This Episode

Marc Vila and Howard Potter

You Will Learn

  • Why you should always plan for growth
  • How and why you should periodically assess your space
  • Why happy customers can be better than any advertising you buy

Resources & Links

Episode 196 – Overcoming Struggles of Growing a Business with Howard Potter

In this compelling follow-up episode of Custom Apparel Startups, we’re delighted to welcome back Howard Potter, of A&P Master Images, for another deep dive into the world of custom apparel. This time, Howard sheds light on the troubles encountered when starting a t-shirt business and shares invaluable advice for both new and established entrepreneurs in the industry.

Kicking off the episode, we tackle one of the most daunting questions for newcomers: “Which machine to buy?” We stress the importance of broad research and caution against getting tunnel-visioned on a single technology. The landscape of apparel printing is vast and choosing the right equipment is crucial for your business’s specific needs and goals.

Growth is a central theme of our conversation. Howard underscores the necessity of forward-thinking, particularly in terms of spatial planning. Anticipating future expansion is vital; many businesses struggle because they run out of room or fail to utilize their current space efficiently. He offers practical tips on scanning your property and equipment regularly to identify items that can be repurposed or removed, thus making way for essential upgrades or additions.

Howard also introduces the concept of “temporary fixes” for immediate problems, but he warns against relying on these for too long. The discussion moves towards a critical analysis of production, time, and space utilization. He advises that operating at 95% capacity is a clear sign that expansion is overdue. Ideally, businesses should start thinking about improving their space or equipment when they hit the 70-75% threshold to avoid stagnation and ensure continuous growth.

Beyond the technical aspects of running a t-shirt business, Howard emphasizes the foundation of any successful venture: providing excellent service, treating people right, creating outstanding products, and committing to education and transparency. These principles, he argues, are non-negotiable for long-term success in the custom apparel industry.

This episode is a treasure trove of insights for anyone looking to navigate the challenges of starting or expanding a t-shirt business. Howard Potter’s expertise and candid advice make it a must-listen for entrepreneurs eager to make their mark in the world of custom apparel.

Here is the list of tips for growing your business:

  • Get the right equipment for YOUR business
  • Consider the space you have to work and make sure you have room to grow
  • If you are not using things or running out of room, be sure to scan your space and see how you can improve efficiency
  • Consider your % output / % time / % space
  • If you are at 95% production / space … you need to expand
  • Really you should be improving space / equipment at 70-75% rather than waiting
  • Simple rules for growth
  • Provide great service
  • Treat people right
  • Create a great product
  • Educate your customer
  • Be transparent


Marc Vila:
Hello, everybody, this is Marc Villa with the Custom Apparel Startups Podcast. And if you listened to the last episode, we were with Howard Potter and we were talking about direct-to-film printing and some decisions to make or some things to consider when making that decision. And today, we’re going to talk about the T-shirt business.

So Howard, I want to welcome you. Thank you so much. I just greatly appreciate your time and I know you’re helping a bunch of people out there. Why don’t you just give us, again, a quick little quip on who you are and what you do for anybody who might not have listened to the last episode?

Howard Potter:
My wife and I have been in business for 21 years. We offer screen printing, embroidery, direct-to-film, vinyl graphics, 2D, 3D, UV, laser engraving, sublimation, and even more. We’ve even built online stores. So we’ve been very fortunate over the years to get into a lot of different processes along with rhinestones to see what works, what doesn’t work, and build a very stable and long-term company out of this.

Marc Vila:
Yeah, that’s excellent. And that’s why this question that we’re going to pose is perfect for you and it’s perfect for anybody listening out there who wants some real-world experience. And as I mentioned in our last podcast, you started doing one type of technology, then you had troubles and made it through, and then added another one, which I’m sure had its own troubles and pushed through, and then another one. So you’ve gone through this, I’m sure, like a wave of struggle, success, struggle, success, but that wave for you is like a good-acting stock market. It always goes up and down, but in the end, it was way higher than it started.

