How an Old School Print Shop Transitioned to Digital Success, with Bryan Vielhauer

How an Old School Print Shop Transitioned to Digital Success, with Bryan Vielhauer

How do you build an innovative and purpose-driven business?

 

In this episode, Bryan Vielhauer, president of Cincinnati print shop Decal Impressions, shares his journey transforming a struggling company into an innovative digital services provider.

 

After acquiring the near-bankrupt business, Bryan stabilized operations and saw opportunities in digital printing and ecommerce. He made the transition from traditional print to web design, graphic design, marketing and more.

 

Bryan believes caring about clients and embracing new technologies sets Decal Impressions apart. He discusses the importance of proactive communication and being an authentic partner.

 

He also reveals his passion project of building an electric car in 2007 to explore sustainable transportation.

 

Ultimately, Bryan aims to build a values-driven, community-impactful team. He emphasizes self-evaluation, learning from failures, and focusing on what matters most.

LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE HERE

Transcript

Anthony (host): 24:25

All right, welcome to another edition of the Inspired Stories podcast, where leaders share their experiences so we can learn from their successes, how they’ve overcome adversity and explore current challenges they’re facing. My name is Anthony Codispoti, and today’s guest is Brian Vielhauer, president of Decal Impressions, a print shop based in Cincinnati, Ohio that is over 50 years old. They produce all kinds of physical signage. They do screen printing, digital printing, CNC milling, wide format. You name it, they have done it. And they also have a variety of offerings on the digital side of the business. They can help you with graphic design, web design, social media, and marketing. They even built their own working electric car prototypes way back in 2007. And we’re going to hear more about that before we get into the good stuff. Today’s episode is brought to you by my company, AddBack Benefits Agency, where we offer very specific and unique employee benefits that are both great for your team and fiscally optimized for your bottom line. One recent client was able to save over $900 per employee per year by implementing one of our proprietary programs. Another client is going to save over one $200 per employee per year by implementing a patented construct that we offer. Results vary for each company, and some organizations may not be eligible. To find out if your company qualifies, contact us today@adbackbenefitsagency.com. Now back to our guest today, the president of decal impressions, Brian. I appreciate you making the time to share your story today.

 

Bryan (guest): 26:03

Anthony, very excited to be with you today. This is such a great opportunity.

 

Anthony (host): 26:06

So, Brian, tell me in your own words, what does decal impressions do and how did you first get started with it?

 

Bryan (guest): 26:15

In the simplest terms, decal impressions services customers. Their needs are wide, whether it’s in traditional print format, business cards, letterhead, needing a banner, needing marketing materials, and a rollout for hundreds of locations. But the difference for us is how we treat the customer, how we serve the customer, and how we respond to the customer. That is kind of the foundation of what makes us an organization that is excelling. I found myself here in a unique path, I suppose. Had a spectacular four years at Ohio State, knew that I was going to come back to Cincinnati, knew that I was going to be an entrepreneur, but wasn’t 100% sure what that was going to look like. I had interest in real estate and a variety of different things, and I found myself here kind of by serpentipity. There was a number of overlays. My father was industry adjacent, had sold material to this company. I’d spent a brief amount of time in the industry, but as a younger person, I’d spent a lot of time on the road with my dad, visiting with his clients, visiting their shops. And I was always just really impressed with the type of work that was done, the critical thinking skills to solve the challenges that present themselves in this industry. There’s chemistry, there’s computers, there’s a little bit of everything which scratch a lot of itches for me, and also the opportunity to be creative when you have a company that’s down on its luck. When we took over decal impressions, it had pretty much hit rock bottom. I kind of remember walking in my first day to view and it’s like, wow, no one’s been to the dumpster in like two years. It’s just piled up in the middle of the room. So by getting involved in business with a distressed business, it was so easy to see the signs. If you looked at it, you could see how they got there. But it was also a great learning environment for me because you could see the pitfalls, if you will. They were kind of present. And when management and ownership and leadership wanes in an organization. It was just obvious what happened. And for me, putting it back together, going back to basic principles of cleanliness, organization, respect for the customer, being responsive, those little steps that we made immediately, immediately made an impact. And it was like, wait a minute. If you just take care of people, even if they’re mad at you from the past, they’ll turn around quickly. So kind of a perfect storm of.

 

Anthony (host): 28:48

Youth.

 

Bryan (guest): 28:50

Opportunity technology was impacting our industry at breakneck speed. I was one of the lucky people in life that I got a computer very early. So I wasn’t great, but I knew how to use computers. I recognized how they worked in business. I recognized that there was a lot of ways that your desktop printer was soon going to be printing larger.

 

Anthony (host): 29:19

You could see where this was going, you could see how it was evolving and it was going to affect the print industry.

 

Bryan (guest): 29:24

That’s correct. And it just kind of felt right. And I had a lot of resources around me, a lot of smart people that my think tank, if you will, and it was like, this is going to happen. And I was a little bit resistant to some parts of it because it was hard for me to believe that I was actually going to tell people, look, just go to our website and order, because I like talking to people, I like being with people. I like learning about them. And it was feeling a little bit like we were pushing them off or doing them a disservice. But mentally, it had climbed over that hump, because if you have a chief marketing officer who’s got a limited staff, and in various times in my career, you’ve seen the marketing departments just get slaughtered. Having a tool for them that can optimize their efficiency by making their ordering easier, smoother, take less time, but guarantee a quality product at the end, you’ve just given somebody a gift that can’t be quantified because they’re getting real things back right now.

 

Anthony (host): 30:22

What was the timeline for this, Brian, that you guys were sort of moving into some of these upgrades and more of the digital experience?

