Under 40, Over Achieving
It's an exciting time to be part of the print and promo industry. No longer bound to traditional ink-on-paper models, companies are embracing new technologies and service-based approaches. A dynamic group of young men and women are responsible for driving many of these changes, and this month Print+Promo is showcasing just a few of them. Whether they're leading the family business or simply living out their marketing dreams, these professionals—who are all under the age of 40—have a story to share. So, sit back and enjoy as they explain why they love the industry and offer advice to those just entering the job market.
Jillian Flesh, 30
Executive Vice President, Flesh Co, St. Louis
Her big break: Because of my family's long-time involvement in the industry, over 101 years now, you might assume that I came into the industry with some insight—but I didn't. I have spent the last five years acting like a sponge, soaking up all the information I can and learning the ins and outs of both print and business in general. When I first joined the organization I worked on the production floor for a year; from there, I transitioned to a customer service representative position where I was able to reinforce my knowledge from the print floor and really understand how customer specifications drive the production and price. For the past two years, I have been working more on the business management side of Flesh Co, spending a significant amount of time in human resources and now I am focusing more on marketing and sales. Currently, I serve as executive vice president, but coming up through the ranks has given me a broad base of experience and knowledge from which I can draw as I begin to have more impact within the organization.
Why she loves the industry: There's nothing stagnant about the industry. I think the general public believes that they have a grasp on what print is—simply ink on paper. But this is not the actual state of printing. Printing is exciting, it is innovative, it incorporates the newest technologies and, most importantly, it is pervasive. The market is not shrinking; it is only changing and the speed of change is accelerating. Organizations have to stay on their toes and watch other industries to see where revolutions are happening and where the customer need is.
Her advice for those starting out: Don't be intimidated by the knowledge set of some of the industry lifers. Knowing where to get the information to answer the tough questions is just as effective as knowing the answer yourself. You'll gather the information you need as you go and draw on the expertise of your partners. Most important, be excited about what print has to offer—don't shy away from offerings only because you don't understand them. Jump on the innovation train and ride it to profitability.
Bryan Roman, 31
Owner/Graphic Design, Northeast Ink, Newburyport, Mass.
His big break: I worked for two franchise print shops, learning the trade as a designer and production manager.
Why he loves the industry: Everything is an original artwork or idea. I like to veer away from just slapping company logos on products.
His advice for those starting out: Get your name or company on as much as you can. When prospects ask for samples you will be able to give them your information at the same time. It will also help build rapport with suppliers.
Sarah Scudder, 31
Chief Growth Officer, The Sourcing Group, New York (HQ)
Her big break: As president of my collegiate sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, I chaired a fundraising event for diabetes research. I hired Golden Pacific Systems Inc. (GPS) to coordinate all event print and promotional pieces. After the event, GPS's vice president of sales asked if I was interested in helping start an internship program with Sonoma State University. He wanted to infuse youth into the company. I took the job—a hybrid of sales and working with students at the university. I quickly realized that I loved my new job. Sales was great, but I really enjoyed working with the students. I became a student myself. I learned about the print industry and how to better connect with people. Now, 10 years later, I'm the chief growth officer for The Sourcing Group. I oversee enterprise sales activities, networking, strategic planning and growth. And, I work with wonderful people.
Why she loves the industry: The people and innovation.
Her advice for those starting out: Think and do things differently. Be bold. Network.
Taylor White, 38
President, Performance POP, Dallas
His big break: My father joined Chris Pumpelly, founder of Performance, in 1989. As a result, I was exposed to the graphics industry from an early age, spending summers working there. My father was a man of intellect, principle and commitment to excellence. I had a wonderful example to follow while molding my own managerial and interpersonal styles.
Why he loves the industry: I enjoy the constant variety we are exposed to and the challenges of growing with our customers, developing our staff and optimizing our business model to provide the best services to all involved.
His advice for those starting out: Educate yourself to the current business climate and best practices while staying attuned to the dynamic economic indicators. Then, combine that knowledge with a passion for the unique demands that the graphic industry presents. If you can successfully blend those elements, you can position yourself to make an impactful difference to those you serve, both internally and externally.
Will Winston, 32
Owner, TechnoMarketing, Richmond, Va.
