Michael Sumner is a small business superstar. Since 1987, he’s owned and operated a successful full-service advertising agency with clients across North Carolina, South Carolina, and the Southeast U.S.
In 2017, his son joined the business, adding new web based and social media clients. Here’s how Sumner has been able to stay ahead of the curve and is ready for continued growth and stability using low-cost funds from an SBA loan.
Sumner was raised by a father who grew up during the depression and instilled in him a strong work ethic. “I have three brothers and we all worked as soon as we could. I started at a grocery store when I was 14, had a job every summer, and worked my way through college.”
Sumner started his professional career in the late ‘70s in the radio industry and later worked for a number of large advertising agencies in the south.
“One day I realized I was motivated to do better and wanted to go out on my own. As my father would say, you can have board meetings in the shower when you own your own company. I liked that.”
Sumner started his business with personal savings and zero clients.
“I knew I could hustle and get business,” he says. “I put aside money to pay myself and after the first month we started doing well with six clients including a bank, a jewelry store, and a museum.”
Sumner credits a lot of his success with hiring the right people and treating them well. The agency prides itself on being a "family-first" shop and employees are encouraged to attend their children's school functions.
All Sumner Group team members are active in community foundations and non-profit organizations. “We’re proud of the fact that in our industry employees stay with us for a long time. One has been with me 22 years and 11 years is the average stay. There’s a lot of turnover in the creative business but if you treat employees right, they stay around! If employees are treated poorly, there’s a good chance the clients won’t be happy either.”
Sumner explains one of his hiring strategies. “Enterprise Rent-A-Car has it figured out. They hire a lot of college athletes who understand taking direction, have a strong work ethic, and are generally high achievers. I’ve done the same thing, including hiring my son who was a college basketball player. He came in with the right attitude to help grow the agency.”
He jokes that his son is just like him only nicer.
Sumner doesn’t romanticize owning his own business. “Being in business for yourself is difficult,” he adds. “I’m in the office by 5:30 am and work till 6 pm. I also put in one afternoon a weekend. When you work for yourself, you tend to work for a harder task master than you ever could.”
It’s no secret that technology has affected the world of marketing. “Traditional media has gone by the wayside,” Sumner says. “We used to do social media for 10% of our clients and now it’s over half.” But Sumner still uses old school strategies successfully for his clients. “I teach a class on advertising and tell my students that online advertising is like the yellow pages. People spend an average of 42 seconds on a website and are generally looking for a phone number or an address. However, a well-produced TV spot or direct mail can be very successful. You need to integrate all channels.”
Although profitable for 3 years, Sumner needed additional funds to shore up cash flow and for capital expenses.
“The loan we received with the help of SmartBiz is a game changer for us. In addition to cash flow, we’ll use some of the funds on capital improvements for our building.”
Sumner owns the building where his agency is located. “We own and operate out of a 110-year old space–The Historic Love Building in Gastonia. We have 8 tenants with 8 sets of air conditioners, an elevator, and a roof. It can be costly but we love being in this location.”
In fact, the agency has been active in leading the resurgence of Gastonia's downtown.
Before working with SmartBiz, Sumner explored other funding options. “My wife is the brains behind the operation. She urged me to look into SBA loans because of the low rates and long terms.”
Sumner writes in an online review about his SmartBiz experience. “Great team. SmartBiz works with you to get things ready and to do it the right way. My adviser did an excellent job and really helped move the process along."
"A great experience and I recommend this group of professionals to any business wanting to secure financing.”
Sumner has a positive outlook and sticks to a simple strategy. “The whole platform of marketing may have changed but not the basics. Look after your customer base and your employees. You’ll find success.”
SmartBiz Senior Relationship Manager Mike worked with Sumner closely. "It's gratifying to work with business owners like Mike, who are on top of their game. I have no doubt that the Sumner Group will continue on their great growth trajectory, and that Mike will continue to put out quality work that his clients have come to know and love."