Paul Sharpe, owner of Dearborn, Michigan, distributor Sharpe Impressions, celebrated the golden anniversary of his very first promotional products sale this summer. On July 17, 1970, 15-year-old Sharpe, a student attending nearby Dearborn High School, made a sale for a distributorship owned by his father, Russell Sharpe; the same distributorship that he heads today. The younger Sharpe continues a legacy of promotional products professionals spanning three generations, starting with his grandfather, John T. Sharpe, who started selling advertising novelties in Detroit in 1919. 

PPB spoke with Sharpe to learn more about his early start in the industry, and how it impacts his work in promotional products today.

PPB Tell us about the very first order you sold. 

Sharpe At the age of 15, I had a Detroit News paper route. My father, Russell Sharpe, asked if I would like to make some extra money. Dad had been an industry distributor since 1948. After training me on one item, Admore document holders, my mom drove me up to a nearby business community for me to make some calls. On that day over 50 years ago, July 17, 1970, I made a sale to Ford Road Animal Clinic in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Over that summer, I sold a couple more orders of Admore document holders. I never made any more sales calls until graduating high school in June 1973. From that moment on, I have been continuously involved in the promotional products industry; 47 years and still selling. Eight years after that first sale, I took over the business from my father, as he was semi-retiring. Dad passed in 1994, but I still run the same distributorship that he started 72 years ago. 

PPB Having started in the industry at just 15 and becoming a businessowner at age 23, what were some of the earliest lessons you learned about selling, or about the industry in general?

Sharpe The promotional products industry is wonderful. I have never had a paycheck or a steady income in my adult life. It was hard to get used to at first, but I love the experience of owning my own business and determining my own destiny. When the economy is good, we do great. When we are in recessions, things get tough, but we have always survived. I could tell you about each of the six recessions we have been through since the mid-1970s.

PPB As a third-generation promotional products professional, what words of wisdom did you learn from your father, Russell Sharpe, and your grandfather, John T. Sharpe?

Sharpe My grandfather, John Sharpe, started in the advertising novelty business when he moved to Detroit in 1918. He worked for other distributors and sold products such as imprinted gasoline dipsticks, yardsticks and other wooden products. Also leather and paper products; no plastic or vinyl back then. I never met him, as he died the year before I was born. Having known about our industry, my father started our distributorship in 1948. Within a few short years, he become one of the leading sellers of imprinted Zippo lighters. After World War II, the lighters became very popular as our military used them throughout the war. My dad always told me that if you take care of your customers and give them good service, they will trust you and buy from you again on a repeat basis. I have two customers that have re-ordered the same calendar from me every year for over 40 years; love those repeat orders.  


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.