2020 Women in Print and Promo: Cathy Armando and Sarah Thomas, American Solutions for Business
CATHY ARMANDO AND SARAH THOMAS
Senior National Account Executives
American Solutions for Business, Glenwood, Minn.
Cathy Armando and Sarah Thomas are a highly effective sales team that brings a wealth of talent and knowledge to the industry. The married couple, who work out of the distributor’s Dallas-area office, are about much more than closing deals. According to their nominator, in addition to being adept professionals, these women are “fun, caring and approachable”—traits that attract loyal employees and customers. They are also dedicated to giving back to their community and are involved in several nonprofit efforts.
Their consultative approach has helped them to create strong ties in the promotional products community, and, together, during their first year sharing a sales number, the duo reached one of the most aspirational goals in promo: hitting $1 million in annual sales. While they have 21.5 years of combined experience, Armando and Thomas only transitioned to the selling side in 2018.
Thomas fell into the field by chance. Armed with a degree in public relations and print media, she took a legal secretary job at a law firm, but quickly found herself feeling unmotivated. A friend of a friend introduced Thomas to American Solutions for Business (ASB), encouraging her to apply for a customer service rep/account manager opening. After a few years in a support role, she accepted a position with ASB’s home office and ran the health care team for nearly nine years.
As Thomas settled into her new career, Armando’s schedule was filled with teaching preschoolers. She, too, was feeling unhappy in her profession, so Thomas suggested she translate her skills in patience to a customer-facing format. With no sales background, Armando joined ASB as an account executive and said it was the best decision she ever made. That is, until she and Thomas made the leap into sales full-time.
“Cathy and I both run the team, so we wear many different hats with some crossover; however, we do try to stay in our lanes,” Thomas, who focuses on sales and business development with a splash of “whatever comes her way,” said.
Rest assured, both women will always share the responsibility of finding new and innovative ways to grow their business.
What Brings Them Joy Professionally and Personally
Cathy Armando: I really love this industry because every day brings something different to our doorstep. This industry allows us to be innovative and creative, and it provides real solutions for our clients, as well as builds long-lasting relationships. In my life, overall, I would have to say spending time with my friends and family, as well as traveling to new places.
Sarah Thomas: I like when our clients allow us to be creative and think outside of the box, as we hate selling straight out of catalogs. I really enjoy when our clients let us act as a true extension of their team by having brainstorming sessions and strategic conversations, rather than just being an order taker. Outside of work, cats, food and music bring me joy.
Their Proudest Career Achievement
CA: Really, my biggest achievement is how we have been able to grow our business and team starting from nothing. When I first joined American, my only account was my softball team’s jerseys. Now, seven years later, our book of business has grown to seven figures in sales each fiscal year for the last several years.
ST: Reaching the Million Dollar Club our first year as a sales team. This is not an easy achievement in our industry, especially in a competitive climate like North Texas.
On Working in a Traditionally Male-Dominated Industry
CA: I think it, unfortunately, still can be quite challenging to be a woman in our industry. I can remember the first time I was invited to our Top Earners sales award trip. I had several people come up to me and ask “who I worked for” as if I wouldn’t possibly be here on my own. Really, the only way I have “overcome” this was to work hard and build success on my own terms. I find it important to surround myself with like-minded peers and share experiences to help us all continue to grow as salespeople.
ST: When I first took over the health care team at American, I was in my late ʼ20s. I definitely had to fight to win the respect of the reps. Between being young and a female, I wasn’t getting the warm and fuzzies from everyone and I needed to prove myself. The only thing I knew to do was focus on the end goal, which was help the reps sell more. So, I poured myself into learning my role, and in time my confidence grew, my success stories grew and all in all it I think it worked out pretty well!
Their Job Advice to Women
CA: I would tell her that if this is something she really sees as a good fit to run with it and don’t look back. Be willing to take chances and roll the dice because without risk you won’t find success. I would also tell her to find other reps—both vendor and distributor—to lean on for advice so she can learn the industry. While developing relationships with customers is key, developing relationships with suppliers and peers is also crucial, because no matter how many years you have been in the industry, you will never know everything. We are all learning new things every day and finding different ways of doing things.
ST: Go for it, but make sure you have a really good mentor. On a day-to-day basis in our sales office, we are honored to work with an even mix of men and women of all different age groups, so I feel like the “good ol’ boys club” is fading away a bit, but anyone who is new to this industry needs a mentor—it doesn’t matter what their gender is.
Their Favorite Leader
CA: I would have to say Oprah Winfrey is one of my favorite leaders. She came from very humble beginnings and through her determination grew her empire to what it is today. She fought her way up to the top finding success, breaking through barriers such as race and gender inequality to become one of this country’s most influential female figures. She never let discouragement keep her from taking risks allowing her success to follow which, to me, is a quality that is most admirable.
ST: Over the last six months we’ve watched The Crown and a few other shows about Queen Elizabeth II, and while I can’t say she’s my favorite leader ever, she’s definitely caught my interest. To be as young as she was and thrown into the role of Queen is just something that I can’t even wrap my head around. The level of confidence and determination that she had to find within herself is incredible and really supports if you put your mind to it anything is possible. I can’t even imagine the hurdles she had to jump being a young female, but here she is 68 years later still sitting on the throne.
Their Upcoming Goals
CA: Professionally, our goal is to grow our sales to hit the $2 million dollar club for this next fiscal year, which we were on target to do until COVID-19 hit. Personally, a goal is to make more time to enjoy life outside of work with friends and family–doing a better job of managing that work/life balance.
ST: Professionally, we were pushing to hit the $2 million club this year, but with the impact of the pandemic, I’d say my new professional accomplishment would be to just keep our team above water during these very trying times. Cathy and I are trying to be as proactive as possible in getting in front of clients to talk about masks, hand sanitizer and other hot items. Personally, I am looking to travel more—although the pandemic threw a little wrench into that plan.
How They Maintain a Work/Life Balance
CA: To help manage the work/life balance early on once we were able, we brought on account managers to help with the workload. That allowed us to take vacations and also focus on diversifying our book of business. Having support allows you to go out from behind the desk and sell, as well as take a much-deserved day off. Now, during these uncertain times with COVID-19, I try to find activities that help me detach from work and destress like reading, online happy hours and gardening. Right now, things are stressful, but I recognize dwelling on it isn’t going to help either. We have kicked up our creativity to keep in contact and present our client base with relevant product concepts and have also ventured into the wild world of providing our health care clients PPE items.
ST: Pre COVID-19, Cathy and I made the decision to invest in a support team to help maintain the workload, and we don’t regret that decision at all. Now with the impact of COVID-19, things have changed a bit. Our business has definitely slowed down considerably, so that’s been a bit of a shock to the system; although, I did work from home for many years, so that aspect hasn’t been a huge shock. However, balancing work and life is a constant battle, and I don’t always do a great job at the balancing act. It is a conscious effort to make sure I don’t check my emails all night or right when I get up in the morning. If I make a commitment to finish a book by the end of the week or go for a walk at least five days a week, I push myself to make sure I hit those goals.