THE AMERICAN BUTTON MACHINES® STORY
PART 1: CHASING THE (AMERICAN) DREAMMy name is Keith Brown and the American Button Machines® story is a perfect example of The American Dream. From concept to form, my wife Brighid and I were driven by our passion and desire to create something meaningful. We have worked hard, made smart choices, learned from our mistakes and built an American Button Machine community inspired by you. We hope you enjoy learning more about us, and we look forward to learning more about you. Together, we are Changing the World, One Button at a Time.
WORK WITH PEOPLE YOU LIKE:
Like many people, Brighid and I have spent more time with the people we work with than anyone else. As a matter of fact, we met at work. I was a top salesperson at a local company here in Texas and Brighid was a receptionist. Our desks were located a total 5 feet apart. She has always been wildly talented, quickly moved into sales and customer service, and within a few years exceeded my success. She is a rockstar! We started dating in 1998 and have been together ever since. It has been a match made in button heaven. We still feel so lucky to be able to work every day with our best friend.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE:
Despite our amazing relationship, I was feeling less and less motivated to work for someone else. Throughout my corporate career I have been challenged by managers who, shall we say, did not support their team or serve the greater good. We wanted to build a business on values we could stand by, on what we believed in about life and about our purpose on this planet. It started out innocent and as a dream. Our American Button Machines dream was inspired by some of our favorite times together away from the corporate grind, our vacations. We both dreamed of a business where we could provide incredible service and do something we loved! We loved our vacations, new experiences, new destinations and it was our tradition to buy a refrigerator magnet to memorialize very important moments on each trip. Refrigerator magnets are what kept our love for travel, our dreams and our happy times alive. It may seem obvious, but like most entrepreneurs, the actual business idea came to me in a “back-burner moment” while taking a shower. Like a bolt of lightning I was inspired! “I love buttons and memorabilia! That is what I’ll do! Make memories for others to keep!” I rushed to research how these highly valuable trinkets were made. My research led me to the unassuming hardworking button maker. The challenge was, everything I found was made in China or some other foreign country. While those are great travel destinations they were not what I wanted to support, I wanted to buy American!
In 2003, I could not take the corporate world any longer and due to some top-down corporate decisions, I was let go from my job. I left with a huge smile on my face and perhaps a little (okay, a lot) of skip in my step! Using all of my sales skills I hit the streets and shortly (within the first month) received an order for 5,000 refrigerator magnets! We were well on our way! Brighid stayed with our previous employer while also helping fulfill our orders at night and on the weekends. This became our dream fueled life. We learned so much applying our years of business experience to this new product and service! Within 6 months, impressed with the fast growth of our business, clients were asking us how they could leverage button machines to make memorabilia and expand their business. As a response to this undeniable need we made the life changing pivot into selling button machines. In 2004 the American Button Machine brand was formed as way to help aspiring artists, entrepreneurs, organizations and non-profits make more money by creating and selling their own buttons and magnets. We haven’t looked back since and have been growing all the way. Without any web development or html skills, we researched and built a website, put the button machines up online and started selling! This was a family business and Brighid supported the dream all the way while still maintaining her corporate job, but the day-to-day operations at the beginning was still a one-man show. After receiving an order from our website, I would take everything, put it in a laundry basket, then into the back of my truck and carry it all to the UPS Store praying the whole way that it would not rain. By 2005 we had filled every room in the house with button machines and supplies!
PART 2: MASTERY OF THE CUSTOMER SERVICE EXPERIENCE
SERVICE MATTERS MORE THAN SALES:
We are a high-level learning organization and those first three years tested and proved our learning capacity. The foundation for our business was set and that foundation was incredible products and fantastic customer service. This has always been our focus and the two most significant factors that set us apart from any competitor. We wanted to be better for our customers. We are not successful unless they are successful. We learned the most and grew the most from our most challenging customers, who in turn, became our best customers. In May 2007, we were doing well enough for Brighid to quit our previous employer and work for American Button Machines FULL TIME. She became the most valuable customer service and sales agent at the company. She brought with her some pretty incredible customer service skills which allowed us to advance to the next level. It was one thing for us to have continued growth, it was another for us to retain the growth through our meaningful relationships with our loyal clients. We also hired students from our local Community College, who would come to the house to work and help with shipments and fulfillment. We continued to grow and learn.
