Showing appreciation is among the best ways to improve performance and customer satisfaction in the workplace.
That’s the premise for a family business that has found a unique niche helping businesses brand themselves and reward their workers.
Stec’s Advertising Specialties and Safety Awards began in 1981 in Rapid City and has grown to serve a national customer base.
In addition to offering a wide variety of branded promotional products, the company offers an Employee Recognition program to improve workplace performance in several areas such as workplace safety, production, employee longevity and wellness.
The company also has earned itself some recognition. It will be honored as the recipient of the Coca-Cola Excellence in Family Business Award from the Prairie Family Business Association at a dinner next month in Rapid City.
We talked with Jarod Stec about the company’s journey as a family business with a purpose.
How exactly does your business model work?
We are a wholesale distributor of promotional products. We serve as the sales arm of over 1,000 different manufacturers and factories based all over the country. Whether it’s through an industry association that we belong to or through one-on-one talks with the manufacturers, we negotiate wholesale prices for the products they make. We then act as their sales arm in our region by putting their products in front of our customers. We sell these products at or below MSRP/retail price to our customers, embellished with the customer’s logo or branding.
What led you into your business? How did you come up with the idea?
In the early 1980s, Shirley Stec, my grandmother, had a couple family friends who were selling promotional products in Denver. They offered to show her how the industry worked and how a single, dedicated person could have a large impact on the local businesses and community. She quickly realized the potential of such a business here in the Black Hills. Shortly thereafter, she had so many customers to cover that she needed help. Mike Stec, my father, joined her in business, and for the next 30 years they continued to grow to meet the needs of the region.
What trends are you noticing in your industry? Are there certain products that are becoming more popular or different ways businesses are using them?
The biggest trend in our industry is how our customers are accessing the items we offer. Our largest growing product right now is not any one item but a service we offer called Company Stores. For a nominal fee, we sit down with a company and help create a branded website that their employees or customers can access to buy company-branded apparel and items. We then manage the entire inventory and order-fulfillment process so that our customer doesn’t have to.
What kind of awards are available for employees, and what kinds of things do employers require for them to earn them?
Our Employee Recognition program offers a catalog of around 20,000 different name-brand items — everything from kitchen appliances to jewelry, children’s toys to camping gear, smokers to iPads, and over 10,000 name-brand apparel times. Every employer we work with has unique requirements for their employees to earn rewards. A lumberyard may require employees to meet safety goals to earn rewards, while a hospital rewards employees for years of service. Factories may require their employees to hit production goals in order to earn rewards, while a call center rewards their employees for hitting sales goals. The beauty of our program is that it can be tailored to fit any company’s needs. Whatever behavior or metric they are trying to drive, we are able to fit our program to those goals.
What kinds of changes have businesses experienced after implementing your program?
Our customers experience their employees’ renewed enthusiasm in reaching company goals, which translates to measurable results in the metrics they are tracking.
What has your journey been like as a multigenerational family business? Are there some lessons you’ve learned that you’d like to pass on to others?
Speaking for myself as the third generation, my journey has been one of gratitude and appreciation for the previous generations. It can sometimes be a delicate balancing act between holding to the traditions and ways of doing things that made our business successful and the demands to innovate and change with the times. That balance is much easier to achieve when you have previous generations who are open and supportive like Mike has been. Additionally, while I don’t think there is any one formula that is the correct way, my journey included a decade-long absence from the family business. Both Mike and I have agreed that my time away from Stec’s working for other companies has provided a valuable outside perspective on our business and will hopefully serve us well in the years ahead.
How has the Prairie Family Business Association been able to serve as a resource for you?
The PFBA has been a great resource. In the short time we’ve been a member, we’ve gained more benefit from the people we’ve met and the resources available to us than any other organization we’ve belonged to. Mike and I have both taken the opportunity to join peer groups with PFBA as well as utilized a succession-planning case study. Both groups, along with the case study, were instrumental in helping us come up with a succession plan that worked for both of us.
What’s next for your business?
We’re currently looking at expanding into a new location that will better serve our needs moving forward, with more space to house our customers’ Company Store inventory.