Ax-Throwing & Caesar-Drinking at McCabe

"We Needed To Be Memorable"

McCabe Promotional AdvertisingSeveral years ago, Jamie McCabe, president of McCabe Promotional Advertising, lost out on a program deal to a competitor over price. “The prospect told me, ‘I just couldn't see a difference between you and the other guy.’

“That was a real blow to the chest,” said McCabe, whose father founded the company in 1981. “We didn’t just want to be like any other distributor.” But it also served as a catalyst to big changes at McCabe.

“We decided we needed to be memorable,” he said. First, he and partners Michelle Merrifield and Colin Rous, renovated McCabe’s office, putting in a first-class bar (very-well stocked, by the way—the Road Tour crew had Caesars), an open-concept with bright red walls and chalkboard panels, and flat-screen TVs streaming old cartoons. Rous and the company’s 60 employees handled the whole operation, with McCabe jumping in to help paint. McCabe also bought a vintage VW bus and enlisted his dog Marigold’s help in creating a video that positions that company more as an ad agency than a typical promotional products distributor.

At the same time, McCabe and his partners began putting programs in place, like ax-throwing competitions, Warrior Runs and meditation sessions, to “get employees out of their comfort zones. Some programs went over very well (employees loved the ax throwing) and some didn’t, (they balked at the ‘guilt-free Fridays’ lunches, which included healthy catered options like quinoa), but all served an importance purpose: “We’re a much more collaborative group now,” said Scott Cruickshank, who works on McCabe’s program business. “People are used to working outside of their comfort zones, and that helps us be more creative for clients.”

McCabe also launched regular sales contests for its employees. The last one had a lumberjack theme and included three teams: The Ginger Beard Men, the Ax Kickers (who won) and the Timber Beasts. The winning team got cash and bragging rights. And now, any sales rep who hits the million-dollar mark in a single year gets a custom-designed kilt and a super-bowl-like diamond ring.

All of these changes appear to have served McCabe well. The company works with large clients like Microsoft, VW and the Army, and clients routinely come in for a beer “just to tell us their story,” McCabe said. “There’s no doubt that people remember us now.”