And so I wanted to discuss what are some troubles or some problems that you have in growing a T-shirt or any customization business, and how did you solve them? So you can kind of be very specific with problems you’ve had or just some in general. And I’ll just start with, I’ll kind of open the floor with one because we discussed it in the last episode, so if you didn’t listen to that, you should. But one of the problems is deciding what equipment to get or what technology to work with.

And the problem for that is I think much simpler. The answer, I should say, to that problem is much simpler than it really is, right? Because the long answer is, “What do I want to do? And what do I want to sell?” And space and power and all this stuff. That’s the long answer. The short answer is don’t all of a sudden think you should get a piece of technology because you read about it once on the internet or your friend did it or you’ve heard the words before and assume that’s what you get.

And we run into that all the time. We have people who will call up and say, “I want sublimation.” And then, “What are you going to make?” “I’m going to make concert shirts for death metal bands.” “Great. They probably don’t want a bunch of white T-shirts, so you don’t want sublimation. You probably want to do something that’s good with darks and cotton.” “No, I’ve heard sublimation.” And they get stuck there and it’s like, “You should break free.”

So my answer to deciding the equipment is break free of what you think you should buy. Direct-to-film is hot right now. I don’t know if it’s good for you, listening, because I don’t know what you’re looking to make. So break free of what you hear you should get. Research. Let that knowledge just decide on what is actually best for your business model, customer, space, personal capabilities, all of those things. And then that will drive the decision forward. So the simple answer is just do some research, educate yourself, then make a decision.

So that’s how I’m kicking it off. Howard, how about you? What are some troubles you suspect folks will run into and how can they resolve them?

Howard Potter:
Well, there there’s 1,001 different problems people have in a day, a year, and we’ve got to be everything to everyone around us.

One of the problems I still have to this day is growth, which people wouldn’t think that’s a problem, but it’s a good-bad problem is what we call that. And if we go back to the grassroots of starting out of our house in roughly a 15′ by 15′ room, we did that for about four or five years, and we hit to about 125,000 in production out of our house, which the average shop in the United States only does usually about a quarter million to 350,000. And so we had to make a decision of are we going to move, buy a larger house and build something out back and just work out of it? Are we going to take this thing retail and be professional and have a brick-and-mortar?

So we went through those trials and tribulations, and what we did was we moved into a plaza and rented a 650-square-foot space. Now, again, when I went into that space, I also made sure I looked around and I was like, “All right, what else is here?” And what I mean by that is, is there room to grow? A lot of people, when you’re growing, they don’t see the dotted line. And one thing a builder that’s had over 50, 60 years of building experience taught me from his family was when you plan something, plan it with a dotted line. So if you go past that, there’s room for expansion, there’s room for growth. No matter if it’s space or technology, whatever, think outside the box.

So I was probably about 26 when we moved into this space. The next door had someone in it, the upstairs was fully empty. Within a year, I took on more space upstairs. I was able to negotiate a deal, just had to figure out the ergonomics of the workflow. And literally over a five-year period, we went from having 650 square feet of that entire building to 4,000 of it, which was like 67% of the entire plaza at the time.

And this was back in 2012, 2013. We plateaued in the sense of we’re still growing, but we had no more room to grow where we were at. So I started talking to the owner of the property about purchasing it. Again, planning. While I’m thinking about it, I’m like, “Well, if I want more space, I’ve got to kick people out, but if I keep those businesses in, it’s residual revenue to pay for the mortgage,” and I’m like, “do I want to stop my growth for pennies on the dollar or do I want to get bigger and keep up with this?”

So we reached out to our home city where we live, which is not even a five-minute drive, and found that there was some properties that they had that weren’t really marketed, and they started showing them to us. So we actually made the investment to purchase a 5,400-square-foot building with an acre of land. Again, we already did projections, again, research and projections, knowing in a three-year period where we were going to be at next. So we knew the building wasn’t going to be big enough for long-term, but we figured if we can get two to five years out of that additional space, that would be great.

