About this story: Galesburg has a small, but growing, community of young entrepreneurs. From restaurant to retail to the service industry, these business owners are bringing a fresh outlook and new ideas to the business scene. In the next several months, we’ll profile a different business owner each week in our Sunday business section. Do you know any movers and shakers we should meet? Email features editor Robyn Gautschy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GALESBURG — Jason Paulsgrove has been working in law enforcement since he was in college, and in 2004, he checked another goal off his to-do list: He opened his own business, Midwest Uniform Supply, at the age of 24. He started out selling police and medical uniforms, but soon switched entirely to medical uniforms.
“I have been fortunate in the timing of my business,” he said. “The medical industry has been and still is growing rapidly, and the demand for the products I sell is increasing.”
Paulsgrove’s business has grown quickly to meet the demand. He moved to a larger location only six months in, and moved again in 2015 to the current building at Seminary and Losey streets. He’s also opened — and expanded — a location in Peoria, and maintained a steady business online and with the store’s mobile division.
The key to his success?
“Hard work, and never stop learning,” he said.
Read on as Paulsgrove shares how he balances his two careers, how he applied his law enforcement background to small business ownership, and his advice to other young entrepreneurs.
Register-Mail: First, some background on you: Where did you grow up and go to school? How old are you? What other jobs have you had before opening Midwest Uniform Supply?
Jason Paulsgrove: I was born and raised in Galesburg. After high school I went to Carl Sandburg College and then transferred to Monmouth College, where I majored in political science. I’m 37 years old. I worked at Radio Shack in high school and college and also at Shopko as loss prevention. While I was still in college I was hired as a part-time officer at Abingdon Police Department.
RM: You still work as a police officer. What made you decide to open a uniform shop? How did you make the transition from police officer to business owner?
JP: I always had a goal of opening my own business; I just wasn’t sure what it would be. I started looking at opening a uniform store while I was in college and my family had some commercial space in Galesburg that was vacant. Not long after I was hired at the Galesburg Police Department I started looking at the idea again of opening a uniform store. I was assigned to second shift, which gave me most of the day to work on starting the business. I originally had police and medical uniforms in the store, and about six months in I began to shift toward only medical uniforms.
RM: What lessons or knowledge did you learn in law enforcement that you were able to apply to your new venture?
JP: Police work teaches you how to communicate with people. Working at a small police department first, where you were the only officer on duty, forced you to learn how to de-escalate a situation by talking.
RM: And now, how do you balance these two different jobs?
JP: Balancing the two can be difficult. My day starts with an early trip to the gym around 6:30 a.m., then to the office until 2:30 p.m., and then to the police department until 11 p.m. Police work is never as simple as an eight-hour shift — there are many days where training and court appearances are required during a time you normally would be off work. The key for me to balance them both has been a great team at the office. I have several employees who have been with the business for years and make it easier for me to be able to leave every day for the police department.
RM: How has Midwest Uniform Supply changed and grown over the years?
JP: After six months in business I moved to the second location at 240 S. Seminary St., as we needed more space. Three years into the business, I acquired a second location in Peoria. In 2010 I moved the Peoria store to a much larger space and purchased two adjoining buildings in Galesburg to expand this location. In 2015 we moved in to our current building at Seminary and Losey. Recently our online sales have become a more important part of the business, as well as our mobile, on-site sales.
RM: What do you think is the secret to your business’ growth and success?
JP: No secrets — hard work, and never stop learning. I have been fortunate in the timing of my business. The medical industry has been and still is growing rapidly, and the demand for the products I sell is increasing. In today’s economy you have to always re-evaluate your business and find ways to save the customers money and, maybe more important now, is saving them time. You have to have the products they want available to them when they want them, at a competitive price. Offering free and expedited shipping today is a must. It is possible for a local small business to compete with any other competition, even those like Wal-Mart and Amazon.
RM: I hadn’t really thought about uniforms as a fashion statement, but your website has so many neat colors, patterns and styles. What are your best-selling items? Do you have anything new that you and your customers are especially excited about?
JP: Medical Uniforms are now just as much a part of the fashion industry as any other ready-to-wear items. New designers are leaving fashion brands to come work in the industry. We are seeing designers from top brands like Adidas coming to design scrubs now. Vera Bradley recently released a new line, like medical uniforms designed with inspiration from her bag brand. We attend fashion shows now in Dallas, Los Angeles as well as a yearly national show that will be in Nashville this year. The biggest launch of this year has to be Vera Bradley — that is a name that many of our customers already know and relate to.
RM: What is something a lot of people don’t know about Midwest Uniform Supply?
JP: With our two locations, we are the largest independent retailer of medical uniforms in Illinois. I currently serve as president of the Uniform Retailers Association. This is a national trade association that represents independent uniform retailers.
RM: What are the upsides and downsides to owning your own business?
JP: It’s really hard to list all of the upsides. My family has always been small business owners and this has always been my goal. I can’t imagine not being involved in a business like this. The freedoms created by owning your own business have to be at the top of the list — the ability to have control over the direction of the work aspect of your life.
It’s not always easy or fun. There are many long nights and early mornings. Finding employees is the most difficult part of the business. It’s not uncommon to look for moths and conduct dozens of interviews before finding the right fit.
There is some stress when you realize there is nobody else in line after you when there is a problem. When you know a job needs to be done, in the end it is your responsibility.
RM: What is your advice to other entrepreneurs, especially to young people like yourself who are just getting started?
JP: There was a Harvard business professor who wrote about entrepreneurship, Howard Stevenson. He had a quote that always stuck with me: “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”
RM: What’s next for you? Any new projects or ideas in the works?
JP: I have two new projects in the works for Midwest Uniform Supply. Hopefully in the near future we will have some more information to release as we begin to look for new employees to help move these projects forward. Recently we launched a new website just for men’s scrubs: www.guysinscrubs.com is focused on providing the growing number of men in the medical uniform industry with the best selection of uniforms available online.
RM: Tell us about your life outside of work — what do you like to do for fun? Any clubs or hobbies? Family or pets?
JP: I enjoying golfing and boating, and I live just outside of Galesburg with my girlfriend and my yellow lab Jake. I have been participating in the steering committee for the new CEO program and am very excited to see that start next fall.
RM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JP: I’ve always said Galesburg is a great place to start and run a business. There is a lot of opportunity in our town. I like watching others who see this as well and are stepping up and making things happen. Just last night I had a conversation with a local young business owner who is in a growth stage as well. That guy was fired up about his new venture and is a great example of how much can be done in our town.
WANT TO GO?
Midwest Uniform Supply
Address: 627 N. Seminary St., Galesburg
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Phone: (309) 344-8520
Web: www.midwestuniformsupply.com and on Facebook @midwestuniformsupply
Robyn Gautschy: (309) 343-7181, ext. 265; email@example.com