2020 Women in Print and Promo: Karen Rivkin, Barker Specialty Company
Director of Program Fulfillment
Barker Specialty Company, Cheshire, Conn.
Throughout the promo industry, Karen Rivkin is known for her “unstoppable energy and calm demeanor, especially during a difficult time,” her nominator shared. With companies abruptly forced to pivot strategy during the current COVID-19 outbreak, they would fare well with Rivkin on their team.
Like others in her age group, Rivkin had to deal with professional disruption straight out of college. Armed with a marketing degree, the 2002 Central Connecticut State University graduate was excited to put her skills to use. But the job market transformed after 9/11. Positions were scarce and bills needed to be paid, so Rivkin jumped at an opportunity in the retail sector. A year later, she realized it was not a good fit and was fortunate to find work in her hometown at promotional products distributor Barker Specialty Company.
Rivkin quickly acclimated herself to this world of marketing, starting out on the fulfillment team, where she processed e-commerce orders, provided customer service and restocked merchandise. After proving herself and her commitment to the company, she was asked to lead the department.
“It wasn’t until I was really in that role that I started getting into sales,” Rivkin said. “I had obtained industry knowledge, a comfort in dealing with customers and confidence in myself to know that the sales role was something I could do.”
Her current role is split between managing the program fulfillment team and sales—the latter of which she generated more than $1 million for. Rivkin enjoys working closely with her 10 direct reports in managing inventory, websites, product selection and customer service. The sales side, she said, provides a nice balance that allows her to build relationships with clients while using her marketing background to develop creative ideas that promote their brands.
What Brings Her Joy Professionally and Personally
I love getting feedback from a customer after they receive an order and share with me the outcome of the event. It is satisfying and rewarding to hear how sometimes a “simple” item can really make an impact on a person or event. In life, overall, seeing people laugh or smile brings me joy. I love exercising and also curling up on the couch to read a book. I am a proud dog mom, and, most importantly, the love and happiness of my family and friends bring me the greatest joy in life.
Her Proudest Career Achievement
Personally, I am most proud of earning the position to lead my team. I learned long ago that you don’t need to be a loud and outgoing person to lead. Professionally, I am most proud of reaching the Million Dollar Club. I think I am often overlooked at being a successful salesperson since I am shy and reserved. However, I enjoy quietly building relationships with my clients, getting to know them and the way they think, and using the industry knowledge I have obtained to creatively and effectively suggest the print and promo products to best display or portray their message.
On Working in a Traditionally Male-Dominated Industry
While the industry is male-dominated, I am so fortunate to work for a company that has had, and continues to employ, a strong group of women who have paved the way for me and others to follow. It is only natural to struggle and face challenges when you are outside of your comfort zone. Learning as much as you can about the industry and trusting yourself will give you the confidence to sell just as well (if not better) than your male counterpart. I think that cultivating friendships and finding mentors within the industry is important to our success.
Her Job Advice to Women
Learn. There is so much to learn about this industry and it is constantly changing. Take classes, attend vendor meetings, follow industry leaders on social media, read industry magazines–there are many tools to take advantage of and learn from. Be confident. Believe in yourself and your ability to express all that you have learned through your own creative avenues. Have fun. Look at what we sell. The selection of promotional products and print capabilities makes this career field stand out on its own.
Her Favorite Leader
My father is my favorite leader for more reasons than I can share. He is someone that I looked up to until the day he left this world. He taught not only his children but everyone who had the honor of knowing him the value of honesty, confidence, a positive attitude, sense of humor and commitment. Both in and out of the workplace, he was empathetic and passionate to all. He listened, he taught, he encouraged and he fought. He earned respect by being true to himself and providing guidance in all aspects of life. In my eyes, my father possessed every quality that makes up an inspiring and successful leader, and so much more.
Her Upcoming Goals
I’d love to hit a million [in sales] again this year, but COVID-19 is trying to interfere. I do, however, like a good challenge and will look toward a brighter second half of the year. Personally, I would like to complete my second half marathon and reach my reading goal (quarantine is helping with that).
How She Maintains a Work/Life Balance
One of the things I enjoy most about this industry is the pace. COVID-19 has certainly changed our daily lives and [has] forced us to slow down in many aspects. Like many of us, I have formed a new work/life balance while working from home. I am still committed to getting up and working out before the workday starts and I have also formed a habit of practicing yoga during lunch. The workday is filled with fielding questions trying to figure out which suppliers are open, who has stock, updated production times, etc. It has been a challenge, but knowing we are all in this together is comforting. I think that keeping busy with the business we are fortunate to have and doing video chats with coworkers is helping to maintain some normalcy to our days. My day ends on the couch just like it used to, binging Hulu with my husband and cuddling with the pups.