Tance Hughes – Founder & CEO, Southern Designs

Tance Hughes is an entrepreneur based in Vidalia, Louisiana. His company, Southern Designs, was started when he was just 17 years old. Through his leadership, the company grew to almost $4 million in revenue in 2016 and was named to the Inc. 5000 list at #558!

Southern Designs is the the 9th fastest-growing company in Louisiana, and yet, they are based out of a town with only 4,299 residents. He was recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 as well.

How did the concept for Southern Designs come about?
We actually started as a screen printing company. I was coaching a pee wee football team and had a used printing press. I started printing shirts for our team, word spread, and it just took off from there.

How was the first year in business?
Exciting! Lots of learning and mistakes, but lots of fun as well. I became very excited about the potential of my company.

What was your marketing strategy?
Well, our company originally was in printing so we were just a local business running a few Facebook posts and cheap newspaper ads. As we’ve grown into the metal decor, we market through Facebook Ads, Google Ads, e-mail promotions, third party sales channels, etc.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We doubled every year for the first three years.

How do you define success?
Happiness in your professional and personal lives.

What is the key to success?
It may sound cliche, but finding what makes you happy. I enjoy a challenge, and when I can overcome the challenge and grow both personally and professionally, I feel as though I have succeeded.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To “get it in writing.”

What are some quotes that you live by?
I don’t really live by many quotes, but I do enjoy Mark Twain’s “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I really believe that everyone needs to travel as often as they can because it’s really helped me open up my mind in my business.

What are some of your favorite books?
Mainly non-fiction books. I really enjoy Good to Great, Jeff Walker’s Launch, and Sell or Be Sold.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Any day that I have to fire an employee is very tough. Once I had to fire a friend and I didn’t have a choice, so it was very difficult because that was a closer relationship. I explained that it was strictly business and luckily we’ve been able to maintain that friendship. I think the person understood why it had to happen, but it makes me physically ill to fire anyone.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Knowing that we are doing the right thing and have integrity in all our pursuits. I really try to ensure that all of our customers, vendors, and suppliers understand that we want what’s best for both sides and that we will do whatever it takes to ensure that happens.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Be patient and read a lot. I have learned so much from reading business books and opening myself up to other concepts that I thought were stupid. You’re not going to take over the world in one day, so be patient and smart with your decisions. Be slow to speak and never assume anything!

Jason Navallo

Jason Navallo is the author of five books: American Dream, Thrive, Never Give Up, Success, and Driven to Succeed. He has an M.B.A. in Human Resource Management from Louisiana State University and lives in NYC.