MT&A Interviews Local Small Business Route 66 Promotions
Lee: Hello my name is Lee Jackson from MT&A.
Thomas: Hello, I am Thomas Otto-Bruc. I’m the owner of Route 66 Promotions here in St. Louis, MO.
Lee: Hello and thank you for allowing us to interview you.
Thomas: My pleasure! And thank you for coming as well.
Route 66 Business Growth through the Years
Lee: So my first question for you. You started your business right in your own home garage, is that correct?
Thomas: Yes we did. We wanted to test the waters to be sure the business would grow. And we wanted to keep overhead costs as low as possible. That’s typical of how all business get started.
Lee: And then you moved to a different location?
Thomas: Yes, 1-1 ½ years after we started the company we moved because more and more customers began to know our company and wanted to come visit my home. I felt like my home was too personal, so I made the decision to move to a more professional location, to a professional building.
Lee: Great! And now you’re growing obviously. So you moved to a new location called Route 66 Promotions.
Thomas: We are growing but it would not be possible without your community support. Since we have had many orders and service requests from you we are able to hire more wonderful Deaf talent. Experts in embroidery, vinyl, and any other areas related to printing. We do it all. We can meet your needs. We got to the point where we were too cramped and needed room for expansion. That was nearly a year ago. Now we have 2 floors, more space, it’s an easier way to work now.
Route 66 Compared to Others
Lee: How it your printing business different than others?
Thomas: We are different than others in that we are Deaf. We are very understand, we listen to what you want. You may say you want something a specific way. We try to meet your need whereas other companies may say that have a limit in what they can do because of cost. You’ll have to deal with it. But here, NO, we will go over and beyond what you ask. At the end of the day you want to be satisfied with the product you have from our services.
Why this Profession?
Lee: What made you realize that the printing business was the right profession for you?
Thomas: Really it started many, many years ago. Three of my aunts had a business in the fashion industry in the 60’s and 70’s. I would go to their factory and watch how the printing machine worked. I would look at the designs on the clothing. This was while I was a boy. Many years later I moved to St. Louis and I thought, “I have time to give back to the community.” I wanted to serve businesses ongoing, so I started with churches and organizations who always needed promotional materials. And the rest is history!
Lee: Is there a lot of competition from other similar businesses?
Thomas: Yes! Absolutely. We have over 25 different companies in St. Louis and I think around 250 in the state of Missouri. But what differentiates us is that we are Deaf. Deaf owned, Deaf run. And as we’ve been growing we hire more Deaf people and people with disabilities. They are smart and have many strong skills. There are some areas they are weaker in, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do anything. No! They are smart, brilliant people. And my goal is to open up opportunities for them to grow and become a better person every day.
Lee: So do you feel that other promotional printing businesses in the area affect your business?
Thomas: Well yes and no. The competition is a natural part of the business. Customers had long-term relationships with other local businesses here when we came on the scene. But now the tides are turning and we are becoming more well-known. It all takes time. I wish I could fast forward in time. That would be great! But of course that won’t happen and it’s alright. If we keep working hard, good things will come later on, hopefully!
Lee: Are you involved with community outreach or events locally?
Thomas: I’m involved in the Deaf community. I’ve been on the board of Deaf Inc for many years. I’m involved with Convo Communication Services who help with interpreter communication access for Deaf people as well as to help Deaf people get jobs. There’s a long list of things I’m involved with, there are too many. But I have to keep in mind what is best for myself. I have too much heart. I need to spend more time with my family soon. But I will still be involved, yes.
Lee: Where can people find your products, where to they pick them up once ordered?
Thomas: You can find the information on our website. You can make an order and come pick it up on our office once the product is shipped to us or we can ship it directly to you. Tell us what you want and we can do it. If you have a business and you want a product shipped directly to one of your customers but you don’t want them to know it is from a third party, we do something called blind shipping. This makes it look like the product is from your company but we do the work of shipping it for you. We can definitely help with that.
Lee: Does Route 66 Promotions sponsor anyone or anything?
Thomas: Yes, Route 66 does sponsor. The important thing to know is that I believe it is a two way street. If you use our services and then down the road you need our support, yes, if you work with us we will work with you. We need that mutual support. Of course if there are extenuating circumstances, yes, we can help. But we do encourage the two way street. We can mutually increase the growth of each other’s businesses.
Route 66 Artwork/Products
Lee: How do you come up with your artwork?
Thomas: The artwork for what?
Lee: Your products, the T-shirts or anything else.
Thomas: Good question. I’m a business guy. I have been drawing since I was five years old. But I’m smart enough to recognize great artistic ability when I see it. So I recruit talented people to join the team so we can have a variety of artistic options to match your needs so that at the end of the day you leave with a smile on your face. That’s our ultimate goal.
Lee: What sort of things do you do other than promotional printing?
Thomas: We also help organizations or owners of businesses with advertising, and we help with workshop setup. We have a crew that can setup backdrops, wiring, and electric, anything to make your event as successful as possible. There’s a lot involved but at the end of the day you have a list of needs, and we want to provide what you need so you can focus and do your best.
Lee: How did you come up with the name Route 66?
Thomas: Why did I come up with that name? There are a few reasons. Of course we were established in St. Louis where the road comes through from Chicago. Also, I’m a history buff. I love old cars, old motorcycles, and I love riding my motorcycle on old roads. And Route 66 is an easy road to remember. The numbers 6-6. Like you remember Nike, Reebok, you hear those names and instantly know them. Additionally, you can see hotels, restaurants and other buildings along the road and to me that is like ideas on the horizon. We are on this road together and can share these ideas. It’s the same path with dreams along which we can all grow. That’s the reason I began Route 66, so that we can all work together.
Lee: Do you have any future plans to make changes or additions to the business?
Thomas: I started very simple with small print designs. And then we added machines and embroidery an
d different stitching. We’ve grown and expanded. As the public becomes aware of us more, we are able to grow more and get more machines. Of course we are also able to hire more Deaf people or people with disabilities, to train them and give them jobs. The more request for services, the more opportunities we can provide to you guys and the more we can give back.
Thomas: I also am involved with Bad Cat Entertainment to make movies. With Route 66, Bad Cats Entertainment has the opportunity to make movies using Deaf talent and other kind of talent in these movies. As more people get involved it grows. And it’s great to all come together and spread the word. We just want to all pool our creativity and pull the creative out of you guys every day.
Top Skills Needed to Run a Business
Lee: What are the top three skills needed to run your business?
Thomas: Well really I would say there are four types of people needed. Lawyer, accountant, IT, and a great leader.
Thomas: The lawyer can be sure the law is followed. The accountant makes sure the bills are paid wisely. The IT skill maintains the communication and machine tech. And the leader recognizes what needs to be fixed.
Lee: Thank you, Thomas!
Thomas: Thank you, Lee. And thank YOU!