2022 Women in Print and Promo: Heather Comerford, 1338Tryon
1338Tryon, Portland, Oregon
Heather Comerford doesn’t like to wait for things to happen. After noticing a gap between branded merchandise companies and agency services, in 2014, she launched 1338Tryon. Since then, she has worked to build a business that solves problems and energizes clients—a base that includes Fortune 100 companies and the agencies that serve them.
On the surface, Comerford presents as a no-nonsense businesswoman with a flair for profanity, a passion for branded merchandise and an affinity for the people who help her create impactful campaigns. But, according to her nominator, there aren’t enough positive things one can say about this leader.
“I have learned how to be efficient and nimble and [how to] anticipate my clients’ expectations,” the nominator said. “[Heather] has provided the drive and inspiration for me to be better at my job and do my best work.”
A natural educator, Comerford’s career path almost led her to the classroom. But, in Seattle, while studying for her master’s in teaching, Comerford realized that dealing with disgruntled parents and other teachers wasn’t for her. She packed up her bags and traveled to Portland to begin her post-college life. Then, a newspaper ad changed everything.
“The woman that interviewed me looked like she was straight out of Melrose Place, so clearly I was excited to start my new glamorous life as sales liaison at OWNCO Marketing, which basically meant I called up each of the salespeople around the country to ask if they needed any catalogs or samples and filed all the catalogs the sales team brought back from their calls,” Comerford shared.
Roughly six months later, Comerford was promoted to account specialist and tasked with managing the Boise Cascade Corporation account. (She still has a memento of her first project: a beige sweatshirt featuring an eagle flying over some trees in what she calls “quite the substantial left chest embroidery location.”) Comerford decided it was time to explore the agency world, so she accepted an offer with CMD, an integrated marketing agency. There she learned not just about branded merchandise, but how, when done well, it can integrate with other marketing tools to create a compelling brand experience.
Before returning to the agency side to gain more management experience, Comerford sharpened her print chops, with a focus on consumer brands, at WorkflowOne. She was charged with helping the printer branch out into promotional products and maintains relationships with several of her co-workers to this day.
Since opening 1338Tryon, Comerford has cultivated a fun and motivating workplace, earning her several industry awards. “She dedicates her time to not only thinking about the future of 1338Tryon, but also focusing on the promotional industry as a whole,” her nominator said. “With any free moment, she volunteers and shares her experiences. She is always wanting to tell people how what we do is vital to our clients’ brand recognition and growth.”
Her Proudest Career Achievement
Taking the leap was big! In 2014, I started 1338Tryon out of my garage with money I earned in my previous role as a commissioned salesperson. I am so proud of the team I have built and the professional reputation that 1338Tryon has earned amongst our client base. (2022 will be our best year to date!) I am not saying there wasn’t a day or two where a good cry or a stiff drink wasn’t in order, but I am continually amazed by my team, their hard work and their dedication to 1338Tryon and each other.
On Working in a Traditionally Male-Dominated Industry
I think we have all had experiences with those that want to hold us back for any number of reasons. Those disappointing experiences don’t overshadow all the opportunities this industry has provided. Never a dull day. Loyal clients. Amazing (and funny) co-workers. That sense of accomplishment when you solve a particularly difficult client challenge. Over the years, I have built a circle of trusted advisers and thought leaders that have helped me grow and laugh. In the end, my paychecks were based on my sales numbers and not my sex, so I would say I overcame any disadvantages of being a woman in a male-dominated industry by outperforming those around me.
Her Job Advice to Women
1. My father cringed when I told him I put logos on things. I beam when I tell people that I put logos on things. Be confident in what you do and do it to the best of your ability.
2. Don’t listen to those that tell you to sit quietly and wait your turn. Nothing good ever came to those that wait around with their fingers crossed.
3. You will never be bored, and if you provide value to your clients, you will never be broke.
4. Those that tell you that you swear too much or you are too loud are boring — ignore them. They won’t be at the next party anyway.
5. If you haven’t seen 9-to-5, drop what you are doing and enjoy a glimpse of what the women before you had to put up with in the job world. And hug your mother!
Who Inspires Her
I lost a few of my greatest inspirations in the last few years: Carrie Fisher, Betty White, RBG. But, we still have Dolly. Dolly Parton is a national treasure that we need to hold on to. She was instrumental in getting a COVID vaccine with her $1 million donation and she has helped women succeed throughout her career without taking grief from anyone. Within our industry, I would like to give a special shout-out to some of the strong, generous, open-and-always-willing-to-help women of our industry: Stacy Garrett at Ideation; Beverly Walter at Brown & Bigelow; Ann Vidro and Menda Wright at Creative Studios; Lindsey Davis at Raining Rose; Rhonda Riley at Pilot Pen; Linda Tulchin at the Promotions Department; and, of course, Dana Geiger and Stephanie Braley that keep the Premier Group Network running like clockwork!
Her Biggest Lesson Learned
Not everyone is built like me or thinks like me or values the same things I do and that is OK. A team is a puzzle where everyone brings their unique experiences and perspectives, and those as a whole make everyone better. Never stop learning!
How She Thinks Companies Can Attract and Retain Female Talent
I think the basics of treating women equally is enough. That means giving them the same opportunities and the same expectation of responsibility. I think if you are having a hard time attracting and retaining women, the real question is what are you doing or allowing to go on in your offices that is pushing women away? Women are pragmatic for the most part, so if you are having trouble attracting and retaining women, it is time to look in the mirror.
Her Upcoming Goals
Professionally, this year I am working on an affiliate program, MerchUnlimited, to complement 1338Tryon by offering independent salespeople, at any stage of the game, the back-office support they need. Whether you are an adventurous person that wants to take the leap to go out on their own with a proven team behind them, a salesperson with a consistent book that just needs some additional support to further grow, or a seasoned veteran that wants to ease into their twilight years, MerchUnlimited will be there to support you and your unique situation. We will assess each individual and provide custom-tailored plans, providing things like inside sales support, global logistics, online store expertise, RFP assistance, marketing plans and program strategy. One size doesn’t fit all. At MerchUnlimited, we know with the right supporting cast, everyone can be a star!
Personally, I would like to spend a little more time on myself to make up for the bag of sea salt caramels I was downing every day during 2020, when I thought the world was burning. Every year I spend one week learning something new so that just like my business, I can continue to evolve.
What She Wants People to Know About Her
I am more likely to give you an Irish Kiss (a well-deserved punch) than a hug. I believe concise is kind, so I am not much of a sugar-coater. If I have a concern about something, I rarely beat around the bush. And I spend more time at work than I spend with my family, so I like to keep it festive in the office. If you stop by, you better be prepared to have fun!
How She Recharges
I curse a lot. I love science fiction books and books about emerging technology. I am a bit of a political junky. I have long intellectual conversations with my Cocker Spaniel puppies. And I judge people based on their affection for specific superheroes. I am not saying we have to agree, but you better have some good reasoning behind your pick.