Through a selective interview process at the Northern Arizona University W.A. Franke College of Business, I was chosen as a candidate to job shadow the CEO of Stowebridge Promotion Group Inc., Ms. Kathy Finnerty Thomas. She actually received her Bachelor’s Degrees from Northern Arizona University, and then worked for Kodak as Director of Marketing and as a part of Sales and Training. During my time at Stowebridge, I was able to understand and learn about the behind-the-scenes aspects of an advertising company from her, and the industry of promotional products as a whole. Not only was I invited to multiple company meetings alongside Ms. Thomas, where I learned how to conduct business with sales representatives, financial institutions, and customers, but I was able to see first-hand how a day in the life of an entrepreneur is like and what to expect of this type of industry.
Stowebridge Promotion Group Inc. opened its doors in 1994 and has “… helped customers grow their businesses, thank their customers, reward their employees, and stay remembered through the use of promotional products,” according to their LinkedIn biography. Their specialties involve T-shirts, Baseball caps, Polos, Outerwear, Towels, Bags, Screen Printing, Embroidery, Promotional Items, Large Format Printing, Graphics, Branding, Banners, Trade shows, Corporate Gifts, Safety Programs, Company Stores, Awards, and Corporate Thank You Gifts.
Below you can see some photos I took of their factory and work stations:
Meet Molly, the company’s doggie:
A small slideshow of more sections of the factory:
Within the few days I was at Stowebridge, I received the opportunity to understand the life of an entrepreneur. I had never had the chance to interview an entrepreneur before, so I was fortunate to have Ms. Kathy Finnerty Thomas answer some questions for me. You can read my questions and her paraphrased responses below:
What were some hardships to starting Stowebridge Promotion?
In the beginning it was challenging because we had so much to learn about promotional products and all the fine details such as set up charges and other add on charges we didn’t anticipate. I quit my job to join the company which my husband had started and we moved to a house that had an office to allow for our expanding business. We were now completely dependent on the company for our income. We were doing well, but then 9/11 had happened. People were not really concerned with our industry and promotional products. Most events were cancelled, and I was working on a large sales meeting with a military theme. The customers’ focus was on their personal safety and dealing with the horrors that had just happened and were less interested in promotional products for their business. However, we shifted to support a more patriotic and safety-focused market in the United States. We ended up selling tons of tiny American flag pins, and more items that were safety-related and other things of that sort. After that, we moved to a new building in 2006, and the economy crashed in 2008 while we still had employees and capital to pay for in order to run the business. That was hard, but we never missed a paycheck for our employees. We even had garage sales of samples to help support the business. In 2009, we had a much better year by adding a new product category, banners.
What are some rewarding aspects of Stowebridge?
It’s rewarding to come into work and see the employees excited and working together. It’s stressful being an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur needs to know accounting and finance, sales, customer service, HR and often, even I.T. There are many aspects of running a business, and at times, dealing with employee issues both at work and personally can be challenging. It can also be very rewarding when you create and empower an amazing team.
What is the most important aspect of your company?
The people. Without them, the company is nothing. Everyone from the art department, the production department, down to the reception. All the best companies are also committed to culture. Unless it is strongly engrained in all the layers of management and all the employees, you can’t create a culture that drives the whole organization. Leaders, not always the boss, help drive the culture in a company…and culture isn’t just a mission phrase on a website or a wall. It has to be part of everything a company does; not just words but actions. Culture is more than ping pong tables and free beer. Culture is internal. It is the operating system and heart of the organization. You can have great culture in a windowless building in a production facility. Culture is how people are treated and how they treat each other.
How are you using your Management and Marketing degrees within your company?
I use more of my experience than my degrees. I am continuously learning, and I actually went back to college at Syracuse University in NY after I had a secure job in the upper levels of Kodak. I keep learning from everything around me; that’s what led me to LinkedIn actually. I have met interesting people through it, and I come in at 6am every day to have time to spend about 30 minutes reading LinkedIn articles and other materials. I have written several articles on LinkedIn to share what I have learned in business, as well as to develop my thoughts deeply about new subjects I am exploring and learning about. Writing and sharing helps me learn as well.
How do you achieve work and life balance?
Working with your spouse can be challenging. When two people work together all day and live together, work can take over your lives and it becomes the only subject to talk about, especially since our children are grown. Children are great because they force you to have balance in your life. If you do work with your spouse, like me, you can have separate offices (she has a little window in-between her and her husband’s office so that they can talk). I also think what really helps is going away to Prescott every weekend. As an entrepreneur, we end up working at least part of every day we are on vacation. We have been to some beautiful destinations, but we always need to make sure the customers’ needs are met.
What advice do you have for college kids?
To be extraordinary is a choice. You need to take initiative when you get to work. Listen and learn, yes, but take initiative as well. Don’t act entitled either.
I cannot thank Ms. Thomas and the Stowebridge team enough for letting me experience their company’s culture for a few days, and for sharing their knowledge with me. I learned so many things, that if I were to write them all down in detail it would actually take a very long time and would still not do the actual experience justice.
Thank you for reading,