STARTING A SCREEN PRINTING COMPANY
Welcome to the GrayHawk DJC podcast. In today’s podcast, we talk with Colin Cutler, owner of Cutler Customs in Dallas, Texas. We hope you enjoy the podcast.
David: Hey Colin, how’s it going?
Colin: Fantastic, David. Thank you.
David: So I got to tell you. This is a very unique day for us because, usually in our podcasts, we somehow know the person or have a connection with them and you’re the first guy that replied to us that we have no connection to. So this is just off the cuff with us for someone we’ve never met. So thank you so much for doing that. I saw you your business on like a Dallas Observer article, online, because we were just looking for cool companies to kind of try to do this with and I just clicked through to your website, sent you an email, and lo and behold, you replied to us. So thanks again. But what made you, like, read the email in the first place and want to reply to us?
Colin: I guess, well, and you know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But the last year has been extremely hard for small businesses. So I reply to everything. I jump at every opportunity. If somebody reaches out through a website, a voicemail, text message, I’m going to reply.
Colin: I can’t always do what needs to be done. Some orders are easier than others to accomplish. But we have to chase opportunities. So that’s what I was doing. I saw that and at first I didn’t know what it was. I just saw an email came through on the website, right? Could have been a quote. Could have been anything. But when I saw it, I read into it. I looked up your Youtube channel. Saw what you guys do and just looked at it as an opportunity. Oh, okay, that’s awesome.
David: When you’ve clicked on other stuff, have there been anything like shady or nefarious?
Colin: I get a lot of, unfortunately, a lot of scams through the website and it’s just something, you know, that…the first time, I saw one come through, right. It was a big order and I got really excited.
Colin: And the more you dig into it, a little bit, and try and get some feedback and then, you know, find out what’s going on. It’s not a real order. But it’s, you know, it is what it is.
Colin: You learn and move on.
David: So we usually start these podcasts by trying to get to know you better. So tell us about yourself, where you came from, and how you grew up. We’ll get to know you a little bit and, you know, tell us who you are.
Colin: Well, I’m 39 years old. My wife, Brittany, two daughters, Adeline and Hazely.
Colin: I got a newborn at home right now.
Colin: We live here in Dallas. Actually, over in the Lakewood area. I grew up in Dallas. And so, I’ve never really ventured more than about five miles from where I grew up.
David: What high school did you go to?
Colin: So Hillcrest High School.
David: I know exactly where that is.
Colin: You know, I traveled a little bit with work in my early 20s but after that, man, I mean, I’ve always just stayed in the neighborhood.
Colin: And that’s how I like it.
David: So are you amazed by how big this place has gotten?
Colin: Yes, yes. Right.
David: Like, because if you’re 39, you knew when Dallas was, like, much smaller.
Colin: Absolutely. I mean, right behind us where SMU has all of their track and field facilities. That used to be Mrs. Barrett’s Bakery.
Colin: I mean, I remember that as a kid and I didn’t realize when we were getting made fun of at school, when they would say things, like, “Your mom shops at the day old bread store”, like, yeah, I thought everyone did. I didn’t know that was a knock on me, right?
David: I remember this was all construction, 75, here.
Colin: Oh yeah, for years, right?
David: And then, if you went past 635, it kind of became country.
David: And now they have George Bush, um, and even further up 121. That was all just flat land…nothing.
Colin: I mean, you’d watch the same dog run away for three days, right?
David: Right. It was just flat, nothing there. It’s gonna get up to Oklahoma, I guess, one day. Yeah.
David: All right. So you grew up in Dallas. So did you go to school here too after high school…college?
Colin: I went to Richland Community College for two years.
Colin: I came from a single mother family, who raised both me and my twin brother.
Colin: And you know, working was the next step after school. I mean, college would have been great. I put my best foot forward, but at the end of the day, I needed to go work. So that’s what I started doing.
David: So what did you get into?
Colin: I was actually waiting tables at a place called Texas Land and Cattle. It was a great steak house that started here in Dallas. It might have started in Austin. I don’t really remember. But they had some locations here in Dallas and I was waiting tables there.
Colin: I was real young and got an opportunity. I got an opportunity to get into their management training program and, at that time, you know, they set me down and said what they’re going to pay me in a salary, and it wasn’t much, but to me it was, you know, everything.
David: How old are you now at this time?
Colin: 20. I wasn’t even 21. I was 20 years old when I moved into the management program.
David: So you did something they liked, obviously.
Colin: You know, I think it was just kind of showing up and being the guy that was there on time and doing what they asked you to do. Best man standing, basically. And I think a lot of businesses used to be that way, promoting from within. Which I’m a big fan of and, you know, you get people that actually care, right? You find those people that care. You cultivate that mentality and you put them in a leadership role, right? What you do with that opportunity is up to you. But I got the opportunity. I made the most of it and I got into management and met some excellent people and sometimes, I think that was my college. Because I eventually got into a general manager position with the company and I was only 22 at the time.
