In his last year of high school, when most seniors are caught up in prom, parties and planning for college, Rob Charlton was gearing up for something else – being an entrepreneur. At just 18 years old, Charlton was already selling logoed T-shirts, the promotional product that years later is still the staple of his growing operation. “I’ve been able to use the T-shirt, which is a very simple product in countless ways, to build and promote our customers’ brands,” he says.
Charlton founded his company, The Next Trend Designs Inc. (asi/283375), 25 years ago above a pizza shop in Port Credit, ON. Today, the Canadian firm has blossomed into one of Canada’s fastest growing distributorships, named to the 2015 PROFIT 500 list. The company has enjoyed five-year revenue growth of 89%, buoyed by Charlton’s own seven-figure personal sales, which rank second among this year’s salesperson of the year finalists.
“Rob is a remarkable and a natural salesperson,” says Janine Taylor, Charlton’s business partner. “I’m always fascinated with his big-thinking approach when it comes to developing his customer accounts. For Rob there are no boundaries in business and what is possible for his clients.”
What motivates Charlton to keep pushing for new ideas after three decades in the business? “I’m driven by the sheer need and desire to build something that will last, even after my time in the industry may be up,” he says.
But don’t expect Charlton to slow down any time soon. In 2016, Charlton is working to take his existing sales model and duplicate it in other markets. His big advantage, though – and one of the reasons he vaulted to the forefront this year – is the heightened level of customization he can provide. “We’ve been busy expanding our proprietary line of products,” Charlton says. “We have also secured patents on several products already, and this will allow us to offer our customers something even more unique, often cost-effective and only available through our company.”
Rob’s best advice: “Value yourself at the highest level” and learn specifics about your customers’ industries.