Women Of Industry
By Dave Vagnoni
Confident they can succeed, more women than men are choosing the ad specialty industry to start their first business. That’s just one finding of an exclusive Counselor study comparing the attitudes, backgrounds and perceived opportunities of business owners.
In the early days of W.M. Martin Advertising (asi/353512), few really knew who owned the one-person company. That, it turns out, was by design. “My banker told me to use my initials in the company name so people wouldn’t know we weren’t male-owned,” admits Winnie Martin, the distributor’s founder. “It was very difficult back then for women to get financial backing.”
Back then, which was 1983, Martin faced plenty of chauvinists, stereotypes and maddening business policies that left her frustrated, but far from defeated. “Just to get a business phone put in, I had to ask for my husband’s signature,” she says.
Undaunted, Martin saw opportunity. Even before her company was christened, she found her first client, A.J. Weller Corporation, without much effort at all – thanks to a very important contact.
“Somebody had to handle all the gimmes,” Martin says. “Twice a year, I’d go out to the national sales force at meetings and give presentations.” And, she’d sell them on a variety of promotional products. All the while, there was one fact she held back from her newfound client contacts: her husband was one of the owners of their company.
Never lacking for confidence, but not always having such a built-in solid referral, Martin started to build up her company with other accounts, taking advantage of her background in apparel and show business to win clients and close deals. A generation later, W.M. Martin is one of the most notable women-owned distributorships in Texas, and Winnie is proud to tell people she’s the one behind those company initials. “Tremendous changes in the industry have been made,” she says. “We owe those changes to women like me.”
Those changes – some subtle and others dramatic – have recently brought on quite the surge of momentum for women. While the majority of industry companies are still run by men, ASI membership data shows nearly 35% of distributors and more than 20% of suppliers are now owned by women.
And according to the newly-released Counselor Entrepreneur Study, 98% of those women feel their businesses are a success. Even further, the study shows that both female and male entrepreneurs in the ad specialty market have consistently grown the revenues of their companies – 85% of men and 81% of women business owners say they’ve grown their company’s revenues by double digits annually since inception.
While male entrepreneurs tend to run larger companies (30% of men and 17% of women say their annual revenues are more than $500,000), according to the exclusive survey, the majority of industry business owners now feel women have an equal or better opportunity to win sales contracts compared to men. At least in the ad specialty industry, the idea of a gender gap is fading fast.
To prove it, laid out on the following pages, we detail six key findings of the Counselor Entrepreneur Study. Plus, we profile six entrepreneurs, ranging from the long-tenured to the barely-getting-started, who are excelling as leading ladies of the ad specialty industry.
Finding #1: Women Want To Be Their Own Boss
As a single mother with no child support, Laura Forbes realized she didn’t have a choice. “I had to make it,” she says. Clearly, she did.
Her story begins in the lowlands of Mississippi, where she grew up with an especially strong and successful role model. “My dad was an entrepreneur,” Forbes says. “He was a soft-drink bottler.”
Yet, even with that positive influence on her life, Forbes at first didn’t necessarily see herself as a business owner. She attended tiny Delta State University and found herself unsure of which career path to take. “I dabbled in several things,” she says. “My background was in education. I was a teacher. That gave me strong organizational skills. I also worked for a local newspaper as a reporter. That helped me to hone my writing skills.”
Feeling a bit unfulfilled, Forbes eventually decided she wanted to work for herself. Young and adventurous, she thought about starting her own travel agency with a close friend. “I had an advisor who told me there was no money in it,” she says. Fortunately, she listened. Soon after, along with a college roommate, Forbes instead founded Ad Impressions, a promotional products company based in Jackson, MS. “Opportunities were all in front of us,” she says. “We were lucky in that regard.”
Thirty years and one large merger later, Forbes runs distributor Zebra Marketing (asi/365683), a Memphis, TN-based company that generates $10 million in annual sales. “We’re still growing, but we do it with a family approach and a southern small feel,” she says. “I’ve learned you don’t resist change. You use it to your advantage.”
While her business success makes her a standout, Forbes’ motivation to start her company is actually very much in line with other women in the ad specialty industry. The great majority (69.9%) of women surveyed agree that becoming their own boss was the main reason for going into business. “You can always be working, but you don’t have to punch a clock,” she says. “Women need flexibility.”
