Distributor Salesperson of the Year
In the midst of the craziness that was 2020, Brett Marz felt right at home. It reminded him of his college days, logging 60 to 80 hours each week getting T-shirt orders out the door for fraternities and sororities at the University of Southern California.
It’s a fitting full-circle journey for Marz, who started Top 40 distributor BAMKO (asi/131431) with President Phil Koosed in a USC dorm room in 1999. When the pandemic descended in March, BAMKO quickly tapped into its PPE sourcing abilities to service clients like restaurants, hospitals, senior living centers and entire municipalities. “We had a duty,” says Marz, co-founder of BAMKO. “Booking sales meant saving lives. It was all hands on deck.”
The long hours every day – working 5:00 a.m. to midnight – took Marz right back to the endless hustle of his early years in the business. “It felt like we were a startup again,” he recalls. “We tapped every resource and everyone was involved.”
And did that hard work ever pay off. Through Q3 last year, BAMKO booked nearly $40 million more in sales ($145.8 million in total) than all of 2019. Marz himself pulled in over $60 million in sales revenue in 2020, an increase of more than 130% from the previous year. (To put that in perspective, if Marz were his own distributorship, he would be among the 30 largest in the promo industry.)
For scoring such outrageous success during the industry’s worst-ever downturn – and for continuing to raise the bar for creativity, passion and customer dedication – ASI has named Marz its Distributor Salesperson of the Year.
“Brett was so well-suited for this challenge because he’s spent his entire life in a constant state of reinvention,” says Koosed about Marz’s success in 2020. “This was just another opportunity for him to go back to the drawing board and invent the next version of himself. Brett was genuinely excited by the challenge and I’m incredibly proud of how he responded to it.”
Koosed speaks with the benefit of history. The two were best friends in elementary school, and when they met back up in college, Koosed was fulfilling Greek T-shirt orders as a side hustle. But he was on the verge of giving it up and moving on. “I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” says Marz. “I think that was my first successful sale, to sell Phil on building it out together.”
Both Marz and Koosed had plans of going into the world of high finance. But instead of taking important summer internships, they agreed to test the viability of their burgeoning business. It didn’t take long before they were working early mornings, late nights and weekends. They drove to the suppliers, picked up the blank garments, dropped them off at the silk screener, returned to help fold them to exact specifications, and hand-delivered them to customers. It was hard work, but their decision was made. Marz and Koosed finished college and started building what became BAMKO (a combination of their two names) and bringing on staff.
“Brett’s always been incredibly curious and entrepreneurial. He’s captivated by new ideas and new businesses, and by solving problems.”Phil Koosed, BAMKO
In those 20 years since, Marz has cultivated a practice that served him well: he’s committed to doing deep-dive research into the goings-on at every brand he works with, including heavy-hitters like Dunkin’ and Peloton. “I read up on them all the time,” he says. “I know all the news about them, the good and the bad, their stock performance. People underestimate the good that comes from working with brands you’re passionate about. You do better work. I have no problem staying up all night for them. If you’re passionate about something or someone, go spend time with them and it all works out.”
A couple years ago, Marz spearheaded a merchandise overhaul for Dunkin’, visiting more than 100 franchises in person to ask management about sales of branded product (they were dismal) and strategize a way forward. Now, the revamped merch – including personalized hats and sweatshirts, color-block hoodies and even a bathrobe, all with the brand’s distinctive orange and pink hues – continue to sell like crazy. Last year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, almost all the styles were sold out. “It’s become such a thing. You can put your name on the hat and it says, ‘Brett Runs on Dunkin’’,” says Marz. “People needed a little happiness. The collection says, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ Their brand colors are bright, and the merch supports the franchisees.”
Koosed took note of Marz’s dedication back at USC. “Brett’s always been incredibly curious and entrepreneurial,” he says. “He’s captivated by new ideas and new businesses, and by solving problems. He’s constantly reading and searching for the next great idea. That curiosity has fueled his growth, because he’s genuinely interested in the companies he works with and is unbelievably creative in coming up with clever solutions that help their businesses grow.”
In turn, Marz is the first to praise his colleagues for their hard work and support, while at the same time taking ultimate responsibility for each account. At the end of the day, the buck stops with him.
Get to Know Brett
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? Using my Peloton, swimming, re-teaching myself magic tricks, building Legos with my oldest son, spending time with my newborn and never missing a meal with my family.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Solutions
- What’s your favorite promo product? I’m a sucker for a really nice piece of drinkware.
- What’s your best advice to other sales reps? It takes patience, persistence and passion. If you work with a brand you like, that you’re a fan of, the possibilities are endless. I work with brands I’m obsessed with. I enjoy it because I know them so well.
“I have to know what’s going on at all times with all of our partners,” he says. “I have to take care of them, make sure they’re happy and be proactive. You have to be persistent and work hard. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
While that commitment to customers used to mean frequent travel on Marz’s part, the pandemic shutdowns have allowed him to spend more time with his family: wife Amanda, son Mikey, daughter Iris and newborn Logan. Since March, he hasn’t missed a meal with them, he says, and he’s still been able to provide the first-class client experience he’s become known for.
