Today, Mike O’Neill talks to Pam Olson. She’s the president of Pro Logo Depot, a one-stop-shop for promotional products and business gifts that she started over thirty years ago and she’s been making an example of how a company takes care of its clients.
Listen along to find out more about how this self-made woman got her start and what you can learn from her journey.
In This Episode, You’ll Learn…
- Learn about Pam’s leadership journey as a business owner
- The sophistication that has happened in logo products over the years
- A look at women who start and grow their own businesses
- What a “webstore” is and how Pam uses it to support her clients
- Adapting to significant events such as a pandemic
- “When I first started, no one took us seriously. We were selling gifts.” – Pam Olson
- “I was on my feet and running. I was a one-person show running my own business. Nobody to blame but myself and nobody to depend on but myself.” – Pam Olson
- “I had to be very driven to accomplish what we accomplished.” – Pam Olson
- “The whole purpose was to help somebody. That sometimes helps you. If you have that giving heart and that giving attitude, that’s what rescue does. We were trying to rescue — and help — our clients.” – Pam Olson
- “People are starting to come together and wanting to recognize their employees and doing a lot of onboarding gifts because they’re hiring back again.” – Pam Olson
- “Sometimes you’re just afraid that it won’t pan out the way you want it to. You’re afraid to take that step off the cliff. It’s been an amazing journey for anybody that’s stuck in that place right now and scared to grow and bite off what they have to bite off.” – Pam Olson
- “I really fought it. I struggled and struggled with moving my business. But now as people move out on either side, we just take that space over.” – Pam Olson
- “For those people who are sitting there going ‘I know I can do it but…’ first of all, it’s gonna take a lot of work and you have to have the commitment to be there.” – Pam Olson
Links & Resources Mentioned…
Don’t Miss an Episode!
- We provide every episode in audio, text, and video so you can learn what you need to get unstuck no matter how you learn best. Head to http://unstuck.show to subscribe and view past episodes.
Welcome back to the Get Unstuck & On Target podcast. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders, and we're speaking with thought leaders to uncover tips to help you break down the barriers that may be keeping you or your business stuck. Joining me today is Pam Olson. Pam is the president of Pro Logo Depot.
Her company is a one-stop shop for promotional products and business gifts. Pam founded her company over 30 years ago. Pro logo Depot is a certified woman owned business, and I've invited Pam to share a bit about her leadership journey as a successful business owner over the last three decades. Welcome Pam.
Pam Olson: Thank you.
Mike O'Neill: Pam. I'm Looking forward to us, spending our time together for a variety of reasons. One in my professional role before Bench Builders, I worked with folks like you providing logoed products, but what people think of when I talk about logo products, it's changed dramatically. Can you let's start off.
Let's. Let's kind of describe what was your industry like 30 years ago?
Pam Olson: Well, Mike, it was really more of a gift oriented type industry. I went to college in marketing and we studied all types of media and promotions and marketing, efforts that are, that were available not once did they cross the path of the promotional marketing industry, the promotional products
marketing. So when I got out of college and I was working as a marketing manager in an insurance agency, I went to a trade show and I saw this booth next to me. And I was like, what is that? What are all those little things? It was just amazing to me. And of course I got my interest piqued and I went over there and had to ask and inquire about it.
It just seemed like they had all these different things, little calendars and little you know, items that people would use on their desk and pens and all of it was imprinted with a logo. I thought that was amazing. It's the best use anybody could have for their marketing budget. Their money goes right into the hands of their target audience.
My bells and whistles were going off and I thought it was amazing. So I immediately wanted to get involved with it. It was mostly a woman's business. It was along the lines of gift baskets and chotskies in fact, we affectionately called them chotskies and you know, really we weren't taken that seriously.
As the industry grew, and more and more people that, you know, got to know about, you know, became involved, with purchasing these items, more trade shows were happening about that time. People were getting out more and seeing, you know, having events, that they were going to need this. Then that went into the training.
The companies that were doing training for their employees started utilizing these items and they become a little more serious oriented like padfolios and things that corporate would use. And then of course that led to higher end corporate items. And then you get into the national companies that they just couldn't live without them.
They, on their onboarding processes, they had to put something in the hands of those new employees that they would use and, and feel appreciated. And it just blossomed from there. So yeah, when I first started, it was just you know, nobody really took us that seriously. Like I said, we were all women and, you know, We were selling gifts.
