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Showgirl Or Supplier Sales Rep?

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Melinda Ligos, as she hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Big Surprise Greets The Road Tour Crew

Showgirl at SeaenaWe spent yesterday driving through the Mojave Desert, braving 100+ degree heat made worse when we unwisely stopped at “The Tallest Thermometer in the World,” which was unimpressive and caused Andy and Joe to sport matching, instantaneous sunburns. So when we headed to the lobby of the Palazzo Hotel on the Vegas strip this morning to meet Lisa Surber, a sales rep for Seaena, a supplier who specializes in awards, we surely wouldn’t be blamed if we spotted a mirage.

Indeed, as we rounded the lobby corner that led us to the lobby fountain, there stood in front of us a Vegas showgirl in full regalia, blue-feather headdress and all. This was no mirage, however, nor was it an ordinary showgirl. It was Surber, who immediately thrust a bag at us containing a bejeweled Elvis costume and said, “Are you guys ready to have some fun?”

Despite the fact that it was 9 a.m., we said yes, and Surber hopped into full gear. First, Joe put on his Elvis costume (Andy was very deft in volunteering Joe, which of course meant that he didn’t have to take his britches off and don the polyester spectacle), and we headed for the Palazzo’s garage, which held Surber’s Mini Cooper. We were loaded down with bags at this point (after meeting with Surber, we had to get to the airport), but Surber, despite the fact that she was in little more than a sequined bikini, happily put the car’s top down, buckled us all in, and then handed all of our luggage to us, bag by bag, while regaling us with fun facts about the small Las Vegas-based company.

Joe and SturberSeaena is like a family environment, Surber tells us. Indeed, the company’s two owners, Chris Robbins and Allison Fruetel, are engaged, and Surber’s brother also works there as a graphic designer. As she navigates her mini out of the garage and into the blazing Nevada sun, Surber tells us about the antics that she and her co-workers participate in to blow off steam and keep their creative juices flowing. One example: The company’s employees often collect gnomes and then proceed to steal them from each other, photographing their whereabouts. (One recently attended a Minnesota Vikings game.) But all of this shoptalk, while interesting, is hard to focus on as Surber expertly navigates down the strip, sparkling like a blue disco ball and waving at passersby and repeatedly yelling out to all of us, “Are y’all ready for some fun?”

We are, despite the fact that Andy and Elvis are quickly wilting in the backseat as they huddle underneath the bags, loaded down with 70 pounds of dirty clothes from our cross-country trip. So Surber pulls off at one of the top tourist attractions in town—the famed Las Vegas sign—where we prepare to take photos of one another and Big Bird, who has inexplicitly stationed himself at the front of the attraction as well.

Surber’s a great sport—she even poses with tourists who mistake her for a real showgirl—and it becomes crystal clear that this is a gal her loves her job. We’re sorry to say good-bye as she rolls the Cooper toward the airport, while telling us about an upcoming “cannonball run” style race she’s about to participate in, which will take her from Vegas to Boulder, CO.

In Vegas, with a showgirl and Elvis, the car-riding portion of our trip has come to an appropriate end. Now onto The ASI Show Chicago, along with one more stop on the Best Places to Work Road Tour in the Chicago area tomorrow.


Sunday Visit To An Innovative Supplier

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Andy Cohen, as he hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Relaxed Atmosphere Leads To Success For Tri-Mountain

Tri-MountainEven on a Sunday afternoon, you can feel the vibe in the Irwindale, CA, office of Top 40 supplier Tri-Mountain. While no machines are humming and employees aren’t milling about, Glenn Oyoung, chief operating officer of the 100-employee company, is his ever-energetic self describing the culture of his family-run company. “We strive for a Trader Joe’s culture. We’re laid back, but everybody works hard and knows what’s expected of them,” Oyoung says. “It’s an entrepreneurial culture where everybody just does whatever it takes to get the job done.”

And while everybody’s getting the job done at this rapidly growing and expanding company, they also know how to have fun and joke around with each other. “It’s a casual, real environment,” Oyoung says. “You should have a good sense of humor if you’re going to work here.”

