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Decal maker stuck to it during recession

Rochester Business Journal
October 19, 2012

Rich Calnan is proof that you have to spend money to make money.
 
Three years ago his company, Decal Mods, fell victim to the recession. The custom auto decal business tanked when the automotive industry fell on hard times, and Calnan was forced to cut back, move to a smaller house and tighten the belt.
 
"Businesswise, it hurt pretty bad. I had to decide if I was going to continue to push at this or get a job," says the 35-year-old Geneseo business owner. "Getting a job was out of the question, especially around here."
 
He chose to stick with it and a short time later made the decision to invest in better equipment and a new employee. While Calnan declines to be specific about revenues, he says the home-based business has grown 100 percent in sales since 2010.
 
"It's been a gamble," he says. "I bought some machines; I had no idea if it was going to work out or not. I invested a decent amount of money, and it paid off handsomely."
 
Calnan started the business with a friend eight years ago. The two went in different directions, and Calnan turned the business into Decal Mods, an auto aftermarket business that creates custom car, truck and off-road vehicle decals.
 
While the business originally was started to serve Mustang and Camaro owners, Decal Mods quickly is becoming more about camouflage and hunting decals.
 
Decal Mods licenses graphics from Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., as well as Realtree camouflage designs and Predator Camo Inc. The company can combine designs for a unique look, such as printing a Ford Mustang decal in a camouflage pattern.
 
Customers include car dealerships and collision shops, but Decal Mods also has a strong eBay presence, so buyers also can include end users who work on their vehicles at home.
 
"We started with an eBay store eight years ago, and we haven't abandoned that," Calnan says. "Our next step is going into the big-box stores."
 
Decal Mods has received some attention from retail stores, and Calnan hopes soon to see his products at stores like Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain.
 
For now he runs his business from his basement, but that could change if his plan to sell to the big-box stores pans out.
 
"We've avoided a storefront because very few of our sales happen locally," he explains. "Our entire basement is the shop, and I am outgrowing it. If Gander Mountain says they want to spread our product line, we'd need to get new equipment to keep up."
 C
alnan says one of the goals he has for the company is to outgrow his basement, but he has no intention of opening his own store. More space may come in the form of an addition to his house, he says with a laugh.
 
Though frustrated with taxes and other details of being a business owner, Calnan says what really makes him want to pull his hair out is equipment that malfunctions-"when I pay a lot of money for equipment X and it's producing and producing for me and that piece of equipment decides it's not going to do what it needs to do anymore.
 
"We are an on-demand shop," he says. "There's no lead time. We buy the best equipment, so if that piece of equipment goes down, you're screwed. It's not like you can have two, one for a backup."
 
That frustration, however, is easily outweighed by the ability to work from home and see his wife and two sons 24 hours a day, Calnan says.
 
"I have two boys I've watched grow up," he adds. "There's nothing that could happen that would make me give that up."
 
Calnan's advice for would-be entrepreneurs: Be prepared to make a commitment.
 
"You're going to get one chance in your life, two or three if you're the luckiest guy," he says. "As Nike cliché as this is, you've just got to do it. You've got to pour your life into it. You've got to be ready to put your guts, money and everything you have into it to make it work."

Small Business is a weekly feature focusing on entrepreneurs. Send suggestions for future Small Business stories to Associate Editor Smriti Jacob at sjacob@rbj.net.10/19/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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