With his work, Marz sets a performance standard for the entire firm, says Joshua White, BAMKO’s senior vice president of strategic growth. “We win as a team and we love taking on big challenges,” he says. “Brett is ultra-competitive and also unbelievably humble, and he outworks the competition every single day. Those are incredibly fun traits to have in a teammate. He continually shatters the conventional wisdom about what’s possible and he’s such a good model for the rest of our team. We teach sales reps to let go of self-imposed limitations and reimagine what they’re capable of achieving. The example Brett sets every day is so valuable in that instruction.” – Sara Lavenduski
The ASI Salespeople of the Year awards were determined by a panel of ASI staff using the following criteria: annual sales, year-over-year increase in sales, colleague testimonials, prestige of clients and creativity in recent promotional campaigns. Nominees for Salesperson of the Year must generate $1 million or more in sales revenue.
Hit Promotional Products
You could say that promo is in Meghan Kory’s DNA.
After all, the industry is a bit of a family affair for the key account manager at Top 40 supplier Hit Promotional Products (asi/61125) – her father Paul is an industry veteran and current VP for Sierra Pacific (asi/87224), and her sister Morgan works in sales at S&S Activewear (asi/84358). When she was a kid, Meghan’s school backpacks were always chock full of logoed pens and notebooks, and just about every family vacation was tacked onto one of her father’s business trips or coincided with industry events. She remembers swapping her father’s polo samples in exchange for pens and plushies during trade shows of years past.
“My life was generally ruled by the promo industry,” Kory says. “A lot of people feel like they know me because they’ve watched me grow up.”
Being a second-generation promotional products professional has served Kory well – giving her a bone-deep knowledge of how the industry works and how best to help her clients. “She’s a gem,” says CJ Schmidt, president and CEO of Hit. “She’s charismatic, energetic and able to handle a high volume of complicated customers and projects.”
Kory joined Hit right out of college, as a part of the company’s customer service team. “I was very grateful for the opportunity,” she says. “Working in customer service really helped form who I am and how I sell. It allows me to have more empathy.”
Though she enjoyed her time in customer service, Kory aspired to move into sales, so when an opportunity arose at Admints, she took a position there. Two years later, when Hit acquired Admints, Kory was back home. “It was a win for everyone,” says David Walker, vice president of sales at Hit.
Why is Kory ASI’s Supplier Salesperson of the Year? Because every order, no matter how small, is an opportunity for her to go above and beyond for her clients, whether that means working after hours, answering questions over the weekend or personally shepherding a complex order from start to finish. “I’ve been presented an order at 3 p.m. asking if we could ship the shirts the same day, and we’re able to do it,” Kory says. “I’ll do anything I can for my customers.”
Get to Know Meghan
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? I got a Peloton. There’s a Promo Peloton group of distributors and suppliers, and we’ll do rides together. It’s a huge new community that’s really helped me.
- Describe your selling style. Old-school meets new-school.
- What’s your favorite promo product? I love drinkware. I’m a hoarder of anything stainless steel. I’m never seen without a stainless steel cup in my hand, and I always keep a minimum of two cups on my desk.
Her customers have definitely noticed – and appreciate – her hands-on approach. Howard Schwartz, founder and CEO of Pittsburgh-based HDS Marketing (asi/216807), for example, calls her a “rock star.”
“Meghan is the most attentive, conscientious, knowledgeable and nicest sales rep … period,” he adds. “She’s always the first to respond to a request or factory issue. She gets things done.”
Clients also laud her creativity – especially during the difficulties that 2020 brought to the industry. “During a year none of us could have predicted, she has been a steady hand in servicing our account and providing us with relevant ideas that work during an unprecedented time,” says Lewis Carter, enterprise account director at GA-based Pinnacle Promotions (asi/295986).
"I’ll do anything I can for my customers.”Meghan Kory, Hit Promotional Products
Craig Kornblum, owner of Jeckil Promotions (asi/234315) in Chamblee, GA, says Kory has “always done an amazing job” for his distributorship. “She’s responsive, creative and really has a desire to connect with us and help us.”
Among the projects Kory had a hand in during the coronavirus pandemic was what she describes as the “perfect work-from-home kit.” Each kit came with a drinkware piece, snacks, an insert card, a notebook, a pen – all personalized with individuals’ names and drop-shipped to their homes. “It was a pretty complicated project,” Kory says. “The more complicated the better. It just presents a new challenge for me.”
In addition to working with her key accounts, Kory serves as Hit’s social media chair, helping to shape strategy and create content that appears on the company’s Instagram page. “We focus more on lifestyle images that distributors can share and use,” she says. “It’s been a great way to have soft touches of product reminders. I get really excited when I’m looking around on Instagram and see distributors using our content. For them to share it, then you know that it’s working.”
A self-described “promo nerd” known to name all the swag in her friends’ purses, Kory is passionate about both the industry and Hit itself, and takes pride in contributing to the supplier’s 13% average annual growth rate from 2015 to 2019.
