Jim Garrison, Logistix Media Services
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you just quit your job with no plan for what you would do next? In this episode Sanjay talks with Jim Garrison who did just that. Thirty-two years later, Jim has a successful business and reflects on the twists, turns, and lessons he learned along the way. He also has great advice if you are thinking of making the same jump: “Don’t be afraid and start today.”
Episode 34 – Jim Garrison, Logistix Media Services
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Jim Garrison started Logistix Media Services in 1990. Originally, his team provided sound systems for outdoor events but eventually moved into doing large screen video projection which, at the time was in its infancy. Since founding his company 32 years ago, Logistix has produced events that included presidents of the United States and countless celebrities. Here to share his business story and what he’s learned in the past 32 years as a business owner is Jim Garrison!
Jim, welcome to the show.
[00:01:23] Jim Garrison: Thank you for having me. Thank you.
[00:01:24] Sanjay Parekh: It'd be great, first of all, I got to say you've been in business for a long time. I think you're on the longer end of the guests that we've had on the show. So, I'd love to talk about your early days first and talk about what got you here to doing events. What did you do before then and how did you get to the point of starting an events company?
[00:01:42] Jim Garrison: Sure. I was in retail for 17 years and I was just done with it. It was no longer a challenge. It wasn't fun. It was a job. So, I did just kind of up and quit one day and I did not know exactly what I was going to do but ultimately ended up buying some outdoor sound system PA, I had a little bit of a background in AV and audio and stuff like that growing up. And so, we started providing sound systems for outdoor events. And once again, this is back in ‘90 and so projection, computers, in some cases didn't even exist, in many cases, were in their infancy. So, the good thing about it is, as you mentioned, when I was younger, 32 years ago I got to learn with everyone else.
As those systems came online, the technology advanced, I got to learn with everyone else. So, I lucked out in that regard. I fell into it so there's that.
[00:02:34] Sanjay Parekh: Okay let me make sure I understand this. So, when you went into work and quit, you had no idea what you were going to do next?
[00:02:41] Jim Garrison: That's correct.
Yep. I remember I called my supervisor and I said, I'm done. And he goes, I'll be right there. And this is six o'clock in the morning too, by the way. And I told him, I said, you know what, I'm going to wake up tomorrow and it's going to be 20 years from now, and I will be not happy. And I said, I'm done.
[00:03:00] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Did they try to keep you there? Did they try to throw money at you and things like that they keep you?
[00:03:05] Jim Garrison: No. What's funny is he called me a name, but he was joking. He said, I should have done the very same thing you are doing now. And so, there's that. Yeah.
[00:03:17] Sanjay Parekh: So, I guess he was wishing you well at that point.
[00:03:20] Jim Garrison: He was, yeah. There were no bad feelings at all. None.
[00:03:22] Sanjay Parekh: That's great. So how long did it take you from that point to figure out what you were going to do next?
[00:03:28] Jim Garrison: It took me about a year and a half to figure exactly out that, okay, this is what I'm loving. This is what my passion is, and this is what I'm going to do.
[00:03:36] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, you didn't have a background in sound systems or anything else like that when you decided to go into this?
[00:03:43] Jim Garrison: I had a band back when I was a kid, and I was the audio guy and I learned a lot of stuff there, especially sound engineering. And so, I learned, I didn't have anything formal training, but I did have a pretty good background of how to make systems work.
[00:03:58] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So that's a great point I think for listeners is that you can get into things and not know anything, and you just learn along the way.
[00:04:00] Jim Garrison: Yes.
[00:04:02] Sanjay Parekh: So, in doing this, is this your first time doing an entrepreneurial venture, starting a company on your own or?
[00:04:14] Jim Garrison: You know what, I'd had a couple of other things. Photography thing, but it was always a side gig, as you mentioned, as far as what the topic is here, a side gig. It wasn't primary source of income, but it was a side gig.
