Profile - Changing Times

Meet Chairman And Self-Proclaimed "Chief Broom Pusher"

Richard StrombergIndustry veteran Richard Stromberg celebrates 50 years in ad specialties this year.

How did Richard Stromberg of Stromberg Brand (asi/89955) celebrate his 50 years in the industry this year? If he’d had his druthers, he would have taken a cruise around the world. As it happened, he showed up to work, as expected, and “enjoyed it as always,” he says.

Stromberg is proud to be the chairman, and self-proclaimed “chief broom pusher,” of his family’s company, which first opened its doors in 1942. Under Stromberg’s leadership, they’re still known for manufacturing durable, high-quality promotional umbrellas. In the 1970s, Stromberg Brand joined the advertising specialty industry, and the company’s business soon took off in the promotional market.

"Before I joined, I didn’t even know what an ad specialty was,” Stromberg laughs. “It wasn’t until my first trade show in 1968 that a neighboring exhibitor told me about ASI and pricing codes. At the time, we were very active in the premium industry and selling direct. We started fulfilling umbrella orders at huge quantities for Hazel and other large distributors.”

Today, Stromberg Brand works with factories and offices in six countries with a continued concentration on umbrellas. “They’re our core game,” says Stromberg. “We’ve dabbled in other categories, but they’re our focus. We’re very knowledgeable about them. Most umbrella suppliers in the industry are importers and just turn inventory. We’re not generalists who sell across a lot of categories. We really understand umbrellas and their place in the industry.”

Stromberg Brand’s clients are mostly distributors, though the company also takes on custom projects and OEM work, for which they put together retail products under different brand names. Available items include folding, golf and fashion umbrellas; some are small enough to fit in glove boxes, while others measure 33 feet in diameter for large-scale promotions. “We also make boating umbrellas and items for chair backs,” says Stromberg.

As expected, since the company’s inception and Stromberg’s initial foray into ad specialties, there have been a myriad of changes across the industry. One of the most noteworthy, he says, is delivery time expectations. “Customers demand very fast turn times now,” says Stromberg. “It used to be that five to seven days was fast. Now, customers want them in three to five days, sometimes even overnight. It’s a tough game we have to play.”

Challenges also continue to crop up from abroad, says Stromberg. Namely, suppliers have had to contend with distributors sourcing direct from overseas, an issue recently thrust into the spotlight after e-commerce giant Alibaba’s IPO in September. “Alibaba is certainly an industry challenge,” says Stromberg. “But I’m not worried. We can compete. If distributors want to take a gamble on sourcing without recourse, so be it.”

The industry as a whole, says Stromberg, is doing well, though double-digit growth would be an ambitious expectation. “Growth will continue, and it helps that the sales base is large,” he says. “When I started, there were 500 distributors in the country that people knew about. Everyone was pals with each other. Now, we’re getting a much larger depth of sales in the market.”

Keeping abreast of change can be intimidating, and no one knows that better than Stromberg. To be in the best shape to meet challenges, “hire young employees,” he says. “It keeps you alert and ahead with product and imprinting innovation. And whatever happens, you can’t get emotional. You have to be stoic to keep up with the times.”