“I’ve been working there since I was 22 years old,” she says. “I love the progression of how much Hit has grown and being part of that ride. … It’s never the same day. I never feel like I’m in Groundhog Day. It’s always different projects and paces, it challenges me daily, and I love that.” – Theresa Hegel
Tiffani Burlingame arrived at Top 40 supplier Evans Manufacturing (asi/52840) in the early ’90s right out of high school. “She was bright-eyed, eager and had a passion for her job that was infectious,” says Alan Vaught, CEO.
Nearly 30 years later, Burlingame still has that same enthusiasm – backed up with all the expertise that only decades of experience helping to grow a company into a promotional powerhouse can bring. “I’ve seen so many renditions of what Evans is and I’ve been through every department and run just about all of them,” Burlingame says, ticking off the list of departments that have been her babies at one time or another during her storied career: prepress, art, samples and now customer service. “There’s no stone unturned in that company that I’ve not had my hand on.”
With a knowledge of Evans’ inner workings both deep and wide, Burlingame is uniquely suited to help customers navigate their way to success, no matter what it takes. “So many of Tiffani’s great qualities contribute to her success at Evans, but perhaps the most celebrated is her natural instinct to understand the needs of large and small customers, provide them with superior solutions and guide them through an above-and-beyond experience,” Vaught says. “She has the unique ability to see potential problems and solve them before they arise.”
Get to Know Tiffani
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? Riding my bike. Anytime I can get on my bike, get out and go on the riverbed trail to the beach, I’m doing it – total mental detachment from everything.
- What’s your favorite promo product? I have more logoed tees and tank tops than I can fit in a dresser drawer. They’re just one of those things that make me happy and bring back memories.
- What’s your best advice for others in the industry? Never assume. When people get upset, there’s almost always some sort of assumption in there and nobody took the time to ask more questions.
For instance, a customer recently needed to have products kitted and drop-shipped to 800 locations. There were products from five suppliers to be included in customer-supplied custom boxes. Burlingame took the lead on the project, working hand-in-hand with Evans’ engineers and the production team to ensure all the items were organized and packed in a way that was both secure and aesthetically pleasing – and would provide a memorable unboxing experience for the end-user.
Another time, Burlingame worked with a client who needed a large PPE order packaged and shipped with a short lead time. The order included customer-supplied material; however, when those items arrived, the Evans’ team found they were damaged. There was no time for more items to be shipped from the customer, so Burlingame saved the day by locating items in-house that had been allocated for future orders, and working with the planning department to replenish the shifted inventory with incoming stock. Thanks to those extra efforts, the client went on to secure multiple large PPE reorders.
Mike Melia, owner of Left Coast Novelties (asi/530786) in Huntington Beach, CA, recalls a time when he had a rush order for water bottles. Burlingame made sure they were printed and ready to go within six hours. “The customer was so impressed,” he says. “When other suppliers tell me my order can’t be done on time, Tiffani always finds a way.”
Clients also rave about her creativity and fresh perspective. “Tiffani is the ‘tip of the spear’ when it comes to a supplier customer service rep,” says Chris Duncan, president of distributor Integrated Impressions in Laguna Hills, CA. “My team often sends her vague information and says, ‘Hey, can you come up with some ideas?’ and almost always, she hits the mark and helps us generate an order.”
Sometimes, Burlingame says, it’s as simple as having that macro-level view of what other distributors are selling in a particular market – like many banks eschewing the tried-and-true check-signing pen in favor of a nice cutting board, for example. Other times, Burlingame just considers what she would want, were she the end-user. “If I were to walk into an auto lot,” she says, “what would be something cool to get?”
Empathy goes a long way in the customer service game. In fact, Burlingame says, it’s what she teaches everyone on her team from day one. “I train them first thing out of the gate to put themselves in the other person’s shoes,” she says. “Customers might be a little hot on the phone, but that’s because there’s an issue. Be an advocate for them if they’re right or wrong. You have to help them and find a solution.”
What’s been especially gratifying, she says, is watching members of her team take that training to heart and handle difficult situations with aplomb. “I’ve watched them so expertly take a heated customer and cool them down and have that customer become almost a friend,” she says. “It’s amazing to be able to watch them do that.” – TH
(15 Years or More of Industry Sales Experience)
As co-founder of Top 40 distributor ePromos (asi/188515), Jeff Pinsky has been at the forefront of the e-commerce trend since the company was started in 1998. More than 20 years later, Pinsky was on the leading edge again when he pivoted to PPE at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By diving headfirst into this unfamiliar product category, Pinsky secured over 50 new clients in excess of $10 million in annual revenue. More than doubling his own sales growth from 2019, he was instrumental in ePromos’ sales being up over 20% year-over-year in 2020.
“Jeff rolled up his sleeves and realized he had a business to save,” says Leah Beack, director of training and development at ePromos. “He worked tirelessly to engage, motivate and encourage the rest of the team with a type of passion I’ve never seen. I don’t know where he gets the energy or finds the time to do what he’s accomplished this year, but we’re all grateful.”
Instead of getting swept up in the monsoon of new products and misinformation, Pinsky’s strategy was to sell just three types of face masks: 3-ply disposable, reusable and KN95. He studied them, had samples ready and made a video demonstration for clients. He also set up an exclusive supply chain so ePromos wouldn’t have to wait on orders. He instantly became his clients’ go-to mask guy while many in the industry tried to catch up.