So, I did that, and I learned a lot of things as far as just running your own business as opposed to being in the corporate environment. But as far as Logistics Media this was not designed to be a side gig. This was going to be primary income and so, failure was not an option.
[00:04:44] Sanjay Parekh: So, did you have in your family, was there any examples of entrepreneurs, anybody else in the family that you got to see do this kind of thing?
[00:04:52] Jim Garrison: Yeah, that's a really good question. My immediate family, no, no one. But I look back to both my grandfathers and both of those guys were entrepreneurs in the purest sense. One of 'em was what I would call a musician inventor, and the other one had a several small businesses that he just, that's how he made his income.
In some cases, it was carpentry. He had a, believe it or not, a saw sharpening business, a hand saw. And it's you couldn't go buy these tools. You had to keep them sharp and keep using them because it cost too much to keep buying. So, he made a lot of money off of sharpening saws.
There were no power tools, by the way, back then. So, there was that.
[00:05:36] Sanjay Parekh: That’s so interesting. Going into this, did you have a background in business and like understanding like how to set up everything? Like how did you figure some of that stuff out?
[00:05:47] Jim Garrison: I barely squeaked through high school. I actually had a scholarship available to me for music. And I thought, what am I going to do with that? And so, I didn't go to college at all. I went to work and the one big takeaway from retail and the business that I was in there was payroll. You had to learn that. So, you got a pretty good exposure to running a business even though it wasn't yours. You certainly were exposed to all that stuff. I think my biggest thing was, without a doubt, learning customer service, and that's what it's all about, period.
[00:06:25] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. So, let's talk about your customers and your client base. So, you're, basically coming into this industry, even though it's a nascent industry and there's not much going on yet, but you're coming into this industry, you don't have any clients. How do you find your first clients and how do you build your customer base?
[00:06:42] Jim Garrison: So, this is funny. The biggest event I did with the audio system was a charity fundraiser thing, and they were going to be having a big, gigantic sponsor dinner. And some of the sponsors at this dinner were going to be companies like HP, Accenture, Bank of America and things like that. And so, the client comes up to me and says we've heard there's a way of doing this large screen projection, and what we would like to do is put the logos of all of our sponsors up on this large screen projection. And I'm going, oh yeah, I got that. Yeah. No.
[00:07:20] Sanjay Parekh: So, you didn't know what they were talking about?
[00:07:22] Jim Garrison: Oh, not a clue. I knew what they were talking about, but how to get there, no. So, I called up some friends that I knew were in the AV business and back then the biggest thing was you were still using 35-millimeter slides.
There was no projection at all. And so, I told the client, I said, oh yeah, we can do that, and we can put the logos up there and all that. And so, we pulled it off. It was an awesome event and that was actually where I fell in love with the business. I'm going, this is a blast. I love this. As I mentioned, customers like Hewlett Packard, Accenture, Bank of America, all of a sudden, they're knocking on my door calling me, hey, we saw what you did at the fundraiser.
We have a meeting coming up and we want to do the same thing. So, I'm off and running now, and that's where I got introduced to my first set of clients. And that's not a bad top tier level of client to start with.
[00:08:12] Sanjay Parekh: So, you got very kind of lucky, I guess with that first kind of non-profit.
[00:08:17] Jim Garrison: Yep. Just lucky. Yep.
[00:08:18] Sanjay Parekh: So how did you pull off that projection? Was it 35? Did you get like 35-millimeter projectors?
[00:08:23] Jim Garrison: No there were actually video projectors back then. And instead of PowerPoint, there was a piece of software called Astound. And so, I actually made, I handmade all of the logos using the software, and then we plugged a computer into the video projector and projected that, and we did not have just one, but we had two gigantic projection screens there that, like I said, that was my first introduction to it.
[00:08:51] Sanjay Parekh: So, you had to hand make the logos? They didn't have like files for you or anything?
[00:08:56] Jim Garrison: There were no, they didn't exist. It just you had printing material, you had the artwork, but there was nothing digital. Nothing digital. Nothing to scan.
