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Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

Meet Lion Circle, the Supplier Family Business of the Year!

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Fun, Interviews, Travel

Hi Everyone!

Carollo FamilyIn my last blog post, I shared with you the full version of the article I wrote on Brown & Bigelow’s Cindy Jorgenson, this year’s Counselor Woman of Distinction. Well, this time around, I’m sharing the full article on this year’s Supplier Family Business, Lion Circle. The Chicago-based company is owned by the Carollo family, and Rich, of course, is the second-generation sibling you all know. Hands up: Is there anyone in the industry who doesn’t love hanging out with the gregarious Mr. Carollo? I tell him he’s like my brother from another mother (to which he retorts that I’m his “sister from another mister”), despite the fact that we only met two years ago at the SAAC Show. But oh, what a meeting it was. I had e-mailed him to ask if we could get together so I could interview him for a Counselor article… What followed was an impromptu mini bar tour bender, which was an epic meeting of the minds second only to when Janis Joplin encountered Jim Morrison for the first time. When those two Dionysian heathens met, Janis threw a bottle of bourbon at the Lizard King for being a degenerate disgrace. In our case, Rich ended the night by saying goodbye to me in his own special way — hurling a green wax apple at my head. I’ve adored him ever since…

The company that Rich and his family run is truly one of the best in the business, not the least of which is because every year for the last seven it’s dominated the “Fan” product category in the Counselor Distributor Choice Awards and its products are Made in the USA. Love that, and love the gracious Carollo clan even more.

Cheers to the Carollos for deservedly winning this year’s Counselor Supplier Family Business of the Year award, and read on for the unabridged article I wrote about them in August’s Counselor.

— M

It’s the classic tale of the American Dream, which is fitting, knowing that Lion Circle is one of the few suppliers in the industry whose products are manufactured in the U.S.

In 1963, straight from the U.S. Army, Phil Carollo started out in the shipping department of Lion Match Corporation of America. He understood early on in the job that it was more cost effective to ship to multiple drop points along the way, saving the company money and becoming more efficient for clients. This basic shipping philosophy would make him the top salesperson for the company in less than three years, even though he wasn’t in the sales department. When the owner was ready to sell the business and retire in 1975, Phil was reluctant to purchase the business. He had four small children all under the age of eight at home and no spare funds to buy into a business of this magnitude. But the owner loved Phil’s tenacity and assisted in finding a partner to help shoulder the debt.

Cut to 1984 when Phil – now the company’s sole owner – changed its name to Lion Circle, and saw he first of his four children, Philip Jr. (Jay) come aboard full time. Like his father, Jay also started in the shipping department, learning the business from the ground up. They were focused on becoming more efficient and decided to invest in some paper lamination equipment to provide a different type of matchbook to their customers. Jack was the next to join in the shipping department full time – an area he now oversees, with Jo-Ann and Rich coming to work during the school breaks over the summers, between high school and college.

But by 1988, the match business was declining, due to anti-smoking campaigns. Almost by divine intervention, Phil had gone to Mass and noticed the old church fans in the pews. At the end of the service, he had a new plan of what he could do with his existing equipment. In a stroke of perfect timing, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on the reintroduction of church fans as an advertising vehicle just a few weeks later.

Today, Rich – the gregarious Carollo sibling everyone knows in the industry and who was on Counselor’s Hot List in 2012 – leads the day to day operations within the organization with oversight from Phil. Jo-Ann now spearheads the company’s internal operations, human resources and financial responsibilities. Currently, all four of Phil Carollo’s adult children are working in the family business full time.

“The best part of the business is having all my children working with me,” says Phil, the patriarch. “I’ve watched them all grow in different directions, but each of them has something to contribute to the business that’s been such a significant part of my life.” And the toughest part? “Having all my children working with me,” he laughs. “Sometimes it’s hard to get us all focused on the same page. Also, we spend a lot of time together during work and after hours. Our spouses and kids became sick of hearing about all the work issues when we are all together, so have an unwritten rule not to talk about work during the weekends or dinners unless absolutely necessary.”

With the second generation fully engaged, Lion Circle continues to grow and thrive as a family business, experiencing 10% growth for the last four years, with YTD sales stronger than those in 2013. The company has won the Counselor Distributor Choice Award in the Fan category for the past five years, and its new growth is coming from acquisitions as well as new business development. The HaPi Line was integrated in 2007, adding more paper products and promotional head wear; Sam Line was purchased in 2012, adding magnets and plastic substrates.

