Expanding a business and supporting young entrepreneurs
Owner and President of BTC Envelopes & Printing LLC.
A Minority Business Enterprise/Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (MBE/DBE) entrepreneur, Andrew Magnus has been in the printing industry since the late 1980s when, he remembers, there was hardly any diversity in the sector. His goal has been to bring more minority members into the field. Magnus notes that printing used to be more viable as a business enterprise back before today’s computer technology enabled everyday people to do much of their own printing, but he recognizes that there is still a demand for high quality printwork, a service he is well able to provide.
Born in Jamaica, Magnus came to the US when he was nine years old. He took the idea of the American Dream seriously and has pursued professional and business opportunities whenever possible. An accelerated achiever who graduated from the University of Scranton with a BS in Business Management at 19, Magnus started out in retail, then rose to assistant buyer at the old Strawbridge and Clothier Department Store. Next he switched to sales, selling copiers for Harris-3M. He launched his print-industry career working for a family-owned envelope and printing company which had been in existence for many years, moving his way up from sales representative to sales manager to sales lead.
Joining the regional African American Chamber of Commerce to expand his professional network, Magnus was directed to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business Small Business Development Center, where he learned the basics of how to do a business plan, and how to sustain a viable business operation in line with state and federal regulations. He spent many hours researching online, and in 2007 he set up his own company, BTC Envelopes & Printing, while still working for the family-owned print shop. It meant working double-time, spending days at his other job, and nights building his new company. When the other company ceased operations, he was ready to expand BTC into a full-time pursuit.
The year 2017 marked his ten-year anniversary operating his own printing business. Now he is working on enlarging the business, adding employees from West Philadelphia, and showing his staff how to do more than make a living but to be able to make a difference in their community as well.
Back in 2011 and 2012, Magnus made business connections with Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania as he worked to expand his footprint in Philadelphia. Although providing services to Drexel University as well seemed like it should be a natural progression, his initial reception was not as positive as he had hoped; the university wasn’t yet ready to really engage in a local-procurement strategy. “They were very much like, ‘This is what we do. And this is who we do it with.’ So I took that first meeting under advisement and put Drexel in the back of my mind,” says Magnus.
His first break with Drexel came through a former Temple employee and customer who knew first-hand the quality of work he did, as well as his customer-centric approach and budget-conscious pricing. Learning that this former customer had transitioned to a position at Drexel reignited his interest in connecting with the university. From there he enlisted the assistance of The Enterprise Center (TEC), a West Philadelphia neighborhood-based, non-profit organization established by the Penn's Wharton Small Business Development Center, which supports minority entrepreneurship throughout the region. There he discussed development of his target market. TEC was already partnering with the three major universities in the city: Temple, Penn, and Drexel. So his business development advisor connected him with Sarah Steltz, the Director of Workforce and Economic Inclusion in the Office of University & Community Partnerhips. Steltz facilitated an introduction with Drexel Procurement Services, and this time he had a good reception.
It had been suggested that he establish more of a presence in West Philadelphia, so Magnus established a warehouse at 5070 Parkside in the Philadelphia Business & Technology Center as another BTC location. He secured a small business administration loan and established lines of credit, readying his scalability for the boost in volume that doing business with Drexel can bring.
Magnus likens his affiliation with Drexel to synchronized swimming: while everything on the surface appears to be smooth, he is kicking fiercely underneath the waters to make progress with grace: taking out loans, acquiring space, growing a West Philly presence and making connections at higher levels in Procurement Services. He calls this venture “a work in progress.” Magnus is currently looking forward to a growth trajectory with Drexel and to eventually making revenue as a contracted vendor so his dream of employing workers from West Philadelphia can be realized.
When he thinks about his West Philadelphia operations, Magnus is not only envisioning simply hiring more neighborhood workers. Part of his dream is to launch a mentoring program to reach high school students, to introduce them to the printing industry, and preparing a next generation of entrepreneurs for success. He knows he cannot reach with every young student, but he would like to become a mentor to any potential young entrepreneurs he can connect with. A sustainable business relationship with an economic power base like Drexel University would be instrumental in helping him achieve this goal. What he offers as a mutual benefit is great quality printing service at a reasonable and competitive price.
Magnus offers the following advice to smaller scale vendors looking to work with an anchor institution:
- Research business-support organizations that could be helpful, and locate a mentor in that system.
- Know that the first impression could be an extreme positive or an indelible negative, so prepare accordingly.
- Research the prospective client.
- Come prepared with a solid FAB plan that details the features, advantages, and benefits of doing business with you.
- Attend to your credit rating, and present yourself as professionally as possible.
- Never over-promise. If you cannot deliver on first orders, the result could be an indelible negative.
To the anchor institutions looking to work with local vendors, Magnus suggests:
- Be transparent, up-front, and honest in the information you provide. Don’t talk diversity without a plan to achieve it. Don’t put out RFP’s with proposal requirements that are impossible for small businesses to meet.
- Make your decision-makers accessible to small business owners. Be clear about what is required to become a vendor in the system.
- Write a requirement for employing minority- and women-owned subcontractors into vendor contracts.
”Whatever you do in life, make yourself the obvious choice.”
“Practice the ‘Persistent Patience of Patient Persistence,’ which means know that persistence without patience makes you become an annoyance, while patience without persistence makes you become lackadaisical... so aim for balance between the two.”
“If I see a lot of shiny objects being put up in my neighborhood and all I can do is walk past…The perception becomes the reality, to the person walking past, thinking, ‘They do all that, but I get nothing.’...You can destroy your perception in the neighborhood if you do not do more [for the people residing in it].
Read Our Next Profile