Stop 9: Bob Lilly Promotions
Dallas, TX

The clock is edging toward 4 p.m. on a Friday as we roll into Bob Lilly Promotions (asi/254138), and it’s obvious that the employees there are ready to call it a day. No, they’re not powering down their computers or hopping to their cars. They’re setting up a happy hour in one of the spaces of their sleek headquarters, which resembles a chic ad agency more than a promo products distributorship. The walls are lined with rows of promotional products – many sporting the logos of big brands like Hennessy – encased in glass, and flat screen TVs seem to be in every room.

Vice President of Sales Tommy Lewis’ elevator pitch is further evidence that this isn’t a typical ad specialty company: “We sell measurable programs to help big companies grow bigger,” Lewis says, ticking off a list of clients in the adult beverage and oil and gas industries. More than 50% of the firm’s business comes from what Lewis calls “agency-style pitches.”

While Bob Lilly, a former middle linebacker for Texas Christian University (dad Bob senior played tight end for the Dallas Cowboys) who owns the company along with his wife Julie, is happy to sit down and talk to us, employees, vendors and clients are ducking in to find out where the drinks are being served. A Gemline rep tiptoes by and looks at Lilly expectantly, while Lilly points to the adjacent space with a smile. “It’s over there,” he says, motioning to an area where a growing cluster of people is knocking down ice cold Shiner Bocks and Blue Moons while the sun bakes the Dallas freeway just outside.

If there’s any workplace in which the old “work hard, play hard” cliché fits, it’s here at Bob Lilly, where it’s clear that Bob and company take their business, and their partying, equally seriously. While some distributorships stuck their heads in the sand during the recession, Lilly says his company “hit the gas pedal,” hiring new employees and offering incentives like Rolexes to salespeople who had $100,000+ months.

All of the company’s salespeople, including Lilly and Lewis, make it a point to go on a minimum of 15 in-person sales calls per week, and all of these efforts seem to be paying off. After business dipped 40% in 2009, Lilly saw 55% growth last year, and is on pace for another 50% year-over-year gain in 2011. Which today, at least, is as good an excuse as any for Lilly and his employees to pop a few cold ones. As we head out, he even hands us a few road sodas and eagerly joins his crew. It’s clear that today’s party is about to get into full swing.

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