So we were in comparison with the, the Avon. I used to call myself the Avon woman of advertising because we would have those little catalogs and people would thumb through the catalogs and go, Oh, that's interesting. Oh, that's interesting. And pick and choose little items to order. So, it was really a, a fun industry for me, but it's been an uphill challenge at times, for sure.
Mike O'Neill: I know we're going to talk about that here in a moment. But as you were describing the kinds of ways that your industry has evolved, it's gone from trinkets to a much more sophistication. You mentioned, you know, corporate recognition programs. You mentioned that, that trade shows and trade show programs.
You didn't mention it, but I know you do work with safety programs and service awards. Your industry has matured a lot in the last three decades. Can we go back to those early days? You not only got the bug, your eyes lit up when you saw the kind of products. What led to you to decide that I want to not only be in this business, but I want to own a business?
What was that thought process like then?
Pam Olson: Well, that was really kind of my father pushing me to go into my own business early on, and I just took the ball and ran with it. When I first started with a company, with the company that I was employed by. Cause I started there in sales and I got paid weekly and I would go by my dad's house and he would cash my check.
He always had money in his wallet, so I go save me a trip to the bank and he'd just cash my check. Well, after about a year and a half, he said, okay, when I can't cash your checks, you need to start out on your own. He said, because you're really growing yourself and getting this underneath you. And I think you've got legs to stand on.
Of course I was under a non-compete. So that was going to be a sticky wicket and I really appreciated and loved the people I worked for. And so I didn't want to run in, you know, burn any bridges or do something that wasn't ethical. So I did literally start a gift basket company. And worked it out with my former employees, that employers, excuse me, that I would purchase any kind of trinkets that would go in the baskets for corporate use, that I would purchase those through them.
I ended up doing that for a year, but it just wasn't working out. I had too many clients that wanted to buy, buy, buy and, I just went to my previous employer and I said, you know, I've been honest with you. I've waited a year. Can you just let me go? It was a two year non-compete very long non-compete.
And, they didn't really agree with me. So we did end up having to go to court, which I did win because I had, I had honored that agreement for a year. So that was one big hurdle to get over, but I was on my feet and running and I was a one person show. I was running my own business. Crazy crazy times. I mean, nobody to blame, but myself and nobody to depend on, but myself.
And I also had a young daughter and I was a single mom at that point. So it was very challenging and very interesting and very driven. I had to be very driven to accomplish what we've accomplished.
Mike O'Neill: Well, Pam, as you know, a typical listener to this podcast are in decision-making roles. They're leaders.
They may be self-employed. They may own their own business. They may be working for a business. So you did the best of your ability to kind of honor the non-compete, but you started this business and though you described it early on as something that was, you know, a lot of women were actually in how many women did, you know, in the area who own their own business like yours.
Pam Olson: Well, there was just one and I worked for her. And then there were three, there were four sales people underneath her and two of the girls had already started their own companies previous to me coming in. And then I ended up starting my own company. So she actually trained and provided, the industry with three additional women owners of their company.
Since that point in time, there is a one person that's still in the industry that owns their own company here in Chattanooga. There's more women don't get me wrong, but I'm talking out of that group of women that we learned together and sold together and then went out and started our own companies.
There's still one. Other than myself, that's still in business.
Mike O'Neill: So you in this time period have grown your business and describe a little bit about the nature of your business. The number of employees you have.
Pam Olson: We have 13 employees. We have grown exponentially, over the last five years due to the fact that we have, adopted the social media and, taken on avenues that, allowed us to build platforms such as web stores, we call them storefronts, that were becoming in very high demand early on like three years ago, corporate was really looking at these web stores.
Mike O'Neill: Now, can you explain what's a web store. So those who don't know.
Pam Olson: Well, some people call them web stores. We call them storefronts, digital storefronts. And what we do is we actually build out, what you would consider a website type build out. And then we put in there, the approved apparel and promotional items that that corporation has approved for sale to their employees.
And sometimes, and in the case of, One client. I don't know if I should mention clients, but in case of one client, they sell to their dealers as well. So, and this allows them to put a marketing piece on their intranet so that they can actually just access it all employees and all dealers or whoever they want to have access to this intranet site can go in there and purchase.