Get to Know Jeff
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? Didn’t have time for hobbies. I just worked.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Problem-solving
- What’s your favorite promo product? Socks. Universally loved and give you a great canvas to tell a story.
- What’s your best advice to others in the industry? Don’t think you already know what the answer is. Listen to everything and ask questions about the bigger picture.
“I don’t see myself as a traditional salesperson,” Pinsky says. “My approach has always been to understand a client’s or prospect’s business first. Once I immerse myself in their day-to-day so I can speak their language and understand their business challenges, I see where I can apply best practices and all the tools of our industry to drive ROI and customer success.”
An ex-investment banker, Pinsky worked with bio-technology firms before switching to promo in 1998. The prospect of innovating the industry in the form of e-commerce excited him. With his financial and tech background, he was able to use his analytical skillset to his customers’ advantage. “When I get information, I’m really good at analyzing what’s important, what’s relevant and how can I use our tools to solve that,” Pinsky says. “I don’t get to product until I’m hours into conversation.”
Traditionally, Pinsky has focused on landing large clients with a national or global footprint, providing solutions for their challenges with recruiting, training, communication or company culture. Last year, for example, he and his team developed Herbalife’s global 40th anniversary sales incentive program. ePromos sourced 14 custom items from all over the world and kitted and shipped to 95 countries in record time.
“Every client, big or small, has a story to tell, and our job is to help them communicate it in the most effective and efficient manner possible,” Pinsky says. “Once you demonstrate to your clients that you understand them and are really an extension of their team, you’ll be on your path to long-term success together.” – John Corrigan
(Three Years or Less of Industry Sales Experience)
Anna Harris admits she “took a leap of faith” when she left her job at a hospital in 2018 to become an account manager with Richmond, VA-based Brandito (asi/325944). But to her surprise, her past professional life and current one had a lot of overlap. It became quickly apparent that her master’s in social work and her emphasis on solution-focused therapy was the perfect preparation for her solutions-focused sales approach. And then when the coronavirus pandemic struck, Harris was able to lean on her healthcare connections to pivot nimbly into selling PPE.
Get to Know Anna
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? Drinking wine and listening to podcasts.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Personable
- What’s your favorite promo product? Drinkware. I’m the type of person who has 10 cups on their nightstand, and I’m always walking around with a cup and have to have one in my car. I just love the different shapes, colors and features.
- What’s your best advice for other sales reps? Have fun with it. Buying promotional products is probably not what my clients want to do all day, and it’s what I do all day. We have to make it fun and easy for them and take as much stress out of it as possible. It really shouldn’t be stressful to be selling really fun things.
Initially, Harris says she was just motivated to help her former colleagues who were scrambling for products from a broken supply chain. But then an email she sent to her local hospital was rapidly shot up the chain of command to the procurement team for that nationwide hospital system. Soon enough she was in business. “I felt like I was working the stock exchange,” she recalls. “Everything changed by the minute. I remember having a master spreadsheet and constantly plugging in specs.”
That knowledge of promo’s biggest new product category paid off with an order for 5 million masks. “It was the single-largest sale in the history of our company,” Harris says. That and other orders helped propel her performance into uncharted territory – boosting her 2020 sales figures by about 247% compared to 2019.
But it hasn’t all been masks, gloves and gowns for Harris. She also helped clients with kitting, drop-shipping and other more light-hearted fare. One of her favorite projects of 2020 involved a client who wanted to convert a weeklong employee appreciation celebration with a $30,000 budget into a virtual event with a corresponding themed care package. Every employee received a box with five items – from T-shirts to rice cereal treats – all repackaged and marked with a day-of-the-week sticker. Harris adds, “We filled it with multicolored crinkle paper, and it truly was a party in a box.” – TH
At an industry show about four years ago, Michael Scott Cohen, CEO of Harper+Scott (asi/220052), struck up a conversation with Lindsey Cochran about opportunities at his new firm. They continued the discussion over LinkedIn, and Cochran decided to leave well-established Top 40 distributor Cintas (asi/162167) and take a chance with a brand-new distributor.
“People thought I was crazy,” says Cochran, who had been with Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel International (asi/279600) before Cintas. “They said, ‘You’re going to a promo company that’s fewer than three years old?’ But Harper+Scott sets salespeople up for success, while at others it’s sink-or-swim. They have a whole team that supports you from the beginning.”
Cochran is now the Chicago-based vice president of business development for New York-based Harper+Scott. At Cintas, she had cut her teeth in the transportation/logistics and uniforms world. Her new company had specialized mostly in beauty brands up until that point, so Cochran brought a new focus, leaning on her knowledge of industrial markets as well as PR and ad agencies from her time as a fashion merchandising major in college.
But last March, everything changed. Cochran watched helplessly as orders disappeared and knew she had to do something. Immediately, she teamed up with Cohen and President Jon Alagem to start sourcing sanitizer.
