Monday, February 24, 2020

The Business of Swag | Travis Powell, Blue Phoenix Branding

Travis Powell

We all love swag. “Nobody thanks you for a commercial that interrupts their favorite program, nobody thanks you for the billboard that interrupts [the scenery], but with swag they thank you every time, and not only that, they keep it. ... The return on investment blows most of the other marketing mediums out of the water,” says Travis Powell, founder and CEO of Blue Phoenix Branding.

Travis never saw himself being a swag dealer, but his career in sales took him to a print shop and during his time there he was approached to provide lip balm swag for a customer. Although this wasn't a service that the company provided, Travis made it happen. The same customer came back in a few weeks needing a reorder and he saw an opportunity that he was excited about. He grew that portion of the business, but had differing strategies and vision than his employer and they ended up parting ways.

“When I was let go, it was a low point of my life,” Travis said. Despite the traumatic separation, he still had a passion for promotional products and he decided to start his own business. After partnering with Proforma, he was ready to begin Blue Phoenix Branding. It wasn't that easy, however. “I had signed a non-compete a number of years prior.” Despite the common belief that non-compete agreements are difficult to enforce, Travis's experience was very different. Not having the depth of resources to argue the non-compete, he was forced to comply. This prevented him from doing business within a 60-mile radius of any of his former employer's locations. “I decided to stop,” he said.

“For a month I had no income, no revenue, and was spending $275 an hour on legal fees,” Travis said. He knew the largest trade show was coming up in the next couple of months and, knowing that he still wanted to pursue promotional products at some point in the future, he decided to go. While there, it was clear he was being ostracized by the vendors that used to do business with him. He was informed that his previous employer had contacted previous vendors and warned them not to do business with him due to the non-compete. “I recognize they were trying to protect their interest,” he said. “We went with a cloud of gloom hanging over us.”

Knowing that he had to do something, and that the non-compete prevented him from doing business all along the I-15 corridor, even into Utah, the closest place he could do business was Twin Falls, almost 200 miles from home. He hadn't done cold calls in many years and he admitted he was terrified. But when he joined the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce, he found a family and an open, receptive audience that embraced him quickly.

When asked why he didn't just quit he replied, “I was mad. A chip on the shoulder can get you a long way. I feel like I have a gift for what I do and I wasn't going to leave that.” The non-compete was for a year.

“There's no way we should have survived that. We were house-poor, and I wasn't going to give someone the satisfaction of losing my house. It drove us. Anger is not sustainable to get you from point A to point B, but it might help you with a little burst when times are tough.” Reflecting on that time he says, “I had a choice it could have gone either way and it made me.”

Now, 2 years later, he has no trepidation approaching businesses and knocking on doors. “There are so many opportunities out there, you simply have to move forward and if the door won't open, kick it open,” he said.

He admits he was horribly unambitious as a youth and his drive and ambition took a while to blossom. His family has been patient with him, and several are working in the business. Travis has a lot of respect for his father, who showed great tenacity in his own career in banking and overcame many challenges. His father-in-law works in the business and covers southern Oregon.

For those interested in going into business for themselves Travis advises, “If you play the long game and realize that short-term pain will be severe, if you have faith in yourself, if you have faith in the business model, then you can 100% achieve your goal.”

Blue Phoenix Branding now has graphic design and marketing. (Link: Blue Phoenix, Artcore Visual Studio Announce Merger, BizMojo Idaho, Dec. 18, 2018). They offer print services as well as promotional items. Travis loves the work he's doing and envisions being able to do this for many years to come.