Ministicks.com is a Buffalo-based, woman-owned business that specializes in personalized and branded hockey gifts, souvenir mini baseball bats, mini lacrosse sticks, official hockey pucks, custom lapel pins and sport awards.
Robbie is an accomplished graphic designer who has worked with clients such as Disney, Warner Brothers, Apple, and Adobe. After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) over a decade ago, Robbie left her job in order to put her family and her health first. Following her diagnosis, Robbie worked part-time as a free-lance graphic designer and eventually bought the company she was doing free-lance work for. That company she purchased grew into Ministicks.com.
Below is Mr. LoTempio’s interview with Robbie of Ministicks.com:
What is your name and your business name?
Robbie Illos-Gerth / illostrative gallerie & ministicks.com
What is your background and how long have you been involved with this industry?
I am creative, have way too many ideas, I enjoy learning and helping others. I have a God given talent being put to use and it’s just easy for me to do so many things. People tell me that my greatest assets are my mind, my hands, and my heart.
Since 1980, I have worked in the areas of graphic design, pre-press, IT and system management, training many local ad agencies how to use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, color calibration and a host of other tech support areas. I’ve been on discussion panels, sought after by graphic head hunters and set up computer systems in pre-press and printing companies. I’ve worked as a freelance designer for Disney and Warner Brothers; and did beta testing for Apple and Adobe.
How did you get started in your business?
In August 2000, the left side of my body was numb. Like when your foot falls asleep and has that pins and needles feeling. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and didn’t even know what it was. That was probably a good thing because how could I worry about it?
Insurance from my full time job did not cover my medication and I was forced to do what’s best for me. I left my full time job, joined a Chamber of Commerce in order to purchase health insurance in a group plan with good prescription coverage.
My freelance graphic design work was enjoyable, allowed flexible hours and I enjoyed being able to be home with my kids at the same time. At the time, I had had twin 2 year old girls and “family first” was my priority.
How did your idea come about?
One of the clients that I had was a company called Forever Hockey, which was founded by John Hannon / who at the time was an Engineer at DuPont. He needed someone to answer the phone and do graphic design work for hockey puck trophies and mini hockey sticks. It started out as a 7- 10 hour a week job that I could do out of my home. Well that sure changed …
The company was growing yearly and I purchased it in 2007. After moving a couple times to larger facilities that would hold inventory and equipment, I purchased a 7500 sq. ft building on Genesee Street in Cheektowaga. This has been an incredible journey and it is kind of amazing to look back at how much it has grown.
I have four employees and we now have a flatbed UV printer that can print up to 63” x 98”, a laser engraver, roll fed printer for banners and signs. We have souvenir mini lacrosse sticks and mini hockey sticks molded in WNY and my employees are my greatest assets. They are excellent. I say “we”, because my employees are a key to the success of this business.
What exactly are you trying to accomplish?
We have a worldwide presence; for manufacturing and printing mini hockey sticks and printing hockey pucks, printing souvenir baseball bats. The mini lacrosse sticks have really taken notice this year we made souvenir lacrosse sticks for the NCAA tournament in California and Rathbones World Cup in England.
Ironically, were not that big in Buffalo, NY. We don’t have an outside sales team and we’ve grown so much just by word of mouth and before social media; I can’t begin to imagine what will happen when we do more marketing in this area.
I’m confident that we can handle more work; but, we can’t pound the streets without some sales presence. Not sure what the best approach is to this is and any suggestions are welcome.
How did you organize your team?
I was very fortunate to work with my husband and then hired a good friend. A couple employees were referred to me by friends and family. We have a great team and it certainly eases tensions to know that they care about the company as much as I do.
What were some of your concerns as a start up?
There was a lot to learn with regards to computers and the internet were in infancy when I started. My background was graphic design and not business. However, having a passion for what I do and what seemed like a raid storage drive in my head, all the pieces connected.
In the beginning, it was only me and I wore many hats. I put in long hours for many years to make this what it is today.
There were’t many websites, computers were not commonplace and cell phones were just for talking; not surfing the web. It was important to advertise in a magazine and start an internet presence. I created the magazine ads and built the website.
The most frustrating part was not knowing the questions to ask because I had a unique product and I was more familiar with the internet and computers than the people who were supposed to be tech support staff. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, I was simply exposed to the technology very early in the development.
So, for me, it was like drawing a picture, cutting the pieces apart and saying that when they go together, I’ll have built the puzzle. Sometimes the pieces went in upside down… fortunately, they were noticed and corrected.
I feel like I sound like my grandmother … ha, ha … but, there was no “Youtube” to tell you how to do stuff!
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I think I should ask myself this question more often. It really does make me realize why I do what I do and enjoy what I do, and there have been quite a few times that i should have fired myself.
I like that I’ve been able to raise my children and know their friends. The other day, my daughter called me around 9:30 pm and there was so much excitement in her voice; “mommy, you know that logo you made for Amherst High School?, They have a new turf on the football field and the logo is huge in the center!”. I like that my kids think i’m a cool creative mom. Most important is that my family and I are respected.
I’ve met a lot of well known people over the years, had many interesting unique freelance jobs and experiences and i only collect autographs if they are on a check. : )
It makes no difference what someone does, or what they have; how they treat you is how they are remembered.
As a startup entrepreneur what type of lessons could you give to inventors and people with new ideas as to how to bring their ideas to fruition?
Sometimes when a person does something for so long, it becomes second nature and you take things for granted. You forget about all the research that you did to get where you are.
You only live once. Take a chance.
Talk to Vincent LoTempio for legal advice on your new idea.
What are the top 3 skills you believe are needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
- Passionate about what you do
- Dedication to what you do
- Accountability for what you do
Are you familiar with any of the laws regarding patent, trademark law or licensing and how they affect your business?
Yes, and i’ve worked with licensed art, logo reproduction, style guides and submissions for many years.
Much of the work we do requires logo authorization; it’s nice to be artistic and come up with our own creative ideas and designs.
What is one of your favorite books that inspired you the most?
National Geographic magazines. I like to learn …
What is your favorite quote?
“People may forget what you said, and forget what you did, they won’t forget how you made them feel.”
What was the best advice/wisdom you were ever given?
Be honest. Listen. Learn. Love. Respect and the 10 Commandments.
How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
We’re all in this together at times and I love it.