David: So what’s the difference between that and a regular manager?
Colin: I guess the general manager is in charge of the entire store.
Colin: I mean everything. There’s no excuses, okay. You’re in charge of the profit and loss statement. So at Texas Land and Cattle, one thing they did that was really cool was they had a general manager, an assistant general manager, and then regular managers of the restaurant that were there to oversee the day-to-day stuff. The general manager is responsible for the financial aspects of the restaurant. So once a month, the general managers from all 25 locations, would meet up at a store. It was a two-day presentation, and you had to present, in order of how profitable your store was out of the 25. Number one got to present first and number 25 presented dead last.
David: Oh, wow. So they kept rank?
Colin: They did. And you were put in a room of your peers, of everyone who did the same job as you, and if you were unprepared, you didn’t have answers to the questions, I mean, you were getting dog piled on. Some guys looked at it as an opportunity to teach you, other guys looked at it as an opportunity to show how much they know in front of the corporate guys. And they tried to make you look bad, right? You don’t want to present on day two. So corporate kind of made it into a contest. We all, you know, you found your rank in that room based on the production and performance of your store. You didn’t want to present on day two. Like I was telling you earlier, just because that meant you were in the bottom half. Which meant everybody had questions. And if you didn’t answer them, it was bad. It was what usually happened to like store 25. They asked the same questions. Why are you below the company average on this, that, and the other? They wanted to get in to your procedures. How did you get to be 25? And then, that’s when they just started dissecting everything. And you learn to be prepared. Unfortunately, I watched a grown man be brought to tears in that meeting.
David: Wow. And at 20 years old, 21 years old, you’re, like, getting forged in the fires of competition here.
Colin: Absolutely, yeah. But at the same time, to this day, I have a strong understanding of a profit and loss statement.
Colin: I have a strong understanding of checks and balances and I think that experience prepared me to own my own business. It just made me more professional and, in some regards, there’s some things that I absolutely could not have learned in a classroom. And it wasn’t teachers. It wasn’t students. These were men that had a lot of experience. Men and women that had a lot of experience and, you know, they held a high standard. So I’m very fortunate for that opportunity.
David: So how long were you there for?
Colin: About five years. I think I left when I was 24 years old. I went into management at 20 and started at 19. So about 24 years old. Then I got an opportunity to go work somewhere else at the time. It was Countrywide financial.
Colin: A guy that I played with on a men’s Lacrosse team was the director of internet sales there. He brought me into the mix. He thought I’d be good at it and I was.
David: So you went from the restaurant business to the financial business.
David: Okay. So how was that transition like?
Colin: You know, what helped me was having that strong understanding of the finances of a restaurant. So I might not have understood every terminology used in the mortgage business but I understood what percentages meant. I understood what profit margin meant. There were a lot of things that I knew and I didn’t have any bad habits that a lot of mortgage people had at the time, you know? This was, what, 2005. There was a lot of shady lending practices in the mortgage business. I didn’t know about any of that. I was, I think that’s why they liked me because they brought me in to teach me how they wanted it done and I didn’t know these deceptive ways. I went in just trying to do what they told me and it worked out.
David: So when you were there, are you running into other people, other peers that went to college?
Colin: Yes. I was probably one of the only ones that didn’t have a finance degree.
David: How was that dynamic like? Did you get any hazing or anything?
Colin: I was definitely treated as the guy that didn’t belong in the room.
Colin: But, I mean, it was just one of those, you know, some people, not everybody’s like this. But, some people, they didn’t feel that I was worthy of being in the same position, earning the same money as them. They thought they had put a lot more into their education than I had. But what Countrywide cared, at the moment, was they cared about your performance. Could you do the job right and I’ve never been afraid to work. I’ve always been comfortable talking to people, public speaking. Never been a problem for me. So I excelled at it. You know, I wasn’t the best student. So learning all the ins and outs of regulations and the mortgage business that was a challenge. But it was easily overcome when you’re around good people.
David: All right, so what happened? How’d you leave Countrywide?
Colin: I left Countrywide because my mother, at the time, owned a business out at the State Fair of Texas.
Colin: She was doing all of the fried snickers bars, the fried Oreos. She won the contest in, I want to say, 2006, for her fried pecan praline.
David: Is she still doing this?
Colin: She doesn’t anymore but she did it for about 12 years.
Colin: We had this opportunity. When you go out there, it’s, you know, four weeks. The fair’s three weeks but breakdown and set up, it’s a good month of 20-hour days, 18-hour days. And it was just one of those things. My mother needed me. The opportunity was there to make three year’s salary in four weeks.
David: So it’s that lucrative for the vendors out there?
