Tom Skenandore is an Oneida Entrepreneur who has been running his Waukesha, WI based business since 1993. Tom stops in today to tell us his secrets to success.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Quest Promotional Outfitters is a wholesale distributor of advertising specialty and industrial supplies (janitorial, sanitary, safety, and shipping room supplies).
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
In '93 I was still working full time selling industrial supplies and started an "at home" business with goals of transitioning back into in owning and running a business. Previously from 1981 to 1985, I owned and operated an insurance agency. Late '85 went into selling industrial supplies until end of 2001 when I went full time into QUEST.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Learn the trade, then develop a business plan (both start up and exit), have strong financial resources in place to capitalize your business and provide money for that transitional period during start up.
How did you come up with your business idea?
Originally, I started selling blemished bowling shirts to test the market, later I happened to be in the right place right time to sell softball jackets to a local team. I had a friend in the apparel business and decided to partner with him selling screen printed and embroidered apparel. To directly answer your question, I guess it started with sharing ideas with my friend and we came up with our plan and name for our company.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
Since the both of us worked full time, Quest was just a (slow) moving forward venture for a number of years. We could only find business at night or on weekends. I bought out my partner after 2 years and hired my wife to run the business during the day. We landed a national account supplying work uniforms in 1997, which is also the year I incorporated. I didn't do my business plan until 1999 when a opportunity presented itself to take over a failing business. I needed capital to hire people, find an office to rent, and purchase furniture, equipment and supplies. The effectiveness of the plan wouldn't reveal itself for a number of years. It was one of those things that got done and went into a drawer for years, only to be pulled out later and re-read realizing that somehow you followed your plan.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
As I mentioned, we started as an at home business and I was still working full time selling industrial supplies. In the beginning, I saw this as low risk, not much investment of capital to finance this. Product in then customized and sent out to the customer, no inventory, no office expenses…etc. Profits re-capitalized the business to allow things like our first computer, fax machine, and furniture. Prior to that, paperwork was done at the kitchen table.
Did you have a partner when you started your business?
Yes…bought him out in 1996.
How did you select a partner?
Friend and he happened to be in the apparel business.
Have you hired additional staff? What is your greatest human resources challenge?
I have to date 10 employees and 3 independent sales reps. The greatest HR challenge was managing the unique personalities of my employees; challenged daily with providing positive motivation to create synergy between the forces.
Do you own a business with family members? What do you think are the benefits and challenges to running a family owned business?
From 1996 until 2004, we were a family owned business. Divorced in 2004, but my ex wife still works for Quest, she's in charge of the advertising specialty division and shares in the daily accounting responsibilities.
Green business is all the rage right now. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur to incorporate green business practices?
We are involved heavily with the Green Initiative from the industrial supply side.
Thank you very much for your time, Tom. We hope your business continues to excel!