Executive Perspectives: Fully Promoted President Michael Brugger on Inflation, Inventory Challenges and Chuck E. Cheese
As part of Print+Promo Marketing’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Michael Brugger, president of Fully Promoted, West Palm Beach, Florida. Here, he lays out why he’s betting on diversification, addresses the supply and demand imbalance, and shares what playing Chuck E. Cheese taught him about promotional products.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Michael Brugger: I have been involved in the advertising and promotional product industry since high school—from working in a Signarama store in the early ’90s to working with the manufacturer of Tajima embroidery machines. My big break in the industry came when I had the chance to open the first Fully Promoted location in 2000. Back then it was called EmbroidMe, but we quickly added some promotional product vendors to the mix.
Starting a business during a recession was challenging, but with the proven business-to-business concepts I learned from United Franchise Group, we took off fast and never looked back. I love helping customers get the best products, and I got to do that every day. The location was a success, so we then started franchising and adding locations around the world. This allowed me to work in other areas of the organization such as real estate, marketing, operations, purchasing, training and my favorite—technology.
All of those roles along the way helped me become the person I am today with a hands-on leadership approach doing many of the tasks I ask my team to do. In 2018, I had the opportunity to come back home to Fully Promoted and help transition the final name change and push to selling more promotional products and branding services. It has been a huge success with sales growth the last three years.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
MB: At United Franchise Group we set our goals high, as you can’t hit what you don’t aim for. We have three high overall goals related to sales, profit and success, and everything must roll up to them. Each team member has individual goals based in their area of the organization and that includes me. I personally focus on critical areas of the brand growth and meet with the team weekly to drive success.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
MB: I see inflation as a growing concern as prices are changing, so we need to watch the buying and selling numbers, which can squeeze profits fast if you miss a change. We have adopted a shorter time for quotes to reduce the risk of price changes. As a bonus, this has increased the rate at which we close orders and the urgency of communication. Overall, with the economy going strong, we are in great shape with increased activity reported in many locations.
Areas of the economy are going to go up and down, but there’s always a booming industry somewhere, you just need to make sure you’re ready for that boom. Specifically, for Fully Promoted, I would say diversification has helped us with the changing industries that are buying promotional products as the economy ebbs and flows. When I see a customer list that is weighted in any one area of industry and/or customer, we try and be proactive in our locations to change that. You can either be chained to the economy or customer, or you can do everything in your power to lessen the effects of the world around us. Lastly, speed wins, so being able to share information quickly is so important. This includes everything from supplier availability to the latest trends, so our industry keeps growing and our customers don’t drift to other forms of advertising.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
MB: Limited availability of popular products and frustrated end-customers is going to continue for the rest of this year. The end-customer is more astute than ever before, and the trend of data publicly available is growing. Additional challenges include suppliers that are making it too easy to open accounts, putting pressure on the traditional supplier and distributor relationship. However, recently, several suppliers shut down the accounts of lower-volume purchasers, and that was a welcome sign [that] I hope continues.
What keeps you up at night?
MB: For the industry in general: Industry supply chains are stretched. We have the demand, we just need more inventory! When I hear things may not be back to normal until 2023, that is concerning. We’re selling a lot of similar products and are having to reach outside of our traditional suppliers to get orders fulfilled. Thank goodness we have a solid vendor team to accommodate this, but if a product is not in stock, we can’t make it appear, at least not yet. That leads me to the next item—virtual products are coming. This does not keep me up now, but will soon, as the blending of in-person and online will change how we sell and what platforms we sell in.
Our business is in growth mode and adding new staff and locations, thus making sure everyone is trained is critical. I think about ways to improve the customer experience and our training, so it does not keep me up at night—be proactive and sleep well!
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
MB: We’re looking to upgrade our website presence once again. Keeping up with technology is so important today and tomorrow for Web 3.0, which includes the Metaverse. On a basic level, we have some great software upgrades happening right now, which will cut down on order entry time so we can focus more on the customer.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
MB: Any excuse to put on a costume—sign me up! My kids and I have an extensive collection of costumes for all times of the year. In fact, one of my early jobs was working at Chuck E. Cheese as the main costume character and training other team members how to give life to the character with dancing and hand gestures. You can’t talk when you’re in the costume, so you must articulate emotion in other ways to connect with the guests, like a good promotional product.