Colin: Well, not all of them. But when you have the new hot item, the new fried item that wins the contest, if you do it right and you’re willing to hustle, you shouldn’t have to work for the rest of the year if you do it right that month.
David: Wow. For one month, a year’s salary?
Colin: Right. And so when that opportunity came up, Countrywide treated me great, I loved everything about it. It was strictly a financial decision of, I have an opportunity to elevate my family here. Let’s go do that.
David: So what was that opportunity like? Did she just get to be a vendor and get a place or was she doing this for a while?
Colin: She was actually working for somebody else out at the State Fair.
Colin: And she was my mother. She raised both my brother and I by herself. She always had two to three jobs which is where I got my work ethic from.
Colin: To this day, she’s 77 years old, and she still works a full-time job. Not because she has to, she just can’t sit home and watch TV. It’s not who she is. So she was working for somebody else. They needed vendors out there and she sat on a waiting list for almost four years.
David: Okay. So you have to apply, I guess?
David: So what’s that process?
Colin: So if you’re at the State Fair, you want to apply, and you want to sell hot dogs. Okay, well, there’s a million people out there selling hot dogs. So good luck. They’re going to put you on the waiting list forever unless you have a unique idea that they think will do well, because the State Fair does take a percentage of your sales. That’s how they get paid. If there’s an idea that they can make money on, you’ll go to the top of the list. I mean, that’s just how it goes.
David: So is this an audition process?
Colin: Yes. You submit your ideas, your application, and then they want to see the finished product, like, pictures and examples of you having sold it to somebody, somewhere else. But that’s what she came up with these ideas, you know. She had seen, I want to say, she had seen fried candy somewhere on TV.
Colin: And so she just started messing with it and, at the time, the fried thing wasn’t a big deal at the fair. Everything at the fair was corn dogs, funnel cakes, your traditional items.
David: What year was this again?
Colin: Probably 2003 or 2004 when she first got into it. So she started doing fried Oreos, fried Snickers bars, I mean, fried honey buns, fried pecan pralines.
David: What’s your mom’s name?
Colin: Shirley London.
David: And what’s the name of business.
Colin: Shirley London and Sons.
Colin: That was her. She really got creative with some of that stuff. So she ended up with a spot, a prime spot down on the midway. They asked her if she could do it and she took whatever money she had, scraped it all together, got the family together, and said this is what we need to do and we all went chugging in the same direction.
David: So were there any loans involved or is it just everything that she just had saved over time?
Colin: She didn’t borrow any money that I’m aware of.
Colin: I think she had just taken everything she had and just depended on friends and family to come help her out. And she was still working regular jobs while she was doing this as well. So that was getting started and then once she kind of got the ball rolling about year three or four, that’s when she said, hey, this has become serious. We need everybody. You know, can you do this?
David: How did she work during the middle of the day? Did she stop with her other job?
Colin: She saved up her vacation time and her sick days and she would leverage that. She also had a boss that was willing to let her do this. So she would go work Monday and Tuesday, and then the rest of the time, she’d be out at the Fair. And when I say the rest of the time, I meant day in day out. She didn’t rest. And then she’d go back and do what she could in her normal job. She relied on her sister, her brother, then my brother and I, and my grandmother. She relied on us to be there when she couldn’t.
David: Right. So you quit your job to help your mom. What’s that feeling like? Are you scared? Are you like, oh my God, I’m putting all my eggs in this basket. My steady income is gone.
Colin: If you asked me that today, absolutely, I would be, I couldn’t leave anything. But at 23 years old, 24 years old, I was invincible, man. I didn’t worry about any of that. I was, it’s just a job’s. So it was something that I wasn’t too worried. I didn’t have a lot of financial responsibilities either. I didn’t have a wife. I didn’t have children, you know. It was…and your mom’s calling you to help. Absolutely you’re gonna be there, right? No question. We just dropped what we were doing and the promise of, not the promise, but the opportunity of this kind of money to work in a month, I was willing to take that bet for sure.
David: All right. So you’re working with your mom at the State Fair. So how long is that lasting?
Colin: She got out of it in 2012. I’m not necessarily sure she wanted to leave the State Fair. I think it was just time. She didn’t have as much family helping anymore. Everyone had kind of started families of their own and doing things like that. But it’s still a great business and she got out of it and, you know, she went back to what she was always been doing or what she wanted to and then, we all went back to our respective careers.
David: So what did you do afterwards?
Colin: I was, at the time, also volunteering in coaching a high school Lacrosse team.
Colin: Hillcrest High School where I played Lacrosse.
Colin: So I was volunteering with that but it didn’t pay anything. So the head coach at the time knew somebody in the sports world who sold uniforms and he asked, “Is there any way you can give my assistant coach a job during the day helping you so he can still coach in the afternoons’? And that’s how I started working from eight in the morning to 4 pm selling uniforms – baseball, soccer, football, all that good stuff.