His big break:I worked for UPS from 2004 to 2009 as an account executive. My father, Joe Winston, founded TechnoMarketing in 1997, and was a big believer in my getting my sales and account management experience with a Fortune 500 company. He insisted I stay with UPS for a minimum of five years and take in everything I could. It was a smart thing to do. It played a big role in my account, opportunity and territory management skills. While at UPS, every week I reported on my top gaining and declining accounts as well as my top 10 revenue opportunities. I was responsible for visiting my top gaining and declining accounts and reporting what was causing the gain or decline. I [also] reported on actions I was taking to close my top 10 opportunities and I made sure my targeted close dates were accurate. This level of accountability placed on me made sure I managed my territory properly as I spent my time retaining, penetrating and converting business to UPS. We reported all of these activities into a Client Resource Management (CRM) tool daily.
Why he loves the industry: I love the people. We are blessed to work with some awesome suppliers who help us shine for our customers. Relationships are vital to creating partnerships with your suppliers and your clients. It is a fun industry, too. We sell unique and tangible products that help our clients reach their marketing objectives.
His advice for those starting out: Do what you promise and be responsive to your clients. If you don't, there is competition that will. Take your mind off of transactional selling. Focus on creating value and long-term partnerships during every interaction with your clients.
Ben Korn, 37
Owner and Distributor, Safeguard Tucson, Tucson, Ariz.
His big break: I was a branch manager with Enterprise Rent-A-Car in San Diego and my father recruited me (for two years) to come back to Tucson to buy out his business, which he had owned since ʼ82. I was aware of the checks and forms part of the business they had built, but the expansion into promotional products and marketing really excited me. We completed the transition at the end of 2012 and they are loving retirement.
Why he loves the industry: I love the fact that I get to spend time talking strategy and growth with the owners, CEOs and marketing managers of businesses of all sizes. It's an elite selling and relationship-building opportunity that isn't your average company car/cell phone-type sales job. I actually get to provide ideas and solutions to their goals after gaining an understanding of their target demographic, messaging, struggles, aspirations, etc. We lead with ideas and strategic thinking first, and products second.
His advice for those starting out: Two things. First, get involved in your local community and step into leadership positions in young professional and nonprofit organizations. My activities have opened doors and opportunities that I never could have imagined. It has also resulted in some very significant publicity and recognition (including 40 Under 40 and Small Business Leader of the Year), which makes you that much more visible.
Second, invest in a business coach or consultant. I started meeting with Sue Porter on a weekly basis about four years ago. Scheduling this time allows me to take a step back, think and talk through strategic, big-picture goals.
Cori Jackson, 31
Marketing Executive, e-Quantum Inc., Reno, Nev.
Her big break: I was not born into the industry nor did I have previous industry experience before joining e-Quantum Inc. I was simply out to pursue my career as a marketing professional and the opportunity presented itself. The position seemed exciting and challenging, so it began. The more I became educated about the print industry, the more I wanted to know and be involved.
Why she loves the industry: The camaraderie of this group is outstanding. The value of being part of an industry that works together to maintain vibrancy and success is priceless. In my four years, I have met and networked with many peers and am thankful for such an outstanding group of professionals.
Her advice for those starting out: It is crucial to learn and research the scope of the print/promo industry as it encompasses many different components. Whether your involvement is in marketing, technology, software, promotional, packaging, manufacturing or other print solutions, learn and continue to be knowledgeable about the industry as a whole. This will help you become a master at your individual responsibilities. I continue to learn something new every day that helps me in my position as a sales and marketing executive for a software provider in this industry.
Brandon J. Olson, 30
Director of Operations/Lean Manufacturing, Wright Business Graphics, Portland, Ore.
His big break: After completing my undergraduate degree, my grandfather, Jim Wright, provided me my first opportunity as a project manager for Wright Business Graphics.
Why he loves the industry: The printing industry is dynamic, always changing and evolving. Through technological innovation, market shifts and industry consolidation, it's a challenge to stay ahead of the curve. In order to succeed in the years ahead, companies must be agile and innovative.
His advice for those starting out: "If we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always got." Strive to be a catalyst for change. The industry requires it.
Dan Lunoe, 33
His big break: I was 17 years old umpiring a little league baseball game for 8- and 9-year-old boys in my hometown of Bay Village, Ohio. I called a strike on a batter. (The strike zone was from the eyes to the ankles to encourage the kids to swing the bat.) A father on the batter's team starting yelling at me to open my eyes and call a fair game. I stopped the game, walked over to the father and told him he could either be quiet and watch the game or keep yelling and I would eject him from the field. Other parents starting cheering for me as apparently this father was vocal at all the games. The president of Stuart & Associates, Craig McAllester, was coaching the other team and came over, shook my hand and thanked me for handling the situation. Next thing I knew I was working for him over the summers selling hats for a company he also owned and then was offered a job at Stuart out of college.
