Look around your neighborhood or business district and you’ll likely see yard signage advertising a local business, political candidate, contractor or realtor. In fact, according to the U.S. Small Business Association, signs are the most cost-effective forms of business advertising.
Gene Hamzhie realized there was a market for making yard signs in the Omaha, Nebraska, area and jumped at the opportunity to create Target Omaha Marketing, which would eventually become FireSprint Printing, a wholesale trade sign and graphics printer.
A venture started in his parents’ basement now thrives as a $6 million business.
Being an entrepreneur was always in Gene’s blood. After graduating from high school in 2002, Gene became interested in selling items online. Though he sold over half a million dollars in a few years, Gene didn’t think he could make the business work long-term. So he decided to move into his parents’ basement and turn his attention to making signs.
“I saw this sign shop and thought it was such a cool concept that they make things from their store,” Gene explained. “I like creating things by hand, so I decided to give making signs a try.”
Gene bought a plotter online and started his business, Target Omaha Marketing, in 2007.
“I went door to door asking businesses if I could make them signs to promote their business,” Gene said. “I said ‘yes’ to everything in the beginning. I was selling to anybody who wanted to buy a sign. It didn't matter if the signage was for a wedding or a laundry company.”
Bringing on Business Partners
As Gene took on more business, he quickly noticed he needed help keeping up with the influx of orders. So, his younger brother, James, and friend from high school, Mark Kistler, joined the business in 2008 to help grow its capabilities. Both James and Mark were interested in becoming entrepreneurs themselves.
“I was a senior in high school when Gene was needing help with the business in our parent’s basement,” James said. “Then, once I graduated, I began working at the company full-time. I remember the day he told me I’d get some ownership, and I thought that was cool seeing the business all come together.”
After serving in the Marines, Mark was looking for a change and reached out to Gene about his company.
“Gene and I would write to each other about being business owners when I was in Iraq,” Mark said. “So, when I returned from my deployment, I shadowed Gene for a month and liked being a part of the business. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Gene, so it just made sense to go into business with him.”
Expanding the Business
By 2009, Gene, James and Mark had more than 600 customers that worked with them on a monthly or seasonal basis.
“We sold everything from printed and digital signs to full-color vinyl graphics,” Gene said. “We were growing. One of our flagship products was yard signs, and we dominated the region in sales. We sold thousands of signs to businesses and organizations all over.”
While it was easy for Gene, James and Mark to sell yard signs, they had an issue finding a decent wholesale supplier. They realized there was a gap in the market and decided to become the supplier they had been looking for.
“No matter what the volume, it seemed that no supplier or printer we worked with could maintain the high level of quality, speed and accuracy our customers came to expect with the other products we manufactured in-house,” Gene explained. “That’s when we decided to form FireSprint. We bought a printer, tested the waters a bit and decided there was an opening in the market for us. The rest is history as they say.”
FireSprint only sells to businesses in the sign, printing, ad specialty and graphics industries. Many of their most popular products include yard signs, banners, foam boards, posters and political signs.
As it relates to responsibilities at the business Gene, Mark and James each have their niche: Gene comes up with the ideas and creative direction, Mark is in charge of operations and James primarily handles sales, marketing and the website.
“We fit very well together,” Gene stated “My weakness is James and Mark’s strength and vice versa. It’s phenomenal all that we achieved together.”
Securing the Right Banking Partner
Once Gene had the right business partners in place, it was time to start looking at his financial relationships.
“We had partnered with another bank since day one of starting the business, but as we grew, we started to notice some challenges of working with that bank, such as customer service support,” Gene said. “It felt as though we were more of a line item and that we didn’t have anyone to talk to.”
In 2019, Gene, James and Mark decided to interview a few banks and landed a meeting with Northwest Bank Regional CEO John Bothof and Commercial Banker Shane Kalin.
“After going to lunch with John and Shane, we felt like it just clicked with them,” Gene stated. “Our goal was always to expand our business from a 10-by-10 office to buying a larger building, so we wanted that banking support when it came time to purchase our $2.3 million building. We were able to talk to Shane at seven, eight o’clock at night about this purchase.”
Today, FireSprint uses Northwest Bank for most of its business needs, including payroll and retirement plans.
“If we were with another bank, we would not have succeeded in purchasing this building,” Mark said. “The deal would have fallen through. I truly believe that Shane and the other bankers at Northwest Bank genuinely care about us.”
FireSprint is looking forward to expanding and bringing on more equipment and people in the future. The company is predicted to bring in a little over $6 million in revenue in 2022 and is focused on reaching $10 million in revenue by 2024.
“I think we are growing exponentially because we have the right team in place,” said Gene. “We’ve got a great banker, attorney and accountant. Finding the right people you mesh with and would like to enjoy having a beer with is an important part of a business partnership. You need to surround yourself with great people and professionals.”
Our commercial banking team helped FireSprint grow its business and become a partner to the company. We can help you, too. To learn how, contact a commercial banker today.
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