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Karen Bohrer 📄 How to manage and grow a family owned and operated business (#6).

Episode 6 🍍90×9.co

Karen Bohrer launched her business May 3, 1993. In the past two and a half decades she has grown her humble copy shop into a large B2B printing service center. Copy Connection, which is located across from the Marriott Convention Center of Norfolk, is owned and operated by Karen and her three adulting children.





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Copy Connection of Norfolk, VA

Karen Bohrer 📄 How to manage and grow a family owned and operated business (#6).

Karen Bohrer launched her business May 3, 1993. In the past two and a half decades she has grown her humble copy shop into a large B2B printing service center. Copy Connection, which is located across from the Marriott Convention Center of Norfolk, is owned and operated by Karen and her three adulting children.

IN THIS EPISODE, SHE SHARES:

  1. How she first got into the printing business.
  2. How she gained the knowledge and experience needed to launch her own venture.
  3. How she designed her schedule so she could chose both (a meaningful career & quality family time)!
  4. How her faith plays an integral role in her daily work.
  5. Her secrets to high customer retention rates.
  6. & MORE




Share this episode

Listen to this podcast on your favorite platform:

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OvercastPocket CastsRadioPublic



Full transcript

Adi 🍍

Karen, thank you so much for joining us today. Could you share a bit about yourself with listeners?

Karen 📄

Thank you so much for having me today, Adi. I own my own business and I have owned it for 26 years today. It’s a family owned business. My kids work for me. I own a small print shop named Copy Connection. 

Adi 🍍

What made you decide to get into the printing business?

Karen 📄

When I was in college, my second semester as a freshman, one of my best friend’s worked for a copy shop, that was directly across the street from the university I attended. I started working there. I worked through the completion of my degree. A big part of the sales for that company was putting together classroom materials for professors that went outside of textbooks and articles. I started traveling up and down the east coast attending conferences to put together that type of work. 

Adi 🍍

Your business was founded by a partner and then you bought it?

Karen 📄

No. Once I had my son, I didn’t want to travel like that anyone. The business that I worked at here had a location across from the university, but it also had a location here in downtown Norfolk. I segued from educational printing into financial business printing so I came here. That company, shortly after I made that transition, was bought by another owner. The way he was managing the business wasn’t good for the manager of the company.  We ended up leaving there and opened up our brand new business. We actually offered to buy just this location. He didn’t want to sell just that location; he wanted to sell both locations. The amount of money he wanted for both locations was 10 times the amount of money we started our company with. So 26 years ago, we each came to the table with $20,000 and 26 years later, we are still here. 

Adi 🍍

That’s amazing. Many people think, I need millions to start my own business. Could you walk us through what the early years were like?

Karen 📄

The earlier years are a lot different than they are right now, probably thanks to Google Reviews and word of mouth. In the early years, we did a lot of litigation support, so when lawyers had any type of big cases, we were copying boxes and boxes of paperwork. It was a lot of standing. It was just my partner and I. We had a little bit of part-time work. We also did a lot of copying for insurance benefits for a local company here, which was really our bread and butter. What was nice back in the early years, my partner and I, because I did have my son, we worked four days a week so we would always have a long weekend. My partner would take Friday off and have a three day weekend. And I would always take Monday off because I was working full-time and I had a son in daycare. That gave me time to breathe and do what I had to do at home.  

Adi 🍍

I never thought of using that approach to achieve the work-life balance. People think, I have to do the 40-80 hour work week, and then I have to come home and work busily around here. It’s nice to have a partner you can balance that well with. 

Karen 📄

It worked very well for us. We probably only worked as partners for 7 or 8 years before he passed away, but he was my best friend. Those were really good years. We had good times together.

Adi 🍍

How did you chose for him to be you business partner?

Karen 📄

It was interesting. When we first met, we didn’t really like each other, but after a while a friendship grew. His strengths took over where my weaknesses were, and vice versa. He was very good at managing the production level and doing the books. I was the person who went out and met with customers and that worked beautifully. 

Adi 🍍

I think people wonder, what qualifications should I look for in a business partner, but they don’t consider working with them in another company first. They treat it like Match.com. I’ll find someone and we will launch a company together, and it will be successful. They are shocked when it fails. But you guys had this foundation.

Karen 📄

When you go into business, it’s good to find strengths and weaknesses that support each other. At your core should be the values of how you’re hoping to conduct your business. 

That should be important, and Match.com does put people together like that. 

Adi 🍍

What sort of tactics did you use for conflict resolution when you had something you disagreed on? How did you resolve it?

