Rolling With The Punches
Kyle Gibson, president of KG Specialties, LLC, grew up on a farm in Sandy, Oregon, alongside his four older siblings—three brothers and one sister. His family raised cows, chickens and pigs, tended a huge garden and spent lots of time outdoors building tree forts, riding dirt bikes and camping out. He followed his father into the commercial printing business and aspired to becoming a commercial real estate broker.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans. In 1992, Gibson received a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis and was told that he would have to find a new career that would allow him to be off his feet most of the day. Gibson had been printing t-shirts as a hobby and thought he might be able to make a living at that. After doing some research, he started off as a contract screen printer and later added embroidery services. From its beginnings as a one-man operation, the business now employs 10 full-time employees.
What motivated you to start your own distributorship?
We were a contract decorator for several top distributors in the Portland area for many years, and one day in 2002 we got an opportunity to work directly with USA Swimming for their branded apparel. We made a profit of $9 per piece selling direct, but we realized if we had done the job as a contract order, we would only have made 95 cents for every shirt. That was all it took. The next thing we did was join Northwest Promotional Marketing Association (NWPMA) so we could learn more about the industry. The year after that, we joined PPAI and attended Expo.
What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome when first starting out?
Financing the business was our biggest obstacle. We used our credit cards and retirement savings until, after a few years, we finally qualified for a line of credit.
Another challenge was managing the conflicting needs of my work and my family. My daughters were very young, and my wife was working full-time to supplement our income. I was working all hours of the day—sometimes for 18 hours at a time. I would drive the girls to school, meet with clients, print various projects, pick the girls up, make dinner, put them to bed and then work some more.
One of the best things I did during this time was hire an accountant to help me stay organized. He’s still doing my accounting today.
What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
Becoming a debt-free company and staying debt free to this day. This has allowed us to provide great wages and benefits to our team members. We cover 100 percent of medical insurance costs and offer up to four weeks of PTO, quarterly bonuses, annual bonuses and “bell-ringer lunches” when we close any order over $10,000.
What motivates you in business?
Seeing my team succeed in their work and their personal lives. Building long-lasting relationships with my clients. In fact, most of my closest friends started out as clients. I had the honor last year of officiating one of my client’s weddings. [Gibson is ordained by American Marriage Ministries to officiate weddings.] That was a great day!
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Having a flexible schedule is a huge perk. Now that we have a cloud-based business platform, I can work from anywhere at any time. I also enjoy that I’m not doing the same thing every day. Our industry has so many different products, and we are always looking for the latest trends and new items to offer.
How do you spend your time outside the office?
I’ve been really involved with volunteering since 2009, when I was asked to be a part of the foundation board for the Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center. I was very intimidated because I don’t have a college degree. But after a few meetings, I realized that, with my passion and life experiences, I could be a valuable addition to the board. Since then, I have served on several other boards, including the Adult Learning Systems of Oregon and NWPMA.
I also enjoy mentoring, and I’ve recently helped New Avenues Ink, a nonprofit screen printing company, get on its feet. I am a strong believer in supporting the community financially and through volunteerism.
If you wrote a book about your life, what would be the title and why?
Youngest of Five and Still Alive. I grew up being the guinea pig for my siblings. Remember the Life cereal commercial on TV where Mikey was asked to try anything? Well, that was me.
Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.