June 30, 2013 by Christina Hamlett
A Conversation with Ilene Bergsmann
Advertising logos have been a part of our culture for so long that sometimes it’s easy to take them for granted, much less understand the thought process that went into designing them.
In 1870, for instance, Mitsubishi was building boats – not cars – and utilized three diamonds on its logo to represent a ship’s propeller. Two years later, the bearded Smith Brothers trademarked their own images to grace the tops of their cough drop boxes. Over in Ireland, the harp was incorporated into Guinness advertising to reflect national Irish pride. Ever wonder about the prancing horse that adorns Ferraris? Its predecessor, the Cavallino Rampante, was painted on the side of Count Francesco Baracca’s WW1 airplane and subsequently given to Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari by the Count’s parents. And lest we forget, Seattle-based Starbucks wanted a nautical theme to capture the city’s seafaring heritage and chose a siren from Greek mythology to lure customers into caffeinated bliss.
Wherever we look, logos are a not-so-subliminal device to keep products, services and causes at the forefront of consumers’ memories, and Founder/President Ilene Bergsmann of Bags and More, Inc. (www.bagsandmoreinc.com) has the fun job of designing and researching promotional products of all shapes, sizes and colors as well as identifying suppliers to manufacture them.
Q: Just scrolling through your online catalogue, who’d have thought there were so many imaginative ways to imprint a logo! How did you happen to get started in this business?
A: I owned a custom bag business. First one, then other customers, asked if I could provide promotional items such as pens, apparel and a host of other products. I didn’t know how to do it but thanks to the Internet, I learned quickly. To come up to speed, I joined a regional promotional products association where I learned much of the nuts and bolts and also attended annual expos where most of the suppliers had booths.
Q: Who are your primary clients and how do you find them?
A: For many years, most of my clients were non-profits and libraries as they ordered bags. When China began to churn out bags inexpensively, I could no longer compete even though our bags were not just customized for each customer but also they were better made and used a better grade of fabric. I find my clients primarily by networking and joining chambers of commerce and women’s networking groups. Further, I work with customers throughout the country who find me thru LinkedIn or my website.
Q: What do you feel are your particular strengths in this industry and which set you apart from the competition?
A: I focus on fresh, new products and identify potential customers based on whether a group or organization is right for them. For example, there are fold-up water bottles dressed as a nurse in scrubs and includes a stethoscope. I research the nursing organizations, identify upcoming programs/conferences, and make cold calls, most of which are well-received.
Q: Do most of your clients already have a concept for promoting their brands when they first contact you or are they looking for advice to start from scratch?
A: Most customers have a pretty good idea of what they want. For example, a non-profit may need bags and lanyards for their upcoming conference. What some of them don’t know is what type of bag they want. I identify their parameters, search for several bags that meet their specifications and present them to the customer. For the most part, cost is an important factor. I also know many of the suppliers who do quality work and deliver on time. I usually present items from these suppliers whenever possible. Further, there are several suppliers in the Denver metro area – if they provide items I need, I usually try to use them.
Q: Are all of your products manufactured/assembled onsite or outsourced?
A: Most promotional products are manufactured outside the US although there are quite a few, particularly those that make lip balm, hand sanitizer, etc. who manufacture locally. There are also union shops that primarily manufacture apparel.
Q: What are some of the changes you have seen in the 15 years since the company opened its doors?
A: The quality of the products has increased dramatically. And, as a result of regulations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, safety standards are fairly routine.
Q: Tell us about current trends and what you feel accounts for their popularity with consumers.
A: Bags, pens, mugs of all kinds continue to be very popular.
Q: As a small business owner, what are some of the ways you’re staying viable in an unsteady economy?
A: I work from home so there is no overhead, and I do my own bookkeeping with help from a bookkeeper once a year if I’ve made some mistakes. I continue to network on an almost daily basis.
Q: Let’s say that a new author is planning a local book-signing event and wants to give away some fun freebies that won’t break his/her limited budget. What would you recommend?
A: Depends on the book topic. Let’s say, for example, that you’ve written a book targeted to new parents. There are so many options for parenting that it’s difficult to select just a few. First, though, there might be a stuffed animal that goes with the book if the book uses graphics that include a particular animal or even if it doesn’t. You might also consider inexpensive giveaways like baby bottles or apparel such as onesies, blankets, etc. And, of course, these giveaways would all be imprinted with the book’s relevant information.
Q: What’s the most unusual logo imprint you’ve been asked to do?
A: I haven’t. They’ve all been pretty standard.
Q: What is something about the logo imprint business that most people don’t know?
A: It’s hard work like any other field. There’s a great deal of detail that must be paid attention to so that a finished product is right.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?
A: Putting a smile on people’s faces when they see the finished product. For 25 years, I worked in adult and juvenile corrections and there weren’t any smiles. When I left the field, I wanted to do something more upbeat.
Q: So what do you do when you’re not working?
A: For the past two years, I’ve been reading about WWII because, as a baby boomer, I benefitted greatly from war’s outcome. The economy took off, everyone was safe, there were so many kids always around. It was an easy life growing up in a country that looked ahead, and I wanted to understand what happened during the war years. I also enjoy the arts – symphony, museums, plays – and I play duplicate bridge. And, I’m a good baker.
Q: You’re also passionate about volunteerism. What are some of the causes that are dear to your heart?
A: I’m on the Board of our local Hadassah chapter. Hadassah is the largest women’s organization in the US and supports Hadassah Hospital and at-risk villages in Israel, among others. The hospital also supports some of the world’s groundbreaking medical research. I’m just leaving the Board of the Denver Jewish Chamber of Commerce after serving for one year and am now looking for additional avenues by which to use my management and planning skills.