Ryan Bartlett’s service in the United States Navy took him to many places across the globe, including a stint off the coast of eastern Africa during an upswing in Somali pirate attacks in the mid-2000s.
Starting as an interior communications specialist, Bartlett eventually became a member of what is called a “boarding team” in Somalia. He and his group were tasked with boarding ships that were compromised by pirates and bringing resolution to dangerous situations.
Among other things, Bartlett’s service taught him about the importance of courage and perseverance – two traits that helped him start his own business, Bartlett Blinds and Shutters, a few years after finishing his service. The Collegeville, Pennsylvania-based company provides custom window treatments to private homes and businesses in the local area.
Under Bartlett’s leadership, the company already has seen tremendous growth. Hoping that his personal story could inspire other veterans interested in opening their own small businesses, Bartlett shares his best advice, talks about the challenges he overcame, and how PNC’s steadfast commitment to veteran-owned businesses has helped him along his journey.
What motivated you to open Bartlett Blinds and Shutters?
When I got back from deployment, like most veterans, I was looking for a job. I started out at a window treatment company in their motorization department. Motorization essentially lets clients control the blinds or shutters by remote. If you work in that department, you have to know everything about window treatments in order for motors to work and run properly. I built a good foundation of knowledge there.
After a few years, I moved to Collegeville and began my career as a sales representative for the same company. I spent the next four years training people how to sell products and gave them information on any new products that launched. I knew this was something I wanted to do long-term. That’s when I started my own business.
What did you learn during your time in the military that you consistently use as a business owner?
Attention to detail. Additionally, in the military you have to be a generalist, knowing a little bit of everything. Our company operates in a similar fashion; the big thing that sets us apart is that we try our best to have the salesperson also be an installer. That means they know all the little ins-and-outs of the window treatment. A lot of the time, we’ll see a competitor send a salesperson to show samples to the customer, but that employee won’t consider other details like the correct way to install it. With our company, you get to work with the same person all the way through the process. We’re not going to have someone come out and sell a window treatment, then have a different person come and install it. The customer gets to work with us, gets to know us, and we get to know them and their unique needs.
What advice do you have for veterans who are looking to open their own business?
Have the confidence in yourself to get out there and do it . You don’t have to get into an industry where you need a lot of capital to get started. That’s especially true in my case working in the home improvement industry. All it takes is a license, a vehicle, and a little know-how. It’s not as scary as it seems.
What challenges did you have to overcome while trying to grow your business?
Even before the pandemic, getting the right staff in place was tough. Then when pandemic hit, it was even harder to find qualified employees, or people willing to go out on the road to serve clients, present our products, and install the window treatments. The supply chain was also problematic. There were many ups and downs and times where we were waiting longer than usual for our products.
What advice could you give to someone with those same struggles?
Set the expectation up front with your clients. Don’t overpromise. If something is starting to slow down, let people know that it’s going to take a little longer than usual. Communication is the biggest key in this industry. You have to let your clients know that you’re taking the time to deliver the product they want in the right way.
Your company brings the showroom to your client’s business or home. Is that something that you wanted to do from the get-go, to compete with online retailers?
Absolutely. To me, showrooms don’t add much. The biggest decisions our clients make involve their window treatment’s fabrics and colors. A certain color in a showroom might not look the same as that color in a customer’s home. The pandemic confirmed for me that this approach is the way to go. Keep the overhead low. That means you can keep the price low for the customer.
How has PNC helped your business grow over?
Getting accounts and other products set up for my business was as smooth as can be. Also, these custom window treatments are expensive. Once I started having to pay off my credit card every two weeks just to keep the balance down, I turned to PNC again. It was super easy to work with them to get the loans I needed to keep the business running. The relationship with PNC has been completely stress free. I plan on using them for as long as I have this business, which is hopefully forever.