How Your Promo Business Can Be Truly Customer-Centric (and Why It Matters)
The past year has been a blur, but a few things have never been more clear. The most significant impact a company can make is with their customers and their community. Now more than ever, communities have to band together. I want to tell you about a few new ways to take care of your customers and your community, the effects it can have on your business, and why we’ve worked really hard to be known as more than “the pen people.”
Shumsky prides itself on being a customer-centric organization that delivers an exceptional experience during every interaction. A couple of years ago, we launched our white-glove service initiative, and it has become an integral part of who we are as a business and how our team members react and deliver. We’ve all heard that customers don’t just buy products. To us, they buy feelings, solutions and experiences.
But you can’t just say you’re customer-centric. You have to back it up. So, in 2018, I helped organize our first customer advisory board. Up until that point, our company did an outstanding job of creating a roadmap that outlined plans for the next 1-5 years. Our executive team planned what sort of technology to develop, ways to improve our processes, our pricing structures and how our teams would operate. The problem—which we later realized was more of an opportunity—was we didn’t stop to ask our customers, “What do you think?”
So we brought together a group of top customers to solicit honest feedback and guidance about our offerings, roadmap and service levels, in order to better meet our customer needs while co-defining the future of promotional products, online company stores and employee engagement solutions. We couldn’t do all of this on our own out of the gate. Shumsky partnered with The Congruity Group, a company focused solely on executing customer advisory boards, to facilitate the board meetings. We designed sessions that would be beneficial to our business but also bring value to our members.
I couldn’t believe what I saw and heard. If you actually ask your customers what they think about your strategy, they’ll tell you. It doesn’t have to be a mystery or a guessing game, and what’s even more humbling is finding out you’re not always on the right track. We have regular meetings with our board where we gain valuable feedback, such as “I thought you guys were the pen people” (facepalm), and we also have the opportunity to get closer to our customers as individuals. They talk about their families, what makes them tick, and their own successes and failures.
It’s the outcome that is one of the most rewarding parts of this process. Our board rated 4.98 out of 5 stars for the first meeting (nearly unheard of), and while it certainly wasn’t our intended goal, we saw a year-over-year revenue increase with every single one of the customers. Let me reemphasize: That revenue growth is not the No. 1 goal for a customer advisory board. But there’s no denying it’s a nice bonus.
Our strategy was locked in for taking care of customers. And then, in 2019, two tragedies struck in Dayton, Ohio, where Shumsky is located. In May, tornadoes ripped through the city, causing damage still visible from I-75 over a year later. On Aug. 4, 2019, a shooter entered the Oregon District in downtown Dayton late that Saturday night and opened fire in a bar that’s just a couple of blocks from our offices. Some of my coworkers were there that night. We all came into the office on Monday knowing we had to do something to take care of our community.
How do you demonstrate your company’s commitment to the community? Our staff found individual ways to give back, but we also came together as a company to make an impact. After the tornadoes, our CEO provided additional hours of VTO (Volunteer Time Off) for everyone, so we could participate in clean-up efforts and deliver donations of food and water to local fire stations that would distribute it to the hundreds of displaced residents and thousands without power.
As a promotional products distributor, we have an incredible opportunity to give back. Shumsky chose to partner with LovelighT Circle, a nonprofit formed after the shooting that focuses on creating more good in the world. We developed their online store where you can purchase branded items, with proceeds going toward grants through the The Dayton Foundation to help make the world a better place.
While the rest of the nation went on with their lives after these events, people in Dayton are still working through these tragedies mentally, physically and financially. But this past spring our community once again took a hit—this time with the coronavirus. Small-business owners from our beloved Oregon District have been forced to close, either temporarily or permanently. Again, we looked for ways to help, and similar to many other promo distributors, Shumsky had the opportunity to transition our focus to PPE. Even though PPE was relatively uncommon in our industry before this year, it was the relationships we had with our customers and community that allowed us to succeed. As a result, we supplied quality PPE to many businesses in our community and across the nation. In that respect, it was our way to continue to give back and take care of our community, and our customers too.
Our marketing team developed a “Let’s Band Together” campaign and asked for our customers’ home addresses to send them a care package that included a custom-designed box with cookies. We created complimentary T-shirts and silicone bands that our clients could purchase, with proceeds going to charity. Then we looked to our awesome suppliers and partnered with HPG, who hosted a live, virtual product presentation for our customers. For every customer who attended, we promised a donation of face masks to a local charity. Together, HPG and Shumsky donated 250 masks to Good Neighbor House, an organization focused on helping underserved families and individuals in Dayton.
If you don’t have a strategy in place to give back, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Partner with your customers, your supplier network and groups like Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF) to help figure out what’s right for your organization. For Shumsky, one of the many ways we give back is through the Jayne Emoff Miller PPEF scholarship, which gives an incoming undergrad with a family member in the promo industry some financial assistance in the name of our former owner and industry icon.
Shumsky has been committed to our customers and to Dayton for 67 years. So what’s next? We are poised for the most significant growth the company has experienced since I joined in 2008. We will focus on serving our new customer base, which is already larger in 2020 than the past two years combined. We will focus on educating our new PPE customers about our capabilities, so they think of us as more than just the “PPE people.” Most importantly, we will continue to focus on developing relationships with our customers and taking care of our community.
Melissa Marks has been with Shumsky and Boost Engagement for more than 12 years, most recently serving as senior marketing manager leading the marketing and design team. She is a graduate of The Ohio State University and is a lifelong resident of Dayton, where she resides with her husband and two children.