Well, we buy the building, acre of land. We move in. Six months later, we outgrew it. So why did we outgrow it? It wasn’t just growth. It’s going back to technology. We invested in more equipment to keep up with all the production that we needed to get out so we could turn over the orders faster.

Let’s fast-forward to today. Last year, we had invested and built a 3,000-square-foot facility behind our existing building, and we were able to move probably a good 60% of our equipment into that building to create more retail space and production space within the existing building. And I’m here telling you, again, I outgrew that already. Now we’re looking to triple the size of that building, but again, we have the land, so it’s not like we have to move.

Marc Vila:
Right, right. Well, the first one is planning for growth and having a vision for growth, which is definitely a problem. And I think that there’s a few things that you’ve said in there, but the story is really important.

So one is recognizing when the space doesn’t work anymore, and then taking the leap. And when you take that leap, kind of say, “Well, I’m not going to take the leap just to solve for my problem today. I’m going to take the leap into renting a space, buying a space,” whatever’s right for you, “building a bigger house, building a steel building on your property.” I mean, whatever your life is for you.

But when you take that leap, if you were the last example I said is let’s just say you already have land. You’re going to build a steel building outside your property to make into your shop. Well, if you’re considering a steel building that is 2,000 square feet, 1,000 square feet, maybe how much is it for 1,500? Because you need 1,000. How much is it to build a 1,500 one? Oh, wow, that’s actually not that much more. I have the space. What am I going to do with that extra 500? Well, the plan is to grow your business. You’re going to fill it up and then you probably will wish you would’ve gotten the 2,000-square-foot one potentially, but that’s the dream.

But I think that that’s like the good lesson is to plan for the growth and make sure that you don’t stop yourself. Because the problem is, we talked about in the last episode, people buying a machine that’s potentially too small and can’t grow. There’s another theme that you brought up again, space, making sure you have the space to grow. Very often we run into folks who either stop themselves with equipment and don’t reinvest or didn’t buy a big enough one in the first place, and then you’re stuck and it’s hard to get out sometimes when you get stuck.

So whenever you can, I think the answer you’re providing to me that I’m reading it as is whenever you can, build yourself a space, I don’t mean physically, I just mean in general, whether technology, printing, whatever it is, get yourself space that lets you grow because then you have room to get into it. You’ve got a motivational to fill that vacuum, whether it’s physical, technology, whatever it is.

Howard Potter:
Yeah. And it’s not even just that too. It’s that, yes, but it’s that and more. It’s be cognizant of throughout your year, each year, whether… Every January, I’ll scan my entire property inside and out for space, getting rid of stuff we don’t need, being more efficient. Before I look to gain more space, I make sure I’ve executed every possibility of reutilizing what’s already there before buying more or building more.

And so another way to utilize more space, you’re eventually going to need stock for supplies, or you need stock for finished products. So we have a tractor trailer on our property. We have a 16′, a 24′, another 24′ and a 6′ trailer for housing different types of things instead of getting more building space. You know?

Marc Vila:

Howard Potter:
So yes, you lose time going out to those trailers, but it allows you a cushion before making that big investment. So it buys you time, and you give up a little bit of time to gain more revenue on the backend to build up to what you really need.

And the other thing too is when I’m looking at more space, you got to execute what’s there first. Make sure you maximize every square foot as possible. Then from there, you want to get to the planning phase of where do I see myself three to five years from now? And you want to make sure you’re not going past the 90, 95% percentile of being maxed-out all the time because then that means you need more manpower to ramp up production to get it out of your face faster. So you want to make sure things are moving accordingly.

Once you’re at that 75, 80%, you want to start doing your research of what the next phase is. You don’t want to start doing your research when you need it. It’s got to be a minimum, you want to plan a minimum of six months ahead of time because things are going to change. So if you start having the conversation now, you’re measuring twice and cutting once more often.

