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12 THIS YEAR’S TOP PLACES TO WORK SHARE THE COMMONALITIES OF TEAMWORK, TRUST, EMPOWERMENT AND COMPANY LEADERS WHO CARE AND COMMUNICATE. BY TINA BERRES FILIPSKI

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OES THE CULTURE OF YOUR workplace make you want to get out of bed in the morning? Does your employer drive you to want to perform at your very best? The 12 promotions companies profiled here have earned that winning edge by cultivating environments and setting expectations that create a workplace employees rate as No. 1. Creating a positive and engaging work environment is one of the keys to reducing employee turnover. In April, the U.S. unemployment rate plummeted to 6.3 percent, the lowest since September 2008, as employers added 288,000 jobs in the first quarter of this year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. As the job market opens up, companies across all sectors are working harder than ever to retain good employees—and establishing great workplaces is a key component. For the past four years, PPB has sought employee nominations to identify and applaud some of the best workplaces in the industry. Over that time we’ve seen a common thread: the most-favored workplaces are often built by leaders who care about their employees first, and create a culture where employees want to do their best. Read on to see who made PPB’s 2014 list.

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Meet this year’s Greatest Companies and check out their staff-made videos at pubs.ppai.org.

UPIC: WINE0001 CATEGORY: Supplier HEADQUARTERS: San Diego, California EMPLOYEES: 15 ESTABLISHED: 1991

Why employees love working there: “I love that I am given a lot of creative freedom and [am] trusted when it comes to meeting customers’ design needs as well as creating internal marketing and promotional pieces,” says nominator Alex Rivera, graphic designer. Nominator Lynda Lam, sales manager, says, “I help people create one-of-a-kind gifts. My company loves to take pride in the products we present. If it is not perfect, the bottle is etched again until it passes our high standards.” Nominator Angela Taylor, vice president of marketing, says, “People make the company, and everyone at A+ Wine Designs takes great pride in the work they do. There are no egos or office politics like other places I have worked—just a desire to grow the company and to go home at the end of the day feeling productive for a job well done.” Nominator Jim Ristuccia, chief operating officer, says he

loves working there because the company’s values are in line with his own. “We provide a great customer experience by putting the needs of the customer at the forefront and always exceeding expectations. We spend a lot of time working on reducing customer surprises,” he says. “We are all empowered to devote resources to making things right— that could be as simple as upgrading (for free) shipping service and offering a range of wine choices to redoing an order if something went wrong.” What makes it different from other employers: “The fun product research we participate in,” explains Lam. “We attend various wine tastings throughout the year to assist us in navigating the vast and ever-changing world of wine.” Taylor adds, “Working for a small company, everyone has to pitch in and help when someone is on vacation or during our busy holiday season. The main difference is the feeling of camaraderie. Everyone is here to help when you get into the weeds—and never begrudgingly, but because each person truly wants to help.” Ristuccia says A+ Wine Designs makes working fun. “That reduces stress and helps us be creative.”

How It Celebrates Success Random pizza and ice cream Fridays, tickets to baseball games and shows, a brag board to share reviews from customers, a ship’s bell that is rung when big purchase orders come in or something else good happens, gold stickers, high fives and bottles of wine to enjoy at home. Full-time and part-time workers at supplier A+ Wine Designs in San Diego, California, value its laid-back, creative environment.

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12 Greatest Companies To Work For 2014

UPIC: AAAU0001 CATEGORY: Supplier HEADQUARTERS: Northvale, New Jersey EMPLOYEES: 48 ESTABLISHED: 1909

Why employees love working there: “It is a creative place that enables employees the freedom to make smart business decisions on behalf of their clients,” says nominator Kelly Borre, regional sales manager. “The management is very supporting and motivating; the company is always looking for and successfully finding new ways to provide value to its clients and employees and the work environment is fantastic. We just moved into a new location this year and are excited about the additional space and ability to warehouse more product.” What makes it different from other employers: “An an industry veteran, I have worked for four other industry companies and this company is fantastic in that it completely entrusts its employees to make wise business decisions,” explains Borre. “This alone makes everyone deeply vested in the company’s success. In addition, this company truly sells service. It is all about making our clients a success in the eyes of their clients.”

“The management is very supporting and motivating; the company is always looking for and successfully finding new ways to provide value to its clients and employees and the work environment is fantastic.”

How It Celebrates Success Congratulatory personal phone calls, emails and an annual monetary bonus.

