Teenpreneur of the Year: Buttons By Jordan
The Teenpreneur Award recognizes a young entrepreneur or group, age 19 or younger, committed to advancing at young age the rich tradition of black business achievement.
Unlike his peers who depended upon an allowance for spending money, 13-year-old Jordan Culpepper decided he’d start a business instead. So in 2006, armed with a $500 loan from his parents, Culpepper launched Buttons By Jordan, a company based in Hazel Crest, Illinois, that sells customized promotional buttons. The venture was a perfect fit for Culpepper because the buttons would feature some of his artwork. “We had an African-American art contest here in Chicago and I’ve been the first place winner three times running,” he says. Promotional buttons seemed a natural extension of his talent.
Before starting the business, Culpepper did his homework, making sure the business would be feasible. “A business of buttons is a recession-proof business,” he says. Unlike promotional items such as t-shirts, which come in various sizes and may vary in popularity based on the weather and the seasons, “I can sell buttons year around without having to spend extra money on supplies to change their size,” Culpepper adds.
Culpepper credits his parents for suggesting some designs and helping him identify different markets to sell his buttons to, particularly one of his biggest clients to date – author and broadcaster Tavis Smiley. “My dad heard a radio announcement for Tavis Smiley’s new book so we looked up his office in Los Angeles and sent some samples,” Culpepper recalls. “A week later, he called and ordered 500 buttons.” Culpepper’s product impressed Smiley so much that he later ordered 5,000 more buttons to give out at his State of the Black Union conference in 2008.
Culpepper’s buttons have been featured at political functions, celebrations, and school activities. Businesses have also used them for advertising. Despite his success – in 2008, he grossed $7,000 in revenues – Culpepper is looking ahead to high school and eventually college, where he wants to explore a career in the field of science. Having achieved his goal of making extra money, Culpepper is now most focused on helping customers express themselves. “When you do buttons you can tie into customers’ personal feelings and then they can wear [their feelings] on a button and everyone’s happy,” he says.
Why is your promotional buttons company the best company out there?
Because I can identify more markets than people who make, say, t-shirts. And it would cost them more money to change their designs. I can just go into the computer and change the design for no extra money and still please the customer.
What do you think sets you apart from competitors?
Age. Most people say it’s a cute business just because I’m a kid. But once they’ve seen the people I’ve sold to they address me in adult terms.
Do you have any words of advice for people who are also thinking about starting businesses?
Try to reach people where they are.
What can Black Enterprise readers learn from you?
I’d say follow what you know best. Whatever you like to do, you can make money with it.
What’s a recent challenge you’ve faced?
Because of the economy there have been fewer customers. Before the stock market crash, there were more customers because people could spend more money but now money’s tight and they have to worry about staples instead of buttons.
How have you dealt with that?
Because the business is supply and demand, we lowered our prices and gave certain people like friends and family members discounts so they may be able to buy more buttons and support a cause that they may be trying to raise money for.