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Big Frog Custom T-Shirts business fits Jason Billie

Tribal business owner Jason Billie poses in his Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More store located at 1614 Sheridan St. in Hollywood.
Tribal business owner Jason Billie poses in his Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More store located at 1614 Sheridan St. in Hollywood.

HOLLYWOOD — Jason Billie went from broker to business owner in April when he opened the Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More store at 1614 Sheridan St. in Hollywood.

The former printing broker and Seminole Gaming Tribal Career Development Program graduate felt the need to change direction after his business partner Bill Sinclair lost his battle with cancer.

“We worked together for nine years. Before he passed he told me to open a store,” Billie said. “He taught me to work smarter, not harder.”

Because of his familiarity with the printing industry, Billie believed he could successfully transition into a retail printing business. In 2014, he searched for a franchise to capitalize on his skills and found Big Frog Custom T-Shirts Inc. Once he met founders Leeward J. Bean, Tina Bacon-DeFrece and Ron DeFrece, Billie signed on the dotted line.

“I felt comfortable with them,” he said. “It felt like the right place to be and the right people to be working with.”

Founded in 2008, the company has 63 franchised stores nationwide and ranks 485th on the 2015 Entrepreneur.com Franchise 500 list. Each Big Frog store follows the same business model: custom printed apparel with no minimum quantity and no design or setup fees. Most orders are printed on the spot or within 24 hours.

Billie said it took about nine months to find the right location and build it out. He chose the Westlake Commons shopping plaza, which is anchored by a Publix grocery store, for its convenient location and ample foot traffic.

“They give you all the tools you need and don’t hide anything,” Billie said. “Literally, they give you a store in a box.”

The sounds of a frog’s ribbit greet customers as they walk in the store, where they find green walls lined with T-shirts in every color and style adorned with sample artwork. A bamboo feature wall helps complete the ambiance. Billie and his customers design artwork together at two computer stations at the front of the store.

In the back, a large tabletop Brother printer makes high-quality, on-demand printing possible.

The machine uses the direct-to-garment printing method, in which the ink is incorporated into the fabric instead of being placed on top of it. Because there is no vinyl in the ink, the design can only be seen, not felt. The machine prints one shirt at a time and can complete about 35 per hour.

“It’s a cost-efficient way to print,” he said.

Billie said he recently finished printing 600 T-shirts for the 2015 Big Cypress Indian Day celebration. He fulfilled the order in a day and a half.

Billie used to act as the middleman between customers and printers, but now he prefers the retail setting where he interacts directly with customers and controls the order from start to finish. He enjoys the perks of being his own boss but also appreciates the ongoing support from the corporate office and the online forums where franchisees share ideas.

Marketing is an important component of any business, so Billie actively posts on Facebook, advertises on Google, Yahoo and Yext, and sends email blasts to customers. He is an active member of the Greater Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and networks continuously.

Billie said he cooperates with the community of stores in the Westlake Commons shopping plaza on joint promotions and has given local schools free T-shirts, including more than 100 to Olson Middle School and Hollywood Hills High School bands.

At Hollywood Hills High, where his daughter Carissa Billie, 18, is a senior, he offered to make the cheerleader squad, or any group at school, T-shirts for them to sell. The group will pocket 25 percent of the profits with zero expenses if they take him up on the offer.

Billie said he works hard so he can build a family business and set a good example for his children.

“The end game is to give [the business] to my kids,” said the single father of four. “They need to have the sense that you have to work.”

Billie advises anyone interested in launching a business to research it well and have a plan.

“Do your due diligence,” he said. “Don’t put the responsibility of getting something done in someone else’s hands. If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

 

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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