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 Kris Bilyeu, chief operating officer for Tabco, Terre Haute, Ind. Here, he shares why he committed to the family business, expands on his core values and talks selling during a pandemic.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Kris Bilyeu: My father, Tom Bilyeu, started Tabco when I was in high school from a desk in his bedroom. My brother, Brad, joined him a few years later and is now president of Tabco. After college, I chased a career as a television news photographer. [Roughly] 10 years later, Brad offered me a spot on the team, as they were growing and Dad was having some health issues. I was not sure what Tabco did, but I was sure they would not let me fail. I went to the NBFA school for new sales representatives to learn as much as I could about the industry. I wanted to make sure the other team members at Tabco knew I was serious about this business and was not there for a free ride. I studied and received my Certified Forms Consultant certificate in 1994. I would like to think some of these efforts helped to earn the respect of the Tabco employees.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
KB: Goal setting has never been a strength of mine. I was taught early on to believe in God, work hard and take care of people, and good things will happen. Tabco is similar. Take care of the customer, take care of the employees and the business will come. We have always surrounded ourselves with good people. We have not set specific goals to grow, but when the correct opportunity presents itself, we will take advantage of it. We do not set goals that will force us to make a move to reach that goal when that move may not be a good fit. I guess if I had to state a goal, it would be for Tabco to have a great group of people who all strive to provide quality products and outstanding services for our customers so they can be successful.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
KB: The advantage a distributor has in this unstable economic time is the ability to be flexible and diverse. In March, we were able to switch gears to provide PPE for our customers. We continue to be able to change gears to accommodate our customers. [It’s] no different than the past when we went from forms to commercial printing, adding promotional products, large format, packaging and marketing services.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes the industry will face?
KB: I feel the face-to-face selling via Zoom or Microsoft Teams will become a somewhat permanent change. The relationships we have formed with our customers and suppliers are going to be leaned on more than ever. Many younger buyers are doing much of their research online before they even contact us, and they are not looking for a consultant. They just want to order as they do from Amazon. We have to build new relationships and prove our value.
What keeps you up at night?
KB: I tend to sleep well. I know much of what is happening today is out of my control. We roll with what we are given and make the best of it. What’s next? That is the question that we face today. We do our best to anticipate what the future will bring, but who anticipated 2020?
What would people be surprised to learn about you — hobbies, special interests, etc.?
KB: I hope it is not a surprise, but our family is very involved [with] our church. We attend the same church that my great grandparents attended in the late 1800s. The surprise may be [that] I am a beekeeper. I currently manage 15 hives and could watch them all day. The more I study and learn about the bees, the more I see the example they set for a business. Each bee has a job, and every job is essential. They all work together as a team, for the good of the hive. I will let them have the “work until you die” part of the job.