Interviews | January 12, 2021
AG PrintPromo Solutions Embraces Challenges
Anup Gupta has never been one to back down from a challenge.
In June 1996, after about six years working for a printing company in Ohio, Gupta found himself unemployed. He and his wife were expecting a baby, so he felt it was urgent to find a new job and secure health insurance. Gupta threw himself into the job search. But to his dismay, many of the job postings were for sales positions that would take him away from his wife and baby for as many as three days a week. So instead of looking for a new job, Gupta switched his focus to fulfilling a lifelong dream by starting his own company.
“My wife and I decided that this was the time,” Gupta says. “If I didn’t do it at that time, I would never do it.”
In October 1996, Gupta opened AG PrintPromo Solutions in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and was off to the races. It was a risky decision, because his wife was not working at the time, so income was tight. For two years, Gupta operated the company out of the couple’s one-bedroom apartment. Then, as AG PrintPromo Solutions grew, he moved the company into a 1,000-square-foot space; four years later, he doubled it; and, in 2012, the company settled into its present space, complete with 3,000 square feet and a showroom. Along the way, Gupta hired a dedicated staff, including several graphic designers.
As Gupta puts it, AG PrintPromo Solutions has four distinct categories of products and services: printing, promo, apparel and graphic design. When a customer comes to the company with a need, no matter what that specific need is, AG PrintPromo Solutions always starts the same way: By asking a lot of detailed and open-ended questions.
“I’d rather ask more questions now than assume. Nobody succeeds when you assume things,” Gupta says.
Instead of offering a rapid-fire cookie-cutter solution, AG PrintPromo Solutions takes the time to fully understand the customer’s situation and provide a thoughtful response. That approach has taken the company from its shaky early grounds to its strong position now. Since its inception in 1996, AG PrintPromo Solutions has essentially seen consistent growth every year.
Gupta still likes to tackle a challenge, however. While any order is good for business, it is not necessarily exciting when a customer calls and orders 1,000 pens. Instead, Gupta says, he prefers when a customer calls and asks for help achieving a particular goal.
“What’s exciting is when somebody challenges us and they want us to come up with ideas,” Gupta says. “They say, ‘I need some ideas’ to achieve whatever goal they’re working on, whether it’s a marketing goal or new product development, a product launch, a trade show [or] they’re trying to reach certain markets.”
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus last year provided the company with a chance to tackle a new challenge. After Ohio instituted a stay-at-home order, the AG PrintPromo Solutions team started to work from home. Gupta says he spent the first week feeling lost and overwhelmed before deciding to take action. Knowing the country would soon be clamoring for personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, Gupta collaborated with his designers to make flyers promoting AG PrintPromo Solutions’ masks. Then, every employee at the company sent the flyer out via email to their contacts. One week later, they repeated the process with hand sanitizer. Eventually, they expanded to other PPE products, including disinfectant wipes.
“We just got bombarded with orders,” Gupta says. “That’s how we survived. The months of April and May, we were just so, so busy.”
AG PrintPromo Solutions faced another PPE-related challenge in midsummer. The company got a request to bid on a project for a large company seeking PPE kits. Gupta, who says coming up with creative and unique ideas is his specialty, worked extremely hard to think of product ideas and pricing that would beat the competition. The hard work paid off when AG PrintPromo Solutions won the contract. By the time all the products were printed, the company only had one week left to complete and deliver the 40,000 kits. So, Gupta assembled a team of 12-13 people and put in long hours, including 12-hour days on a Saturday and a Sunday, to meet the promised delivery date.
“That project will always, always stand above and beyond other projects we have done,” Gupta says.
The large company was very pleased with AG PrintPromo Solutions’ work, putting the cherry on top of the team’s accomplishment. For Gupta, making the customer happy isn’t just the ideal outcome; it’s the only acceptable outcome.
Going Above and Beyond
From the beginning, AG PrintPromo Solutions has prioritized customer service above all else. That’s why individual employees don’t have voicemails. There’s one voicemail recording for the entire company, but AG PrintPromo Solutions strives to have someone there to pick up the phone every single time it rings. Customers have lauded that approach, Gupta says, finding it easier to work with the company when there is consistent human connection instead of submitting questions online or via email.
Though AG PrintPromo Solutions has always emphasized customer service, it does not take a permanent, unchanging approach. Instead, Gupta says, the company is always picking up new ideas or practices. If Gupta speaks with an especially helpful customer service representative at a different company, he’ll tell his staff about the interaction. On the flip side, if he deals with an unhelpful representative, he will let his employees listen in to reinforce the importance of good customer service.
The company’s focus on strong customer service extends from Gupta down to his employees. About 10 or 15 years ago, Gupta says, AG PrintPromo Solutions was helping a radio station with a Saturday event. The company received the promotional items for the radio station on Thursday, and Gupta’s employee called his contact at the station to let her know she could pick them up any time. He didn’t hear back, so he called again Thursday night and then Friday morning. On Friday afternoon, he finally reached her only to learn she was ill and couldn’t pick up the promo items. She assured the employee that it was not his fault, but bad timing and bad luck meant the radio station would not have its promo items for its event the following day. After the call ended, Gupta’s employee loaded his own car with the items and drove one hour to the radio station to drop them off.
“We go above and beyond the call of duty to make our customers feel important,” Gupta says. “We make it happen, no matter what. Because the fact of the matter is, if we don’t, somebody else will.”
This commitment means AG PrintPromo Solutions has worked with a number of happy customers over the years. Gupta has used these happy customers as a sort of sales staff, relying on recommendations and referrals from his “raving fans” to generate new business. It’s this dedication to providing the most reliable and personalized service that led AG PrintPromo Solutions’ business to grow 25% in 2020 from 2019’s levels, in spite of all the challenges last year.
Gupta has been affiliated with PSDA for 30 years — first with the printing company where he used to work, and then with AG PrintPromo Solutions. Though he doesn’t regularly attend PSDA events, Gupta reads PSDA’s newsletters and each edition of PS Magazine. If he had to pick a favorite PSDA resource, it would be the PSDA Community.
The PSDA Community has been a “big, big help” for AG PrintPromo Solutions, Gupta says. “Whenever there’s an issue, you are able to throw that question to your fellow distributors and you can ask their opinion,” he says — a priceless outlet for a small company like AG PrintPromo Solutions. Gupta values PSDA members’ ability and willingness to share their experience and opinions.
“You don’t feel that you are alone in business when you have organizations like PSDA that you can count on,” Gupta says.
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