Entrepreneur, Explorer, Angel.
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07TH August 2017
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Founder Profile #3 – Tom O’Reilly of Aptaris
(Tampa, FL) My sit-down with Lilly from Fashion Snoops was so much fun I decided to continue with more; it’s one of the most rewarding parts of my work because I believe the talent is in there, somewhere, and it’s just my job to ask questions that bring it to the surface. In the case of Tom O’Reilly, we have an epic story of a scrappy entrepreneur just figuring out how to literally rebuild an airplane while he was flying it. Literally, another story of “Hold my beer, I got this”. So how did it happen? Well, he stuck to the values he learned as a little boy; use the tools of the day to stay in close contact with your customers. Here are Tom’s 5 Questions
Question #1; Where’s the DNA from?
Miles: Tom, I want you to tell me about your entrepreneurial DNA when you were growing up. What did your parents do? What did your family do? Did you have any avocations or interests when you were a young boy? How did you first get a light with the entrepreneurial fire?
Tom: The entrepreneur spirit is very strong within my family. It goes back to my great-grandfather owning a lumber yard, being president of the bank and owning the general store. My father was the Chamber of Commerce manager in a small town in Midwest America. He knew every one of the business owners, whether they were part of a chain, or they were individual business owners. They were all friends of my family and I just got to know them through my parents, and the functions at the Chamber of Commerce. My mother was the first woman sales person for Northwestern Bell back in the 50s; she sold Yellow Page ads. From that, she opened up her own answering service within her home that had music when you were on hold, handled all the doctors and nurses in town for them to be paged, did the nurses registry, etc.
Then one day Dad came home and said, “I’ve bought a new house and it has a beauty salon in the basement…. much to my mother’s chagrin. Neither one of them knew how to run a beauty salon but they moved into the house, opened up the beauty salon, and soon they were running three of them. I guess I had an entrepreneurial spirit encapsulated in me at a very young age.
My first job was a newspaper boy, which I think is kind of entrepreneurial job in itself, lots of money and delivering papers and making sure you give the service level that you need to keep your customers happy. Then you have to maintain books on what you owed the paper, what you got to keep, etc. I started off at an early age, probably 10 or 11, doing that. My first part-time job was at a local men’s clothing store and owners worked with me in the store to understand the ups and downs that came with business.
Question #2: Who Taught you to Sell
Miles: Tell me about how you learned to sell and who were your greatest influences in your development as a sales machine CEO.
Tom: You know the first one that comes to my mind is my parent’s… in that every time there was a significant event with the Chamber of Commerce, I was selling sloppy joes or plates or commemorative coins at the tent. So I was interacting with the public and having to sell to them all along.
My first job that I had was working for the Muskie Trading Post in Muscatine, Iowa. I’m proud to say that that little weekly newspaper had a circulation of 22,000 and you could buy a full-page for $175. I had about 70 accounts that I had to call on. In my training in January in Iowa with 5-degree temperatures, I was with the owner, Nelson. Before I could go in and call on anybody, I had to come up with three ideas for an ad before I walked in the front door. At 5 degrees below 0, you got really good at it fast because you were freezing and we were literally leaving our cars running because we didn’t know if they’d restart if you shut them off without getting a jumper! What that taught me was is that you don’t go and say, “Do you have business for me this week?” You actually went in and said, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about what we can do for your business this week. Have you thought about Valentine’s Day coming up and possibly using some of your co-op money that you have with Ked’s and Converse for Wilson Shoe Store?” I think that’s some of the most valuable training that I ever received.
I also had the opportunity to work with one of the greatest shoe salesmen ever in a clothing store in Pittsburgh. The gentleman’s name was Eddy (40 years ago). It was a very high-end men’s clothing store and somebody would pick out a pair of shoes that they’d like and we would always measure them. We never used the little footstool type things. You went down and kneeled and measured their foot and you would always bring them options… if you didn’t have the shoe they wanted, you brought out one similar to it saying, “I don’t have in size. I can order it, but I saw this and thought you might be interested.” You also brought out a second shoe, which was potentially a summer, or clearance shoe, or something like that, that “I saw this in the back room and thought you would like to have it.”
It was before computers so to get everyone’s address to be able to send them information on sales, we would say, “Would you like us to put a shine on these shoes and send them out for you?” Then we got their address and we were then able to send them handwritten thank-you notes, which is another thing that I think is key, that’s kind of a dying art in business today. Also, to be able to inform them whenever there was a sale or we’ve got new shoes in and the new season’s here and we’ve picked out four or five pairs of shoes for you when we ordered that we thought you might like. Come in and see which ones fit and are the ones for you. Just little tips like that, that have guided me through my entire career and have allowed me to continue to move up in sales.
Question #3: How Adept have you had to be at serving evolving markets
Miles: Let’s talk about the progression from print business with 20 tons of iron and 20 tons of debt… to what you’ve become now. How has your business evolved as the marketing and promotion trends have evolved amongst big box retailers?
