In 1990, Mary Anne Wassel bought A-Z Advertsing Specialties, Inc., a ten year old promotional product company. What started as a venture selling branded coffee cups and pens transformed into a business that delves into a client’s needs, providing branding and marketing solutions for clients ranging from education to construction in Lancaster County Pennsylvania and beyond.
Change came soon with the advent of corporate casual fashion. Mary Anne saw the potential and added image wear to the list of offerings from A-Z Advertising Specialties. As with the promotional products, the apparel decoration was sent to contractors. Mary Anne tried to find outsourced decoration that could pass her standard of quality but eventually decided that she should bring that part of the business in-house. In 1991 A-Z purchased a silk- screen rig and the following year, their first embroidery machines. “We are very quality oriented, especially with our embroidery. We’re very picky about it. I think the people who order our uniforms are very happy with the service and the quality we are giving them.” says Mary Anne.
In 2002, a new location with more space for equipment, staff and inventory was found, giving A-Z room to grow to meet customer demand. The business was adding staff for production and in January of 2009, Mary Anne’s husband, Dave, joined the team as Director of Field Sales, happily leaving his job with a transportation firm. Dave says “I had been on the road constantly and it was great to be able to work alongside Mary Anne.”
Currently, A-Z Advertising employs 12 staff members. The A-Z workplace is blessed with very low turnover; Debra, their Office Manager, has been with them for 15 years. Mary Anne states that they have had no problem retaining their employees but finding new ones has been a challenge as many workers are not accustomed to the fast-paced environment.
Happily, they have been able to recruit for some positions from their in-house team. Recently, Julie Barninger, a long-time production manager was promoted to sales. “We have known Julie for a long time and know she will do a great job” says Mary Anne. Dave added “It’s nice to draw from my sales training background while working with her.”
In addition to the mentoring from the Wassels, Julie will take advantage of training offered by ASI. Mary Anne was also happy to report that their BIC Norwood representative, Michele Wieckowski, spent time with Julie to go over the entire product line in detail. Mary Anne remarked that it’s understandable that not all suppliers can make personal visits but it’s a benefit that many of the Preferred Supplies with Universal Unilink offer online sales and product training. “During a recent visit with alphabroder I was pleasantly surprised to discover some of the training offered on their web site. It would be great if all of our vendors offered tips on how to sell and market their products via on-line training videos.”
Getting everyone on board with the company’s core values is a key element in the success and growth of the business. The Wassel’s and the A-Z Advertising team are not product pushers. Mary Anne says “If we can chat with a customer and ask them questions, find out what their problems are, understand their goals, we are able to offer them solutions.” Recently, a potential customer inquired about embroidered shirts. Mary Anne discovered that the shirts were to be used at a trade show which led to a conversation about the company’s services, their targeted prospects at the show and their customer acquisition budget. This opened the door for Mary Anne to suggest some trade show giveaways that would keep their brand front and center with their trade show prospects. Recalls Mary Anne, “The customer told me that nobody had ever asked him those questions and he was delighted. We were able to offer him a solution instead of just taking an order.”
We have had some customers who don’t understand the value these interactions can offer. Because the internet always seems ready with a cheap, fast product offering, many potential clients don’t realize the value they are missing when they forgo the promotional expertise offered by A-Z Advertising. “Many times people don’t want to talk about their needs. They just want a price quote by email.”
That’s why the Wassels prefer working with clients that understand and value the service from Mary Anne and Dave’s team. “We especially like to establish programs with businesses that require their people to wear a uniform. It’s a good niche for us.” “We try to put a priority on the uniform orders because we know those are coming from people out in the field that need their clothing.” The uniform programs with business and educational institutions continue to be a great source of ongoing and consistent revenue.
Running a growing business can be time consuming but Dave and Mary Anne still find time to take much needed breaks. An avid golfer, Dave considers the golf course his second home. In addition, both Mary Anne and Dave enjoy supporting their Steelers, Pirates and Penguins and are season ticket holders for Penn State football. Mary Anne says “We have a gang of friends that tailgate together at every home game. We really enjoy that.” David adds ”We like sports, that our hobby.”
The Wassels know that deeper interactions with their customers leads to better understanding and possibilities for all the parties involved. They have also come to understand that rubbing shoulders with other Universal Unilink Members can have the same effect for their business. Recently, the Wassels along with other Universal Unilink Members, were able to participate in a forum hosted by Preferred Supplier, alphabroder. Recalls Mary Anne, “We initially became Universal Unilink Members just to access better pricing.” She adds, “We found that we really enjoyed talking with the other Members. We came away with a lot of ideas. That’s not something you can get by attending a trade show.”