Get to Know Lindsey
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? Every night, I’d FaceTime with one of my colleagues who was also locked down alone, and we’d cook and drink wine together. It was so fun.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Friendly
- What’s your favorite promo product? I love the Award Belt from SIMBA (asi/87296)! It’s cool and different, so it’s an eye-catcher and conversation-starter. I wear it to trade shows and people will come up and talk to me about it.
- What’s your best advice to other sales reps? Be honest, kind and loyal, and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. Cold-calling doesn’t work for me, but if I have a client I need to get in touch with, I call them. People don’t look at emails as often as you think. Calling them is how you get things done.
“We thought about the industries we could tap into, and I prospected that same night until 3:00 a.m.,” she says. “By 6:00 a.m. I was getting calls back. After that I talked to Michael and Jon every day, trying to get bottles and gallons sourced. They said, ‘Lindsey, you keep selling and we’ll figure out the supply chain.’ The synergy was amazing. The way we pivoted was very impressive. That’s when I knew my move to Harper+Scott was meant to be.”
In the weeks that followed, the team worked 20 hours a day, often seven days a week. The entire Harper+Scott business shifted to keep up with Cochran’s sales.
“When the crisis first hit, Lindsey’s first goal was to be there for her clients, community and team members,” says Cohen. “After our first work-from-home day, Lindsey called Jon and me at 9:30 p.m. and asked, ‘How are you guys doing?’ and ‘What can I do to help?’ She jumped into a leadership role and rolled up her sleeves to help in almost every department, including sourcing, creative, account management and, of course, sales. Clients started referring Lindsey to other departments, their friends at other companies and even their personal organizations.”
Thanks to her hustle, by the end of 2020, Cochran had earned a promotion, increased her sales revenue from the previous year by 1,695% and counted a bevy of new high-spend clients – a roster that includes Caterpillar, CBRE, Goodyear, Wells Fargo, Aldi, Disney, Goodwill, Shake Shack, Amazon and many others.
Cochran credits her success to taking the time to build relationships, as well as her resourcefulness and honest approach to selling. “My clients trust me implicitly with their projects because they know I’d never commit to something that can’t be done and if for some reason something does go wrong, I’m honest with them and always bring resolutions to the table,” she says. “Going to work every day and knowing I get to spend time helping out some of my favorite people makes this job so rewarding for me.”
And while masks and sanitizer characterized 2020 for most of the industry, Cohen says Cochran is anything but a flash in the pan. “Lindsey’s big year wasn’t just because of PPE,” he says. “She’s shown clients that she’s there for them whether they need advice on a project, a last-minute solution, or help getting an online store up and running over a long weekend. There’s no doubt in my mind Lindsey has barely scratched the surface, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her name at the top of our industry for years to come.” – SL
After months of selling masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, Ben Barrows was thrilled to have a creative project to sink his teeth into.
A beverage client recently requested a Funko Pop! figure in the design of its spokesperson. So, the senior director of national accounts at Top 40 distributor Overture (asi/288473) and his team went to work. They also developed a website that consumers could go on to redeem codes and have the items delivered to their homes. According to Barrows, 100,000 of the toys sold out seemingly overnight.
Get to Know Ben
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? Running. I still don’t like it, but I don’t hate it as much as I used to.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Honest
- What’s your favorite promo product? I love when a retail brand pokes into our industry and hasn’t yet become super mainstream.
- What’s your best advice for other sales reps? It’s important to remember it’s not about you. It’s always a team effort.
“The Funko community is passionate and the integrity of the box is almost more important than the doll itself,” Barrows says. “We received a few phone calls from customers who claimed their box had a tiny nick in it. Well, we sent them reinforced boxes just to make them happy because that’s what would make our client happy.”
Barrows’ determination to deliver the best customer service possible helped him achieve 50% year-over-year sales growth in 2020. He’s also quick to attribute his success to his colleague Cody Sanderson, his sales partner of the past decade. They joined forces to win over a large client once and have been pitching and winning many more clients together ever since.
“Cody is great at looking at the big picture, seeing angles that I may not,” Barrows says. “I’m good at pulling the reins back a little and focusing on what’s important right now. Having a balanced approach is key.”
Barrows was named Overture’s 2020 Salesperson of the Year, and Victoria Robertson, marketing manager for the distributor, explains why it’s well-earned. “Ben’s approach might be casual and laid-back, but he has an intense focus on ensuring client satisfaction and operational perfection,” Robertson says. “His keys to success are the tried-and-true methods of sales: building genuine relationships with clients and providing stellar account management.” – JC
Dan Cull has been a part of Muskego, WI-based Royal Recognition (asi/313998) pretty much his whole life – his parents launched the business from a basement back in the ’80s. As an official employee for the last 13 years, he started out on the operations side before finding his true calling – in sales.
Get to Know Dan
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? Spending time with my family.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Hunter
- What’s your favorite promo product? I love reusable straws. The environment is pretty important to me, and I like the creative packaging that goes along with them.
- What’s your best advice for other sales reps? Think outside the box and be creative. Don’t just fall in line with what’s the norm now. Try to think two to three years ahead.