That need for flexibility is also shown in another main reason women entrepreneurs start their own businesses: to integrate work life with family life. That’s exactly what motivates Robyn Greenfield, owner of Monee, IL-based Advertising Solutions (asi/112753). “I work from home and have no overhead,” she says, getting ready to spend some time with her 9-year-old son. “I think we’re about to make cookies.”
Greenfield, who sells promotional products and embroiders items, has a business degree and left a Chicago law firm to focus on her family. She started her distributorship about four years ago and already has 300 clients, including Green Garden Elementary, the school her children attend. “I don’t do any cold-calling,” she says. “My customers are my friends.”
Finding #2: Women Have Less Formal Training
Known only as the pointy-haired boss (PHB), the incompetent, micromanaging office “leader” is a well-known villain in the Dilbert cartoon strip and television series. For good reason, he’s also a particular favorite of Mary Schulenberger, president of Parle Enterprises (asi/291134) in Burlingame, CA. “I was at an idea fair, kind of like a mini-trade show, for Cisco,” she begins. “I was asked if I could come up with a stress ball of Dilbert’s boss for John Chambers to use.”
Schulenberger learned that Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, liked to throw out stress balls with PHB’s likeness during question-and-answer sessions at major company events. And, Chambers happened to be looking for a new company to provide them. “I got in touch with Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist, and found out I had to get a license,” she says. Coming through for her client, Schulenberger got a license to distribute several Dilbert-themed stress balls. Cisco was a happy customer and soon other companies were, as well. “Dell bought some, Oracle and Red Hat, too,” she says.
Schulenberger, whose company was profitable last year even during the recession, says it was “by accident” that she even learned of the ad specialty industry. She was working at a restaurant when she met the owner of the now-defunct Tiburon Industries. He offered her a job as a northern California sales rep. “We just sort of clicked,” she says.
Servicing clients like local yacht clubs, Schulenberger felt she was just starting to grasp the industry, but that’s when a curveball was thrown her way. Tiburon went out of business, leaving Schulenberger at a career crossroads. “I was an independent contractor,” she says. “It wasn’t like I had this idea to start a company.”
Even so, Schulenberger took a leap of faith. Without formal training or a college degree, and working out of her own house, Schulenberger founded Parle Enterprises in 1986. “I felt like I was thrown into the deep end,” she admits. “After six months, I moved into a real office.”
Turns out Schulenberger needed the extra space. Over the last 23 years, her client list has included names like Hewlett-Packard, AT&T and Pacific Gas & Electric. “Our industry is really good for creative folks that want to work hard,” she says.
Schulenberger and others like her have proven that formal business training isn’t a prerequisite for industry success. In fact, according to the Counselor Entrepreneur Study, nearly two-thirds (65%) of women respondents weren’t trained in how to run a business prior to starting up an industry company. Kim Lysik Di Santi, founder of executive coaching firm Total Strategy, isn’t surprised by those results.
“You’re either an entrepreneur or you’re not,” Lysik Di Santi says. “It’s anybody’s game out there if you have a knack and you use your talents.”
Finding #3: Women Invest In Technology
Her high-end designs have been found on movie sets, in the finest department stores and on the most basic promotional products. And while many suppliers struggled through the recent economic downturn, Natalie DiPicciotto found a recession-proof process that bowls over even the pickiest clients. “It’s called metal imaging,” she says. “And it’s our exclusive in this arena.”
Metal imaging, as DiPicciotto describes it, is the epitome of cutting-edge technology, taking multicolored, high-definition artwork or photography and capturing it into aluminum that never chips or fades. Of all the suppliers in the ad specialty industry, only DiPicciotto can provide the technique, which can be used on a growing list of items ranging from coasters to bag tags to mousepads. “People can’t replace it,” she says. “It’s really been amazing.”
The mechanisms behind the technology are, well, secrets, but it’s no surprise that DiPicciotto’s company, the aptly-named Steel Threads (asi/89475), has gotten plenty of play from distributors and end-users alike. Recently, DiPicciotto designed custom metal-imaged binder panels, with designs of actors Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr., as a specialty item for those who worked on the film Sherlock Holmes.