And once you work at this company, you’re like family to the owners. Daniel Tsai and his wife Rosy started the business in 1993. It now also consists of their kids, Jennifer and Danny (vice president of merchandising), and Jennifer’s husband, Glenn. “The family business nature of our company definitely helps to create a good, positive culture,” says Danny, who grew up in the business, packing boxes at an early age and then coming back after a stint with Cintas following college at University of Southern California. “We treat all of our employees like family, and I think they can feel that. It creates a loyal culture that you don’t find everywhere.”

Tri-MountainTri-Mountain also takes care of the little things to celebrate employee successes and make sure everybody feels comfortable. In addition to regular company parties, speeches by management to keep everybody updated, and multiple occasions to get staffers together outside of work, Tri-Mountain also has a special bell in its customer service department that gets a lot of attention at this company. While on this Sunday visit we’re allowed to ring the rather loud bell, it’s the top customer service employees that get to ring the bell every Friday. “Two people get noticed every week and they can ring the bell as loud as they like,” Oyoung says. “It’s a little thing, but the whole company gets into it, and the people who get the honor of ringing the bell every week, get a special recognition they feel proud about.”

It’s that kind of fun atmosphere that also recognizes hard-working employees that has lead Tri-Mountain to big success recently. The company increased its sales by 20% in 2010, and is on pace to duplicate and even surpass that result this year. Plus, management is investing in the business by practically doubling the size of its product line this year by adding more than 200 new products. “We’re in an aggressive growth mode right now,” Oyoung says. “And I think our employees really enjoy being a big part of that success and that growth.”


Agency Atmosphere Rules Laid Back Company

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Melinda Ligos, as she hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Fun In The Sun In So Cal

Clean Fun Promotional MarketingIt’s Saturday morning in Costa Mesa, CA, and we’ve broken in to Clean Fun Promotional Marketing, a 50-employee distributorship owned by Greg Washer that caters almost strictly to the entertainment industry. While we’ve already heard much about the culture of the company, which Washer launched 24 years ago, nothing has prepared us for what we’re about to see.

Inside the walls of the ultra-modern cavernous steel building designed by Washer himself, we find an open–floor-plan office space that resembles a set for the coolest workplace movie on earth. The two-floor space (second floor is a loft) is painted in bright red, yellow and green, with concrete flooring, a red, winding metal staircase, hip cubicles with fun, movable partitions and a conference room with floor-to-ceiling steel sliding doors that showcases every movie and record label promotional product imaginable. There’s ‘Something About Mary’ hair gel, ‘X-Men’ t-shirts, penguins of the ‘Mr. Poppers’ variety, Glee gift bags, and a host of LMFAO party rock paraphernalia, including an “Every Day I’m Funnelin’ beer bong, which is a play on words to a line in the hit song “Party Rock Anthem.”

Star Wars MasksIf one has any doubts that the environment in this ultra-cool, creative workplace is conductive to fun, one only needs to take a peek in Washer’s office, which we gladly did. It’s fashioned to look like a bar (stools included), has a refrigerator stocked with Patron and beers, and – wait for it – a steel garage door that opens to the California sunshine with the click of a remote control. We’re told that the door is open more often than not, and the area outside serves as a great spot for Gil the taco guy, who sets up shop outside whenever Washer feels like treating his employees. A Jane Fonda sweatshirt (the first promotional product Washer ever sold) hangs proudly on the wall, as do a few dozen unopened sweepstakes envelopes that proclaim Washer a winner of hundreds and thousands of dollars.

It’s clear he doesn’t need to pin his hopes on some one-in-a-million sweepstakes entry, though. Clean Fun is a winner, and we’ll be back someday when the doors are open for business. Note to Washer: Keep the Patron chilled for us.

Happy Hour For The Crew In Dallas

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Melinda Ligos, as she hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Happy Hour At A Dallas Distributorship

Bob Lilly PromotionsThe clock is edging toward 4 p.m on a Friday as we roll into Bob Lilly Promotions, and it’s obvious that the employees there are ready to call it a day. No, they’re not powering down their computers or hopping to their cars. They’re setting up a happy hour in one of the spaces of their sleek headquarters, which resembles a chic ad agency more than a promo products distributorship. The walls are lined with rows of promotional products—many sporting the logos of big brands like Hennessy—encased in glass, and flat screen TVs seem to be in every room.