Karen 📄

Early on, we probably did battle. I followed in my mother’s suit, I’ll shut you out and be quiet to you. I have seen over the 26 years how we did change with conflict resolution. Everybody’s always growing, as long as you are working on getting better versus trying to get your way, then you are making progress. 

Adi 🍍

I heard one founder say with compromise it is not my way or your way. Both of us have to find a new solution in the center. Let’s jump to present day. How does your customer experience differ from other printing companies?

Karen 📄

My location is small. My oldest son works for me as my manager. He was a first semester freshman when we discovered my daughter was going to have to start chemotherapy for a brain tumor. He opted to come home finish out school here, and then started working for me part-time. He got his degree in Criminal Justice and figured he would go off and be a Federal Law Enforcement Officer. About the time he graduated, my daughter had to start her second chemo protocol and the progression of the tumor was life threatening, so he stayed again. Since my first partner was deceased, my son stepped into that position thinking he would eventually leave. My oldest daughter decided to stay local and started working for us part-time and she’s still working there now.

When you come into my office, you don’t come into a UPS or FedEx copy store. You come into a place that really is an extension of my home. My children are there and we have our dogs there. People see something very different. They can see how we relate as family, teasing each other, and calling kids by their nicknames. 

Adi 🍍

For a mompreneur or a Boss Mom looking to bring her kids into her company, could you share what that experience was like, bringing your kids in? How did you resolve conflict?

Karen 📄

I never had the conscious thought that I was bringing my children in. Early on, when there was spring breaks or children were sick, it was just a very natural thing for me to bring them in. As they came in, they brought a certain skill set with knowing the computer and being able to do design work. It became very natural for them to be there.  I don’t know if there was ever a conscious decision that I was going to do that. 

Adi 🍍

How do you keep the peace? 

Karen 📄

Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it’s crazy. We’re learning as we’re going. In our exceptional situation, we have faced some hard realities. But there are wonderful days when you see how much my children want the others to succeed. As I’ve allowed Faith’s situation to mature me, it shows what’s really important. You walk through life differently with this maturity. So where my kids are concerned, I think they are getting that too. 

Adi 🍍

I know you mentioned your faith is a big part and influence. Do you have any parenting books or faith-based books that you have relied on to help guide you? 

Karen 📄

I am a follower of Jesus. I’m Christian and I think that many people in the Christian community rely on a lot of books. And I have done that in the past. Gary Smalley is great. The Love Languages – how they respond to love. Are you somebody who wants things, do you need time, do you need acts of service? I could pick each one of my children and my husband how they respond that way. They also have great conflict resolution, and how to deal with strong personalities. 

Many times people write books based on biblical principles. The Bible is the book. For me, right now the book in the Bible is Proverbs. This morning, I was studying Proverbs 31 Woman.  I have been studying how you gain wisdom and knowledge. For me, I had to grow very deep roots with my daughter’s medical condition. I grew up in the church. My dad is a retired Navy Chaplain. When my business partner became ill, I was still going to church. At the same time, my husband’s boat was rocking at his office. He had many demands and he felt a lot of pressure. Out of that experience of just feeling desperate, I really dug in. And that’s probably has been the past 20 years. That’s really when that grew. Out of that relationship, I have grown in how I respond to my customers and family. That you honor people. Part of the reason we are still around because I am not in this business just to make a buck off of you. I really do feel that I am contributing to people’s work, and that is something that comes from my relationship with God. 

Adi 🍍

Many of the smartest people that I have met, all attribute their wisdom and insight in situations to reading one chapter of Proverbs everyday because there are 31 chapters.

Karen 📄

Thirty-one chapters. When you read the first 6 or 7 chapters, and really it’s all through the Bible, where it talks about wisdom being the fear of the Lord. Not so much that you fear God, but that you respect and honor him. That is my first priority, and it makes me a better wife and a better mom. Not perfect, because everybody’s learning. I don’t think you ever obtain perfection, because we have a sin nature in us. If you asked what my first priority was when I began working with my business partner and when we first started, it was different. 

Adi 🍍

Many people want to be able to have the family life and the career life. They think they have to take 80 tiny jobs, instead of moving in one direction to find something that makes them feel fulfilled and gives them purpose. They may think that to launch a startup it needs to be a tech startup and I can’t compete with Google. But no, look at your community around you and think about what they need. There are so many things that you can do that are right in front of you.

