I Believe, by Barry Lipsett

The who, what and wear of industry experts

… Inflation is looming. If the dollar starts to fall and inflation comes back, then this could be a big challenge to many suppliers. This year, prices are stable, and the dollar has become stronger, but it just can’t last forever.

… Creativity is key. I really like trying to think up new ways of doing things and challenging my team to offer value to our customer by being different and not doing the same as the other suppliers in the industry.

… Families should stick together. We are now a third-generation family business. One benefit is that it gives each of us an opportunity to do the things we are most interested in. My son Jason entered the business a year ago at age 24, and he has found new marketing avenues to grow the business, like helping us develop a strong following on social media. There is an intensity with being a family business that others don’t always understand. I feel like it is my personal guarantee of good service.

… In a good comeback story. My proudest accomplishment was turning Charles River around from a small company that was losing lots of the money that my father had invested. When I took over the company, a number of employees who had worked here left and teamed up to become a competitor. Within their first year of business, they took some of our reps, and our business fell around 20%. Although this was a slight setback, with several strategic new hires, we started growing at a 30% clip.

… We have great customers. When I went on vacation to a resort in Sun River, OR, I noticed the manager of the resort was wearing a Charles River jacket. When I asked about it, she said: “All the employees have a Charles River jacket. We were excited for your visit.” “You knew I was coming?” I asked. She said that Ed told her about the vacation. I had called Ed, who was a customer in Eugene, OR, and told him I was going to be vacationing at the resort, and as soon as he hung up with me, he called the resort, sold them a bunch of jackets and told them I would be vacationing there.

… I’m a very frustrated jock. I’m not that athletic, but at 55, I’m still in shape and enjoy playing basketball. I also enjoy biking, and I ride the Pan Mass Challenge, the largest athletic fundraiser in the country to fight cancer. I have raised more than $100,000, participating in the bike ride from Boston to Cape Cod.

… Apparel is on the rise. Apparel has become a larger and larger part of the promotional products industry. There was a time when most distributors didn’t sell apparel, or if they did, they only did T-shirts. There is opportunity now to sell more expensive clothing. We have seen a move away from basic polar fleece jackets.

… In giving back. At Charles River, we focus on two main causes that are near and dear to our hearts. My sister passed away from breast cancer several years ago. Through our Be Pink Proud program, we are committed to donating 5% of all proceeds from our pink products to support cancer organizations. In addition, due to the nature of our apparel business, we support the greater Boston area homeless community by partnering with many homeless organizations to provide vital clothing to those who need it most.

… Trust is very important. Customers need to trust the quality of the product and its delivery. My employees care, and they try very hard to gain and keep trust by making sure we offer a quality product and top-notch service.

… You can learn a lot from a good book. I read a lot of nonfiction. I’m currently reading The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan, a book about the start of World War I. It sort of tells the story of a family business gone amok. I didn’t realize how many leaders of European countries at the time were related to one another.

… I love the imagery of rowing. I went to the University of Wisconsin, and walking along the lake and seeing the rowers out there early in the morning was inspiring. I can say the same thing when I ride my bike along the Charles River and see the rowers from Harvard and MIT. The spirit of teamwork, the history, the perseverance around rowing is amazing. We outfitted the “Great 8“ team at the Head of the Charles Regatta this year. These were the top rowers from around the world that came together to compete. It was inspirational to meet them and see this team come together. We too at Charles River are an international team.