A Passion For People
Sarah Thomas connects young professionals in her community—and helps underprivileged residents at the same time.
She started out as a legal secretary and fell into the promotional products industry by chance. Now, 11 years after joining Glenwood, Minnesota-based distributor American Solutions For Business (UPIC: A577956), Sarah Thomas, director of vertical markets/GPO specialist, is still as enthusiastic as her first day on the job, maybe more so.
“We all have our ‘off’ days but I still love what I do, I still love the industry and I still look forward to what’s coming around the next corner. I meet so many people in my travels who are miserable in their jobs. I am grateful to have landed in a company where I’ve been challenged both professionally and personally but able to grow and build a past and a future here,” says Thomas, who works out of the company’s Dallas-area office.
A newlywed (her spouse, Cathy Armando, works in sales at ASB), Thomas can often be found exercising, traveling, trying new restaurants, spending time with family and friends, and volunteering in her Irving, Texas community.
Giving back and connecting with others are both important to Thomas and she recently helped start the Young Professionals of Irving-Las Colinas, a group that helps local nonprofits through monthly events, volunteering and fundraising. “Growing this group within our community has become a passion. I see the good that we’re doing and that drives me both professionally and personally,” she says. She hopes others will join her in starting or becoming a part of local groups that give back to non-profit organizations that help underprivileged residents of their communities. See her tips for how to grow your own organization on below.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career and why?
My parents. I was raised by a single mom until I was 15. I look back on those younger years and I realize how little we had but I never once wanted for anything (except maybe a playmate since I am an only child!) My stepfather moved into my life and began raising me with my mom, and the two of them somehow managed to shape me into the person I’ve become, even though I was quite stubborn in my teenage years! They both taught me that nothing comes for free and you have to work hard to get what and where you want in life. Both of my parents worked so hard during their careers to give me the best life I could possibly have, and because of them I push myself every day. I want them to be proud of the person I’ve become. I want to say thank you for everything they’ve given me over the last 30-plus years.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Every day is something different. In my position I have the ability to work with so many different people from any one of our 600 sales reps to any one of our clients. I attend a lot of trade shows and conferences, telling people from all over the country who we are and why we are a great partner for all of their printing and promotional product needs. A big part of my message is around ecommerce and how a customized platform can help make the purchasing process easier while controlling the client’s brand.
What was your first job, and what lessons did you learn?
My first job was babysitting and housesitting—I was about 10 years old when neighbors started asking me to watch their house while they were away, to water their plants, feed their pets, etc. While these jobs were small they taught me responsibility at a young age. I saw how hard work could pay off (some of my neighbors’ gardens were extensive and the pets were demanding) and I began using a bank account regularly to save money for things I wanted.
What motivates you in business?
Being the best that I can be is what motivates me every day. As a promotional products professional, I’m not going to save lives or shape the minds of the youth but there are other ways that I can make a difference. If I can help a small business stretch that marketing dollar or a company save money on their purchases so that they can reinvest that money into their company and their employees, then I’ve succeeded at my job.
What advice would you give to an industry newcomer?
I tell everyone new to this industry that customer service is king. There are so many of us who work in this industry and how you communicate with your clients will absolutely differentiate you in the long run. Pricing and quality certainly are important but if you have the lowest price around and lack customer service then you run the risk of a competitor stepping in front of you. I also believe it’s extremely important to stay on top of education.
Sarah Thomas’s Five Tips To Grow Your Community Organization
- Join the local chamber of commerce and participate in events. If you want to gain something from that chamber membership that you paid good money for, it is imperative that you attend the events, even if it’s just one or two a month.
- For event sponsorships, target people you have an existing relationship with and also reach out to new businesses. Sponsoring an event like a happy hour or volunteer excursion is a great way to for new businesses to let people know about them.
- Think demographics when planning events. Given the age of my young professionals group, happy hours are typically appealing so we tend to focus on places that serve food and alcohol. I ask young professional members for recommendations and then select some establishments that I’ve personally been to. I also look for new businesses that are opening and looking to spread the word.
- Use social media and word of mouth. Our membership base is growing organically from other members telling people they know and sharing our Facebook page. The Chamber is also referring people to our group as there are a lot of younger professionals joining the Chamber and looking for younger networking groups.
- Be yourself. I believe one reason I’m finding success is because I really am passionate about our mission—I really want to help the underprivileged citizens in Irving and I want my fellow young professionals by my side. My goal is to build relationships and if I happen to pick up new business, great!