THE RIGHT PEOPLE MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE
From 2007-2011 we focused on two core areas: Getting the right people on the bus, and transferring our knowledge of supply chain management to serve even MORE people and hiring the RIGHT talent to serve them even better! Our big “why” behind this push was to gain balance in our lives. We still were inspired by our initial dream, our passion and love for how buttons were changing our world and knew we needed to invest everything we had into our talent to fuel that fire for the whole team. Our focus on lean systems, service and relationships became the solution. We knew it was time to build the business and team so that our life was not consumed by work and yet we infused LIFE in all the work we do. This was step in the direction of gratitude for the incredible gifts and growth we had already received and it was worth it! Day after day of glorious button take-overs in our house, hiring the right people through a steady and thoughtful hiring process, and focusing on customer service AS sales, we were finally ready and invested in our next step: The industrial sales office and warehouse.
PART 3: THE BUSINESS BECOMING EVERYTHING IT CAN BECOME
GROWTH IN BALANCE
When we moved into the new office space, we faced two challenges: Supply chain management along with training and development. Now that we had the right people our job was to do for them what we had done for our customers for the previous 7 years; provide them with unbelievable support! We both felt and continue to feel a responsibility to mentor where we can. Our primary job is to make their job easier. We trained them on everything we knew: from superior customer service to everything warehousing related. We had to learn to teach our employees how we did things by writing policies & procedures that we are still enhancing today. Our employees have gone from not knowing anything about buttons to being the most highly knowledgeable button experts around! We are committed to constant and never ending improvement: What can we do better? We have maintained an open door policy for our team, always supporting open communication and keeping honesty and integrity our #1 priority when providing service to the customer. This growth fused all of our values as we added more services for our customers: Button University, The Button Forum, Button Making Software, a jewelry line, and additional support for the growth of our customer’s own button business. And our journey does not end there.
BEYOND THE BUSINESS:
CHANGING THE WORLD ONE BUTTON AT A TIME
Up to this point, helping people achieve their dreams has been a fantastic journey. However we wanted to help the people we come in contact with on a more personal level. So we began Buttons For Change™ to take the journey to the next level. The concept of our Buttons For Change ™ campaign is simple. Help those that are having financial challenges who need and want to help themselves.
Most of our customers are schools and non-profits and we know the need for funds is great. This goes hand in hand with button making. Where else can you buy products for pennies and sell them for dollars? However schools and non-profits still need help getting started. That is where Buttons For Change ™ comes in.
Our next dream is to become a super conduit of button making funds for those in need. Some believe it is rare in life to find true love once. Even more rare to find one’s true passion. And even the rarest of all to find it all in one lifetime. Brighid and I feel we have been intentionally lucky.
Through honesty, integrity, hard work and amazing customer service, we have encountered upon such profound experiences of hope and opportunity. Building loyal relationships for a lifetime while living a dream we know is for a lifetime. All of our customers have a unique message. And we have a unique message: We help our customers, community, our non-profits, our schools, our animal kingdom (which we love) to use buttons to get their message out in such a fun, easy, artistic way that produces more awareness and more revenue.
By hearing customer stories we realized how much we are actually helping people! We have heard many stories of success from our customers. It’s astounding and inspiring to hear their stories! We have learned what is most important, how we truly contribute to people’s lives and their artistic expression of freedom!
That is THE STORY of American Button Machines, our American Dream. We are on a mission to help as many people as possible reach their audience to spread their unique message to Change the World, One Button at a Time. Our enduring story, woven into yours, is very, very true and very, very simple: SPREADING BUTTONS = SPREADING JOY!Thank You, KEITH AND BRIGHID BROWN, FOUNDERS OF AMERICAN BUTTON MACHINES®