The Will To Win


Women are the ultimate multitaskers. From raising children to starting businesses and running companies, they want it all, so they set their sights high. 

According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, there are 114 percent more women entrepreneurs in the U.S. today than there were 20 years ago, and 40 percent of U.S. businesses are women-owned. 

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, PPB spoke with six successful female business owners and leaders across the promotional products industry. Their stories are sure to inspire your professional growth, no matter who you are or what your goal is.  

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Denise Acquaye, owner of distributor FASTSIGNS, doesn’t shy away from change—she leans into it. When she first began running her business in 2012 with her husband Robert, FASTSIGNS was just beginning to offer customers more than signage. Today, Acquaye displays pens, wearables, award plaques and inflatables in her store along with the limitless possibilities for signage. It’s a reflection of your business, Acquaye says, when customers use a pen or see a magnet with your business name on it. Like the FASTSIGNS motto—more than fast, more than signs—Acquaye takes the time to tell customers who are opening a new business or having a huge sale why it’s important to send their customers home with something special. 

How did you get into the promotional products industry and what were you doing previously?
When I first came into the industry, FASTSIGNS was just transitioning to be more than signs. When they told me that, I bought hook-line-and-sinker into this thing. I got on the bandwagon very quickly. I was like, ‘Okay, I can do that.’ I started selling right away. I used to run a magazine for a partner, and we did very nice giveaways for all our events. So, before I even opened my doors, I thought I’d sell promotional products. All I had to do was come up with some ideas or search for what I was looking for. 

How would you describe your company to a client?
We sell visual communication, and promotional products are part of visual communications. We always say: ‘Anything to do with visual communications, we can do it for you. That includes not only signage for the front of your building, but we also do digital signage and promotional signage. From the shirt you have on to a pen or to a shoe, we can do anything you want to put your name on; FASTSIGNS can do it for you.’ 

In what ways is your company different from others?
We do project management, so we try to make the customers’ lives easier. Instead of making several phone calls, we want you to make one. Call us and we’ll try to do everything for you. We try to be that partner to help make your event—whether it’s a grand opening or an out-of-state event—a success.  

What is your proudest career accomplishment so far?
Still being in here, still being in business after seven and a half years. Our proudest thing is that we still have repeat business, and we are still growing and surviving. I am very proud to say we don’t have one-time customers, and we are partnering with larger organizations. 

What are your plans/goals for this year? Are you trying anything new?
We want to hit certain plateaus regarding our sales volume. We are buying a new router engraving machine this year, which will help us engrave products, such as awards, in-house. 

What are your biggest challenges and how are you working to solve them?
Personally, my husband, Robert, had a stroke six months ago, [and he] was my business partner. We are moving him out of the business, and he will become our ambassador at networking events. So, [one of my biggest challenges is] dealing with that and trying to overcome that, but also trying to replace him with somebody else who is passionate, but nobody will have the same passion as an owner. I’m trying to take more on myself and reorganize the [business.] I have a great staff so they are stepping up, but I’m looking to hire an outside salesperson who will assist growing our sales volumes and take on Robert’s responsibilities. It’s a big challenge and a hurdle we are all working to overcome. 

What is your favorite product or campaign in which your product was used? Why is it a favorite?
One project that stands out was a last-minute project that came in and my staff stepped up; we had to work overnight. There was a new gallery opening here in Newark that highlighted different areas of downtown, showing how the city had changed over time. The mayor wanted it, and it had to get done. We used different types of media and promotional products, and we hung signage on the walls and in the windows. It took two days to get it done; we were exhausted, but the gallery was able to open and have media there. That project was amazing, and it is still there. 

What are your tips to achieve a work/life balance?
You don’t take life for granted. Anything you are passionate about you work hard at, but family always comes first. We never take family for granted. I try to always take time to make sure the family knows that I am there for them. [For example,] I have a 107-year-old grandmother and she broke her hip, and I was just on the phone with the rehab center. As much as I love my business, I love my family just as much. This business may be here, but family may not. So, if I have to take off time, I take off time. 

Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
I love to travel, so we take as many little trips as we can. Sometimes they are not far, maybe just three hours, but it gets us away. Sometimes, we’ll have to take the laptop with us because we still have things to do, but we try to get away as often as possible. 

What advice or resources do you have for other women business owners or those planning to start their own business?
Just do it. I think we sometimes overthink things, but there are so many resources out there for us. There are programs for us, and the sisterhood is very, very strong. We, as women, don’t mind helping—that is part of our nature, and there are women out there who, if you don’t know and if you ask, are willing to help. Some of us still have children at home and are worried about how we are still going to be moms, but we can do that—we are great multitaskers. Sometimes we just have to, like me, step out in faith. I just stepped out there, and God has not let me fall. —Kristina Valdez

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Twenty-nine years ago, Cindy Chapman was looking for a new job as an executive assistant when she realized what she really wanted to do was sell. Her previous exposure to promotional products and an understanding for how they could incite action and influence behavior led her to eventually start her own company. Today, Plan-It Promotions Ltd. is a leading promotional products company with a focus on creating tangible connections for clients with their target audience. It offers a full range of services for organizations and individuals, and operates under four core values that comprise the soul of the company and define its culture: customer service, quality, creativity and integrity. 

How did you get into the promotional products industry and what were you doing previously?
Throughout my 20’s, I was lucky to work in a variety of support roles in fields like marketing, event management, operations and human resources while also attending university at night working toward a business degree. While interviewing for an executive assistant job, two things occurred to me: I really wouldn’t be happy in that job, but I loved going on the interviews. So, I thought ‘Hey—maybe I would enjoy a career in sales.’ But what could I sell? I always loved buying promo items and awards in my previous jobs and had seen the impact and power they possessed when given away at events, so I went to sell for the company I had bought from. I soon learned that just because I was enthused about them, I still had a huge learning curve ahead of me when it came to sales. Today I admire and empathize with salespeople as a result.

How would you describe your company to a client?
Besides being wonderful? [I would say] ‘Plan-It Promotions is a solid, client-centric promotional products company that truly focuses on our client’s objectives and helps them meet or exceed those objectives. Whether our brand experts are assisting with one product or a campaign, we can be counted on to focus on your objectives, delivering a quality product, on time and on budget. You’ll be thrilled with the result!’ 

In what ways is your company different from others? 
Being 100-percent female-owned, we nurture an emotionally safe and supportive environment where people are comfortable to be themselves. Our sales awards are monthly and are not awarded based on pitting one person against the other. Knowing small successes lead to larger ones (and sometimes the smaller ones are even harder to achieve than larger ones) we celebrate both small and large successes. We were at the forefront of implementing technology to support remote salespeople. We realized early on the importance of work-life balance and the ability to work remotely helps our people enjoy a healthy work-life balance.

Toronto and Southern Ontario have a rich and diverse ethnic and religious mix, and we hire a workforce that mirrors that. Our staff members are diverse in culture and religious beliefs and we foster inclusiveness for all.  

What is your proudest career accomplishment so far?
I’m super proud of our long-standing relationships starting with the people here at Plan-It. Many have been here 10 to more than 20 years. Our strong client and supplier relationships are also something I’m very proud of. Mutual respect has always been a strong value we live by, demonstrating it and receiving it daily. It feels good and builds trust for everyone.

Opening Plan-It was motivated by a desire to create an environment where, above all else, we were truly focused on our client’s needs, and in order to do that, we’ve put resources and a support system in place so our brand experts can do that. Providing great support to our salespeople is a huge factor in our longevity. 

What are your plans/goals for this year? Are you trying anything new?
Bringing even more young people into our team is a goal for 2020. We love their youthful energy and refreshing perspectives. They have so much talent to contribute to a creative environment. Another goal is creating more relevant online marketing content that will engage our clients.  

What are your biggest challenges and how are you working to solve them?
Remaining current with technology. While we have a wonderful contractor who manages our IT, there are almost unlimited options in both the operations and marketing sides of the business. While I think we do this well, we could always be better.

