There was no doubt in the mind of Barbara Dail, MAS, that she’d found her kind of people when she discovered the promotional products industry. It welcomed her with open arms after the death of her husband left her seeking employment, taught her that competitors can be friends and supported her life’s motto: If you want to keep it, you’ve got to give it away.
“To be honest, it’s embarrassing,” she says of her election as recipient of the 2015 PPAI H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award, which she will receive this month at the PPAI Expo in Las Vegas. “You really get more out of this than you give. You don’t do it for people to make a big deal out of it.”
The honor, named to commemorate the exceptional service of PPAI’s late president emeritus, recognizes the extraordinary volunteerism that Dail has shown both in her 23 years as a promotional products distributor and in her community. The work she’s done for the industry spans from serving on 13 PPAI volunteer committees, advisory councils and action groups, and helping to found and manage the 14-year-old online industry networking site Coffee Talk to mentoring others in the industry. Dail has been recognized within her community as a lifetime member of the PTA and a sustaining member of the National Charity League. She is also nearing completion of her two-millionth care package for U.S. military members as part of her work with Operation Gratitude, where she is director of outreach.
Her involvement with the military began in 2002 when Dail coordinated an effort to knit hats, scarves and socks for military personnel, and she recruited other industry volunteers to help make the 1,000 items she sent overseas.
“She has served as my inspiration for what one person can do to make a change … just with a pair of knitting needles,” says Pam Wolle, MAS, president of Battle Ground, Washington-based distributor Wild n’ Wooly Marketing, Inc. (UPIC: WILD).
A mother, grandmother, entrepreneur, volunteer and power-knitter, Dail’s friends say she mentors everyone she touches. “Barbara has undergone medical and personal challenges and has always found her center in her business, in her volunteer activities, and in her compassion for helping people personally and professionally,” says Kippie Helzel, vice president of sales at Erie, Pennsylvania-based supplier CPS/The Keystone Line (UPIC: keystone). Helzel, along with Mary Ellen Sokalski, MAS, of The Scarlet Marketeer, nominated Dail for the honor.
An active industry volunteer who is often spotted at industry events, those who know Dail say she does a lot for others behind the scenes, too. “I am privileged to be aware of so many helpful calls she has made, ideas passed along and messages of friendship and love shared with those in need,” says Larry Stadtmiller, MAS, owner of Indiana, Pennsylvania-based Acorn International Marketing LLC, and one of many who supported Dail’s nomination. “Believe me, she is special.”
Joining The Industry
“I hadn’t worked in years, other than volunteering,” Dail recalls. But after her husband passed away, she asked around and found a position selling promotional products for a distributor called Idea Works. She sold a $1,000 order her first day on the job. “In all the years I’ve been in business, nobody else has ever done that, who worked for me anyway,” she laughs.
A year later, the company’s owner sold the business, and Dail joined forces with another former employee from Idea Works, Nancy McIlhaney, MAS. The two started their own distributorship, and called it The Creative Solution. “It worked. I never thought it wouldn’t. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I never thought we’d fail,” Dail says.
Building A Company
At its height, The Creative Solution had seven salespeople, the two co-founders and an artist on staff. A few years ago, the company downsized. Now it’s just Dail and McIlhaney, who each work from home. “I was commuting 56 miles a day, which is a lot at my advanced age,” laughs Dail. “My clients don’t care where I work.”
Dail says a lot of her end buyers have been with her since the early days. “A lot of them leave and go on to other things, and they take me with them. We have a personal connection, sending them baby presents and wedding presents. We have a personal touch with them that I think they appreciate,” she says.
Growing The Industry
Approximately 14 years ago, Dail was at a gathering at a Dallas-area home during The PPAI Expo. Members of the group were discussing how they could keep in touch after their committee service for the Association ended. The idea for the online industry networking group Coffee Talk was born, and Dail and others set about making it a reality. She still serves as leader of the membership committee for the 175-plus member group.
“I laugh now because I don’t think they would take me if I applied, because we’re so picky,” Dail says of Coffee Talk members. Entry into the group requires sponsorship by a current member, a PPAI industry certification, experience as PPAI volunteer, and business ethics that align with those of the group.
“They have to have the same passion for the industry that we do. We want to make it better—period,” Dail explains.
Serving The Association
Since 1999, Dail has served on 13 PPAI volunteer committees, advisory councils and action groups, including the Government Relations Action Group, Leadership Advisory Committee and the Education, Membership and Distributors Committees. She also served on the Conventions Advisory Council from 2002 to 2008, the Marketing Information & Research Advisory Council from 2002 to 2005, the Promotional Apparel Advisory Council from 2001 to 2004 and the Public Relations Advisory Council from 2002 to 2004. In 2000, she took part in planning the Association’s 100th anniversary as part of the Centennial Committee. She was also in attendance at the first-ever PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference.
Helping The Troops
The amount of work that Dail has put into helping and comforting the men and women of the U.S. armed services is awe inspiring. “I do tend to overdo everything,” Dail says of the time she led others to knit 1,000 hats, scarves and socks to keep service members warm. Since that initial donation, she’s teamed up with Operation Gratitude to gift nearly two million individually addressed care packages to deployed service members. Dail has already worked to coordinate supplies for returning veterans and toys for service members to give to children living amid conflict.
“I try to get as many donations as I can, both in products and financial donations,” Dail says, adding that the industry has played a big part. “There has hardly been a supplier that hasn’t participated. Nobody has turned me down, ever.”
Enjoying The Fruits Of Her Labor
As a grandmother of four—two boys and two girls between the ages of 13 and 21—Dail says it gives her peace of mind to know so many industry colleagues. “It’s like a big family. With all my grandchildren going to college and so spread out, if something were to happen I probably know someone who could help. Not many people can say that.”
She doesn’t knit as much nowadays, preferring to read instead. “I’ve probably worn out four or five Kindles,” she says.
Remembering Those Who Helped Her
Though receiving the PPAI H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award calls to mind all of the things Dail has done for others, she can’t help but recall what others have done for her. At her first PPAI Expo, Dail says she knew no one. Then she met the late Janelle Nevins, former senior vice president of Silver Springs, Maryland’s Summit Group (UPIC: summit), member of the PPAI Board of Director’s Class of 2007 and recipient of the 2013 PPAI Woman of Achievement Award. “She sat next to me on the shuttle and spent the whole day with me, introducing me to people,” Dail remembers. “I could do nothing for her. I thought, ‘Wow, I want to be her.’ That shows you the generosity of people in our industry.”
>>PPAI will honor Dail at the Chairman’s Leadership Dinner during The PPAI Expo. Purchase tickets when you register for the Expo at www.ppai.org/expo.