G.I. Joe Your Way to Work
I met Brian when he and I worked together at Nynex (now Verizon) in Dallas, TX. He and his wife Becky were both born and raised in Texas. Brian, the adopted son of a medical doctor, was involved in athletics, acting, and choir, among other activities, before attending Baylor University. In his six years at Baylor, he earned degrees in business broadcasting, marketing and management information systems and earned his MBA.
Becky knew she wanted to be a teacher from an early age and she attended Stephen F. Austin University and earned her undergraduate degree in education. She taught at five schools over the course of ten years, predominantly with gifted children’s programs. “I loved teaching,” she recalls, “and I knew it would be a great career for raising children.”
Armed with his business and technology background, Brian went to work in sales for a division of Nynex that sold personal computers to business customers. The business unit he was part of was ultimately sold to another company, at which time Brian was promoted to a director level position in the new company. While he was highly successful in sales, he struggled with the low satisfaction he derived from working for someone else. “I enjoyed the personal computer business and the customer relationships I developed, but I never felt I was in control of my own destiny.” Brian felt vulnerable to potential layoffs at the troubled company and began to look for career alternatives.
That’s where G.I. Joe enters the picture. Brian was a serious G.I. Joe fan as a child and became a collector of all things G.I. Joe as an adult, but he considered it to be only a hobby. Until 1992, that is. He became the victim of a corporate layoff in April of that year and after trying to find a new position during a challenging economic time he began to consider starting his own company. The dream he and Becky conceived was to develop a business focused on serving the needs of those with a passion for collecting toys. Although it was difficult to estimate the size of the market, they sensed an opportunity to provide valuable information related to trading sources, current prices, available models, and upcoming events like toy shows that G.I. Joe aficionados would care about.
“The economy was struggling at the time, the job market was weak, and we had not yet started having children, so we felt it was the ideal time to take some risk, particularly since Becky was still teaching” explains Brian. His entrepreneurial streak took hold, and he decided to start a monthly publication to serve the doll and toy collector market.
Their hunch was that they wouldn’t make the same kind of income they had previously enjoyed, but they were willing to adjust their lifestyle and make some sacrifices.
Through an initial mailing to 20,000 people, Brian obtained 500 subscribers for their publication, Master Collector. That wasn’t a huge number, but it was a reasonable start. By 1995, their third year in the new business, Becky had given birth to the first of their three children, and Brian approached the Hasbro Corporation, the makers of G.I. Joe, about making his newsletter a licensed part of their toy offering. Over the next year, Becky returned to her teaching position while Brian took care of their son at home while running their business. Soon business took off, and it became clear to them that they had made a great career choice. Hasbro soon asked Brian to organize and run the annual G.I. Joe convention, which draws several thousand attendees each year. He even began manufacturing licensed products for the G.I. Joe Collectors’ Club members. Even though this collector market was not very big, it was large enough to carve out a very specialized and profitable business.
In 1997, Becky and Brian moved back to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and hired their first full-time employee. Unfortunately for them, the momentum of the Internet actually negatively affected the growth of their business. The mass channel of the Internet and auction sites like eBay severely impacted the original business they had developed so successfully. It was simply too easy for people to get G.I. Joe information and products elsewhere in the e-world.
In light of the challenges and shifting business conditions, the Savages changed their business model to include online action figure sales as well as publishing and conventions. Hasbro was so impressed with their work that in 2004, they asked Brian and Becky to start the Transformers Collectors’ Club and to produce BotCon, a convention for Transformers fans and collectors. They both contribute to the success of the business—as do several other family members during peak toy seasons—and they’re both able to work from home.
Brian reflects on the challenge of operating his own business: “We manage our costs carefully, and we have confidence that God will provide for our future. We’ve had some challenges, including living through Hurricane Fran in 1996 when we had to rely on our church’s generosity of using their facilities to get our newspaper out, but we’ve always had faith that everything would be fine.”
How does Brian compare this work environment with the world of corporate America, where he started? “The line between work and family is now blurred. My life is my work and my work is an integral part of my life. I’m always around my family; everyone gets involved in what needs to be done—we’re all in it together,” he explained with an obvious sense of satisfaction.
On the role faith has played in their journey over the past ten years, Brian says, “God has always been important in our lives, and this experience has strengthened our faith and our relationship with God. God’s in control, we’re not.”
Making your own business work, particularly a new, never-before-tried business, takes hard work and commitment. But the fulfillment Brian and Becky have derived from the experience makes it worth the effort. Theirs is a great testimony to the power of pursuing one’s passion. It may seem like a crazy idea at the start, but if Brian and Becky can make a living in the action figure business, perhaps you can find a creative way to make a living based on your God-given passion!
Brian summed it up well, “Determine who you are and what your God-given talents are, and then figure out how to make a living doing it, but make sure you can separate business decisions from ones driven by emotion. Many people can find a part-time way to try out their career dream before they dive into it full time. You just have to be brave enough to take risks and have faith. It sounds simple, but it sure has worked for us.”