2020 Under 40: Rob Shiner, American Solutions for Business
ROB SHINER, 36
American Solutions for Business, Glenwood, Minn.
With one year of college left, Rob Shiner knew things were about to get real. So, the young business student, whose nominator called “ambitious, smart and level-headed,” began thinking about internships. He reached out to Bob Fisher, a family friend and then-owner/CEO of Innovative Print & Media Group Inc., about opportunities in the print and promotional products space. Fisher offered him an internship during which he worked in several departments, assisting with tasks like researching prospects for sales reps, helping with order entry and assisting the production team with order processing. After graduating from West Chester University, Shiner accepted a full-time sales position with the distributorship. He learned quickly about the struggles of defining yourself in the professional world without the safety net of school. “In my first year, I was required to do my own customer service while selling at the same time,” Shiner said. “This was certainly challenging, but the knowledge and experience I gained from talking through projects with my coworkers and vendor partners enabled me to learn how to present solutions and refine my approach.” After nine years at Innovative, Shiner knew it was time to shake things up. Intrigued by Top 50 Distributor American Solutions for Business’ industry growth, company culture and employee ownership structure, Shiner joined the company’s King of Prussia, Pa., location in 2015. In his current role as an account executive, he concentrates on new business development targeted to medium- and enterprise-sized companies. Shiner is also involved with maintaining and growing existing relationships and collaborating with current clients on ideation, problem-solving, e-commerce solutions and program launches.
Why he loves his job: What I enjoy most about my job is meeting new people and building relationships. I’ve been fortunate to develop many close friends and mentors thus far in my 15 years in the print and promo industry. I’ve always looked at meeting new people as an opportunity to grow. Many of the relationships I started in 2005, I still have today and all the people I have met over the years have helped me in some shape or form throughout my career.
Age roadblocks and advantages: Age truly is just a number, and I really don’t think it plays much of a factor if you are willing to listen, ask questions and learn. The biggest challenge for me in my early years was being in my 20s and trying to develop rapport with C-suite executives and to convince them to take a meeting with me. Now, after almost 15 years in the industry, I am close to the age of most decision-makers in marketing. We have a lot in common, which helps in relationship-building, and my experience enables me to offer them ideas and solutions that solve their business challenges.
Another advantage for me was joining the industry at the same time as technology and social media were taking off and becoming more widely used in business. For example, LinkedIn became popular among businesses around 2006-2007, which is when I launched my career, so adapting it as a business tool at that point became second nature for me, and [it is] a business tool I still utilize today.
His biggest career influence: [First, is] Rob Whitman, regional vice president sales, American Solutions for Business. Rob was my first manger in a professional capacity after college. At the time, he was the vice president of sales for Innovative Print & Media Group Inc. and soon after that, he became the president of Innovative. Rob taught me what it meant to be in sales for a print and promotional product distributor. What’s great about Rob is he comes from the manufacturing world, so he knows all the pros and cons of being a manufacturer, which helped fine-tune my delivery as a print and promotional product distributor. In my early years, I relied on Rob for answering just about every question I had … he almost always had an answer and if he didn’t, he always pointed me in the right direction.
Rob and I have been in a lot of meetings and sales calls together over my 15 years and, regardless of outcome, he always had a way of making you feel good after a call or meeting. I can remember calling Rob after my first large print order. It was after hours and I think he may have even been eating dinner with his family. After I shared the good news with him, he started yelling to his family “Shinedog got his first big print order,” and they were all cheering in the background beating pots and pans like it was New Year’s! The point behind the story is Rob always cared and was willing to go above and beyond to make you feel good about your accomplishments. He continues to make that same positive impact on many reps today, here at American. I can’t thank Rob enough for this guidance, mentoring and, most of all, friendship.
[Second, is] Bob Fisher, former owner and CEO of Innovative Print & Media Group Inc. Bob is the guy who was continually willing to give me an opportunity. I’ve known Bob since my high school days. I constantly asked Bob back then if he needed random projects done. He always had something for me to do, which was great because it kept me busy while on summer break and weekends. It’s the reason why I reached out to Bob for the internship while at West Chester University. My first job at Innovative really dates back to 2002 when I was planting the grass and mulching the flower beds of the new home of Innovative in Collegeville, Pa. while I was in high school.