President Jeffrey Nanus (center) is flanked by many of his AAA Innovations family members, including his dogs Carly and Bosco, who frequent the supplier company’s main office in New Jersey. The company also has offices in New England, Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix and Ningbo, China.

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12 Greatest Companies To Work For 2014

All employees attended distributor Activate! Promotions & Marketing’s January sales meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida, including those at sister company, Grapevine Designs, and its shared services group, Branded Business Support.

How It Celebrates Success

UPIC: Activate CATEGORY: Distributor HEADQUARTERS: Charlotte, North Carolina EMPLOYEES: 76 ESTABLISHED: 1996

Why employees love working there: Nominator Jami Sheehan, vendor relations/AP manager, who has been with the company for seven years, says, “I love working here because of the way we all treat each other like family.” Her colleague and another nominator, Jodi Smith, human resources director, also enjoys working there because of the people. “Every day I get to work with some really amazing people who are pros at what they do and take pride in putting our customers first. This is also a growing and changing organization which makes it interesting every day.” Communications Coordinator Bryan McCormick, another nominator, loves the company because it puts culture first. “We are a large family, which makes it easy to work together and play together. Because of this family-first culture, you want to be at work and help push the company forward. It’s a good feeling.”

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An off-site annual national sales meeting (The 2014 meeting was at a five-star resort in Florida.) with everyone in attendance for training and teambuilding activities; sales awards, internal contests and incentives in which everyone participates; company outings and tailgate parties before Carolina Panthers home games, where they enjoy cuisine that’s local to the visiting team’s town. What makes it different from other employers: Smith says she worked in a large corporate environment for 20plus years and decided to find a place where she wasn’t a number and could make a contribution. “Activate has been that place for me,” she says. “It’s a relaxed yet professional environment where new ideas are encouraged and everyone is appreciated for their contribution. I fully intend on retiring from Activate.” McCormick has been with the company for only two years but is impressed with the longevity of many of his coworkers. “We have a lot of individuals who have been here since the start so everyone is very close and the core group has been through the ups and downs. It makes for a close-knit circle of employees who drive a culture for everyone else. They’re carrying a torch of the original intent and spirit of the business.” What differentiates Activate as an employer for Sheehan is the ability to grow and learn together— especially as employees embark on learning a new operating system this year.


UPIC: ADVINADV CATEGORY: Distributor HEADQUARTERS: Neenah, Wisconsin EMPLOYEES: 80 ESTABLISHED: 1981

Why employees love working there: “We all support each other and there is not one single employee who isn’t important to the structure,” says nominator Jaimee Gorrell, account coordinator. “AIA makes it known that each employee is a valuable asset to the company and without that employee, we would not be complete.” Nominator Diane Johnson, accounts payable associate, says, “AIA is a forward-thinking company. Everyone strives to make the processes for our customers more user-friendly and easy to understand. Our CEO [David Woods, MAS] knows everyone by name and always comes up to you and asks how things are going.” Nominator Heidi Marks, account coordinator, likes the fact that everyone in the company is willing to help each other. A monthly meeting to recognize milestones and achievements with applause all around, plus treats, lunch or small gifts from AIA; ongoing incentives, praise and encouragement.

How It Celebrates Success

“AIA makes it known that each employee is a valuable asset to the company and without that employee, we would not be complete.” What makes it different from other employers: “The biggest difference is the atmosphere,” says Gorrell. “I’ve never worked anywhere where every department interacts each day and relies on each other for assistance, guidance and success [as AIA does].” She also likes the fact that she sees the CEO and CFO [Tom Lehr] every day. “They do not stay hidden in their offices or stuck on their phones. They make it known they appreciate everything you are doing for them. Another big difference is recognition. At other companies I have worked for, it is rare to get recognition or even a simple ‘thank you.’ At AIA, we are constantly being shown appreciation.” Johnson adds, “AIA wants everyone to be working up to their full potential and they help you accomplish that. We have employee councils where management and employees meet to discuss new ideas.” Accountant Sara Magritz says it’s the level of dedication to making the workplace a place where employees want to come every day. “They truly want their employees to be happy.” Nominator Veronica Stueber, account coordinator, says, “AIA has set the bar so much higher than any other company I’ve ever worked for.”

Distributor AIA Corporation’s friendly and supportive culture comes from the top—namely its CEO David Woods, MAS (far right).

