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Tapping Into Punished Props With Bill And Britt Doran

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Bill and Britt Doran – From a workshop in Seattle to conventions around the world, Bill Doran has showcased and taught millions how to create props from materials that can be found in a hardware store. Bill and Brittany Doran are doing what some can only dream of with their company Punished Props. As a positive voice in the comic and video game industry, they continue to bring people together through the power of creativity.

Where it all began…

Bill’s love for creating props began in 2009 at PAX West, exposing himself to his first taste of cosplay, where fans dress up as their favorite fictional characters. He has an art background and has worked several jobs bartending, teaching, and held a position at Microsoft for some time. In 2012, he quit and started his own company, which we know as Punished Props today. Brittany is highly experienced in 3D modeling and animation, and she joined Bill full-time in 2015. Together, their perseverance and commitment to prop making has taken them down a road to success.

Bill Britt Doran Punished Props

Giving back

From playing World of Warcraft in a college dorm room to becoming a successful entrepreneur, Bill is inspiring and empowering people to pursue their passion. Trading a position at an established company for EVA foam and filming tutorials was the best decision. Creating beautiful replicas is rewarding, however learning business was the biggest obstacle Bill had to overcome. What started as a commission based company quickly changed gears to a fabrication tutorial business because of the difference in body measurements per person and the large distance between him and his clients. By devoting more time to instructional content, he became a pillar in the cosplay community.

A growing success

With an audience demanding to see things built on screen, Punished Props became a key resource for costume creators. Their YouTube has over 100k loyal subscribers eagerly awaiting videos on how he creates props like the Skyrim helmet, Han Solo blaster, and a 3D printed batarang. They built up momentum over the years and are committed to their fans and schedule. The comments section is flooded with positivity, inspiring them to create a new video every week. Hungry and curious, fans rush to their Twitch channel, watching his tutorials live from their computer screens every Monday.

It is no surprise that requests to build specific items are sent their way on a daily basis. Although Bill cannot create everything, he encourages his viewers to try it themselves. His interactions with fans show extraordinary dedication to his craft and relationships built over the years. When approached with a request, his usual response is, “I can show you how to make it.” With two books under his belt, Bill has established credibility in the prop making scene. Unlike many in creative industries, Punished Props has become allies with other prop makers such as Volpin Props, Kamui Cosplay, and WM Armory. The support from fans and friends enabled Punished Props to grow into what it is today.

Bill Britt Doran Punished Props

Where can you find them Bill and Brittany?

If you want to meet Punished Props in person, look out for them at some of their favorite conventions. Catch Bill and Brittany at BlizzCon in November, or if you’re on the East Coast, Dragoncon, the largest multi-media pop culture convention in the country. Bill was recently invited to TwitchCon 2016, where he was a judge for the costume contest. Bill and Brittany will be wearing their latest work at any of the events they attend. Be amazed by the precision and accuracy in the details of each piece. If you are unable to make it, follow their progress on their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Not only will you see meticulously crafted tutorials, but also their interaction with various other prop makers like Volpin Props for this space gun on Kickstarter.

Bill hopes to continue inspiring the community to create things that would otherwise only exist virtually. The couple hopes to continue doing what they love but on a bigger scale in the near future. Growing fast, they’ll soon need a larger studio for building props and filming content for their channels. Continuing to inspire and empower others, Punished Props forges a path for prop makers, cosplayers, and gamers around the world.

Jie writes about influencers and startups in various industries. She is a designer turned techie, and when she is not writing, you can find her in her workshop working on her next big project.

Interview Series

KC Essentials: How Katie Centrella Turned a Challenge into a Business

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When faced with hardships, we all look forward to the day when we finally get past them. Things would be so much better if << insert challenge here>> was behind me. But the truth is, these are the moments when we better ourselves. Nothing builds character like rising to the occasion.