 

Bryan (guest): 30:29

2003 and 2004 were pivotal for us. Like I said, we spent the late part of 2001 and early part of 2002 kind of assessing and stabilizing, fixing the original technology that was there, which was analog, getting screen printing presses to operate better, upgrading materials, things that just, again, when you don’t have leadership, people start making price decisions, they start cutting corners, start trying to stretch the useful life of things, and that leads to an inferior product. So we had a lot of patching to do. But at the same time, it became apparent that we needed to add additional digital equipment, cutting equipment and computing power, better industry software. And so we established our first network. We put our first server in. And it was at that moment it became pretty clear that by investing in an actual server that we controlled, we had our own domain, we had our own website. We were pretty early. It’s hard to imagine this, but in 2001, 2002, emailing a client and saying, hey, you can email me your art or you can upload it to our FTP site. People are like, well, you mean you don’t want my sidequest disk?

 

Anthony (host): 31:43

Because people were having to physically deliver or mail the hard disk that had the files on it. Back then, there were no way to send files of any size, but certainly bigger files that were print quality.

 

Bryan (guest): 31:56

We were right there. The FTP protocol was just coming online. And we had a very early FTP site, which has been comical for the last 20 years of my career because every it person today is like, oh my gosh, you have this FTP site, you’re going to get hacked. And it’s like, partner, that’s my lifeblood. That’s where all my business comes from. We’ve had it for 20 years. You’ve got to open your mind a little bit and understand what’s going on here. So there are so many humorous moments presently because we built this stuff so early. And then we started a very simple shopping cart on an early version of our website for a few of our small franchise customers where we offered basic materials, marketing materials, essentially the original company store for that franchise. And even they were kind of like, is this really going to help us? I mean, we want our franchisees to feel like they have somebody that represents them, somebody they can talk to, and it’s like we’re here for them. But you’re going to find this may be something you’re really going to value, if you will. And it was always an interesting dynamic because we’d have young franchisees, old franchisees that were using or being asked to use the same portal, and you could see a pretty clear line of the people who wanted and who didn’t. And so what we did, instead of making rules to deal with us, our rule was, we’ll deal with you any way that you want to be dealt with. So if you want to email us an order, if you want to fax us an order, if you want to call us with an order, we’ll do whatever ever works for you. As long as you’re satisfied with that, the end result happens in the timeline that you want. And here we go.

 

Anthony (host): 33:29

So you mentioned franchisees. Is this a franchise business model that you’re operating?

 

Bryan (guest): 33:35

We service the franchise industry. So we work with a lot of franchiseors and build their company store within our system, and then all their franchisees visit. So the marketing manager knows all of the goods and services are approved on the site, they know where they can get them, and it just takes so much, let’s call it wasted time out of the process. And again, in 2005, and six people were not as receptive. They just didn’t understand the real necessity of that. You fast forward to today, and you could argue it’s partially the lifeblood of what we do. We have 15 or 20 major accounts that are, we’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we’re still a small business. So we ship coast to coast. We ship to Canada, we ship to Mexico, we ship to Puerto Rico. We’ve really, really been fortunate because the web, if you will, allows us to be anywhere. And a lot of times it’s interesting because even our own customers, some of whom we’ve really never met in person, or we’ve only met at a franchise show, or we may never actually see them in person, they really have no idea what decal impressions is, what decal impressions does, other than what we do for them. And so that’s kind of one of the exciting things about being with you today. This gives us a forum to kind of let folks know maybe they know us well or what they think they know well. This helps us get our story out there and let folks know what we’re all about, not just for their business, for the business we serve them in, but what we might do for them if they had a second business or a third business, because that’s the beauty of entrepreneurs. When you work with entrepreneurs, they might be two or three different generations of business for you as they continue to grow and expand their portfolio.

 

Anthony (host): 35:35

Yeah, probably 2025 years ago, print business was probably very locally focused. I had my first business back then, and we worked with a local print shop because there was sort of that barrier of getting those large file sizes and exchanging them. You wanted to be close to somebody, but now that you have the ability to send large files digitally, and I’m guessing the freight costs, the shipping costs on the finished product is not so overbearing that it prevents you from working with people. Like you said, you’re shipping to east coast, west coast, Puerto Rico. So that’s no longer a barrier for you.

 

Bryan (guest): 36:16

It’s not a barrier. It is an education point. We’ve ridden some waves with that, if you will. Initially in the beginning, it was like, well, I can just get it locally. Why would I pay to have it shipped? That’s a way of looking at it. But all of a sudden you’re investing your time as a business owner into now becoming the transit company. You’re your own art department. You can go down a rabbit hole and burn up two or 3 hours as a business owner on something that you could do in five or ten minutes and still get the same thing at the end. So what’s a $10 shipping bill, a $20 shipping bill or we’re living in the world today, a $30 shipping bill. What’s your time worth? And educating business owners has been a process for us all along the way. The last five to seven years with Amazon, a lot of this free freight that’s created its own challenge because people have a perception that freight is free where it’s not. It’s subsidized. And a lot of times companies like ours are pinched in the middle and we’re constantly working on that on behalf of our customers to work with the major players to make sure they’re getting the best value. But it’s always changing. Our posture is always coming up against the next challenge, and then it becomes an education process. We need our customers to understand, be educated to have a global and holistic view of how they’re purchasing and what they’re purchasing and why they’re purchasing. We’ve tried to even eliminate words like, well, how much does it cost? Or is that expense? This is an investment. When you’re buying from us and you’re buying what we’re making for you, you’re investing, you’re investing in your brand, you’re investing in your business, you’re investing in your future customers. And the ability to grow your sales and perception and discussion and talking about those things is really important because obviously we’re sending an invoice, you’re definitely going to pay a bill and it’s cost you. But when somebody goes and buys a $500 hammer drill for their construction business, do they look at that as an investment or a cost? The sophisticated business owner probably says, I just made an investment in my business. We don’t have to rent that tool anymore. We don’t have to go and get it. We own it, we’re going to take care of it and it’s going to make us money for years and years and years. And that’s the same methodology we use in talking about our product with our customers. Look, you’ve invested in this vehicle wrap. You spent $40,000 on a van. You spent $4,000 on graphics package. You now have a $44,000 billboard that you’re using every single day in your community, advertising your business, letting folks know you’re open, letting them know what you do. You’ve invested. You’re not costing you. It’s building for you. But if no one’s ever said that to you, and you’re a relatively new business owner or a struggling entrepreneur, mindset matters.

