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Sensing opportunity in a weak economy, Dave Sutherland and Bill Sandusky took a calculated risk in early 2011.
And then they took another, in the process creating what they believe is the largest provider of brand management, printing, promotional items and apparel in northern Nevada.
Last February, Sutherland and Sandusky bought out their former boss at Intraform of Reno and renamed the company Safeguard Web and Graphics LLC — “SWAG” for short.
This fall, they returned to the acquisition trail and purchased Blue Moon Advertising & Promotion Products of Reno from Klaus Grimm, adding promotional items and apparel to a lineup that previously included printing, marketing and brand management.
How are they doing it?
By finding niches, forming strategic alliances and constantly seeking new business.
From 2006-2010 Intraform had posted a 5 to 7 percent annual increase in business. Under the SWAG banner in 2011, revenues rose more than 11 percent, and Sutherland expects the pace to increase further this year.
SWAG currently has a 20-plus person staff and expects to hire at least two more by the end of the first quarter.
When Intraform founder Doug Clary wanted to retire, Sutherland and Sandusky decided to buy the company.
Local financing wasn’t available, so the pair contacted Safeguard Business Systems of Dallas, Texas. Safeguard provides funds and business acumen for deals like this. Safeguard bought Intraform, then immediately sold it to Sutherland and Sandusky. SWAG is now part of the Safeguard network of independent companies.
“We own SWAG and run it our way. We pay Safeguard a royalty and franchise fee. Safeguard is not interested in being part of the day-to-day operations,” Sutherland said.
Safeguard finances acquisitions through its business acquisitions management program, said Scott Sutton, Safeguard’s vice president of franchise development.
“It’s been a wonderful win for us to have (SWAG) as part of the team. Our competency is supporting the people who run the core business,” Sutton said.
The alliance works. “I’m an ambitious and competitive guy,” said Sutherland, who played college basketball in Idaho before transferring to the University of Nevada, Reno, to earn a degree in business. Before joining Intraform, he sold nuts and bolts — literally, nuts and bolts — and other industrial supplies to mining companies and industrial builders for 32 years. He joined Intraform as a sales rep in 2004, and quickly saw potential for Internet sales in the printing business. By 2006 Intraform was building and hosting e-commerce websites for clients including local companies such as IGT, Renown, Scolari’s, and Greater Nevada Credit Union.
“We were way ahead of the curve in technology,” he said.
Sandusky, trained as a graphics arts teacher, runs the creative and customer service side of the business.
“SWAG doesn’t own anything. We’re brokers. We have alliances with the biggest and best manufacturers all over the country. Our buying power and strategic alliances get the best prices and products for our customers,” Sutherland said.
SWAG has an office in Sacramento, and sales reps in San Francisco, Long Beach and Lake Tahoe serving more than 2,500 clients in the western region, Canada and South America.
“We’ve grown through the recession because of our diversified client base. Some of our clients, like construction and banking, have struggled. But because we’re broader-based, we’ve grown,” Sutherland said.
SWAG, with Safeguard’s backing, is buying two complementary Las Vegas companies.
“I don’t just buy one business in a town — I buy two at a time,” Sutherland said. Combining, finding efficiencies and eliminating overhead creates profit.
The goal, Sutherland says: To be the dominant player in this industry in the West.