What is your favorite product or campaign in which your product was used? Why is it a favorite?
There have been so many amazing products and campaigns. In one, we were asked to provide gift options for a Canadian post-secondary school that has a strong relationship with the Asian community. We designed the graphics and card, and each one was personalized with the recipient's name. The client’s target audience was thrilled with the results, and so were we.

In terms of campaigns, fundraising programs and merchandise are some things we really get behind in a big way. They’re rewarding because we know we are contributing to the success of some very worthy causes. Another area that’s pretty thrilling is providing custom items introducing new shows or seasons on streaming TV. We’ve created custom mazes for Game of Thrones, among others.

What are your tips to achieve a work/life balance?
We all know the stock answers, but personally I love to work and therefore must be very conscious about remembering what my priority is and that family must come first. I’ve been married 35 years to a very understanding man with a great sense of humor, which helps.

Stick to the tasks that must be done. Get back to clients quickly. Stay organized. Make lists. Don’t say ‘yes’ to everything. I keep a funny coaster on my desk that says, ‘Today is not the day and I am not the one.’ It reminds me that I don’t always have to be ‘on.’

Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
Yoga, family and friends, skiing, traveling, learning, live music, theater and dahlia gardening.

What advice or resources do you have for other women business owners or those planning to start their own business?
Be committed to continually learning. Owning a business and being in this industry where the owners often sell, too, there are a lot of hats to wear and you’ll get better at all of them as time flies by. Be prepared for hard work and a lot of it. Be prepared to keep swimming when times are tough. I’ve drawn strength over the years from a delightful Elbert Hubbard quote: “A little more persistence, a little more effort and what seemed a hopeless failure may turn into glorious success.” Be prepared to celebrate your successes often with those who helped you achieve them. —Tina Berres Filipski

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Jordie Freedman is a seasoned professional, not only in terms of managing her family-owned supplier business, which she’s been involved in for more than 20 years, but in terms of creating a balance between work and  juggling family responsibilities. She always manages to make it to her children’s games, even if there’s only one minute left. She also makes sure her employees are satisfied—she brings in tasty office treats every Friday—and does her best to remain positive, even during hectic periods. No matter what Freedman’s day brings, she faces it with a smile, especially if it results in another happy customer.

How did you get into the promotional products industry and what were you doing previously?
I was born into the industry. My parents, Jacquie and Peter Herz, originally had a distributorship, way, way back. They sold that to start Jornik. At the time, I was working in celebrity publicity and had a career in theater and television. I needed a mental pause, so I took a break.

How long have you been in the industry?
I started at Jornik in 1999, however, I have been helping my parents at trade shows since they started Jornik in the early ’90s. [In 2017, her parents transitioned ownership of the company to Freedman and her husband, Rory Freedman, who is treasurer and secretary].

How would you describe your company to a client?
I like to describe Jornik as an innovative, creatively fun, fresh and unique company, that most likely has what you need. Additionally, I like to describe the Jornik experience much like shopping at your local, family-owned and operated supermarket; easy parking, short check-out lines with five brands of milk, not 20.

In what ways is your company different from others?
I can’t speak to other companies, I can only speak about Jornik and what makes Jornik special. Everyone who works at Jornik, from samples to order entry to sales, marketing, production, warehouse and shipping—everyone, everyone enjoys their job and this shows in what we, as a company, produce.

What is your proudest career accomplishment so far?
My proudest career accomplishment so far would have to be Jornik in 2020. Coming to work every day, seeing all my employees and knowing the opportunities and individual successes they each have is a direct correlation to my hard work and the [family] sacrifices I make.

What are your plans/goals for this year? Are you trying anything new?
My big plan for 2020 is the implementation of our new ERP. We are all really excited for this! Our new ERP system will allow us to be compliant with Promo Standards. The only new thing I have been trying is frozen broccoli. (You will hear more about this, keep reading.)

What are your biggest challenges and how are you working to solve them?
I feel as though my “biggest” challenges keep changing. First, it was navigating my way through the tariffs. Now, I am working through the coronavirus and the impact it may or may not have on us. Who knows what will be going on when this article is published? Lesson here, just keep pushing.

