Jeff Solomon

PromoPath with Jeff Solomon

Welcome to the fourth installment of what will be an ongoing series of blog posts. Our aim is to explore and learn from the various career paths of promotional product industry leaders.

Our guest interviewee is Jeff Solomon. Jeff is a successful distributor with 23 years of experience, the publisher of FreePromoTips, and an industry leader and innovator.

Jeff Solomon

PP: First things first, how did you wind up in the promotional product industry?

JS: I stumbled into it at the direction of my brilliant wife. We had a successful screen-printing business and she thought it would be a good idea to also offer promotional products. Of course she was right. Wives are always right aren’t they? Promotional products added a completely different dimension to our company and gave us more tools to be creative with.

 

PP: You’ve been with All American Marketing Group since 1992. In any industry, 23 years is a long time! What about All American has led to such terrific job satisfaction?

JS: We truly care about meeting the needs of our clients. It’s never been about selling stuff…it’s always been about providing effective marketing and branding solutions. We have also been involved in our community and I have served on the board of directors of a few organizations. Currently, I’m the Vice President and Legislative Chair of Ad Pros LA, the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Advertising Federation (AAF).  Serving adds to your credibility.

 

PP: Have you ever been tempted to make a move?

JS: I’m always moving. While I enjoy parts the product side of this industry, 10 years ago I created FreePromoTips.com, a content driven program that distributors and suppliers benefit from.  This gives me the opportunity to address what’s happening in the industry, with the help of a few colleagues. We are able offer useful business building information and industry commentary.

FreePromoTips has become a valuable resource showcasing what some great suppliers offer. Our new YourPromotionSolution.com video resource website features easy to share, short end-user safe product videos that reside on YourPromotionSolution.com. The distributors who use them love them and suppliers love that their products are being shown to end users through distributors.

 

PP: Throughout your almost 40 years in the ad specialty business, what have you found to be the biggest motivator of distributor sales reps?

JS: One might think it’s money, but from my perspective it’s the opportunity to be creative. This industry seemingly revolves around commodities, but being able to effectively use promotional products to convey the desired message motivates me.

 

PP: What do you think the perfect distributor workplace looks like?

JS: I believe the perfect distributor workspace is about freedom. The distributor gig is typically not a 9 to 5 job…and that’s attractive to most people. I also think it’s about relationships with colleagues and supplier partners. The connections I have nurtured through the years have made the industry special to me.

 

PP: What advice would you give an experienced industry professional looking for a new home?

JS: The business culture needs to be the right fit. There are many great organizations in our industry. What is good for one person may not be right for another. People need to be comfortable in the corporate culture.

 

PP: PPAI, ASI, and the various regional associations offer promo professionals opportunities to network at events year round. What advice would you give an industry newcomer about networking with peers?

JS: I believe networking and building relationships with peers is critical. The great relationships I have developed through the years is one of key reasons I love this industry. It’s also important to take advantage of the education opportunities that these events offer.

 

PP: Jeff, you’re very active on social media and with your award winning website, FreePromoTips.com. What value do you see in social media?

JS: I love social media, but I think our industry doesn’t get it. Distributors and Suppliers need to avoid posting a steady stream of product specials. Social media is “river” with content flowing rapidly down it. It’s important to share content in addition to always promoting products.

I love to share this quote from Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Media, “At a cocktail party, you wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m Dave. My stuff is 20 percent off.’ What you do is ask questions, tell stories, listen and relate to people.”

That’s Social Media 101 and it’s one of the reasons we are adding social media management to our business. While I hardly consider myself a social media expert, my team and I have invested time and money learning about this powerful communication tool. We can help others be more effective online.

Following up the preceding question, social media also keeps us connected to colleagues even though we may only see them personally once or twice a year. We see what’s happening with their families and what they do for fun away from their business lives.

Early on, I felt that I didn’t want to have “colliding worlds” with my business and personal life…but now I really don’t care. If people see a video of my son playing drums at church, or my running and cycling pictures it’s OK.  They just get to discover who I am. Unless you are posting your crazy antics out being drunk, I think online social engagement is good for business.

 

PP: Can you tell us about your latest project, SuccessFit?

JS: SuccessFit was born from my own personal journey and I’m very passionate about it. I was a cripple for most of my life from a motocross racing injury.  A few years ago I had my ankle fused and encouraged by my wife and an amazing group of people from Team Runners Lane I started to run…albeit very slowly. But that’s OK.  I’ve lost over 25 pounds and by the time this is published I will have completed a half marathon.  (I hope!)  13.1 miles is a LONG distance!

From my experience our team has developed SuccessFit 4 Life! a content driven program to share, inspire and motivate others in their journey.  We are putting together a turnkey program that a select group of distributors will be able to offer their clients. Businesses and organizations benefit in many ways from incorporating a health and wellness program. SuccessFit 4 Life! makes it simple to provide this type of program. If distributors want to learn more about how they can be a part of this, they can contact me directly.

 

PP: Do your friends and family know what you do?

JS: Of course they do…and many are clients.

Reagan Holm

PromoPath with Reagan Holm

Welcome to the third installment of what will be an ongoing series of blog posts. Our aim is to explore and learn from the various career paths of promotional product industry leaders.

Our guest interviewee is Reagan Holm. Reagan has led several of our industries largest supplier firms, served on the PPAI Board of Directors, and is currently the owner of the consulting firm TRH & Associates.

Reagan Holm

PP: First things first, how did you wind up in the promotional product industry?

