As part of Print+Promo’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know a leading professional in the print and promotional industry. This month, we talked to Paul M. Lage, president and CEO of Gill Studios Inc., Lenexa, Kan. Read on as Lage shares his thoughts on the industry, and explains how his company is staying relevant.
How did you first get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Paul M. Lage: My father was in the industry for 30-plus years, and I spent many a summer and spring break working in the sample room at Quick Point. I actually knew the Gilmans prior to being hired by them [at Gill Studios Inc.] It was a great advantage having my father in the industry, as I was able to inherit his relationships. Top that with working for the best supplier in the industry, Gill Studios Inc., which was a perpetual winner of the Supplier Star. I don’t know that I could have had a better start to a career.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
PML: Business goals start with [a] vision of where you want to be in the long-term. Then, we work backwards from that point. Coming up with goals is the easy part. The hard part is implementing plans to support the goals, which defines success or failure. My wife sets my personal goals in life. She has some pretty lofty goals, too.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
PML: There is a pretty compelling argument that the industry is mature, and growth has been relatively flat with inflation-adjusted dollars. So, the only way for the industry to move is with the growth or contraction with the U.S. economy. We believe that we are more consistent than other advertising mediums that seemed to have moved volatility and change than promotional products.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest challenges the industry will face?
PML: We are all looking for the disruptors of our industry. They aren’t here today, but they will emerge. So, the unknown is one of the biggest challenges we have. Secondly, coming up with things that are really new. We have almost a million products to choose from. We are focused on managing supply chains, reducing costs and managing regulations while trying to improve margins in a mature industry. Therefore, are we, as an industry, spending enough time on developing [something] really new? The history of our industry was built on new things. We were often a testing ground for retail products. Today, China and other countries seem to be the developers of new products with many suppliers providing the same product.
What keeps you up at night?
PML: Not much keeps me up at night. We have to understand that we are in a constant state of change. I think that is exciting and makes every day a challenge.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now? Why?
PML: We bought Barton Nelson (Bebco), and we are re-engineering the company. This was a company with a good product line of paper products, but [it] didn’t keep up with technologies. One of the first things we did was make significant investments in digital technology. [We] partnered with some innovative machine makers to develop more proprietary equipment to support shorter runs. We are building on all that was good about the old Bebco line, and are filling in the gaps with Gill support. This also adds to the selection of products that we produce, and easily fits with Gill products.
What would people be surprised to learn about you—hobbies, special interests, etc.?
PML: I love to play games, I am excessively competitive and I love it when people are more intent on beating me than winning the game. A little fact—we have developed a big dog foursome for golf that has won the most Power Summit and PPEF Glen Holt [Scholarship] golf tournaments than any other foursome in the industry. In fact, we have probably won the majority of them. Our captain Fran Ford [president of supplier Castelli North America], Memo Kahan [president of distributor PromoShop], Fred Parker [CEO of distributor A Brand Company] and myself were the original team. We have had others, like CJ Schmidt [president of supplier Hit Promotional Products], Chuck Fandos [CEO of distributor GatewayCDI] and Rod Brown [chief financial officer of distributor MadeToOrder], join us over our history. We don’t need the trophies, we just enjoy the boos. So, bring it on.