After 27 years in the corporate world, Tim Campbell found himself a 50-year-old worn out executive no longer enjoying what he did. Having lived in four cities and traveling extensively, Tim couldn’t even recall the names of the streets in the neighborhoods he lived in anymore. He was tired of traveling up to four days a week and splitting the rest of his time between meetings or commuting, so together with his wife Sandi, he moved back to his hometown of Cumming, Ga. and bought a Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More franchise in 2013.
Since purchasing the store in 2013, sales have risen more than 80 percent making them at present the number 1 store (out of 65) in the Big Frog franchise system. Just last month their store was awarded Small Business of the Year from the Forsyth County Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Tim shares with us his secret to success and finding happiness.
What attracted you to the t-shirt business?
I have always been artistic, especially enjoying singing and songwriting, and I’ve been an athlete all my life with a passion for sports. The garment decorating business lets me combine these two passions perfectly. At Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More, customers have the chance to sit down with a graphic artist to create a unique design, at no cost to them, to be embroidered, screen printed or printed with fabric dye on a variety of garments, from T-shirts to sweatshirts, hoodies, hats, uniforms, business apparel and more.
With Big Frog, I also have the opportunity for a lot of community involvement. Education is important to me – I have both a Bachelor’s and Masters Degree in Engineering from the University of Georgia – and as the father of two high school students, both student athletes, this business is a perfect fit. I get to spend 10-15 hours a week most weeks doing something related to education or our community, and I feel so privileged to be able to do those things.
Lastly, the t-shirt business is fun! After working for 27 years in the corporate world – mostly in the security, jail/prison and healthcare support industries where ‘customers’ aren’t always in a good mood, I wanted to deal with people who don’t walk in the door angry, and there’s nothing better than spending every day combining the activities I love most.
At what point did you realize that you were not happy with your corporate job?
The epiphany for me was turning 50. At that point I took stock of where I was and I realized I wasn’t happy. My oldest child was about to start high school, and we were living in Philadelphia – a place distant from our life-long friends and family – for my work. I had just been internally promoted to president of a subsidiary company with $2 billion in annual sales and 35,000 employees, a position that most people would be thrilled to have achieved. To be the president of a company of that size is a lifelong ambition for many people, but there I was in my new office, staring out the window and it hit me – I’m not having fun. I was always on a plane traveling to this meeting or that, had dealt with my fair share of corporate B.S. and I didn’t have much time for my family, let alone my community or myself.
The corporate world had also changed a lot in my 27 years. There was a time when companies cared about their people, and in turn the people cared about the companies. But these days it feels like the bigger the company, the less heart it has. Things had really changed over my years spent in the corporate world, and I was ready for something different.
Did you initially have a game plan/exit strategy?
After realizing I needed a change, I left in a pretty strange way. After being with the parent company for 11 years and in three different cities at that time, my wife and I made a decision to move back to our home state of Georgia so our kids could go through high school there. When I let my superiors know, they informed me they would no longer be able to keep me in the president role (the company was headquartered in Philadelphia). I had been in that role for 18 months, and within that time I think it’s fair to say turned the company around, but I just couldn’t stay any longer. So, it’s one of those things you never know for sure but I guess I kind of fired myself. I didn’t move to Georgia with a new job lined up, so I had no plan in place before I got here.
After moving to Georgia – frankly a little scared and not sure what to do next – I ended up taking an interim CEO role for a smaller company. When that time was done, I was sure I wanted to leave the corporate world altogether and pursue my dream of owning my own business.
What was the transition like?
If I had to use one word, I’d say scary. For the first time in my life I found myself without a paycheck. I was busy enough with the move to not focus too much on the situation, but it was frightening to have built a great career yet not really be happy, then to be unemployed for the first time in my life, and with a fairly young family with their college, marriage and future on the horizon.