Vice President of Sales Tommy Lewis’ elevator pitch is further evidence that this isn’t a typical promotional product company: “We sell measurable programs to help big companies grow bigger,” Lewis says, ticking off a list of clients in the adult beverage and oil and gas industries. More than 50% of the firm’s business comes from what Lewis calls “agency-style pitches.”

While Bob Lilly, a former middle linebacker for Texas Christian University (dad Bob senior played tight end for the Dallas Cowboys) who owns the company along with his wife Julie, is happy to sit down and talk to us, employees, vendors and clients are ducking in to find out where the drinks are being served. A Gemline rep tiptoes by and looks at Lilly expectantly, while Lilly points to the adjacent space with a smile. “It’s over there,” he says, motioning to an area where a growing cluster of people is knocking down ice cold Shiner Bocks and Blue Moons while the sun bakes the Dallas freeway just outside.

Dallas CowboysIf there’s any workplace in which the old “work hard, play hard” cliché fits, it’s here at Bob Lilly, where it’s clear that Bob and co. take their business, and their partying, equally seriously.

While some distributorships stuck their heads in the sand during the recession, Lilly says his company “hit the gas peddle,” hiring new employees and offering incentives like Rolexes to salespeople who had $100,000+ months.

All of the company’s salespeople, including Lilly and Lewis, make it a point to go on a minimum of 15 in-person sales calls per week, and all of these efforts seem to be paying off. After business dipped 40% in 2009, Lilly saw 55% growth last year, and is on pace for another 50% year over year gain in 2011.

Which today, at least, is as good an excuse as any for Lilly and his employees to pop a few cold ones. As we head out, he even hands us a few road sodas and eagerly joins his crew. It’s clear that today’s party is about to get into full swing.


Sunday In Brea, CA

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Andy Cohen, as he hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Little Things Reap Big Rewards For Pacific Western Sales

Ask Lyndsey Tidwell what makes his company tick, and he has a ready answer – even for visitors who popped into his office on a Sunday morning. “The little things add up to a lot here,” says Tidwell, who is the co-owner of supplier firm Pacific Western Sales, along with his father-in-law Tom Clements. “We really value our employees and recognize that without them, we can’t go anywhere. That’s why we make sure to do the little things that they notice.”

Like the simple gesture of moving a time clock. Tidwell had heard complaints from his customer service employees that they had to punch into a time clock downstairs in the warehouse. A very simple thing had caused angst among his work force, so Tidwell bought an additional digital time clock last year and placed it in the customer service department where it was easily accessible. “It seems small, but it’s big to them,” Tidwell told us while touring around his company that includes an 80,000 square foot warehouse in Brea, CA. “I want them to feel wanted, so you have to make sure they don’t have anything that makes them upset.”

Pacific Western Sales

Tidwell and Kaili Yang, the company’s west coast sales manager, have opened the doors of Pacific Western Sales for us on a Sunday, and it’s clear that they have a great workplace – even if nobody’s currently present on this Sunday morning. The 100-person company throws birthday parties once a month and hosts quarterly luncheons where employees are acknowledged for great work and management can provide updates. “It’s vital for us to find time to talk about where we are as a company and where we’re headed,” Tidwell says. “I think you have to keep people informed if you want them to feel a part of something bigger than just their day-to-day jobs.”

And employees here definitely have that feeling. “We really focus on the little things to make sure we bring people together and create a community in the office,” says Yang. “There’s a good feeling of togetherness, and it’s exciting that we all know we’re a part of a growing company.”

Indeed, Pacific Western has so far in 2011 experienced a 40% growth rate over 2010, and Tidwell says the company is investing in new products and an office expansion that will allow it to accommodate new hires for the remainder of 2011. The reason for the success? Tidwell attributes it to his employees. “It’s the positive attitude of our people,” he says. “Our culture shows that people will do anything to get the job done. When you have a happy workplace, it all works well.”


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