And it's self-contained, they don't have to manage anything. They don't have to answer any questions. It's it's the orders come through that site. They come to us and we fulfill them. We pull pack and ship them. So, we're a one stop, literally a on stop shop there. So they don't have to pay a fee to build their storefront.
They don't have it's, it's really a nice, nice, we've got it now where we've been working over the last five to six years. We've got it just like it's it's perfect really.
Mike O'Neill: Pam, you share with me before in our earlier conversation, you're being a little bit modest. It's working very, very well. Are you at Liberty to say how many of these storefronts.
That you manage for clients?
Pam Olson: We have of over 200 and most of those are in Ohio. And, we have three here, locally that are, worldwide. So, 200 nationwide, including all, we do a lot of healthcare facilities, scrubs, medical, PPE. And that's another part of our story that, I shared with you earlier, but we may get to, but yeah, 200 and growing.
Mike O'Neill: I think that's kind of remarkable, but, for, I would assume this is for employers large enough, where they want to, have a consistent look, in terms of be it uniforms or, or whatever is you make it real easy for them to do that. You know, you mentioned about growing and growing fast, particularly the last five or six years.
We're recording this, in, early February, this will probably be uploaded, in March. So that means that approximately a year has passed since what we refer to as COVID kind of hit. So could you kind of give us a sense of when COVID hit, which for our discussions, let's say it was around March of 2020. First of all, what initial impact did this have on your business?
Pam Olson: Well, we were like everybody else totally in shock. We had actually, planned and paid for and had shipped all the display items out to a show in Vegas, for our, construction and road building, companies, for their big show. And we had leased a room and had, hired IT people. We were going to do a cocktail and as you can imagine, very high end, dollar amount on this that had to be prepaid.
And while I was out there about to arrive. I had to go to Austin first for a meeting. And as I planned to go into Vegas and all my sales associates were flying out there, I had them all ticketed, all the rooms leased. We were, told the show was canceled that everybody had to leave that they, they weren't good.
They're closing down the Renaissance. The show was closing down. So I rearranged my flight to go straight to come straight back here. The money never was recuperated. Everybody just went dark and you know, that was a very scary, scary time. Not just that we had lost that money, but that we were unsure of what was going to happen.
Of course nobody was doing shows. Nobody, had any purpose. They couldn't go see clients. They weren't ordering things to take to their clients or give to their clients. I did reach out, with an email to a lot of my, we have contacts a lot of times in these large companies, their sales associates directly contact us and we have the rapport with their sales associates.
So we reached out to several larger entities, their sales associates, and encourage them to let us drop ship that we would write a note in there that just. You know, keep connected, you know, it keeps some kind of connection with their potential client or their client. Some of them have dealers and I said, let me send the dealers some hats on your behalf and let let's keep this rolling.
So we did encourage that and they really were at a loss. They didn't know what to do. Because everybody was frozen. You know, all of a sudden we couldn't go anywhere and do anything. And that was speaking from my salespeople that, work for these larger entities, you know, they were just very confused.
And so we tried to provide them an avenue to stay in touch. And in addition to that, in the midst of all that, we do a lot of custom work overseas because that's where everything's made. And I'm not gonna say anything else about that, but, we did already have established, liaisons over in China, who would they're our sourcing agents.
And they would source items for us for custom work. And we've been using them for years and years and years. So we have a good rapport built up with them and we trust them. So we reached out to our three sourcing agents and said, can you get your hands on PPE? Because like I said, we deal with hundreds of healthcare facilities and these healthcare facilities
were not getting any of the protection that they needed and the protection that was out there, the PPE that was available was very much overpriced. These people were being price gauged and I just, it made me so angry. I just couldn't sit there any longer. So really that's what spurred us on into seeking a way to bring PPE to these facilities.
So we immediately started aligning our liaisons up with, you know, helping us getting us some reasonably priced. It still was very over priced, but a lot more reasonable than what was flying around here in the States for that they were going to have to eat it. Regardless cause they had to have this protection.
So I tried to intervene and we did, we were very, very, very successful with providing them. We were importing 10,000 mask a week at one point and we just started importing those. We reduced our margins way down because the whole purpose was to help somebody. And that sometimes helps you if you have that giving heart and that giving attitude and a servant's heart.
