Customer Spotlight: Sam Kabert

6 min read

Sam Kabert is the Business Development Manager of ValueBP Marketing Group and the Creator and Co-Host of the podcast “WhatUp Silicon Valley!” A risk taker who embraces permanent beta, Sam is leading the transformation of his family-run office supplies business into a promotional products’ powerhouse.

What’s on your plate today?

I’m going to an event in Palo Alto on Artificial Intelligence; I’m a huge networker. Why not try it? You never know.

You joined your family’s office supplies business in 2012, how did promo become your focus?

Chico Feet – that’s how I got in the industry. In the fall of 2010, while a Chico State Student, I got an offer to do my college internship down in San Diego. Both my parents were trying to get me to sell office supplies in college and I wasn’t feeling it. My mom starts telling me about Neet Feet, these custom flip-flops that leave an impression of the logo in the sand as you walk, and I had a thought: Chico Feet + Sandals!

[Editor’s note: Chico Feet, according to Urban Dictionary, is slang for “when someone (usually a Chico State student) goes downtown wearing sandals, during the weekend, party-hopping, walking the town; one’s feet gets extremely dirty and thus the term ‘Chico feet’ was created. Usually, one is too drunk during the night to notice and figures it out in the morning.”*] 

The whole concept was to create these sandals and use them as a tool to reach buyers in a fun, engaging way. We also sold them online and in brick and mortar shops. It was kinda crazy, here I was an intern and I was bringing on interns (my colleagues) for this new business. The day I walked the stage for my graduation, I was interviewed by the local TV affiliate about the sandals. Eventually, I met the founder of Sierra Nevada Brewery who said, “Hey, I saw you on the news!” I soon had a meeting with their marketing department.

You then returned home after graduation and started working for the family office supply business, what caused you to focus on promo?

I did the office supply grind and man, was it tough: eight meetings a day and there was just no sense of urgency with the buyers. In the commoditized office supply business, it’s really hard to get people to change their routines. Meanwhile, I’m getting promotional products orders and starting to do well, I thought, “Screw this, I’m not getting a whole lot of new accounts with office supplies, I’m putting my energy into promo.”

Did promo peak your interest because it was profitable or because it was edgier, more creative?

I’m drawn to excellent design. I love seeing a tangible, creative project come together. It’s a rewarding business.

What was your sales growth like with promo?

In 2013, I did $118,000 in promo. In 2014: 285,000. 2015: 500,000. Last year 765,000. Solid growth. And I’m on track to hire and do more.

What do you attribute your growth to?

[Here’s Sam’s reply to that question]:

You also do video production and graphic design, how did that come about?

Within a month or two of coming back from skucon in 2016 (I love skucon, it’s the one conference that I always return from with something to implement), we launched a new brand and website. Our website, at the time, was all about office supplies and it had a tiny section on promo. At skucon, I thought, “We’re not focusing enough on promo.” I think it was Kirby’s [Hasseman of Hasseman Marketing] class on building an agency that inspired it. I had connections through my network, a few of my close associates, we created this professional group of like-minded peers who market with and for each other. We started advertising our services together. I then joined the Silicon Valley Capital Club and, thanks to networking through the club, within 2-3 months, got our first $20,000 video production sale, in another six months we also had our first $6,000 promo order.

When you’re not selling promo, you’re a co-host on a podcast focused on startups and entrepreneurs called, “WhatUp Silicon Valley,” where you recently interviewed Ebay’s Sergio Gonzales, what was the inspiration for creating a podcast?

“What Up Silicon Valley” is another inspiration from skucon. At skucon, Kirby and Bill [Petrie] did a live podcast, I videoed it and sent it to my friends and said: “We’re doing this.” I told the guys, let’s do a podcast and talk about what’s going in the community, let’s talk about the calendars and events. At first, these guys weren’t having it. The video guy said “I’m not in” and I said, “fine you can be our producer.” [Laughs]. We created an account on soundcloud and started figuring it out and soon, we’ll have sponsors.

Is your strategic plan to turn this into a prospecting opportunity? Or is this just something you’re doing for fun?

It all stems from building a personal brand. It’s a South Bay focused podcast: San Jose, Santa Clara. Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley don’t get the credit they deserve if they are not in tech. I live in the daily grind of Silicon Valley, not in the glitz and glamour. The podcast is a lead generation tool, I’ve gotten several new clients and orders, it’s opened up doors, like with Sushi Randy, his restaurants are amazing. I sent him emails and marketed to him to try and get his business before and it never went anywhere. But now that I have a podcast, he’s like: “Yeah, I’d love to be on your show!” So, now I’m doing specs for him, now we have a relationship. We’ve also done some work with the San Jose Derby. After having them on the show they needed cups for their event, so, it’s definitely a lead-gen tool.

Any other side-hustles or hobbies that you enjoy?

My latest venture: Swag Sam. I’m working on my personal brand. In 2012, at an office supply convention, one of the ladies there named me “Swag Sam” cause I couldn’t relate to office supplies and I kept talking about promotional products. Some of my friends call me Swag Sam and it’s my Instagram handle. I decided, “I’m going all in on this.” I’m working on the website, working on the brand. I’ll launch a podcast in the fall and a weekly blog. I’ll publish a book, May 1st of 2018. I’m really excited about it.

You have a lot of grit, where does that come from?

Reflection. I kinda have a chip on my shoulder, like Steph Curry (we’re big Warriors fans here). But, I have a chip for no specific reason, I just like to prove to myself that I can do it. It’s within. My parents were entrepreneurs; my grandparents were entrepreneurs. It’s instilled in me. My dad taught me just to get out and do it. I had classes in college on business planning but at some point, you just have to take a risk and go for it.


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Also published on Medium.