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Founders

Company

VGKids

(734) 480-0667
884 Railroad St
# C
Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197

James Marks

What educational, entrepreneurial or business development programs, if any, have you taken advantage of?
I haven't, really. I read a fair amount, books like Small Giants, Art of the Start, The Great Game of Business, The Knack.

Who was your first customer and where did you find them?
VGKids' first customer was a friend I had met through putting on punk shows on at my previous business, The Vegetarian Grocer. I've always broadcast what I'm working on and let the people who can relate or need the service seek me out. It's a whole lot more enjoyable way of doing business than chasing people down.

Where did you find your first employee?
I was skating (skateboarding, that is) at Arborland Mall late one night with some friends. I was talking about how busy I was at the shop, and someone I'd never met who happened to be there mentioned they knew how to print and was looking for a job. He started the next day and stayed with us for three turbulent, high-growth, trial-by-fire years.

Have you promoted an intern to employee status, and if so how many times have you done it?
Once, year ago. It was a great experience. We don't have a lot of interns, otherwise I'm sure it would happen more often. The pool we do hire from is our temps. We'll bring people in for a day or two to help on a big project or during peak season. We keep the good ones if we can, and let the rest fade away.

Everything in life is an opportunity to impress someone and show what you're made of, and I love getting to work with people without anything dangling on the line. If someone knows they're doing a trial shift for a full-time position, I always make it very clear that it's a trial and 80 percent of those trials don't pan out. Even then its difficult letting someone know it isn't a good fit. I'd much rather see someone hustle under their own volition and be rewarded with a permanent, unexpected position.

Where have you turned to find capital to grow your company and which institutions have provided it?
I raised a small sum through an 18 month loan from family and friends to fund an expansion in 2009. With the recession peaking, I felt the time was right to lock in a long term lease on a new building and pick up some used equipment below market, and that was the only way I could find to finance it. We also use equipment leasing firms from our industry. For the first time this year, the small company we lease with sold the lease to a third party immediately after signing. I wasn't happy.

What could local leaders do to help attract and retain more entrepreneurial young people to Metro Detroit?
It's largely about staying out of the way and letting things happen. The culture and youthful exuberance that will keep future leaders around can sometimes appear unseemly and get squashed by a municipality trying to change its image. Like it or not, shopping cart races, skateboarding and graffiti are signs of life and participation in society. Perhaps not in the manner that was intended, but that's what makes it important.

To solve the problems of our time, the world needs to be seen not just from the perspective of consumers staying inside the parameters they've been taught, but from wholly original points of view. We need to raise kids who don't accept the status quo, kids who see more than what is put before them. Couple that energy with a strong moral compass and charge them with making the world a better place, and they will.

It's often said that Metro Detroit and Michigan need to reinvent their economies to be competitive. Are we making those changes, and if so are we making enough of them or doing it fast enough?
I've heard statistics coming back that suggest we're doing better than some in our re-tooling, but as long as there are anywhere near as many abandoned properties in Detroit as there are now are a double-digit unemployment rate, we are not going fast enough.

What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about opening a business here?
It's the wild wild Midwest out here. Property is cheap and there are opportunities abound. If you're willing to open yourself to a little exposure and throw your back into it, you've got a chance at owning a piece of the future and contributing to one of the greatest underdog success stories of our time. I would also recommend a business model that caters to a national base as opposed to a local market, if only because you'll take yourself more seriously and locals love companies that are perceived to be national contenders.


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