So in my story, yeah, we kept growing, but it was good because it was controlled growth and I didn’t have to fight for the space. I worked up to the space, and then I would take on a little bit more space than I needed so I could grow into it. No different than a direct-to-film printer, for example. You buy more than what you need within a safe zone, whatever your financial safe zone is. So in our case, we talked about, you were mentioning, well, if you got 1,000 square feet, you were going to go for 1,500, but you really want 2,000. With our new building, it was built technically two stories. Where the offices were, we had the ceiling reinforced so we could stack stuff up with the forks on my tractor.

Well, once we looked into it, for $38,000 more, we had custom stairs built, a half-wall, additional lighting, and flooring put in, and we gained another 900 square feet with easy access.

Marc Vila:
Yeah, that’s actually some really good points that I took out of there. And throughout our conversations… Well, I’ll have more conversations with Howard, by the way, for those listening out there in the future. If you don’t know or you hear it, I’m taking a little bit of notes because I’m wanting to put that on our website or in the YouTube video so you can just have some quick things to jot down yourself or realize. So I’m doing that as Howard’s saying some things, and there’s a couple of things you said that I really like.

You kind of talked about either running out of room or not properly utilizing, whether it’s space or things, whether it’s equipment, whatever it is. So it could be shelving, it could be a piece of equipment, it could be actual space. So it’s a great idea to frequently go through and assess everything, your space, what you’re using, what it’s being used for, the capacity. Can you repurpose space? Can you throw things away? Can you retire things? Can you sell things? Can you reorganize your space to fit better?

So these are things we do in our houses all the time, right? I mean, you reorganize your garage, you reorganize your closet because it’s a mess, and you give some clothes away so you can make room for other clothes or for a shoe rack. We do that all the time personally, so do it with your business.

And one of the things you had said was kind of maybe temporary solutions to things. So for you, it was you needed some storage. You can get a tractor trailer out there that can hold some things, and it’s not the most convenient way to hold those things, but it solves it immediately, reasonably inexpensive, reasonably convenient. So if you can fix problems within your business with a quick, temporary solution… And we do this at home too, right?

I’ve been reorganizing some space in my garage for some hobbies I do. And I said, “You know what? If I had one more shelf, I can move all this stuff. I know I don’t want that shelf for a long time because I’m going to put it in front of another shelf. It’s not optimal, but it’s 60 bucks at Lowe’s. It will put all this stuff. It frees up that corner. Now that corner, I can put these table and these shelves and I can actually start doing something immediately until the bigger project of changing all of those other shelves out happens.” So you can do that in your business.

And then the second thing is you talked about kind of percentage of output, percentage of time. I’m also going to add percentage of space. I really liked this because you had said that if you’re at 95% production, 95% workload, 95% space, I think it works for all those things, then you’re already capped out, even if you’re not at 100%. You’re ready to the point where growth is going to be hindered by it so you should be thinking about improving space equipment, staff, whatever it is at 70, 75% of output or capability, rather than waiting till you’ve reached 95, 100%.

Howard Potter:
That’s right.

Marc Vila:
Did I capture that correctly and summarize it correctly?

Howard Potter:
Yes, yep. Excuse me. Dry cough.

Marc Vila:
Yeah, no problem. Talking does that. Okay, good.

Well, we covered, I think… I covered a few things. This is what I have so far, and then we could talk about if we want to add one other tiny little quiz to kind of wrap it up.

But we said… I started it off with what equipment to buy, and that’s real important. We have a whole episode about choosing a direct-to-film printer that we did with Howard, and you can listen to that and we dive a bit more into that conversation. But that’s a really important problem, and the solution is really simple.

We talked about growth being a problem. That actually is… I’m really glad you said that. I did not expect you to start with that actually, but it is, gosh, is it a problem for so many of our customers, for us here at ColDesi, for everything. Growth is a challenge. If you want to get to it, deciding if you want to because that’s a whole nother separate conversation is do you want to grow? And what does that mean?

Howard Potter:
So I… Oh, go ahead.

Marc Vila:
Yeah, go ahead.

