When Deron Stults, co-owner of Bagley Branded Products and Polk County native, was a student athlete at The University of Central Florida, he identified and pursued a unique opportunity. At the time, it was just a quick way to make some extra money. Thirty years later, Deron's decision to quit school and focus on his side business proved to be a true pivotal moment in his life. Deron shared his story from selling stickers door-to-door to doing business with major corporations like Disney, Auto Nation, Advent Health and The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"At the time, collegiate licensing wasn't really a thing," Deron said. "Since I played football at UCF, I knew that the school didn't really have anyone doing their logo. After receiving encouragement from a friend, who owned a t-shirt business in Winter Haven, I met with UCF and made a deal that allowed me to sell their marks and have the exclusive license to sell UCF merchandise at football games. I started by purchasing 1,000 bumper stickers, branded them with the UCF logo and went door-to-door selling them for a $1 a piece. After I made $800 in three nights, I saw the potential. I quit school, moved back to Winter Haven and started Deron's Corporate Apparel."
Deron spent the next few years calling on schools, local companies and anyone and everyone that needed branded apparel. He sent letters, 100 to be exact, to all the schools in Polk County. Slowly but surely, Deron grew the business and developed a great reputation in the local community.
In 1994, Deron met his wife, Jill, who at the time owned an ad specialties business in Winter Haven called Star Specialties. Together, they grew Deron's Corporate Apparel to 80 employees and did jobs for Disney, Six Flags and Universal Studios. When the economy crashed in 2008, everything came to a grinding halt.
"We were highly leveraged at the time," Deron said. "We ended up going bankrupt and lost everything. We had to lay off all 80 employees. It was a rough time for us and the business. We had four kids. We lost our home. I sold magazines on the weekends at trade shows to make ends meet. It was very challenging. Nevertheless, we pressed on. If you don't quit, you can't lose."
Out of the ashes of Deron's Corporate Apparel came The Solutions Group, an ad specialty business headed by Deron and Jill. They re-grouped and focused on doing business with the clients they worked with over the years and went back to representing manufacturers and distributors. By 2015, after years of strong growth, the Stults' were in a prime position to further increase their presence and reach by acquiring a very well known brand.
"We purchased Bagley Advertising from Linda Bagley Wiggs," Deron said. "Being in Lakeland since the early 50s, Bagley had such an intrinsic value. It was an opportunity we couldn't pass up."
With the purchase of Bagley Advertising, Deron and Jill have expanded to offer a full creative suite of services. They purchased a new building and currently employ 14 people. Deron shared what he enjoys most and how they work to set themselves apart from the competition.
"I love solving problems," he said. "Also, in our business, people need products quickly. Many times, advertising specialties are the last thing people think about. We need to make things happen fast. We also love to help our clients generate a buzz. I tell people that we're an advertising agency that specializes in products. We're really good at communicating our client's brands with products. We're also good at creating unique products."
Looking ahead, Deron wants to build Bagley Branded Products into a $10 Million company. In addition to a focus on profitability, he wants the company to remain committed to the community and the various causes they support.
What advice does Deron have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Do what you love, apply yourself and work hard," he said. "If you do those things, you will make it. Also, try to become an expert in what you do. I'm a big believer in spending time on your craft. I spend an hour a day learning about my industry. If you do that, you work about six weeks longer than everyone else. Also, pay more attention to accounting to learn the real cost of being in business. Most people do not recognize the true cost and that's a real challenge. It's one thing to generate a lot of business, but it's another to make a profit. Understanding your true costs will help you to make better decisions."