Close Up: Persistence And Promotional Products

The year was 1990, and Janice Tippett, a then-recent graduate of Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, set up shop in her parent’s basement with the intent to launch a graphic design firm. Seated next to an original Macintosh computer with only five typefaces and a 300dpi printer, Tippett took out a $10,000 loan—at a 17 percent interest rate—and founded JT’s Graphic Design that same year. “I was living the dream,” she says.

Little did she know that some 30 years later, her bootstrapped efforts would grow to become a $7 million-dollar operation with 35 employees housed in an 18,000-square-foot, company-owned building located between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore in Annapolis Junction, Maryland. “Millennium Marketing Solutions has come a long way from my parents’ basement,” she says.

Tippett, who was recently named to The Daily Record’s 2019 listing of Maryland’s Top 100 Women and has received several accolades over the years—including the Enterprising Women of the Year Award in 2017 and the Top 100 Minority Business Entrepreneur Award in 2014—quickly realized the power of promotional products.

Despite operating a successful graphic design business, Tippett knew there was room to grow. Serendipitously, around the time when she expanded her business with the purchase of a print shop in 1997—the precursor to Millennium Marketing Solutions—Tippett’s friend, who owned a t-shirt and sign shop, suggested she offer promotional products. It was a decision that soon had Tippett “hooked on the power of promotional products.”

Today, Tippett describes her team as “problem-solvers,” who use a hyper-focused approach that begins with asking the simple question, “Why?” “Every request from a client or pitch starts with, ‘Why?’ Why is the client attending an event? Why are they looking at apparel? Why are they looking for promotional products? Why are they looking at a company store or to build a new website? Once we uncover the ‘why,’ we can provide effective solutions to reach their business goals.”

Millennium Marketing Solutions offers clients a comprehensive range of services to develop and launch any campaign, from graphic and logo design, digital and offset printing, and web design and development, to digital marketing, content creation and social media marketing, and promotional products, which she always keeps top of mind. “Whether the goal is recruitment and retention of talent, increasing sales leads at a trade show or a direct mail campaign, promotional products are an important part of marketing.” Over the years, her business has also come to specialize in building and growing online company stores, which she believes are essential for businesses that use promotional products often.

In addition to running her business, Tippett is also highly involved in her community as the founding member of the Baltimore Chapter of the Women President’s Organization (WPO) and one of the founding directors of the board of trustees for the Heart Failure Patient Foundation, along with having supported several nonprofits, like the American Heart Association and the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. And during her off time, she keeps the creative energy flowing with an at-home art studio. “That is where I really escape,” she says.

What is one of your favorite industry experiences?

We had a networking event at our office several years ago. I was talking with a businessowner about our services and learning about his business. As he was getting ready to leave, he mentioned he was heading home to see his kids. I asked him to wait. I went and grabbed some fun, Millennium Marketing Solutions promotional products that I knew his kids would love. The next day, he called me and thanked me for being a “hero” to his kids that night. It was a wonderful feeling, and it made me realize that not all promotional products need to get the desk space we all want them to. I realized that promotional products are perfect for creating a memorable, emotional touchpoint. Over the years, he has come to mention this memory many times, and we both can’t help but smile.

What is the workplace like at Millennium Marketing Solutions?

This is a deadline-driven business where each product, campaign, design and so on that we work on is custom and unique. With that comes stress. We work hard to create a culture of teamwork and focus on delivering excellent customer experiences. We have regular events throughout the year to celebrate the team’s hard work, from lunch potlucks to go-kart racing.

Can you share with us a project, campaign or advertising plan that stood out to you?

One that I am personally most proud of is an ongoing self-promotion campaign called Promo Box Club. This is a campaign that nearly all my departments are involved in, including content writers, web developers, graphic designers, promotional product experts and print and fulfillment specialists. The Promo Box Club is a subscription box service where we deliver creative, out-of-the-box promotion ideas right to our clients’ doors. The carefully curated pieces within each box create the opportunity for clients to select outstanding promo for their company without the extra research. Additionally, our relationships with the factories are bolstered through the sales of their products.

With nearly 30 years of experience in the industry, what are some of the major changes that you’ve noticed?

One of the biggest changes is how easy it is for shoppers to search the giant e-commerce promotional products sites. I think the best advice I could give those seeking to get involved in this competitive space is to fill the role of a marketing consultant, not just a salesperson. When you learn about your clients’ “why,” you can guide their final product selection and help them understand how that product reflects upon their brand. The connections made during these consultations are the key to success. Promotional products are strong, effective marketing tools when utilized strategically—they aren’t mere trinkets, and I think that is a significant mindset change that has occurred in the industry.  

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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