Why he loves the industry: I love that every order is something different. Hats, pens, shirts—so many options of products. I also love to see how excited people get for the logoed items that they give away at events, and then, in turn, the excitement of those people who receive the gifts. Also, there are customers whose brand represents a lot of pride for their employees and customers, and working with those "lovemark" brands is always fun and exciting.
His advice for those starting out: Don't get overwhelmed with all the different products. Go to product meetings and attend shows—that is the best way to learn. Know that nine times out of 10, you can do what the customer wants even if you are unsure how exactly to do it at the time they ask. Build relationships with the suppliers—they are the ones you need to call on for quick turns and special requests. And, most importantly, have fun with the job. We sell fun items, so have fun selling them.
Beth A. Volkamer, 39
Operations Manager, ADi Group, Urbandale, Iowa
Her big break: After the software company that I worked for went out of business, I was contacted by an employment agency. From them I heard about a job as a customer service representative with a printing company. I knew nothing about the industry, but it looked like a great opportunity with a small company. After only a small time with that company, one of the officers left to partner with a larger print company to start a new division of that company as a print distributorship. They offered me the opportunity to join them to help them build administrative and technology structure behind the business. Although I was young and did not have a lot of experience, they gave me an opportunity and I ran with it. Our company has grown to become a Top 50 Print Distributor. My position has continued to grow and I am now the operations manager of a 23-employee company, responsible for managing a team of account managers, overseeing our technology platforms, and working with some of our key accounts on developing, building and managing online programs through our partnership with Four51, an e-commerce platform.
Why she loves the industry: I really enjoy working with clients from many different industries and helping to build customized programs specific to their unique needs. I also enjoy the daily interaction with our staff and helping them to grow in their professional lives. Our company has evolved from a traditional print company selling mainly commodity print on paper, like envelopes and business forms, to one that is involved in many different types of custom products. There is always something new to learn and always a new challenge.
Her advice for those starting out: Don't rely on the old way of doing things. Be willing to learn new things and experiment along the way. Our industry is continuously evolving and having the ability to be flexible is key to being successful and an asset to your company and clients.
Jeff Bowles, 39
Co-Owner, Proforma Promotionally Yours, Kansas City, Kan.
His big break: I spent six years in pharmaceutical sales after college and during that time I watched my best friend and current business partner, Jeff Levy, make great money, set his own hours and enjoy a better work-life balance in the print and promotional products industry. After the birth of my first child, I decided it was now or never and made the leap into this industry and joined forces with Jeff.
Why he loves the industry: I love that just about everyone you meet is a potential client whose company is buying at least one thing that you could sell to them. It's an industry that lends itself to building your book of business by referrals, and that affords you the opportunity to grow a business based on great personal relationships.
His advice for those starting out: It's easy to say "yes" in this industry, but often it's more profitable to say "no." Saying "yes" too many times to the wrong types of clients can result in working 60 hours a week while only selling a fraction of your potential. Be patient enough to say "no" to the wrong types of clients, while you search for the right ones. It can result in unlimited earning potential and an incredible work-life balance.
Jeff Levy, 39
Co-Owner, Proforma Promotionally Yours, Kansas City, Kan.
His big break: After college, I got a job as a project engineer for a construction company. After three months, I was bored. I asked myself, "If I am bored after three months of this, how am I supposed to do this for 30 years?" One evening I had dinner with my parents and their next-door neighbors, who were in the print and promotional product industry at the time. They convinced me to start working with them.
Why he loves the industry: What I love most about this industry is not the products or print that I sell, but what the industry allows me to do in my personal life. I love the freedom to work the hours I want to work. I love that I get to make my kids breakfast every morning and I don't ever miss dinner with my family, because nobody in the country needs a stress ball on the fly at 8 p.m.
I love that even when something goes wrong with an order nobody dies or gets hurt. My stress level is at a "one" almost every day of the year. I love the feeling that when I wake up I could get a huge order that pays me thousands of dollars that day and I don't even know it until I show up to work. That's exciting. I love that my clients like to talk to me about my job. It is the fun part of their day.
His advice for those starting out: My greatest piece of advice is to trust your instincts. Don't make decisions based on dollar signs or what others tell you to do. If you are hiring sales reps, make sure they mesh well with you and the people in your office. If Jeff and I can't imagine hanging out with a candidate on the weekends or during a company event, we don't hire him or her. Jeff and I also have a firm "three strike" policy. If an employee makes a mistake, we call it an accident. If it happens again, we call it a coincidence. Do it a third time, they are let go. We've prolonged the inevitable in the past and it cost us time, money and stress. Also, so many people enter our industry, desperate for sales—any sales. Don't go after the lowest-hanging fruit just because it's easy. The sales that are the easiest can also be the least profitable (schools, attorneys, real estate agents, insurance agents, etc.). The second you start working with clients who spend their own money, and not their company's marketing budget, they want every option in the world to look at and the absolute cheapest price. Find companies that have a marketing budget and value your services and won't spend their entire day looking for the best pen to put their logo on. You'll book fewer orders throughout the week, but make five times more money.