RH: I started right after college working in the insurance business and the first time I ever heard of promotional products and their uses came from that business model.  I used calendars and Parker Pens as handouts to build my brand and business with college interns and medical professionals.  The Parker Pens were a big hit with the interns and students at the med schools in Dallas and it really pushed me to answer an ad I saw in the local paper when Parker Pens was hiring for a Territory Manager for Texas and the surrounding states.  I worked there for several years, I enjoyed the people I met and the opportunity I saw to grow in the industry and was hooked!

 

PP: Many industry leaders spent time at Hazel Promotional Products early in their career. What was your experience there? Have you been able to network through your career with those Hazel contacts?

RH: Hazel was a fantastic place to learn the dynamics of the industry and the intricacies of the supplier distributor relationship.  Back then, Hazel was a sought-after and desired franchise and our distributor network was a basic list of who’s who in the Promotional Products Industry, at least for the time.  Hazel also had a great retail presence and as that business was changing dramatically, the promotional division always stayed consistent and profitable.  Hazel was a fun place to be at the time and a great group of people came out of their program.  Most of them are still leading the industry in one way or the other.

I learned about networking from Hazel and Glen Holt.  Leveraging the right industry relationships was the nature of the business and to this day those friendships and relationships are very important in growing and managing a reputation in our business. Whether supplier, distributor or industry partners like ASI, PPAI, etc… the network of people are why I’m still in the business and hope to be for some time.

 

PP: You served on the PPAI Board of Directors and was Chairman of the Board for PPEF.How did the opportunity to take on such visible leadership roles come about? Did it lead to any opportunities?

RH: The opportunities I had to serve on these boards held a direct correlation with attending and volunteering in educational seminars, Presidents Forums, industry committees, presenting in classes and roundtable discussions.  I feel honored and lucky to have been elected to the PPAI Board and consider the time serving on those boards as some of the most important time I have spent in the industry.  As for opportunities from my board service, all I can say is that I learned much more then I feel I will ever be able to give back to our business.  This industry has been very good to me and my family and I will continue to do all I can to pay it forward for the rest of my time.

 

PP: You’ve managed several industry supplier businesses (either as COO or President). What common challenges did you run into on the supplier side?

RH: The most significant challenge, for any business is to be able to determine the infrastructure needs both as you are growing, the when and how to add and manage people and when you hit the critical growth milestones of $5MM, $10MM, $20MM, etc…, when investing in updated and larger capacity platforms, controls, systems, protection and efficiencies are no longer a luxury but a necessity to run the business and maintain profitability.

 

PP: When moving from one company to another what was your main motivator for making a change?

RH: In almost all cases, I felt like my job was done so moving along wasn’t sad but a way for the business to grow in a new and probably different direction.

 

PP: There’s always been a lot of job movement on the supplier side of the promo business. We’ve even heard it compared to a “revolving door” because territory reps seem move from supplier to supplier. Why do you think this is?

RH: I think that most small companies and their owners don’t allow sufficient time to train and develop new talent.  Especially in the sales and marketing rolls where you see talented people seemingly beating their heads against the wall because there is no real plan or support for them to base their success on.  If a plan of substance is developed and agreed to within a company and metrics are defined and utilized to support the plan’s progress you have a 70% chance of success with those associates.  So imagine what your odds are if you don’t have a workable plan in place to run your business? Most businesses fail because of poor implementation and training not because they didn’t want to plan.

 

PP: We hear from people everyday who want to land a supplier sales job. What advice would you give a current supplier rep to get noticed by an employer? What advice would you give someone wanting to make the leap from the distributor side?

RH: Be creative and accurate in your pitch to a potential employer. Show them that sales people are not just a dime a dozen but critical thinkers with a process on how to manage, work and grow a sales area in this business.  Get involved in the workings of the industry and its associations.  Build your network from performers not just “funsters” and stay involved with them as you grow your career.  The long term effects are invaluable.

 

PP: Our industry is constantly changing. What does the future look like for big suppliers? What about the smaller ones?

RH: Consolidation is continuing to happen across all fronts of our business.  Though we remain very excited about the future of the industry we don’t exactly conform to bigger is better and huge is great!  Technology is driving improvements in production art, graphic art, order processing, change request, communication, imprinting, manufacturing, inventory control, supply chain, freight delivery and almost every other place you can envision.  This leaves the door wide open for all opportunistic suppliers to manage, grow and implement change in their businesses faster than they have ever before.

Niche suppliers are being sought after by all distributors for their creativity and dependability in their niche.  Become one of these niche quality suppliers and make sure the distribution can find you with all of the new methods that connect us together.

 

PP: You started TRH & Associates about 18 months ago. What motivated you to start this business? What kinds of things do you help suppliers with?

RH: I have successfully help people manage and grow their businesses over the last 30+ years in this industry and have learned a lot of what to do and what not to do during that time.  I would like to share and develop that knowledge with several non-competing suppliers to the industry and build a cooperative and sharing network within the business where we can learn, build and grow our businesses together.  Plus, the business is based in Park City Utah!

 

PP: What advice would you give an experienced industry professional who is looking to change jobs? Would you recommend the industry to a recent college graduate?

RH: Educate yourself on new technologies, platforms, social media, marketing to todays’ younger demographic.  Build and work your network.  It is more important today than ever before.

Yes, I think it’s a great business for a college graduate!  The major market demographics are 20 to 35 and the business to bright, creative and inclusive!

 

PP: What was your most triumphant moment/sale/negotiation—when you felt you really had a mastery of this business?  Have you ever mastered this business?

RH:  Biggest moment was getting married to my wife “Lael” and being named President of Visions Awards / Awardcraft.  Still working on mastering this thing we all love!