2018 Promotional Product Supplier of the Year: Towel Specialties

With its ingenuity and outstanding service, the Maryland-based supplier takes the top spot in 2018.

The explosion shook the building.

Eric Weinstein, owner of Towel Specialties (asi/91605), was in his office, talking on the phone with a vendor in Australia, when a bang that seemed to signal the apocalypse thundered through the supplier’s Baltimore facility. Cinder blocks came tumbling down around Weinstein’s desk. Quickly hanging up, he rushed out to see what was going on. Down the hall, windows had blown out of the HR manager’s office. Murray Siegel, the firm’s director of marketing, was hurrying outside to survey the scene. What he witnessed looked like a tableau of early-stage Armageddon. “There were big mushroom clouds rising behind the building,” says Siegel.

Fortunately, it was not, Towel Specialties would soon learn, the beginning of the end of days or, as Weinstein initially feared, a terrorist attack. A train had derailed from nearby tracks. Chemical cargo combined dangerously and ignited, triggering an explosion that the The Baltimore Sun said was felt throughout the region. While Towel Specialties execs and employees had to evacuate, everyone was okay. Once safety was assured, the supplier’s pros shifted back to their constant focus: their customers.

Indeed, they didn’t want the explosion to result in any disruption for distributors. For example, Siegel had in mind an order he’d just booked a couple days earlier at an Atlantic City trade show. It was an extreme rush job – a tight turnaround even under ideal conditions. In the wake of the explosion, was there any chance of fulfilling the order on time? Siegel wasn’t immediately sure – something he conveyed with honesty during a frank discussion with the client. Still, he asked if she could give him until the morning to see if something could be done. The client agreed. The next day brought hope, and soon after, something better – a return to production. “The long and the short of it is that we lost a full day,” says Siegel, “but we were still able to produce the order of beach towels on time.”

The anecdote tells you a lot about the character of Towel Specialties.

So committed to customers are Weinstein, Siegel and their entire team that they didn’t let an explosion and evacuation stop them from giving their all to come through. The customer-first effort, delivered on a daily basis, is a huge factor in why Towel Specialties is Counselor’s Supplier of the Year for 2018.

The honor builds on a long run of consecutive successes, with Towel Specialties having taken top spot in the Towels & Robes category of Counselor’s Distributor Choice Awards every year from 2007 to 2018. Beyond the give-all service, Towel Specialties’ achievement is a byproduct of its perpetual focus on innovation and being a consultative partner that helps distributors generate sales and deliver unique solutions that end-clients adore. “Our goal is not just to be the best towel supplier, but the best supplier for distributors – period,” says Shawn Kanak, vice president of sales. “Our whole team – from sales to warehouse to accounting to printing – commits to going to extraordinary lengths for our customers. It results in loyal clients that grow with us and become our champions.”

Spring Break Ingenuity
The fact that there’s a Towel Specialties for distributors to call on for help is rooted in a creative epiphany Weinstein had in Cartagena, Columbia, approximately 35 years ago. Visiting for spring break during graduate school, Weinstein and his then-girlfriend (now wife, Jody) were at the beach in the historic coastal city. It was summery and beautiful, but also quite windy. Those Caribbean breezes kept blowing Weinstein’s beach towel away every time he went for a dip. Eventually, he plopped rocks on the towel to keep it from taking flight. “I thought, ‘Why doesn’t somebody come up with a beach towel that won’t blow away?’” he says.

Weinstein turned out to be the “somebody.”

His idea: A beach towel with sand stakes that would pin the towel to the ground. Full of entrepreneurial energy, he got his mother to sew a prototype and sought advice from a buyer at Neiman Marcus. As things began to churn, he took a leave of absence from school to develop the product. Soon, he was in production, fulfilling ever more orders. Then a bit of business luck came his way. “Another company that was next to where we were making our Stake-Out beach kits told us about the advertising specialty industry and said this would be a good product for it,” says Weinstein. “We decided to start selling in ad specialties. The sales volume really started to increase.”

Innovation & Service
It hasn’t stopped increasing since.