Katie Centrella rose to the occasion when she learned that her infant son, Marco had allergies. Not just one or two – but a long list of them. And while altering his diet to help, she discovered more allergies. It was quickly becoming a full-time job. Katie had to change the way she shopped, the way she did laundry, and cleaned the house.

And out of this hardship, KC Essentials was born. Katie tells the story better than I can.

How did KC Essentials get its start?

It all started back when my son, Marco, was a newborn. He had really bad eczema. He was baby number 3, and I didn’t experience this with my other two, so I knew something was out of the ordinary. The first time he had milk, he had an anaphylactic reaction. We took him to the doctor and found out he had multiple allergies – peanut, tree nut, dairy, egg, sesame, fish, sunflower – all the top 8 and then some. It was really overwhelming. I didn’t know much about food allergies. I really had to take the bull by the horns and educate myself. I had to look at everything that went into our house. I started reading every food label. Going to the grocery store was a big hurdle. I realized that everything we put into our bodies – a lot of the ingredients were unnatural and even harmful.

I started making skincare products for him when a friend of mine who had a son with eczema told me about these lotion bars she made. She suggested I make them for him. They were just a few ingredients like lavender and essential oils. I was like, ‘what are essential oils?’ So, I got a starter kit of essential oils, and I challenged myself to try and make things before I went and bought the product. I made our laundry detergent. I made body lotion for him and lip balm and things of that nature.

Sounds like the challenge paid off.

I started these Make-and-Take parties with my friends. They would come over, and I’d say, what do you guys want to make, and we’ll make it together. We did that a couple of times. People really liked it, and many of them could relate to what was going on with Marco. Either their kids had allergies too, or they were just looking for cleaner products.

When was this?

Marco was born in February of 2014. Within the first year of when I started making products for him, I started making them for others. I was doing the Make-and-Take parties every couple of months, and then some people started asking me if they could buy the products. Finally, a friend of mine who owns her own store in Georgia asked if I’ve ever considered selling this and making a business out of this.

A couple of friends encouraged me to set up a vendor table at the mushroom fair in my hometown of Kennett Square (outside of Philly). I found a friend of a friend who made a label for me. I made my lotion bars and deodorant, and lip balm. I put a label on it, and it went really well, and that’s when KC Essentials began.

It must be rewarding to run a business that also helps people.

Thank you. It’s the teacher in me. I like having the Make-and-Takes and explaining things, and helping others. I enjoy working with kids – I have three of my own. And I like experimenting and learning. So it does feel pretty good.

I’ll do little pop-ups in local stores in town with my kids, where we’ll do fairy-themed and Harry Potter-themed events.

Do you still do the Make-and-Takes?

Not as much since the pandemic hit. But I started doing the pop-ups. We make gifts like body sprays and essential oil rollers. Sometimes my kids will do them with me, and we’ll do a fairy theme or Harry Potter. But things are getting busier, and it’s hard to find the time.

How many stores carry KC Essentials?

I’m in over 20 stores in the Tri-State area. I just got on Faire, which is a website that brings wholesalers and retailers together. With Faire, I’m now in Baltimore, and I’ve got orders going to Florida and Nevada.

Tell me about the products.

I have seven product lines. My women’s line is called Queen Bee. The body lotions and body scrubs are very popular. I have a men’s line, Bee Smooth. Our popular products for that are beard oil and hair pomade, and aftershave. I make a deodorizing lotion called Between the Bees, which will be great for Father’s Day coming up. I have a home line where I sell candles and body soap. Those have been huge; they’re my best sellers. I have a tween line Bee’s Knees. I named that for my girls who love magic and Harry Potter. They think my essential oils are like potions. And then I have a baby line, Bay Bee, which were most of the products I made for my son. And then I have a pet line, Bee My Pet. And a yoga line, Just Bee.

Do you make everything on your own?

Oh yeah, I make it all on my own in my home right now. One of my goals is to get a storefront or a site to make everything.

Any unexpected hurdles?

Well, I do everything from making my own products to sales to social media. But I’m also a mom, and I have my kids to take care of. Up until two weeks ago, they were homeschooled most of the time because of the pandemic, so that was a challenge.

I was doing really well in January of last year, and then the pandemic hit, and everything went flat. The majority of my sales were wholesale and at craft shows and fairs, and all that went to a halt, so I had to focus on online sales.

 Now that the kids are back in school, I’ve gotten so much done.

Any advice for entrepreneurs?

It’s huge to connect with people in your community. I have so much support from local businesses and the people in my town. I feel like, with the pandemic, people are rooting for small businesses. I had no idea so many people want to learn how to make a lotion bar.

And take it one day at a time. When things get overwhelming, stay focused to accomplish the task on hand. Small accomplishments are rewarding too. 

Any advice for parents?

Follow your instincts. If there is something wrong, go with that. I’ve heard so many doctors say, ‘oh no, he’s not sensitive. Don’t worry about it.’ But I felt it in my gut. And you don’t have to do what everyone else does. Do what feels right to you because you’re developing your family, and you’ve got one shot at it, so do what’s most important to you. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re having issues, chances are other people are having the same issue.

Check out other conversations in our Interview Series.

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Interview Series

OrangeCrate Brings Quality Food Delivery to Rural Communities

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Writing for Owners Mag, I get to hear from many entrepreneurs. Learning about their successes is always very intriguing. No two stories are alike. Sometimes, I hear stories that make me think, ‘man if only I came up with that idea!’ or ‘this guy is a genius.’ But my favorite stories don’t go that way at all.

Take Andrew Simmons’ story, for example. He founded OrangeCrate, a service that specializes in delivering food in rural communities. It’s not a game-changing app or a flashy new product. It’s a service – a simple enough service – that owes its success to Andrew’s entrepreneurial spirit. He identified a problem and came up with a solution.

You may have never thought much about your food’s journey from the restaurant to your doorstep. Or maybe you’ve come to expect poor quality when you order delivery. But thanks to Andrew Simmons, OrangeCrate is looking to change all of that.

Tell me about OrangeCrate.

ANDREW: We built OrangCrate under the premise that rural communities needed to have restaurant deliveries as well. When we started (in Ramona, CA), the larger players were not in our space at all. We’re like a tier 3, tier 4 city. DoorDash, Grubhub, and Postmates were all in the tier 1 cities. It was just low-hanging fruit.

We launched about 6 years ago to a bunch of restaurants that said it was the dumbest idea they’d ever heard. They thought no one would actually pay to have food delivered, even though places like dominoes have been doing it for years. In our market, we only had Domino’s Pizza and maybe Pizza Hut. There were about 44 restaurants that had no delivery whatsoever, so that was our first foray into it. We did one or two orders per day for a couple of weeks, and that started to slowly build more volume from word of mouth.

Now you have franchises set up in different towns?

ANDREW: I wouldn’t call them franchises. It’s more like a licensing agreement. When we were running Ramona, we were making ‘ok money,’ but we knew that we could use our whole back-end operations to power other locations. Our second location was in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. We had two drivers work for us in Ramona. They got married and wanted to be closer to family. So, they moved back home and started the second OrangeCrate. We used that experience to learn how to open up more locations. We look for people who have the hustle but don’t have the money to open up their own franchise or get a license. Then, we teach them what we know about working with restaurants and drivers, and then we completely fund everything they need.

If you can hustle, we completely cover the cost to start up that business share the profits at 50/50. And at a pretty high level. It’s gross food sales minus cost, and we split it 50/50 from there. We cover everything they needed from payroll to marketing. At the end of the month, we make about 8% from every city, and they make about 49%.

What were some hurdles you guys faced in the first couple of years that you weren’t expecting?

