Movies can transport a viewer into another world, if only temporarily. In 2009 Nelson Burke spotted some props in a Georgia-produced movie that transformed his business. By 2015 his new focus had led The Engineer Guy to more than $3 million in sales.
“Zombieland was a turning point. It was the first time I was able to connect a scene in a movie with something we provided,” he says. “The pride in that was incredible. It was the moment of awakening for me. I was finally able to connect the dots and say my company had a positive effect. I wanted to do it all the time, now.”
Burke had started The Engineer Guy in 2003 with $5,000, a cellphone and a desk in his attic. He enjoyed working in mold making and casting materials for industrial uses, and knew he would eventually start a business. So when he was laid off, he “parlayed a severance package into taking a shot at following my dreams,” he says.
The Engineer Guy soon became an official distributor for Smooth-On liquid rubber and plastic materials used in arts and film, construction, aerospace, marine and industrial prototyping. The store, near the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, now carries Kryolan Professional makeup and special effects items.
When he decided his company’s future was in film, he contacted the UGA Small Business Development Center at Clayton State University and met Area Director Alisa Kirk. “I went because I was getting older and smarter. We ended up in a dialogue that got me thinking I should ask her for help.”
He attended SBDC GrowSmartTM in 2012. Hair and makeup business expert Judiffier Pearson had just joined the UGA SBDC and led the final exam session. Six months later, Burke came to her for strategic advice on how to compete with West Coast suppliers.
“I consulted with him about expanding his inventory,” says Pearson. “All film productions, even special effects departments, need standard beauty items as well as specialty items. We studied real invoices filled by competitors and discussed just-in-time fulfillment, setting up corporate accounts with salon product manufacturers and hiring in-house experts to provide product knowledge.”
Burke also had an idea to create more market value with an annual event called Goo-Con. “Nelson was clear on his desired outcome, but he needed help with logistics, scheduling and promotions. We navigated that process for his first event.”
Goo-Con provides product training and a small business session led by Pearson.
“Goo-Con allows us to provide our clients an opportunity to learn from the very best people,” says Burke. “We also help them understand there are good business practices they should follow. Some don’t even know you can track your business mileage. It’s this kind of stuff that can make an artist profitable.” The last Goo-Con had more than 300 attendees.
Burke also makes himself available to the UGA SBDC. “He is a businessman at heart,” says Pearson. “It’s good to have people like Nelson educate others on the opportunities that exist because of the Georgia Film Tax Credit, which attracts a lot of productions.”
From 2012 to 2015, The Engineer Guy grew from seven employees to 11 and increased sales by 76 percent, to $3.1 million. Burke is now working with Pearson on a strategic plan to grow the company to $5 million in sales.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is accountability,” says Burke. “You cannot expect to realize the sort of success you wish to have unless you follow good business practices.
“I give Judiffier and the SBDC office a lot of credit for helping me. I wasn’t going to allow myself to fail, therefore it was important to me to become accountable to them, and it worked.”
Curious how to grow your business just like Nelson did? Check out one of our Signature Series courses, SBDC GrowSmartTM.