Donna Brin is the Founder of bFIVE40, an award-winning large format printer and full-service fabricator, specializing in custom graphics, swag, and apparel made with recycled materials for modern brands.
With 30 years combined experience in design and fabrication, bFIVE40 brings modern brands custom product solutions for advertising and promotion with certified reporting to quantify ecological impact.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio, conversations to grow your business. Now, here’s your host, Roz Lewis.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:25] Hey, Lee Kantor here, in for Roz today. This is another episode of GWBC Radio. And this is gonna be a good one. We have with us today Donna Brin. And she is with a company called bFIVE40. Welcome, Donna.
Donna Brin: [00:00:40] Hello, Lee. Thanks for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:42] Well, tell us about bFIVE40. How are you serving folks?
Donna Brin: [00:00:46] Well, bFIVE40 is a large format digital print, cut, and saw operation. And we’re located right in South Carolina in a little town called Little River, which is very close by to Myrtle Beach. And we produce custom products. And we make them with fiber from recycled plastic water bottles. So, things like signage, tents, banners, directional graphics. We also do custom apparel. So, corporate polos and athletic gear. We even do youth sports uniforms. But everything is made with recycled fibers.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:23] Now, when you say you do everything, you’re not kidding, because not only do you do things like shirts and stuff, but you could make something like a gigantic object for a company, can’t you?
Donna Brin: [00:01:35] Yes, we can make something for a gigantic object for our company, as a matter of fact.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:43] Now, what is some of the kind of the craziest things you’ve been asked to make?
Donna Brin: [00:01:49] It’s so funny that you go down this direction. So, we’ve had a really terrific experience with a company called Beaches Go Green, and we made a 100-foot octopus, part of an octopus garden that was showcased in Jacksonville Beach, Florida during the holiday to get out the message about the importance of sustainability and keeping our oceans clean. And this octopus was made with recycled fabric, stretched fabric that went over the structure. And we’re gonna display during this holiday event, which is super cool.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:30] Well, the reason I went down this path was because I want business people to understand too, just because you think you sell one thing doesn’t mean that’s the only thing you might be doing. And talk about how your company evolved because you didn’t always start making 100-foot octopuses. Octopi? I don’t know.
Donna Brin: [00:02:51] Oh, boy, was it a terrific experience. Our platform is really built on sustainability and making a difference. And having the operation in sewing and digital prints, it gives us a lot of flexibility to create. And I think that’s the backbone of our business is the ability to customize. And people always ask me how we got started. And we’re very much driven by the state of our environment. Billions of plastic water bottles went up in our oceans and rivers every year, billions. And now, we’re doing something about it. I have young kids. And so, that’s a big driver for us. We love to fish and get out on the water. And that’s why we want to protect it.
Donna Brin: [00:03:37] So, this incredible platform that we built here in the south area, we’ve got so many great local fabric mills, and it gives us easy access to terrific substrates to use in many different ways. And then, the textile industry is very much anchored here. And so, it gives us great access to local talent. And so, we really just began small with one product and inflatable punching bag that is called Bonk Fit. And it’s inflatable that has a fabric covering that digitally printed with some stock designs. And then, we went and expanded into custom designs. We can upload a photo and create anything you want. But we began with that product in 2014 and got into Wal-Mart, and Amazon, at Bed, Bath and Beyond. And that was the beginning of it.
Donna Brin: [00:04:42] And then, we started getting calls from creative agencies, advertising agencies, marketing companies asking if we could brand the inflatable and create something that could be used in promotion. And Captain Morgan, we wound up doing a bar crawl with them with our product. We did some inflatables customized for Ferdinand the Bull. It will be released for 20th Century Fox. We said, “Ha! I think we have something here. I think we need to expand into promotional products.” And that’s where we started branching out about three years ago, opened our own production facility, invested in dye sublimation and latex printing technology, hired a sewing staff, and then started working on a lot of the event-driven products like the tent, and the banners, and the flag, and custom swag, and apparel, and anything that goes along with having an event at the corporate level.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:45] And this is a great example of how when you started, maybe you didn’t see all the things it could be, but you saw one thing pretty clearly and were able to execute very well. But then, your customers kind of told you what to do next, right? Like this wasn’t something that one day, you were thinking, “I’m going to have this empire building all these ginormous things with people’s brands on it.” The customer kind of helped direct that.
Donna Brin: [00:06:10] That’s exactly right. Partnerships are so vital too. We’ve got a great relationship with Unifi, the world’s leading provider of recycled fibers. They’re located right here in Greensboro, North Carolina. And so, through this partnership, we are a brand that uses their fibers in a lot of the products that we produce. So, they feed us with leads and recommendations. And that was how the octopus folks found us. And it was a terrific collaboration that really helped to get out the message about sustainability. And really the end of the day, that’s what we’re all about. And it’s just a terrific win/win situation all the way around.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:59] So, now, how are you handling this kind of COVID-19 crisis we’re going through now? How is it impacting your business?
