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Paul Burri: The Success Story of a Garage-Based Business

I recently got a response from one of my readers asking about the last business I owned for 17 years. I did write about it once, but that was several years ago so here it is again. I hope it may be some slight inspiration to anyone thinking of starting a home-based business on a shoe string. It can be done.

I have been a woodworker since I was about 12 years old, working on the kitchen table in an apartment in the Bronx. Most woodworkers I know make furniture. Except for a few smaller pieces, I do not make furniture.

Most of what I make is of my own design and includes such things as domino sets, wood turnings of various kinds, games, clocks, unique bookends, stuff like that. I use exotic woods exclusively because I feel that if I spend a lot of time on a piece, the material should match the value of the time and love spent on it.

When I was in my 20s, I decided that I wanted to start “signing” my work. I designed a unique logo and fabricated a small branding iron by bending and welding some heavy wire. I use that branding iron to this day.

Then, sometime in the 1990s, I began to produce some fairly small wood turnings and felt that the existing branding iron was too big for such small pieces. I began to think about how to reduce my existing logo and to make a much smaller branding iron. It took several years before I figured out a way to modify an existing process used in the printing industry to produce an exact copy of my design in any size that I wanted. And that gave me the idea for a business. Surely there were other woodworkers who wanted to brand their logo into their work.

I formed a company called BrandNew and began making and selling my branding irons from my home and garage while I was still working for a major aerospace company as an engineer. Our original customers were home hobby woodworkers who wanted to sign their work for posterity.

In December 1994, I retired from that company and decided to devote some “serious” effort to BrandNew for one year to see if it had any potential. I invested about $1,500 and began operating out of my garage and spare bedroom.

Among my woodworking creations are domino sets made of exotic woods. (Paul Burri / Noozhawk photo)
Among my woodworking creations are domino sets made of exotic woods. (Paul Burri / Noozhawk photo)

At the end of the year, I had generated about $25,000 in sales working at it just a few hours a week. At that point I decided to get serious about it.

About 1½ years later, we moved out of the garage and bedroom into a 600-square-foot facility in Old Town Goleta. Six months after that, we expanded into the unit next door to us, doubling our space. Another two years after that, we moved into much larger quarters with separate office space and a lot of room to grow.

In 1999, we began to get calls from former customers of a competing branding iron company that had been around for 40-plus years. The company was closing its doors and the owner was retiring. He had no interest in selling the company or in being concerned with his former customers.

But BrandNew was interested, and we began servicing them by repairing their old equipment and by selling them new equipment that we designed. It was also at this time that we discovered that a huge commercial market for branding irons existed. Branding irons are used for applications that perhaps will surprise you, such as beekeepers (to brand their hives), trucking companies (to brand their tires), restaurants (to brand their steaks), pallet manufacturers (to brand their pallets) and one day we even sold two branding irons to the White House to brand hamburgers at the White House mess.

In 2007, I sold the company, now called BrandNew Industries Inc., and retired for the second time. It is still in operation today.

At the time of the sale, BrandNew was the largest branding iron manufacturer in the world. Not bad for a company that started in a garage with a $1,500 investment.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer, guerrilla marketer and iconoclast. He is available to local organizations for speaking engagements and to local businesses for business consulting and/or mentoring. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul.

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