Editor's note: This is the first article in an occasional series highlighting the successes and challenges of operating a small business in San Luis Obispo County. If you own a local company that’s been operating at least three years and employs up to 15 people, contact Julie Lynem at 781-7932 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Businesses will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Adam and Marisa Peltier own Peltier Glassworks, a bottle labeling company they founded in March 2010 with the help of a Small Business Administration loan for $112,500 (the federal government insured 90 percent and the local EVC insured the rest). The business specializes in screen printing, mainly for wineries, and currently it’s printing about 30,000 cases of wine (or 360,000 labels) annually. The Tribune recently interviewed Adam Peltier about why they founded the company, how they manage their operation and where they would like to see it grow next.
Q: What were the three most important ingredients to starting your business and why?
A: The first ingredient would definitely be financial backing. My wife and I had just graduated from Cal Poly, and we weren’t exactly rolling in the dough. I spent a while writing a business plan that thankfully impressed the people over at Coast National Bank. With assistance from the EVC, they decided to give us a loan that would help us buy the equipment we needed to launch our business. Without both of them, we never would have started up.
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I would say the second ingredient was just a plain old “good idea.” We knew a lot of people in the wine industry and many of them told us how they still had to use services and vendors from outside the county. We had been looking into screen printing and realized there was no one offering this service between L.A. and Napa. It was a prime opportunity, and it was certainly filling a much-needed void. Because of this, we have thankfully never had to work too hard to get new business.
The third, and maybe most cliché ingredient, is a good work ethic. We blew through our loan pretty quickly when I grossly underestimated how much it would cost to transport and set up a 50-foot-long furnace, so we ran incredibly lean for the first year of operation. That meant I was doing the work of three people in the print shop, as well as everything from the bookkeeping to sales and marketing to installing toilets. One morning at 5 a.m., I showed up to work and electrocuted myself so badly that it knocked me off my feet. I dusted myself off and then worked a 14-hour day.
Q: Explain the toughest challenge that you faced when you started. How did you overcome it?
A: My toughest challenge was mastering my printing equipment. While I had some knowledge of the machine I had purchased, it turned out to be a bit more complex than I had expected. There are so many variables that factor into getting the perfect print. As soon as we opened our doors for business, we had immediate clients. Unfortunately, we weren’t as ready as we should have been. We had a lot of panic attacks and sleepless nights those first few months. With enough time, we were able to learn the nuances of our equipment and what we were and weren't capable of, but it took a whole lot of patience, humility and probably more reprints than we care to share.
Q: What is the single biggest priority for your company now?
A: Managing our growth. While we certainly have our slow times, much of the year we are maxed out with work. This may sound like a great problem, and I guess on one hand it is, but it also means that we often have to turn away new clients and large orders.
At the end of this year, we are planning to get an equipment loan for new machinery that will help us increase our production. But that also means a move to a new, larger location, new employees, a greater level of management, and all of the other things that come along with a bigger company.
Q: Who inspired you to become a business owner/entrepreneur and what advice did he/she give you?
A: It wasn’t one person in particular, but rather a whole group of people. My wife and I have several entrepreneur friends who made that leap to business ownership a little less daunting. There were window washers, wedding photographers, electricians and dog breeders. We saw them succeeding and growing and were inspired by their success.
Q: What has been your (or an employee's) best idea that increased sales, profitability or both?
A: We have really been making an effort to rely less on vendors and do as much as we can in-house. This helps to keep our employees consistently busy and decrease our costs. The latest is our screen-making equipment. Prior to now, we had been getting our screens made from an outside company. We recently bought equipment to make our screens in-house, which has decreased our downtime and saved us on average $3,000 a month.
Q: Where would you like to see your business in the next five to 10 years?
A: We are hoping to get new equipment later this year. In five or 10 years, there is a good chance we will have even more equipment to increase our production. We would love to see it increase to 150,000 cases in five years and 300,000 cases in 10 years.
Q: How have you been using the Internet/marketing via social media to your advantage?
A: We do a little bit of email marketing, but to be honest, we're a little behind the times when it comes to social media. Instead, we've been focused on trying to master our craft and work with our clients on the graphic design side of the business to make sure that the quality and look of the bottles we send out are the best they can be. The way we see it, each screen-printed bottle that leaves our facility is a small billboard that showcases our work.