[00:09:05] Sanjay Parekh: So that, Yeah, so that's the classic, as an entrepreneur, as a founder, you do whatever it takes to be successful. Exactly. And so, you did it yourself. You're not an artist, right?
[00:09:15] Jim Garrison: I'm fairly good now. Back then, I could draw stick people.
[00:09:19] Sanjay Parekh: But was this like your first time doing this kind of thing, like making all those?
[00:09:23] Jim Garrison: It was, yeah. And I had to learn this stuff. I had to learn the software before I could even start doing this.
[00:09:28] Sanjay Parekh: So, I imagine it was a lot of late nights. It was a lot of time.
[00:09:33] Jim Garrison: It was, but it was fun. I enjoyed it. It was fun.
[00:09:35] Sanjay Parekh: Okay, so let's talk about the event side of the business. because I think this is question for a lot of people. Like thinking about businesses like this, it's really hard to understand like what do these kinds of events generate in terms of revenue for a company like you? Is it thousands of dollars? Is it tens, does it depend on the client size or the event size? What is it that kind of drives how you pitch these events to be able to get them on as clients?
[00:10:00] Jim Garrison: Sure. The first thing's going to be location. Where's it going to be? That's going to be a big budget factor right there. The other thing will be the size of the group. A lot of our meetings are 500, 1,000, 2,000 people. So those are pretty big size budgets there. Yeah, a budget for just the AV. I'm not talking about flying them there, getting them there, feeding them, a hotel. None of that. I'm just AV, whatever's in that ballroom or convention center. Those budgets are easily 150,000 to a quarter of a million and sometimes quickly approaching seven figures. Just depends on the group and how many days and how large of a group it is.
[00:10:39] Sanjay Parekh: Right, right. Looking back on your career, like, obviously now, 32 years into it, you've figured out how to price it right and everything. Thinking back to the beginning, how did you figure it out in the early days of how to price these things and looking back on it, were you doing it wrong?
[00:10:55] Jim Garrison: No. What was funny is I nailed it. I'm still, I look back and I'm going, how did I do that? But it was funny because, after a while you kind of get an idea of what stuff costs. I know what a technician costs, I know what renting a sound system costs. I know what renting this stuff costs.
So, you can put a budget together pretty quick. And I was certainly not used to seeing those kinds of numbers. Coming out of the retail, I'm going like it's not, this is not a $5 item here. And I remember providing my first quote to one of my clients, and in my head, I'm going, there is no way they're going to pay this.
There's just no way. And I kind of slide it across the table and they're going, Oh, okay. That's better than we thought. I'm going, geez.
[00:11:37] Sanjay Parekh: So, did that make you feel like, oh man, I underpriced this?
[00:11:40] Jim Garrison: You know what, no, it the fact that you could always make that adjustment next time for the next client.
But for this time, all I wanted to do was, I wanted the gig, I wanted the job. And I wanted to be ballpark. I wanted to be competitive. At this point I just wanted the job. I just wanted to do it and pull it off and put one more job under my belt.
[00:11:59] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great.
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[00:12:23] Sanjay Parekh: Let's talk about the job in general and what it impacts you as, because you are in a high stress job, right? These things, like all the things have to go right and one thing goes wrong, it's noticeable like everybody sees it and everybody's wondering about who's running this thing.
So how do you manage the stress? Of not just running the business but also of the events themselves. Because there's really two sides of this, because you're the founder and owner of the business and you've got to make sure that you've got enough revenue to pay everybody and keep everything going. But then when you actually get to the event itself, you’ve got to make sure everything goes right and if anything goes wrong, you got to make sure nobody notices that it went wrong.
[00:13:04] Jim Garrison: That's the best question of all time. It really is. And that's all about live events. This is live TV.