Karen 📄

Whether you’re a believer or not, God inherently gives people gifts and you should look at what you’re passionate about and what you enjoy doing. Clearly, you enjoy what you’re doing. I bet if you were to go back in your life and history, you would probably see the seeds of those interests early on. For me, I’ve always enjoyed people. I’ve always been a talker. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy people coming into my office because we do build relationships, like with your dad. It’s not only that we are performing a service for you. We are sharing a life and our experiences. Part of what I enjoy is that even though the situation we have with my daughter has changed what my children thought they were going to be doing. There’s a way your can minister or encourage other people. I did that this morning when I was buying bagels at Yorgo’s. Because I am running my own shop, I have the liberty to talk to people about that and I don’t feel like I have crossed some corporate policy.  

Adi 🍍

What are some tools and platforms that you have used to manage and grow your business?

Karen 📄

Our business has just exploded and I have a very small space. We have been working with the city now for over a year to get a larger space. Our services have grown. My son is amazing. I have an amazing son. He has been able to not only increase our customer base, but increase the services we offer. We are maxed out where we are. Right now, this is a challenge for us because we are 4 people, plus 2 dogs, working in a small space filled with new equipment. My son brought in new equipment that he was able to buy used and fix up because he is a mechanical genius! We are hoping to be moving within the next couple of months. 

The biggest challenge for me right now is to find some help. We needed someone a year ago. I am wondering how that is going to work in a family-run business. We have to bring someone we don’t know – maybe we do, maybe we know the person – and how that is going to change the dynamics. That is where I am right now with growing my business.

We are not 21st century. We need a Facebook account and a website. We realize as soon as we get those things, we are going to be busting out the door. We are not in a position right now to have that yet. I am excited to see where my son is going to take it. He is the one to take it to that next level, but he could probably use somebody like you when you’re in town to come and help us with that. Yet I have a tremendous amount of peace that God has grown this business to this point and He is going to provide just the right person, just the right tools to get us to the next level. 

We have a lot of great reviews on Google. People love us. One of these days, we will get a bad review, probably hit the wrong person at the wrong time. There’s a part of me that’s afraid of that day because my husband has enjoyed watching some Cheers episodes lately – you know when you go in and everybody knows your name. I enjoy knowing people and there are always people that come from out of town. We have a lot of conference attendees come in since we are right across the street from the Marriot. I think we do give them the same level of care, but I enjoy getting to know my customers so that we don’t have this barrier. I’ll tell you a huge thing that helped us too: when we brought the dogs in! We would have lawyers that were dressed in their suits. As soon as the dogs came in, they were excited. Do you want to grow your company? Get dogs! We have people come in just because they want to pet dogs because they had a stressful day. We had people, like your dad, bring in dog biscuits. We need to tell them “I like ROLOs. Why isn’t anyone bringing me a treat? The dogs get treats everyday. What do I get out of this?”

Adi 🍍

I have a friend who sells corporations. She tried to dabble as a broker in Real Estate, but she didn’t really like it. During her time pursuing that, she would have all of her agents show houses with a dog. As soon as they saw the dog in the house, people felt at home. It’s incredible the amount of power animals have. 

Karen 📄

Dogs absolutely break down barriers. I could have an extra income stream by renting them out during lunch hour to people who want to take them for walks. Copy Connection and Dog Walking, I could totally make money on that. 

Adi 🍍

You’re not online yet? When you are, I bet you will have online orders coming in. 

Karen 📄

I’m sure. That’s really the challenge for us. I want to maintain the same level of interaction and customer service that we have. I don’t want to lose that. Very early on, my business partner had health issues and he knew going in that he didn’t want to work full-time. I would go into work, put my son to bed, to work late at night. I would have a little mat that I would lay down because I didn’t want to take away time with him. We really had to make a conscious decision do we really want to take it to the next level and both of us said no. We had people that stole from us or who were rude to customers and that was something that we didn’t want. I don’t doubt for a second that is something that my son will want to do but that is probably my biggest concern. I want to be able to maintain the same level of quality service that we are giving people, but still go up to the counter and feel like I can talk to people. That’s my biggest concern, but we are heading in the right direction.

Adi 🍍

Thank you so much for your time.

Karen 📄

You’re welcome. 

Adi 🍍

Once you do launch an online website, we can put that in the show notes and people can know how to reach out to you. Their business cards are better than Moo’s, Moo.com, and they’re a fraction of the price, by the way. Small plug. Thank you all for listening and I will see you online.




About your host Adi Soozin 🍍

Adi Soozin recently transitioned from working as the Fast Growth Executive at The Million Dollar Pineapple to the Head of Growth at 90×9. Over the past decade she has worked as an on-call consultant and marketing freelancer for more than 300 companies throughout 48 countries, across 6 continents. The fastest she has grown a company is from $0 to more than $100,000,000 in sales in less than 5 years.

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