Paugh '92 Building a Business From His Homeby Kim Johnson • April 15, 2008
Dinner, bath time, stories, bed, and back to the basement to work. So went a typical evening for the small business owner with a home office, at least for a time.
"Just getting the business off the ground, it took some of that," said Rob Paugh ’92, owner of Imagery, LLC. "Now we’re getting better about that. We’re trying to bring in more support people to take the extra stuff off of our plates." The company is currently made up of he and his wife, a full-time graphic artist, and an accountant.
In a hungry marketplace with thousands of vendors, Imagery found its niche as a branding and promotional products company by building partnerships with its clients. "It’s basically figuring out what’s the purpose of this product – or what the purpose of this task is – and then finding just the right product that’s going to make it happen.
"I think the key anymore to success in the marketplace is a couple of simple rules: doing what you say, and finishing what you start." Standing behind those rules has proved successful. The business nearly doubled in sales volume each of its first six years. "Our clients are extremely loyal, very appreciative of our efforts, and very plugged in to our partnership."
Paugh has always been proactive in finding unique opportunities for personal growth and pushing himself beyond his comfort zone.
After graduating from Wabash College, he was not happy with the job prospects that came his way so he worked at a restaurant to save money to travel.
He headed back to Australia where he had studied during his junior year. "Studying abroad was one of the greatest experiences I had – having that time in another place, getting to meet people from all over the world. I think everybody that does it totally changes their perspective on many things."
While in Australia he stumbled upon a job at a vacation homestead in Adaminaby. There, he met his wife, Christine. She returned to England before reconnecting with Paugh in New York. They later married and continued traveling before settling in his hometown of Westfield, Indiana.
It was in the midst of all of that when Paugh bumped into the wife of one of his former high school teachers. She connected him with the sales position he held with a similar company until founding Imagery eight years later in 2002. "I remember I started at that company on commission, not a penny to my name, and I was engaged to be married. I worked for three months before I got my first check for $35."
He quickly went to the top of the charts where he remained the number-one sales person in the company until he left. "I had always had aspirations of owning my own business." With a new baby at home, he once again stepped out of his comfort zone and left a lucrative sales position to set out on his own. "I had to put faith and confidence in myself and know I could make it happen. Ultimately, it always works out if you really apply yourself."
And work out it did. "We had a robust goal last year – hitting a million dollars in sales – and we far exceeded that. That’s a lot of pens," he laughed. "I’m kidding. It’s not all pens."
The psychology major easily recognized how Wabash contributed to his success as a businessman. "The greatest thing for me about Wabash was just learning how to think laterally. I don’t think in a million years when I was [at Wabash] I thought I would be doing what I’m doing, but that’s the beauty of the liberal arts education – learning a lot about a lot of different things.
"Little pieces of everything that I’ve learned have factored in – all the creative thinking courses, the tutorials, the C&T, the small groups… not just having a technical skill but rather a creative skill. And I’m not saying creative like drawing or painting, I’m just talking about looking at situations and figuring out how to spin them out in a constructive way whether it be financial or product driven or people driven – whatever the situation is."
Starting the business at home allowed Paugh to be around more with his wife, and new baby. And now with two girls, Kaelie (6), and Zoë (4), the home office allowed the business to continue growing and also allowed the couple more time to spend with their children.
"I don’t think some people know it’s at home. At first I tried to hide behind it but now I don’t think anybody cares. At the end of the day they just want to know you get the job done and you’re good at what you do."
Paugh admitted that having a home office isn’t always easy. "It’s hard to get away from the business. I’ll be sitting down at the table for dinner and the business line will ring. A lot of clients know they can reach us any time. I think that’s something clients appreciate is if they need to get a hold of me at 6:30 at night, they can get a hold of me."
"We’re juggling raising our daughters. Sometimes it’s hard for me because they know that I’m in the basement working. I’ll come up and chat with them and they come down but we try to keep it extremely professional."
However, for Paugh the positives do outweigh the negatives. "I don’t have to fight traffic in the mornings," he said with a smile. "It’s just great to be home. I’m more comfortable at home, more at ease.
"I feel very fortunate to have a really great situation to be close to our children, to be raising them, to be affording them opportunities like we are. We are finding that great balance between family and personal responsibility and business responsibility."
At one point Paugh considered moving the business away from home but referred to advice he had received from others in a similar situation. "It all just flows and functions so well the way we have it set up. [They said] ‘If you’re functioning, and there’s not a specific need, don’t change it.’ They often wish they could go back."