 

Anthony (host): 39:12

So let’s talk about that education process a bit and the expertise that people get by working with you. Because you mentioned at the beginning of the interview how there’s a lot of creative problem solving involved, which includes things like chemistry. I think that there’s probably a common view that you got these giant printers and you’re just pushing a print button once you get the file, and it’s just spitting out, so people kind of view it. Print shops as like, a commodity. Can you talk me through an example of what somebody is getting with you that they may not get by working with a different company?

 

Bryan (guest): 39:53

Well, I’d like to think first and foremost, like I said, I mentioned service, but we have a desire, we have a kind of a saying also. We want 100% of our customers to return, not our jobs. And the printing is a really great thing, because the first thing we do, we get an order, we send a proof. We ask to validate the artwork. We ask, are you sure you sent us the right file? Are you sure this is what you want? Are you sure you want it to look like this? Is this the material you want? And you have two different things that will happen. People will look at that, evaluate it, give you a yes or no, or you have people that couldn’t possibly have opened the attachment. It looked and just reply back and hit yes. And it’s always a difficult challenge, because we all know when they do that, we look a little harder. We have their back. Nobody wins. If there’s product that can’t be used. It doesn’t help us, it doesn’t help our customers. So we try to prevent any of those mistakes. And when people talk about high tech manufacturing, they kind of envision robots and making microchips. And I think of printing because the people that are here are working with, like you said, giant printers that you do eventually hit print on, but they have ten computers on them. They are moving fluids, they’re curing inks. They’re advancing material. And when you think about all the harmony that that machine has to maintain to produce a quality output, it’s legitimately challenging. It’s legitimately a big deal for that operator, for that person to know, wow, I’m not used to that. Did the ink possibly cure? Did that material that came in, was it correct from the manufacturer? Why this? Why that? We’re always asking why? Because if you’re asking why, you’re putting your energy into it, questioning the process. So it takes a really flexible and quick witted person to be involved in this, because a lot of times the real problem starts when you hit print and the machine says, you know what? Not sure I like that. Or you have a channel issue on a color. When you’re printing with eight different colors of ink, or you’re printing with eight colors plus a white ink, you need to make sure that you have the right density of color. I mean, we’re constantly scanning colors to make sure that they meet optical needs. And when you’re in a world where you and I are looking at each other and you’re looking at me and saying, hey, he’s wearing a black fleece, I’m looking at you saying, you’re wearing a white jumper. We see that. But in person that might be off white. This could be. How many different colors of black are there? If you look in the Pantone book, there’s a section that thick. So having that mindset that not everybody is positive and helping them understand, because sometimes that computer program you’re looking at your screen going, man, that looks fantastic. Well, it’s one inch by three inch. You’ve asked us to make that 30 foot by twelve inches. And that raster image is already zero DPI. It’s not going to go particularly well. So that’s a huge component to our processes helping because you can easily be led astray by your own eyes. And if you’ve got somebody in another state that’s taken a picture of something and sent it to the corporate marketing office and said, hey, I don’t think this looks right. Well, you might be right. That particular picture at that angle of the sun with the right type of cloud cover can change the color of the light, can change the finish output color look. So we have to compensate for the color, we have to compensate for the light. It’s not intrinsic for folks to go, wow, there’s a lot of challenges in that. That’s helpful.

 

Anthony (host): 43:44

That really helps to paint a picture, so to speak, about all of the sort of fine attention to detail. That goes into making sure that the output on the other end is something the customer is really going to be happy with. And it’s probably that level of service that has allowed you to be successful, has allowed you to attract and work with so many different franchises. Can you mention any of the franchises that you work with?

 

Bryan (guest): 44:12

One of the ones I’m most proud of is a company called Penn Station, East Coast Subs. They were founded in Cincinnati back in 1985. We made the first menu board for the founder’s first location. I was a customer of Penn Station long before I ever made a sign for them. And when I got to decal impressions and realized that Penn Station was potentially one of my accounts that I was trying to maintain, it was kind of a super exciting moment, because when I was at Ohio State, all I kept trying to figure out was why there wasn’t a Penn station in Columbus. Because I was sure that a Philly cheesesteak from Penn Station was just what I needed after a night of drinking. And not too. So, you know, I had a vision, but it turned out to be totally different how it went for me. But we’ve gone so far with that organization. If they’ve grown, we’ve grown, we’ve collaborated together, we’ve had our ups and downs, our challenges, and, I mean, one of the kind of the hardest moments of my career was picking up the phone and calling the president of their company one bright and early, 637 o’clock one morning. I mean, he’s an early bird, I’m an early bird. We’d had plenty of discussions. They’ve been great mentors to me, but we’d made a terrible mistake. We’d set up some artwork for them for a monthly special that had gone to 300 locations. And we had a misspelling, and it was proofed. It was missed. We made the mistake. They didn’t catch it. It was ours to own. And how bad can it get? I mean, it really doesn’t get much worse. We misspelled a word in a promotion, and it was one of those grammatical things. Should have had two ends, only had one at the end of it. And I picked up the phone, called him, I said, hey, look, I need to talk to you. I got to tell you something. And I said, the bottom line is, here’s what happened. We made a mistake. You’re going to get umpteen phone calls today from disgruntled people about what kind of vendors are you picking? Because even the greatest franchise in the world has franchisees that are very critical of the corporate office. And I said, look, I’m already in process of getting it fixed, reapproved. We’re going to reship. We’re going to make it right. It doesn’t make it right today, but you’ve heard it from me. You’ve heard it as early as I found it out and could tell you in this way, when the people call you, you will not be caught off guard. And that one of the most painful moments in my career, having to make that phone call, telling my customer that I’d failed them in my most basic duty to them, probably did more for my career than anything else. Owning it, being transparent, that’s the path. No matter how much the pain, if you prove to somebody you’re willing to do that, they recognize if somebody’s not hiding from you, they got your back. Even if they make a mistake.

