When he left Lagos, Nigeria, and a longtime profession in media behind in 1999, Jude Arijaje came to America with no job, and with a family to support.
New to Philadelphia, he rented a basement room and worked for two years as a parking lot attendant for $7.50 an hour. Then he got a job as a Century 21 real estate agent in Overbrook through a welfare-to-work program. As he showed and sold homes between 2003 and 2010, he realized that “I was spending a lot of money on printing costs. I thought, ‘If I’m spending so much on paper, why don’t I get into this business?’ ”
That gave Arijaje (pronounced Aree-jah-jay) the idea to buy a Minuteman Press printing franchise while he was still working as a real estate agent. His wife, meanwhile, was studying to become a nurse, and his son and daughter were enrolled in grade school and high school.
“The goal was to have a niche printing business for real estate. But then the real estate market crashed in 2008,” he said. So he began knocking on doors for new clients — literally.
“The Minuteman program recommends speaking to 20 people, 10 of whom will get back to you, and one of whom will ultimately buy. That year was the toughest year of my life,” Jude Arijaje said. “It was slow-moving, and we joined business clubs and organizations” such as the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League, and the African American Chamber, as well as BNI (Business Networking International).
“Slowly, we started seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
He moved his Minuteman Press franchise from Penrose Avenue to 1717 S. Broad St., where it’s currently located, and began landing clients. One was the 76ers — he secured the basketball team’s business by knocking on doors at the Navy Yard.
Meanwhile, Arijaje, now 51, started hiring staff and grooming a successor. His son Mejire, now 23, had helped out his father while still in high school, handing out fliers and sticking advertisements in mailboxes and doorsteps.
Mejire Arijaje went off to East Stroudsburg University; after graduation, he worked at Vanguard Group for a year as a financial associate. But then he decided he truly wanted to join the family business.
Today, he’s studying for an MBA and wants to take over when his father retires, “which probably won’t be for quite a while,” the elder Arijaje said jokingly.
In 2015, the father-son duo bought out a Minuteman printing franchise in Bala Cynwyd because that owner was retiring. They were able to secure a loan through West Philadelphia Financial Services (wpfsi.com) and the Enterprise Center (www.theenterprisecenter.com).
“People think when you do that you’re just buying cash flow. But you’re managing relationships that have been built over 20 years. We’re lucky — we’ve introduced ourselves to an existing client base, and now we want to be part of the community in Bala,” Jude Arijaje said.
Did he want a family business?
“Absolutely I wanted that. But you just never know — you want to be able to say, ‘I have someone to take over.’ But sometimes, it’s totally different from what happens. At this stage, I feel blessed.”
“I didn’t have to join my dad,” said son Mejire. “But I didn’t like being in front of a computer all day. I like being with people and putting my marketing degree to use. I’ve introduced the business to more promotional items, like fidget spinners, beer cozies, pens, wristbands. We’re branching into all of that,” besides doing printing jobs for small businesses with printing budgets of $10,000 a year.
Among current clients are the Sixers, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Chestnut Hill College, Quality Professions, Philadelphia International Airport, Philabundance, and radio station MORE (101.1 FM).
The goal today is to build revenues up to $5 million in five years.
What is Jude Arijaje’s advice for those looking to groom successors so they can retire one day? “Don’t lower your standards, whether it’s your son, your daughter, your friend. Stay true to yourself and your plan.”
What about the internet? Does he have a hard time competing with do-it-yourself print orders?
“No, people who use Vistaprint or whatever online for one order of business cards aren’t our customers. Our customers are the kind of people who inspect the colors on their presentations with a magnifying glass — because it has to be perfect. We love those customers. All I can say is, print isn’t dead!”