One particular panel has a front view of Downey Jr. in character as Holmes, cast in light and dark tones against a stark black background. Every detail you’d see in a high-resolution image, from the several layers of pipe smoke to the creases in Holmes’ shirt sleeve, comes through dramatically in the panel. “It’s like making a piece of art,” DiPicciotto says. “People freak out when they see this stuff.”
Yet, while metal imaging is a powerful device for DiPicciotto, she doesn’t believe it’s her only recent success. “Our biggest investment has been in marketing and our website,” she says. “We now run our website internally, shoot our own photography and send out our own e-blasts.”
Indeed, DiPicciotto’s passion for being on the leading edge of technology and staying ahead of trends actually places her in a popular spot. Whether it’s by using state-of-the-art equipment, by developing an innovative product or by creating buzz through social media, 88% of women entrepreneurs surveyed believe they’ve invested in technology that will spur future growth.
Of that industry group, 39% of women feel strongly and are especially positive about their technology-based investments, compared to 36% of men. “If there’s a quicker or easier way to do it, women are going to find it,” says Francine Schill, author of The Successful Gal, a handbook on how to start a business. “I think it’s a mindset that women have. That’s why many are tech-savvy.”
Finding #4: Women Take Advantage Of Networking
Known in industry social circles as “The Queen Bee” and on Twitter as “LogoLady,” the chatty Barbara Dail didn’t sell her first order of promotional products until she was 50. She’s definitely making up for lost time. “It hasn’t always been easy for me,” says Dail, just as she was expecting confirmation on a $50,000 order. “I’m very active in the industry and I know a lot of people.”
Truly, that might be an understatement. During her two decades in the ad specialty business, Dail has built up a successful distributorship and enjoys an ever-expanding network of always-willing-to-help contacts. Yet, her lively industry career only came about because of circumstances no one would ever wish for. “I was in the hospital for a double mastectomy and they came in and got me from my bed,” she remembers. “My husband was in the hospital, too, at the same time. They found out he had cancer. They gave him four months to live.”
Fighting courageously against bladder cancer, Dail’s husband lived five more years, long enough to see all of the couple’s children – three adopted girls – graduate from college. It was no doubt an emotional time for Dail, but she accepted every challenge and made the most of it. “My husband had been a real estate developer and I had never worked,” she says. “I realized I needed to get a job.”
Predictably, at least to those who know her, Dail quickly got energized. Putting her upbeat personality to full use, she went to work for a local ad specialty company on the suggestion of a friend. “On my first day, I got a $1,000 order before noon,” she says.
Having been a dedicated volunteer in her community, Dail reached out to anyone she thought would listen to her pitch, including her husband’s many friends. It worked. Dail had found a career and the industry had found a gem. Soon, Dail decided to open her own company, and The Creative Solution (asi/170768) was born in Yorba Linda, CA. “My business partner and I never thought we’d fail,” she says.
With those difficult years behind her, Dail has hit her business stride. She’s helped build up Coffee Talk, the popular industry networking club, to more than 150 members. She’s found a social niche through Facebook and Twitter, where she discusses just about anything, save politics. And she’s organized extensive industry support for Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit that sends care packages to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’ve sent T-shirts, food, stadium cups, notepads, even stuffed animals,” she says. “No one in the industry has ever turned me down. We’ve sent 600,000 packages.”
Of course, not all women have reached the networking heights that Dail has, but they’re apparently following her lead. The Counselor Entrepreneur Study found that 89% of women who own businesses in the industry believe they take full advantage of networking to grow their companies. What’s more, the majority (52%) feel strongly about their networking skills, compared to 44% of men.
“Women form tight bonds,” says Lysik Di Santi. “Networking used to be about male-dominated golf outings. Now there’s almost been a backlash of female-focused events.”
Finding #5: Equal Business Opportunities
When she moved from St. Louis to Sacramento, CA, in 1986, Joann Devereux made a life-changing decision by simply looking in the phone book. “I saw there were only eight distributors here,” she says. “So I thought I’d do that.”
Devereux chose wisely. Today, her company, Just Call Inc. (asi/237905), generates annual revenues of $4 million and operates in a 4,200-square-foot building with three showrooms. “It’s all about customer service,” she insists. “We knock ourselves out. We’re extremely diversified. This week alone we have three new clients in three completely different industries.”
