Stop 2: Mac Mannes
Bethesda, MD


Wearing blue seersucker pants, a pressed white shirt and custom red, white and blue Chuck Taylors, Huebner ushers us into the third floor offices of Mac Mannes (asi/259100), which is located in a sleek, modern office park, and he’s eager to share with us the company’s past. Mac Mannes was a real person, who started the firm as a gift shop on G Street in Washington, D.C., in the 1930s. A few decades later, his son John took a $2,500 order for logoed knives for a trade show, and quickly realized the promotional products business was more lucrative.

Huebner joined the company in 1985 as a mail sorter, and took over as owner in 2007. Now with 12 employees, Mac Mannes is poised to do $5 million in sales this year and has a variety of clients, many of which come from the education and association markets. Huebner prides himself on being the voice of reason at the company when employees encounter stressful situations. Indeed, a poster in his office, which is also brightly decorated with his daughters’ artwork, carries the message, “Keep calm and carry on.” “I sometimes have to sit down with one of my employees and say, ‘Just because the water bottles are pink and they should be blue, the world isn’t going to end.’”

Huebner’s calm demeanor aside, he thinks the key to the company’s high employee retention rate is the company’s ability to develop creative programs for clients. “We’re not good at bidding situations,” he says. “Nothing’s ever about price for us. It’s how creative we can get, which makes this a fun place to work.” Indeed, Mac Mannes showcases its creative side in frequent self-promotions. One recent one was a contest in which prospects were given a prize if they could identify the flavor of logoed lip balm they received. (It was watermelon vanilla.) Another one promised a pair of custom-made Chuck Taylors (like the ones Huebner is wearing) to anyone who sent a picture of themselves donning an American flag T-shirt while striking the most impressive patriotic pose. The company’s reception area showcases an array of creative promotions, each of which has an accompanying case study, ranging from a lapel pin set created for the division of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to a miniature version of the White House.

“Why do I stay here?” says Patty, the company’s vice president of operations, as we browse the collection of commemorative gifts and promotional products. “Look around at all of the cool stuff we do. It’s never the same thing here every day.”

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