Jim and Kelly Sullivan stand outside the White House, where they were recently recognized by President Joe Biden as Massachusetts’ winners of the Small Business Persons of the Year award.
Reminder Publishing submitted photo
AGAWAM — From their humble beginnings in a one-car garage in Chicopee to an audience at the White House with President Joe Biden, Jim and Kelly Sullivan have steered Millennium Press through a global financial crisis and a pandemic, and were recently recognized among the most admired business people in the country.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has named the Southwick couple its 2023 Small Business Persons of the Year for Massachusetts. The owners of Millennium Press were among 50 SBA winners across the country Biden saluted for their accomplishments during a recent ceremony in the Rose Garden.
“It was awesome. It’s something you never think would happen. It was incredible and humbling,” said Kelly Sullivan.
The Sullivans launched their garage-based business in 1989 with a two-color printing press and a Macintosh computer. They had around 10 clients, running the operation at night after working for Jim’s father during the day in his Holyoke print shop.
They later moved their business from Chicopee to the Agawam Industrial Park, where they now have 16 employees and some 200 clients. Millennium Press is a full-service shop, printing everything from business cards and direct mail advertising to annual reports and other high-end, six-color jobs. The business also offers binding and graphic design services.
For a while, everything was going well for the Southwick couple. The company was seeing increased sales year over year, and the future looked bright. Then came the financial meltdown of 2008 and the first potentially catastrophic threat to the business. The couple considered shuttering the shop but chose to fight on — consolidating debt and refinancing assets, helped by $3 million dollars in SBA loans, which have been repaid.
After surviving the global crisis, Millennium saw another decade of growth until it skidded to a halt again when COVID-19 struck in 2019. The Sullivans lost 75% of their customers during the global state of emergency, dropping from 200 to 50 clients. As sales plummeted, the business laid off most of its 18 employees, keeping a skeleton staff to work with essential clients like those in healthcare.
“It was extremely scary because you just didn’t know day to day what was going to happen. The worst part for us was our employees, trying to make sure they were going to come out whole. We were very worried about them,” said Kelly Sullivan.
Millennium was able to survive by turning once again to the SBA and its Paycheck Protection Program. They received $550,000 in loans to keep paying their workforce during the COVID-19 shutdowns.
The Sullivans also used the loan to fund health insurance for employees laid off and collecting unemployment.
The couple became especially thrifty during the pandemic, cutting costs wherever possible. This was difficult because the business had to offer deep discounts to clients to keep them as customers. Millennium would have been sunk, they said, if the government didn’t float billions of dollars in loans to American businesses.
“If they didn’t have those programs, it would have been hard to keep going. We blew through funds set aside for an emergency. If we didn’t receive SBA money, we probably would not have survived,” said Kelly Sullivan.
Now, things are back to normal and Millennium saw record sales last year, its highest grossing year ever. The couple has now guided their business through two seismic economic disasters and is pressing on.
“We’re a great company. Everybody really likes to work with us. We just treat our customers like family,” said Kelly Sullivan.