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MRL Promotions (asi/258137)
Michael Levitt found his entrepreneurial calling in a seemingly unlikely place: his fraternity at Florida State. Now the president of Fort Lauderdale-based MRL Promotions, Levitt remembers printed tees playing a huge role in the school’s Greek life, along with the gobs of money spent on them in spite of the poor quality.
“I saw an opportunity,” Levitt says. “I took charge and started printing T-shirts, plus I offered better pricing. Soon, word spread. It began as a hobby, but I realized there was so much more to it.”
Levitt had seen entrepreneurship up close for years, watching his father run a successful company in Manhattan’s Garment District making and selling children’s clothes for large retail chains. “He earned every dollar he made,” says Levitt. “I saw the ups and downs necessary to achieving greatness.”
Immediately after college, Levitt found the promotional products industry to be a natural fit for his aspirations. As a freshly minted ASI member in his early 20s, he attended his first ASI Show in Orlando, where he happened to run into CEO Tim Andrews. “He told me, ‘You’re one of the youngest ASI members ever,’” says Levitt.
Back then, Levitt may still have been learning the industry ropes, but he wasn’t intimidated by his competition – and he still isn’t. From the start, Levitt’s focused on his company’s differentiators, especially overseas sourcing and manufacturing. “Those capabilities allow us to say yes when we’re asked to handle a large, complex order,” he says. “We’re operating on the agency model, and we’ve been doing it for the past eight to 10 years, before everyone else.”
And unquestionably it’s been working: Sales for MRL, comprised of a lean team of just a dozen people, were up about $1 million year-over-year for 2016. While the liquor/beer market has been lucrative for Levitt’s firm, including recent work for Bacardi, Ketel One Vodka and Samuel Adams, among others, he’s won many other noteworthy clients, too, like the Discovery Channel and Burger King.
With so many big-name customers you might think Levitt is worried about competitive threats, especially from online sellers. Well, you’d be wrong. “Online companies should never be an excuse not to pursue new business,” Levitt says. “We all have to find unique ways to create a connection with the consumer. Why are you better than the next distributor? That answer will help you secure new business.”