From the very beginning of his professional career, Len Hack has loved putting together all the corresponding pieces to create an eye-popping marketing promotion, delighting first his employers and, then, his clients. Along the way, Gary Ramirez joined him with complementary printing expertise and experience. The result of this collaboration? The continued success of RossMorgan & Associates.
Len Hack was hired by Eastman Kodak Co. after graduating from the University of Dayton in 1984 with a double major in marketing and communications. Upon completion of the company's sales and marketing training in Rochester, New York, he headed happily to California and Kodak's Walnut Creek sales office.
"Throughout my years selling for Kodak, and subsequently for Helene Curtis, I loved to bundle products to create dynamite in-store promotions," recalls Len. "For example, a supermarket promotion for Fourth of July would include, along with Kodak film and disposable cameras, an array of other related holiday-appropriate products. I'd work with companies like Kingsford charcoal, Oscar Mayer hot dogs, Lays potato chips, Pepsi Cola, etc., all of whom were non-competitive products. We were able to co-brand and do all kinds of promotional activities while sharing the cost and building relationships.
"Eventually, I realized that my real love was putting together all those components and pieces rather than selling the products, but the opportunities to do that were limited while working for one company. In 1993, I decided to start Ross Marketing, which was named for my son, Tyler Ross.
"Having the responsibilities of a family and a mortgage payment, I gave myself three months to succeed in my new venture. In the third month, after sending out numerous introductory pieces and working many, many leads, I was saved from going back on the job market by a contract with Frito Lay to do the national launch of their new packaging."
Now, Len had no limitations. He was able to sell all necessary marketing pieces and components from promotional items to shelf danglers to floor graphics and everything in between. As the business grew, he changed its name to RossMorgan & Associates, reflecting the addition of daughter Kelsey Morgan to his family.
While Len Hack was building RossMorgan, Gary Ramirez was building his own career in the printing industry. An interest in photography and graphic design had directed him toward a career in a visual industry and a visit to a friend's print shop to a printing major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. "I was fascinated by the equipment side of the industry and 'instant gratification' aspect: put plain paper in one side and it comes out beautifully printed on the other," Gary says.
After graduation, Gary plunged into the industry, working for an equipment manufacturer, a distributor and, eventually, a printing company. During his ten years at a Belgian company, Agfa, he sold film to printing companies. "We were technical sales reps, so we not only sold, but also conducted training on the equipment. I worked with the service personnel and showing them how the various features like dialing in the ink chemistry worked. I enjoyed that involvement very much."
From Agfa, Gary went to work for a distributor and sold not only Agfa products, but those of Eastman Kodak, Fugi and other major film manufacturers to printers. Eventually, a customer persuaded him to join his company as a sales representative.
"Len was doing promotional marketing and was one of my clients. We found we were able to partner to provide great turn-key solutions for both our clients' marketing needs. We began talking about merging our businesses and areas of expertise. As the dot com boom began to deflate, the idea made more and more sense. Marketing departments were being downsized to the point where one or two people were responsible for the functions previously accomplished by a whole staff of employees. They were desperate for easy, streamlined solutions to their needs. Vendors had to find ways to offer more services in order to maintain their loyalty. "
Today, RossMorgan & Associates is a marketing services company that responds to the printed marketing collateral, imprinted merchandise, trade show and fulfillment (storage and delivery) needs of large corporations nationwide.
Regarding their business philosophy, Len replies, "When thinking about that question, I realized that our philosophy shows up in the work we do every day. We try to find out what solution is best for our customers as opposed to what's best for us. As it turns out, what's best for them is almost always best for us, too."
Hack and Ramirez advise entrepreneurs and new business owners to be prepared to work hard and to concentrate on their specific areas of expertise, building the business on one component first. "Rather than taking the "Jack-of-all-trades approach and trying to fill all your prospective clients' needs at once, focus on that one product that you know they need and that you can deliver well," says Gary. "Succeed with that first, and then move on to offer other secondary products or services that you can provide."
"For instance, I may be meeting with a client about a brochure project and ask how they are going to use it," Len adds. " 'A sales meeting? Oh, are you doing client gifts for the sales reps there? A computer bag? Let me know because we do that kind of thing as well.'"
"By bundling all the promotional pieces, we save them time and money and all their pieces have a cohesive brand. Eventually, with this approach, you don't have to ask, because your clients are coming to you asking, 'I have a need for another product. Can you help me?'"
"Len started the business on the components he knew well. That's how he won the Frito Lay business," concludes Gary. "Since I joined the company in 2000, we've melded our complementary areas of expertise together and, between the two of us, we really know how to provide solutions for our clients and get things done."
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