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UPIC: blinkmkt CATEGORY: Distributor HEADQUARTERS: Franklin, Tennessee EMPLOYEES: 12 ESTABLISHED: 2002

Why employees love working there: “Our office environment is energetic, fun and loud but most importantly team driven and encouraging,” says nominator Jenny McIntyre, vice president of sales, who has been with the company for five years. “Numerous times a month, a rep will set up a brainstorming meeting for a new client and at least 75 percent of the office will be there to pitch in. We share ideas, cheer each other on, talk through

issues, build each other up during the slow months and celebrate during the big wins.” What makes it different from other employers: McIntyre says, “We strive to create an environment that doesn’t feel like work. We have found that when work is fun, our clients will be the ones who benefit.” The company gives each rep the freedom to manage their time, clients and days as they see fit, and in a manner that will make them the most successful. She says no one punches a time clock. “If you are done with your work and have stuff to do at home, you go home. If you have a busy day and need to stay until 9 pm, you stay and come in later the next morning.” She stresses that the company encourages employees to independently manage their time so that work is not left undone, clients are never neglected, and family and friends outside of work are the top priority.

customers’ expectations. It’s an eye-opener when I tell people about all of the perks of working here and they ask if we are hiring and I have to tell them no—because no one ever leaves.” Fellow nominator Judy Richardson, collegiate customer service representative, says, “It is a family-owned business with a very relaxed atmosphere. Our daily duties have time-sensitive deadlines that can be stressful, yet we have good co-worker support that makes it easier.”

UPIC: ALLEN CATEGORY: Supplier HEADQUARTERS: Blanchester, Ohio EMPLOYEES: 75 ESTABLISHED: 1959

Why employees love working there: “No two days are alike,” says 25-year veteran and nominator Tami Wainscott, MAS, sales manager. “We are like one big family here, working together to achieve the ultimate goal of exceeding the

What makes it different from other employers: “In the approximately 13 years I have worked for this company, I have received a personal “Good Morning” from the owner, Allen Dohan, every single day that he is in the office,” says Richardson. “He walks through the office and greets every individual. I think this shows tremendous character—Allen Dohan is one of the finest.” Wainscott adds, “Previous companies I’ve worked for were very rigid with strict corporate policies and red tape. The Allen Company management team is very open to suggestions. We even have a quarterly suggestion award program in place.”

How It Celebrates Success Personal congratulations on individual successes from the management team; celebratory luncheons or dinners in milestone years for past retirees and employees; monthly birthday celebrations, an annual service award luncheon with cash and a custom ceramic tile to commemorate employee anniversaries. Supplier The Allen Company’s managerial team is comprised of from left (back row): Werner Crawford; Stan Dohan, MAS; Curt Bandow; S. Allen Dohan; Preston Dohan; (front row) Dhu Dazey; Tami Wainscott; Sammy Armendarez and Dan Wesselman.

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12 Greatest Companies To Work For 2014

How It Celebrates Success Ringing a cow bell or blowing an air horn to recognize new or large orders (employees try to guess the amount of the order and cheer each other on); Blink-branded poker chips handed out by upper management for above-andbeyond achievements, which are redeemed for gift cards at month’s end; group outings, birthday celebrations and an April recognition banquet.

Distributor Blink Marketing often celebrates its successes as a team says nominator, Jenny McIntyre, top row, third from left.

UPIC: BRISTOL1 CATEGORY: Supplier HEADQUARTERS: Lima, New York EMPLOYEES: 85 ESTABLISHED: 1975

“Everyone at Bristol ID works together for one common goal: to satisfy the customer.”

Why employees love working there: “Everyone at Bristol ID works together for one common goal: to satisfy the customer,” says Print and Promo Sales Manager Renee Reed, who nominated the company for the recognition. “Everyone in the factory owns each and every job and will do what they need to in order to complete it on time and with extraordinary quality. It really is a treat to see everyone taking pride in what they do and having a genuine, mutual respect for their team.” What makes it different from other employers: Reed says Bristol is a company where everyone cares about the effort they put into a job. “Because we sell through distributors, we know they are staking their reputations on us as well with each and every order. We don’t want to disappoint. The meticulous effort put forth to make a fabulous product—and even to maintain a clean and safe workplace—is amazing. It comes through on each and every order that leaves our factory.”

How It Celebrates Success Monthly meetings led by the company president that keep all employees informed and make them feel important (he discusses the previous month’s financial results including sales, profits and bonuses, company news, expansions, new programs, etc.). The meeting concludes with lunch for everyone.

Supplier Bristol ID Technologies employs 85 people at its Lima, New York, headquarters.