Howard Potter:
So I just wanted to chime in two seconds on that, and I’ll tell you why. Because when we talk about research, years ago, when I started this business with my wife, my wife’s like, “Why would you want to get in the T-shirt business?” We had so many shops around us. Well, the advantage was I had already gotten a degree and had several years of design experience, and most people in this line of work don’t have actual physical design, professional design experience.

But even going past that, what I researched was, I mean, our industry as a whole is roughly $50-plus billion, but in the United States, there’s roughly less than 400,000 people in the United States that know anything about any of these processes. So there’s a percent of a percent that know anything about it. So we actually have the upper hand and the advantage to control where we want to go with this and make it our destiny. We just have to know that that opportunity’s there and how are we going to tackle it, and what do we want out of it?

So you have constant supply of resources and you have constant demand. You’re in the middle doing this, teetering, where am I going to go? You have to make that decision on a regular basis because you can grow as large as you want to.

Marc Vila:
Yeah. You know what? You said something, and this is something that I… Kind of a thought experiment I have with folks a lot when I’m talking about this.

So if you go to not in our industry, a fictional business, an insurance office, and you say, “I want everyone, all my staff, I want everybody to wear Nike or Adidas polos and khakis. That’s our uniform. We want to be,” whatever your reason is. So you tell folks, “Go to Dick’s Sporting Hoods, go to wherever, buy Nike or Adidas polos.” What are they going to cost? 50, 70 bucks, right?

Howard Potter:

Marc Vila:
How much would it cost to get a reasonably, maybe not that brand, but a reasonable quality embroidered with your logo? What would you charge for something like that for if they wanted 20 or 50?

Howard Potter:
Yeah. So depending on stitch count and how many locations, roughly, you’re going to be anywhere between the $25 and $45 range on average.

Marc Vila:
So it’s actually… And I knew you were going to say something like that, right? Because even if it was… I went and got, I worked for a business and we had Nike ones, and I think those were $60, if I recall, that it cost to get those.

Howard Potter:
Oh, yeah.

Marc Vila:
So it is the same amount of money to tell your staff to go to the sporting goods store and buy Nike or Adidas, polos as it is to go to an embroidery shop and get custom-made ones. And that’s where I think the limitation of our industry sits at is that that business exists almost more than the ones that get customized shirts. There are more businesses that don’t have customized apparel than do, and all it takes is somebody in our industry to go up and say, “Hey, in your office, you’re wearing a Nike shirt. You know for the same amount of money, I can get you a shirt that’s just as nice of a quality with your logo on it?” And people are like, “Really?” “Yeah, for sure.” So I think that that’s great.

Howard Potter:
Well, not only that, right? The other thing that really helped us jump past… There’s still businesses in our area that are anywhere between 10 and upwards of 20 years older than us, and they’re still the same size they were when we started.

So to give everybody a rough idea, when we started out of our house, my first year, I did maybe 10 grand and I went to 25, 50, 75, 125, whatever. Now today, I’m very proud to say this, we employ 30 full-time staff with full benefits, and our company broke over $3.5 million last year, and we’re still not anywhere near the biggest of the biggest companies in the United States, but we’re still naturally growing and gaining market share.

And how did we do that? It was basic family values. Treat people how you want to be treated, have great customer service, get back to them within a timely manner. And the third thing, make sure your quality is working to set the bar every day.

So when you were touching on getting your logo customized, why we struggled in our area at first with growth, even though we were growing, was we had to explain to people our stuff was a dollar more at times because we did put more thread into it. We used 100$ USA-made polyester thread, and it was educating the customer. Once that caught on, it created a steamroll of, “Wait a minute. When I need these people, they’re there. When they tell me they’re going to have something done, it’s done. And God forbid they do make a mistake, they’re there to fix it.”

Guess what? You’re never paying for marketing. Your customer is your advertising because they’re wearing what you’ve done for them.

Marc Vila:
You know, it’s funny. I actually created a new problem and the solution just in the statement you have there.