Towel Specialties has driven steady, controlled, organic growth nearly every year, the lone exception being 2009, amid the depths of the Great Recession. The spirit of innovation that inspired Weinstein’s initial creation has helped power the supplier’s success. For example, Jody Weinstein, who oversees product development, travels around the globe to bring fresh designs and ideas to customers. Several years ago, Towel Specialties introduced the now hot-seller called Color Fusion– essentially vivid, full-color process, edge-to-edge decorating for towels and blankets provided at low minimums with quick turnarounds. Back in 2003, Towel Specialties pioneered tone-on-tone printing on colored beach towels. “It’s still a large portion of our sales,” says Siegel. Additionally, the supplier has diversified its ingenuity into other categories, serving up everything from totes and bags to robes and blankets – including the award-winning 4-in-1 Blanket-Poncho-Cushion-Backpack. “We try to raise the bar every chance we get,” says Kanak.

Of course, inventive offerings would ring hollow without excellent fulfillment – something the crackerjack production pros at Towel Specialties ensure on every order. And, while those experts work magic behind the scenes, Kanak and the sales and customer service crew are consulting clients, educating distributors on ways they can spur fresh sales with a wide range of end-buyers. As a result, the outreach has taken the supplier’s mainstay beach towel offerings far beyond the beach, inserting them into everything from healthcare companies’ employee gift programs and banks’ incentive initiatives to corporate stores and so much more. The result is increased sales for distributors and Towel Specialties. “Our goal is to be a partner to our clients – to always put distributors in a position to succeed,” says Kanak.

The Complete Package
The hard work and dedication to customers hasn’t gone unnoticed. Data ASI reviewed as of part of Supplier of the Year evaluations revealed that distributors rank Towel Specialties toward the head of the pack when it comes to everything from service and product quality to conflict resolution.

The data was brought to life with testimonies from distributors who lined up to pat Towel Specialties on the back. Zachary Tyler, CEO of San Francisco-based Creative Marketing Concepts (asi/170631), was among the supplier’s most ardent supporters. “There’s really not a single time that Towel Specialties hasn’t come through for us and helped stratify and differentiate our product offering to customers and prospects,” says Tyler. “Their production, QC, shipment – the whole operation is reliable and very well represented by Shawn Kanak, who has been a friend to me basically since I started in this business 14 years ago. They’re a great group of people with a lot of talent.”

Mark Ziskind, chief operating officer at Top 40 distributor CSE (asi/155807), shared similar sentiments. Complimenting everything from Towel Specialties’ product quality to its decorating and packaging, Ziskind says the supplier ships on time, fulfills every promise, and is proactive and highly responsive. “They’re the complete package,” Ziskind says. “They do things right.”

Lauren Laschewer agrees. The account manager at Top 40 distributor Axis Promotions (asi/128263) recalls a particularly challenging beach towel order that Towel Specialties came up aces on. “I spent my entire day frantically calling, emailing and stalking (Towel Specialties) and they called me back each and every time, allowing me to push the limits and timelines to make it work for my customer,” says Laschewer. “They worked with me several times on pricing and production timelines. I’m still amazed I got this order. They truly know what it means to be great partners.”

For Weinstein, such praise is heartening. Nonetheless, he and the rest of the Towel Specialties family aren’t about to rest on their laurels. They’re too focused on evolving in the best interest of their clients. “We aim to always tell the customer ‘yes,’” says Weinstein. “And when we commit to something, we come through.”

A Family Feel

Family. Time and again, the word came up as Owner Eric Weinstein talked about his team at Towel Specialties (asi/91605). But it’s more than just a word, it’s an ethos – a mentality and way of operating that’s an essential ingredient in the Maryland-based supplier’s recipe for success. “Having that family mentality of always doing your best for each other is pivotal to us always being our best for our clients,” says Weinstein.

To help create the family atmosphere, Towel Specialties’ leaders make sure to celebrate employee birthdays, hold cookouts, host holiday parties and even give an end-of-season thank-you party. That, in addition to treating employees well on a daily basis and giving them the tools and direction needed to succeed, has bred loyalty. Indeed, many Towel Specialties pros have been with the company for a decade or significantly longer. For example, the supplier’s first multi-line sales representative, Paul Sprunk, has been representing Towel Specialties for more than 25 years. Vice President of Sales Shawn Kanak has been hard at work for the firm for more than 15 years. Office Manager Carrie Merritt, Operations Manager Curtis Holley and Marketing Director Murray Siegel are company veterans of about 20 years.

The collective experience and cohesiveness of these professionals and others with similar longevity gives Towel Specialties a competitive advantage, Weinstein says. “It’s because of our people, our family here, that we can set the bar high and achieve the service levels we’re known for.”

Interview with Towel Specialties: