All In The Family
It’s not every day that you’re asked to create a custom acrylic embedment of a three-foot long centipede for the Royal Ontario Museum. Or that you receive an order from the Archdiocese of Toronto requesting a gift for then-Pope John Paul II to display on his desk in the Vatican. But Kate Plummer, MAS, vice president of sales and marketing for Toronto, Ontario-based Clearmount Plastics Limited, has learned to expect the unexpected, especially when it comes to promotional products.
Clearmount, which was purchased in 1989 by Plummer’s parents, David Plummer, MAS, and the late Rosalind Plummer, MAS, is a custom acrylic manufacturer specializing in Lucite® awards, eco-friendly frames and personalized SIGG water bottles. According to Plummer, the company’s personalization services enable Clearmount to craft nearly anything. “What we’re known for is that everything we do is custom,” she says. “Everything.”
The Lucite side of Clearmount allows clients to request objects, water or oil to be embedded in the acrylic and preserved for safekeeping. “We’ve embedded a lot of pins and medals, bugs, police badges and skeletons,” Plummer says.
“We embed a lot of bizarre stuff,” her father adds. “I think when the Berlin Wall came down 28 years ago, we had half of the wall in our plant.”
But Clearmount’s willingness to experiment with such unusual materials is what draws new and repeat customers to the company. “Because everything is custom and unique, when people come to us it’s often because their concept has been rejected,” she says.
Plummer spent much of her childhood involved with Clearmount, so she knows what it takes to offer top-notch service. At the sprightly age of 6, she started helping her parents stuff catalogues. “I like joking that tiny hands stuff catalogs very well,” she says. As she grew older, her father would ask her to collect materials for orders, from the likes of fan-shaped seashells and maple leaves the perfect shade of crimson red. And whenever her parents experimented with new embedments, they brought them home for her—the “official” product tester—whose eyes would fill with wonder.
Plummer specifically recalls a triangular jewel embedded in acrylic, reminiscent of a plastic bead. “I used to think, ‘Oh my gosh, a fairy made this!’” she says, referring to her 7-year-old self. “I grew up knowing that what my parents did was cool. It was really different.” Now, Plummer’s the go-to gal for creating these hyper-personalized products, which are all crafted onsite in Clearmount’s plant. This includes the casting, embedding, mixing and color matching of the Lucite, as well as the sandblasting, polishing, engraving and assembling of the final product.
“Because of the acrylic side of things, everything we do is unique,” she says. “We have people come to our booth [at trade shows] and ask, ‘What’s new?’ Well, everything is new. It’s about what you’re trying to build. We’re always experimenting with new technology.”
Clearmount’s eco-friendly frames are also something Plummer works closely with—and something the company is particularly proud of. In efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, all Clearmount’s packaging and paperwork associated with the frames is 100 percent recyclable. The wood used is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), meaning the materials are gathered from responsible forests that are monitored by a third party. The glass plates used for the frames are also recyclable, as are the aluminum plates and the water-soluble ink.
“We found that a lot of people have been wanting to do frames with plastic,” Plummer says. “Unfortunately, there’s a stereotype that plastic is cheap. Actually, it’s more expensive, especially when you’re trying to do custom work, like us. We’re trying to be as clean as possible.”
Clearmount continues this effort through its personalization of SIGG water bottles, an eco-friendly product designed in Switzerland that is durable, 100 percent recyclable and offers a lifetime guarantee.
“People keep these bottles for about 20 to 30 years,” she says. “Our product is a skill, and it’s the same with SIGG. They’re not just coming off an assembly line.”
Clearmount’s relationship with SIGG began unexpectedly, Plummer recalls. “My youngest sister Nicola was a rower, and her coach, who was teaching the high school team, was also teaching the Olympic team. My mom said, ‘We can get you team swag—jackets, hats, water bottles.’ But the coach said, ‘If it’s not a SIGG water bottle, don’t bother.’ So, we learned more about it.” Clearmount currently uses digital printers—the same printers used for acrylic work—to custom print the SIGG water bottles with company logos or related designs.
Plummer is heavily involved in Clearmount, with her hands in all areas of the marketing process. But ironically, it was not something she planned for. When Plummer started working for Clearmount “officially” at age 21, she intended to be there temporarily. But 10 years later, she remains dedicated to her family’s business. Recently, her twin sister Gillian followed suit, also joining the family biz.
“I used to joke that I was the only family member that could ever work here, because I have the temperament of both my mom and dad,” Plummer says. “Now that’s a lie, because my twin sister is working here as well. She was only going to be here for six months, but she’s been here for about a year now. So, I think she’s going to go the route where it’s a temporary job that turns into full time, like me.”
Nicola hasn’t entered the family business just yet. She’s currently working for Global Affairs Canada on its Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations, a pilot project to test a number of strategies to increase women’s meaningful participation in United Nations peace operations.
“She is too busy taking over the world!” Plummer says.
But the past year has presented a new set of challenges for Plummer and the Clearmount team, as Rosalind, Kate’s mother—a beloved volunteer at PPAI’s Women’s Leadership Conference and a board member for the Promotional Product Professionals of Canada—passed away unexpectedly in April 2017. “This year has been about finding our rhythm and footing again, and finding out what everyone’s new role is,” Plummer says.
She says that working in the family business has not always been easy, but she’s enjoyed every bit of it. “I always loved working with my parents, because I really got to know them,” she says. Plummer explains that at Clearmount, there is an inherit trust amongst the family, and her parents have often encouraged her to experiment with new ideas. But like with all families, there were occasional bumps in the road. “I think my mom fired me a few times because I was being an obnoxious child instead of an employee,” Plummer jokes. “But my parents have always been very good about drawing the lines between work and home and respecting them.”
The family bond that exists amongst the Plummers is something Clearmount provides to all of its employees. “We have very little turnover, both at the factory and at the office,” Plummer’s father says. “I think it’s because we treat our employees like family as well. We have some employees that have been with us for 30 years now.”
Plummer has helped create awards for a range of noted clients, like NASCAR, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Prince Harry, President Barack Obama, Celine Dion and Queen Elizabeth II, along with various prime ministers, princes and princesses, and other royalty. Clearmount also designs point-of-purchase (POP) displays for retail, with some creations currently on display in Sephora stores.
“Awards are an amazing product to sell and to know how to sell,” Plummer says. “[Awards] also add to employee culture, which a lot of people don’t think about. There are so many studies out there about how employee engagement goes up when there’s an awards program in place. It’s so expensive to replace an employee, so an awards program makes the most sense. Our distributors recognize this, and want to get custom and creative, and show off their smarts—as well as our smarts.”
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.