Profile: From Humble Beginnings To A Top Distributorship

Above photo: Strän keeps its employees top of mind, offering a fun and interactive workspace, complete with a shuffleboard table.


The early days of distributor Strän Promotional Solutions began the old-fashioned way—with two college buddies doing door-to-door sales and making cold calls, coupled with unwavering determination and the refusal to take “no” for an answer.

After graduating from the University of New Hampshire, Andrew Stranberg and Andy Shape, co-founders of the Quincy, Massachusetts-based company, started selling holiday cards, door to door, in their local area. They were exploring business opportunities, and through conversations with prospective clients their efforts transitioned into promotional products. Bootstrapping their unique skillsets, the duo started operating a small business out of Stranberg’s apartment, later moving into an office in Allston.

“The two partners found that while they were very different people, their different strengths complemented each other,” says Howie Turkenkopf, Strän’s director of marketing. Stranberg, now CEO, and Shape, president, then added a screen-printing machine to their operations and hired an experienced contractor to manage it—only to quickly realize that screen printing was not in Strän’s future. This decision set the 25-year-old company on its path toward becoming a program manager for promotional marketing services.

Stranberg, a fan of the New England Patriots, immediately sought to make the team his first client—and by cold calling, he won them over with branded, game day promotional pom-poms for their fans. “Andrew, who was a big Patriots fan, was thinking, ‘where can I go to get a big order?’ And he decided to head to Foxboro and just started asking around. Eventually, he got to the right person. He just wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” says Turkenkopf. Over the years, Strän has done a number of one-off orders for the Patriots, along with other Boston sports teams and their foundations.

The company has grown to include sales offices in California, Connecticut, Florida, New York and South Carolina, and now offers a full list of custom services for its clients, which range from financial services to retailers and brands, education, health care and pharmaceutical, technology and manufacturing, industrial and equipment. Some of these services include branded products, print, trade show and event assets, to point-of-sale and point-of-purchase displays, custom packaging and loyalty and incentive campaigns.

 
Above, left: A group of Strän's in-house employees, photographed on International Women's Day, from left:
Jessica Wolf, account director; Rachel Wright, manager of client services; Ashley Struble, account executive;
Erika DeCree, director of client services; Sara Ramani, account manager; Hannah Kallis, account coordinator;
Taylor Fabricant, account coordinator; Kayla Kenney, account executive; and Carol Livingston, account
manager. Above, right: A few members of the Strän team visit Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red
Sox in Boston, Massachusetts, as part of the New England Promotional Products Association's "Night at Fenway."

The company also has its own technology platform, which allows clients to access both an inventory program and an on-demand program through a single portal. “It’s flexibility like this that helps our clients to be efficient and effective with their promotional marketing spend,” says Turkenkopf. “Strän’s biggest strength is in our program management approach to promotional marketing.” In 2015, the company was named a Top Distributor in the United States by Promo Marketing magazine.

And Strän’s expansion continues. In 2017, the company was awarded its first professional sports league contract for Major League Lacrosse, helping several teams with their retail merchandising efforts, gameday and sponsor giveaways, staff apparel, onsite displays and signage, and season ticketholder gifts. Strän also operates other divisions, including StränBeverage and Strän Nightlife, to differentiative its service offerings. “We found these two markets tended to have unique characteristics in terms of the products, how they are used, methods of delivery and usage. With that in mind, we built those groups with employees who, in many cases, came from those industries and/or had deep knowledge of the unique aspects of those markets,” says Turkenkopf.

With the importance of corporate social responsibility top of mind, Strän keeps its heels on the ground by supporting the New York Road Runners (NYRR), a nonprofit that serves some 600,000 runners through its more than 50 annual road races, including the New York City Marathon. To engage children in healthy lifestyle practices, Strän runs a youth program for NYRR, called Rising New York Road Runners. This program, Turkenkopf explains, registers K-12 participants in community programs to support running. Students who register receive a welcome kit from Strän, which includes a tote bag, posters, half cones, batons, zipper pulls and a stopwatch. The program is based on incentives, with children receiving goodies for reaching milestones, including t-shirts, sweatbands, pop sockets and medals. Strän also organizes each package by classroom to ensure the right student is receiving the right items. “This experience is crucial to the success of the program,” Turkenkopf says.

In addition, Strän is currently one of only 13 distributors nationwide, according to Turkenkopf, that is part of the Quality Certification Alliance’s (QCA) Distributor Advisory Council (DAC). Members of the QCA unanimously voted Strän onto the DAC in 2017 as a result of its ongoing commitment to QCA’s standards, which include product safety and quality, environmental and social compliance, and supply chain security.

But as they say, a success of a company relies on its employees—and Strän keeps its employees top of mind, having been named one of the Best Places to Work by Counselor magazine from 2014-2016. “We try to recognize across the organization when members of our team go above and beyond to help our clients achieve their goals,” says Turkenkopf. “Creating a positive and fun work environment ensures that we can attract and retain talent and provide the high level of services that our clients demand.”

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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