A Fresh Start

After dealing with life-or-death situations, Abby Clark was searching for a fun business opportunity. She found it selling promotional products.

Even after going for days without sleep, Abby Clark seems to be experiencing a caffeine rush. She’s got the energy level and endurance you might expect from a surgical nurse. Or, a ski racer. Random occupations? Nope, both are part of her resume.

Clark is the founder of Absolutely Creative Promotions (asi/102549) in Lake Forest, IL, just north of Chicago. She’s been in the promotional products industry for seven years. But before that, she had two other occupations.

Clark has been a registered nurse since 1981. She’s skied all her life, though, and those two worlds have coexisted, waxed and waned through the decades, even now as she runs her industry business.

As a kid, she would travel with her mom and other families to the slopes in Jackson, New Hampshire. It was a three-and-a-half hour drive, but the fun was worth it – everybody would ski all day long, the adults would sip cocktails and the kids would dance to the Beatles.

Abby would get up at the crack of dawn and wrap a bandana around her head. She was up so early because that’s when a boy she was interested in would be out on the mountain. Pursuit of her crush was the perfect opportunity to hone her skills, and it turned into skiing expertise. Thirty years later, she was coaching elite racers on Copper Mountain in Colorado. There weren’t a lot of women in the mix, but she was shushing alongside women like Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso, both American World Cup alpine ski racers.

Intertwined with the skiing was the nursing career. Clark started working fairly exclusively with a particular female surgeon. The doctor realized Clark had a knack for creativity, and started asking her to handle event planning. After a fun and successful blues-and-saxophone party, she was asked to handle a 75th birthday party for the surgeon’s mom. That sushi fête was a smashing success.

But when the surgeon sold her business practice to a large hospital corporation, Clark saw the writing on the wall. A friend of a friend hired her to sell promotional products. Clark excitedly went to an ASI trade show where she met an industry guru who taught an education class there and immediately got mentoring advice.

Clark recalls getting a lead for selling a dozen T-shirts that she was able to turn into a $23,000 sale. But she didn’t get a full commission on the deal. And that’s when she realized she had to go into the business as her own boss.

Now, Abby’s big on networking.” I don’t do a lot of cold calls,” she says. “But I’m very big on returning calls to my existing clients and asking how things went, and asking for referrals.”

This can be a hard industry, she says. So what’s her advice to newbies considering getting in?

“Run!” she jokes.

She truly does believe that when you do get started you have to develop confidence and be secure with yourself to talk to anybody, look for all opportunities and use your strengths for sales leads.

“I sell to a lot of ski race teams because I have credibility there,” Abby says. “ My background as a nurse gets me into a lot of assisted living facilities. And God knows I love food shopping, and that’s given me a lot of exposure to grocery stores.”

In Clark’s “spare time,” she’s helped to develop a particular innovation for a potato chip bag that’s re-sealable, water-proof and has a cellophane window. Out of left field? Nope, it’s exactly what you’d expect from s nurse who’s also an elite skier who rarely sleeps.