Executive Perspectives: Janie Gaunce of Grapevine Designs
As part of Print+Promo Marketing’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Janie Gaunce, president and CEO of Grapevine Designs, Lenexa, Kansas. Here, she talks about facing adversity, keeping customers and employees engaged, and creating her own destiny in the promotional marketing business.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Janie Gaunce: When I hear about the Great Resignation of today, I roll my eyes just a bit. Many of us have resigned from jobs in our lives, we just didn’t make a big case about it or have a social media theme to associate it with. Regardless, finding a new career path became a focus for me after spending 13 years in sales/sales management in the radio broadcasting world. My “four pillars of criteria for a new career” included creativity (in product and environment), flexibility (so I could be a better parent), a commission-based income, and the ability to travel.
After a series of informational interviews, I discovered the world of promotional marketing. Six months into it, my sales skyrocketed. Unfortunately, two years later, the owner claimed bankruptcy. Faced with the decision about what to do with my then $5 million block of business, I looked around the promo universe and decided we’d rather create our own destiny and brand than become a part of someone else’s. Twenty-two years later, the decision to own my own company remains one of the best decisions of my life.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
JG: Setting goals comes from the continuing swirl of questions like: What will our clients need tomorrow, or in three years? How can we get better at what we do, and are we even doing the right things? What makes me/us happy? What is happening in related industries around us (advertising, digital, events, experiential, retail, etc.) and what can we learn from them? Is our team feeling connected? In terms of setting goals for the business, our amazing team has no problem sharing opinions, and we challenge each other often. We typically start talking about where we need to go in mid-summer and start shaping a plan to get there, figuring out the puzzle pieces needed. We are nimble and flexible and have learned to set a goal aside in the interest of a new challenge that comes our way.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
JG: Short of Godzilla trampling our building, it seems like we’ve been through just about anything you can imagine in our two-plus decades, so let’s just bring it on, deal with it and get it the heck over with. As we have all seen over the years, our industry’s growth chart may take a dip here and there, and much like other industries, some of us survive, some of us don’t. What many of us discovered during the pandemic is that by adapting to our customer’s new engagement needs and marketing our strengths heavily allowed us to grow and expand beyond our initial expectations.
What keeps you up at night?
JG: First, we all have two customer groups to keep engaged. One pays the bills by loving what we do for them (our clients). The other one walks out of the office (maybe not physically) every day (our employees) and we hope they also make the choice to come back. My focus is generally in these areas. How can we ensure that both sets of customers love us? Second, how do we continue to ensure that not only are the products we represent safe for end-users, but that we are doing the best we can to insulate and protect ourselves from the external threats of ransomware/malware.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
JG: This may not be cutting edge, but we moved our kitting operation into its own center that is not only efficient for storage and line movement, but aesthetically is a fun place for our team to report to every day versus a normal warehouse environment. Our in-house agency continues to create amazing designs and content that makes life easier for our internal customers (sales team) as well as our clients who reap the benefits of this team’s talent on a daily basis.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
JG: I have hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back; spent a spring weekend on horseback in a western Kansas cattle drive; am slowly teaching myself to become an artist of sorts; am finding time to write more; have traveled extensively domestically and internationally; and love tinkering in my gardens and hanging out with my hubby Chris, our kids, and our new grandbaby. Finally, the time and energy I have spent learning about and helping some very special people I have met in my life has been exponentially rewarding.