BELLO, Colombia – Colombian businesswoman Luz Angela Perez went from selling stuffed animals, cards and chocolates in a “feelings store” to heading her own large-scale printing company with credit and training being the main tools for growing the business and diversifying its services.
Perez, who changed her focus from international business to graphic design, discovered her true vocation when she experienced the familiar impulse to open her own business 13 years ago, starting up a small shop where she could engage her creativity.
In selling little cushions, balloons, cards and stuffed animals bearing messages of love, congratulations or friendship, Perez was taking her first steps into the business world with a shop that initially just provided a bare living for her and which she managed along with her mother.
But then, “I started thinking that I wanted to change careers. I saw those things and thought ‘I’m capable of creating nice lines (of products).’ I started to study graphic design,” Perez told EFE.
The shop was getting acceptable sales, but the city of Copacabana, which is part of Colombia’s northwestern Antioquia province, began to be too small for the projects she was deciding to undertake along with Sebastian Ramirez, who later became her partner, husband and the father of her son Simon, the driving force that pushed for forming the Somos Impresion Digital (We’re Digital Printing) company.
A visit to a university classmate’s company gave her the clearest signal yet about her future when she saw a small plotter machine: “It was love at first sight,” she said.
A loan from the Interactuar Corporation, which later would provide her with the necessary training to manage her company, allowed her to acquire the digital equipment to be able to get started in an unknown business sector.
“It was limited, what that plotter could do. We still have it. ... But you can take advantage of it if you’re creative. I made decorations for rooms, personalized (glass items) and labeled things” with it, she said.
A printing machine was the “next dream” she made into reality with a new loan and then she and Sebastian, who was her boyfriend, joined forces to get into the large-format printing business together.
After eight years, Perez sold her “feelings shop” and officially launched her graphic design and printing company in her parents’ house in the city of Bello, which was the perfect place to run her machines and start to grow.
“I got contracts with political campaigns and the machines were in operation day and night. That was an ambitious project at the time, but I was able to pay my debts with it,” she said.
Although her “biggest fear” was hiring, her employees became a necessity for strengthening the team, and she first hired a graphic designer and later assorted production personnel.
“I was the designer of almost everything, but now I don’t have the time. I’m more focused on the administrative part,” she said.
“Before, we thought it was a business we liked and it made us money, but now it’s a company that has influence,” Perez said.
They started by renovating their headquarters, they changed their image to become more professional and began to work in a more organized way.
They also bought a laser printer and expanded their package of services to enable them to decorate both inside and outside, create souvenirs and signage, along with such things as vinyl adhesive stickers and other promotional or marketing items for political, advertising and educational campaigns.
She says that their equipment is in use about 70 percent of the time at this point, thus giving them plenty of room to expand.