Owning a business in a small town can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, but it is not without its challenges. As the owner of a small business, you are responsible for every aspect of the operation, from marketing and sales to managing finances and employees. In a small town, there may be limited resources and a smaller customer base, which can make it difficult to compete with larger, more established businesses.
JJ Markus, the owner of Beknown, a marketing and clothing company based in Potosi, had a couple of problems at the start, like many businesses, but he stuck with it. "In 2018 I quit my corporate job and started a marketing company." While he was doing marketing for Tandem Tire, they changed hands, but he and the new owners didn't see eye to eye. "Then I decided I could make a business out of marketing, so I quit after Tandem changed hands," Markus says.
Once he decided to start his own business, he had to sell his house and cars and downgrade to make sure he could afford what was coming next. Markus says, "I went from a salary to ‘I don't know what I'm going to make now’."
When he started his own marketing business, he wanted to help small local businesses because they were falling into the trap that big providers were setting. JJ Markus has a couple of traits that he put towards making his own business. "In high school, I was kind of a computer nerd. I was suspended for hacking in and changing grades," says Markus.
Interest in computers followed him along his career path. Markus says, "The internet was booming, and so many local businesses were left behind." Many of these businesses had a Google listing, but their hours weren't posted or they didn't have a website, and if they did, it wasn't good. "That was a time when a lot of local businesses were closing," said JJ Markus. It wasn't anything like the Main Street he remembered, so his goal was to fix it and help as many businesses as he could. "I thought I could help as many as I can and get their stuff online fixed, because that is where everything is going. That was my main goal when I started; I just wanted to help them and that branched into more and more," he explains. Now he has built his business to where he has several employees working for him.
"That rolled into the last year; we started doing custom hats because we had all these businesses we were affiliated with," Markus says. The wait when ordering clothing from these big companies was about eight weeks. "I looked into [making clothing] and it's not something I wanted to do. Once I looked into it and the cost, going into it was fairly minimal and there were decent margins and I didn't see why everyone was screwing it up," says Markus.
Like many entrepreneurs, he saw a problem and wanted to fix it. The shirts and hats take a good bit of their time at Beknown. Now they make between 3,000 and 5,000 shirts and hats a month. "That takes a good bit of our time now, not that we don't focus on our marketing business, but we don't take just anyone. We are very particular, so it doesn't waste our time or theirs."
Struggles with a business are common and JJ Markus wasn't an exception. "I was brand new to budgeting and taxes." At the start, he tried to tackle everything at once and it turned into he didn't have time to do the things he loves. "I was taking on clients for very low dollars but spending a whole lot of time with them," says Markus. "Not to mention what it does for your family stuff. If you are not there, you are not available; it's a big struggle." That was when he realized that he needed to take a step back and reset. Markus says, "If you don't take care of yourself, everything else is screwed."
JJ Markus has big plans for the future. "We are trying to get a larger commercial building in the upcoming year," he says. With prices being so high, he was never the one to overpay for anything. Instead, he says, "I'll just wait." They have a place in Potosi and one in Dubuque where they make all the clothing, but they are slowly running out of room. The plan is to centralize everything, so it is all in one spot. "My goal is in 2023 to have a 3,000 to 5,000 square foot facility, not only for marketing, but space for people to go and work," Markus says.