Action Publishing hit $1 million in total revenue in 10 months — faster than any other client in the history of the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction, Colo.
The company produces the Action Agenda line of academic day planner calendars and accessories, which are sold to school districts in all 50 U.S. states — 92 percent of its customers — and internationally. All of its day planners are custom produced, and orders average about 1,000 pieces.
"We’re constantly changing and have to track and make sure each job is correct," President Grady Busse says.
Action Publishing is Busse’s second experience with the Business Incubator Center; he founded a successful business, Explorer Computer Co., there in 1991. Later he worked for a company that relocated to another state, leaving him and several others out of work. Busse asked six of those people to join him in founding Action Publishing. "It was a perfect assemblage of talents," he says.
In the beginning, the primary benefit of being a Business Incubator Center client was its Leading Edge training, which covers how to start a small business. All seven of the company’s founders attended — the largest number from any one company to date. Busse also liked having an infrastructure in place so the new company could focus on its core business. The company’s staff didn’t have to worry about office furniture, filing cabinets, phone and fax lines, photocopiers, and a myriad of other details because the incubator provided them, leaving the company free to focus on building its business.
Even so, that first year (2001-2002) was anything but easy. Action Publishing entered a competitive market that operates on a seasonal sales cycle without products, marketing materials or brand awareness. The company purchased and assembled its production equipment while taking orders that would eventually pay for it.
"We had a number of near-death experiences," Busse says. Most of them had to do with money. At one point, Action applied for a revolving loan from state Community Development Block Grant funds. But questions about the seasonality of the company’s business, part-time employment and other issues nearly derailed the loan package.
However, Dean Didario, the incubator’s loan fund manager, worked with the state and Action Publishing to resolve the questions; he also accompanied Busse to Denver for the presentation that led to state approval of the package. Didario also manages the Western Colorado Venture Forum, which brings together investors and entrepreneurs. Through the forum, Busse met two investors who secured a line of credit for Action.
Despite the challenges of its first year, Action Publishing’s concept, product plan and service attracted customers — enough to sell more than 300,000 day planners to more than 300 schools in 48 states.
"They have a lot of energy and ingenuity and freshness that inspire all of us," says Thea Chase Gilman, executive director of the Business Incubator Center. "They’re always coming up with something clever and creative."
By its third year, the company had 70 employees and revenues of $2.1 million, bringing it to a level of stability that allowed its management team to pursue the next plateau in its growth strategy, Busse says: its own facility. Again, the Business Incubator Center helped out. Chase Gilman helped Busse prepare a presentation to the Grand Junction City Council; the city offered land as an economic incentive for Action Publishing to build its new headquarters. Busse expects to move into the new 15,000-square-foot facility by October 2005.
Meanwhile, the incubator has accommodated Action Publishing’s rapid growth. In March 2005, the company expanded into an additional 2,000 square feet, to occupy more than 9,500 square feet. "That kind of flexibility is enormously helpful," Busse says. "We have room for new equipment and new employees.
"Thea has just been amazingly helpful to facilitate our needs, keep us on track and basically give us the tools and space and support that we need to concentrate on the business and not worry so much about logistical details," he adds.
To thank the incubator and as a demonstration of his belief in the concept, Busse has given the incubator 2 percent of Action Publishing’s stock. There hasn’t been a dividend distribution yet; Busse sees the donation as a long-term project. "It’s my hope that the return on that gift is substantial enough to really provide some financial help to the incubator," he says.
He also hopes his gesture will set a precedent for other successful Business Incubator Center clients to emulate. "If they can contribute to our success, it seems the right thing to do to contribute to the furtherance of the incubator and clear the path for entrepreneurs coming behind us," he says.
"You can’t ask for anything better than that," Chase Gilman says. "It’s an affirmation of the benefits that we provide as an incubator."
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