So a problem is you can’t grow, right? And the solution is… It’s actually so simple, it seems like it’s not a right answer, but if you do this, I’m telling you, you have… 40 other people have said almost the same story you’ve said to me just in that little quip there. If you can’t grow or you’re not growing, provide great service, treat people right, create a good-quality product that you can be proud of, and educate your customers. And you didn’t say something, you didn’t say this word, but I would say be transparent with your customers too.

Howard Potter:
Yes, yes.

Marc Vila:
And just say, “I’m trying to grow my business. One of the ways I’m trying to grow is by making the best product out there. I was looking at some of the other things. I was looking at what you’re wearing right now and the hat,” I’m not talking about you by the way.

Howard Potter:
Yeah, yeah.

Marc Vila:
Your hat looks great. “But I’m noticing the hat that you are wearing right now and the logo that whoever put that on, it looks okay. I don’t want to insult your hat. It looks fine, but I can do better than that. And if you give me a shot, I’d like to do that and it’s going to cost a couple bucks more, but you’re going to look A+. Do you want to look A+ or do you want to look B+? I think you kind of look B+ now.”

I don’t know how that conversation goes. It goes with however your personality works, but you can be transparent with customers. Let them know you want to create great things. If they cost more, let them know why it costs more.

And yeah, I mean, some people don’t care about customer service, don’t care about quality, don’t care. They just want something super cheap. And if that is the business model you’re running, then go for that. Make the cheapest, fastest thing you get, and you’re a process efficiency person and lowest cost. But most of the people in our industry that are successful that I speak to and that have grown their business, whether it’s slowly or quickly over years, tell the same story. “I treat customers right. I let them know why I’m selling it. If there’s a problem, I do my best to honestly resolve it as best as I can. I apologize for when I make a mistake. I find a solution when there’s a problem.”

You mentioned in the last episode that screen printing, you messed up on a shirt, you already tore everything down. You have two things. You can say, “Hey, customer, I know you needed 50 shirts. I only have 49. I’m going to refund you that 10 bucks, 20 bucks for that shirt I didn’t make.” Which I mean, I guess that’s a moral thing to do, but did that make the customer happy?

Howard Potter:

Marc Vila:
No. Maybe they didn’t feel ripped off, but-

Howard Potter:
99% of the time, it doesn’t. Yeah.

Marc Vila:
But not happy, yeah. Yeah.

Howard Potter:
Well, it’s funny. I’m sorry to cut you off.

Marc Vila:
No, go ahead.

Howard Potter:
You made some really good points here because we had an order a few years ago for a screen print order. We did everything correctly. So one thing that we do as a company, we’ve been doing it for probably 12 to 14 years, is as we’ve gotten bigger, our budget increases with this. And we talk about marketing, but people don’t think outside the box sometimes of what marketing can be.

If a customer makes an honest mistake approving an order, whether it’s the physical product or the artwork, whatever the case may be, and we customize it and we give it to them and they’re like, “Oh my God, I messed up. It wasn’t you, it was me. I shouldn’t have approved this. I was looking for my phone, dah, dah, dah, dah,” if they’re respectful and they’re transparent themselves saying, “Listen, it wasn’t you. It was me. What do I got to do to get this fixed? I’ll pay for it,” whatever, 99% of the time, we budget about 10 grand a year now where we pay to fix it one time for free.

And there’s a specific story that’s very dear to me because it was for a local police officer that had passed away, and another one of our local troopers was putting on the event, and he had accidentally approved the proof with one number transposed or whatever because that’s how it was given to us. And we’re talking a $1,700 screen print order, and he opens up the box. He’s like, “I can’t believe I made this mistake.” He goes, “I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I did this.” I said, “Well, what’s the matter?” I said, “Let’s look at it. Can we fix it?” He goes, “The numbers are backwards.” I said, “Yeah, there’s no way on a couple hundred shirts,” or whatever it was at the time, I said, “there’s no way we’re going to be able to do this.” He goes, “Listen.” He goes, “I don’t care what it costs. I’ll pay to replace it, dah, dah, dah.”