What are your tips to achieve a work/life balance?
There have been many times I’ve been working late at night and have forgotten to unlock the window for the Tooth Fairy, or work might be too hectic for me to leave early to make it to the start of one of my kids’ games. However, the Tooth Fairy eventually makes it to our house and I always get to the game, even if there is one minute left. My husband and business partner, Rory, will help me when he can. I have a good support system at home. Outside of this, I am still working really hard, every day, at balancing. Balancing is hard and tiring. I really should have washboard abs from all this balancing! (LOL)

What advice or resources do you have for other women business owners or those planning to start their own business?
This is a good question. Advice is hard to give. I find that, in the end, people are going to do what they want, no matter what. I would say, you are going to have great days and horrible ones. There will be times when you are so proud of yourself it is hard to contain your pride and then other days when you feel like all you do is fail. Try to take it in stride and do what you need to, so you don’t get discouraged. Keep moving. If you are a working mom like me, try to take shortcuts where and when you can. I just started using frozen broccoli—dinnertime gamechanger. 

When you are not working, what are some of your favorite go-to hobbies?
My favorite hobby is being a mom to my three kids, ages 16, 14 and 10. My other top hobbies are being a fan/spectator at all three of my kids’ games and meets, reading, cooking and spending time with family and friends.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I would have to say popcorn, but in order for it to be a true guilty pleasure it must be LesserEvil brand popcorn—the Oh My Ghee! or Himalayan Pink Salt with coconut oil flavors, to be exact. I cannot resist a freshly opened bag. Everyone in my office knows this about me. Every Friday, I always buy tons of cookies and a couple bags of LesserEvil popcorn—yum! —Danielle Renda

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Nenette Gray knows how to make lemonade out of lemons—just take a look at her business. After Gray, owner of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, distributor Lemonade Creative Marketing, was laid off from her full-time job in 2010, she mustered a positive, can-do attitude and decided to open her business. She’s been making lemonade ever since. Gray says when she initially decided to start the business, it was going to be a marketing consulting company, but then she quickly found she could grow the business faster if she focused on using products to solve marketing challenges. Lemonade Creative Marketing offers services in promotional branding, creative campaigns and trade show and event marketing. As a marketing agency focused on branded promotional merchandise that excites, inspires and engages, Gray is committed to helping businesses “squeeze every drop of potential” out of their marketing goals. 

How did you get into the promotional products industry and what were you doing previously?
I got started in the promotional products industry part-time selling t-shirts for class and family reunions. It was something I really enjoyed doing as a hobby while working in the pharmaceutical industry. Then in 2010, my company laid off my specialty pharmaceutical division and about 1,400 people—including me. That’s when I decided to turn the lemons of losing my pharmaceutical job into lemonade and started with my business full time. 

How would you describe your company to a client?
Overall, I would say that we are a marketing agency focused on branded promotional merchandise that excites, engages and inspires. I picked those words because that’s the premise of our business. We want to make that type of emotional connection. 

In what ways is your company different from others?
The big difference is we are not focused on selling a product; our focus is on gaining an understanding of our clients’ marketing goals and objectives and helping them work toward achieving them. 

What is your proudest career accomplishment so far?
I think just being able to grow the business over the past nine years and being self-sufficient as a single mom. Being a single mom is a challenge, but to be able to start and grow a business to the point where it can take care of a family is probably what I am most proud of. 

What are your plans/goals for this year? Are you trying anything new?
The plan is to continue to grow; we’ve been fortunate to grow year after year. One area that we are focusing on growing for this year is collegiate licensing. We are currently licensed for three local colleges, one of which is national champion Louisiana State University. We are going to put some focused effort into growing that collegiate-branded merchandise market. If we do as well as we forecast, then that will be a big area of growth for us. 