David: And you’re still single at this time?
Colin: Right. So I wasn’t making much money but I didn’t need much money. I was also coaching and then I was working at a restaurant at night when I could, you know, trying to bartend. Then the opportunity came where I was at that sports store for it to become full-time. Now I’m back on the salary where I can say, okay, this is a little more comfortable. I don’t have to run around three different jobs. I was still able to coach Lacrosse so it worked out and that’s how I got into the apparel business that I’m in now. I worked there for about nine years and just learned as much as I could. But it was also really fun. I came from sports, you know, as a kid growing up playing sports. I loved it. But I didn’t love selling uniforms. I just loved the sports. Eventually, I became close with the owner over the nine years. He’s a great man that treated me very well. But I realized that we farmed everything out, all of the screen printing and all the embroidery that we did. We were essentially uniform brokers. We had the accounts to get the Nike product but we had somebody else decorating it for us most of the time. And reviewing our financial statements one year, I just started looking at it and realizing how much money we spent to have other people screen print this product for us and what percentage of the profits that was. I mean, probably another 15 to 20 percent of the actual profit went into just the labor of decorating it but on a big scale that 20 percent, well, it was a huge number. And that’s what started me thinking, hey, this is a family-owned business. I’m not family. I’ve gone as far as I can go with them, you know. I was telling you they treated me well. I’ve got no bad words for anyone in that business. I’m just not family. So I was never going to own it. I was never going to make more money than I was already making. But I saw this over here on the other ledger. Man, we’re spending a couple hundred grand a year in thread. I think I can do that. My mother, when I was a kid, one of her side jobs was she screen printed t-shirts out of our garage. I never learned how to do it from her. I was more in her way trying to do that stuff. But at least I knew what it was. So that’s when I started thinking, it can’t be that hard. Well, I was wrong. It was very hard. But I figured it out. So I started just slowly figuring out how to get equipment.
David: Is this on the side?
Colin: Yep. And I was never doing jobs. I was just trying to learn about it. Things like, how much does it cost? I’ve never rented a retail space before. I have no idea how any of that works. So I just spent a good year and a half just studying. Trying to figure out how much money was I going to need and sometimes that’s a staggering number when you think about starting a business. But I worked through it and by this time now I’m married.
Colin: And I’ve got one daughter and she’s almost a year old at the time. Now I’m getting into risk.
David: How old are you right now?
Colin: I was 36 at the time.
Colin: And so, now, I have responsibilities. I have other people depending on me. I can’t just jump and see what happens, right? Which was my philosophy in the past, just see if you can fly. So I start this business and I leave my other job. I gotta tell you, the first six months, I was, it was unhealthy. I mean, I was here the entire time. I was day and night and I didn’t have the sales that I thought I would have.
David: So you’ve already quit your job?
Colin: Yes, with the other gentleman.
David: And you’re starting this company?
David: Okay. Where did you get the funds and the money to start the company?
Colin: I had saved a little bit of money.
Colin: But I just relied on a personal loan based on my credit score, you know. It’s really hard to find business loans even pre-Covid, right? You know, it’s one of those weird things. They want to know that you’ve been able to sustain a business for two years before they give you any money, right? But if you’re starting out, how do you prove that exactly? And that’s a huge challenge. I wish I could tell you it’s easy to get on Shark Tank and there’s other groups like that, that will, you know, these angel investors that will help you out. I looked into it. They’re out there. It just wasn’t something that was gonna help me. So I just took a chance and borrowed some money on a personal loan and bought some equipment.
David: So when you decided to do this, how did your wife react?
Colin: She was supportive the entire time.
Colin: She had more faith than me, than I did. She didn’t have the doubts that I had. You know, things like what happens if this doesn’t go right. What’s it like bankrupting my family? That was my biggest fear. You know, putting us in a hole that we couldn’t climb out of. Feeling responsible for that.
David: So what compelled you to still do that?
Colin: I don’t remember the exact quote but I go back and I remember this. That, you know, there are things in life that are scary, that make you afraid, right? And oftentimes, when you face those fears, you overcome it. But then, there’s sometimes the fear does not subside and you just have to do things afraid. I believe that and it was scary. But at the same time, it was an opportunity. I keep thinking, at the end of the day, I will do something to survive. My wife would tell me all the time, she goes, “That’s not who you are”. She goes, “Even if one business doesn’t work, you’ll go out and mow yards, you’ll do something, you’ll go get five jobs to make sure we’re taken care of”. So knowing that she had that kind of faith in me really put my mind at ease. But at the same time, when I was getting going and the bills started coming in, even though I was doing fine, I had this feeling of anxiety that I had never felt before. I wasn’t sleeping at night. I wasn’t eating right. I lost 22 pounds somewhere around there in the first year of the business to where I look at pictures now from a couple years ago, and I looked sick. I looked like something was physically wrong with me.