Bob was always willing to share his knowledge of the industry with me. Once I was a full-time employee at Innovative, he paired me with other successful industry veterans in sales and production that were a part of his organization and knew the business inside and out. He painted the picture for me of what success looked like in his business and in the industry. Bob’s passion for success is awesome! He set the bar high and was never afraid to take the risk for his family, employees and business. It’s something that I admire and try to emulate to this day.
His most meaningful business accomplishment: My transition to American Solutions for Business was a big one. I never changed jobs in my professional career prior to joining American in 2015, although I felt like it was something I needed for professional growth. There was a lot of uncertainty, but, at the same time, much opportunity. After making the decision to move to American, I got back to the basics and used every tool I had learned up till then regarding strengthening existing relationships and presenting to new clients and building new relationships. This resulted in being awarded Sales Rookie of the Year with American for 2016. It was much-appreciated recognition and the award further validated my transition.
His differentiating factor: When I started in the industry, it was just a few years before the economy collapsed in 2008. It was the start of a lot of consolidation among manufacturers and at a time when technology and social media were making a big impact on our industry and all business and industries worldwide. The consolidation happening among direct manufacturers and the impact of new and emerging print technologies has always been a great opportunity for distributors. Print and promo distributors have the expertise to analyze the best approach to manufacturing and sourcing and decorating, which enables us to demonstrate the true benefits of a marketing services provider. Our network of proven suppliers enables us to put clients’ jobs in the right facility and ensure they are delivered on time and in budget. I think the distributor business model coupled with my adoption and use of technology sets me apart from others.
As I mentioned before, LinkedIn was a game changer for me in my early career and continues to be an effective networking and communication tool for me today. It has taken research and pre-call planning to a new level. What you once learned by driving through corporate parks cold calling and writing down company names is available at your fingertips.
In contrast, I’ve also gravitated toward some of the more traditional methods of reaching out to potential clients. In my mind, there is nothing more impactful than a handwritten note. It’s something that I feel has been lost with email and yet a written note makes it more likely that a prospect or client will remember you. So, I’d say consistency with both using technology, and traditional prospecting and communications are a great approach as we enter this new decade.
What he hopes to accomplish in the next year: It is important to set written goals every year, which I do to accomplish and grow both professionally and personally. My personal goal is to spend more time making memories with my wife Katrina and our 1-month-old daughter Kaylia. Professionally, I want to learn more about the technology platforms and tools that American has to offer and how they compare in the industry. We have a wonderful team in Glenwood, Minn., and they are always coming up with creative ways to assist our sales associates in marketing themselves and solving customer problems.
Why he believes the future is bright: What makes me believe that the next five years are bright is the continued advancements with just-in-time (JIT) and on-demand technology in promo, print and mail. The on-demand technology that exists today is just the start. My feeling is we are going to see the most growth with JIT and on-demand for hard goods in the promo space. We are already starting to see our partners, both suppliers and decorators, create unique ways to meet the demands of our clients for speed to market and smaller quantities. The industry’s ability to source JIT with lower minimums and on a wider selection of products, all sourced on e-commerce platforms, will ensure that we meet future branding objectives of the next generation of marketers.
How the industry can better recruit young talent: It’s important that companies and leaders in the industry stay active with our colleges and universities. It is essential that we educate the next generation about opportunities in our industry and the use of technology, creativity and ideation, building brands, and the overall fun we have building close relationships with customers. We must attend job fairs and give back to the students as much as possible and we should encourage all organizations to host interns so they can learn, much like I did early in my career and experience firsthand how fun and exciting it is in the print and promo industry. I have a great relationship with the chair of the marketing department at West Chester University, who was also one of my professors and is a current mentor. Over the years, he’s given me the opportunity to speak to outgoing seniors on what to expect in their first job, how to prepare and on the different types of job opportunities in our industry. I’d encourage all businesses in our industry to network with their alumni associations and schools to see what opportunities [are] available.
What he does for fun: My wife Katrina and I just welcomed our first child to the world in December—a baby girl, Kaylia. We could not be more excited! So currently, my spare time consists of being head chef and chief bottle washer/diaper changer. Outside of that, I also enjoy taking classes at Orangetheory Fitness, cycling, fishing, traveling and spending time working in my yard.
Additional thoughts: I’d like to say “thank you” to all my customers and customer services teams, both past and present. They have all helped me get to where I am today. So far in my career I’ve had the opportunity to work for some great organizations and people, all who have had positive impacts on my career in print and promo.
Lastly, I’d like to thank my wife Katrina, mom Jackie, and brother John, for always keeping me on my toes and reminding me that family, above all, is what is most important in life.