 

Anthony (host): 47:01

I think that says a lot. And I’m curious, as you realize the mistake that was made, really, you had a choice to make here, right? Like, you could put this on the customer. You sent them the proof. They approved it, right? That’s why you have sort of that gate there, to make sure that things like this get caught. But in the end, you said, you know what? We made the mistake. Even though they didn’t catch it, we’re going to own up to it. We’re going to fix it. I’m guessing you reprinted everything, right? And you reshipd at your expense. So this went from what would have been a nice, profitable job for you to, I’m sure you lost money on it, right?

 

Bryan (guest): 47:42

It was not the main relationship. That’s correct. You got to look big picture. But a lot of times, and this is the hardest thing, when we’re talking about people that might be listening to this that are a year or two in business, or when you’re staring down the barrel of a big mistake, it’s hard if you don’t have the money to fix it. And in those times, it was tight. It was not an easy reprint, not an easy situation.

 

Bryan (guest): 48:12

You got to really make that gut check, and a lot of times your customer will understand. Actually, in this particular case, we did all the printing at no charge, but we had another marketing piece that was going to go out as another shipment. And they let us put that one in there and absorb some of the costs for the reship. When we owned it, it opened a level of relationship and developed a level of relationship that we were working together. They were big enough picture to say, if we crush this vendor of ours, they’re not going to be our vendor, and we’re going to have to fill someone else in. There’s institutional knowledge. I was very fortunate to be working with some of the greatest minds I’ve ever worked with. And I mean, like I said, they’re mentors. Many years down the road, we were looking to expand our business. I’d acquired the land next to our plant. It was in a great neighborhood that was improving, but it was still kind of rough. I was going to take a historical building and make a whole bunch of things happen, try to better the neighborhood. And the VP of construction there said, hey, man, I heard you’re getting ready to do a construction project. You mind if I look at your blueprints? I was taken aback. I was like, I would love for you to look at them, but certainly don’t want to burden you with it. You’re a busy man. You’re building stores all over the country. Who’s got time for that? And he’s like, hey, I want to look at this for you. I had him sent out to him. He called me the next day and he said, hey, Craig and I want to meet with you for lunch. Can you make it happen? Absolutely. Any chance to meet with my mentors, my customers, and sat me down and said, don’t do this. This will be the worst decision you ever make in your life. I know you’re deep. This was right about the eight financial crisis. I was the last person with a building loan to build a building. I mean, the economy was falling like a rock. And they said, look, we understand your intent, but the reality is that your lack of understanding about how buildings are built and the building code, you’re getting your clock cleaned, you’re paying all this money for things that are never going to make any difference in your business, and you’re going to be toast. And at that point in my life, I was still pretty sure I knew everything and had a lot of great people around me. A lot of them I listened to. A lot of them I wish I’d have listened to. And for some reason, I listened probably better than I’d ever listened in my entire life. And I abandoned the project. And I thought the builder was going to have me killed because he was devastated, because there was nobody else coming with another project, because the times. But I pulled the plug, and it was the best decision I ever made. I mean, in every single way. We wound up finding a much better building that we’re in today that was already three or four times the project we were building, and we’re running out of space in this building, so it would have been a disaster. And ultimately, we were able to keep that other real estate within our portfolio, turned it into a beautiful brownstone gated piece of property. It’s one of the nicest places in that neighborhood. And then our old facility is currently being rented by one of our customers. So the building is reverted back to a graphic arts business, much smaller than ours, but a great customer of ours and kind of came full circle. So we created by saying no at the hardest time to the builder and listening to people who were simply investing in me as a person. I mean, they made a personal choice to take their time to try to help a young entrepreneur make the right decision, not the wrong decision, and I’ve just been eternally grateful for that. And again, kind of why I’m here today. What I can say to anybody who’s in business is when you’re sure that you’re right, make sure you’re listening to the people around you, because you are probably wrong about something. And if you start listening to the challenges to your plan and you start taking those to heart and release your own desires and listen to others, you can make a quantum leap in the future by collaborating. And people talk about collaboration all the time, listening and working in teams. How many people really do it? How many people, when somebody doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, really go, man. I should follow that. I should really pursue that thought process.

 

Anthony (host): 52:29

That’s a great story. I appreciate you sharing that example. Are there others, other mentors in your background that have been particularly helpful or formative?