Colin: And right as I get out of that, you know. Right as I’m overcoming it, we get to the point where we’re right there and this is almost profitable, Covid happens. And then we get the email, or whatever, the news telling us, hey, 14 days so we can flatten this thing, you know. Everyone’s gonna shut down. Well, at the time, my business was focused purely on schools and sports. That’s what I had come from. That’s what I knew. Those were all my contacts.
David: So tell us what Cutler Customs does?
Colin: So what we do is, we’re branded apparel. It can be anything. Branded apparel can be anything from t-shirts, hats, bags, jackets, uniforms, screen printing, and embroidery. And then, also dye sublimation is another thing that we do. But that is any kind of decoration. So let’s say you buy uniforms. We can do the full custom type stuff. Or, you take an aftermarket product and then you decorate it with the name, number, and logo, all that good stuff. Same thing with embroidery. We put company logos, team logos on hats, and monograms on towels. Just anything like that. But that’s where my business had come from – sports clubs and schools.
David: How are you contacting them? Is it just phone calls?
Colin: I had a pretty good referral system already in place when I started this. Just people you know. For example, club soccer is huge, right? There’s hundreds and hundreds of clubs. When I say club, that’s not one team. There could be anywhere from five to 15 teams in different age groups, under the same club umbrella, right?
Colin: And so, you try to get in with one of those guys. And a lot of it is who you know. These club guys talk to each other. If you do a good job, they refer you to their friends who also own clubs. But a lot of it is just, you know, marketing yourself, cold calling. Which is not a fun part, right? I think a lot of people are scared to do it. I’ve always looked at it as a fun challenge even though nobody likes to get cold called. And I’m sorry to everybody that I’ve cold called, because I understand, it’s annoying. But it’s a necessary evil in some businesses. I’ve also found little ways to not be a cold calling guy at the same time cold calling, right? I’m talking to people, like, you already know them not being abrasive and trying to sell them. Giving them a little information and being prepared with the three questions they’re gonna ask you to make it quick, easy, and if they’re interested, they’ll let you know. If not, they’re gonna let you know that as well. But that’s what I was doing was all sports and schools.
David: Okay. And so when Covid hit, that’s extra hard for you because they all shut down.
Colin: That was a huge problem because that’s all of my business was in schools and sports. Now being in the location that I am, right off of 75, we get walk-in business but nobody’s walking in to do more than a couple things here and there.
Colin: There’s not a lot of walk-in business where a fortune 500 company needs hats for everybody. That doesn’t happen. So I sat there and I wondered, “What am I gonna do”? But I never missed a day because I was here every day even when we were shut down. I wasn’t necessarily open, but I was here doing everything I can.
David: Did you have employees at the time?
Colin: At the time, I did not. But the silver lining to Covid for me was, I completely shifted my business model. When everything I did was schools and sports, and there was no schools and sports, rather than filling out PPP or SBA stuff, which for the people that these loans saved, God bless them. I was close but not necessarily in the situation where I was willing to take government money, right? Both of my grandfathers would have been extremely disappointed in me if they would have known that I went running to the government with my hand out.
Colin: Unless it was a dire situation. And I wasn’t there yet. What I did do was, I changed business plans where the people who were still working were the small businesses. So I created my own cold calling marketing plan using Google and an excel spreadsheet. I said, “Okay, Monday I’m calling plumbers”. So I got on Google and I created a spreadsheet of every plumbing company in the DFW area that I could get information on. I made a list of who I called, the name of the company, who I talked to, and what I talk to them about. And then on Tuesdays it was Telecoms. On Wednesdays it was landscaping. And I just kept that little trend going. I had about 12 to 15 industries that I was just calling every day. So during the lockdown that’s what I was doing.
David: How many calls were you making a day?
Colin: Oh hundreds.
Colin: I mean an average cold call is probably 20 seconds because most people don’t want to talk to you, right? Or they just say, “Email me some information”. Sure, and if you get through that, people get upset with you for calling.
David: How many upset calls did you have?
Colin: Most of them. Because even the people that wanted to do business with you didn’t like the fact that you were calling them out of nowhere. They’re dealing with Covid as well. They’re trying to keep their business going as well. This is just a nuisance, right? But there were plenty of people that I noticed, if I could keep them on the phone for 30 seconds instead of 20, they might not like me, but they’re listening to what I have to say.
Colin: They might be annoyed but at least they wrote my phone number down or they gave me their email address to send them some information.
David: Are you following up with them even if they didn’t like the call later on?
Colin: Especially if they didn’t like the call. Because that was sometimes, some people don’t know they need anything until they’ve been called two or three times. But there’s also some people that let you know right away you shouldn’t call them again. And those people, you just highlight that one in red and move on down the road.
