IT Help Atlanta with Rick Higgins Episode 7: Barry Adams, Peachtree Awnings, and Eric Mintz, EM Squared
Peachtree Awnings’ Owner Barry Adams and Eric Mintz of EM Squared both started their companies from scratch. Host Rick Higgins speaks with each of them about the ups and downs of their entrepreneurial journeys and how they achieved their current success. “IT Help Atlanta” is brought to you by TeamLogic IT, your technology advisor.
Barry Adams, Owner, Peachtree Awnings
Peachtree Awnings is one of the premier manufacturers of custom residential & commercial awnings and canopies in the southeast. they specialize in fabric awnings and metal canopies of all kinds. They have a branch in the Nashville area as well….Tennessee Awnings. Barry Adams is the founder and owner of Peachtree Awnings located in Norcross, GA and Tennessee Awnings located in Smyrna, Tennessee. Barry opened Peachtree Awnings in 2005 which serves the metropolitan Atlanta area and other parts of the southeast. Barry purchased an existing awning company in the Tennessee location in 2012 which serves Nashville and most of middle Tennessee. Prior to getting in the awning business, Barry had 18 years of experience in the electrical distribution industry in sales and sales management. Barry got his undergraduate degree from Tulane University in 1985 and his MBA from Kennesaw State University in 2004. Barry is the most recent past chair of the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and the current chair of the Professional Awning Manufacturer’s Association (PAMA). Barry enjoys concerts and live music and resides in Norcross, GA.
Eric Mintz, CEO, EM Squared
EM Squared provides leading edge custom software and IoT solutions with a focus on solving problems.
They streamline, automate, and evolve business. They redesign business processes and tune existing systems to work better. They automate, build applications, and integrate sensor technology. They streamline workflows and eliminate frustration to better enable your employees. EM Squared adds or improves eCommerce to better satisfy their client’s customers.
About the Show
“IT Help Atlanta” profiles small to mid-market businesses and highlights how those companies use technology to succeed. An archive of previous shows can be found here.
About Your Host
Rick Higgins is Owner and President of TeamLogic IT of Dunwoody, GA. Rick’s firm is part of a national network of locally-owned service businesses, providing comprehensive IT services to the small-medium sized business market.
They offer managed service for networking, cyber security, data and email, as well as hardware and software support in addition to a variety of consultation and preventative maintenance services. Rick’s personal and corporate philosophy is simple: Stand up, be bold, and tell the truth.
Announcer: Broadcasting from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, it’s time for “IT Help Atlanta,” brought to you by TeamLogic IT, your technology advisor. Now here’s your host, Rick Higgins.
Rick: Hey, good morning, everybody, and welcome to “IT Help Atlanta.” The podcast and radio show that profiles small businesses and highlights how those companies use technology to succeed. “IT Help Atlanta” is brought to you by TeamLogic IT, your managed services advisor, specializing in cybersecurity and cloud solutions. TeamLogic IT leverages cutting edge technology to solve all types of business problems. We make technology work for business. Go to ithelpatlanta.com for audio archives of this radio show and to learn more about our sponsor, TeamLogic IT. I’m your host today, I’m Rick Higgins, and today’s special guests are Barry Adams of Peachtree Awnings and Eric Mintz of EM Squared. Good morning, gentlemen.
Barry: Hey, good morning, Rick.
Eric: Good morning.
Rick: So, we’re going to start. We’re gonna do kind of a one-at-a-time scenario on the interview process and we wanna start with Barry. Barry, you’re the founder of Peachtree Awnings. Tell us in your own words who you are and what do you do?
Barry: Well, Rick, we are a manufacturer of custom commercial and residential awnings and canopies in the Atlanta metro area. We actually, we serve the entire Southeast. Our projects go from Central Florida down in Tampa, Orlando, up to Greenville, Birmingham. And then actually, I’m physically sitting at our location in Nashville, Tennessee right now. So, I’ve got a location in Nashville, and I got a location in Atlanta. We started the business in 2005, so we’ve been 15 years in business and yeah, we sell shade and it’s a lot of fun in this COVID era to help people enjoy their time and their staycations in their home. So yeah, we really enjoy that.
Rick: Thank you. Fifteen years, good for you, Barry. That’s really an amazing accomplishment. When you think back to prior to founding the company, you think back to all the reasons that you’ve thought about and what went into being an entrepreneur. What have you learned since then that’s been a really pleasant surprise, or something that’s been fulfilling to you that you just didn’t expect when you were first thinking about starting the business?