Although her company’s sales are largely based on referrals, Devereux has also been quite successful at bidding on and winning contracts. She feels being a certified woman-owned company sometimes allows her an advantage. “Working with me can be beneficial to a client who’s then recognized as supporting a woman-owned or minority-owned company,” she says. In any case, she has learned not to shy away from the bidding process just because it involves a little extra work. “Some you get, some you don’t,” she says. “Some you get because only one or two even responded.”
While Devereux’s local and national clients are in industries as varied as higher education and construction, among her best repeat customers is the state of California. “For the Department of Public Health I’ve done aprons, T-shirts and beach balls for their programs,” she begins. “For the California lottery, I’ve done apparel, padfolios, scratchers and electronic dice.”
It turns out Devereux’s good luck with the government hasn’t stopped with winning contracts. Earlier this year, she applied for a loan with the U.S. Small Business Administration so she could further expand her company. “It was simple,” she says. “I was amazed. I think we were approved in less than two weeks.”
The extra money has allowed Devereux to move her company into a better and more cost-effective space in Carmichael, CA. “I got tired of paying high rent,” she says, adding that “the market was perfect” to buy.
Truly, business and life are also pretty close to perfect for Devereux right now. Much has changed since she first looked in a random Sacramento phone book 25 years ago. But what hasn’t changed is her feeling that women have just as much right to business deals as men. After all, she thinks, women are better multitaskers. “I think we can juggle more clients,” she says.
Regarding the multitasking, experts tend to agree with Devereux, but on the topic of perceived equality, there’s more disagreement than not. “On paper, women are sometimes better received,” says Cynthia McKay, a psychologist and CEO of The McKay Group, a business consultancy firm. “But women tend to have difficulties fighting past the gatekeepers. It’s still an unequal playing field.”
Yet, in the ad specialty industry, business owners have a strikingly different view. According to the Counselor Entrepreneur Study, men and women think they have similar access to capital and equal opportunity to win contracts. In total, just under 65% feel the opportunities are equal, while 34% of men actually think women hold a bidding advantage.
Finding #6: More Women Are Starting Their First Business
In 1981, Marty Hickerson’s first customer turned out not to be a customer at all. “They promised me enough business for a year,” she remembers. “They ended up never coming through.”
It would have been easy for Hickerson, who had just graduated from LSU, to abandon her seemingly ill-fated career in stitchwork and try a different profession. But the young Louisianan had a rather expensive problem – a $15,000 embroidery machine that had to be paid off. A bit staggered, Hickerson steadied herself and went to work. “I went out and pounded the pavement,” she says.
And what a pounding it was. Hickerson would become one of the most successful distributors on the Gulf Coast, with her company, H&H Embroidery & Promotions (asi/216831), reaching sales of $2.5 million annually. “We had to earn it,” she says.
To be sure, Hickerson’s path to profit was traveled with more than a few bumps, especially at the start. “I was scared to death the whole time,” she admits. “I didn’t even know I needed a business license to operate.”
Hickerson got that license, and focusing on corporate embroidery, has kept her machines running through five presidential administrations. “You either go big or get out,” she says. “If you want to make a living doing this, you need a full-blown operations center.” And that’s exactly what Hickerson runs. From the small office that housed H&H’s first machine, the company has expanded to take over an entire Baton Rouge-based business complex.
While Hickerson has enjoyed great success through needlework, Rama Beerfas launched her career with a heat press. “I did six T-shirts,” Beerfas remembers. “Six months later I was asked for some balloons. You can’t heat-press a balloon.”
Seeing a business opportunity and eventually keying on two niches, Beerfas has built San Diego-based Lev Promotions into a full-service marketing agency. At the start, she handcrafted custom items, but now targets larger clients, particularly in the hospitality and nonprofit markets. “Creativity is a huge part of the job,” she says. “I think my edge and the edge of women is passion.”
Experts like McKay go further. “Women are resourceful and solution-oriented,” she says. “Women can take two paper clips and owned a business before, compared to just 41% of men.
Janelle Marks, Ericson Group Louisiana
When asked how many, Janelle Marks pauses. Then, without even a hint of pretentiousness in her voice, she answers matter-of-factly. “All of them,” she says. “I have all of the casinos in Louisiana.”
