Together with Anna-Claire Decker, Ray Decker co-founded Imagine Promotional Group, a creative distributorship based out of the San Francisco area. Ray just returned from Europe, so we caught him up with him at the right time.
You love custom projects, why?
Not to put down the off the shelf promo items that are imprinted with a logo which you can get from about 20 or more different suppliers, but they just do not compare to the rewarding feeling you get when you have completed a fully custom project from start to finish that is unique and or exclusive to that client. Even better is when you see it on Ebay selling for way more than what the client paid for.
You’re an athlete and an artist, that’s a rare combo, how do those activities complement each other? Do they each impact the work you do? How?
I wish I can say that I have been doing a lot of the “artist” side in me lately, making more time for that in 2017 is my goal. The athlete in me is in full swing. Impact? I think knowing that I have my physical health in check helps keep my mind clear. I have always been a creative person (at least I think so) which helps to keep the juices flowing when strategizing, creating and working with my team and clients.
Jackson Pollack – I just returned from London and Paris and was thrilled to have the chance to see some of his work. I think I relate to the chaos of his work and have done my own paintings with a similar style – it’s a complete stress release to let paint fly off the brush and see how it lands on the canvas, overlapping with the other paints and colors to create layer after layer. It’s the depths of the layers and the built up texture that intrigue me.
You seem to have a well-rounded approach to life. Is work/life balance a myth? What rhythms or rituals are important to you in your life?
The CEO of Cliffbar Kevin Cleary worded this perfectly and exactly how I perceive it – it’s not work-life balance but more of a work-life integration. I don’t think there is ever actual “balance”. Some days its more work than personal and others it’s the opposite. I look at the day ahead and make a plan in order to get all that needs to happen done. Most mornings start at 4:15 to be at pool or gym from 5 – 7 then home for a big breakfast, take a kid to school, and then to office.
You and your team have created some really cool projects for clients, what’s the secrets to developing creative campaigns that deliver on objectives and are profitable for you and your company?
Well I don’t want to give away all my “secrets” but the key is listening to your client and to ask tons of questions before you start offering up solutions. The second key is having solid supplier partners that are more creative than you are and can deliver quality (in addition to quantity) within a budget both your client and yourself can live with and on time. Also – try to think of the solution and not necessarily the product you see on SAGE or ASI/EPS. Custom products come about when you can dream up something that’s not off-the-shelf.
IPG Promo is 14 years old – what’s your advice to the young entrepreneur starting out who wants to emulate a company like yours and build a future with an agency-focus?
Never think that you are too small of a company to do big things and or work with larger companies. Create an image of your brand that portrays who you are or what you stand for, and have systems put into place that make you appear larger than you really are. It’s all in the details – such as a smart looking business card, letterhead/packaging and most importantly, a great website. Your website is key – stay away from the canned websites from industry sources (not to be named) that you just “drop in” your logo. Build your own brand and your own look and feel. Try to not be too “ad specialty” product focused, but maybe more service focused with promotional products as the end-solution to the client’s challenge. Once you have all this in place – keep it constantly changing with updates. Other things to consider: Contract out what you are not strong at or have no interest in learning (graphic art or accounting come to mind). If you strongly believe in yourself, keep going even when things are not looking so good. Your hard work and dedication will eventually start to pay off.
What’s the secret to building a great team?
Sometimes it just happens when you’re not really looking to build a team. When the opportunity comes along, you have to be willing to be open and listen. If it works out that the person you’re having a conversation with completely fits your culture, you just might need to find a way to make it work. Build it with people that fit your perceived culture of your company. By doing so, you will truly add value to your company and each person will be part of the process of generating income.
How do you maintain a creative eye?
Always “borrowing” from great things you see in your daily life and thinking how that can translate to a need or an idea you have for your clients or your own company. My mind is always working on creative things for either business or home.
You have many admirers (like myself and Mark Graham) of your branding and how you’ve positioned your company, what do you think are the strengths of a great brand in this business?
Thank you – that’s a great compliment especially coming from you and Mark. I think we are very lucky here at IPG to have every person on our team be as creative as they are. We constantly work together -along with our expert marketing guru Anna-Claire- to focus on our branding, whether it be the products we create to use as self-promotions or mailings, or our website and logo. We are also willing to change and update when the time is right. We invest a lot of time and money to keep our branding strong.
Favorite commonsku feature?
Our team’s favorite part is the presentation/estimates which quickly can be turned into orders. The flow has saved our team so much time … it really has paid for itself.
Is there anything you’d love to have answered but I didn’t ask the right question?
Where is my daughter going to go to college next year and how are her parents going to pay for it?
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