As national accounts manager, Cull has achieved top success and steady growth, with sales increases of about 11% in both 2019 and projected for 2020. That keeps Cull busy considering that Royal Recognition works with around 1,500 companies. A particular competitive advantage for the mid-size recognition company has been its global network of distribution partners across 34 countries – an initiative Cull spearheaded in 2015. “All of our brand partners have the same mindset,” he says. “When recipients get a promotional item, they’re getting the same message from corporate no matter where it’s fulfilled.”
Unlike many other sales reps at Royal, Cull works out of the corporate office, giving him a first-hand look at projects being done in house. Of note was a large order fulfilled for a facility in the Ascension medical network, a faith-based healthcare organization with more than 145 hospitals and more than 40 senior living homes across 19 states. One of Ascension’s hospitals needed to recognize about 12,000 employees – and only had about two weeks in which to do it. Cull worked with the client to develop custom-created caregiver appreciation gift bags, each stocked with more than 15 items, from custom prayer cards to notebooks and pens. Then it was a matter of collaborating with multiple departments at Royal, from sourcing, graphic and printing, to make sure the bags made it to their intended recipients in time.
For Cull, the sales process is all about presenting innovative ideas to help clients differentiate themselves. He’s passionate about helping his clients succeed. “My favorite part of sales,” he says, “is getting to know the customer’s needs and developing products and projects for them.” – TH
Jennifer Lindsey Cooper
In the early months of the pandemic, Jennifer Lindsey Cooper, the Michigan-based national account specialist for Geiger (asi/202900), had a huge order from Quicken Loans, a long-time client. The mortgage lending giant needed gift boxes for 30,000 attendees of a virtual company-wide meeting. The massive project involved 10 suppliers and even the use of a fulfillment center for warehousing and kitting. Cooper made five round-trips to Chicago by plane or car, a distance of about 300 miles, to oversee the process.
“It was quite the surgical maneuver,” says Cooper. “We had to coordinate perishables. We had packaging partners for the turned-edge boxes. We ate this elephant one bite at a time.”
It’s projects like these, combined with Cooper’s dedication to her clients, that led to a 295% increase in her 2020 sales from the year before. “I had several large projects during COVID,” says Cooper, who also sold PPE to large clients with factories. “It’s where preparation met opportunity. We tapped into long and deep relationships.”
Get to Know Jennifer
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? Boxing. I took it up this year. It’s such a strategic sport, and it’s not all about being angry. It’s a release for the energy in your body, whether that’s stress or joy, because the energy has to move.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Intuitive
- What’s your favorite promo product? Whatever I’m writing a PO for!
- What’s your best advice for other sales reps? Learn all you can from our vendors and visit them as much as possible. They’re the true trainers for our industry. Also, show up every day and remember that taking care of yourself mentally and physically must be your first priority so others can rely on you.
Cooper has obvious enthusiasm for the industry, one that she ended up in seemingly by chance. The native Californian first sold print media in New York City, but by her mid-20s, she had decided to come back to the Golden State. For a while, she managed soft good sales at a ski/bike/surf shop, which led to overseeing wholesale orders. “A customer wanted 5,000 hats, and I thought, ‘Who orders 5,000 hats?’” she says. “I was selling to the promo market without even knowing what it was.”
Cooper’s interest was piqued, so she joined Apple Imprints in San Francisco (“because it was first in the phonebook,” she says). After leaving the industry to start a family, she returned 15 years later, ending up at Geiger after stints at several distributors. Today, Cooper serves huge customers like Rocket Mortgage, Upfield, Chobani, Nestlé Waters, BrassCraft and Agri Beef. “I’m a big-picture thinker and creative strategist, and I’m available to my clients 24/7,” she says. “I always show up, no matter the circumstances. Being determined and stubborn has benefited me throughout my career.”
Those traits served her well during a difficult year. Dawn Ruler, Midwest regional vice president for Geiger, lauds Cooper’s ability to see the big picture and predict problems before they occur. “Jen is intelligent, aware, passionate, caring and the hardest worker on my team,” says Ruler. “These traits allow her to be the best partner to her client and it shows in her success.”
Cooper looks back at 2020 in an uncommon way: with gratitude. “I’m fascinated and grateful for it,” she says. “I always showed up and wasn’t driven by fear. If you like the promo rodeo, you’ll be fine. And we all tend to love the rodeo. Even on the worst day, I still love this industry.” – SL
Dan Lunoe’s parents always knew he’d end up in sales. When he was 3 years old, he spent Easter morning selling the candy in his basket to churchgoers.
When he was a teenager, Lunoe landed a job at Ohio-based distributor Stuart & Associates. It wasn’t an internship that impressed his boss – it was his umpiring at a Little League game. “A dad was yelling and swearing, so I stopped the game and told him to quit it or he’d have to leave,” Lunoe says. “The owner of Stuart was one of the coaches and he was so impressed at how I handled that, he told me to call him for a job.”
Get to Know Dan
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? The Cleveland Browns having a winning record and backyard barbecues.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Solutions
- What’s your favorite promo product? Pop Socket. When I lost mine, I realized how dependent I was on it.
- What’s your best advice for other sales reps? Sell solutions rather than stuff.
