Like a lot of college students, Tina served an internship to get some on-the-job training before she graduated and had to look for work. “I interned at an ad agency,” Tina recounts, “and one of their divisions handled promotional products—mugs, totes, pens, all that. I really enjoyed my time there.”
After graduation, Tina put her skills to work as a graphic designer for a print shop, but in 1997 she realized that her employer was not “kid friendly,” and she and her husband wanted to start a family.
“I really wanted to spend time with my family, so I decided to start my own business,” says Tina. It was a scary proposition, but she decided to make the leap, and the idea she landed on harkened back to her college days at the ad agency. “I decided to go into promotional products,” she says, “and I lined up a few contracts and got started. I still have some of those early clients to this day.”
Tina is quick to point out that she sells quality advertising specialties, not tchotchkes. “People hate getting key chains that fall apart with almost no wear and tear,” she says, “or cheap pens that run out of ink almost immediately.”
Instead, Tina concentrates on offering products designed to last. “Totes are our number one seller,” she shares. “Not only because companies give them out at trade shows, but also because people are more eco-conscious and want bags that they can shop with again and again.”
Quality mugs and pens are also popular, and Tina notes that millennials are happy to get promotional products that cater to their interest in technology. Battery back-ups, and skins and holders for tablets all get high marks for a generation that is increasingly mobile.
Just as the type of products her clients seek has changed, so, too, has the way Tina attracts those clients. “When I realized that clients were increasingly looking to find my products online, I realized there was less need to have a brick-and-mortar presence for walk-in customers,” Tina notes. “Now, I have a shop for equipment, because I do my own screen printing and heat transfers for T-shirts and totes, but walk-up? Not any more!”
Even though she had a good client base, Tina remembers that the economic downturn of 2008 created a nerve-wracking shift. “Before that, I had a lot of beach accounts, small businesses and hotels that purchased promotional products that they could sell to their own customers,” says Tina. “Many of them lost ground in 2008, so I had to replace clients and find new ways to connect.”
Today, she says, her membership in the Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce helps her do just that. “I feel that the Chamber gives me credibility and status with the new owners out there,” Tina explains. “Their EPIC program, promoting environmentally friendly products, has created an interest in stainless steel straws, which are now big in the beach community.”
For the most part, Tina is still a one-woman enterprise. She’s the company’s only full time employee, but has two part-timers who help her handle the extra work brought on by trade shows.
She considers her industry a stable one going into 2020. “Mugs, pens, T-shirts, and totes are memorable,” she writes on her website, “and provide a better cost per impression for advertisers than almost every major marketing effort like TV, magazines, and the Internet.
“(Promotional products are) your opportunity to leave a lasting impression with your customers!”