2019 Women in Print and Promo: Jennifer Cherney, PriMedia Source LLC
Owner, PriMedia Source LLC, Yorkville, Ill.
How she got her start: “Would you like to buy a candy bar to support the Lakeview Band?” It was in those words that I discovered my passion for sales. Yes, walking up to complete strangers as they did their best to avoid making eye contact with us as they approached the grocery store. I looked forward to standing out there. It was a challenge. It was fun. I enjoyed waiting there for the people who promised to buy one on their way out, so that I could remind them. The chocolate was delicious, we were selling it for a good cause and it was only a dollar! I saw the value in what I was offering, and I felt a sense of accomplishment with the sale of each bar.
My career in the print industry started at Wallace immediately after I graduated from college. Most college graduates were hired to sell business forms, but my degree was in marketing, which gave me the opportunity to start in the Colorforms division selling direct mail. I was immediately hooked on the print industry when I realized how I could combine my drive in sales with my love for marketing. The sales training and technical knowledge that I gained at that job was a critical stepping stone to get me to where I am today. I learned how the presses worked and so much about the converting process, along with an abundance of formal sales training. After that, I went to work for two commercial printing companies and was recruited to Monarch, where I sold thermal printers, labels and ribbon to large accounts. My heart broke when the sales team “reorganized” and I lost my position. I was 25 years old and despite the fact that my company car was gone and I had very little in the bank, I decided that it was the perfect time to start a company.
I grabbed a pen and a notebook and started to think of names for the company. I finally decided on “PriMedia Source” with “Prime” meaning “of the best possible quality, excellent” and “Media” being a general enough term to cover all of the items that I intended to offer my clients, which were nonexistent at the time. Then I added “Source” to emphasize that PriMedia was the place to find the information and products that my future clients would be looking for—whatever that may be.
I started reaching out to potential vendors and gathering information. I contacted potential clients to see what products they were currently using that my potential vendors manufactured. I worked closely with an accountant to learn how to set up my accounting software. I worked with the insurance company to make sure that I had health insurance. I learned about collecting and paying sales tax. I cold called—a lot. Then, I cold called some more. For the first two years, my goal was 100 cold calls a day (most were voice messages). I would start calling on the east coast early in the morning and end the day on the west coast if that’s what it took to get all of the calls in. At that point, I was still working to determine what products PriMedia Source LLC would specialize in. I was very confident in my knowledge of flexo, offset and thermal printing technologies, and had worked with customers who were in marketing/creative, purchasing and warehousing/operations departments. Looking back, I wasn’t sure which products PriMedia Source would specialize in. But, I did know that I was hooked on the industry and believed that if I built strong relationships with my suppliers and could offer solutions that would save time, money and value to my customers, PriMedia Source would be successful.
Then one day, about four months after I started the business, I made a cold call to a very well-known Fortune 500 company and, after a brief conversation, landed a meeting. On a Tuesday afternoon, I followed my printed MapQuest directions (hey, that was high-tech back then) and was surprised to arrive at such a small building. I remember walking around the small dark warehouse with my prospective client when we walked past a thermal printer sitting on a small table. I asked him about the labels that they printed and where they were currently getting them. I explained to him that I was working to get PriMedia Source off the ground and simply asked him if I could have his next label order. By the following week, I had proofs and material samples for him to test. Within a month, we had the first 25 cases delivered to him. By the next year, there were several other locations within the company ordering labels from me, and the number of labels that they were ordering grew exponentially. As our relationship grew, I saw potential to offer other products. I traveled to each of the DC’s to meet with them. Doors were opening. I was offering solutions, and they saw the value in my efforts. I became a trusted supplier, and I am proud to say that I have had the opportunity to grow and evolve with them, as technology has changed over the past 18 years.
What she does: My role has not changed in the past 18 years, but every single day is different. I spend about 60 percent of my time working with customers, approximately 30 percent processing orders and working with vendors, and the other half on paperwork, following up on orders and prospecting.
What brings her joy professionally and personally: My career brings me joy. I still get that overwhelming sense of accomplishment when I find a solution for a customer. Despite the size of the order, every purchase order brings back that feeling of accomplishment that I had as a junior high band member selling candy bars for a dollar. My career has taught me that hard work and dedication do pay off. The financial reward is only one part of the “payoff” I am describing. It’s the freedom and flexibility to take a few hours off to be at a field trip with my son or to volunteer at the school. It may mean working late at night, but I have the flexibility to choose how and where to spend my time. Being a mom has brought me more joy than anything in my life. Spending time with my family and knowing that I can provide for my son (from a time and financial standpoint) is the definition of true happiness to me.
Her proudest career achievement: I am proud that I do not sell anything online, as tempting as it may be. I work hard to develop strong relationships with my vendors and with my customers. Talking to my customers is the best way to uncover opportunities. Although I do take orders via email, I don’t offer e-commerce on my website. I have built this business on relationships, and I am proud that I have stood my ground when it comes to selling online.
On working in a traditionally male-dominated industry: I really had to give this some thought. I googled, “challenges women face in a male-dominated industry” to see if I related with any of them. Some of the common challenges women seemed to face were lack of respect, not being taken seriously, fear of failure, lack of a support network and limited access to funding. Although I agree that this is a male-dominated industry, I have not experienced any of these common challenges. I am not intimidated by being the only female in a meeting or in a group of people, and I don’t assume that anyone is thinking any less of me or my opinion and expertise because I am a woman. I see it as an advantage. Perhaps being a female gives me a different perspective on problem-solving or creative ways to manage a situation. I enjoy getting to know all of my customers and vendors on a personal level, but I always maintain a level of professionalism and mutual respect.
Her job advice to women: It’s a dynamic industry. You will learn something new every single day. Almost every single company purchases print and promo items for their business. With that being said, there is a ton of competition. My advice would be to target the companies that are hard to get an appointment with—those are the loyal buyers. Be persistent. Don’t stop calling them. When you get an appointment, be prepared and focused on one product to get the first purchase order, and prove to them how responsive you are. Wow them with your product knowledge, and you will become a trusted source.
Who she turns to for career advice: I try to learn something from everyone that I work with. I don’t have one specific mentor. I rely on my vendors for product knowledge, and I ask a lot of questions.
Her upcoming goals: This year, I would like to leverage my WBE Certification (Women’s Business Enterprise with WBENC). I have been certified for the past six years and have only attended a handful of events.
I would like to focus on networking with other female business owners and to make it a priority to call on the Corporate WBENC member companies. I would also like to sell more promotional items. I attended Print+Promo’s Distributor Connect event in Scottsdale, Ariz., in October, which gave me the opportunity to meet with many potential suppliers and learn about products that I have not offered to clients in the past. I left the event with samples, contacts and new ideas.
How she maintains a work/life balance: The work/life balance is something that I am just starting to get a grasp on. It’s all about time management and priorities and, to be honest, it’s the most challenging part of owning a business, in my opinion. The first few years, I worked an insane amount of hours each week. It was necessary to get the business off the ground, as most of that first year was spent prospecting and cold calling. By the second year, the cold calls turned into meetings and quotes and the quotes turned into orders. When my son was born, I continued to work full time, but always made time with him a priority. I do work most nights after he is asleep. There is a fine line between showing him that he has my undivided attention and showing him the positive example of how rewarding a career that you enjoy can be.
Every night before I go to bed, I write a to-do list for the next day (which includes PriMedia Source, errands, grocery shopping, etc.), and I find that it helps me to stay focused and keeps me on track.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.