Wikipedia defines an entrepreneur as an individual who builds capital through risk and/or initiative. This includes launching new business ventures and accepting responsibility for the outcome. It's a definition that fits Alan and Cindy Akins of Suwanee very well. The couple has been innovating for over 20 years to keep their local business running.
Their journey started in 1980. Alan began work in the printing industry doing estimating and pricing. Soon after, he finished with a degree in physics from Georgia State University and married Cindy, who held a degree in Accounting.
After working for someone else for a time, the Akins began their own business in 1990 under the name Kulla Publishing. Like many first-time business owners, the Akins started the original business working out of their house. The business included the sales, marketing and distribution for a real estate guide the covered the South Atlanta metro area. Alan photographed the properties and worked sales for ad space, while Cindy worked the back-office functions and coordinated the logistics of the distribution of the printed guide.
A few years later the Akins started some other work that extended from their relationships with realtors. “The Vitalizers” was a sub-company that provided help to real estate agents by getting homes ready for to sell. Alan coordinated and performed any repair work needed. The Vitalizers work lasted for a couple of years.
Around 1993 the Akins purchased their first printer, an inkjet plotter with four colors. This enabled them to start their printing locally. An early printing success was the Atlanta Home Improvement Guide, which they printed for two years.
In 1998 the Akins sold the real estate guide publication and moved the business to Suwanee. Then in 2001 they moved their residence to Suwanee as well. The printing portion of the business started sustaining itself based on relationships, word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business.
In December 2011 AlphaGraphics approached the Akins to start a new franchise in the Suwanee area. AlphaGraphics focuses on marketing and marketing services for companies. The two parties reached and an agreement and the Akins started a franchise. AlphaGraphics-Suwanee covers the North Gwinnett area into Hall County and East to Athens.
Alan went to school get up to speed on the full marketing services. But he now has access to the full AlphaGraphics family of services for his business which includes search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), social media, web page setup, and mailing services.
Alan is quick to answer what he has learned along the way. “You have to always have a focus on growing and you have to have sales to grow.” Even though he has done well with word of mouth, he says you have to have sales to make the business sustainable.
“Aggressive marketing and sales is critical” - Alan Akins
For the day-to-day operations, Alan says, “It's important for a new company to set up a system for getting work done. Make sure each employee knows what they are responsible for doing. But I’ll admit, it's hard to give up and let the employees own projects of their own because the entrepreneur wants to do everything.”
Alan says he works many hours a week to keep his business running. He hopes to get to the point to take two weeks of vacation in a year. That’s an admirable goal. He’ll have to negotiate it with his boss.