ANDREW: The insurance was a huge hurdle for us. We were able to work a deal with an insurance company that we paid on a per order basis rather than overall. Usually, insurance is like 75k a year per city, but we were able to come to an agreement with a company where it worked out to something like 40 cents an order. That made it more favorable for us to grow and expand.
Although we did start in a rural market and we’ve expanded into rural markets, over the years, we’ve bought other restaurant delivery services, which is why we’re in bigger places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Pensacola, Florida.

Was the goal always to start rural and then go into more populated towns?

ANDREW: No. There were so many rural communities out there, and we felt that we could be in those communities and not be touched by DoorDash or UberEATS. Since then, DoorDash and those larger companies have tried to make inroads into the rural communities, but they then run into trouble finding drivers. You can find plenty of drivers in large metropolitan areas – I should take that back. You could find lots of drivers before the stimulus payments. Nowadays, it’s a hustle within itself to find drivers. You make more money staying home.

The side hustle has been undercut by these stimulus checks.

ANDREW: Right

How were you guys able to have an edge in the rural communities over DoorDash and GrubHub?

ANDREW: With OrangeCrate, we teach all of our drives how to deliver food properly. We use a certain health standard bag. It maintains the temperature you have to keep the food at – both cold and hot.
It’s the whole customer service with the consumer and how you dress to make that food delivery. We’re building a standard called Deliver Safe that teaches other drivers how to do the same thing in other markets.

One of the things with DoorDash and UberEATS is the driver grabs the food in the bag from the restaurant, they toss it in the front seat of the car, drive to wherever, and hand it off to the consumer. But if it was hot food when it left the restaurant, it’s lukewarm by the time it gets to the consumer – or worse. There’s no care in extending the restaurant’s brand once the driver leaves the restaurant. With our smaller services, we have this hands-on approach with the restaurants. It’s all local: local delivery, local service, local people. That tends to resonate better than national delivery companies that don’t seem to care other than to collect money from the restaurant.

Most people don’t put much thought into the distance between a restaurant and their home, but that plays a huge part. I know many restaurants are apprehensive about delivery because they can plate up the food and have it be served just right in their restaurant. But, there’s an X factor with the delivery driver where they don’t know what it will look like on the other end.

ANDREW: Exactly. From our experience, we’ve seen all sorts of drivers from the other services. Even within our community, DoorDash has tried to move into Ramona. They have one driver up here, and we see him using those flimsy bags that aren’t keeping anything hot or cold.

For Las Cruces, New Mexico, we deliver to White Sands Air Force Base, which I think is 25 miles away. We’re able to keep food at that approximate temperature for up to 60 minutes by the time we get it to the consumer. They can still have hot food from Joe’s BBQ shack, whereas the same food coming from DoorDash, assuming they would even go that far – they usually limit their distance to 7 miles, they lose a lot of the warmth factor of their food. Not to mention how it’s handled.

What was an ‘I made it’ moment for OrangeCrate?

ANDREW: I don’t know if this was exactly an ‘I made it’ moment but, we started in 2016 with about $5k to start up the company. We now do revenue in excess of 6 million a year. This past year we paid off almost $300,000 in debt to come into 2021 completely debt-free.

I don’t know if there’s one moment but knowing how we do what we do – it works for us. As such, it’s allowed me to do things for myself. I volunteer at the RMDA (Restaurant Marketing and Delivery Association). It’s about 700 independent companies like myself. I’m able to take time out of my day and help them – mentor them on how to grow in their markets. Many of them are smaller than me, some of them are bigger.

How was COVID for OrangeCrate?

ANDREW: COVID was actually pretty good for OrangeCrate. Pretty good for most delivery services. It wasn’t great for restaurants. I also own a restaurant. We bought it a month before COVID became a thing. It was this 40-year-old Italian restaurant in Ramona. It was a treasure. Everyone was sad that it was leaving, but it was struggling to survive before COVID.