No, the Bayou State doesn’t quite compare to the Vegas Strip, but there are more casinos in Louisiana than there are in Atlantic City. From Isle of Capri to Harrah’s to Grand Palais, there are 14 total casinos in Louisiana, with five of them in Shreveport alone. “I do a lot of ‘gift of the month’ programs,” Marks says. “People accumulate points on their players’ cards and after so many points they win prizes.”
Many of those prizes, of course, are promotional products, and Marks provides them – for every casino in the area. “I try to meet the goals of my clients,” she says. “I’m doing what I love.”
Marks’ love for the industry actually didn’t begin in Louisiana, where most of her accounts are, but in Tennessee, where she attended college. After graduating from the University of Memphis, she took a job with Memphis-based distributor Ericson Group (asi/188701) and quickly earned a prominent place in the firm. Frequently, she would travel with the company’s owner to Louisiana, especially to the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City. “We booked all their entertainment,” Marks remembers. “We would also do signage and giveaways for shows.”
As time passed and as her travel became even more extensive, Marks was offered a unique opportunity to take over high-profile Louisiana accounts and begin her own company there in 2001. She named her company Ericson Group Louisiana. “It’s an entirely separate company and I work from my home office,” she says. “I do about $600,000 to $700,000 a year.”
Those sales figures, while certainly impressive, gain even more value when you consider that Marks is a single mom, raising a two-year-old daughter named Brooklyn. “There are certainly challenges,” she admits. “I start my day dropping my daughter at daycare at 6 in the morning. Then I start making sales calls and I do try to get out there in the field, dropping off samples or maybe taking clients to lunch. I use my gift of gab.”
Marks still finds plenty of time, though, to spend with Brooklyn. “She even comes to dance aerobics with me,” Marks says.
Despite her strenuous schedule, Marks has ambitious goals. In the next year, she’d like to add another major entertainment account and at least one more Fortune 500 client (she already gets business from Clear Channel).
“I love meeting new people and learning new things,” Marks says. “What matters most is building relationships.”
Kathleen Watts, The BrandMarket
Known as much for her creativity as for her charm, Kathleen Watts has been able to attract customers that are the giants of their industries. GlaxoSmithKline, General Mills, Disney, Verizon and Mattel – these are just a few of Watts’ clients. “Image is everything,” she says. “Some people go in with Power Point presentations and it’s a snoozefest. You have to do something different.”
Being different is clearly what makes Watts and her company, The BrandMarket (asi/145006), so successful. A small business with a staff of only 10 people, the Newport Beach, CA-based distributor offers clients the resources typically found in a much larger firm, including graphic design, fulfillment and website development. “We act more like an ad agency and we’re not just about promotional products,” she says. “We feel that there’s almost nothing we can’t brand.”
Always looking for the latest trends in advertising, Watts travels extensively around the world, hoping to spot a new idea she can tweak and incorporate into her mix of services. “I want to see how things are being packaged and pitched,” she says. “I want to see what’s popular. I want to provide a creative edge.”
For several years now, that’s exactly what Watts has done for another one of her best and most notable clients, ESPN. It was the cable sports network that actually discovered The BrandMarket at a Knicks’ game in New York. “They found us at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box,” Watts says. “We had done temporary tattoos to promote a Britney Spears album and they were in the boxes. We had our contact info in there as well, and the next day we got a phone call.”
Capitalizing on the opportunity, Watts quickly won over a valuable new client, and today The BrandMarket works closely with the sports juggernaut’s ever-expanding list of entities, from ESPN The Magazine to ESPN Deportes.
“Recently, we did a program for them as part of a career day to lure in new job applicants,” Watts says. “We came up with microphones made of foam that had the ESPN logo and all of the sponsors. Inside of each microphone was a T-shirt. They loved it.”
It’s fitting that Watts has developed such good relationships with broadcast companies like ESPN, ABC and HBO. After all, when she began college at Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism, she intended to pursue a career in television. “But I got absorbed in advertising,” she says.
It would be cliché to say the rest is history. It would also leave a huge gap in Watts’ life. The truth is, in between her days as a coed and her founding of The BrandMarket, Watts has been an entrepreneur many times over in multiple fields.