What are your biggest challenges and how are you working to solve them?
Finding employees who can understand our industry and can deliver service at the level of our Lemonade expectation. We aren’t looking for placeholders; we are looking for people who can positively impact our clients. Again, finding and retaining good employees is one of our biggest challenges and what I am doing to alleviate that is I’m working with some of the various programs they have locally that are focused on reducing employment and matching local talent. 

What is your favorite product or campaign in which your product was used? Why is it a favorite?
One of the [campaigns] that I got excited about was actually a self-promotion. It was called the “Loud and Clear” campaign. It was a box that we created and on the outside of the box, it said, ‘Are you connecting with your target audience?’ When you opened the box, it said, ‘Lemonade Creative Marketing helps your brand connect’—and in big bold letters it said—‘Loud and Clear.’ Inside the box was a wireless Bluetooth speaker because our brand speaks volume, so that helped emphasize ‘loud and clear.’ By using that campaign, we were able to gain the New Orleans Convention Center as well as Entergy, which is a big electric and utility company [in Louisiana.] We gained those two clients at a small-business expo, and I was able to present each of the boxes in person to the representative from those companies.

What are your tips to achieve a work/life balance?
One of the biggest things that I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Being able to take care of yourself, I think, is one of the most important pieces of advice, because sometimes we are so busy sacrificing our health to be able to help our families, our clients and just everyone else, that we are not putting that same time and energy back into ourselves. 

Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
I love the outdoors, and as often as I can get out to go hiking, kayaking or fishing, that’s what taking ‘me-time’ looks like to me. Just embracing the great outdoors and taking time to reset—even if it means taking a 15- or 30-minute walk around the neighborhood in the evening. 

What advice or resources do you have for other women business owners or those planning to start their own business?
If you are starting, you want to start planning prior to leaving your job or even start the business part-time and grow while you’re still employed. That way you can use your current employer to  help fund the business. Planning is paramount because businesses that fail to plan, plan to fail. The failure rate for small businesses is much greater than the success rate. If you take the time to plan prior to leaving your full-time job, I think that will help a lot. One of the programs I was privileged to be a part of was the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. This is for established businesses; you have to be in business for, I think, a minimum of two years. It was a program fully funded by Goldman Sachs, which, to me, amounted to like an executive MBA in entrepreneurship. It was a 15-week intensive program, but it was something that I think helped me get a greater foundation for my business and a greater vision for where my business can be. —Kristina Valdez

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Renya Nelson knows her brands. Obsessed with logos and brands early on, Nelson was curious about products and their impact on end users. After working for a marketing agency and a fashion trade show, Nelson started distributor Brand+Aid in her home office in Venice Beach, California, in late 2011 and moved it to Utah about five years ago. She created the company to connect great products with creative marketing ideas that would grow clients’ brands, merging exceptional customer service with quality design. Despite continuing to partner with large clients and big brands, today you’ll find Nelson on maternity leave with her three-month-old son. Nelson says, ‘That’s what we do as women business owners, right? We do it all.’ 

How did you get into the promotional products industry and what were you doing previously?
The way I discovered promotional products was in my previous job. I was working at a marketing agency in Venice Beach. We focused on experiental marketing, so any way for a brand to get their products directly into consumers’ hands instead of the digital channels—it’s more physical marketing. I took the brands that we represented to big events like American Idol, New York Fashion Week and Lollapalooza. While I was doing all that, I was obviously a buyer of promo. We had this person who would sell to us at the agency I was working at, and he seemed, in my opinion, to not know the demographic we were trying to reach. I was really curious about products and the leverage they had with the people we were giving them to. I wound up quitting that job—it was a great job, but it was high stress and a lot of travel. I was 26. From there, I started Brand+Aid out of my house in Venice Beach. I had a room that I turned into an office, and I wound up contacting the company I had worked for previously. They were a little reluctant at first, but two weeks later, they called me saying they needed lanyards for a Walmart-Pepsi application. It was a $34,000 order. That was my first or second order, and I was like, ‘Okay, I can do this.’ I took a very small loan from my dad, and I was able to leverage that. That agency became one of my first clients. I was able to get this experience not only from the marketing agency perspective, but also from the fashion brands and how they use their merchandise to grow their brands even stronger. 

