UTICA — Howard Potter started A&P Master Images as a hobby with his wife Amanda Potter, and grew it into a full-time business so he could keep a promise to his daughter.
At 3 years old, she was ill and hospitalized, he recalls in a phone interview, and “I promised I’d always be by her side.”
His job as a spare caster at Revere Copper Products in Rome made keeping that pledge complicated due to his skill set, so the college-trained graphic artist grew his home-based graphic arts business from a hobby to a company he could work for full-time by 2006.
It wasn’t easy to convince his wife that entrepreneurship was the answer for their family. “I really didn’t want to do it at all,” Amanda Potter says in a video on the company website. “There were lots of nights and lots of fights.”
Despite her doubts, Amanda was always his “No. 1 champion,” Howard says. She would work at the business after working at her day job — and taking care of their two children. By 2009, the business was running well enough that Amanda was able to leave her other job and join A&P full-time.
Last year, A&P’s revenue rose by $250,000 to $1.9 million on sales of custom screen printing, embroidery, promotional materials, and vinyl graphics.
Amanda and Howard Potter are two of the company’s 18 full-time employees, serving customers in 15 states and five countries, he explains. Amanda owns 51 percent of A&P Master Images, making it a woman-owned business enterprise.
Clients include area retailers, car dealers, not-for-profits, and associations. Some clients have online “stores” where employees can go to order work uniforms and other custom apparel from A&P.
The company has also won business in other states, and Howard Potter credits local colleges for that. Students who worked with A&P on projects for their college clubs or programs while at school in the Mohawk Valley or nearby, remember the company after they graduate and go to work elsewhere — and recommend it to their employers. “We’ve gotten a lot of business that way,” he says.
When traveling, the Potters are ready should an opportunity arise. Howard says he wears branded apparel and “we always have business cards on us.”
To keep faraway customers, he says A&P makes an extra effort. “You have to be more cognizant of being personable to your client.” He says they sometimes video conference with distant clients to keep the relationship close “so you can be face to face.”
Howard Potter says the company has many guidelines to keep quality at the level that keeps customers coming back. A&P has built good relationships with quality vendors — only ones rated highly by an industry group. That’s particularly important, he adds, when more than 30 percent of A&P’s business is comprised of rush orders.
The company’s success has required some creative thinking when it comes to space. Five years ago, A&P moved into a 5,500-square-foot building on Water Street in Utica. “Eight months (later) and we grew out of the space,” he says.
Rather than move, the company has managed. Howard says the space is neat, clean, and very well organized — “it’s ergonomically laid out.” Just 400 square feet is dedicated to the showroom where customers can see some of the array of products the company sells.
Rather than add onto the building, the Potters have brought in trailers to store material on the two-acre site. They have four trailers ranging from 6-feet to 53-feet long. They have considered expanding the building or constructing another one, but the site is on a flood plain and the cost of mandated flood insurance has them wondering if there may be a better option.
Where to grow may be a question, but whether to grow is not. Howard Potter says he expects annual revenue growth to continue at a 12 percent to 15 percent clip.
And that daughter? She’s 15 now and when she’s not at school or involved in activities, her father says she works part-time at A&P Master Images.