The third generation of Carollos — seven grandchildren, ages 10 to 18 – is following their parents’ lead in the company. “Most of them have been in to help at one point or another,” says Jo-Ann. “When we were kids we used to glue matchbooks in catalogs for samples over summer and holidays – getting paid 5 cents per catalog – and sweep the floors and make buttons. Our kids do the same – cleaning, sweeping, paper shredding, gluing sticks to fans, adding tassels and light assembly work.”

Rich points out that as the second generation is “still relatively young,” they’ll continue the commitment to make Lion Circle a successful family business for generations to come. “My dad will continue to direct the business and tell us all the crazy new products we should be developing based on a TV show he saw or an idea he had while walking on the beach in Florida. And because our kids will be graduating college in 10 years, I would think a few of them might choose to join us.”


Meet Cindy Jorgenson, Counselor’s 2014 Woman of Distinction

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Interviews, Personal, Travel

Hi Everyone!

I’m just back from Chicago, where I spent a week at the ASI Show, the Counselor Best Places to Work conference and squatting at my BFF Sharon Biernat’s house, an oasis of cool in the middle of the city that I never want to leave. Sharon, a distributor sales rep with Skokie-based Creative Promos, and her fabulous husband Bob (All Hail Bob!) open their home to me and the parade of industry crazies I invite over every year and they do it with grace, hospitality and style. Sharon’s house is the best unofficial B&B in Chicago and I thank her for letting me treat it as my home-base — with limitless gourmet snacks and never a pesky “last call” with which to contend.

One of the highlights for me last week was the privilege of presenting Brown & Bigelow’s Cindy Jorgenson with the 2014 Counselor Woman of Distinction Award. And hoo boy, does she deserve it. Read below for the full text of what I wrote about Cindy for the upcoming issue of Counselor. And I’d just like to add that in addition to being one of the most talented people in the industry, Cindy proves one thing: For those who say that nothing good ever happens at God-awful Shenanigans (yeah, it’s a hellhole, but it’s OUR hellhole…), know that Cindy and I first met there 13 years ago have been each other’s industry girl crush ever since.

And now, without further delay, the many reasons why Miss Cindy Jorgenson is this year’s Woman of Distinction…

— M

Cindy JorgensonYou would think — considering that she’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, swam with whales, cage-dived with great white sharks and repelled through cavernous waterfalls – Cindy Jorgenson, what with her penchant for putting herself in precarious positions, is a charter member of the Justice League. In fact, as an 18-year industry vet and the current vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Brown & Bigelow, she’s intent on tackling a Herculean challenge closer to home – completely upending the industry’s reputation as one of an old boy’s club.

“If you look at the management teams and boards of directors across the industry they’re still very male dominated,” Jorgenson says. “But on the sales side it’s very female dominated. In general, women don’t take as many risks and can lack assertiveness … We tend to play it safe. However, our attention to detail, ability to multitask and to emotionally connect with people give us an edge that can’t be ignored. My goal is to continue to motivate women into this industry and once here, help them move beyond support positions into sales and management.”

Bill Smith Jr., president of Brown & Bigelow and Jorgenson’s boss, concurs. “Cindy has been a role model for many people at Brown & Bigelow, especially women. She has mentored sales assistants in their transition into sales, new sales people learning our industry as well as experienced sales people making the transition to selling national accounts. Credibility is her greatest strength. Sales people respect her because she’s actually done what she recommends.”

And it’s this kind of commitment to mentorship that Jorgenson, who’s a past president of UPMAPP, is quite familiar. “I worked for a small distributor prior to joining B&B,” she recalls. “I started, at age 21, as an assistant to the owner who was also the largest producing salesperson. I held this position for 18 months before moving into sales, and I now know – without question – that first 18 months is why I’m in management today. Not only could I see the sales process, but I had the opportunity to view and come to respect the management side of the business as well. The owner/salesperson I worked for in the beginning told me that when I become successful, I must reach back and take someone’s hand, just as he took mine. Serving on the UMAPP board allowed me to do that; my position at Brown & Bigelow now allows me to do that every day by coaching sales partners on prospecting, time management, generating leads and proving a return on investment.”

