Executive Perspectives: Jenny Johnson Wolf of Label Specialties
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 Jenny Johnson Wolf, partner at Label Specialties, Louisville, Ky. Here, she imparts leadership lessons, addresses hiring concerns, and explains why she’s date-obsessed and label-consumed.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Jenny Johnson Wolf: While I was still in college, I started working for myself. I was a web designer, back when “www” was a foreign language to most folks. I was an advertising major, so I have always loved everything promotion-related. I ended up working for some pretty cool companies—[including] a big web design firm with clients like Tommy Hilfiger, Yum! Brands, and Brown-Forman.
My passion has always been my work—and my clients. I like solving problems. And I’ve found a niche in the label printing business. I get to help clients with dozens of projects every day. Leading a label company is really my dream career. I just never knew I wanted it. I’d say it was a happy accident that I ended up on the supplier side.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
JJW: I believe in stretch goals, so I aim high. And I always plan on best-case scenarios. I commit to big goals [on] paper—I write them down, step by step, in my planner. It’s a leather-bound, paper planner. To it, I add goal check-ups on certain dates so I hold myself accountable. Since my goals are stretch goals, I don’t beat myself up if I’ve not hit them 100% at the end of the year. I just get my new planner every January, write down my goals and start over. To be honest, one of my goals this year is to actually have personal goals. I tend to focus on my professional ambitions.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
JJW: Like most entrepreneurs, I try to stay focused on my customers’ needs, but all of us are impacted by large-scale economic shifts. Factors like consumer confidence and unemployment have massive impacts on our business. But I can’t control those—and I don’t have time or energy to worry about things I can’t control. Instead, I focus on the things I can manage, like being diversified (printing labels for necessities like groceries, vitamins and pharmacies means we keep the presses turning even when our luxury products like fancy labels for the craft beer industry aren’t selling).
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
JJW: Hiring, training and retaining excellent employees has always been a challenge, but it keeps getting harder. Most manufacturers and printers invest in technology. But the more advanced our equipment, the more important our employees become. Someone has to run the technology, support the technology and perhaps most importantly figure out how to use the technology to solve problems for our clients.
What keeps you up at night?
JJW: My world is date-driven. So, deadlines, shipping challenges, delays on raw materials … that’s what causes me angst. I literally wake up and call the plant in the middle of the night to check on orders. Thank goodness we run 24 hours a day. It’s always late at night [when] I get that mental itch to check on something.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
JJW: Right now, the most exciting thing we’re doing is digital foil. It’s a new process in the label world that lets us lay down cold foil digitally (so, no plates, perfect registration and no special tooling). For a print nerd, it’s a big deal. To our clients, it means that really high-end labels are possible in small runs without the traditional upcharges associated with foil. The result is beautiful, eye-catching labels that can make a mom and pop’s wine labels look every bit as nice as a $100 bottle of imported wine, maybe even better. It’s like the great equalizer in the printing world. And we were the first in North America to have it.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
JJW: I spend a ton of time outdoors, and I like pushing myself. Hiking is my go-to hobby. I think it gives me perspective. In the woods, when it’s quiet and you’re alone, you realize how little you are. The world will turn with or without us on it, so we may as well enjoy every acre of it while we’re here.