 

Bryan (guest): 52:40

Yes, absolutely. I’m just so fortunate. I’ve been a sponge my entire life. I was just surrounded by really great people, family and friends. One of my greats, our neighbors, when I was a kid, we called them Aunt Dot and Uncle Larry. It was so amazing how they just took a shine to me and my sister and they taught me about life before anybody knew what life was, we’d get off the school bus, go over to their house. I’d make them martinis. We’d sit down. I was going to happy hour. I mean, the school called my parents and said, hey, do you know your kids going to happy hour after school? I didn’t even really understand the concept of happy hour as I do today, but I knew how to make a martini. We served drinks. They would sit there and talk about history, world events. They were depression era people. Uncle Larry was the vice president of production at the Cincinnati Enquirer. Our newspaper here, Aunt Dot, was a stay at home wife. She made his clothes. They came from nothing. And, I mean, one of the greatest stories I can remember sitting there having cocktails is they were talking about their friends and family back during the Depression, and they’d all collaborated together to put together the food that they had. And they made this casserole, and they pulled it out of the oven and it fell out. It got hot, somebody got burned. They dropped it and fell out on the floor. And I was mortified, like, oh, my gosh, what did you do? And they’re like, we scooped it back up and ate my. What do you mean? It’s what we had, Brian. That’s what we had. We ate it. There was no other choice. This is what we. You know, it’s moments like that, at that time, it was, wow, that’s. It seems so hard to believe. And then you get older and you realize that the things that people went through to get to where they were. Surely my life should have some bumps in. You know, my aunt Dot was just. She was a driving force behind the success of Uncle Larry. And she seemed to see in me, she used to say, brian, you’re going to be a businessman one day, and these are important things you need to know. They teach us how to play board games and cards. And she told me, one day, I called your parents, I got permission to teach you how to play poker, because businessmen, they got to know how to play poker. So we’d sit there and bet, and I don’t know, month two later, she says, we’re going to play cards and the table is not set up. And I sat down and she said, hey, you know I love you. And I said, well, yeah, I know you love me. And she said, look, you are the worst poker player I’ve ever seen in my entire life. You are to not play poker with anybody. You tell them you object on religious grounds, but you’ll sit in and watch because you were going to get massacred. This is not for you. And, I mean, I was crushed. But again, she was right. She told me the hard truth, the way it had to be told. And I think that’s why it was so easy to make that call that morning. Easy relative. I had the background to make that call. I knew the worst thing that was going to happen is I told the truth. And the cards fell where they. So I just, through a variety of these life activities, learned sometimes you got to tell people what they don’t want to hear. Sometimes you have to tell people the truth when you really don’t want it to be the truth, but it will set you free when you do it.

 

Anthony (host): 56:00

Thanks to Aunt Dot for teaching you that valuable lesson of telling the truth, even when it’s hard, right?

 

Bryan (guest): 56:06

That’s right.

 

Anthony (host): 56:07

You mentioned bumps in the road, and I hear this from every business owner I’ve ever known. There are at least one story, usually multiple, where they had to overcome some huge challenge. Maybe there was a giant accounting mistake, countless stories of people struggling to make payroll, or there was a fire or a theft, or do you have something like that in your background that maybe it’s a little hard to talk about, but could be really helpful for somebody else to hear how you overcame.

 

Bryan (guest): 56:42

Hold on. Let me take my shoes off so I can count the number of them. I think this is kind of one of those. This is a good one. A painful know. Told you. We moved. We moved in this building. It was an old sausage factory, so it needed to be repurposed to a printing plant. We brought in the electricians, got all our new power. Duke came out. Duke, being the energy provider, said, hey, we’re got your new meter here. Boom. I get a letter from Duke, says, this is your old meter number. Here’s your new meter number. Have a great life. Great. Perfect. Put it in the file. And away we went. I don’t know. Three or so years pass, and I get home one evening, and as a result of the transition, for some reason, the bill for the plant always came to my house. I got home, and they’re sitting on the table. Not at a time I would have expected. The bill was a envelope from Duke energy that looked like a power bill, but it was huge. I was like, this is just odd. So slid it open, pulled it out. I’m looking at it, and it says, balance due, $10,390. And, I mean, it was the first moment where I really thought, wow, this could be what death looks like. Because I felt woozy. I was like, I’m looking for what the address is. My brain’s screaming, like, okay, I’ve heard of water leaks. I’ve heard of all kinds of things, but how do you leak electricity? I’ve been paying my Duke bill every month for the last. What? This makes no sense. So I’m horrified. I’d already had another setback. I had a piece of equipment that needed a $10,000 repair, and that was within my discretionary budget. But another $10,000 surprise was not so called Duke the next day. Hey, what’s the deal? Yeah, we made a mistake, and we shouldn’t have told you that other meter was no good and you owe us $10,000. And as it turned out, our meter reader was on vacation. The other person came down, looked at their board, scanned the meter that they were supposed to scan, and looked over and saw the other meter and thought, I wonder what that is. It’s not on the board, but I’ll scan it. Bink. $10,300.

 

Anthony (host): 59:03

So had you been actually using this electricity the whole time? Both of them were still wired in?

 

