Close Up: Solution Experts
Meeting clients’ complex needs can be a lot like balancing “spinning plates on the proverbial pole,” says Dr. Darryl Jenkins. LaDawne Jenkins adds, “What we’ve learned is that our customers are calling us asking for custom-branded solutions. They are asking us how we can solve their problems. Our clients know what type of environment they hope to create with an event or campaign, but they always need help to create, develop and establish what the promotional side looks like and how those promotions will frame and shape the whole experience that they’re trying to achieve.”
In 1992, the Jenkinses unknowingly laid the foundation for their business when they became involved with helping to meet the needs of members of their community. “In our community of faith, we recognized that they needed youth sports uniforms. They needed caps, jerseys and trophies, as well as the basic equipment to become a serious sports team,” says Darryl, who is also a certified mental health first‐aid trainer, consultant and speaker on organization leadership, diversity and race relations. “When the question was asked, ‘Where can we get these products?’ that was the humble beginning [of our company], then called Sports Enterprises Inc.” The business naturally evolved beyond sporting goods, transforming into The Creative Promotional Solutions Store, or The CPS Store.
“We actually started to get requests for more promotions,” says LaDawne. “Customers would ask, ‘Can you do this as well?’ And once we served a customer in one area, they would refer others.” With the rush of new business, Darryl says it was an exciting time. “Not only did this open up opportunities with the elementary schools, high schools and universities, but also local municipalities and more corporations began to inquire about embroidery, screenprinting and custom-branded merchandise,” says Darryl.
Working with promotional products led the company into a new direction for the business. “[We were] not just selling pencils and pens, but also helping to brand companies’ identities,” says LaDawne. While the business has evolved immensely over the past 25 years, the Jenkinses say some things are enduring. “The focus, the mission and the core values have remained the same,” says Darryl. “We take a great deal of pride in what we do, from the apparel and custom-branding side, and in giving back to the community, which has become one of our core values. The visions we give to others have inspired us to have this sustainability that we are seeing today.”
More than a dozen employees now work at The CPS Store. “It takes decades to build a good reputation and it takes just a matter of minutes to ruin it,” he says. “So, one of the things we continuously try to do is maintain the integrity that we have and build on that.”
When dealing with customers, the Jenkinses say bringing a sense of ease, comfort and peace is critical. “Clients are shopping around, jumping in and out of sites, and it can be daunting,” he explains. “A company like The CPS Store recognizes you have a complex issue and, in a calm way, presents a knowledgeable and creative solution to, one, help focus; two, create, and three, enhance the brand.” For The CPS Store, maintaining client relationships as a reliable, trustworthy and dependable company has made success possible. “It’s gratifying to know that our customers can share and entrust their vision and brand to us, from concept to delivery,” he says.
In 2017, the couple started on the path of becoming certified through the WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) and MBE (Minority Business Enterprise)—processes they describe as long and arduous but an effective way to give their business an important edge. “Small businesses can’t compete with huge conglomerates,” says LaDawne. “If governments want to set aside money for smaller businesses—because really, it’s the small businesses who keep this economy afloat—why not get the certification?” The Jenkinses say that becoming certified as a woman-, minority-, veteran- or disabled-owned business is an optional avenue for small businesses. “We’re in business,” says LaDawne. “It’s our responsibility to seize every opportunity to help make our business more successful. If certifications can help make our business successful, then we are going to apply for certifications.”
Darryl says that they didn’t start The CPS Store to become a WBE- or MBE-business. “We really want the quality of our products, service and professionalism to speak for itself beyond certifications. But these certifications have opened us up to federal, state and local entities that are actively seeking WBE and MBE to work with.” The CPS Store most recently began doing business with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention with similar opportunities expected in the future. “Certifications speak to a level of trust, industry knowledge and capability. Lastly, it shows that we are committed to the business and industry,” he says.
Like many industry businesses, The CPS Store pivoted to selling PPE during the pandemic. “Over this past year, we were able to get in that market and do some good business as a result of it,” says LaDawne. “The world never thought we would be in that space, and that was a hectic space to be in. This allowed us to get in some other vertical markets like health care and work with the CDC emergency response quarantine sites and hospitals. You have to be able to shift when the market shifts.” In the coming months, the couple looks forward to seeing the sales of PPE equate to sales of other promotional products.
Years of business have taught the Jenkinses many lessons. The most important one? To always be upfront and honest with clients. “We are doing what we love and enjoy doing,” says Darryl. “We didn’t just start doing this and it hasn’t always been a smooth journey. There have been times when the success has come with heartache. Our company’s success and what we attribute it to is being upfront, honest people of integrity when something doesn’t turn out correctly and going back to mitigate and correct the mistake.”
PPB spoke with the Jenkinses to learn more about their business.
PPB What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in the past year?
Darryl The global pandemic was and still is a crisis and what we have experienced globally has impacted every aspect of modern-day society. A valuable lesson for us has been one word, “resiliency.” You have to figure out creatively how to sustain yourself, recasting a few lines, to be able to scale and still do business. How do you make the adjustment or pivot in light of the reality? Another valuable lesson has been to really leverage the supply-chain partnership. As a small business, you are not always the one who is manufacturing the product. Make sure you stay close to the manufacturers and your major suppliers and banking partners in order to be able to deliver in a timely manner and stay apprised to what’s going on in the industry.
PPB For someone just getting started in this industry, what advice would you share?
LaDawne Connect with someone who has been in this industry for a while. Find an industry mentor because there are a lot of life lessons you learn when you are in this market. When you’re first getting in, it’s trial and error. You learn by error and life is a good teacher, but a mentor can help you avoid some of the pitfalls of details. You have to be very detail-oriented in this space and you can miss that if you’re just getting started. There also are a lot of nuances that you have to get familiar with and that’s going to come with experience. You don’t want to make mistakes that you don’t have to make.
Kristina Valdez is associate editor of PPB.