That's what rescue does, but we were actually trying to rescue and help our clients. So, you know, we got through all that. It was, it was amazing. We immediately felt like we were overloaded on us because we had actually become importers. I mean, you know, our whole process our, whole business basis had changed 360.
And instead of providing these products that we order with a logo on it, we're just trying to get this stuff in. And we're dealing with shipping issues, sort of certification issues. One time I called our liaison and said, where are the masks? Where are the masks? And she said, my boss ran down to the dock with many, he went with dock to dock with money and I was like, Oh, man, it has got to be crazy over there.
You know, lots of cash changing hands and you know, we're wiring $18,000, $25,000 over to China. And God just was looking out for us because at any given moment we look back now and we're going, Oh my gosh, you know who wouldn't, if you don't know who you're dealing with. I mean that money could be gone. So that's how we managed to get through it.
And it's brought us out on the other side more or less. We still see a lot of mask sales. But they're diminishing. I mean, they're not as panicked driven as it was back then, but a lot more people are starting to get back together now and come together and, wanting to recognize their employees and, doing a lot of onboarding gifts because they're hiring back again.
I'm seeing that happening.
Mike O'Neill: So Pam, this aspect is what I very much wanted us to spend some time on. And that is if I understand your business, your business model was that you would source items from variety of places. And then your company would have afix a logo to those items. And in many cases you would handle a storefront by which the customer didn't even have to touch it.
You took care of everything for them. And, but that supply chain meant that you're reaching into suppliers all over the country. But then if I heard you correctly, you are literally on your way to Vegas for a large show your whole team was on the way to Vegas and it came to an abrupt stop.
Pam Olson: Yeah.
Mike O'Neill: And what I heard you say, and this is what I really want to make sure our listeners hear is that you didn't just fold up the tent.
You immediately began asking the question. All right. What should our customers be doing right now in this very uncertain time. And you said, this is the right time to be reaching out. Your customer should reach out to their customers and let them know they're not forgotten. And you provided them ways to do that.
That's very enterprising. It's very entrepreneurial. And to add to that, you begin looking at, because I think you mentioned that you do, scrubs. Which would be logo scrubs. So you may have had some suppliers in the healthcare market, but it sounds as if you'd literally changed your entire business model to become basically an importer of PPE.
Pam Olson: Yes. And basically that's all we were doing for the largest part.
Mike O'Neill: So that's pretty remarkable, Pam is that you literally changed your entire business model, to be supplying PPE, to, to your clients and perhaps even picked up a new clients. And I'm very encouraged to hear you say it's those same customers that you adapted to accommodate
they're now coming to you and say, all right, Pam, we think we're ready to begin re entering into the relationship that we kind of had in place. You're seeing hiring began to tick up. You're beginning to see a, a I demand for logo. It is that your read of the, of your business right now?
Pam Olson: We are staying busy.
I will say that. We could be busier, but we're expanding. We're adding two new sales people. I just put the ad in last week and I've found very good, potential salespeople. I'm very thrilled with the it's using the basis of the applications that have come in the resumes. They're very impressive.
So that made me very hopeful that we can find some good employees. I've heard so many employees say that because of the unemployment being up and everything that people are just staying home and they're not wanting to get a job. But I've found that, that I've found a pool of employees that are, or potential employees that are very anxious to get to work.
So we are doing that. And then we are, seeing we're talking to our clients and they are making plans. People are ordering, they're saying I'm going to need large quantities. You know, we're not seeing onesy twosies. We're actually having the larger clients are really jumping in. And saying, we've got to restock.
It's kind of like, they've just woken up from a sleep and they're going, okay. The world's back and we need to get back on board with it. So they're like contacting us for those things.
Mike O'Neill: That's encouraging to hear, you know, it's been my custom to ask guests the question about situations where they or their organization got stuck.
The example that you just shared. In many cases could have resulted in a company such as yours getting stuck and staying stuck. And I applaud you. I applaud the folks that you have around you for their ability to adapt pretty much on the fly. Now you may have another unstuck story you'd like to share.
Do you have any other examples of situations where. Somebody or client, or perhaps even you got stuck?
Pam Olson: Well, five-year well, I guess six years ago now I was working out of, we had, it was a commercial area that it was zoned commercial, but we were in a house. And we had added onto the house and we had production in the house.