How would you describe your company to a client?
We are a creative merchandise agency. We really analyze the brands we work with in a similar way that an ad agency does. We do a deep dive into analyzing the brands we work with. We know exactly who their end users are. For example, if we are working with Goldman Sachs, which has a well-established base and a very sophisticated brand, before we’ll suggest products for, let’s say, their employees, we analyze data to see who exactly they are. We’ll look at salaries and what they do on the weekends. We also try to find brands outside of our industry that are interested in doing custom products as well. We like to use brands that have already established themselves and that have the capabilities of relabeling, debossing or embroidering. We have a great team of graphic designers, and I think my vast experience in marketing has helped us to speak the same language as our buyers. I’ve been able to train our employees who don’t have agency experience to know exactly how the agencies run. They need things done quickly. For example, at the experimental marketing agency that I used to work for, they work a lot with AT&T and Chase, and the events they produce often happen on the fly. Let’s say the Golden State Warriors just won a game, and they quickly need products that say Golden State Warriors and Chase. A lot of those agency clients need things in a matter of days, and so we’ve really adjusted our business model to support that—to support those last-minute orders on a Friday night. Our relationships with our suppliers are really strong, and that feeds into our business model: exceptional customer service and quality design. 

In what ways is your company different from others?
I was recognized early on in the industry for doing this differently and for capitalizing on that agency model. I didn’t know that I was doing anything different from other companies because I didn’t have experience with other promotional companies, but I didn’t set the company up as a team of salespeople. We’ve been fortunate in that the clients we work with feed us more and more clients, and I think it’s just because of the quality of work we do. We don’t have a team of sales reps who we tell to sell a million dollars this year and you’ll make this. We tried to do that, and it didn’t work for us—it didn’t work for our clients, and it was a poor reflection on our brand. We are about relationships; that is our thing. When we go out and visit clients in L.A., Chicago or New York, we are taking them out to dinner, we are having a good time with them; we are not asking them what their budget is for the year. We have taken the traditional sales out of it and have just become partners. And because we are a young company—we are mostly Millennials—we know the market well. If we don’t think it’s cool, we aren’t selling it. We work with companies that have been with us since our inception, and, to us, that is the greatest compliment. They’ve stuck with us throughout our growth struggles. 

What is your proudest career accomplishment so far?
I am really proud of the team that I’ve built. I am able to take off time right now, away from my business, and it’s doing, I don’t want to say better because I’m not there, but that’s kind of the truth. It’s running great and our clients are happy, and we are still getting big brands that we are working with. At one point, I would have said that I am so proud of the clients and big brands we get to work for, from Adidas to Nike, but nowadays I am switching my point of view to my team. They’re unstoppable; they are making sound decisions without me while keeping our customers in mind. We are growing organically in a cool way. 

What are your plans/goals for this year? Are you trying anything new?
Last year and the year before, we looked into building a software program so we could compete with some of the online promotional companies that sell direct to consumers. But we realized that wasn’t us because it was taking the interaction out of it. That wasn’t the right move for us. The right move for us was to take a look at the clients we have and build stronger relationships with those, and fire some of our clients that don’t necessarily value design because quality design is one of our values. Not every project is going to be cool, but sometimes you get the opportunity to make a custom product. We got to make a custom product for Nike for Lebron James’s shoe release. Those are the types of projects where you aren’t making any money and you’re eating into your bottom line, but we don’t look at it that way because that’s an order that makes us excited. Our plan for this year is to build up our clients, and we are so protective of the clients we have now. We value companies that value their brand just as much as we value ours. 

What are your biggest challenges and how are you working to solve them?
Hiring the right people. I think this happens to a lot of small business as they start to grow, they find that they need bodies, and it’s more about needing that position filled because we have too much business right now. That’s what we’ve done in the past: filled seats because orders are coming in so fast, but we didn’t give enough time to hiring the right fit. When you lose an employee, that’s a lot of time and investment spent on getting them trained in the promo industry. We have a labor shortage where we are located, and that makes it an even greater challenge. What’s tough in this industry is growing. It’s hard finding the talent who want to work in this quirky industry. I think it’s becoming easier for most distributors to find more talent because I think that merchandise is having a strong comeback. 