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12 Greatest Companies To Work For 2014

UPIC: 6971 CATEGORY: Distributor HEADQUARTERS: Birmingham, Alabama EMPLOYEES: Less than 50 ESTABLISHED: 1983

Why employees love working there: “From day one, employees are placed in an environment that fosters a strong, healthy culture that recognizes the hard work and dedication of each employee,” says nominator Sonya Holcomb, accounting manager, who has been with the company for four years. She says the atmosphere starts at the top with principals Lynne and Tim Hennessy and, through their example, flows to employees. “Lynne and Tim believe in leading by example and never ask employees to do any work they would not do themselves.” She adds that Concept’s vision is to enhance the corporate image of customers through the use of promotional products and corporate gifts that meet the needs and objectives of a specific campaign, promotion or marketing event. The Hennessys “recognize the wholehearted dedication and loyalty of each employee and constantly praise them for their accomplishments.” What makes it different from other employers: Holcomb explains, “The true team atmosphere at Concepts is unmatched by any company I have ever encountered. Concepts hires people with a strong work ethic, a high level of intelligence, a great sense of integrity and a drive to succeed. Employees constantly challenge each other to be the best they can be and do the best work they can do.” She adds that the Hennessys also recognize the importance of family and want their employees to be able to spend as much time with their families as possible, including giving employees a generous holiday schedule and letting them leave early on Fridays in the summer to enjoy a long weekend.

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“Concepts hires people with a strong work ethic, a high level of intelligence, a great sense of integrity and a drive to succeed.” How It Celebrates Success Weekly staff meetings where employees are invited to participate in an open discussion forum to praise fellow employees for a job well done (the style of the meeting was suggested by an employee and enacted by management); parties to celebrate successes, milestones, birthdays and anniversaries.

Concepts & Associates, Inc. principals Lynne and Tim Hennessy (center) have succeeded in creating a top workplace. The distributor was also named one of Birmingham’s Best Places To Work earlier this year by the Birmingham Business Journal.


Top 10 Marks Of A Great Workplace 1. A family-like atmosphere 2. A culture that emphasizes respect and helpfulness toward co-workers 3. Owners and upper management who know employees by name and greet them daily 4. Frequent company communication from the top 5. Empowering employees at all levels 6. Fellow workers who are smart and creative 7. A core company vision everyone understands 8. Creative ways to celebrate success 9. A mechanism for employee input and ideas 10. Flexible working hours

UPIC: COTT0001 CATEGORY: Distributor HEADQUARTERS: Mississauga, Ontario, Canada EMPLOYEES: 82 ESTABLISHED: 1992

Why employees love working there: “I love working there because the people are terrific,” says nominator Peter Monk, marketing manager, who has worked at the company for two years. “Culturally, we are a diverse group and that gives us a great grounding and perspective. In a nutshell, the culture of the company is one of teamwork, determination, creativity and a spirit of independence.” He explains the company’s “funny” name. “Like the tough SOB in Johnny Cash’s ‘Boy Named Sue,’ it’s also forced us to be that much more impressive when walking into cold calls and new business pitches over the years. Once a plucky upstart, always one,” he says of the 22-year-old distributor. “It’s a rare day indeed when I’m not looking forward to coming into the office.”

our ranks is our spirit of teamwork and sharing,” he says. “Invitations to brainstorming sessions, tip-offs to hot, new products or deals, or call outs for assistance in locating suppliers are just three examples of the kind of daily interaction in evidence. It’s all about the team—and that’s a huge advantage for our clients.” Another differentiator, he says, is the strategic aspect of the company’s approach to product recommendations. “At every turn we strive to maximize the value of our clients’ investment in our products and services.” The company also has a first-to-market blog on its website, which showcases new products, and produces two custom catalogs per year. In addition, it gives employees two paid days off per year to volunteer for a charity of their choice and the employees donate blood as a team. Because the company has employees in Mississauga, Ontario; Richmond, British Columbia; Calgary, Alberta and Chicago, Illinois, it uses an intranet to connect them all. Included is a page where employees can share news about big sales and contribute to a long-running series, “Tales From The Trenches.”

What makes it different from other employers: “The most startling difference for newcomers to

How It Celebrates Success An online points-based program for all employees developed by the Reward and Recognition division, and an everyother-year incentive: a free trip to The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas for salespeople who hit their sales targets. If everyone hits their targets, everyone goes.

Distributor Cotton Candy enjoys the richness of its culturally diverse employees—and their company’s “funny” name.