Barry: Well, it’s been a labor of love, Rick. I think for all small business people, it is a labor of love, and one of the things I’ve really come to appreciate about my business is that my business is my ministry. You know, I know there’s a lot of faith-based businesses out there but one of the pleasant surprises for me is we happen to be in the awning and canopy business, but I really enjoy helping people to become better people, you know, helping people to fulfill their potential in life, financially and professionally, and become better people. And I found that out after a number of years that I just really enjoy helping people move along a pathway of their choosing. And, it’s challenging. Some people come willingly and some people don’t participate fully, but my business is my ministry and I really enjoy what comes back to me. Whatever I put into it, it seems to come back to me times four, times five. It’s very rewarding in that respect.
Rick: Well, and learning how to get work done through others and managing those people, it really truly is the most difficult thing that a small business person can deal with, right?
Rick: Because you are the HR department. You know, you are the accounting department, you are the everything department, and sometimes you are the internal counselor to your people as well, right?
Barry: No question, and you have to be a bit of a renaissance man or renaissance person certainly in this day and age. You got to wear, I wear my marketing hat some days and I wear my HR hat some days, and sometimes it’s moment by moment. And I wear my financial, my CFO hat some days, and it changes literally moment by moment. The good news is that as you grow in size, then, of course, then the resources that you can hire or put in place to address some of those, you know, increases, it doesn’t necessarily relieve you of the responsibility of overseeing that part of your operation. But certainly, the old adage “Hiring people that are smarter than you” comes into play, and I was… I don’t know if it was Steve Jobs or somebody else who said that but, you know, hiring people that are smarter than you. And I’ve been blessed to bring people into my organization that were really, in their specific jobs, were really better than me, better than I could do it. And it’s gotten to a size, you know, I used to be able to wrap my arms around just about every problem or every situation that I encountered. But as we’ve gotten larger, I’ve had to make sure I have people in place that can do that.
And it’s gotten larger than me. And so it’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time to say that I’m not the person that can handle… I have more questions than answers every day. And it’s relieving in a sense that as a business owner, I don’t have to have the answers. I really have to, and my role and now is to pose the questions that cause us to get better. And it’s still challenging, by the way, to come up with the questions, but we come up with the questions and it’s a collaborative effort. And those things that we get accomplished, we get accomplished together and I like to say all of us know more than any of us. And so, in every regard, it is a collaborative team effort at Peachtree Awnings, so.
Rick: So, I recently read a four-page spread article on you and your company in a magazine in which you are on the cover. It’s a trade organization and the magazine’s called “Specialty Fabrics Review Magazine.” So, congratulations on that profile and that spread. There was a couple of really interesting nuggets that I pulled out of there that I’d like to ask you to talk about and unpack. And one of them just, I really highlighted it and I’m gonna read it here where you said in your business, it’s almost like being an architect. Could you discuss that and explain what you meant by that?
Barry: Yeah, sure. Well, again, one of the pleasant surprises about being in the awning and canopy business, it’s a custom business and every project that we tackle, even…two awnings or two canopies that look alike, I promise you, they’re not fabricated the same. And so it’s very, very custom work. So I like to say that, in my business, that we spend equal times… A third of the time, I’m a manufacturer, a third of the time, I am a contractor, and a third of the time, I’m an artist. So, equal parts manufacturing because it’s a shop-based business and we manufacture what we install. So, a third of the time, I’m a manufacturer, third of the time is spent out in the field, installing the stuff that we manufacture and that certainly has its challenges as well if you’ve ever been involved with a company or an operation that does field work. That is probably the most unpredictable job environment that you could possibly work in. You get anything and everything thrown at you every day.
Rick: No doubt.
Barry: So that is…yeah, that is really, really challenging. And especially in a thriving metropolitan area like Atlanta and Nashville, the variety of projects that we get involved with is pretty vast. And then a third of the time, I’m an artist. I’m creating a vision for somebody else. Quite frequently, we show up and there’s not a set of plans. You know, I’m meeting with a business owner, and they just have some kind of vision in their mind about what they want this piece or their storefront, or a courtyard, or what they want a certain area to look like, or how they want it shaded, or how they want it protected from rain or the elements. And so we have to create that vision almost from scratch. So it’s like baking, yeah, like baking from scratch. And you have to really be very adept at all three parts of the business in that regard to be successful, I think.
And so we’ve tried to do that at Peachtree Awnings. Never focusing on one of those disciplines to the exclusion of any other is really, really important and trying to develop yourself and develop your team in that way and deliver a very high level of customer service. Obviously, that’s what it’s all about. So, if there’s ingredients to the secret-secret sauce in the awning and canopy business, perhaps, that’s kinda it. That’s been my recipe, anyway.
Rick: Yeah. And that’s good advice for anybody in any vertical or any type of business. So, the other nugget, to use that word again, that I pulled out of here is you made a really interesting general comment about being an owner. And you said, “You have to work on your business rather than in your business.” Could you unpack that a little bit for us?