Tom: The predecessor to Aptaris was Southeast Color. I bought into the company in 2006 coming out of a national print company that managed circulars and felt like there was an opportunity to add additional iron (printers- they cost like $5MM apiece) in Florida to take care of customer’s printing presses, etc. Our main business at that point was promotional circulars printing and also taking care of customers outsourced advertising needs. We were the entire ad department for two or three retailers that kept their management team and kept a few creative people, but we did all the day-in/day-out work and it was linked to the grocery industry.
From that, I was able to secure the iron, put it on the floor to one full-size press that you would see in any traditional large print shop to a small one that was really a nice little money maker. My timing was impeccable (haha) in that the crash came in 2009-2010 and 40% of all printing went away as well as 40% of all printers and 40% of all printing jobs went away. I was laced with a tremendous amount of debt and equipment that I think, in some cases, is a barrier reef off of Clearwater Beach, FL that they use for fishing or whatever. I think it was just the scrappiness of being an entrepreneur that led us through the process of building circulars, and we were asked to build a workflow tool and from that workflow tool we listened to our customers and continued to add additional functionality. We would manage the ad department and when deadlines were and what jobs were going on.
Next thing we got into was the planning portion of it and how we could help them with the planning and the forecasting that they had within their systems and then also how to did the sale perform based upon what their expectations were. Through the years, as we paid off the debt for the printing presses and I was able to negotiate through that, we continued to build the promotional management tool and when through several evolutions of what we thought it was going to be. As any good thing that’s going on, we eventually found ourselves without the graphics business.
We ended up with a tool that was a complete full cycle and actually have some of the top retailers in the country right now managing their entire business with 400 to 500 users that any given point on to the system. In managing millions of dollars of offers and deals. I was fortunate enough to surround myself with some really quality people as well as a quality product and it lines up that we’ve now closed nine sales since November and are tracking to triple our sales in the software side and are considered one of the fastest growing SaaS companies in FL.
Question #4: How did Aptaris’ SaaS and Workflow tools get so sticky in today’s’ hyper efficient world
Miles: That’s got to feel good. Tell me about the market today for workflow tools and subscription and SAAS models and how that’s becoming ingrained in major retailer’s thinking. I mean, there’s no room for inefficiencies anymore, whether you’re making cheese or blue jeans. How is this demand for that kind of workflow tool bubbled up in the last couple of years and what’s your unique sales proposition when you go in and pitch somebody?
Tom: Probably the first part of is, is that on a scale of one to ten, CEOs of retail companies probably fall in about a three to four range, and that’s given the fashion industry is probably pulling that number up significantly. First you have to find clients that are interested and open because some of them are in a bunker mentality. They are asking themselves: “What is the path forward”, or “How do we get back what we had before?” With the Amazon announcement to buy Whole Foods, it has completely stirred the retail marketplace up to where people realize that they have to make significant changes. When you consider being able to walk into the store and see the selection that’s there, whether it’s fresh or whether it’s fashion or whether it’s hardware, to be able to know that it’s there and how they manage all of that across 8 to 10,000 stores is itself an amazing story.
So, they have not put the money in managing how their advertising works. The ones that have, are doing very well. The ones that haven’t are suffering the consequences from it. It all still comes down to bringing two pairs of shoes out …
A large number of these folks that we work with have been great buyers over the years and have been able to sell their products because they’ve had the best price because they were the best buyers. Amazon has completely thrown that proposition out the window because you can always find somebody else to buy at a lower price. This leads you to the situation of where you really need to be geared towards how do you establish that relationship with a client and how do you be relevant to the client? If your entire team is tied up in tactical managing of all the varieties of ways to speak to customers right now, then you certainly aren’t going to be a spot where you can strategically sit back and take a breath and say, “What do we need to be doing here?”
I see it as a real window of opportunity because there’s a need to fix retail right now and we believe that we can get them to the point of where they can win. It’s just a natural discussion at a C level that they understand our product very quickly and what we can do in managing the entire promotions and advertising dollar and then give the results back. We work the ROI with them, or the team that they put together, so it’s their own ROI and the results come in in such a way that they are able to see the payback very quickly. The unique selling proposition is tying all the disparate systems and all the disparate silos within the organization together to make a coordinated effort to be able to be competitive in this marketplace. It’s leveling the playing field.
Question #5 Any advice for young founders?
Miles: The fifth one is this; if you’re interviewing a young kid to be your new shoe salesman at your store, and he’s got his whole career in front of him, but it’s a career that’s very different. Right? It’s a career that’s full of technology and efficiencies, global markets, and speed of information, it’s radically different from how you and I grew up. Radically different how a 20 year old grew up. What kind of advice would you give the kid about his career based on what you’ve learned in yours?
Tom: It still comes back to the relationship and using the tools that are out there that we didn’t have 40 years ago. Using tools that we didn’t have, to follow up with that handwritten note, to be able to show the value, to be able to show the trust, that you want to take the extra step and that you’re concerned about them and their business. If you’re out to sell a product, you’re going to have a hard time to do it. If you’re out to make somebody’s business better and be the young guy standing in the cold coming up with an idea for a business and how you can make it better, I think it all still translates today. You still need to keep that personal touch.
A personal touch. Indeed. Thanks, Tom.
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