We were lucky to catch up with Mark Zisek recently and have shared our conversation below.
Mark, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I was taking an Entrepreneurship class at NYU Stern School MBA program and by dumb luck, my Professor was on the same commuter train from NY to NJ. It turned into an extra 45 minutes or so of extra discussion twice a week. One specific “tip” stuck with me – “there are 270 million Americans, if you find a need, likely others have the same”. Fast forward 4 years and I was at a Cable Television trade show …. these are “events” with great giveaways and things to attract visitors to booths: celebrities, sports stars, t-shirts, hats, and tons of others. At that stage, I thought I had seen – and taken home! – it all. That particular year, Discovery Channel was launching Animal Planet. Their very unique (especially for this show!) promotion was if your room key from the closest convention hotels opened this giant cage, you won a giant stuffed animal! Another benefit was the concerts at the event – big-name bands. On the night of the concert, luck stepped in and as I was grabbing a drink, I ended up next to the Marketing Communications person for Discovery Channel. After finding out where she worked and letting her know I thought it was a fantastic promotion, she said “Oh my gosh, what a nightmare”! I flashed back to my train rides and thought how could a piece of plastic with a magnetic stripe be that tough? At the time I was managing some very sophisticated technology equipment and couldn’t fathom how tough this could be. I ended up doing some investigation and launched the company with a friend thinking we had the golden ticket! Unfortunately, these type of convention keys are a small segment for most hotels and they like only their existing lock vendor to supply these – essentially locking us out. Rather than call it a day, we pivoted and went after the hotels day-to-day cards, thereby getting these meeting key cards as a result of our relationship with the hotel. We later expanded into the key holders, followed by other hospitality supplies. A little listening, combined with some luck and hard work and here we are nearly 20 years later!
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I got into the industry as noted – some luck, hard work, and a necessary series of products. My company = Front Desk Supply – is a small business focused on selling to the hospitality industry. Our core offering includes key cards (rfid, magnetic, plastic, id cards), key holders, presentation folders, key card sleeves, notepads of all sizes, pens, do not disturb and other signage, as well as a host of marketing materials. Our core capability is customizing products for our customers, while offering the products at a great price. We look to help our customers become more memorable with their guests, so that the guests return to the hotel. We try to help our customers in: Making your hotel more profitable and your guests’ stay more memorable.®
Have you ever had to pivot?
Pivoting is the story of my career! I started out working for one of the Big Public Accounting firms – stayed long enough to get my CPA license and then moved to Internal Audit for Johnson & Johnson. I realized there that I wanted to move out of Accounting/Finance and into Marketing. That path led me to NYU for Graduate School and it was there I met an entrepreneurship Professor who helped guide me on a new path. At the time, there were not many jobs in Marketing at Johnson & Johnson, so to make the career shift, I left Health Care to move into Technology. I stayed there long enough to build my business and then leaped head first into running my own business. Pivot to pivot, to pivot …. Similarly, Front Desk Supply started out with the intent of doing meeting and convention key cards and we pivoted when we learned we needed to do the day-to-day keys for the hotels to be successful. Later we expanded/pivoted to offering additional products to our customers.
Can you talk to us about how your funded your business?
We are a classic bootstrap story. My partner and I each contributed some of our savings to fund the initial few orders so we could pay our vendors for our initial orders. We also learned that: 1. customers don’t always pay on time and 2. Some don’t pay at all. Thus much of our startup was funding these types of customers while ensuring we never left our vendors without payment. Our vendors are central to our long-term success and we need them in order to survive. It took a good while for us to build a big enough base of customers to get out of the cycle of having to dip into our startup fund and we could slowly expand to adding some marketing expenses and paying ourselves “something” …. the “something” was typically a treat or small payment. It has taken a while to actually turn a part-time hobby into a business.
- Website: https://www.frontdesksupply.com/
- Instagram: front_desk_supply
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FrontDeskSupply
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/front-desk-supply-products
- Twitter: @FrontDeskSupply
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/FrontDeskSupplySanDiego
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/front-desk-supply-san-diego?osq=front+desk+supply
Carrasco Photography, Desiree Enriquez