Colin: But it still…I didn’t see any results, you know? This was in, want to say May of 2019, I’m sorry 2020. Yeah, 2020. It’s May. I didn’t see anything. So now I’m questioning myself. I’m 30 days in, hounding people. Hounding is not the right word but, you know, I’m cold calling every day, a couple hundred times a day. Now I’m starting to notice, man, I’m not getting anything back on this. Is this even worth my time?
Colin: And then it was wild, man. It was a storybook because, one day in July, all of a sudden, it feels like every cold call, every email I’d sent out, is now coming back.
David: Do you know what caused that?
Colin: I want to say it was just my polite demeanor and my excellent salesmanship, of course, yeah! But what I honestly think happened was I didn’t try to inundate people with information. What I did was, I made a simple flyer when they asked me to email them information. I put some examples of tumblers that I do. Hats, polos, and t-shirts and I put some generic pricing on there.
Colin: And I wasn’t trying to beat the internet with the lowest price in the world. You’re not going to win that battle. I just put something reasonable, and that way, when someone looks at it, everything they need to know is there. Do I need t-shirts? Do I need hats? Is any of this in my budget? And then it just started coming back. And luckily for me, it hasn’t really slowed down in the last year.
David: So it really is the fruit of your labor. Like, none of this would happen if you just didn’t stick to that grind, right?
Colin: I mean, I’d love to tell you for sure. I’m not sure if I’m just lucky or if it was hard work or both. I just like to think that, yes, it was my hard work. But also, I’m my worst critic and I always tell myself, whatever I’m doing is not really the best. It’s not really good enough, right? So to me, I tend to think I just got lucky, in my head, as opposed to my wife who will tell me, like, “No, it was you”. It was 15 hours a day of everything you put into it. She’s like this is what’s supposed to happen because it pays off. So again she’s pointing me in the right direction when I get off track.
David: Would you say you’re someone that is comfortable with being uncomfortable? Because when I’m hearing you, it’s like you’re always putting yourself there, you’re taking a risk, or you’re putting yourself into a situation where most people don’t want to do that, especially like cold calling. Just saying, “All right, I’m going to try this, I got a family but I’m still going to try this”. Do you think you like being uncomfortable?
Colin: It sounds weird doesn’t it but, yes, I think I do. There’s a guy that I’m a big fan of named David Goggins.
David: Yeah, I know who he is.
Colin: Okay. I see his Youtube videos all the time. He is the epitome of get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Make it burn. And there’s a little bit of reward to that. When you come out of it and you know you’re smelling like a rose. Even though you came out, you know you went through the trials and tribulations of getting there. And so, yes, I think it is part of it. It’s weird, right, that you can get off on any kind of pain that was part of the process.
David: Do you think it’s innate in you or was it something you learned growing up?
Colin: I think I get it from my mom. I think my mother’s work ethic, her, you know, no-turning-back attitude. She did whatever she had to do and she tried everything. My mother has worked in every industry you can think of, in multiple industries at the same time. And you know, I think a lot of people say they’re passionate about what they do and I’ve always thought that was funny because I would love to tell you that I’m passionate about screen printing and embroidery. But I’m not. I don’t go to sleep thinking about thread colors and ink. How to mix inks. I think I’m passionate about the grind, about the process. And what you said…I think I’m passionate about being uncomfortable. Which is weird but it just kind of came to me that I think that’s what I like about.
David: I think that’s awesome.
Colin: It’s just the unknown, right?
David: So how is business now, since we’re coming out of Covid?
Colin: Fantastic. Since all the cold calling, I’ve now hired a full-time employee who has embroidery experience. We’ve expanded from our machinery to, you know, I used to farm out screen printing stuff but we do that in-house now. We control a lot more of what we do here. And now, I mean, I’m in the market to get more. I need two more employees and more equipment. So the business has been fantastic.
David: Are you doing any other advertising besides just word of mouth or cold calls?
Colin: I don’t necessarily cold call anymore. Not that I’m above it. I’m just, right now, I’m busy. I’m busy, yeah. You know, I do advertise with Google a little bit but I rely mostly on referrals. I spoke with a gentleman who owns a design firm. And he started asking me about how I got business right now. I looked at some of these websites that cost an arm and a leg and you pay half your foot to keep them going, right? But they are really cool interactive websites, where people can do everything online and they don’t even need to talk to you anymore. They can just do it online. Well, I wasn’t sure about that because I didn’t have the money to do it. And two, I think a lot of people really still like to walk into a place and sit down and put their ideas on paper, touch, and feel products. Get a sense of who they’re dealing with and doing business with. When that happens, when you create that relationship, people love to have a guy and refer their guy to other people.