What is your favorite product or campaign in which your product was used? Why is it a favorite?
We’ve found a sweet spot with Instagram-influencer kits, and what’s cool is we can monitor the success of them by going onto those influencers’ Instagram [pages] to see how many likes they got and how many times they posted those products. One that stuck out was with Powerbar. Powerbar made deals with 50 athletes in different sports, from bicycling to motocross, and we created kits that had rain jackets in the brand colors, we rolled t-shirts in wristbands and the box itself had each name printed on the inside with a message from the brand. Our relationship with our suppliers gives us the opportunity to do things that surprise and delight our clients. 

What are your tips to achieve a work/life balance?
We don’t work after-hours; we let everyone know that. It’s so important for our employees and us to have a life because if we don’t, we aren’t creative, and if we aren’t creative, then we are not giving our clients ‘the special sauce.’ We promote traveling and taking time off to be with your family even though we have those emails come in at 11:30 pm for a rush order. When I first started the company, I would answer those emails. But I realized that it is so detrimental to company culture when you let everyone in and you don’t say ‘no.’ 

Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
I am very social; I go to a lot of art events. I spearhead a lot of community art, in fact, I spearheaded a mural project in my neighborhood where my company is located. The city granted $150,000 to 12 different artists to paint murals in our neighborhood, and I am working on another mural project with our senator. I am an art activist in my community, and I also belong to a few design groups. I love fashion and interior design. I just remodeled two bathrooms in my house, and they are my favorite places in the house. One is designed based off a London pub and the other is based off a Palm Springs cabana house. 

What advice or resources do you have for other women business owners or those planning to start their own business?
Stay strong to who you are. Don’t change your stripes for an account that you are working on. For example, I had a meeting one time with a group of conservative men, and they almost acted uninterested in me. I already worked with several big brands, so I was shocked that I was so disrespected. I was really sad about it and then I got angry. I had built them a huge deck, presented it and spent $500 on samples for the meeting. I did everything right, and they barely looked me in the eye. I don’t want to work with a company that has those kinds of values where women don’t matter or when there aren’t any women in the room with decision-making power. My advice for women is to persevere through the dark times and align yourself with mentors, both male and female, who see your vision and who you can talk to. I am also a part of a Mastermind group of other female promotional product business owners and we answer each other’s questions. The answers are so awesome, and to be able to have that support and be vulnerable with each other is so cool. We also communicate with each other if we are having issues with suppliers. —Kristina Valdez

 

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It was a cold December day in Chicago when Leeatt Rothschild realized a disconnect between the gifts that companies were sending or receiving and the social impact they were trying to create. Looking around her office at the common holiday gifts such as a wicker basket of cookies and a box of pears, Rothschild got an idea—create a gift that’s memorable because of its social impact. To Rothschild, corporate social responsibility isn’t a new business model; it is the business. Rothschild is the founder of Packed with Purpose, a Chicago-based supplier that specializes in corporate gift-giving. Combining her passion for social impact and marketing, she launched Packed with Purpose in 2016 to support women empowerment, youth and workforce development, wellness and the environment. Behind each product is a “purposeful purveyor,” a company handpicked by Rothschild and her team with a unique story of how their products impact the greater good. From beekeeping for the formerly incarcerated to baking a better future for at-risk youth, she proves that great products and meaningful social impact can go hand-in-hand. 

How did you get into the promotional products industry and what were you doing previously?
I was advising chief sustainability officers and marketing departments on how they should take their CSR—their corporate social responsibility—dollars to create both a business return, but also create impact in their communities or in society. For me, I was really motivated to help companies use whatever procurement dollars were focused on gifts to do good. 