Donna Brin: [00:07:07] Yeah. Well, it’s crazy. I cannot even believe. Sometimes, I feel like we’re just kind of trapped in a bad dream. It doesn’t feel real at times. A good portion of our business is event-driven, as I mentioned. And so, the major corporations that we work with, they do brand activations, and they host events, and some of the youth team, youth sports teams that we work with, some are travel baseball, and cheer and gymnastic competitions. All of those events are things that we—we work with these companies to create products for these events.
Donna Brin: [00:07:52] And so, all of our projects went on hold or got canceled altogether just like that when it started. And so, we really had to shift gears very quickly to keep our employees working. And so, it’s kind of like, well, you got to pivot and not panic. And so, we need to capitalize on the assets that we have, which is digital print and selling. And our greatest strength is definitely, by far and away, the custom products, focus our ability to produce pretty much anything involving those technologies on demand. So, we set out to capitalize on that.
Donna Brin: [00:08:39] So, we know what our customers want. We’ve got clients that have manufacturing plants that have shut down. When they go back online, workers need to stay healthy. So, we ramped up to produce non-medical grade protective facemasks. And then, another avenue that we’re going down is for our corporate clients, they have a lot of workforce now remote working from home. So, we’re producing custom swag packages, branded apparel items, and dropshipping them to their employees all over the world to help them feel appreciated and connected to the brand, and they look better in a company polo on Zoom anyway.
Donna Brin: [00:09:24] So, then the last thing that we’re doing is it’s a whole new virtual world for events. So, think of like trade shows that are now hosting events online and creating that amazing virtual experience. Even Music concerts, you’re seeing like a lot of pop stars doing concerts right from their basement or from their home studios. And our ability to print on demand and create these custom products like conservative wear, apparel, tees, and hoodies, and that sort of thing, we can offer the ability to kind of humanize the virtual experience and offer a physical product to purchase during the virtual show. So, it’s pretty cool. No inventory risk and definitely elevates the experience for a customer.
Donna Brin: [00:10:16] And I mean, you’ve got to shift years, right? I mean, we’ve got to figure out how to make it work and how to thrive in a very difficult time, and add value, give your customers value. And that’s what we’ve set out to do, and we’re doing it successfully.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:37] That’s great advice. And that’s what I’m hearing from a lot of business people. They just kind of say, “Okay, what assets do I have? What can I control? And then, let me see if I can find a market for this new stuff that I can do that maybe wasn’t front burner stuff before. But now, it’s front burner stuff because that might be the only burner that’s working right now. So, then, I got to just go boldly forward with this.” So-
Donna Brin: [00:11:05] That’s right.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:05] That’s one of, I think, the strengths of entrepreneurs and business owners, especially here in America, where we’re pretty innovative, and we’re pretty good problem solvers, and you put a crisis in front of us, and we’re going to just try to figure out a way to make it work. I mean, that’s what we do.
Donna Brin: [00:11:26] That’s right. I can’t agree with you more. Having a strong network around you to support and help you to carry out and execute is also vital too. And I feel very blessed that we’ve got a good team, and we’ve developed good relationships and partnerships in our area here in the south. And that really helps your ability to be able to continue with a successful platform and find ways to thrive in a time that’s just so difficult for a lot of people to navigate.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:08] Right. Like there’s an old saying about a treat. “Like the best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago. But the second best time is today.” That says the same with your network, and your ecosystem, and your relationships. It would have been great 10 years ago to have a mailing list and a real robust network that you can really lean on. But if you don’t, today’s a nice day to start if you haven’t already because you’re going to need that ecosystem to help you kind of survive some of these challenges. And it’s great to have the other smart people to lean on, and to help, and to collaborate with.
Donna Brin: [00:12:49] That’s right. There is a silver lining too. As difficult as this time is, we are forging relationships in areas that we weren’t necessarily focused on right out of the gate. And and that’s really exciting. We’ve done business with a lot of big brands. We’ve worked with Hasbro, and Walmart, and Google, and Beattie Energy. But it’s the automakers that are making a really big strive in sustainability. And those are relationships that are relatively new for us that we’ve, now, been able to establish and work with. And it’s really exciting. It’s a good fit. And this type of crisis has really just allowed us to branch out and explore in ways that I wouldn’t necessarily thought of.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:48] So, now, can you talk about like why you joined the GWBC, and why it’s been important to you and your business?
Donna Brin: [00:13:59] Yeah. I mean, that would be a very long continuation of this phone call because GWBC has been so instrumental in our growth and our ability to expand our platform. Roz is amazing. I feel so blessed to be part of this network. The events that they hold, the one-on-one session, the entree into being able to sit down with corporate, and the pitch competitions that they hold. And it’s just it’s such a amazing platform for women to have a voice, to show what they can do and really make a difference. And I am just so elated. It’s such a tremendous opportunity to be part of. This is my second year, and I couldn’t be more happy. There’s just so many great opportunities to take advantage of.
