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2010 Supplier Family Business of the Year: American Ad Bag
By Betsy Cummings
May 2010

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Turning your kids away speaks immensely to the pull that Ginny Semrow has over her children. Not that she’s trying to have that pull. When her son and daughter graduated from college, Semrow, president of American Ad Bag (asi/35290), told them they had to "go out and work for someone else" before they could even think about joining her company.

Semrow wanted to make sure that if family members (her husband Gary is also an employee) were going to be pulled into the fray, they would be fully committed. Plus, it couldn’t hurt to have them work for other corporations where they could sharpen their skills first. After working in Chicago as a broker, her son, Gary Semrow, joined American Ad Bag 12 years ago and is now vice president of marketing; his sister, Michelle Semrow, the company’s CFO, followed two years later after working in Indiana as a CPA at an accounting firm. Coming in from the outside "they saw how successful it could be and both had ideas of their own to make it even better," Semrow says.

The Semrow family’s collective efforts now account for some $25 million a year in sales in a company that has averaged 9% annual growth (18% to 20% in the past year) since it started in 1992. The key to their success? Finding an underserved market niche, Semrow says. Thirty years ago when she was a supplier rep, Semrow noticed at trade shows that other suppliers sold bags in large quantities only.

"I was getting a lot of people asking me for small quantities," Semrow says. "So we came up with a way to imprint short runs." She asked her employer at the time if they wanted in on the business. They said no. So Semrow left and started American Ad Bag.
The move paid off. "Our catalog has gone from initially 20 pages to almost 100 now," Semrow says, including reusable grocery bags that her company introduced to the market in 2000. Two offices – in Illinois and Arizona – allow the family and employees to spread out and cover more territory nationwide, with an active list of 7,000 distributors divided among seven salespeople.

The key to the family working together? "We each have designated roles," Semrow says. "As long as we don’t cross into each others’ roles things run smoothly." – BC

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