Colin: And they’re sitting around the table or they’re just out at the park with their friends and someone says, “Where’d you get that hat”? “I need some hats for my business”. “Oh, here’s my guy”. They love it. So this guy, Eric, the guy I was telling you about that I sit down with. He asked me, where is your business coming from? Is it online? Are you spending money on Google? Is it referrals? Is it ads? Is it this? And I said, well, its referrals, mostly. He’s like, then don’t waste your money on all these other things. He’s like, invest in your relationships. Invest in the people that you do business with. And he goes, you’ll be surprised at how that will pay off for you. So I take my budget and I try to do that. I try to do those types of things, whether it’s buying lunch or if somebody orders 12 hats and I can afford it, and it’s a good deal, I’ll give them 15 hats. I will make them a couple of business tumblers even though they didn’t ask for it. They can use that as your marketing because that’s what people will talk about. That’s what they’ll remember.
David: That’s awesome. So if someone is getting started in the business and you’re talking to young people or someone who’s never done this before, what advice do you have for them?
Colin: You know, have a plan. And that’s what everybody says and I didn’t necessarily know what that meant. When I sat down and to do all this, to write a business plan, if you hadn’t done that before or you didn’t go to college for certain things, like, it’s very easy to have these ideas and work out these problems in your head but to put it on paper and to try to be articulate about how you’re going to do something, it’s difficult. So I wrote a lot of business plans that just didn’t make any sense. And you know, I think having a plan, knowing what you want to do, but also for me, I’m very financially conservative, so I didn’t want to go spend money. I didn’t know what wouldn’t work. So I started very small and I didn’t spend all my money. I cared more about keeping my family clothed and fed than, you know, how cool my shop could look. So I started real small and I just built from there. So I think you have an idea, you do your research on it, and if it’s something you truly believe in, go for it! But when I say go for it, I mean marry that idea. And you can’t…there are a lot of people, because I deal with a lot of people who start businesses that I do hats and polos for, they don’t give it everything they have. And I think, for me, that was the key to being successful. There were no days off. You wake up in the morning and you can either worry about all the things that could go wrong. I tend to get mad and get up and say, “You know what, no, today we’re going to go get somethings right”. And I take that approach, and I can’t say it works for everybody, but that’s what works for me. Once you have your idea, go full throttle, man. Make it happen.
David: So where do you see Cutler Customs going forward?
Colin: Yeah, I would love to expand the business. And I couldn’t tell you exactly what that means. Whether it be more locations. I’m, you know, I’m not necessarily a retailer even though I do have a small retail store. It’s mainly just a showroom. So maybe expanding for me means buying a bigger facility where I can have more equipment and produce more volume. Maybe expanding means that fancy website where you can do more things online. But I think, honestly, my biggest goal is, I would like to create more jobs. I’ve been very fortunate that I’m able to be self-employed and, you know, I am by no means wealthy or ready to retire. But I’m on a path to financial success and if I can help create that for other people, that’s what I want to do.
David: Have you mentored anybody or tried to help people like that or is it just about creating jobs right now?
Colin: No, I’ve tried. I haven’t really been in a spot where I would consider myself mentor worthy. Now because I am involved in a youth lacrosse program over here in Lakewood in East Dallas, I’m around a lot of youth that I think I can influence. And I think I can help. But I’m not necessarily sure that I can be a mentor from a business standpoint. So nobody’s asked me and if they thought enough of me to ask I would do what I could to help.
David: This is really inspiring.
Colin: Oh, thanks.
David: When you say you want to grow it, do you have plans to do that anytime soon or is this something that you’re still thinking about later on down the road?
Colin: I guess, I think it’s later on down the road. Back to my being a little more financially conservative, I’ve always believed that if you take care of your pennies, your dollars would take care of themselves. So I’m not comfortable with expanding until I know that my financial house is in order here.
Colin: And once I get to that point, then, you know, but who knows, expanding may not even be in this business. And, you know, if the money is there and I can invest in somebody else’s dream and somebody else’s idea, that they’re willing to do what I’m doing and they just don’t have the capital to do it, man, why not, you know. If the guy around the corner that I’ve become friends with has a great idea for, you know, a new food truck or whatever it might be, but he just needs that push to get him there. I want to be that guy.
David: So tell us what a regular, everyday day is like for you? What do you go through? What’s that grind like?
Colin: Well, right now, I’m still in a position where I work all the time.
Colin: I’m not there yet where I can stop work. So Renee is the gentleman that works for me. He gets here in between 8:30am and 9:00am in the morning. We open at 9:00am. I’m usually here about 9:30 because I get my daughter up and try to get her to school at a reasonable hour. Some days it’s easier than others. So when I get here, he’s already started on what we have finishing up from the day before. So we, usually, I mean, product comes and flows all day long. It comes and goes. So it’s mainly just keeping things organized. Keeping our workflow in order. Prioritizing what needs to be done. So when I get here in the mornings, I usually get myself a cup of coffee and try and see what emails are new. Anything that needs to be cleaned up from yesterday. If I haven’t responded to everything from yesterday then that’s the first thing I do is, anything that wasn’t done the day before. And Renee’s going and then we just keep going, man. I usually bring my lunch every day. I’m still one of those guys that I pack my lunch at home and I bring it every day. So I’ll eat here and take a quick 30 minute break when I can. When 5:30 comes around, I go pick up my daughter. I get her home by 6:00 and get her something to eat. Once my wife’s got everything under control there, I come right back up here, usually about seven o’clock and then I’m here until, on a good night, midnight. Sometimes it’ll go one or two in the morning.