Teresa Fang, 35
Director of Product and Supply Chain Operations, Jetline, Gaffney, S.C.
Her big break: After college, I worked overseas for a few years. Upon coming back to the U.S., I applied for a position with Jetline and have been with the company ever since.
Why she loves the industry: I love that this industry is so dynamic and always changing. There are new challenges every day that contribute to a person's professional growth. I've been in the industry for 10 years and still feel like I am growing and learning constantly.
Her advice for those starting out: My advice would be to prepare to fully dedicate yourself to learning as much as possible. Read all the industry publications, talk and network with as many people as you can, and ask as many questions as you can. By doing this, it will lead you to being able to see all the unlimited opportunities for your own personal and career growth.
Jim Walters, 37
Director of Client Services, The Shamrock Companies, Westlake, Ohio
His big break: In January 2005, I took a project management position with RBF Inc. RBF was a forms management company that dabbled in commercial print and promotional products. The team at RBF helped me cut my teeth in print—Business Forms 101 and the basics of CMYK. Two years later, The Shamrock Companies, a marketing and communications firm, acquired RBF. Shamrock fully immersed me in all aspects of integrated marketing solutions.
Why he loves the industry: Cliché, but true—the people. I also love the pace at which marketing solutions are changing. Both offline and online marketing has evolved drastically in my 10 years. Keeping pace with the change is challenging and rewarding.
His advice for those starting out: Never say, "I know." Hopefully, you're a question asker/knowledge seeker who can show appreciation when someone provides guidance. Understand people are more apt to mentor if you don't always know the answer after the question. It's also key to collaboration, which is essential in the workforce today.
Joel Tardie, 30
Director of Marketing, Presentation Folder Inc., Orange, Calif.
His big break: I started coming in to the family print shop as a toddler, and even worked on occasional Saturdays or summers throughout school. I really didn't start working full time until after high school, during summers and then full time after college (2008). I started with basic warehouse tasks like shrink-wrapping and packaging, and have done quite a variety of jobs here.
Why he loves the industry: I cherish how printing is both timeless and dated in some aspects. I love the mixture of old and new technology. The process, the unlimited possibilities of products that can be created and the different ways they can be used will always keep me interested. Printing's rich history has helped shape our society, both as it was the original social media (the Bible)—the spread of information—as well as an art form. Unlike the digital mediums that so much information is spread with today, printing has a tangible quality about it that can engage the senses in so many more ways. I love how many factors can affect the way the same file can take form—from substrate to the type of press it's produced with to the unlimited combinations of treatments/coatings/enhancements and finishes.
His advice for those starting out: You must be bold, and not afraid to take on new challenges or ideas—even if the risk of taking on a project is high. While even though sometimes you will make mistakes, I think I've learned more from mistakes than successes. I certainly remember failures more than unlikely success stories, and that's how we learn a new approach, process, skill or technique. It's also important to know your competition and where your customer would go to get what they're looking for if you weren't in the picture. I often find that answer is changing—new companies emerge and existing companies you never considered your competition may offer new products or services.
Seth Newman, 38
President, Envelopes.com, Amityville, N.Y.
His big break: Action Envelope debuted as a brokerage in 1971 behind my father, Ken Newman, and transformed to a trade envelope printing establishment in 1983. In 1993, [my father] died of a heart attack at age 51, leaving his wife (my mother), Sharon, to take control. I was just 17 at the time and had two sisters, but my mother ensured that all three of us would go to college. Working alongside my dad and the family business was my dream, but I teamed with Sharon to take the company to new heights. After graduating college, I came on board in 2000, knowing Action Envelope needed an edge in the competitive New York market. We launched our first professional website in September 2001 and became completely dedicated to online commerce a year later. We rebranded to Envelopes.com in 2010, and we invest in a new website every other year.
Why he loves the industry: I love that the industry is constantly changing and becoming a more digital, trackable medium.
His advice for those starting out: Someone starting in the industry should focus on the best uses of the medium when used alongside digital technologies to create a complete and compelling solution to customers. It's not a one or other world. Every medium has its advantages over others and print is no different.