In her early twenties, Watts owned a modeling agency and made good use of her ability to scout talent. Later, she was the main talent booker for the Billboard Music Awards (this was before her stint leading a special-events company, where one of her most memorable experiences was throwing a birthday party for the king of Morocco).
Somewhere in the wild timeline, Watts lived in Italy, where she mastered Italian and brushed up on some other languages, as well. “French I’m a little rusty on,” she admits with a laugh.
Eventually, of course, Watts did find her way into the ad specialty industry, becoming the first employee at Counselor Top 40 distributor PromoShop (asi/300446). After a year and a half of seasoning there, she was ready for her entrepreneurial foray in this market.
“There’s no blueprint on how to be an entrepreneur,” Watts says. “I’ve always heavily relied on my instincts.”
Sharon Rowe, EcoBags
As if swimming across the Hudson River wasn’t a big enough accomplishment, Sharon Rowe has her sights set on an even greater and greener goal. “We’re about cleaning up the planet, one bag at a time,” she says.
While her words, to a skeptic, might come across like a carefully rehearsed corporate tagline, Rowe is not a sweet-talking marketer. Nor is she a bottom-line businesswoman who’s looking to cash in on a gold rush of eco-friendly demand. If anything, Rowe is an environmentalist who just happened to be two decades early to a suddenly crowded party thrown to help save the planet. “We have a clear and focused environmental message,” says Rowe, owner of Ossining, NY-based supplier EcoBags (asi/51554). “We use the most sustainable materials and all our products are certified Fair Labor. This is not about making a buck.”
What it is about, Rowe says, is making a difference by changing the mindset that a single one-use plastic bag is perfectly harmless. In this discussion, Rowe is happy to say she didn’t have to cut in line. She was at the front of it. “I was the first to bring organic totes to the market,” she says. “EcoBags are an iconic brand, because it states our intention right in the name. We want to provide quality, durable goods.”
The first of those goods, introduced back in 1989, was a simple, lightweight and expandable string tote. Without a business plan or a marketing strategy, Rowe went from store to store in New York City, carrying samples and enough faith that her product would eventually be well-received. Finally and explosively, it was, and fittingly it happened at an Earth Day event in 1990. In just four hours, Rowe sold 4,000 bags, and her company had officially found its place. “Today, we do about $2.2 million annually,” she says.
Even as her competition increases, Rowe’s company stands apart from other manufacturers. In 2008, Rowe was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Business Council of Westchester (NY), the same year she was featured in Time magazine as a pioneer of the eco-friendly bag movement. In 2009, she was selected by Glamour as one of 70 women making major contributions to “green” living. And this year, she’s making her silver-screen debut as one of several environmentalists featured in the film Bag It.
While seeing herself in a movie will certainly be a thrill for Rowe, attention is not what she wants most. That’s why swimming across the Hudson last year really wasn’t the biggest deal to her. What was more important to Rowe was that by swimming, she raised $1,200 for leukemia and lymphoma research.
“I’m not saying I swam fast,” Rowe says. “But I do enjoy challenges.”
Linda Turlington, Pura Vida Promotions
Linda Turlington couldn’t have expected her trip to Costa Rica to turn out the way it did.
In the small village of San Juaquin, the locals now know her as Mama Linda – a survivor, a supporter and a friend. “I’ve had a lot of good fortune,” she says.
Very easily, Turlington could’ve missed the chance to become such an important part of this simple, but proud, community. She and her husband only traveled to the Central American country to visit their son Ryan, a college student at N.C. State who was studying there. “Before we came we had set up a driver to take us around,” Turlington says. “In talking to him we found out his wife was going to have a baby and he needed some help to support his family. So we invited him to live with us for awhile. That’s just who I am. We had an open bed.”
Grateful for the chance, the driver, Enrique Chaves, accepted the invitation and flew to North Carolina, where the Turlingtons lived. “He took a job working with my husband,” Linda says. Over time, Chaves was able to accomplish his goal and was better able to provide for his wife, Denia, and soon, the couple’s newborn daughter, Lupita.
Everything was going as hoped, but it wouldn’t last. “I remember it was April and it was 10:20 at night,” Turlington says. “We got a call that Enrique had been in a severe accident and we had to get to the hospital right away.”
Chaves, who was working on a highway crew, had been hit by a tractor trailer.
