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Build Your Business: Shop Talk
Climbing the Ladder
A&P Master Images originally only offered sublimation in house. By now offering embroidery, capabilities like sublimated tackle twill now are available.
Howard Potter always wanted to own a graphics-based business. That dream came true in 2003 when he decided to put his graphic design degree to use and start A&P Master Images.
Part of the company’s name, A&P, stands for “Advancement in Promotional Items,” but also is a nod to Potter’s wife, Amanda, as well as his daughter, Angelena and son, Ayden. The company had humble beginnings; the team worked out of a 15′ x 15′ room in Potter’s house and competition was tough, with many local colleges teaching graphic design nearby.
But that didn’t stop Potter.
“I started researching customizing apparel and promotional items,” he says. “I came across sublimation. I loved the fact that I could offer a wide variety of products to customers with a full-color imprint and one piece at a time to sell to anyone.”
Besides graphic design and promotional items, sublimation was the first process A&P offered in-house, opting to farm out screen printing and embroidery due to lack of space and funds. Slowly, the company expanded its capabilities, investing in embroidery machinery two years later, and buying a second singlehead embroidery machine and an Ioline 300 cutter for twill and basic vinyl jobs.
By 2008, yearly sales figures had hit $125,000. “At this point we realized that we were not looking to be the biggest in our line of work, but were focused on being one of the best,” says Potter, the company’s CEO and CFO. “We knew by focusing on helping the customer with artwork, having top-quality customer service and a 12-business-day turnaround time, it would allow us to always stay busy.”
A&P’s next step was to upgrade its working quarters. In 2007, Potter moved the company into a 700-square-foot storefront in a small plaza. The building, which became the company’s home for the next six years, also included a showroom to enable more product sales. Business continued to boom, allowing A&P to continue expanding its decorating capabilities with a screen-printing press, singlehead laser bridge and rhinestone machine.
“At this time, we had around $300,000 in equipment and were doing just over $1 million in sales,” he says. “My wife and I knew we had to look at buying our own piece of dirt for the company. We were busting at the seams, and the power to the building could not support all of our equipment.”
On Feb. 1, 2013, A&P moved into its current home, a 5,500-square-foot building with an acre of land. “We ended up gutting the entire building and remodeled the inside, along with putting a new roof on it,” Potter says. Three months later, the company purchased its first automatic press from Workhorse Products.
“We were one of the first companies to own the Workhorse Sabre press,” he says. “By the end of 2014, we had already maxed out our space and produced $1.2 million in sales.”
The company has since settled into its new space, with 13 staff members — seven of which have graphic design degrees — and continues to hold strong to its business philosophy of working to deliver every customer’s vision.
“We love to be different and to offer services that others do not,” Potter says. “We love to be the first to do something or prefect a service. [There’s] nothing cooler than watching customers when they pick up their orders and seeing that ‘wow’ look on their faces.”
Currently, A&P has more than 3,000 customers in more than 15 states and four countries. “We have customers in all sorts of markets and not one customer is more than 5% of our business,” Potter says.
Offering more than 700,000 different promotional products, the company’s top sellers include mugs, glassware and lanyards.
“From our understanding, not very many companies offer as many processes all under one roof as we do,” he says. “We never limit ourselves.”
As of press time, A&P is considering buying additional land from the city of Utica, N.Y. (where the company is located), and is working on floor plans to build a 2,400-square-foot garage to handle vinyl installs, and free up space for storage and larger orders.
“Our company’s success is based on good old-fashioned hard work, taking care of every customer that comes through the door, and pricing our work for what it is worth and not for what others are willing to sell their work for,” Potter says. “Our staff knows we are only as good as the last order that leaves our door. You really need to love what you do or it will show in your work.”
During the next five years, A&P hopes to be a $3 million- to $5 million-a-year company and to continue expanding its location accommodate growth.
A&P Master Images At A Glance
Company Name: A&P Master Images
Address: 205 Water St. Utica, NY 13501
No. of Employees: 13
Executive Team: Howard Potter, owner, CEO and CFO; Amanda Potter, co-owner; Sean Hogan, general manager; and Alex Santalucia, office manager.
Decorating Methods Offered: Screen printing, embroidery, graphic design, laser applications, sublimation, rhinestones, vinyl and promotional items
Company Website: masteryourimage.com
Fun Fact: A&P stands for Advancement in Promotional Items, but also is a tribute to Amanda Potter (Howard’s wife), Angelena Potter (Howard’s 11-year-old daughter) and Ayden Potter (Howard’s 8-year-old-son).
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