“Talk about a go-getter – if you can keep up with Cindy, good luck,” says Rena Ashfeld, national sales manager for MN-based supplier Advance Corporation. “I’ve had the privilege of being on UMAPP Board with her, being one of her suppliers and her best friend … to see her at work is amazing. She mentors and cares deeply about this industry. This girl can multitask during the day for her clients, spin around like Wonder Woman and network at night like a rock star. She’s truly a force to be reckoned with.”

Jorgenson advises that the best course of action for younger sales professionals is to start on the inside. “The learning curve is enormous in this industry,” she cautions. “My advice would be to learn on the company’s dime. Collect a salary, learn the business, make mistakes and get some product knowledge under your belt. When you have that, then transition into sales. You’ll go with more confidence and less costly mistakes.”

Speaking of those, Jorgenson points to a doozy of a faux pas she made early on in her career: “I took too long to realize the importance of the supplier-distributor relationship,” she admits. “That first distributor I worked for had the mentality of ‘we are the suppliers’ customer and they must do what we say.’ That couldn’t be more wrong. Our suppliers are just as important, if not more so, than our clients. Without them, we have nothing to sell, and without their processes, procedures and quality control measures nothing would ever get delivered. If you’re still beating up your suppliers stop and start partnering with them – I promise your business will grow.”

For Jorgenson, the woman who never met a goal or challenge she didn’t like – all while wearing heels as high as carjacks – her love of the industry remains constant. “It’s the products, the people, the independence, the fact that salespeople define their own lives and income, the creativeness, the constant change you must make in yourself to stay competitive, the crazy, chaotic deadlines, the pull-your-hair-out, must-have-a-freaking-cocktail-right-now pressure,” she says. “I love it all.”


In Defense of Dov Charney…

Filed under: Personal

Well, hey there!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are enjoying a fabulous summer!

Dov CharneyI was on vacation last week, and had the opportunity to get a call from my friend, Dov Charney, the embattled founder of Counselor Top 40 supplier American Apparel. Our chat was off-the-record, but it reminded me of a column I wrote about him in the May, 2013 issue of ASI’s supplier magazine that I edit, SGR. What I said then, still stands today:

In the 17 years I’ve been in the industry as an editor with ASI, the person I get asked about most often, hands down, is Dov. He and I have been friends over 12 years now, as I first met him when I profiled him for Counselor magazine. He wasn’t the famous – some would say infamous – personality he is now, but even then, I knew he was about as unique and unconventional as they come. He is, and always has been, a human A bomb and spending time with him is like being inside a Dyson – crazy, exhilarating, breathtaking and confusing. That’s quintessential Dov Charney.

Now let me acknowledge what everyone is thinking: Yes, he is a lunatic, and yes, he makes questionable decisions to say the least. But he is also – and I’ll stand by this statement every time – the most innately talented marketer I’ve ever met. While the rest of us are limited to five senses, Dov has a sixth – the ability to spot trends well ahead of the masses and craft them into products and a lifestyle brand that the hippest of demographics covet. And say what you will about his business acumen, but after a rollercoaster of profits and losses, his sales have been on a steady incline of late, increasing the sales of his promo division from $90.2 million in 2011 to $96.8 million in 2012 to $99.2 million in 2013.

Whenever he shows up in the news – and let’s face it: he’s not unfamiliar with the inside of a lawyer’s office – friends ask me what he’s really like. Here’s what I say: It’s simply not in his DNA to ask permission to do what he wants with American Apparel, even now as it’s a publicly-traded company; it wouldn’t even dawn on him to ask, or to care, what people think. And I remind people that a lot of what’s been written about him is sensationalized and exaggerated for effect. In reality, Dov is quite charming, very sweet, more than a little nerdy and, in my interactions with him, utterly harmless – but with a big intellect, a bigger mouth and personality that could most politely be described as weapons-grade wacko.

There are a few people in the industry who creep me out to the depths of my soul – including one head of a Top 40 company with whom I wouldn’t be alone without a taser and pepper spray. Dov Charney – with his jaw-dropping talent and despite his over-the-top eccentricities – isn’t one of them. I’d happily spend time with him any day of the week because when he’s creating and innovating, there’s nothing more mesmerizing. And as a Leo, known for our loyalty, I’m sticking by my friend – whether he’s the genius, the mad man or both.

More next week from ASI’s Chicago Show, featuring my favorite event of the year, the Counselor Awards banquet (aka, the Counselor “prom.”).

Cheers!

— M