In 2016, Stuart & Associates was acquired by Pittsburgh-based HDS Marketing (asi/216807), where Lunoe (who’s based in Cleveland) currently serves as regional vice president. He earned an estimated $5.5 million in sales in 2020, a nearly 50% increase year-over-year. Contrary to the rest of the industry, PPE wasn’t the primary factor in his growth – election season was. After providing logoed items for the 2016 Republican National Convention, Lunoe has continued to work with other political campaigns and Republican Party affiliates.
“I spend a lot of time on projects geared toward ‘gift with donation’ for their fundraising efforts each election cycle,” Lunoe says. “After the 2016 presidential election, it was very cool getting a text message from the soon-to-be White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer thanking me for my efforts.”
Of course, the 2020 conventions were totally different, emanating from various locations and having merchandise shipped to delegates’ homes. Lunoe, like many parents, has admittedly struggled with the transition to working from home. He and his wife Jesse have a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son who have popped in on many a conference call.
“I try to enjoy the chaos,” Lunoe says. “It’s tough getting into a solid work routine when you have two toddlers, but I feel like I know my kids a lot more now. You have to find a silver lining.” – JC
Charles Doligé is living the American Dream.
A native of France, Doligé arrived in the United States 20 years ago with a vision: to take his family’s business to the next level. His grandfather, Jean Lemaire, founded LR Paris (asi/246857) (named after his mother and Doligé’s great-grandmother Léonie de Ruffieu) in 1959 as a provider of fine gifts for government dignitaries.
After serving in the French military, Doligé joined the company at age 22. Finding it too difficult to open an office in the Middle East, in 2001 he decided to relocate headquarters to the U.S. and tap into a government market that was larger than the one in France.
“For two years, I had no money,” says Doligé, now a partner at LR Paris who started out living in New York and now makes his home in Washington, D.C., to be closer to government clients. “Then I had the opportunity to design a neck scarf for President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush, and we started working with the State Department. We mostly worked with French companies for the first 10 years. Once we joined ASI, we had access to more factories. This country is an amazing land of opportunity.”
Since 2001, LR Paris has produced gifts for the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations, as well as the Department of State; the high-end items, both soft and hard goods, are often given to visiting dignitaries as a keepsake of their trip and a gesture of goodwill.
Get to Know Charles
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? I started doing CrossFit. I used to travel every three days, and I’ve now been in the house for nine months, so I had to get outside.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Collaborative
- What’s your favorite promo product? If bags are well done, they represent the brand well on the street. We like to combine look and style with practicality.
“The White House entertains a lot,” he says. “The gift exchange is very important because it shows who you are and what you represent.”
The company’s clientele has expanded over the years to a number of government and military institutions. Fortunately, even during the pandemic, the old adage held true: the government is recession-proof. Combined with an election year and thriving corporate clients, Doligé’s sales were up 25% from 2019 to 2020, though he’s quick to credit his team’s support along the way. The company now has headquarters in New York City, and offices in Washington, D.C., Paris and Bangkok.
“We’ve grown by word-of-mouth,” he says. “We work with both Republicans and Democrats, and when you work with the highest person in the country, other clients know they can trust you.”
Part of that trust, says Doligé, is knowing when you have to tell a customer that something isn’t possible. “The worst salesperson is someone who always says yes,” he explains. “How can the client trust them? It’s a collaborative approach. Clients need us to tell them what to do and we have the experience to do that. For most marketing people, the product is a small part of their job, so they ask us for advice. If they don’t trust you, they won’t want to work with you.”
Avery Field, head of sales support at LR Paris, says Doligé sets an enthusiastic tone for the company that’s led to multiple accomplishments, including finishing 2020 ahead of 2019 and looking to hire quickly to keep up with demand, even as COVID continues. “Charles often credits his French accent for his success in sales, which may be partially true,” says Field, “but it’s his enthusiasm for delivering creative and unique product solutions that leads to his success. To him, each client is a partner to grow with. It’s Charles’s passion for branded product solutions that inspires the entire LR Paris family.” – SL
Blue Sky Marketing Group
In 2018, the sales manager for Blue Sky Marketing Group (asi/141930) left the Northbrook, IL-based distributorship to start his own competing firm. And he took many of the top staff members and clients along with him.
The Zirlins were blindsided. Patriarch Elliot founded the company in 1997, and his sons Todd, Brady and Corey had all come on board over the years. Now the family had to regroup and band together to save the business.
Corey stepped up to fill the gap, becoming vice president of business development and steering the family business in a new, digital direction. “At the time, I was focusing on managing large clients and spending time with my growing family,” Corey says. “It took a lot of hard work and transparency with our vendors and clients, but ultimately, I helped grow our company’s sales to the highest they’d ever been.”
Get to Know Corey
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? Golf
- Describe your selling style in one word. Informative
- What’s your favorite promo product? Wireless chargers. You always need one.
- What’s your best advice for other sales reps? Model your leaders.
An electrical engineer by trade, Zirlin incorporated his operational and problem-solving skills to scale the business, landing Fortune 500 clients while managing the day-to-day operations.
“Corey's leadership skills are driving the company forward despite these unprecedented headwinds,” says his brother Brady, vice president of sales. “Reinvesting in infrastructure, doubling down on marketing, creating a streamlined process, acquiring and retaining the best talent are just a few of the strategies Corey uses to reach record sales achievements. His engineering skills, combined with instinctual sales and marketing talents, separate him from the competition.”
