William "Billy" Noyer is a former Army Blackhawk pilot turned entrepreneur. He has owned B&K Pens and Crafts and Custom Laser Engraving since 2008, working out of his 1,152-square-foot garage in his residence in Killeen, Texas and specializing in handcrafted pens, custom gifts, and signage. Noyer uses wood, acrylic, bullet shells, and many other items including deer antlers and buffalo horns to make his products. He prides himself on creativity and uniqueness of each item. Take five minutes to get to know him and hear what he's learned throughout his career...
How did B&K Pens and Crafts and Custom Laser Engraving come to be?
My oldest son started making handcrafted pens during his time off at home and would sell them to his coworkers. My then 16-year-old wanted to make money for the summer and didn’t want to mow lawns, so I bought a lathe and we started making pens, too. After a while, we found that people wanted them engraved with their names, so I went to one of the local trophy shops and started getting them engraved. It was not exactly priority to them, so half the time I went to pick them up, they weren’t ready. Then, I met a guy who told me that he owned his own laser and I started going to him. He was in the Army Reserves and was being deployed, so he decided to sell his laser and business to me at a great price. Once I got the laser, things really took off, and after I retired, I started doing it full-time.
What does a typical day in your shop look like?
I start off with a cup of coffee and go over the orders for the day. Then, I get to work building blanks for plaques, and engraving and CNC-ing the finished plaques.
Describe the most memorable moment in your career.
The most memorable time I had in the Army was when we were sent down to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina hit. We were rescuing people off of rooftops and bringing them to safety. For the people that we couldn’t get to, we would drop food and water to. It was the greatest feeling to be able to help our own countrymen as opposed to people from other countries.
It is great providing for the community (with my work now), especially since we make such one-of-a-kind items, but it is far from the feeling you get pulling people off of roof tops in a multi-million-dollar aircraft following a natural disaster.
What has been the biggest challenge of being a businessman?
Learning the accounting part of the business is one challenge that comes to mind, butthe biggest challenge overall has been self-motivation. My shop is at my house, so it is sometimes hard to motivate myself on slow days. But in the beginning, it was just the opposite; I was retired and not having the high operational tempo that I was used to when I was in the Army. I had to remember that I didn’t have to work 14-16 hours a day.
In the military, you have this, “Go, go, go! Get it done!” running around with your hair on fire kind of mentality that is hard to shake. Sometimes, doing your job or not doing it means life or death for somebody, and when you take off the uniform and come back to the real world, you have to slow down. I went through that when I first started my business. My wife finally came out in the shop one night at about 10 p.m. and told me to put it down and come to bed. I told her, I had another couple of hours of work left and she reminded me no one was going to die if I didn’t get them done and that it would have to wait until morning.
My engraving business has helped with that transition because I have learned to slow down and remember that this is my business and that I decide when things get done. Before, I was so used to just making things happen that I would never tell a customer, “No, I can’t get that done by then.” I would just accept their timeline and do it.
How do you think being a veteran has made you a good entrepreneur?
Veterans have that can-do attitude. We don’t make it excuses, we just “improvise, adapt, and overcome” and make it happen.
How can other veterans succeed in this business?
Perseverance. Start small and work your way into it and learn the business one facet at a time.
Describe a time in your career that posed a great challenge. How did you overcome it?
The hardest part of my career (in customization was) learning new things like Adobe Illustrator. As people come to me and want different things, I start digging through YouTube videos and forums and figure out that facet of the program to get it done.
What is your advice to others trying to learn graphic design/editing skills?
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You don’t have to learn everything there is to know about these programs. Learn what you need and then come back and learn some more. People used to look in the cockpit of the aircraft and tell me they could never be a pilot because there were too many switches to deal with. I would always tell them that you aren’t messing with every switch all the time; each switch has their use and you deal with them as you need them.
What are the most popular features on engraved products in today’s market?
3-D carvings from our CNC. Making something 3-D adds another dimension to the product that customers really love because they can touch it. That’s where it gets its wow factor.
What are the most popular custom pens?
Our Remington 7mm08 Bullet Pens with, “We the People” engraved on them. There is a loss of patriotism going on in our country and older folks that truly understand it want things that represent it and show it off. We get a lot of police, military, and gun guys buying these pens.
What are some unique decoration techniques/styles you’ve seen recently?
The poly clay pens. These are one of the newest things in pens these days. Instead of wood or acrylic, you wrap a pen in a polymer clay that can be decorated with pre-made canes (little sausage-like rolls of clay with designs that go the whole way through the cane).
To decorate them, you cut thin slices from the canes, embed them into your base clay wrap, wrap it around the pen tube, and bake it. Then, you take it out of the oven, sand it, finish it, and you have a one-of-a-kind pen.
What area of the industry do you see has the greatest room for growth?
CNC and automation. There are so many options available in this arena. The technology is all based off of the same basic idea of x, y, and z axis, but what you can do with it is up to the user. I see so many new ideas all the time. It is only limited to the imagination.
What can customers expect for the future of B&K Pens and Crafts and Custom Laser Engraving?