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A Day on the Job: Building a business from coffee cups

''Head Cuppa Guy'' Lou Moser is the co-owner of a company that prints designs on mugs.

By JOHN REINAN
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 11, 2002


"Head Cuppa Guy" Lou Moser is the co-owner of a company that prints designs on mugs.

LOU MOSER, 52

HEAD CUPPA GUY

CUPPA, ST. PETERSBURG

That's a great job title. But we should clarify that what you are is the co-owner of a business that imprints custom coffee mugs.

That's right. I own it with my partner, Steve Redden.

How long have you been doing this?

We started this company five years ago, but it's only employed us full time for two years.

What did you do before that?

I was a manufacturing engineer in the printed circuit board industry.

So how did this come about? I assume you didn't just wake up one day and say, 'Hey, I'm gonna make coffee mugs.'

Steve and I met through our previous jobs. He was an advertising executive. Basically, we were both burned out on the businesses we were in. We had a desire to manufacture a product in an industry that had no brand-name leader. We chose coffee mugs because it has an unlimited potential for sales.

What actually takes place in this building?

We bring in our mugs from China and we imprint them with custom designs using a proprietary technique we've developed. We sell them through retail and organizational outlets.

Who buys them?

The main markets are military, Christian bookstores, resorts and souvenir outlets, and gift and stationery stores.

When you jumped into this full time, was it frightening or exhilarating?

It was exhilarating. We made our first big presentation to an Army-Air Force Exchange Service in Dallas. They were kind of rude, and we didn't think we'd get the business. Two days later, a $50,000 order came through the fax machine.

What's the biggest challenge in starting a business?

Financing is the biggest challenge, undoubtedly. We've put all our personal resources into the business and borrowed all we could. Basically, Steve and I sailed to the New World and burned the ships. There's no turning back.

How many employees do you have?

We have 14 employees, and we have more than 200 independent sales reps selling our products. We also send work to several small businesses in this area: a box company, a cabinetmaker, a printer.

What's your favorite thing about this job?

Growing the business from a concept -- that's the greatest thing. I believe an entrepreneur is really an American hero. We create industries, we create jobs, and we're out there without a safety net. My whole life, I always looked at the guys who started companies as heroes.

What's your least favorite thing?

The financial end of the business is very difficult. It's really a battle to finance a fast-growing company in a time of recession.

What kind of hours do you work?

This is seven days a week; a bare minimum of 10, 11 hours a day. When you get involved in something like this, it takes everything.

How much coffee do you drink?

Lots. Lots.

What's your favorite mug?

My favorite mug has a grizzly bear on it.

What are your best sellers?

The military designs always sell the best. Our No. 1 seller is our "Semper Fi" Marine mug. Marines buy more of this stuff than anybody.

What kind of money do you make?

The company this year will do $2-million in business. Right now, all the profits are going back into the company to pay off debt. Steve and I both draw a salary comparable to what we made in our past jobs.

What advice would you give to someone starting a company?

No. 1, start it on a part-time basis. No. 2, have top-notch financial advice. And No. 3, start your company with one very large loan, not several small loans. That way you get the money while you still have collateral to put up.

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