We bought it because we knew delivery, so we figured that’s how we would turn things around. (Due to COVID) we ended up essentially breaking even for the year even though we upped the delivery. We couldn’t do any dine-in whatsoever for a long time. Now that’s all starting to come back, so we think it will be a good investment for us, but that’s a whole other aspect to what we do that was new to learn. We ended up losing something like $10,000/month on the restaurant end, but we made up for it on the OrangeCrate end.

Before the pandemic, restaurants viewed delivery services as not as critical to their existence as dine-in. As soon as COVID hit, and they could no longer do dine-in, we had to help so many restaurants pivot to delivery. And if a restaurant wasn’t known for doing delivery, it was an uphill battle for marketing to get food in front of the consumer. But we did it. In Ramona, we didn’t lose a single restaurant that I know of within our own community.

Sounds like that’s in large part because of you.

ANDREW: Yes.

Do you have a ballpark percentage on how much your deliveries went up last year?

ANDREW: I’d say probably about 130% year over year but I’d have to look at the numbers to be certain.

There’s a spectrum of entrepreneurs. On one end, there’s that person who says, ‘I want to be in business for myself. How do I do that?’ Then there’s that other person who ends up going into business for themselves because they have a product or a service that was a great idea, and they had to see it through. Where do you see yourself in that spectrum?

ANDREW: I’m the first one. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 14 years old. My first job was working at a fruit stand in Colorado where I literally rode by on my bike, and they screamed ‘Hey, boy!’ for me to come over and help them. I ended up running the fruit stand for them. Pops and Edith: they were older than dirt. I started moving produce from the bins to the truck to running my own location for them.
At some point, the Mac 128 came out. I opened up a graphic design business. A couple of years after that, I ended up owning a digital print shop.

It’s actually kind of funny. I bought my first digital press from Xerox in ‘96. It’s a million-dollar press and, you know I have no money. So, I fill out the documentation and everything. And Xerox calls my bank, and my bank says, ‘he has low 3 figures in his bank account,’ and Xerox thinks they misheard, and they said low 6 figures, and they delivered me this million-dollar press. It was awesome. It was a mistake on their part that helped me grow my business significantly. And after that, I bought a second digital press, and we did great.

I ended up selling the company and doing sales for a number of years. Then about 15 years ago, my wife and I adopted 6 kids together all at once. We had to decide which one of our jobs was more stable because one of us would have to quit to help take care of them. I ended up quitting. I knew I could always find a way to make money. Years later, I started OrangeCrate.

Last thing: any words of wisdom for entrepreneurs trying to get their idea off the ground?

ANDREW: Just keep at it. There’s plan A and if that doesn’t work, there’s 25 remaining letters in the alphabet.

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Interview Series

John Trogner Brews Beer with his Brother and You Don’t

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For many entrepreneurs, going into business for themselves is the dream on its own. Whether they are manufacturing widgets or running a storefront – the ‘what’ doesn’t matter. It’s the how. Calling the shots, controlling your fate, answering to no one. This is what attracts many self-starters. Being your own boss might be good enough for many, but what if … you could brew your own beer?

John Trogner and his brother Chris did just that. They are the founders of Tröegs Brewery, an independent brewing company in Hershey, PA. They can trace their beer’s story back to Boulder, Colorado – the unofficial nation’s capital of the microbrew. But it wouldn’t be long before the Trogner boys came back home to PA.

John spoke to Owner’s Mag about what many people call ‘the dream’: brewing beer with his brother.

How did Tröegs get its start? What made you want to get into brewing for yourselves?

John: After I graduated from college back in the early to mid-’90s, I was working in a high-rise in downtown Philly. It just so happens that the original Dock Street Brewery was on the first floor of my building. I’d go down after work and have these really interesting beers. I wasn’t sure exactly what they were, but I knew I liked them. There were other beers I was getting into, too, like Pete’s Wicked, Sierra Celebration, and Brooklyn Brown. At the same time, my brother Chris was out in Boulder, Colorado, and the beer scene was taking off out there. 

