Stephen Murray

Beaufort’s National Award-Winning Entrepreneur proves Beaufort is Good for Businesses
(and not just for one, but two businesses)

By Lanier Laney

Relocating his business back to Beaufort from Tampa, Fla., in 2009 was both a great business and personal decision for Stephen Murray. He was able to rejoin his family here (his great grandparents came to Beaufort in 1917 to work at the Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot) and he was able to spend time with his beloved grandmother during the final year of her life after she was diagnosed with lung cancer and needed around-the-clock care. “My amazing family all stepped up and with the help of family friends we were able to be with her until she passed in March of 2010. Because of the nature of my job, I was able to leave the office several afternoons a week to spend with her. These were precious moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Stephen Murray, local entrepreneur and owner of The Kazoo Factory and New South Shirts

Murray grew up on Pigeon Point.  “We rode bikes all over town, played in the marsh, learned how to sail, spent too much time at the beach, went crabbing and fishing. It really was an idyllic childhood.” And he and his wife of seven years, Melissa Murray, (a Hilton Head native and the literacy coach at St. Helena’s Elementary School) were able to buy and save a cottage from the wrecking ball on Pigeon Point directly across the street from the house his grandparents had built in 1950.
Stephen is proof you don’t need college to be successful in business.  After attending Beaufort High School, he first managed The Shed Center for the Arts and also was production manager of a dance company.
Rick Hubbard, a Hilton Head musician, had started the Kazoobie Kazoo website in 1997 and it was generating a few orders a week when Murray, who had become Rick’s road production manager and was tired of touring, offered to take over the www.Kazoos.com retail website for him and handle all the daily operations of the business.
Now, 11 and a half years later, (and several manufacturing expansions) Murray is president of a company which last year sold and shipped almost 1 million kazoos worldwide.
“Most of my business experience has been on the job training” says Stephen.  He clearly learned his lessons well, having received the Excellence in Free Enterprise Award from the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2010 and this year receiving a coveted national award when he was named one of the Top 75 Blue Ribbon Small Business’s of the Year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“I plan on being with Kazoobie until they kick me out, or I leave feet first. I love what I do and the joy that we create in the world. The company brings me a lot of pride and I’m excited for the future of the business. Our international business has exploded this year and we have several new products that we are releasing.”
And along with Kazoobie, this self-described “serial entrepreneur” has started another business in Beaufort.
“My wife Melissa and I have a new venture, New South Shirts We do digital garment printing, which is a little different than traditional screen printing. Digital printing is a new technology that allows us to print directly on the garment. The advantages are much less setup so we don’t have any setup charges, minimum orders, and we can print up to a million colors at a very high resolution. So a customer can get one custom shirt with unlimited colors for around $18. We are also doing embroidery in house and unique promotional products.”
They opened the company in 2010 in Beaufort and it is based out of The Kazoo Factory. The civic project they are most proud of with the new company? Says Stephen, “We licensed the Tricentennial logo from the City of Beaufort and are the exclusive merchandise producer. Merchandise can be found in about 10 shops around town, online and at most of the festivals. We have a new website that has a powerful online designer. You can now design your own art using our collection of over 4,000 designs and pick up your custom garment right here in town.” (newsouthshirts.com)
Murray finds business entrepreneurship to be a very rewarding career. “There is something very exciting and rewarding about taking an idea and turning it into a company that produces a product or service and employs people”.
And he also believes it is important to give back to the community. “I’m probably most proud of my work within the civic community. I am very fortunate to be able to participate on several boards in town. I am currently the Director at Large of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, President of the Leadership Beaufort Alumni Association, Board Member Arts Council of Beaufort Council, and member United Way Business Cabinet. All of these positions help to promote my community goals of economic development, arts advocacy, non-profit support and promoting leadership among our citizens.”

His thoughts on how Beaufort can attract more businesses like his own
“Beaufort is a beautiful place, but we have very real problems that are being created by our lack of economic development. If you looked at the recent census data you should have noticed the lack of 25-60 year olds in our population. These are your entrepreneurs, home buyers, and skilled workforce. It’s not that these folks don’t want to live here, it’s that the jobs and more importantly, the wages are not here. I have many childhood friends that went off to college and would love to move back, but simply can’t because of the lack of employment here.
I am fortunate that I was able to bring my job with me. The fact that we lose so many of our talented native sons and daughters because of our lack of economic development is very disappointing. A vibrant business community contributes to the tax base, supports non-profits, and attracts talented individuals that creates tangible value for our community. I think a lot of people think of Beaufort as being unfriendly to business. Some of which is real and some is perceived. I’ve opened two businesses and completely renovated an old house in the past two years in the City of Beaufort. Were there challenges? Sure. But overall it was a relatively painless experience. I think we could do better to streamline some of our processes, and develop a plan to recruit the kind of businesses that will coexist with our environmental and historical preservation efforts. The recent conversations are a step in the right direction and I hope they lead to not only a plan, but action”.

His advice to people who want to start a business in Beaufort
“I would recommend starting a business in Beaufort to anyone. Startup costs have never been lower. From real estate to equipment to marketing opportunities, there are some great deals to be had. We also have some great resources in town like the Small Business Development Center at USCB and the Small Business Hub at TCL for new entrepreneurs. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity out there, regardless of the economy. Owning your own business can be a roller coaster ride, extreme highs and extreme lows, all coming at you fast. But an old guy once told me, ‘things are never as bad, and never as good as they seem.’ This is has gotten me through some dark moments, and helps keep things in perspective during great ones”.

Is Beaufort a good place to start an Internet business?
“Beaufort is a great place to have an internet business. We have relatively reliable internet service, and can ship anywhere in the country within five days. The kazoo business has a great advantage because we started the website in 1997 and we are a very tight niche. Type ‘Kazoos’ into Google and we rule the top 10 results. Starting out today will require a lot of time, effort, and money to garner this type of results depending on the industry that you are in, but like a brick and mortar business, it takes time to develop a customer base. One of the exciting things about an Internet-based business, for me, is the global reach. We have customers on every continent but Antarctica.”

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