Doug Dobbe and the team at Strategies, Ltd. are positioned for promotional success.
A 35-year creative career. A thriving company. A beautiful wife and business partner, three grown kids and three grandchildren. These are the pieces of the wonderful life Doug Dobbe, president of Appleton, Wisconsin-based distributor Strategies, Ltd. (UPIC: STRAGS), credits to the promotional products industry.
It all started in 1980 at The Vernon Company, where 19-year-old Dobbe was the youngest person ever hired as a field sales rep. At 23, he became a district sales manager. After seven years, he moved to Ad-Vantage Corp., a local competitor.
“The owner, Ralph Schrank, became a mentor of mine, teaching me about the strengths of our medium and how to combine communiqués with promotional products,” Dobbe says.
Representing Ad-Vantage on a business trip to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1988, he met Renae Hobbs, then a regional sales manager for supplier World Wide Art Studios. They were married the next year and decided to start their own distributor company, Nexus, in their basement in 1991. The business took off and they quickly outgrew the basement.
“I loved our original name, Nexus. We wanted to be the connection/bridge between our customers and their customers, but it proved to be a little ahead of its time,” Dobbe says. “Even though we spelled it with one X like the dictionary, people thought we were in the haircare business. They confused us with Nexxus.”
Rename And Rebrand
“[In 2006] We took a good, long look at our approach to the business and came away with the fact that we really strive to be strategic with our recommendations. We work hard at finding the right product for the right situation. We wanted a one-word name and Strategies seemed perfect. I enjoy the game of chess and thought that using a knight [for the logo] would help tell our story of strategic thinking. Simple, yet powerful,” Dobbe says.
Seven years later, in January 2015, the company needed a website facelift, and as soon as that started, Dobbe says it became clear that it was time to freshen up the entire brand.
“We were looking a bit dated and our original knight [logo] didn’t clearly communicate the knight chess piece idea. We kept our Strategies type font (just beefed it up a bit) and then added a much more contemporary knight. The biggest challenge was coming to grips with the fact we had a dated look. Once we found our new knight, it was full steam ahead.”
Like their old logo, their office space was also dated. “We worked with the designer at a furniture store to pick a color theme, and then we brought down some interior walls to open things up. Paint and new carpet did wonders. The final piece was interior signage and new product displays,” he adds.
The new look for the brand and the upgraded space now matches the employees’ enthusiasm and commitment. Says Renae, the company’s vice president, “Collectively as a company we have over 250 years of combined company years, and the average tenure of our employees is close to 12 years. We are very thankful for our staff and consider them family. They are really great people who understand that customers have a choice and we want them to choose us.” She emphasizes that the staff always strives to be responsive, creative and fun to work with.
“I sprang out of bed at 3 am one day and wrote down the words brand, communicate, motivate and reward. There isn’t anything that we do that doesn’t fall into one of those categories. Those four words have become our core competencies,” says Dobbe.
Once they figure out which area they are working in with a client, they ask, “Where do you want your message to land?”
“Options are a person’s home, vehicle, work, on their person (pocket, purse, backpack) or it’s a lifestyle item. We arranged our whole facility around these areas,” Dobbe explains.
“We love to get our customers and prospects to our facility because we have product displays and case histories throughout our space. These case histories demonstrate the true power of our medium. Our goal is to have the customer come away with the knowledge that while we provide branded merchandise and decorated apparel, we also bring a different element of creativity that they aren’t going to get just anywhere.
“I can honestly say that I have never been more excited about our business and our industry then right now. I crawl into bed on Sunday nights and can’t wait for Monday morning. Ten to 15 years ago we weren’t even thinking about portable phone chargers, Bluetooth speakers or apparel being decorated with lasers. They didn’t exist!”
While Strategies is committed to staying up-to-date with products and how people want to order them, Dobbe says the human element is equally as important.
“Deep down, I believe that love makes the world go around, and love needs interaction. People will want technology but will want a human element along with it. I’m not sure what that looks like but we’re going to work hard to figure it out. We’re all about solutions.”
Julie Richie is associate editor for PPB.