Executive Perspectives: Brad Friedman of City Paper Company
As part of Print+Promo’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Brad Friedman, CEO and president of City Paper Company, Birmingham, Ala. Here, he discusses building on the family legacy, explains how he defines success and gets candid about the challenges of leadership.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Brad Friedman: As the fourth generation of a family business that is in its 123rd year, it was something I always knew I would join, but also knowing that I would have to answer to my grandfather solidified my journey. Being a family business, it’s an expectation that you strive to keep generations moving forward and it was hard not to decide that I wanted to create that for myself. The path to my current role began approximately a decade ago. I realized we were strictly focused on the retail packaging sector. I knew that we needed to expand and diversify ourselves, as well as our product and service offering. I saw the potential through the promotional marketing industry to have avenues exist for us to expand our business and the seamless cross-sell between packaging and promo. We have focused our energy on building the foundation up from our operations team to account executives and experienced marketing individuals in order to create the company we envisioned.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
BF: I set goals for myself on a daily basis. And since I still manage a large book of business, it is important for me to end every single day knowing I sold something and that I helped our reps close deals, too. No matter how significant the order—$200 to $200K—my sense of accomplishment is rooted in closing deals. A typical salesperson mindset is the desire to know every day that we’ve added revenue.
When I hang it up at the end of the day, I want to know I’ve done everything I can to make sure situations are resolved. I take every day as a fresh start, but I feel like I’ve never truly [had] a day off, and that’s a challenge while running a business, and even more so, a family business. We want to be a good representation of our sales executives, just as they are of us, but sales is a way of life and it doesn’t ever turn off. We set quarterly business goals as an executive team. We’ve historically been a business, until just a few years ago, that relied on the 4th quarter to get us to where we need[ed] to be for year-end. In recent successful years, I’ve tried not to run the business this way. We focus on objectives quarterly. Even when it’s slower, we utilize that time to network, prospect and land more deal opportunities through proper planning. Each month is what we focus on at a time—we try not to look too far ahead.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
BF: One of the major effects we’ve experienced is the inability to meet with our clients in person. I’ve always been a huge advocate of getting out every day and having a personal face-to-face relationship with our customers, but especially prospects. What we’ve experienced in the last seven months has dramatically changed our landscape. We’ve relied on a lot of creativity to truly engage our customers. Without in-person meetings, it’s been tough to grow the business as true pavement-hitting salespeople. At the end of the day, to really earn trust, we must develop a personal relationship that builds our client base, which, in turn, generates more revenue. An additional hurdle we have experienced is our supply chain and inventory availability. Recent uncertainty has made it very challenging to identify what even the next six weeks will look like from a supply chain standpoint.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
BF: There will likely be a lot of consolidation through acquisitions. It’s going to be difficult for smaller distributorships to expand or increase revenue on their own. We’ll likely see marketing budgets become more conservative in regard to employees and customer incentive dollars. I think there’s going to be an increase in spend for sales departments as a result of there being a bigger fight for specific spend. People are going to lose out on business that they’ve previously had. Costs will be more scrutinized, and it might not be relationship[s] that can save the day if you’re priced too high.
What keeps you up at night?
BF: Everything. There’s always a pit in my stomach every day thinking what the next hurdle will be. Whether it is losing a customer, losing a bid or internal issues. As a business owner, you so badly want to make everyone happy and, while it’s important to try, it’s impossible to achieve. You try every day to do the best that you can, but in our industry, with so many moving parts, there’s always something bound to go off track. When you own a business, you put your head on your pillow at night with the weight of representing decisions that affect the lives of 32 different families—families you come to care about greatly. You do your best to make the right judgment call, and definitely do not take that responsibility lightly.
I’m always wondering what the next day is going to hold, but if I didn’t have that pit in my stomach, I wouldn’t be able to get ahead in the game. I believe the pit keeps you from getting complacent. Complacency can allow failure to creep in. Whether you’re a sales rep managing a book of business or a company owner, you need to react faster and smarter than your competition.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
BF: Without giving away what our secret sauce [was] to get to where we are today, our team has spent the past six years developing a proactive approach for everything from marketing to technology, which allows us to really create unique experiences for our customers and prospects. It all stems from the quality of people that we have in our company and their innovative ideas that set City Paper apart from the competition and the rest of the industry. We’re always outdoing ourselves. It’s the incredible, talented marketing geniuses that are able to create the unthinkable brand experience and put that to life for our customers to truly wow them.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
BF: I played tennis for the University of Alabama. My tennis career afforded me the opportunity to move to Los Angeles, where I ended up pursing the Hollywood life and living in Malibu. You could say acting was a special interest of mine back then. But now, there’s nothing that compares to having two little girls. My girls are the greatest gift I’ve ever received (besides my wife)! My family is truly my hobby and what makes up my life outside of City Paper. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.