of our do-it-for-you foreclosure real estate marketing systems paid $5,000 for a mailing that got him calls from property 11 owners in San Francisco with over $5 million in equity asking for his help in the first week.

Our direct mail campaign gets people who never respond to mail offers to call. The complete details of this program and how and why it works are at our licensing site at

Client Who Mailed 2,000 Letters
Without A Single Response
Came To Us And Our First Test Got 11 Responses
From A Mailing Of Only 277

This is how I got into real estate marketing. My new partner, Scott, called to ask me about doing some marketing consulting to help him in his foreclosure business. He was having to cold-call and knock on doors to get deals.

He had tried a 2,000-piece mailing and was convinced direct mail didn’t work when mailed to people in foreclosure because he didn’t get a single call. I spent a number of hours with him to understand the mind-set of someone in foreclosure and wrote a new mailing. The first test mailing of 277 letters got him 11 calls.

We now have people tell us every day that they have received hundreds of pieces of mail and our was the only one they called.

We have since set up a partnership to do these deals. Scott is thrilled because the atmosphere when he meets with someone in their home is totally different. Instead of having to stick his foot in the door, they have the lemonade and cookies out for him.

Reaching the President of a Billion-Dollar Company

As anyone reading this knows who’s in sales, it’s not easy to reach the top person in a billion-dollar company. I had wanted to reach the President of Kinko’s to propose an idea I had about putting their stores into the promotional products business.

Since the executive secretaries/gatekeepers have the job of protecting their boss from exactly this type of thing, I had to be creative.

So, imagine you being this guy’s secretary and receiving this in the mail. What would you do?

You get a Hallmark greeting card addressed to your boss in a pink envelope with a large “Love” commemorative stamp. I had my wife address the card so it was obviously from a woman. How many secretaries do you think would open that? He didn’t go for my proposal, but I did get a response. A 100% response on a mailing of one. I did consider sprinkling perfume on the envelope but decided that might be a bit too much.

Internet Marketing Examples

These are examples of Internet marketing projects for clients and also from the Internet marketing company I founded and later sold.

One $995 Opt-In Email Gets 35 People
to Pay $87,500 For The Rights
To Sell A Client’s Product

One of my clients, Family Featured Products, sells calendars as promotional products, fund-raisers, and for brides and photographers. In the promotional products industry, there are 3,900 companies selling 650,000 products and none of them charge to sell their lines.

My client wanted to charge an entry fee, so I wrote 4 web-based emails and split-tested them to get distributors to sign up and sent them out to 30,000 people in the industry for $995. 35 people signed up and paid a total of $87,500 up-front. I don’t know their sales for the first year yet, but, whatever they are, that’s an additional return from that one email.

Getting To #1 and #2 Ranking
In Both Google & Yahoo
Out Of 3.9 Million Competitors

For one of my companies, Promotional Products Consulting, I set up a linking campaign, multiple content pages and used several other SEO strategies to get to be #1 – #3 on Google and Yahoo out of 3.9 million other companies with the same key words.

That brought me the traffic to sell 1,320 people and businesses my distributorships opportunity in the promotional products industry for $995 each. Over two-thirds of these people read my sales letter and sent me the money. One-third called to make sure I was really there. FYI, about 1 out 1,000 web site visitors bought so that worked out to a $1.00 visitor value.

I have since sold the company to another client in that business.

Sold 1,320 Promotional Products
Distributorship Packages On-Line For $995 Each
Without Talking To Anyone

OK, I lied, about one-third of the people who bought did call me to make sure I wasn’t scamming them. Doing business online is all about trust. People are not going to send $1,000 to someone they have never met unless you can build trust.

The sales letter web site I put together did that successfully.

Not only did I sell them this opportunity, I trained everyone with a series of 35 emails sent out automatically coaching them on what to do and when. Though some people called, many found the emails to be all they needed.

I have dozens of testimonials from people who bought my program who did very well — some even into 7 figures. Click HERE to view.