Doing the right thing via value-based business
Frank Brown’s Minuteman Press location may be part of a nearly 1,000-member franchise, but it has its own claim to fame. It is the only Black-owned union print shop in the country, and it’s situated right here in Minneapolis on the corner of Hennepin and Colfax avenues.
But Brown isn’t resting on making history to keep the business afloat. In less than two years after taking over, he’s used his business acumen to grow his location into a million-dollar business. The MSR caught up with the longtime entrepreneur to discover his secrets for success and what inspired him to get into the printing business.
MSR: What inspired you to open a print shop?
Frank Brown: I’ve been in printing for 30 years. I was working for a printing company out in Shakopee, the largest printing company in the world. The company had this lady that had been there for about 23 years that was training men how to run the presses, and they were paying the men more than they were paying her. That didn’t sit right with me.
I had been printing out of my basement for a few years, so I decided to buy a business and start to run a value-based business.
MSR: What is your main product?
FB: We’re part of a franchise. What anybody wants printed, we can get. Mostly, because we’re union, we do a lot of political printing — lawn signs, campaigns, etc. We print a lot for African Americans that run for oﬃce.
MSR: What makes you stand out?
FB: We’re not only the only Black-owned print shop in Minnesota, but we’re also the only Black-owned union print shop in the country. I was also the fastest growing Minuteman Press in the country. When I bought this company, sales were around $200K. In two-and-a-half years, I got them over $1 million.
MSR: How do you see your business impacting the community?
FB: We pay livable wages. When I bought the business, it was a husband and wife running the place. I hired employees [and] made it a union business. I started employees oﬀ at $12 an hour. When livable wages came out at $15/hour, I went back to the [Graphic Communications] Union myself and I told them I wanted to pay my employees $15/hour.
When Minneapolis’s Sick and Safe Time came out, I went to the union and added that to the contract and was a part of the fight to get Sick and Safe Time Ordinance passed in Minneapolis.
I hire people with records. I don’t think having a record should get in the way of having a job. I support businesses that support my community, or I support other African American businesses. That’s the only way we’re going to build our community is if we support each other.
MSR: What has been your biggest challenge in running a business so far?
FB: I think the biggest challenge is finding good employees. I have a pretty good team put together right now, but it took me four years to get there. With unemployment so low, it’s tough to find good employees. That’s one of the reasons we pay $17/hour right now.
MSR: What’s the most rewarding part of running your own business?
FB: Being able to give back to the community is something I like to do. I like printing, and being able to use this as a tool or resource to give back to the community is setting an example.
MSR: What’s your vision and goal for your business?
FB: I want to own my own business, grow, get more equipment and provide more jobs. [I want] to get into the assembly and mailing market more and be able to hire people to do basic skills stuﬀ from North Minneapolis.
But, if I had to choose just one goal, it’s really to change the way people do business. I want to show that a business can be ethical, pay livable wages, have all these standards, and still be successful.
MSR: You’d also like to open up a shop in North Minneapolis. How do you see gentrification impacting you?
FB: I believe economic development is happening in North Minneapolis. It’s tough, because you hear arguments on both sides. I’m not one to stand in the way of progress. The bad thing is [that lack of] aﬀordability will be going with it. It’s a tough problem for the people of the city council to deal with.
Everybody in North Minneapolis is saying that “We don’t have enough jobs and nobody is moving their businesses up here.” Well, we need that development, and it’s going to happen, and it should happen. Hopefully, it will provide enough good-paying jobs so that if the rent goes up, people can aﬀord it.
MSR: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
FB: The best advice is to make sure you have a big enough market for the thing that you’re trying to do. If you don’t have a big enough market and a plan and vision, then it will be extremely challenging.
MSR: What kind of legacy you want to leave behind?
FB: The legacy I want to leave behind is the fact that a business with ethical values can be successful. Just imagine all businesses not extracting from the community, but giving back to the community.
I went to a Jesuit school when I got my MBA from Seattle University. They taught us that the stakeholders in your business are your customers, the owners, and the employees. I thought of a fourth one that they didn’t teach us about, and that’s the community.
If you have a business that’s giving back to the community by paying livable wages, providing good jobs and benefits, then you’re doing the right thing. Imagine if all companies did that. And not only that, imagine if companies supported other companies.
Value-based business is the legacy I want to live behind. Everybody has a printer, but not everybody has a printer that’s giving back.
Frank Brown’s Minuteman Press franchise is located at 2101 Hennepin Avenue, Suite 112 in Uptown Minneapolis. For more info, visit mpuptown.com.
Chris Juhn is a contributing photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.