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UPIC: CROWN CATEGORY: SUPPLIER HEADQUARTERS: Mobile, Alabama EMPLOYEES: 250 ESTABLISHED: 1998

UPIC: IMAGEGRP CATEGORY: Distributor HEADQUARTERS: Holland, Ohio EMPLOYEES: 70 ESTABLISHED: 1981

Why employees love working there: Nominator Nita Triano, inside sales rep and an eight-year employee, credits the people she works with at Crown Products for creating a great workplace. “The amazing staff members, production employees, artists, entry and edit personnel, and inside sales and customer service teams all work so hard to get the job done,” she says. “Our tagline is ‘Whatever It Takes’ and it is the core belief here.” She has also been moved by her company’s empathy, explaining that in late 2010 and early 2011 two employees passed away. In their memory, the company planted two saplings on the front lawn. In addition, employees banded together and raised funds to pay for the funerals of two employees’ children. “Neither person knew where they were going to get the funds to pay for the funerals,” she remembers. “The employees raised the money because, with family, that’s what you do.” In 2008, she was on the receiving end of that kind of compassion when she was hospitalized for 35 days and spent an additional two months recuperating. Her co-workers took up a collection to help pay the bills. “People reaching into their pockets to give me money was absolutely a wonderful and beautiful blessing. That’s why I love Crown,” she says.

Why employees love working there: Four-year employee George Brymer, who nominated the company for the honor, gives the credit to the company’s owner, Jon Levine. “Jon is a fair boss who considers all sides of every issue. What’s more, he’s extremely approachable; employees at every level of the organization know they can talk to him openly about work concerns as well as personal issues—and that he will always make time for those discussions.” Brymer says Levine also promotes a workplace culture of kindness where employees are encouraged to help one another succeed.

What makes it different from other employers: “Our company is different because when you walk through the front door, there’s a smiling face to greet you,” she says, adding that the company has won numerous customer service awards including PPAI’s Supplier Star award 11 times and is rated A+ by SAGE. “This company is such an amazing place to work just because we all celebrate each other’s successes.”

How It Celebrates Success Employee appreciation luncheons, dunking booths, Halloween costume contests, talent shows and Employee of the Quarter awards with the lucky four winners getting a dedicated parking spot, a plaque and a monetary award. RIGHT A total of 250 employees call supplier Crown Products’ Mobile, Alabama’s headquarters home.

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What makes it different from other employers: “The culture of our organization is based on the Golden Rule,” explains Brymer. “It’s a very simple concept but one that helps to define what’s expected of those who join our team.” He adds that respect for one another and a commitment to being a team player are required from everyone, regardless of their position in the company.


12 Greatest Companies To Work For 2014

UPIC: MOTIV8RS CATEGORY: Distributor HEADQUARTERS: Westbury, New York EMPLOYEES: 75 ESTABLISHED: 1979

How It Celebrates Success Frequent cookouts (with Levine working the grill), potlucks and catered meals—success involves sitting down together to eat and relish the accomplishments together.

Why employees love working there: “Motivators allows me the opportunity to do what I am passionate about—spending my days communicating with our staff of professional colleagues, developing innovating marketing campaigns and creating branding opportunities that work,” says nominator Rachel Levin, marketing/sales director, a six-plus-year employee. “I also love the loyalty of the staff and upper management. The sincere appreciation from the president [Ken Laffer, MAS] is evident when you see the smiling faces of the employees.” What makes it different from other employers: Levin says, “Motivators measures success by internal happiness, stability and strength. When you walk into our facility you will recognize the smiling faces, the entertaining atmosphere and a dynamic that just can’t be imitated. We are very sincere in our goals and connections within the promotional products industry.” She adds that when she recruits new staff, that’s one of the top reasons people want to work there. “People want to be part of a family that achieves their goals and continuously evolves. We’re very much about making sure we provide excellent services and we really, really care.”

How It Celebrates Success A year-end holiday party where everyone is recognized individually for their hard work and ethics; quarterly company meetings to applaud outstanding achievements with awards and prizes; and a Motivators Bucks program to recognize daily successes. (Employees get 10 Bucks tokens weekly to give to co-workers for above-and-beyond efforts. After six months, the top three individuals with the most Bucks get gift cards from Motivators.)

ABOVE Distributor The Image Group has its headquarters in Holland, Ohio, but employs team members in several cities throughout Ohio and the Midwest.

Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.

ABOVE Distributor Motivators, Inc., in Westbury, New York, celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

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Cotton Candy Winner of 12 Greatest Companies to Work For