In high school, Michael Milam would use the Cleveland Public Library’s laser cutter, a part of its public “workers space,” to create wooden cutouts for fun. After hanging one in his car next to his paper tree air freshener, an idea struck him.
Milam, now a third-year in marketing, felt the short lifespan of traditional paper fresheners were a waste of resources and money. He saw a way he could change that. Soon after he created Arotags, his business that sells rescentable wooden air fresheners.
The tags come in different designs like cutouts of the United States or Ohio and come with a fragrance oil that is used to soak the tag in. What makes the product reusable is that the oil can be applied multiple times, making the tag last up to a year.
Milam makes the tags himself in his garage in his hometown of Concord, Ohio. He uses only locally sourced materials because an important aspect of his business is to always keep it “made in America”.
For example, Milam buys the wood for the tags in Middlefield, Ohio, from an Amish business and physically goes to the store to see the product and talk to the owner.
In addition to the air fresheners, Milam has started making American flag key chains and Arotag T-shirts.
Eventually, Milam would like to grow his business and be able to provide jobs to other people.
“That’s why I like the idea of entrepreneurship, is that instead of me going out and taking a job, I can make my own job,” Milam said. “And then from there, I can actually make more jobs and that’s pretty cool to me. I love that idea and seeing like the American dream.”
For now, Milam mainly uses Amazon for the bulk of his sales and has been able to keep up with orders during the school year in Columbus. In the summertime when he’s home, he focuses on expanding his business.
While the business has grown in size the past four years, Milam has had a different outlook on what it is like to be a college entrepreneur since he started.
“From my perspective, like I did have big ideas back when I was in high school like, ‘I’m going to do this and change this whole industry and stuff,’” Milam said. “Now I’m just trying to learn how a business really operates on a small scale.”
Milam said starting off some people believe that having a giant idea is only way to be successful in starting a business. But he said you don’t have to “create the next Facebook” and sometimes basic ideas are just as successful.
“I feel like [college entrepreneurship] is definitely over glamorized a little bit,” Milam said,”Like the idea that like you should drop out right when you have like this billion-dollar idea, which in my opinion, billion-dollar ideas don’t exist. Billion-dollar execution exists.”
In the near future he hopes to get his product in retail stores but will always love how personal his business is to him. Milam, who writes personal thank-you notes in all his packages, said there is nothing better than interacting with his customers.
“The fulfilling part for me is not like making money from it,” Milam said. “It’s like seeing people, especially seeing people interact with my brand and my product as well, and say like, ‘Wow this product really made me happy buying it’”.