Zirlin increased his sales by 45% last year, specializing in online store solutions, warehousing, fulfillment and logistics. He’s also established a warm rapport with his clients, regarding them more as friends. “I sincerely care about them and respect their needs,” Zirlin says. “Empathy and authenticity are critical to building trust and long-term relationships. Plus, with my technical and logistical background, I provide solutions that clients otherwise may not know exist.” – JC
Kathy Coley Adams
The coronavirus couldn’t keep Kathy Coley Adams down.
The branding specialist at Montgomery, AL-based LogoBranders (asi/255496) achieved sales growth of 157% in 2020 – the best year in her over two decades in the industry. And that’s despite testing positive for COVID-19 in late August and dealing with coughing, muscle aches and horrific headaches for six weeks. As resilient as her beloved Crimson Tide, Adams plowed ahead, making sure her essential business clients received the face masks and hand sanitizer that they needed.
“My greatest accomplishment is building lasting, meaningful relationships with my clients,” Adams says. “You have to always be honest with them.”
Get to Know Kathy
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? I learned to paint by number and color on my computer, and I also got a new puppy.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Trustworthy
- What’s your favorite promo product? A touch key. It’s unique and different.
- What’s your best advice for other sales reps? Build relationships and get out from behind the computer.
In addition to her ailments, Adams had to overcome the challenge of not meeting clients and prospects in person. For a woman raised on southern hospitality, staying socially distant hasn’t been easy. Yet, she’s remained in constant contact with her clients by adapting to the digital age, albeit reluctantly.
“I hate Zoom,” Adams says. “I’m old and wrinkled and just don’t like to be behind a computer screen and camera. I have that relationship with my clients where it’s no big deal if I call them on their personal phones at 7 at night, and they know they can do the same for me.”
Even before the pandemic, the State of Alabama – her largest client – has relied on Adams for health initiatives. She’s provided branded items as part of Start Talking Alabama, a statewide educational campaign directly targeting persons with or at high risk for HIV/AIDS. “You have to get involved with your community,” Adams says. “Help your neighbors find solutions to their branding needs by bringing them new, fresh ideas from the top suppliers in the industry. And find at least one supplier you can really partner with and be very loyal to them.” – JC
Full Line Specialties
After just over two years in the promotional products industry, Rocky Singh already has plans to raise his 2021 yearly sales goal. Why? Because Singh easily topped his initial goal for 2020 as he increased his year-over-year sales by 219%.
It’s been a remarkable rise in promo for Singh, who had been in the corporate world for 15 years. His brother Sam, president & CEO of Full Line Specialties (asi/199688) in Surrey, BC, recognized that Rocky’s skills (including an engineering background) could take Full Line’s operational efficiencies to the next level. In 2018, Rocky took the plunge and quickly caught the selling bug.
Get to Know Rocky
- What activity or hobby kept you sane in 2020? My daily 6:00 a.m. run.
- Describe your selling style in one word. Integrity
- What’s your favorite promo product? Before the pandemic, my colleague gave me a Bluetooth speaker from PCNA. I’d come into the office by myself because we were officially closed and I’d listen to Bloomberg Radio through the speaker. It stayed on my desk and kept me sane when I was alone in the office.
- What’s your best advice for other sales reps? You might not always see results quickly or overnight, but if you put in the work and establish good habits, you’ll start to see the results. That’s what I did in the first year, and in the second year I started capitalizing on the foundation I’d established. It snowballs into big sales; you just have to stay consistent.
“In my first year, I focused on infrastructure, business development, improvements and efficiencies,” he says. “In year two, I knew the business and I focused on clientele, the products and building relationships.”
Now, Singh is the COO of Full Line and focuses on selling to large corporations (more than 1,000 employees) with multiple branches and service centers in North America, particularly those with e-commerce, warehousing, fulfillment and distribution needs. His expertise in efficiencies has served him well in caring for clients during the pandemic
“They’re running lean,” he says. “They’ll ask for a certain number of products with a specific budget. We’ve been taking care of a lot of distribution and warehousing, and most want e-commerce solutions with an Amazon approach. The onus is now on distributors to be full-service providers. That’s been the case for a while, but the virus has compounded the need.”
With every task and order, Singh brings an attention to detail that he honed as an engineer. He takes note of small things that can cause issues later, like how a certain product can and can’t be decorated, and makes sure to confirm production and drop-shipping benchmarks. Singh’s also trained in lean manufacturing, so he’s always looking for the most efficient approach to a project. “I make sure it’s a smooth process from start to finish,” he says. “The relationship doesn’t end when the order goes through. Clients appreciate that.”
Shaun Rolfe, president of multi-line firm R2 Agencies in Vancouver, BC, and the British Columbia representative for Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America (asi/78897), has worked closely with Singh these last two years.
“Rocky always shows respect and says, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I appreciate your effort’ when we collaborate on projects,” he says. “I’ve seen Rocky with his customers at PCNA shows and his level of service is above and beyond.” – SL