I Believe, by Joseph Sommer

The who, what and wear of industry experts

Joseph Sommer

  • President of Whitestone Works (asi/359741), based in New York City.
  • Founded company in 2013, three years after graduating from Johnson & Wales University.

Giving back is essential. I am fortunate to have my health, education, a loving family and a successful business. Giving back helps me put things in perspective and remember that there are others out there who may have it a little worse than I do. All companies intersecting with the public should engage in social responsibility programs of all kinds because it’s not only right and correct, but a necessary part of any successful business model in the 21st century. Every year, Whitestone Works picks a different nonprofit to donate a portion of our earnings to. Last year it was the YMCA d’Haiti, and this year it will be Team Rubicon. Our loyalty program also has a charitable angle: Customers who reach certain sales milestones have the choice of receiving free swag or having Whitestone make a contribution to the charity of their choice. Most customers choose the donation option, and the dollar amount for the contribution goes up at each level of the loyalty program.

… Distributors have a lot of choices. In 2009, I was a counselor at a summer camp, and my co-counselor was a distributor running his business from his Blackberry. He explained to me that you could pick your clients, the industries you wanted to work with and sell the products you want to sell. That really interested me, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

… Current events can spark sales. I lost my voice screaming when racehorse California Chrome won the Preakness last year, setting up the chance for a “Triple Chrome” win at the Belmont Stakes. We produce apparel and merchandise for the Belmont Stakes, and once that horse won, they purchased in bulk 15 different shirt styles, all custom-designed by Whitestone Works.

… Corporate wellness is a win. A lot of the firms we work with are having wellness and philanthropic events for all their employees annually or semi-annually. This has created apparel orders in the tens of thousands for us.

… Sports keep me sane. I play golf in the spring and summer, hockey in the fall and winter. For me, four hours out on a golf course without a cellphone and with good friends is all I can ask for on a day off work. I’ve been playing hockey since I was 6 and continue to play for an adult league team at Chelsea Piers once a week. Releasing pent-up aggression on the ice is always nice!

… Ramen isn’t just for college students. By far, my biggest professional challenge was resigning from my last job to start Whitestone Works. I was bound by a non-compete for the first year in business, and the hardest part was staying above water. I overcame it by staying positive, keeping a simple ramen noodle diet and working from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. Without hesitation, I can say it was the best decision of my life.

… The little guy may be losing out. A lot has changed since I joined the industry, and a lot more is going to change in the next five years. Sad to say, but I think you’re going to see a lot of the smaller suppliers go out of business and the larger suppliers with huge catalogs continue to grow. The same goes for distributors. Larger catalogs, lower production times and technology will drive this change.

… Social media is a necessary evil. Besides setup fees, the most frustrating thing about this industry has been maintaining a consistent social media presence. Because we don’t sell directly to consumers, I find it difficult to post fun and relevant information. Simply put, I think it’s a waste of time, but something obligatory for any business in 2015.

… Reorders bring peace of mind. There’s nothing better than creating reorder sales and solidifying annual programs with customers. Starting the year knowing where a majority of your business will come from gives me a huge sigh of relief.

… My parents are my heroes. I was adopted at birth, but couldn’t imagine my life without my parents. We speak several times a day, and I run almost every major business decision by them.

… You can learn a lot from Forrest Gump. It’s my favorite movie because it contains so many valuable life lessons. A few of the things I’ve taken away from the film are to keep an open mind, be a loyal friend and family member and – probably most importantly – you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try it.

… It’s best to Keep It Simple, Stupid. Remembering the KISS acronym helps me stay focused on what is really important. There are so many things I want to do in life, ventures I want to explore, products I want to create. One step at a time. KISS!