Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award - Maribeth Sandford

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Maribeth SandfordWhen Maribeth Sandford started Bag Makers (asi/37940) in 1980, she did so with little more than a can-do attitude, belief in her business idea, and a $5,000 loan from her father. Thirty-three years later, Sandford's company is a Counselor Top 40 supplier that increased revenue 10% in 2012 to $45.3 million. That all-American success story, built on hard work, personality and acute business acumen, is why Sandford is a winner of the 2013 Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award. "It's been such a fun journey," says the Bag Makers CEO.

The journey began in the 1970s when Sandford was working for a company that sold supplies, including plastic bags, to retail stores. Time and again she ran into requests for bag quantities of less than the 5,000 minimum. The repeated queries caused the proverbial lightbulb to spark over Sandford's head. "I got the idea to do smaller runs of bags," she says.

Using the loan from her father, Sandford and a friend purchased a press and went into business. During the day, Sandford called on local stores to sell lower-volume orders of bags. By night, she and her business partner imprinted the bags in an old milk barn on a farm property in Woodstock, IL. "Those were 14-hour days, but I didn't mind it," says Sandford. "It was so exciting to get an order and then come back to the barn to print it."

The beginning of the rest of Sandford's business life occurred in 1984 when she exhibited at an ad specialty trade show. In learning about the industry's traditional supply chain model, she saw the doors of opportunity blow wide open. "I realized there were all these distributors that could be the sales force and we could focus on the printing," says Sandford, who later bought out her business partner.

Since entering the market, Sandford has never looked back, nor has she regretted her decision. "It's a warm industry. There's a real family atmosphere," says Sandford, who credits her children and grandchildren with supporting and inspiring her. "They're the lights of my life."

As far as Sandford is concerned, the future of the industry she loves is bright. In particular, she believes that product innovation – coupled with the proven effectiveness of ad specialties – will help drive success for suppliers and distributors. "I don't think we've even touched the tip of the iceberg for how big it can be," says Sandford, who is proud to employ more than 300 people.

While Sandford has outside interests these days – being the owner of a colt that ran in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, for instance – she's not planning to retire any time soon. The energetic, self-made CEO plans to be at the forefront, propelling growth at Bag Makers – and within the industry – for years to come. "I could go sit in a rocking chair, but that's not me," she says. "I like coming to work. I like the challenge. There's excitement every day." – CR