Photo: Alex McKnight
“We are nimble. That's the beauty of a small business.”
In 2006, Donna Killoren, a former IBM manager and stay-at-home mom, bought Ten Star Supply, a Tampa company that prints directly onto bottles, glass and metal. After only a few months, Killoren realized she faced challenges in keeping the business profitable and increasing sales. She turned to the Tampa Bay Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida for help. “I thought with my experience this would be a piece of cake, but there are challenges you face as a small-business owner when you don’t have the resources or support structure of a large corporation,” Killoren says.
The center worked with her on pricing approaches related to manufacturing issues.Through networking, Killoren landed new clients, including a women-owned St. Petersburg life sciences firm, Dermazone Solutions. “We do bottles for them and for those companies they manufacture for, so as they have grown, we have too.”
Killoren instituted a quality control process and used a grant from Workforce One to hire and train a new production manager. She has carefully cultivated her niche: “If someone needs a million bottles, they are not going to come to us, but we can do a relatively small volume with a quick turnaround.” She says her company also markets its ability to fill larger orders for customers who want the bottles in batches.
Now, her company has a promotional products division that provides logos on branded merchandise, including apparel and executive gifts. She recently hired a salesperson to promote the new division. Customers have included the University of South Florida Alumni Association, which hired her to create custom-designed basketball and football promotional purses.
Today, Ten Star has nine employees and may hire more this year. Killoren says revenue has doubled since she bought the company. She has moved the company into a larger facility and purchased equipment that allows her to increase output. “Now that we have diversified and started a promotional products division, we are looking into other ways to diversify and engage employees,” Killoren says. “We are nimble. That’s the beauty of a small business.”