Barry: Sure, Rick. I think it’s a little counterintuitive for most of us. The more control you try to take, the more you wrap your arms around your business, actually, the less control you have. It’s, for all of us, I think our businesses are a baby, you know, and I try to treat my business literally like a living, breathing entity. And if you treat your living, breathing entity, your business with love and care and concern and nurture it, then it will return to you what you’ve put into it. But the more I try to control that by wrapping my arms around the things that I always used to do, right, I mean, when I started my business in 2005, there was three of us, I called it “the tripod” because it was me, a welder, and a seamstress. That was it, that was three of us. And now there’s 25 in the organization. Still small by anybody’s measure, but the more you wrap your arms around the functions and the things that you do in your business, the less control that you have, and the more that you give up, the more you’ll be able to grow your business. You know, there’s a continuum that we all operate on. And most of us start, it’s operator, owner-operator, owner, right? There’s a continuum there and we start as operator, we all most of us start as operator, many people never get out of that phase of operator. Not to pick on any one discipline or tradesperson, but there’s plenty of plumbers, electricians, painters that only stay in the operator phase.
And then we try to move a distance to owner-operator and I’m still kind of in that…still in that phase, but maybe starting to move a little bit more toward owner. And as we move in that continuum toward owner, then we can really work on our business rather than working in our business. And that is a very, very difficult transition to make. It’s not easy. And you’ve got to give up as much as you take on or you’ll never have that ability to grow. And so, I find that to be challenging for any small business owner.
Rick: It’s the only way to scale. I mean, an individual can only do so much as an operator, you cannot scale unless you can let go. And learning to let go is really, really tough. I just…maybe offline over a lunch or something, I wanna unpack that a little bit more with you to talk to you about exactly how you’re going through that transition.
Barry: Well, and it’s been pleasant to watch you, Rick, because you started, I mean, we started just, you know, maybe a few, I’d say a few years apart. I’ve watched you at TeamLogic IT do the same thing. It was you driving the bus and now you’ve got some really capable people working with you, and so it’s been a joy for us both as our businesses run in their life evolution somewhat in parallel and that’s been a pleasure. That’s been a pleasure to watch.
Rick: So, full disclosure to the listening audience, Barry and Peachtree Awnings are, what, a five-year client now of ours at TeamLogic IT?
Barry: Yeah, at least something like that. Yep.
Rick: Coming up on that.
Barry: Yeah, that’s right.
Rick: And likewise, we’ve really enjoyed working with you guys. Here’s one of my favorite questions, Barry. What is an aspect of your business that people don’t think about, but that you wish people would ask you about?
Barry: Well, these are trying times, and I’ve tried to be a leader in our business and in our community. I hope everybody who listens comes away with a sense that we, you know, we have a responsibility to the communities that we serve. It’s real easy to come in your office every day with your head on, kind of put your head down and start working, keep your head on the desk and stay on point. But we got a real opportunity to be business leaders once we embark on small business ownership, and so, I become the face of my business in the community. And we try to get involved in some philanthropic activities whether that’s the, used to be called the Norcross Cooperative Ministry, now it’s, I think, called the Neighborhood Co-Op, or, and different aspects that we can give back to the community because it’s given so much to us and provides our livelihood. And so, I hope…it’s difficult right now. I think a lot of nonprofits have suffered through the pandemic just because people are not wanting to be in close proximity to each other, but it’s really, really important for us to be strong community leaders and stand up and be recognized and have our people be honest as well.
Rick: You’ve done that, Barry, and I know you won’t mention it yourself so I’m gonna mention it for you. Folks, Barry Adams is the president of one of our local chambers of commerce here in North Metro Atlanta. He’s also the chairman of the board of the main trade organization that he works with, the nonprofit. So, congratulations, Barry, because it’s not just, for you, it’s not just talk, you really are pulling it off with your effort and those of us in small business understand what kind of effort that really takes. So, thank you for that service.
Barry: Thanks, Rick. I appreciate the recognition. Thank you so much.
Rick: Well, I wanna wrap up with you, Barry, but before I do, well, you tell the audience how to get in touch with you and find your business online or otherwise.
Barry: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Rick. Yeah, I mean, we can be found, www.peachtreeawnings.com, or, likewise, www.tennesseeawnings.com in the Metropolitan Nashville area and we’re moving to a new location in Lawrenceville in mid-September. So, yeah, we’ll be in a new facility about a mile from Sugarloaf Mills just off of Duluth Highway 120. Yeah, we’ll be in the new facility in mid-September. So, it’s an exciting time for us.
Rick: That second domain was tennesseeawnings.com because I think it broke up a little bit on the audio, so I wanna repeat that for the audience.
Barry: Yeah, tennesseeawnings.com.
Rick: Gotcha. Gotcha. Barry, thank you so much.
Barry: Thanks, Rick. Really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for having me.