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Jax Daily Record Monday, Apr. 20, 202005:20 AM EST

HC Brands goes from ‘cruising along’ to ‘survival’

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CEO Bryan Croft, who laid off 30 of his 100 workers, is approved for an SBA loan and is preparing to “run even faster than ever.”
by: Scott Sailer Staff Writer

Bryan Croft, president and CEO of HC Brands, formerly Holmes Custom, said the pandemic has put his company in the mindset of survival mode in the past two or three weeks. 

“We are going to get through this but we have to survive now,” Croft said.

HC Brands, a 66-year-old company headquartered at 2021 St. Augustine Road in San Marco East, designs, manufactures and sells personalized products. It has evolved over the past 15 years from brick-and-mortar to an e-commerce company, he said.

HC Brands, which started as a stamp and sign company, has fulfillment centers in Jacksonville; Salem, Massachusetts; and Austin, Texas. Croft bought the company from his parents in 2009.

It has brands specializing in stamps, signs, name tags, wall decals, corporate kits, notaries, promotional products and personalized gifts.

He and his team of more than 100 employees were “cruising along, growing our business at about 35% to 40% a year and then March 11, I can see it on my sales reports, we went from plus 40% on March 10 to minus 30% on March 11, almost a 70% swing overnight,” Croft said.

“Not a lot of businesses can prepare for that, I don’t care how much cash you have saved,” he said.

HC Brands rode out the pandemic shutdown for a few weeks and then had to lay off 30 employees, which he said was “something I am embarrassed about. I built this company without ever doing layoffs.”

He said the cuts were necessary to save 80 jobs, “asking what do we think the future is going to look like and what else can we do to stabilize.”

Croft stressed two requirements: Meet payroll and pay health insurance premiums.

He said HC Brands forecasts sales for the next 60 days and “are getting aggressive and going into the offensive mode,” he said. “We took the kick in the gut and it still hurts, but we are getting up and going to run even faster than ever.”

The company changes with customers’ needs.

For example, HC Brands made signs and banners for restaurants saying “to go food” and “order online,” for hospitals needing directional signs for drive-thru lanes, and photo identifications for volunteers flooding into hospitals to help, he said.

“Every company needs to be thinking about what they can do differently in the world we live in today,” Croft said.

He said he is looking at opportunities, including possibly buying businesses that might want to close.

He considered trying to transition his equipment to make plastic shields, but he could not find the material, and others already were producing them.

Croft said he applied for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program on  April 6 and received the loan money the same week. He attributes the speed of the transaction to his 10-year-plus banking relationship with First Citizens Bank, a regional bank.

“They came through when we needed them the most,” he said.

Croft advises other businesses “as hard as it is, turn the TV off and stay on the offensive.”

“If not, you’re going to watch TV and get depressed and frustrated and then as a leader, your team can see that. So get your 15-minute recap of news in the morning, then inspire your team to go on the offensive and come up with new ideas and innovation.”   

“Every company needs to be thinking about what they can do differently in the world we live in today,” Croft says,

 

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