2021 Women in Print and Promo: Amy Serrano, Barker Specialty
AMY SERRANO, CAS
Director of Marketing and Vendor Relations
Barker Specialty, Cheshire, Conn.
If Amy Serrano’s nominator had to describe her in one word, he’d choose “remarkable.” In just five years at Barker Specialty, she’s climbed the ranks from account manager to a dual role as director of marketing and vendor relations; transformed the company website; introduced her employer to the world of print, a move that will generate over $500,000 in revenue for 2021; developed PAWSitive Rewards, an employee recognition program highlighting the special contributions of staff and vendors alike; organized a social distancing T-shirt fundraiser that earned thousands of dollars for charities; and pitched BARKode technology allowing for an online gift redemption program—all while maintaining her nearly $1-million book of business.
Like many before her, Serrano didn’t choose promo, but she’s happy it found her. After earning a degree in business administration and management, Serrano took a full-time position as an administrative assistant at a hospital in the radiology and cardiology departments. It was her first exposure to marketing, and the attraction was instant. She had an honest talk with her employer about transferring to this area that better aligned with her interests.
“During one of my visits to the marketing office, I saw promotional catalogs on their desks,” Serrano said. “I remember seeing a Hit catalog. I picked it up and thought ‘this is interesting.’ Later that night, I started to research where these catalogs came from and discovered a little bit about the industry and promotional distributors. I started applying to various locations. There was one company that got back to me within a day and after a phone and in-person interview, they hired me!”
She credits this company for teaching her about branding, sales, client relationships and more. However, the job wasn’t giving her the growth opportunities, work-life balance and health benefits she needed. From there, Serrano handled promotional marketing for an advertising agency that boasted a client list including several large global beverage brands. Still, something was missing.
It clicked during a chance encounter with her manager. Knowing Serrano’s background in promo, her boss asked her to research products to order for the company. She jumped at the chance and quickly rediscovered the items she herself loved. She couldn’t let it end with that transaction; she had to follow her heart. Serrano called Gerry Barker, president of Barker Specialty—a company she long respected. Two interviews later, the account manager job was hers and the connection remains strong.
What Brings Her Joy Professionally and Personally
Salespeople often get great satisfaction pleasing their customers and when I work with clients on their orders and receive good feedback, it makes me really happy. And, if we launch a new initiative in marketing and someone on the sales team finds it useful, it makes me happy too. I love to learn and Gerry and all my associates at Barker Specialty are constantly challenging me. Open communication is key with both clients and colleagues. These are the same things that make me happy in my life … discovering new things, growing personally and professionally, and having awesome experiences, are all things I find joyful!
Her Proudest Career Achievement
Early in my career with Barker Specialty, I was working with a new client. They were only doing a handful of small repeat orders. I decided to pitch the idea of an online store as I thought it would make sense for them. I presented the concept without having much background on how we handle (or even pitch for that matter) program business. I was happily surprised when they were intrigued and wanted to know more. I learned a lot from my team who helped me figure out the process and we built a custom webstore solution that includes promotional products, apparel, trade show signage, print media and incentive items for their corporate employees, subcontractors and retail customers. I am very proud to say that within the first year of the program we did just over $250K in sales on the website business alone. The store is still running and very successful.
On Working in a Traditionally Male-Dominated Industry
As someone who grew up with an older brother and cousins, I don’t think I ever saw a male-dominated anything as a challenge. If I feel confident and believe in what I am doing, no boy or man would ever stop me from speaking up and “requesting a seat at the table” if I feel I deserve it.
That’s not to say that the world was always accepting of women in the workplace, let alone in leadership roles, so I acknowledge the woman who have paved the way and am thankful for the work that was put in to get women where they are today! (Insert Rosie the Riveter here!)
Her Job Advice to Women
If you’re looking for an industry with a creative and an ever-evolving culture, this is it! One of the other things I like best about my job is that I get to work with clients that span various vertical markets. I honestly never felt like a “salesperson” because literally everyone that works or owns a business, has a hobby or fundraising could use the products we sell. Anytime I tell someone what I do for work, they immediately become excited and intrigued to learn more. We work hard in this industry and do some very cool and unique things, it’s hard not to be excited about it! Moreover, this business does offer the flexibility to allow anyone, male or female, to achieve a positive work-life balance.
Who Inspires Her
There are many women I admire, especially those that have taken risks and have succeeded in a positive and ethical way. I admire and am inspired by many of the women that I work with at Barker Specialty—most notably Ewa Wlaz and Karen Rivkin, both of whom have been recognized by your magazine. They each have a unique thought process that cultivates positive ideas and forward thinking, and I learn from them each day.
How She Motivates Team Members
This is an easy question—recognition for performance and acknowledgement for achievements. This is especially true for the remote world we are working in. I think it’s important now more than ever. If someone feels disconnected, it’s hard to feel motivated. Examples of initiatives I have made include a drive by/drop off gift to all employees’ homes early in the pandemic, institution of our PAWSitive Rewards Program and gifts sent to all employees for appreciation day.
What She Learned About Herself in 2020
I’ve learned how to be resilient in business and even more grateful in my personal life as we found out that at a moment’s notice, the world can literally change. I’ve always believed in the mantra “work hard, play hard”—take advantage of opportunities professional and personally, make time for yourself and spend time with your family and friends.
Her Upcoming Goals
I, along with some of the management team, have been remodeling our showroom during the pandemic. We actually recruited my husband to build a new wall in the showroom and a bar (yes, a bar!). Our goal was to build a new creative and modern working space for the sales team and clients to meet and review projects together. We hope to unveil the Barker Idea Bar later this spring!
Personally, I’d love this housing market to calm down a bit so my husband and I can find a new home.
What She Wants People to Know About Her
I often joke that I have RBF (Google that if you’re unfamiliar with the abbreviated term), but I promise I am generally always happy and probably just thinking about what’s for lunch!
How She Recharges
After a long day at work, simply walking into my house and having two dogs greet me is the best way to decompress from a stressful day. Their loving energy and excitement are literally at the same level every time I walk through the door, and that’s enough to drown out any stress. I also recently took up a spinning class, which is really hard for me to classify as “fun,” but I am starting to feel the benefits of committing to something for the positive long-term benefits of the mind and body.
Her Favorite Podcast
I have been listening to the podcast “Just B with Bethenny Frankel.” I enjoy her humor and some of the insights she has about business and life in general.