Bryan (guest): 59:09

Yeah, as best as I could tell. I mean, it became a point where it was almost fruitless to argue with Duke energy. To their mind, it was what it was. To my mind, it really wasn’t what it was. But it was one of the few times in my life where I really couldn’t prove either way because I kept questioning how they had it fed. And there was some debate, but it was what it was. It seemed pretty apparent what happened in one way or the other. It was probably my bill to pay. So of course, I didn’t have the liquidity at the time to just pay it off. So I got a payment plan, but I was paying on this payment plan, triple payments. I wanted it wiped out. But the thing was, they didn’t really have a mechanism for this type of issue. And so I’m just constantly getting disconnect notices, and I’m like, how can I have a disconnect notice? I’m ahead of the payment plan. I’m paying my current bill. Paying ahead? How can this be? Well, there’s nothing we can do. So it’s 345 one day, and some guy shows up and says, hey, we’re here to cut your power unless you pay off this outstanding balance. I’m like, look, man, of course, again, in my mind, I’m a reasonable person. This is a business discussion to be. No, he’s there to do a job. He doesn’t care. It appears that I’m a deadbeat. I haven’t paid my utility bill. There’s not a lot of middle ground here. So I go flying upstairs, get on the phone with Duke, say, look, fine, I don’t really get it, but you can see I’m ahead, but this guy’s here to do it. I’m just going to pay the whole thing off. So I paid the whole thing off. I got the number. Well, that guy quit working at 04:00. I go racing downstairs with the number that they’ve given me to eliminate the disconnect order. He’s gone. Power still on. Hey, I’ve paid Duke. They’re paid off. He’s gone. Life’s good. 06:00 in the morning, I’m getting my car, and I’ve got a guy that gets to work real early. He goes, man, the duke guys just pulled up and pulled the power on the building. We got no power. I had jobs due, due that day. Firm, no question. People depended on us, and I got no power. I call Duke, and again, I pay all my bills. I have an 850 credit score. I’m not a deadbeat. But if you’re the employee at Duke Energy looking at my account, you’re not going to buy that, because I’ve got eight months of disconnect notices. And I’m trying to explain to this lady, look, this is way more your problem than my problem. This is what happened. I paid the bill yesterday. As I was directed, the guy left, and then he just came and pulled the power. I said, yeah, I get where you’re coming from, but you got to get where I’m coming from. And you need to understand that you guys are in the wrong and I am the customer, and you’ve made a significant mistake. And my equipment can’t be without power. It has to cycle, it has to move ink. It has to do all this stuff. I said, if there’s damages here, we probably have a real problem for both of us. And that all came because, well, we have up to 24 hours to reconnect your power. And it’s like, look, that’s not going to work today. So again, my best negotiation, I could pull out, and within an hour and a half, they came back and reconnected us. But I think about the totality of that instance, the number of high pressure moments and such related to that, and the time that I’ll never have back dealing with it. And, I mean, how could you ever have known? We were just kind of involved. And it was one of those days where you walk away from this and you go, am I ever going to get ahead? How in the world do you budget or prepare or deal with these things? And that was kind of, if I had to say, one of the lower moments, because it really was starting to feel like the world was just stacking up against the organization, me, the whole process. So it was one to get through. It’s always been a chuckling point because I can truly say I’ve had the power cut.

 

Anthony (host): 1:03:28

Yeah. Looking back, it’s a little bit easier to laugh about now. But when you’re in the moment, sometimes it’s really hard to see a way out of it.

 

Bryan (guest): 1:03:36

It is. And all I can say is trying to be optimistic, trying to have a sense of humor about it, even at the darkest moment, is it has to be the remedy. It has to be the medicine for the disease. Because if you get an oh, woe is me mentality, if you allow yourself to be victimized, you’re never going to get over it because to some extent, you’re always the victim, whether it’s intentional or unintentional. The perception of the business owner, the perception of somebody in leadership, they don’t have problems. That’s my feeling about how people feel about us, so to speak. But the reality is you just got to accept it. You chose to be in your chair. You chose to be in charge. You chose to say, I’m responsible. And that means on the good days. So when somebody’s sending me an email that says, hey, really wanted to compliment your team on turning that job around in no time and making us look great, you can’t just stand there and take those accolades and stick your head in the sand when the bullets are flying. And if anything, you deflect the positive and you run to the negative and you try to turn the negative to a positive. And if you make that your mindset, your mission, you’ll get through it.

 

Anthony (host): 1:04:52

The buck stops here kind of a thing. Yeah, I think that’s absolutely a sign of a good leader. Another sign of a great leader is sort of the vision to see where the industry is headed. Right. And I think you’ve touched a little bit already on when you guys came in and acquired this company. There was a lot that needed updated, a lot that needed cleaned up, a lot of upgrades that you guys made on the print side of the business. But I want to talk a little bit about the transition that you guys have made into expanding your service offerings into the digital side of the world. The online space, doing graphic design for people, building websites, handling social media marketing for them. These are two very different businesses. Right. You can understand the print world, but understanding sort of this digital side, that takes a whole nother set of skills. Talk to me about why you did that and how that’s been working out for you.

 

Bryan (guest): 1:05:56

I think that our, why was we saw our customers struggling. We saw them spending good money for poor results. We saw that they felt confident to ask us questions about what we were doing because we were doing it for ourselves, growing our business. We have a separate company that’s a small restaurant bar that we used as a marketing test hub for ourselves. So we created its own brand. And it was kind of our testing of things that we started selling down the road. So that was really special for us. But it really boiled down to listening to what the customer pain points were. Recognizing that we are communicators, whether it’s in print or whether it’s in an email blast or whether it’s designing up something. You can’t put 500 words. Yes, you can buy all the words on that page you want, but if people are only going to read seven of them, let’s only have seven words, why don’t we? And so for us, it felt natural. It felt like a part of what we were doing. And it was like, wait a minute. This is the future. This is all coming together. The idea of you having three different companies for each of these things was rapidly falling apart. And we saw a great opportunity. We had a lot of experience in the ecommerce side. We saw how people were leveraging our portals, and we just leaned into it and said, look, we can solve this problem for you. We know you, we know your business. And we just had a customer that we took over their web services, and we’ve been dealing with this company for almost 20 years. And he calls me up and he says, hey, I’m thinking about updating my website. It’s really terrible. I’ve gotten this quote from somebody else. What do you think? And I said, well, I think I’ve done a bad job as your vendor for not letting you know that you should have come to me first, but you came to me anyway, so let’s talk about this. And he had this monstrous quote from a company who specializes in just that arena and doesn’t know anything about his business, doesn’t know anything about what his customers need, doesn’t know how to communicate to them. And I said, listen, you need to think real hard about going forward with them or going forward with us, because this project isn’t what you’ve been quoted. It isn’t going to go the way you’ve described it. And here are the immediate pitfalls that I see. You’re going to actually do all the work even though you seem to think someone else is doing it. If you read this contract, it’s saying that you have to provide everything, and all they’re going to do is take what you’ve done and put it into practice. So who’s actually doing the work here? There’s very long pause. And I said, look, why don’t you, let’s set a meeting, come over, meet with our team. Let me save this deal, let me save you from yourself. And I think it was last Friday he called me and he said, if I only would have known, which again, shame on me for him not knowing. That’s an important point here. With all the things that we do, I have to learn in that moment we can do better. He should not have had to do what he did, but he did, and it worked out. And he said, if I’d have known that this was as easy as you’ve made it, I’d have done this 15 years ago. My business would probably be totally different if I would have recognized that this wasn’t going to be having my teeth extracted with no Novocaine, that working with your professionals would make it this easy. And it was rewarding to hear. But again, I can focus on that, the positive, but the most important thing to focus on is really I’m missing opportunity. I’m missing opportunity in my own customer base. So I have to go back and kind of do that post mortem on what I’ve missed in my own process where I’m so sure I’m so good at it. Reality is I’ve got a guy I deal with almost every day who didn’t realize I could do for him what he needed. Shame on me.