There's no do-overs. You don't get to walk out on stage and say, you know what? We're going to start this PowerPoint over again. And so, everybody sit back and we're going to… You can't do that. That doesn't happen. So, you are a hundred percent right. There is a certain degree of stress. I thrive on it. It's fun.
But if you're prepared, if you've got the most brilliant technicians surrounding you, that helps a lot. In the AV business, the biggest thing you can do is redundancy. You don't have just one backup. You've got two backups. And so, if you've got a projector standing by, you got two projectors standing by, already dialed in, ready to go, if there's a problem. And yeah, you don't want, because yeah, if something goes wrong, they're all looking back, like what's going on back there? But so, redundancy is the big thing. And then just starting out with the right folks, the right techs. The technicians that I work with, they are unbelievable. A lot of them are Emmy winners in audio, Grammy winners in different things.
A lot of them have degrees in engineering for video production. They're all brilliant. Here, this was funny. I am not qualified to work for me, I'm not joking. But, so what, actually what I, in the beginning of the business, I started out as a tech. And that's where I kind of inserted myself into the event.
And now I'm pretty much a producer. That's what I do. I'm the guy back on the tech deck, the tech table, that's got the headphones on and say, roll video. Let's do this. Bring him out here. Where are we at on PowerPoint? I'm the one doing all the talking to whole crew and the meeting's taking place. So that's where I fit in now as a producer as opposed to technician.
[00:14:52] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, but as you were working up and building, this you've worked in all of the positions, so you understand all the stuff that's going on.
[00:15:04] Jim Garrison: Yep. I may not know how to get there, but I do know what looks good. I know what looks right, and I do know, like for instance, if it can happen Yeah. But yeah, the technical side, I leave that to folks that are much more talented than I am.
[00:15:16] Sanjay Parekh: And I think that's a very important thing that you have touched on, is that a lot of times founders don't necessarily understand all of the parts of their business. And I think it leaves this question as to how do you manage a business if you don't understand it? And fortunately, it sounds like you're not in that case.
[00:15:33] Jim Garrison: What's funny is everybody says, do you read at all? They're usually talking books or whatever, and I go, Yeah, I read manuals, I read stuff. How do things work? I do, I just keep training myself in that regard. I do not get complacent. In the AV world, technology changes dramatically every six months, and that's no joke. Every six months. You've got to stay up with it. And as you pointed out, I'm probably a little bit more senior than a lot of folks.
And so, the expectation is you better know your stuff because you know, maybe a youngster may be passing you up and I'm, nope, that's not going to happen. He's going to have to run to keep up.
[00:16:11] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, let's extend this conversation into balancing stress and the demands of all that you're doing and family life as well as travel, I think is in this too. It sounds like your team travels to events all over the place and that's a lot of time away from home. How do you balance all those things and make sure that life isn’t all work?
[00:16:31] Jim Garrison: That evolved into where I am now as far as that perfect balance. Initially, you're just immersed in, in working and making this business a success. So that's how that is. But now in my golden years, I get to pick and choose the events. The ones that I know we’re going to be a good fit with the client. So, at this stage, and probably for the last 10, 15 years, I have what I consider to be the perfect balance. One third business, one third recreation, one third family.
And not in that order, but I do think that I have perfect balance. What's funny is I do protect each and every one of those 30%, 33% with everything. And I can't, it’s like I, I do not, If I'm focused on business, I'm focused on business. If I'm focused on travel or at recreation, I am. And same thing with family. I do not let anything interrupt.
[00:17:26] Sanjay Parekh: So, you're 32 years into this business now, from when you started. How long did it take you to actually get to that point?
[00:17:34] Jim Garrison: It probably took about 10 years. Yeah, I will have to say that after two years in the business, I could actually breathe a sigh of relief. I think for maybe a young entrepreneur, I know for the first two years, I saved every penny. I did not live just within my means. I lived way within my means. Especially in the event business you don't have a paycheck coming in every week, right? It's not like you've got a retail store where somebody's coming in and I'll make about a thousand dollars a day or whatever. You don't know. And so, I saved everything. And so, after two years I'm going, Okay, I got this now. And then you can start lightening up a little. But I think 10 years is probably about what it took for me to get comfortable and start slicing up that time with the family, business and recreation.
