The “thin blue line” is a symbol representing fallen law enforcement officers and is also a visualization to symbolize how police officers protect citizens from criminals. Based on this symbol and concept, Renee Heiss decided to explore entrepreneurship with her son-in-law, Adam Veltre, who is a longtime corrections officer in New Jersey to form their own small business.
Headquartered in Tabernacle, New Jersey, the business partners officially created Blue Line Customs, LLC in February 2015. They can both run the startup directly out of their home offices by combining their skills and focusing on the areas they enjoy most.
Blue Line Customs is currently a web-based business that offers a variety of items emblazoned with a unique thin blue line flag symbol. Heiss explains how she came up with this one-of-a-kind design.
“I wanted to make a flag quilt for Adam who does charitable work for the Police Unity Tour,” she says. “When I created the quilt, the stars on it came out dark gray rather than black. We thought it was neat and almost better than the white stars on a black background in the traditional symbol. So I copyrighted this color scheme and decided to put it on items that could be mass-produced.”
They currently sell mugs, hats, cotton throws, stickers, blue line flag patterns, and other accessories that include the color scheme.
“We really want to raise awareness for fallen officers as well as the Police Unity Tour,” she says. “Adam has raised money for this tour for several years, and I’ve always been involved with children’s charities. So starting a business like this made perfect sense for both of us.”
Heiss is a retired teacher who taught high school child development for 25 years. She is handling the paperwork and backend aspects of running the small business, while Veltre is doing more of the marketing and product development.
In terms of competition, Heiss says that there are several other companies out there selling products based on the thin blue line. However, none are using the copyrighted symbol of Blue Line Customs, and very few even include a flag in their designs. Plus, she feels her startup company’s prices are quite reasonable, with most of the items priced at under $15. In addition, all products and even the packaging they are shipped in are manufactured in the U.S. Finally, they give a percentage of the revenue they earn from their sales to the Police Unity Tour charitable organization.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to have a non-profit organization,” Heiss says. “We are on our way there as we’re changing from an LLC to a non-profit corporation.”
To make others aware of the company, Heiss and Veltre rely on online marketing strategies since the Internet is naturally the primary platform for selling their products. They have a website at www.bluelinecustoms.com, and they use social media marketing with pages on Facebook and Pinterest.
Starting a business is no easy venture. Heiss admits she and her son-in-law have encountered some challenging moments early in the process.
“The initial financial outlay has been a challenge,” she says. “You have to buy inventory of products, sell them, and then be able to pay yourself back if you make enough money. But until that time comes, there is obviously a delay in funds going into your business bank account.”
Based on her own experience, she gives some insight into what’s involved in pursuing entrepreneurship.
“Never forget that it takes money to earn money, and that’s certainly true when it comes to starting a business. You can’t just start a business and say you enjoy it. If there’s no niche for what you offer, it’s going to be very tough to succeed. Also, advertising is important but does not come cheap, so make sure you budget for it.”
In addition to these tips for entrepreneurs, Heiss admits self-employment has both advantages and disadvantages.
“You can make your own hours and have flexibility in your schedule. But you never know quite how much you’re going to make each month.”
“1-800Accountant has been very helpful from a tax and accounting standpoint,” Heiss says. “We initially went with the LLC, but once we talked to your firm, we realized a non-profit corporate structure was the way to go for our small business. There is significantly less paperwork involved with a non-profit when it comes to taxes. I didn’t know you could have disbursements paid out to the owners of a non-profit, either, so we were very happy to learn about that. Your webinars have been informative as well.”
Photo credit: were provided by Blue Line Customs, LLC and are used with permission.