Not only did I spend my adulthood getting a paycheck from someone else, I had worked in such large companies that I never worried about support for even the simplest needs. I had been very dependent in the corporate world on the company, for a lot. When I transitioned out, it wasn’t really a transition at all – it was a complete overhaul. One day I had a paycheck, benefits and staff departments to help me, and then the next I found myself completely alone.
I had mentors and friends, of course, but I didn’t have anyone to talk to about where to go next. If I had simply lost my job and wanted to stay in the corporate world, there would be recruiters I could seek out and other people who could assist me in finding a new position, but I knew I didn’t want to go back, so there wasn’t anyone to help me take the next step until I decided what it would be. It was kind of a lonely time.
What steps did you take to ensure the success of your Big Frog store?
Big Frog is a franchise, so the store we own we bought from the previous owner – it wasn’t a startup. The store was already relatively successful because the previous owners did a good job of getting things up and running during their four years of ownership.
My wife and I looked at what the opportunities were, and by far the biggest key to the success of our store was focusing more on the schools and community. We are extremely involved in both now through partnerships with the local school system, joining the chamber of commerce, coaching kids, etc. We just got involved, and it had a direct effect on our sales. Everything is interconnected in communities, so we made ourselves an integral part of the equation.
In addition, having a marketing strategy is critical. And it’s not a marketing plan unless it’s written down. Until it’s written, simple and executable, it’s really a marketing dream.
How were you able to increase sales so dramatically within two years?
As mentioned, our biggest attributors to the success of our store are staying involved with the community and developing a marketing strategy. The three prongs of our marketing strategy are: Community, Education and Local Small Businesses, and we had to figure out the best angle to reach each prong. Some organizations or companies respond better to direct mail, others to billboards, others to sales calls and building relationships. Along the way of finding out what worked best, we also discovered what didn’t work – and that is just as important. For example, coupon clippers or newspaper ads just don’t work well for our type of business.
We also built a team within the store that we trust. We seek out higher-caliber employees and then teach and empower them. We give them the keys, passwords and accessibility to everything in the store. We also pay them well above local wage rates, put them on a profit sharing plan and have empowered them to run the store as though it were their own. We work with a ‘trust but verify’ mentality and our strategy is proving successful. Our investment and trust in them has allowed them to grow and become more invested in the store.
What has it been like working closely with your wife and family?
My wife is in the store at least five hours a day and works some at home, and so far it’s been a great experience. It is, however, definitely different from never being around. We each have very different roles within our business, so we have our own paths and responsibilities in the store. She handles inventory, apparel, QA and some of the production – that’s her role. I’m the marketing and administrative guy. We share the same space but don’t overlap much and, honestly, at work we don’t talk too much because we’re both busy working on different things.
Owning your own business becomes a part of your life, and sometimes it’s hard to separate personal life from business, but it’s a part of what we do and it has actually been surprisingly enjoyable. We not only get along, but we are having a great time. Coming from always being on the road and rarely home, we love being on this new adventure together. Sure, we have work disagreements from time to time, but we work through them and we have learned from them.
How did it feel being awarded Small Business of the Year?
It was not only surprising, but so humbling. It was absolutely awesome, and very gratifying, to see the combination of our growth and our community involvement being recognized. To be able to realize what we hoped would be the case, just a couple years in, was great. We pride ourselves on going out of our way to accommodate the schools, businesses, organizations and people in our community, and it’s nice to see that the community appreciates our commitment to service.
Can you see yourself expanding your entrepreneurial pursuits?
We are actually in the process of opening our second store – this time from the ground up, and can see a third store as a possibility. I am also keeping my toes in the business world by participating on a number of boards of directors, such as for the Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) and the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering, and I also do some consulting and executive coaching independently.
What advice do you have for someone who finds themselves in a mid-life crisis and isn’t sure how to make a career change?
Well, here is how I figured out how to make my career change: I wrote down three things that I loved doing most, three things that people told me I was good at and three things I thought I might like to do (for example, one of them was coaching). After I made my lists, I looked for the intersection of those three things. And it turns out, Big Frog was my intersection.