[00:18:22] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Looking back on your history now, is there anything that you did or has happened that you look back and think, I wish I'd done that differently, or if I'd thought about it differently, I'd be in a different place now than I am.
[00:18:36] Jim Garrison: I think everybody who has those feelings and I guess if I really looked at it, I would, but I love where the business is right now. I love where I am right now, and if I were to go back and change something, it would change the outcome, as far as where I am right now. I think you have to go through all that crap and all the mistakes and all the bad choices and all, you have to go through all of that to get to where you are now. And I do like where I am now. Yeah. I might have, at the time, wished I could have changed it looking back in a rear-view mirror. I'm fine. I'm glad the way it all played out.
[00:19:12] Sanjay Parekh: So, let's look in the other direction then through the front windshield. Where do you think you want to have the business be at some point in the future, 10 years, let's call it. I don't know. I don't know how long you intend to keep running this.
[00:19:25] Jim Garrison: That's funny because there's that old saying about if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. And that's so true. And if I'd learned that I think in my twenties, there's no way I would believe that. I think, how could you love your job that much? Really it doesn't make sense. And I do, I love it. It is the most fun of all time. I don't see a retirement through the windshield at all. As long as I've got energy and a breath in me, I'll keep doing this. As long as clients still hire me too. So there’s that.
[00:19:53] Sanjay Parekh: That's the important part. Yeah. So where do you see the business being then in 10 years? Do you see it growing, do you see more events or that same third, third, third?
[00:20:01] Jim Garrison: Yeah. I see it still being the third, third, third. We still get new clients and as we get new ones, old ones roll off. For instance, there may be an event planner with one of our big clients and they retire.
And so, then they've got a new person doing the events for who used to be a client, and then they go find another AV company, and that's just the nature of the business. As we get new clients some of them roll off because of turnover with some of the event planners retiring. So, I see the dynamics of that's still being the same but just different clients maybe down the road.
[00:20:37] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, let's change gears a little bit. In running this business, you've been obviously doing it for quite some time, and you've probably adapted over time. Is there any technology or apps or systems or services that you would recommend to listeners? If they wanted to run an events business, or even if they wanted to run a general kind of business, something that has really helped you manage the business in a better way than you could have done on your own.
[00:21:01] Jim Garrison: Sure. You know what's funny in the, especially the AV business, yeah, they've got some schools that you can go do, trade schools.
I'm not a fan. I think plus you're paying for it. I think if you wanted to, if you wanted to learn something about AV, there's plenty of production companies that are gigantic and especially right now they're looking for people and you can come in and not know a single thing. They'll train you; they will train you and you'll make a living doing it.
And then you'll have exposure to all the different systems. Find out which one you like. Are you an AV person? Are you an audio guy? Do you like projection? You'll get exposed to all that and that'll help you figure out, but the best part is you'll get paid for that. You don't have to go to a school and pay for that experience just to come out with something that's perhaps not useful.
[00:21:49] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. What about in terms of running your business itself? Is there anything that you absolutely rely on that helps you manage the day to day?
[00:21:58] Jim Garrison: Cell phone, no joke.
[00:22:00] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. Super important to be in touch with clients.
[00:22:02] Jim Garrison: There is not one individual tool. There just really isn't. I pick up that phone and I talk directly to the clients. They call me. They know they can get me. They know, every client of mine, I think if you ask them, are probably convinced that they are my only client. Because I do, I just take care of business. I just do, I think it's so important and they know that if they need something, I'll drop whatever's going on and I'm theirs. So, I don't think there's necessary tools that, that will ever replace just good customer service.
[00:22:32] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, you've seen now hundreds, thousands of presentations. Let's give our listeners a little bit of advice, like what have you seen that people should and should not do when they're up on the podium? Like what are some pieces of advice here?