 

Anthony (host): 1:09:46

So it really wasn’t that big of a stretch for you guys to migrate into this. You had been doing it for yourselves as a way to connect with your own customers, and you were seeing from your customer base that this was a real pain point for them. They were trying to get these solutions solved elsewhere and they were not having good luck with other service providers. You said, hey, let’s take what we’ve been practicing on ourselves for years and offer it as a service to our customer base and good on you for recognizing, hey, wow, we thought we were pretty good at this, but one thing that we can get better at is communicating with our customers and letting them know that this is an additional service that we can provide. And we happen to be pretty good at it, too.

 

Bryan (guest): 1:10:37

The self evaluation, willingness to be your own harshest critic is the best path. I mean, if you’re willing to subject yourself to that kind of painful reality of what you’ve failed on, you can improve it. But if you aren’t willing to acknowledge it, then you’re really not working on anything and you’re really not helping yourself. And we talk every week in our weekly meeting about the importance of communication because it’s the hardest thing for anybody to do. It is just brutally difficult.

 

Anthony (host): 1:11:10

So I see how you went from print to digital. This next one is a little bit more of an outlier for me, but I am fascinated to hear. How did you get into building electric cars?

 

Bryan (guest): 1:11:29

Great questions.

 

Bryan (guest): 1:11:33

I love tinkering. I love taking things apart, putting things back together, trying to fix things. I’ve always been a little bit of a gearhead, always had a fascination with older cars. There was a movie called who killed the electric car? And now, don’t know how many people ever actually saw that movie or not. My wife and I went and saw that movie, and I had no preconceived notions whatsoever. Watched the movie, found myself. This is at a time where gas prices were through the roof. We were in a terrible conflict in the middle east. It felt like, I felt a little betrayed, frankly, by the industrial complex of America. We had the ability to solve this problem. We chose not to. I kind of walked out of that movie with a sense of rage, really. And we went over to this little pizzeria, and I said, I’m going to build an electric car. And of course, my loving wife looked at me. Sure you are. But I thought about the people I knew. I thought about the movie. I thought about, what am I trying to do here? We can make a vehicle that will run on electricity and meet our needs. Is it going to be the same as a gas powered car? No. Could we use it in lieu of a gas powered car 99% of the time for what we did in this particular function? Yes. So started researching, started figuring out what it was going to take to build a battery. We used two different traction packs. We used lifos and lead acid. We started with lead acid, went to Lifo, and it was so obvious. I mean, I love cars. I love old cars, especially. And I was driving to and from work, and I’m thinking, this is my toaster. It gets me to and from work. It’s not something I’m passionate about. It’s simply a method to get where I need to be and back home. And that represented 80 or 90% of the driving I was doing. So if I could replace that and not buy gas at $4 a gallon and use this equivalent amount of electricity that my refrigerator used to keep my dinner cold, why wouldn’t I make that leap? Why not try this? So it just became kind of a mind over matter type of situation. And myself and a couple of the guys got together and went to work, and no one got violently hurt. No one got violently electrocuted. I only had a couple of moments on the side of the road going that was a bad design, and I can see why right in this moment. But we know how to fix it. So I fixed it on the side of the road, went back to the shop and worked it out, and I drove that. It was a pickup truck, and I drove that for about four and a half years before I finally realized I was not going to be able to create the company that I dreamed of and ultimately sold my soul back to General Motors and went back to their plug in hybrid, the Volt, and then ultimately a Chevy Bolt. But I mean, I’m a huge believer in the electric platform, and I am a huge believer in the truth of all of this. And to me, that truth is that we’re not being truthful because you can’t measure electricity the way you can gasoline. And it, it’s so hard to get folks to understand that you can be more efficient in an electric car for 80 or 90% of your driving. And the notion that that power is terrible because it’s made from coal or it’s made from oil, or it’s made from natural gas or whatever fossil fuel that’s powering my electric car, you’re still not being honest with yourself. If I go out to my garage right now and I start up my 1950 Cadillac and I leave the garage door closed for about 3 hours and sit in there, I’m going to be dead. It’s a fact. The carbon monoxide will kill me. And if you extrapolate that the earth is no different than a garage, and there’s obviously more cars in the earth than there are in my garage. But the reality is, it’s finite. And in 1925, there was virtually no automobiles. In 2025, you have every single continent full of them putting out a product I like to make again. I’m going to start my 1950 Cadillac on this beautiful sunny day, and I’m going to drive it a little bit. I’m going to contribute to greenhouse gases, but I don’t do it every day in the way that I once did. And if we just appreciated that change is not as bad as everybody thinks, that we can actually become more efficient, create more jobs, create more opportunity by making changes no different than when they went from kerosene to the electric light bulb. Think about the jobs, the technology, and the things that came after that. But old Mr. Rockefeller, he sure didn’t want to see you stop using kerosene to light your house. He wanted you to stay with that. And Mr. Edison and Mr. Tesla didn’t. They wanted you to go a different direction. And that was a challenge. But I think we need to just press on innovation. We need to stop this infighting about whether the electric vehicle tires are bad for the environment. It’s no different. All the things that we do are challenging. We just have to mitigate as many of the challenges as possible. So for me, I knew that nobody was doing it. We could use it as a marketing strategy. We got great publicity with it. We were in parades. We had a ton of fun. I got to drive the mayor of Cincinnati in the 4 July parade because it was a big initiative. They had an initiative where they were given free parking passes to people that drove electric vehicles. In 2008, I think it was. I was the only person that drove their car to work, to the facility to get to the main hub there on Fountain Square to get my free parking decal, then drove back to my office, finished my day of work, and then drove home in it. The other two vehicles were trailered.

