2018 Promotional Product Supplier of the Year First Runner-Up: Gill Studios

A leading supplier for decades, Gill Studios cements its place as one of the industry’s true go-to companies.

It all began in a basement.

Back in 1934, amid the throes of the Great Depression, an enterprising hard worker named Forest P. Gill started silk screen-printing canvas products by hand in his basement. Fast-forward 84 years, and the company he founded is a powerhouse in the promotional products industry – a perennial Top 40 supplier generating more than $50 million in annual revenue and setting, according to many distributors, the standard for outstanding service and top-notch products in categories that include decals, labels, bumper stickers and more.

That company, Gill Studios (asi/56950), still bears Forest’s last name. Perhaps even more significantly, it remains fueled by the same entrepreneurial ethos that fueled Forest Gill’s successful efforts to grow his business: Strive to innovate and improve every day to better serve clients. “From our earliest days, our goal has always been to provide our customers everything they need to be successful,” says Chairman Mark Gilman.

The effort is paying off.

For 17 years in a row, Gill Studios has won the Decals, Labels & Bumper Stickers category in Counselor’s Distributor Choice Awards. Combine that with ASI data that shows clients give Gill Studios top marks for service, plus distributor’s anecdotal accounts full of glowing praise, and it’s easy to see why the Lenexa, KS-based company was one of three 2018 finalists for Supplier of the Year. “We have a long history of integrity and quality that we are proud of, but we don’t just sit here and rely on that tradition,” says Debra Hoerl, vice president of customer services. “We’re always responding to changes customers are facing – always developing new processes, ideas and products that allow us to be more responsive and supportive to our clients.”

Always Improving
Hoerl is telling it like it is.

Every Monday, Gill Studios’ department heads convene for a meeting with the company’s top executives. The focus? Identify issues, potential and occurring, and determine sound strategies for solving them swiftly. The meetings key in on burgeoning opportunities and how Gill Studios can capitalize on them to the fullest, as well as potential innovations the supplier can make to deliver more efficient, worry-free service and even better products. These meetings help inspire practical, well-planned, coordinated actions that propel business improvement. “Good communication is very important for us. It keeps us ahead of the curve,” says President/CEO Paul Lage, the 2017 winner of the Counselor’s Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award.

Still, as Lage emphasizes, savvy strategies and good communication among company leaders would fall flat if employees failed to be smart, highly trained and dedicated to the company and its customers. Fortunately, Gill Studios’ workers – whose ranks average around 410 throughout the year – are a talented and committed bunch.

For example, knowledgeable, long-tenured customer service pros join recent hires with printing degrees to deliver one-call resolution for clients. Production leaders have a wealth of experience in research and development, while shop workers have honed their skills to execute jobs with speed and deft precision. Indeed, Lage notes, the in-house production operation gives Gill Studios a tremendous competitive advantage. Because the company makes many of its own products, it can better tailor solutions, delivering more customized products that check every box on a client’s wish list.

“We can offer more creativity and collaboration to our customers and deliver something really unique,” says Hoerl.

’They’re Just Great to Work With’
Don’t just take Gill Studios’ word for it, though. A host of distributor clients were keen to sing the supplier’s praises. Janie Gaunce, who has been working with Gill Studios for nearly 20 years, was among the supplier’s most passionate advocates.

“I’ve been able to work with Gill and their team to create remarkable solutions to client needs,” says Gaunce, president/CEO of Grapevine Designs (asi/212829). “Gill is the type of supplier that wants to know how to help create something versus how to order something online. I have yet to experience a ‘no’ from Gill, and our conversations are generally about ‘How can we’ instead of ‘This is how we do it.’ Every person I’ve had the opportunity to work with seems to genuinely care about the end result.”

To illustrate her point, Gaunce pointed to an order in which Gill Studios was instrumental in helping her create 2,000 bound booklets of large re-positionable static cling figures that ultimately would be applied to a hanging calendar board. “Each cling had to be positioned on its own page, and the level of detail in the printing was extremely important,” says Gaunce. “Gill really delivered on this project, providing us with many samples to satisfy the client’s need to test the final project prior to finishing the job.”

Teresa Moisant was quick to offer kudos to Gill Studios, too. For 30 years, the president/owner of Moisant Promotional Products (asi/275276) has relied on the supplier, and she has never been let down. “They just don’t make mistakes,” Moisant says. “They are so good at educating you and working with you to get you just what the customer wants. And they’re fast, too. By the time I put the phone down, I’m already getting the quote. If you need a sample, it goes out that day. They’re just great to work with.”

Focused on the Future
Earning such devoted fans has been instrumental to Gill Studios’ growth from a Depression-era basement to two digital-age manufacturing facilities totaling 280,000-square feet. Equally so, it’s why Gill Studios, which has operated in the promo space since just after World War II when Forest Gill pioneered the still-popular self-sticking bumper sticker, has remained one of industry’s top suppliers for decades – a position the company further enhanced with the 2014 acquisition of Bebco (asi/39395).

Over time, the world and marketplace have changed drastically, but Gill Studios has always adapted. It’s an evolution the supplier is continuing as it meets the new challenges of today. “We have a responsibility for the future of this company, and because of that, we’re long-term thinkers,” says Lage. “We’re focused on reinventing for tomorrow and staying relevant for a long time. We want to be here another 84 years.”