And my wife and I looked at each other because we’ve never bitten off one shot like that for someone, went back to our office, worked the numbers, figured out what it was going to cost us, and we went back out to them and said, “Listen, you’ve been a long-time customer. You’ve got a lot going on. This was a really dear friend of yours. We’re going to absorb this because we can write it off. We’re going to absorb this.” And just the emotion on his face was enough thank you right there. But we went and reproduced the order correctly, and our social media lit up because he had done a whole post about what we had done for not only him, but for the event.

And so we didn’t do it for that, but it led to that. Doing good because good is good to do. You know what I mean?

Marc Vila:
Yeah, yeah. That’s a great story. And one of the things, I talk about it here at ColDesi and when we have meetings and we talk about customer service and helping, and I’ve owned my own businesses before and my father owned a business, so I’ve been around sales, customer service, and marketing my whole life. And you’re going to be presented with opportunities to go above and beyond. Now, sometimes the above and beyond is unreasonable. You have to sit down and do the math and think about it, like you and your wife did.

But what you should not do is draw hard lines that, “You approved it. No.” You should never have that line. The line should exist, but I think it should be a dotted line maybe, not a hard line.

Howard Potter:
Yes. No, you’re right.

Marc Vila:
That sometimes there are times where I walk through that line and sometimes there are times when I don’t. And when you walk through and you go to the other side and you break the rule, or whatever you want to call it, think about it as for one, sometimes you’re just doing a good deed. And this was partly just a good deed for people who serve the community. And there was a death involved. There was a lot of good deed behind it.

But the secondary thing you think about is, is this a marketing opportunity? Is this a customer service opportunity? What are all the opportunities? And we could probably do a whole episode just on this, but I would have potentially some sort of a checklist and say, or a scoring model, “And if I can check off three out of 10 boxes, I’m going to break the rule,” or, “if I can score over 10 points and give everything a point, I’m going to break the rule.”

And in this case, just a fictional version of it, it’s an old, long-time customer. One point. There’s emotion involved, there’s death, and there’s community service. These people serve the community, another checked box. And then this person’s also connected to the community, so there’s a marketing checkbox. And I mean, there’s nothing wrong with checking the box to say, “This is a good marketing opportunity too,” because that doesn’t make it immoral, thinking of it that way. But you should think about all those things. And if you check a bunch of these boxes, you’re like, “We need to break this rule. Of course we do. It’s going to make us feel good. It’s going to make us do good for the community, and also, it’s probably going to help the business.”

So I think that that’s a great story, for one. I mean, it speaks a lot about you and your wife as people, but it is a really great way, a lesson to learn because I see a lot of customers who I’ve talked to over the years and talk about their hard rules and what they will never do because they got burnt before. But if you want to get… We talked about making pizzas a couple times here. If you want to make really great pizzas and you’re going to mess with a super hot oven or a grill, you’re going to burn yourself.

Do you want to make great… And I said this to my daughter when I was teaching her how to cook. She was pulling something out that was really hot, and she’s like, “Oh, it hurts.” And I said, “Yes, it’s not burning you. It’s just hot. Do it quick. It’s just part of making the recipe.”

Howard Potter:
It’s part of the process, yeah.

Marc Vila:
“It’s part of the process. It is hot.” And I said, “But that’s okay. You’re not hurting yourself.”

So I think when you’re crossing that line of the rules and you’re doing these customer service things, it’s going to sting, it’s going to be hot, but as long as you’re not causing injury to your business, you’re making the pie, you’re getting better.

Howard Potter:
Yeah, yeah. Couldn’t agree more.

Marc Vila:
Great. We covered a lot of great stuff today. What machine to buy, the problem with growth, running out of a room, not utilizing things, considering percentage of output, percentage of time, percentage of space, and just what are some things you could do that are very basics of what you can’t grow?

So what I would encourage a listeners out there to do is, for one, one exercise you could literally do right now is talking about the percentage of output, time, space, et cetera. Do an analysis of your business. Schedule time this week or next week to go out there, look at your business. What’s a space I’m working in? Is there wasted space, wasted equipment, wasted time? Can I improve that? If you can, do it. If there’s a piece of equipment you haven’t used in two years, use it or get rid of it. Make the space for something else. If you can reorganize something, if you could buy a $60 shelf to put stuff in and get those boxes off the ground and make room to have more room to work in, use the space. So that’s one thing you can do right now.

