Inside Business: Jeff Morin built a brand from scratch with Coins for Anything

If you work for a major corporation like a McDonald’s or Coca-Cola, brand equity is something you may take for granted – your name and logo are well-known all over the world, and you don’t have to do anything to put yourself on the map. You’re already on it permanently.

If you have to build equity from scratch, though, it’s an incredibly difficult process. Perhaps the hardest part of managing your small business is establishing a reputation – in the beginning, you’re completely unknown, and you have to find a way to put your name out there so people not only know you, but trust you as well. For every success story out there, there are countless failures.

Jeff Morin is one example of success. Morin is the founder of Coins for Anything, a company that creates and manufactures collectible coins. His customers are primarily military members, but the products also appeal to some civilians, both individuals and retailers. The Fredericksburg, Va.-based business began in 2002 and is now thriving, with 28 employees working together under one roof.

Modest beginnings
They say that the best way to come up with an idea for a small business is to immerse yourself in the world, find a real need and respond to it – and sure enough, that’s what Morin did. He was once in the military himself, serving on active duty in the Marine Corps, and during his spare time, he took an interest in collecting coins. He realized he wasn’t alone, as plenty of men and women in the service were interested in the pursuit, which made him curious about turning his hobby into a profitable enterprise.

“I had a lot of time between our assigned tasks, so I did some research on how to start a business,” Morin recalled in a recent interview. “I started reselling military challenge coins on eBay and websites like that. I did that for about six months.”

His small-time operation was going well, and then one day, a mother reached out to him and asked for a military challenge coin for mothers with sons in the Marine Corps. It turned out no one had ever designed one, so Morin did it himself. It ended up being a big hit, and the new coins sold out within hours. Suddenly, he realized there was a market there.

“That’s when I realized that this custom coin business is pretty valuable and can be grown, and I decided to focus on that,” Morin said. “Now, we make coins for some of the biggest corporations and military units around the world.”

From there, Morin’s small idea grew into a larger venture. He has clients everywhere, and business is booming. With that growth comes a need for more employees, more customers and more exposure.

Active recruiting
With only a couple dozen employees, Morin realizes the importance of finding top talent. Workers are the lifeblood of a small business, and he wants to attract the best ones possible. Just as he used e-commerce sites for selling his products in the beginning, he also likes going online to find employees.

“We have used social media for it in the past, but we get a better response from traditional outlets like Monster.com or Craigslist,” Morin said. “Sometimes we will give a $50 or a $100 gift certificate – a sort of finder’s fee – to someone who can refer a quality employee. We have found that the referral process results in better hires than if it’s a stranger off the street who’s applying through an ad.”

Just as important as attracting good employees is keeping them. To that end, Morin holds lots of events geared toward employee engagement – bowling outings, comedy club trips and other fun morale-boosters. He also makes sure to offer robust benefits like health coverage and life insurance to keep his workers feeling financially secure.

Attracting customers
Morin’s business was born online, and it grows online as well. The entrepreneur staunchly believes that networking on the Web is the best way to build a client base, especially in his line of work.

“Basically all we do is advertise online,” he said. “In terms of generating leads for regular clientele, we don’t use a lot of bells and trills.”

Morin sells a specialized product. Most of his employees are members of the military, which is a high-turnover sector. That being the case, he has to be specific as possible with the customers he targets – in other words, cold calling won’t work. Instead, Morin uses the Web to let customers come to him.

“We only use our website,” he said. “We market our website, and people come to us. We don’t have a sales staff – we just have customer sales reps who are fielding incoming calls versus people trying to solicit outgoing.”

Building a brand
Morin has also found tremendous value in using the Internet to generate more exposure for his company, helping to shape public perception of his brand. First and foremost, this means being willing to use social media.

“I have thousands of dollars converted through Facebook monthly,” Morin said. “Because we are in the retail market as well as the custom coin market, whenever we come out with a new product, we take a high-quality photo of it, add it to our online store and post it to our Facebook page with over 50,000 fans. Within minutes, we start seeing online orders being placed for that exact product.”

Search engine optimization is another key strategy. While Morin isn’t currently using a blog for content marketing purposes, he does work with an SEO firm, which he says he’s done for a long time.

“We pay them a monthly fee to help us manage our most converted keywords,” Morin said. “If you go to Google and type in our most popular words like ‘custom coins,’ we typically show up first, second or third, and that’s been a huge sales driver for us.”

Building up brand equity is not an easy process, but Jeff Morin has proven that if you work hard for many years, you can create something from nothing.