Progressive Problem Solver
It’s hard to have school spirit when the spiritwear itself is lacking. Julie Levi discovered this while a student at Douglass College, the women’s college at Rutgers University, in the 1980s, and set out to find a solution. “While the Rutgers bookstore had cool t-shirts and sweatshirts, Douglass didn’t offer the same quality and variety. So, I made up my own and started selling them,” she says.
Levi discovered that her desire for better quality branded gear was shared by more than just students—the Douglass bookstore also began ordering her shirts, boxer shorts and sweats. That move was the official beginning of distributor Progressive Promotions, Inc. (PPAI 107820), which she leads as president and founder.
Today Levi lives in Long Island, New York, with her husband, Richard, and two teenage daughters, Rachel and Sara. She makes the hour-and-a-half commute each way to Englewood, New Jersey, as productive as possible, making business calls to fill out each leg of the journey.
“When I’m not working, I like to spend time at the beach on Fire Island (but I work there, too!), speaking at various mentoring events for women entrepreneurs and students, and volunteering,” she says. “I am involved in philanthropy, supporting education and global peace. I enjoy traveling, hiking and skiing with my family.”
Read on to learn more about a day in the life for Levi at Progressive Promotions.
How does this job challenge you?
Every day is a new challenge. Whether it’s closing the next RFP, hiring new salespeople or keeping on top of the newest technologies, there’s always something to work towards. At the same time, the things that keep me awake at night are competition from the internet and companies like Walmart getting into the promo space, and the challenges inherent in managing a globally-networked supply chain serving customers in more than 60 countries around the world.
What changes or improvements have you recently implemented, or are you planning to make in the future?
We have recently upgraded our proposal software to be more collaborative, interactive and vibrant. We are refreshing our marketing materials and our social media. In order to have our external brand reflective internally, we are adding creative touches to our office space.
What do you love about your company?
My team. From the boardroom to the mailroom, our people are what makes us successful. We work very hard, we appreciate each other and we support each other. That teamwork, and the high level of professionalism, creativity and customer-service focus really make us shine. I’m super proud of everyone.
Describe your office atmosphere.
It depends on the day. Because we’ve invested heavily in cloud-based technology and we are big believers in flexibility and work-life balance, our whole team has the ability to work remotely. On Mondays the whole company is in, so the atmosphere is fun and loud and everyone’s catching up, collaborating and having meetings. Other days the sales team is out visiting clients, and some of the office-based team are working from home, so it’s quieter and more focused.
What kinds of projects or tasks might you tackle on a given day?
I work closely with sales and marketing management on developing and implementing strategy; with finance to review budgets and goals; and with operations on process improvement. In a typical day I will have anywhere from five to 10 conference calls, run our weekly executive management team meeting, take a new employee out to lunch, provide direction to my sourcing and merchandising team to create proposals for new customer programs, review and analyze sales forecast reports and financial projections, and attend networking events and galas at night.
How do you collaborate with coworkers?
Email, text, Glip, Zoom, phone calls and in person. One of my favorite collaboration tools is the five-minute meeting. When there’s an issue that needs resolution—whether it’s a problem with a customer order, a question on how to handle a human resources issue or a purchasing decision that needs to be made—we gather everyone involved into a room (or on a conference call) for five minutes to identify the issue, discuss and then solve it (IDS), and everyone walks away on the same page. It’s very effective.
What makes your company a valuable member of the promotional products community?
In an environment where anyone can go online and buy a product with a logo on it, the differentiating factor has to be the solutions-driven service offered by Progressive Promotions. Our team of consultants provides programs that demonstrate results and increase our customers’ sales and brand equity. We service our customers better because we understand and help fulfill their objectives with creative marketing programs. Our website slogan says, “It’s more than an umbrella, it’s an understanding of your brand,” and that’s what we sell.
Jen Alexander is associate editor of PPB.