[00:22:48] Jim Garrison: That is, that's a good question. And they've got that survey they ask people, so what's the thing you fear the most? It's always going to be public speaking. And that's then death is right after that.
[00:23:01] Sanjay Parekh: But it's better to be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
[00:23:04] Jim Garrison: Yeah. No kidding on that. Yeah. But I think if you're a presenter I think knowing your presentation, a lot of folks they go, I've done this, and I can just, I'll go out there and I'll just look at my teleprompter and I'll do this. You’ve got to practice it. You just have to, and you got to get really good and comfortable with it. There's nothing that's ever going to replace just rehearsing.
And has much as I, not tooting my own horn but you do have to have the right AV company because you do have to be able to walk out on that stage with some degree of confidence, that everything is going to work. If you're walking out on that stage and you go, I don't want to have much confidence here that I'm going to be able to advance my PowerPoint, or my mic isn't working well here. Crap. Then all of a sudden, you're messed up in the head. So, then all of a sudden you got a problem out there.
[00:23:51] Sanjay Parekh: So yeah. You distract yourself with that. Have you ever had to deal with presenters or anybody that are like skittish about getting on stage?
Have you had to coax them onto the stage? Like what do you do in those situations, to make sure that they can have their best foot forward?
[00:24:08] Jim Garrison: Yes. So, every now and then we'll have rehearsals and they'll be a person that kind of stands out as needing a little bit of handholding. And that's where I come in. I'll go over to them, and I say, hey, let's try this one again. And then so I get on the headset and tell the guys, okay, let's do this and let's go through this, the rehearsal again. And just that in itself helps that person feel comfortable. Oh, okay, so I am, I'm not that far off the mark. Oh, we're just going to rehearse this one thing again and we're good. And a lot of times the hand holding and just a little, "You did perfect. It was awesome." And that's all they need to know. And I'm not blowing smoke. It's like, Yeah, you did really well. I know how stressful this is, and you did perfect. And so, I think there's that.
[00:24:52] Sanjay Parekh: So, it's just confidence building at the end of the day, all you've got to do. To get them to line. Okay. Last question. What would you tell somebody that's thinking about taking this leap, quitting their job of 17 years or whatever it is taking the leap into either a side hustle or full-time business? What advice would you give somebody like that?
[00:25:09] Jim Garrison: Don't be afraid. Just do it. I see so many folks that would like to, and I guarantee, it is scary. There is no question about it, but the rewards, the fun-ness, if that's a word, is just the biggest payoff of all time. It's don't be afraid, just try it.
Plus, here's the other thing. I look at some of the folks that I did surround myself with that do the very same thing and they were entrepreneurs. Their business ends up being a success. They're smart people, but I don't consider them to be any smarter than the average person.
So, it's not like they've got this fountain of intelligence going on. And so that would be my advice. Folks, don't be afraid. Do your homework. Be disciplined. Go to work. You can't lay in bed all day. I get up at six o'clock every morning and I have for 32 years. I get up, it's time to go to work and I do.
If you're going to do it, do it right. Do your homework. And don't be afraid to visit with competitors. It's funny because even though there's lots of competition in the AV business, we are all in the same industry, the same circle, and it’s fun sharing stories and then that way I find out, oh, so it's not just me. So, this exists everywhere, so there's so many different resources you can get ahold of out there. But yeah. And you asked about if I could change something, I would've started earlier. So, there's that.
[00:26:32] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. That, that seems like a common one for most people. Jim, this has been great. Where can our listeners find and connect with? In case they have AV needs that they need you for.
[00:26:41] Jim Garrison: For sure. Logistixmedia.com. And that's the website. And then on Instagram, it's pretty easy. Logistixmedia on Instagram, and same thing for Facebook Logistixmedia.
[00:26:51] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. Thanks for coming on, Jim.
[00:26:52] Jim Garrison: Thank you so much.