Donna Brin: [00:15:12] I’m part of the Voice Committee. There’s about seven or eight of us now on the committee. And we’re all about expanding the voice of women entrepreneurs and really creating an opportunity for those new to WBENC and GWBC to find the resources within the organization, and keep them here, and help them to grow, and to encourage them to take advantage of all the different networking opportunities and [indiscernible]. And I’m so happy to be part of that panel. I work with just a great group of ladies and it’s just been a tremendous opportunity. So, yeah. GWBC is very important to us at bFIVE40. It’s just an awesome, awesome platform now.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:16] And it goes back to what you said earlier, having that strong network to lean on, this is another resource for you and for business owners out there, especially women business owners, to kind of collaborate, to get advice from, support from, and to grow your business with. So, I mean, it has kind of the best of all worlds inside the organization. So, it’s a treat for us to be helping them to get the word out about the important work that’s being done through the organization and through its members.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:47] Now, tell me, the name bFIVE40, not only is it a catchy name, but it’s also lowercase B, capital F-I-V-E, and then the number 40. Is there any significance to that? Is there kind of a story behind it?
Donna Brin: [00:17:03] Yes, yes. So, bFIVE40, there are 360 degrees in a circle, but a circle is a flat, two-dimensional shape. So, 540 degrees, an object breaks the plane and becomes 3D. So, at bFIVE40, we change the way people see brands by adding depths. And this is the kind of depth that our world needs to see. So, that is the meaning behind our company name. We’re all about advocating change, being deep, and doing something different.
Donna Brin: [00:17:41] And for the corporate customers that we work with, one significant way that we stand out from our competition is our strong reporting. So, with all the recycled goods that we produce, we provide impact reporting, actual eco facts to quantify the green investment. So, like the number of bottles, [indiscernible] motorway, the reduction in greenhouse gasses, water and energy consumption reduction, it’s all about providing this type of certified reporting that enables the Fortune 50 companies and beyond to share with their shareholders to be able to demonstrate their support of sustainability and making a difference in this world because we’ve got 2 billion plastic water bottles going into the ocean every year, and we need to do something about it. And this is our way of giving back, and being deep, and being intentional. And that reporting is one way that really sets us apart.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:00] Now, some companies promise to take you to the next level. You promise to take your clients to the next dimension. So, you add another dimension. So, that’s kudos to you.
Donna Brin: [00:19:11] Lee, I’m going to grab that. I love the way you just said that. That is right on. That’s it right on. To another dimension.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:21] Well, if somebody wanted to learn more and have more substantive conversation with you or maybe a GWBC member wants to kind of network with you and get some advice, is there a website for the company? A way to connect with you?
Donna Brin: [00:19:35] Yes. So, you can find bFIVE40 at www.bFIVE40.com. bFIVE40.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:48] Good stuff, Donna. Thank you so much for sharing your story today.
Donna Brin: [00:19:52] Right Lee. Well, I really appreciate you, and this radio program, and Roz Lewis. And thank you very much. And stay healthy and safe.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:01] All right. This is Lee Kantor for GWBC Radio. We will see you all next time.
About Your Host
Roz Lewis is President & CEO – Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®), a regional partner organization of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and a member of the WBENC Board of Directors.
Previous career roles at Delta Air Lines included Flight Attendant, In-Flight Supervisor and Program Manager, Corporate Supplier Diversity.
During her career she has received numerous awards and accolades. Most notable: Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2018 Diversity & Inclusion award; 2017 inducted into the WBE Hall of Fame by the American Institute of Diversity and Commerce and 2010 – Women Out Front Award from Georgia Tech University.
She has written and been featured in articles on GWBC® and supplier diversity for Forbes Magazine SE, Minority Business Enterprise, The Atlanta Tribune, WE- USA, Minorities and Women in Business magazines. Her quotes are published in The Girls Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business book by Susan Wilson Solovic and Guide Coaching by Ellen M. Dotts, Monique A. Honaman and Stacy L. Sollenberger. Recently, she appeared on Atlanta Business Chronicle’s BIZ on 11Alive, WXIA to talk about the importance of mentoring for women.
In 2010, Lewis was invited to the White House for Council on Women and Girls Entrepreneur Conference for the announcement of the Small Business Administration (SBA) new Women Owned Small Business Rule approved by Congress. In 2014, she was invited to the White House to participate in sessions on small business priorities and the Affordable Care Act.
Roz Lewis received her BS degree from Florida International University, Miami, FL and has the following training/certifications: Certified Purchasing Managers (CPM); Certified Professional in Supplier Diversity (CPSD), Institute for Supply Management (ISM)of Supplier Diversity and Procurement: Diversity Leadership Academy of Atlanta (DLAA), Negotiations, Supply Management Strategies and Analytical Purchasing.
Connect with Roz on LinkedIn.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
GWBC® has partnered with dozens of major companies who are committed to providing a sustainable foundation through our guiding principles to bring education, training and the standardization of national certification to women businesses in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.