A Recipe For Growth
Rob Spector, president of Saint-Laurent, Quebec-based, Spector & Co., anticipates this year will be one of exceptional growth for the supplier. Having led the company for the past 27 years—Spector and his father, Allen, purchased the business, which was formerly Bankers of Canada (not to be confused with Bankers Pen, Inc.) in 1991—the duo grew Spector & Co. from just five employees operating a 8,000-square-foot space to a force of more than 400, running a 100,000-square-foot facility that includes warehouse, office and factory workspaces. “Remember those factories that had the old wooden floors? That was our factory,” Spector says, when recalling the company’s early days.
With a tagline that reads, “Your brand’s best friend,” Spector & Co. offers an extensive list of products, from tech and desk accessories, to writing instruments and home goods. Now, it is gearing up for continued growth, Spector explains, which is facilitated by a hyper-dedicated team and forward-focused decision-making strategies.
When describing the rate of change in the promotional products industry, PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone refers to the concept of “gradually, gradually, gradually, suddenly,” to explain how change tends to start slow, but becomes apparent all at once. This model reflects Spector & Co.’s plans for 2019. Far from the days spent walking the wooden factory floors, Spector recently made a move that he describes as “the largest change” he’s experienced in his business to date, both personally and professionally, and for his team. To prep the company for continued growth, Spector sold 75 percent of the business to Blue Point Capital, a private equity firm with three domestic locations and an overseas office in Shanghai.
“My decision to partner with Blue Point Capital has been a year-long choice,” says Spector. “We embarked on a ‘sales process’ and hired an investment banker to seek out ‘like-minded’ private equity firms that can bring in a different skill set to ensure growth that is profitable and seamless. And the proof is in the pudding—we had our best year in 2018, both in terms of sales increase and profitability.”
The company has experienced double-digit growth since 2010; a trend Spector hopes to continue indefinitely. The continued development—of which the partnership with Blue Point Capital plays a crucial role—is the result of Spector’s dedicated management team, many of whom have been with the company for 10 to 20 years, and others who are just entering the industry. The combination of seasoned professionals and enthusiastic beginners makes for an ideal mix of talent, and the restructuring of tried-and-true ideas while introducing new strategies and programs.
In addition to the partnership, the team has facilitated two additional changes, which are also significant in scope. First, the company launched an action plan with key performance indicators (KPIs) in its overseas office in China, which houses 15 employees. Secondly, the team hired a new senior director of information technology, who will guide the company to ensure its use of the latest, most innovative technology platforms. All the while, Spector & Co. plans to continue adding to its sales team to ensure a strong presence in all territories in the United States and Canada, as well as its digital team.
To tackle such a grand mission, Spector & Co. developed an innovation strategy, appointing former research and development manager, Juan Martinez, to the role of director of innovation strategy. “Though we have been doing this for 27 years, we’ve never been truly strategic and didn’t really have a comprehensive program, nor did we have a leader in charge of it,” Spector says.
With a push toward innovation, Spector & Co. also restructured its corporate social responsibility (CSR), becoming the first company in 2018 to become certified by the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA). This is led by Director of Compliance Chris Pearson, who oversees the office in China. His objective, Spector explains, is to work one-on-one with the company’s factories to ensure they are compliant, which is influenced, in part, by the 301 Tariffs.
“Our compliance, supply chain and product development teams have been very busy traveling across Asia to seek out new countries in which to manufacture our products. It’s been a truly grueling process, because it’s not like we can simply change a product from one factory to another,” Spector says. “Just the sampling process takes months and months to ensure that an existing product is perfectly replicated. Then, we have to go through testing.”
But it seems the Spector team is up for the challenge—and many others. The team is also working on expanding its new Asbury line of bags, which was a hit amongst customers since it was introduced to the industry in August 2017. It was an intricate process that involved the hiring of Athena Saridakis, who assisted with product design and development. Her intention was not to look at what competitors were doing, but to start “totally fresh.”
“Honestly, the success of our Asbury line was somewhat of a surprise,” says Spector. “Athena and I traveled around the world to seek out the trends in functionality, form and fabric, and from this research, we put together our first generation of Asbury products. We hope to double our sales in 2019.”
To ease the navigation process of Spector’s products and services, in January the company launched a new, user-friendly website and plans are underway for a Spector & Co. mobile app, which will be introduced in the summer. Surely, the company is intent on continuing to provide its clients with top-of-the-line customer service, and is willing to make far-reaching, in-depth changes in order to set itself up for success—and to do the same for its clients.
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.