 

Bryan (guest): 1:18:00

I’m laughing. And of course, one company was hugely funded. They’ve been all over the news for the last ten years. And that was where I kind of realized the error of my ways is I struggled as a business person to write a business plan that said I was going to lose $100 million. I couldn’t figure that out because I had to make payroll. So how in the world were you going to do that? So it was kind of the big business, small business reality check for me. But it was a great experience, something I would never change. It helped my company. You learn from your Failures. I know today I would have done things differently, but at the end of the day, I’m a huge proponent in it. And we’re always looking for ways to become efficient and invest our capital in things that create efficiency, which brings our customers better.

 

Anthony (host): 1:18:46

Pricing, that’s really impressive. I mean, that really shows some gumption and some dedication to innovative ideas to not only attempt to, but actually succeed in building an electric car. Where do you see innovation coming or going in your industry in the next five years? What do you think are the big evolutions that are coming?

 

Bryan (guest): 1:19:12

Automation. Automation. Automation. We’re seeing the beginnings of robotics, which is really interesting to me, and I can see it having a small place today, but I can see it having a much larger place down the road. That is a little bit tricky how that’s going to implement in a company like ours, because automation has some risks. It’s just like AI, you have to be really careful. You could use a chat bot to help build your website, but if you really don’t put that human touch. People will start recognizing that AI chat as just that. This is a computer telling the human what it thinks about what it’s doing. So there will be a role for AI design work, there will be a role in automation, in computer technology, the printing technology. Speed is continuing to be the driving factor for so many manufacturers. They just want to go faster, faster, faster, which is great. Time to market is shorter than it’s ever been, but there comes a point where it’s diminishing returns. In my perspective, if you start going too fast, you really start to lose some of what makes the creative process go. The last thing I want to see is humans withdraw from design and creativity. We need that human factor. We need that human touch to the text, to the content, to the imagery. And sometimes maybe the imperfection is what makes it perfect. In my opinion. If you go to a great art museum, you can look at two landscapes and they have two totally different ways, but they can speak to the person viewing them totally differently. And I think you have to try to keep some of that alive in the graphic arts industry by not kind of turning our back on creativity and letting artificial intelligence just take the reins.

 

Anthony (host): 1:21:23

I just have one more question for you, Brian, but before I ask it, I want to point people to the best way to get in touch with you.

 

Bryan (guest): 1:21:32

The best way to get in touch with me. Great question. Decalimpressions.com. That’s a great way to reach me. I always love hearing from listeners. So my email, Brian Bryan@decalimpressions.com I’m on LinkedIn. Brian Bielhauer. I’m a reachable guy. I like to, you know, shoot me an email. Set a, let’s, let’s figure out how we can help each other because the collaborative process. Tell me what you didn’t like. I’ll learn from it. It’ll help me.

 

Anthony (host): 1:22:01

That’s great. Last question for you, Brian. I’m curious to hear more about the philanthropic work that you do.

 

Bryan (guest): 1:22:08

Well, thank you for asking. Part of being a responsible business is contributing to your community. I’ve been a rotarian for about 14 years, which is a big part of it. Also part of the over the Ryan Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, which is a huge mouthful. But that’s been a 20 year saga with them, to grow and save a community using its rich brewing heritage. So that was fantastic. But as a president, the Rotary Club, I’ve been on our board, our foundation board, returning to our foundation board, and it’s so great to work with generations of business leaders who are service oriented, working towards helping those less fortunate in our community. Our club has a special history. We actually founded a school almost 100 years ago to help with kids getting educated who had polio. Because 100 years ago, if you had a debilitating disease, you may not be eligible to go to school. Not because you had a mental illness, just because they couldn’t handle it. And we have supported that school for the entire time of its existence. And it’s part of the Cincinnati public school system, the condon school. And these are kids that are having just terrible life challenges and it’s humbling to see. I think about waking up some days and I’ve really got to go have that meeting I don’t want to have. Then you think about maybe a young kid who’s never been able to get out of bed without somebody lifting them into their wheelchair. And you start to realize, you know what? If you complain one more time, I am going to give you the spanking of a lifetime. Because in reality, it’s all about perspective. My worst day is 100 times better than so many. And being cognizant of that, having a release to try to make other people’s lives better has been really helpful for me to kind of deal with the good fortune that I’ve had a lot of hard work, but I’ve had a lot of people helping me along the way. And it’s my job to help other people who may not have the advantages that I’ve had.

 

Anthony (host): 1:24:05

That’s terrific, Brian. Thank you for sharing your story today, Anthony.

 

Bryan (guest): 1:24:11

It has been absolutely my privilege and pleasure and just really enjoyed our chat today. It’s been special.

 

Anthony (host): 1:24:17

That’s a wrap on another episode of the Inspired Stories podcast. Thanks for learning with me today. Thanks, Brian. That was awesome. You did a great job.