Lessons Learned: Specialist ID Identifies a Niche

Bartenders often ask young patrons to establish they are over 21 to receive liquor services. But there’s probably just 1 ex-bartender who has produced a million-dollar business from legitimate photo IDs.

Patrick Barnhill was born in Portland, Oregon and regards himself as having been”a winner and computer nerd forever.”

“I was fortunate enough to have an Atari and then a Commodore 64, and I saved up and bought my first computer, a 286 SX20 at age 12,” Barnhill said.

Patrick Barnhill

While at Tualatin High School, near Portland, he was hired as a casual technical support for his friend’s dad, Jim Gingo, whose firm, TransTech Systems, was operating with electronic ID card printers since the Polaroid-style laminates were being replaced by the modern PVC ID cards.

Gingo flew Barnhill into Eden Prairie, Minnesota to get certified to fix the original FARGO ID card printers. Soon afterwards, FARGO went public and was bought out by HID Global.

After graduating from high school, Barnhill moved to Florida International University in Miami to study international business, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese, while he worked nights in a major Miami Beach nightclub, as a bartender.

“I reached out to Jim Gingo to become a re-seller for TransTech while still a junior in college. He was very generous and provided unlimited terms to help get me started,” Barnhill said. That was the beginning of Specialist ID, which Barnhill formed in 2001 in his dorm, paid for by his bartending money, which was sufficient to carry the losses at the start.

He started the Specialist ID site in 2007 but it took until 2010 to create gross earnings of $294,000, which climbed to $617,000 in 2011, again doubling to $1.2 million in 2012. The business’s year-to-date gross earnings are $920,000.

The business specializes in ID badges and accessories. Its clients are government agencies, schools, universities, and huge businesses — ranging from NASA, FBI, to the B.B. King Museum in Mississippi.

Ecommerce Shopping Carts and Web Design

Barnhill launched his first website in 2007 with Yahoo stores. In 2010 he switched to Volusion, tweaking its typical template, using Photoshop and basic CSS code.

Specialist ID website.

He outsources more specialized work to Volusion integration expert, Optimum7, which also oversees Specialist ID’s search engine optimisation.

“Volusion is proactive in development and we just have to pay a small fee to reap the benefits. They have their eyes on mobile technologies, also,” Barnhill said.

However, he’s frustrated he can’t alter the source code, and is very unhappy with its application of volume discounts.

“If you’ve coupon codes, then they apply the quantity discount and then the coupon code off the initial sum, as opposed to applying the coupon code into the complete amount,” Barnhill said.

He’s considered giving Magento a trial on a test server but the time it would take and the possibility of damaging Specialist ID’s online rankings if he made the change has made him reluctant.

“If we could make it work in Volusion, that’s where we’ll stay,” Barnhill said.







Credit Card Payments and Accounting Software

Barnhill stated PayPal’s fees are too high but he uses it because he can incorporate the PayPal action into QuickBooks using SimplePort, an integration platform, saving the time of manually posting.

“Otherwise, we would shop around and find a better deal but it saves so much time,” Barnhill said.

Order Management

Barnhill raves about ShipWorks‘ “lightning-fast system,” which integrates directly with Endicia, Express1, and UPS, printing labels directly.

“Setting up their XML templates can be overpowering, but is well worth it. You can program all your rules and it’ll know just how to send any package anywhere in the world based on weight, location, or order value. It is very powerful if you can learn how to use the back end logic,” Barnhill said.


Barnhill hosts his site using Volusion (a hosted ecommerce platform), and his website and other domain names with Media Temple.

“Having a virtual host [in Media Temple] makes it effortless to host virtually unlimited domains in only a couple seconds,” Barnhill said.


Though some might recommend against hiring family and friends, it works for Barnhill.

His dad, a sheet metal and building contractor, helped with the first construction of the ID chip; Barnhill welcomed his brother partner in 2008, later employing the daughter of a close family friend for bookkeeping and new product development.

“Later on, her brother joined us for the warehouse, two men we used to play in rock bands with for video editing and content writing. Then our movie editor brought in his fiancée to perform our merchandise video demos. Our mother joined us to perform fulltime accounting, and our final hire was my neighbor for further warehouse assistance,” Barnhill said

Search Engine Optimization

Barnhill started using Optimum7, founded by one of his school buddies, for search engine optimization many decades back, to which he credits his expansion.

“I’ve learned so much from them. Their clinics are really about producing great unique content and being ahead of the curve, as opposed to coming up with tricks,” Barnhill said.


Barnhill uses USPS for most orders and declares Flat Rate boxes and Legal Flat Rate Envelopes as the “best hidden treasures.”

He has also negotiated multi-year rates with USPS postage supplier Express1.

“By using their account when you publish your Priority Mail Labels, you qualify for pricing and commercial, which you would usually need to perform 75,000 deliveries,” Barnhill said.

“ShipWorks automatically integrates with this and saves you money as soon as you set it up. Everyone should do it if you ask me.”

Product Sourcing

Barnhill works only with producers and distributors that bill efficiently and correctly, and supply tracking.

“We cut out any providers that we must spend time chasing down monitoring, or getting prices adjusted. We will need to know that if we take off an order, it’ll be dealt with properly and automatically,” Barnhill said.

Inventory Management

Barnhill’s inventory management system stays manual but points out Specialist ID is just two-to-three days off from being re-stocked as a result of his providers always being in stock.

“Since the majority of our small orders are finished in-house and the big ones drop ship, we could deal with a great deal more volume than our warehouse should stock,” Barnhill said.

Social Media

Specialist ID has accounts for Google+, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, but YouTube is its main channel, because the company started creating video content two decades back, gaining over 45,000 viewpoints.

Barnhill does not use manufacturers’ videos, but produces original content that answers the questions people have when they can’t find the things in person.

“This is our only opportunity to market, letting people know why this thing will work. They have to know that you truly have the item also, as so many folks are sick of getting back-ordered on what they purchase online,” Barnhill said.

Expense Control

“This is the one we’re really trying to find out. I’d describe it by the seat of your trousers. Everything appears to be going up,” Barnhill said.

Customer Service

Barnhill adopts the same philosophy written by Zappos’ founder, Tony Hsieh in his book Delivering Happiness, where he clarifies the chance provided each time a customer offers feedback.

“Instead of treating an unfair remark for a tug-of-war, have a deep breath and reach out with real care, and it’ll be quite easy to turn those people into your greatest fans. You really get to show your true colors when dealing with unhappy customers,” Barnhill said.

For smaller orders, Barnhill does not typically ask any queries or need a return in any respect.

“I always hated having firms waste my time on a simple return and we actually do not need to do that to anybody,” Barnhill said.

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Biggest Mistakes

Before Specialist ID took off, Barnhill co-founded a company to sell music gear. He formed a partnership with an individual who, unbeknownst to Barnhill, ran up massive debts with suppliers.

“The spouse ran up an account with one of the producers behind my back and I had to pay $25,000 unexpectedly. The strain was immense and I needed to pay it off with credit cards and help from a close friend of the family, but I settled that responsibility and moved on,” Barnhill said.

The experience taught Barnhill a lesson about perils of getting into business with the wrong men and women.

“It really was one of the cliché moments you hear about in which persistence and perseverance makes you smarter and stronger. I’m glad it worked out the way it did but it was scary at the moment.”

Biggest Successes

Barnhill considers beating one’s main mistakes could become your greatest successes.

“Following the first [spouse ] episode, I chose my brother would be my only spouse and he’s been amazing. His service and love for our company keeps us shooting ideas off one another and getting excited again, each day we arrive at the workplace,” Barnhill said.