And then the second thing, I think, that’s a longer-term thing is to consider your growth, consider how’s your customer service? How do you treat people? What’s the quality of your product? And is it where you want to be? This one’s harder to do, in my opinion, because we’ve got a little bit of cognitive dissonance in our brains. We’ve got all of these things where when you’re doing something and you’ve taken time to do something or you’ve spent money on something, you justify that everything is right and it’s the way it should be. So you’ve got to step out of your business a little bit, completely step back as much as you can, look at it from as high as you can, and say, “Is my quality right? Can my customer service be better? Can I treat people better?” Whatever it is. “Am I educating my customers enough? Am I charging the right prices? And if I’m not, why not?” And ask all these questions.

And this is something I heard a psychologist say something about self-improvement. He said, “At night, lay down and think about the thing that you want to change in your life. The thing that you can’t say to yourself that is in your brain that you won’t say out loud to yourself is the biggest change and the hardest one to do.” So I think that’s the same for your business. If you’re looking at all those things and you have one that you’re scared to answer, whether it’s the quality of your output or your pricing, if that’s the scariest one, then you got to ruminate on that for a little bit and see what you can do to improve it.

Howard Potter:

Marc Vila:
Well, Howard, do you have a final sentence or two you’d like to leave the folks with too?

Howard Potter:
Yeah. I mean, wake up every day like it’s your first day starting your business. Work it like a farm. Never assume you have all the answers. Never assume we all have all the answers. We’re talking about things through trials and tribulations that have worked, that have proven to work, that build longevity. But we all have something that we can add to these topics in our lives, in our daily lives, and we just need to be able to remove ourselves back long enough to really look at the scope of the picture of what we’re working in every day to make it a better place to work and to build our companies up.

Marc Vila:
Yeah, that’s excellent.

Well, there’s going to be… I’ll definitely say something. We’ve done about 200ish episodes, and I’m being 100% honest here with you is that I, at the end of every episode, whether I was with Mark Stevenson, who used to also be on the show and other guests, we usually assess afterwards, like, “How good was that?” And there were episodes where we were like, “Dang, that’s going to help a lot of people.” And the other episodes were like, “Good information. I don’t know if it’s groundbreaking.”

This episode, I felt something really positive about this episode, honestly, myself. I think that for the people out there who listen to this and they take your thoughts to heart, and they will actually change their business and do better. I really feel that about this episode.

Howard Potter:

Marc Vila:
And in my opinion, if you’re listening to this and you didn’t get that feeling, I would do a couple of those exercises I mentioned a couple minutes ago because I really think if you do them right, you’re going to get that Eureka moment and you’re going to say, “I know what I can do better. I know what… That cutters been sitting in the corner for two years, and I’ve been telling people I can’t do stickers. I can fricking make stickers. I’m going to call that customer back right now and tell them I’m going to make the decals for their company trucks that I told them I couldn’t do. Why did I tell them I couldn’t do it?” So you’ll have moments like that that’ll change you.

Well, thanks everybody for listening. A million thanks to Howard for coming on and sharing your knowledge and your experience with folks out there and looking forward to having you on again. Again, these are kind of little more mini-episodes. Normally an episode’s 45 minutes to an hour. These are a bit cut down, but we want to dive into one question, answer it for you, and hopefully you walk away with having had a really great moment to help you improve your business and all that.

So thanks again, Howard.

Howard Potter:
Thanks for having me, guys.

Marc Vila:
Yeah, no problem. And as I kind of say at the end of episode, go to if you want to check out the video of this episode or any notes that I’ve taken during the show, I’ll include those there. And you can go to and learn about a lot of the different product and technologies that we mentioned in this episode. So thanks again, Howard, and everybody out there, have a good business.



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