How long have you been in the industry?
Just over two years. Because we are a young company, we have to be innovative; we live and breathe innovation. As soon as we realized that there could be an opportunity and that we were creating a product or, really, a solution that might be interesting to distributors in the promo world, it was a no-brainer to cultivate these relationships and extend what we offer to distributors and their clients. With our gifts, we had the initial ability to brand the outside of the gift box. That was the first way in which we entered the promo product world, and since then the ability to really integrate a brand within our gift has expanded.  

How would you describe your company to a client?
We are a corporate gifting company with a social mission. We help our clients send gifts that are memorable and help them achieve their business objectives. Whether that is to retain employees, strengthen client relationships or convert prospects into clients, whatever that business objective might be, we use gifts as a tool to do so. 

In what ways is your company different from others?
What makes us different is that we’ve embedded doing good inside our gifts, and in a way that is much more tangible and experiential than, let’s say, making a statement like, ‘We donate five percent of our profits to this organization.’ Our gifts live and breathe doing good, and that’s because every single gift does good. It’s not a report, it’s not a statement we have on our website, but it is experience through the act of giving a gift that everyone finds delightful. 

What is your proudest career accomplishment so far?
My proudest career accomplishment is building a team who loves coming to work every single day and who is not only proud of their individual contribution and what we have created together, but also proud of the positive feedback we get from our clients. It’s really cultivating a team who loves coming to work and finds purpose in everything we do. 

What are your plans/goals for this year? Are you trying anything new?
Our first goal is continuing to double our revenue year after year. Another goal is to continue to find ways to enhance our offerings and create that surprise and delight, which is what our clients are looking for. 

What are your biggest challenges and how are you working to solve them?
Some of our biggest challenges are just making sure that we constantly have a fresh product, new solutions and new enhancements with respect to our gifts. We have to ask ourselves what other value ad, products or services we can offer so that distributors always feel like we are providing them with new choices and new solutions before they are looking for it. The most important thing is being very active in discovering our purposeful purveyors, our product suppliers, because they are the ones creating the exceptional products that are also doing good. 

What is your favorite product or campaign in which your product was used? Why is it a favorite?
We worked with a large distributor in the health care industry on their client’s year-end gift, creating five different gift solutions and making it a seamless process for the distributor so that the end client is not only satisfied with the product but the entire service as well. 

What are your tips to achieve a work/life balance?
Honestly, the greatest tip is to have kids. I have three little kids at home, and I love them. I love what I do, and I’m proud and passionate about Packed with Purpose, but I’m equally committed to being a good mom and raising three kids. I have twins who are three and a four-year-old daughter, so having a focus on my family and my children is a wonderful balance between working all day. And quite frankly, making sure you have a chance to get your head out of work makes you better at what you do professionally. 

Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
We love to travel. I’ve lived in Latin America extensively so traveling, for me, is a real part of my life. Recently, we went to Peru with our three kids. We were probably the only family with three kids under four years old who were climbing Machu Picchu, so that was pretty memorable. 

What advice or resources do you have for other women business owners or those planning to start their own business?
There are two things I would say. One is to just go for it. Dream out loud and talk about what you are creating and what you are trying to do so you can get other people’s support, feedback and advice. The other thing is don’t let fear stop you. We all have fear; you just have to push through the uncertainty because there is always a solution and a way to bring your idea to life. —Kristina Valdez  

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Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB, Danielle Renda and Kristina Valdez are associate editors of PPB.

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Comments (3)
Cindy Chapman
March 10, 2020
Well done and thank you Tina! I really appreciated the opportunity to share my thoughts and loved reading the insights shared by the other women. #shineandrise
Daryll Griffin
March 10, 2020
Fresh faces, great ideas, dynamic women on a mission! These stories are awesome and these ladies are wonderful examples of the talent in our industry. Success is in their DNA. I am so proud of each of them for their individuality, leadership, and relevance in today’s culture.
Jae M. Rang, MAS
March 2, 2020
I'm so proud of the women in our industry and poured over every word of this sharing of dreams, successes, hurdles and love. Thank you to the admired leaders profiled here and to the many other women who boldly and passionately dare to be their unique selves; beacons, inspirers, game-changers and the best moms ever.
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