Fortunately, his injuries, while serious, would not claim his life and, in time, he would recover. The process, though, was slow, so Turlington tried to bring Chaves some much-needed support. “I worked with the U.S. State Department to secure the papers to get his wife and baby here,” Turlington says. “We were able to do that.”
Later, with even more help from the Turlingtons, Chaves and his family built a new house of their own in Costa Rica, replacing the 12-foot-by-12-foot cinderblock building they used for shelter before. As a show of thanks, when Enrique and Denia had their second daughter, they named her Lynda. “I’m her godmother,” Turlington says.
Touched, but still seeing the need of so many others in San Juaquin, Turlington wanted to do more. “We started sending supplies,” she says. “We sent containers of clothing and took books for the schools. It was wonderful.”
No doubt, in giving all she did to the Chaves family and their Costa Rican community, Turlington has gained much more. Most importantly in her mind, she learned the meaning of what her newfound friends call pura vida, a special feeling that she’d take home with her to North Carolina. “Pura vida is the wish that life be good for the person you’re speaking to,” Turlington says. “It means pure life. That’s what I decided to name my company.”
And, Pura Vida Promotions (asi/302502) in Kernersville, NC, has its own very unique story of trials and successes. Suffice it to say, Turlington has been the keystone, amazing the people around her with her resolve and strength. Even as she faced her own difficult recovery from two brain surgeries, Turlington kept her business growing. “I had customers come to my hospital room and we planned the company’s annual meeting,” she says. “I actually hand-made silver bracelets for the event as I recovered.”
Few entrepreneurs would have even attempted what Turlington passes off as just a bit of a rough patch. Today, with hundreds of clients, including a major financial company, Pura Vida surpasses $500,000 in annual revenue in the slowest of years.
As competitors, colleagues and her closest Costa Rican friends all know, success couldn’t happen to a better person. “Every day I realize how blessed I’ve been,” Turlington says.
Sarah and Jenifer Caplan, Footzyrolls
On the often snowy and always hilly campus of Syracuse University, Sarah Caplan figured there had to be a better way. Fortunately for women, there was, and with the help of her sister, Jenifer, Sarah helped take it to market. “We did tons of research and even had focus groups,” Sarah says. “The feedback was positive. People thought the idea was genius.”
The idea, simple yet sophisticated, was the springboard for one of the newest and trendiest suppliers in both the retail world and the ad specialty industry. Called Footzyrolls (asi/54915), the Miami-based company launched its first products in August of last year – and already revenues have hit the $1 million mark. “We’ve worked 25 hours a day,” Jenifer says. “We’ve put all our own money into this and we’ve created the shelf space in the market.”
Footzyrolls, which come in a variety of colors, sizes and designs, are rollable, foldable and portable women’s shoes that can fit into the smallest of purses or clutches. Close in style to ballet flats, Footzyrolls were first marketed to replace uncomfortable heels at the end of a night out, but the water-resistant and skid-proof shoes can also be dressed up for special events like weddings. “This is a hyper-competitive marketplace,” Sarah says. “Things change very quickly, but we’re going to stay ahead.”
To do that, the Caplans realize they have to work smartly and efficiently, especially considering they live in different states, and, incredibly, have full-time jobs apart from their Footzyrolls operation. “Sarah works for J.P.Morgan and has a background in finance, and I work for Ernst & Young and have a background in PR and accounting,” Jenifer says. “We use Skype and can run our business from our BlackBerries. We can track and see every order. Every customer is important.”
Clearly high-energy performers, the Caplans have aggressively promoted their products worldwide, selling them online, through industry distributors, and in major stores like Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor. Footzyrolls products have also been featured on Oprah and Good Morning America, and have been used to promote feature films like Sex and the City 2.
Thanks to marketing momentum, Footzyrolls have also developed quite the celebrity following, with dozens of models, singers and actresses – from Tyra Banks to Taylor Dayne to Susan Sarandon – now sporting the Caplans’ stylish flats. “We’ve met so many amazing people,” Jenifer says. “Whenever we see someone new place an rolling out more products.”
In fact, the Caplans say, five or six more Footzyrolls products will be introduced later this year. “We’re not just talking shoes,” Jenifer hints. “There will be other related accessories, as well. Our goal is to at least double our sales by next year.”