We do in-house embroidery, which is very unique for a company like ours to do that. In-house screen printing and embroidery and graphic arts. And, anyway, so we had all this space for production and everything, and we had several larger clients. And one client came to me and he said, why don't you move?
We had, we owned a commercial building. That's the funny thing about it. We owned a commercial building and here I was working out and this customer said, why are you here? Why aren't you over there on airport road? And I said, I don't know. you know, we're doing good here. I'm making good money there. And then, and then it's like, sometimes you're just afraid that
it won't pan out the way you want it to. You're afraid to take that step off the cliff. It's been an amazing journey for anybody that's stuck in that place right now. That's just scared to grow and bite off whatever they have to bite off. It's it's been scary two, three, maybe more times, you know, as we've grown and we're still growing.
And now my husband is like going, you didn't realize you are possessing you know, you're, you're occupying about a third of that building of 24,000 square feet. And I said, I know. So we're about to grow again. We're moving corporate offices upstairs and we're going to build out a larger showroom and add our sales staff.
We're going to have a sales row and, you know, reception. And that had started in the planning works by the way before we had the pandemic. So I just had to put everything on hold until I knew what was going to happen. We have a beautiful new corporate board room that, you know, we have the large screen that we can share and show presentations and do presentations on.
So we're very excited, but I really fought it. I struggled and struggled with moving my business over here. And, it's just it's like my son said, when we moved in over here, it's like, all this space was filled up that we first additionally occupied and it was just huge. We thought we would never fill it up.
And my son said that it's like that snake in the can effect where you've compressed everything or compressed everything and you open the can everything just pops out. And because we immediately occupied all the space that we initially allotted ourselves today. So, and now we've just knocked out walls and moved and gone and taken over more office space because as people move out on either side, we just take that space over.
We actually have a scrub shop in our facility here. Where the potential clients can come in and actually shop, or, you know, their employees can come in and shop for scrubs. Just, it's just been wonderful. And now we do fulfillment. We're actually about five companies under one roof. We, it drives our accountants crazy because they go, you actually need five different accounting systems. Because we do fulfillment,
we do production, we do promotional products, we do apparel, we do storefronts. We do, you know, it just goes on and on and on. So for those people who are sitting there going, I know I can do it, but I just, first of all, it's going to take a lot of work and you have to have the commitment to be there. And there's nothing guaranteed. And banks don't always work with you the way you'd want them to work with you.
You know, you bite off a lot initially. It's a big, it's a big decision. I had never taken any loan out at all. Until I moved over here and that was the first time I ever borrowed money for the company. And that was scary to me, but it's all worked out. You know, my dad used to say it takes money to make money so.
Mike O'Neill: Well, it sounds like you listened to, to your dad, but you have acted on and have built, a successful, diverse business. And it sounds is if you take care of your customers and in turn, they're now taking care of you. Pam I shared with you before we began recording. I knew you were going to be a great guest, but you tell a very compelling story.
And I appreciate your willingness to share that with our listeners. If our listeners want to connect with you, what's the best way for them to reach you.
Pam Olson: I'm on LinkedIn. Pam Rymer Olson and, my company is Pro Logo Depot. That's our DBA name. It's Pro Marketing LLC, but you can look up Pro Logo Depot.
We're on at 515 Airport Road and just drop in. If you're interested, we've got a show room. We can show you around and give you the tour.
Mike O'Neill: Pam mentioned Airport Road, by the way, that's in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We've got listeners from literally over the world. So when you're in Chattanooga and you want to stop by Pro Logo Depot, it sounds like you have an open-end invite. By the way
we're going to include that content information in the show notes. So if you're driving and you want to write all that down, it will be included in those show notes. Pam, thank you.
Pam Olson: Thank you, Mike.
Mike O'Neill: I also want to thank our listeners for joining us for this episode of Get Unstuck & On Target. We upload the latest episode every Thursday.
And if you haven't already, I invite you to join our growing list of subscribers, but we at Bench Builders, we love to help companies get unstuck with practical management, training, leadership, coaching, and better business planning and execution. But if you've been listening to my discussion with Pam, and you're realizing that something's keeping you or your business stuck, let's talk, visit unstuck.show to schedule a call.
So I want to thank you for joining us, and I hope you've picked up on some tips that help you get Unstuck & On Target. Until next time .