David: Oh, wow.
Colin: And then, get home, get some sleep, and then…
David: What are you doing at night?
Colin: Just fulfilling orders, yep. And Renee is a rock star. I mean, he does so much. But this, I mean, the needle can only go up and down so many times a day. So there’s only so much we can do, right? And there are times it’s a challenge because if one thing goes wrong, the production stops. You got to fix it whether, I mean, whatever it could be.
David: You’re hand making everything here, right?
Colin: Correct. Everything we do is, whether it be screen printed or embroidered or even the dye sublimation, it’s all done here. But you run into logistical problems. It’s never anybody’s fault but let’s say something’s supposed to ship on Wednesday and it doesn’t ship until Thursday. Well, that throws you off, right? And then you know something doesn’t show up or, I mean, there’s a million things that can go wrong in a day. Honestly, that’s kind of the fun part though. Figuring out how do fix issues. Knowing that it’s only a problem if you don’t have a solution. So you get into those sometimes. Where we don’t have solutions but what’s also challenging is everything we do is on a deadline. If you’re ordering baseball uniforms and there’s a game Saturday, you know. It’s make or break. You got to get those uniforms done. It’s a little easier in the corporate apparel business because they’ll have events but they’re usually far out and give you plenty of lead time. There’s not really make or break deadlines. So that’s a little less challenging. But yeah, that’s how the day goes. You know, we just keep grinding. So this is where the being comfortable being uncomfortable thing comes in. I absolutely love that because there are nights where I am here at two o’clock in the morning and I‘m thinking, something is wrong if I’m having to work like this late. But then I get phone calls saying, “My embroidery guy that I’ve used for years is now out of business, is there any way you can take on this order’? “Sure we can”. That’s when you know you need it done. Let’s get it done. That might mean we’re staying up here a little later at night than what we’re comfortable with doing. But that person that we help out, that we saved, we got their hats done for their family reunion or their event. They’ll remember that, right? And they’ll come back.
David: So having done this for all these years, would you ever go work for anyone else ever again?
Colin: Man, yes and no. If I keep hearing about these kush jobs where you make a lot of money and don’t have to do anything, if that was ever brought up, and someone asked me to do that, if you ever need an embroidery consultant that just needs to tell you how to do it and doesn’t actually have to get in there and do it and you want to pay me a king’s ransom, you’d have my attention. But I’ve never had a problem working for other people. Every job I’ve ever had, I treated it like I owned it. And I know that sounds silly but when I worked at Texas Light and Cattle, in my mind, I owned that restaurant. I took responsibility for everything that went there. When I was at Countrywide and I was dealing with people’s livelihoods and their finances in their home, I looked at, even though I wasn’t, I looked at it as if I was their personal financial consultant. And if I thought they were taking a misstep and I could help them not make that mistake, I would do that. Same thing at the other business that I worked at. It was a family-owned business but I treated it like it was mine. And so if I worked for somebody else, I would continue to do that, sure. I would prefer not to but at the same time, you know, I get it. I understand why people don’t want to work for other people.
David: See, I got a feeling, if you had the kush job, it would get to you after a while.
Colin: I think you’re right. I think the idea of a comfortable paycheck sounds nice but sitting around and not being responsible, not having consequences for your decisions is not. Yeah, you know, I like doing things that are hard. I like doing things that have consequences if you fail. And I think that sharpens you. I think that when I’m going to take this chance, and if I make a misstep, there’s going to be a kick to the teeth. I think you’re a little sharper when you have to make those decisions.
David: Well Colin, I think we’ll end there. But I am incredibly inspired by your story. I love the fact that you like the grind. Most people just focus on the glamour of owning a business but they don’t realize all the stuff that goes in the back, the daily grind. I love the fact that you love feeling uncomfortable because that kind of makes you have to think of new ways of tackling different situations. So this was great. I’m inspired. So awesome, man. It’s been a real pleasure.
Colin: I really appreciate it.
David: So we always say this to folks that we have a good time with. Hopefully we can come back, maybe in a year. I would like to see where you are.
Colin: I would love that.
David: And then continue this story.
Colin: Excellent. All right. Thank you so much.
For more information about Cutler Customs and all your custom screen printing, branded apparel needs, go to:
Cutler Customs at 5211 N Central Expy, Dallas, TX 75205