It’s an unavoidable fact of life: You make plans and work towards a goal, certain that you can bank on a specific path you’ve envisioned for what seems like forever, only to be pushed by fate in an entirely different direction. Few people know this better than Robin Richter.
These days, she’s the president of Wearable Imaging Inc. (asi/356030), a distributorship based in Foothill Ranch, CA, that specializes in golf tournament tee prizes, trade show giveaways, corporate gifts and employee incentives. But before her career in promotional products, she put boundless time and energy into something else completely: her golf game.
By age 12, she was competing at a high school level. “I had to play for the boys because there was no girls’ team,” she says. The hard work paid off: She was awarded a full scholarship to California State University Long Beach to play for their women’s team. Once she earned her bachelor’s degree, she took the next step and went pro, subsequently competing on the professional tour for two years. But when she took stock of where her career had led her, she wasn’t satisfied.
“I had been a team player all my life,” she says, “and when I got out there I was on my own and it was very lonely.” So Richter decided to pursue another career, though she risked disappointing many people.
She found clues to her next steps in her part-time job selling fragrances in a department store. “I was having so much fun,” she says. “I loved building relationships, finding the perfect product for customers and making them happy.” After working her way up to an account executive at Lancôme, an owner of a golf merchandise company asked her to be his next director of sales and marketing.
“I took their golf ball printing sales from $60,000 to over $300,000 in nine months just dealing with the corporate market and attending one ASI show. That was my first taste of the promotional industry, and I was in awe over how much fun everyone was having, checking out all the great products and high-end premium lines,” she says.
Soon, an idea entered into Richter’s mind: forming her own company. She started playing in golf tournaments again, and reconnected with people from the industry, including representatives from Pepsi, 7Up, Toyota, Lexus and ABC, all major sponsors on the professional tour. Finally, she made up her mind.
“I asked my dad if he would lend me money to start my own distributorship and partner with me,” she says. “He agreed, and did invoicing and accounts receivable while I went out and played in tournaments to build relationships.” Now, 22 years later, Richter continues to maintain those associations and still plays golf to meet prospects. “This industry is so fun,” she says. “Most of the time, it doesn’t even feel like work. I enjoy finding unique products that amaze our clients and thinking of creative ways to display a brand around a theme.”
Of course, Richter builds relationships using skills she learned from her years playing golf and sponsoring events. “I know what the players expect and what’s needed to run a tournament smoothly and successfully,” she says. “I also take potential clients out to play. It’s a great way to have a casual business outing while getting to know your clients’ needs.”
In fact, Richter is so confident in the value of using golf to build business that she is writing a book on networking through the game. “I’ll be sharing a lot of my experiences in both business and golf, and how they’ve really come full circle,” she says. “I love this business more now than when I first started. It’s always fun, fascinating and new.”