Chris eventually convinced me to join him in Colorado. Within a week, I got a job at the Oasis Brewpub by walking in and asking how I could help. It was trial-by-fire. I was cleaning tanks and learning everything I could, and because I showed up sober and on time, I was eventually promoted to brewer. The owner wasn’t paying much attention to the day-to-day operations and didn’t really care what we were brewing, so we just winged it and learned as we went. 

How would you describe the independent micro-brewing community?

John: It’s obviously grown a huge amount, and there are a lot of different ways to approach the business of beer these days. Speaking for Tröegs, we’ve always been focused on keeping the art and science of brewing first.

What is your experience blending your crafts with customer service and working with the public? 

John: There has to be trust between us and our customers. Our home state of PA has been pretty protectionist when it comes to beer. For a long time, you could only buy beer by the case – you couldn’t buy a 6-pack or a single. And if you buy 24 bottles of bad beer, you’re burned, and you don’t forget that. So if someone is willing to buy a case of your beer, you’ve earned their trust. Those people out there who always keep a case of Perpetual in their fridge, we never want to let them down. That’s why we’re so focused on quality, flavor, and stability.

What’s the best part of your job?

John: Giving back to our home state. We’re PA natives, and that’s a big part of our identity. Building a business here means so much to us on so many different levels — from the access to great agriculture, to the conservation work we’ve done with The Nature Conservancy, to the relationships we have with our longtime wholesale partners and fellow PA brewers, to collaborations like our locally made beer cheeses. Just this year, we’re committed to buying 50,000 pounds of local grain for Troegenator and another 100,000 for Field Study and LolliHop. We’re finally at the point where we can make a significant impact from an agricultural standpoint. And those roots keep stretching deeper and deeper. When we share those stories, our fans really connect to us and our beer and food. It paints a bigger picture and gives them a sense of pride. 

Is there a particular ‘we made it’ moment that stands out?

John: Not really. We’re always focused on continuous improvement, and that takes everything we’ve got. 

There are three beers that, looking back, were really an inflection point for Tröegs. For the first few years, Tröegs was surviving, but I wouldn’t say that we were thriving. One day, Chris said, “If we’re going to go down, we’re going to have fun doing it.” We shifted from brewing a few straightforward beer styles to trying some things that no one else was doing at the time. 

Over the next few years, we released Troegenator, Mad Elf and Nugget Nectar. Those beers really put us on the map and changed the destiny of Tröegs. 

Where would you like to see Tröegs in 10 years?

John: If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 25 years of business, it’s that we must perpetually evolve. It’s been our ability to pivot, try new things, and take risks that has kept us moving forward, and we have a great team in place to continue to do just that. 

There’s a Darwin quote we think about a lot: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” 

We’re constantly refreshing our lineup with new beers born from the strength of our Scratch Beer series and an ever-changing thirst for flavor and innovation. We brew around 100 new recipes a year, from old-world classics to the fringes of what’s new in ingredients, technique, and flavor.

We’re also investing in a new canning line and some sustainability benchmarks. It’s safe to say that we’re perpetually under construction. 

How did COVID impact your business? How did you work around it?

John: The initial lockdown required us to make dramatic changes to continue operating the production brewery and to deal with closing our retail business. We’re really proud of our co-workers for never missing a beat, sticking with us as we recalled the team, and embracing the new safety protocols required to keep everyone working. 

Early and often, we communicated with our wholesale and retail network to figure out what was happening in the market. And we focused on being a bright spot for our customers, offering consistent availability of our core beers as well as new releases and new flavors to try. 

We also believe customers care about companies who are doing good and are spending with a conscience more than ever before. We have kept up our charitable and community efforts and put a focus on helping out-of-work service industry workers and frontline hospitality workers. 

While draft (beer) has really dwindled for us, our positive trends with packaged beer indicate that many of our fans have stuck with us. But we are eager to see the safe return of bars and restaurants. 

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