Interviews | June 16, 2020
Thumbprint Puts Its Finger on Communication
When Ashley Armstrong was in high school, her true passion was figure skating — but, on occasion, she was persuaded to spend the night in, completing fulfillment projects for her father’s company, Thumbprint. When Thumbprint had big projects and needed extra help, Armstrong and her brother were roped in, sometimes with a few friends for good measure and a pizza dinner as an incentive.
Though Armstrong grew up around Thumbprint and witnessed the company’s growth throughout her childhood and teenage years, she initially had no interest in joining the company full time. Her brother went into the business after high school, but Armstrong pursued her skating passion. She spent time as a professional figure skater in Tampa Bay before accepting a coaching job.
But she soon found that her coaching schedule, tailored around children’s school hours, left her with gaping holes in the day, especially in the morning. Armstrong began to look for a part-time job, hoping to work every day until 1:30 p.m., at which point she would take off to the rink. To her frustration, many of the part-time job listings Armstrong encountered only covered one day a week, or hours that were incompatible with her schedule.
It was then that Armstrong turned back to Thumbprint. She asked her father, Greg Gill, whether Thumbprint had any part-time openings, and he told her about a job opportunity in the warehouse.
“I think he was testing me and didn’t think I’d really take it, but I said ‘I’ll take it!’ and started my career at Thumbprint working in the warehouse,” Armstrong says with a chuckle.
Armstrong spent the next five months in the warehouse, where her work ethic and drive earned her the nickname “White Lightning” as she worked to get shipments out as quickly as possible. From there, she briefly worked as a receptionist in the office, gradually becoming more intrigued about the inner workings of the business. Before long, Armstrong realized her passion had shifted away from figure skating. She accepted a full-time position at Thumbprint and rose through the ranks over the years. Armstrong is now the company’s client engagement director.
In joining Thumbprint full-time, she was committing to a company that, above all, else seeks to make life easier for its clients.
“We really try to take the stress and headaches from our customers,” Armstrong says. “I think that’s our forte and why customers come to us: We are able to take [headaches] off their plate and let them do their job and be successful at it.”
Thumbprint’s strategy of assuming its customers’ headaches is made easier by the fact that it styles itself as a one-stop shop for all customer needs, from print to promo to apparel and more. According to Armstrong, this approach makes life easier for clients. Instead of developing separate relationships with separate companies for separate services, Thumbprint’s customers can turn to one company and rest comfortably knowing their needs are being met.
“We’ve seen companies say, ‘Well, we only do promo. We only do print. We only do apparel.’ Why not do it all?” Armstrong asks.
Thumbprint has long embraced technological solutions to simplify processes and enhance convenience. Armstrong says one of the most popular services Thumbprint provides is a cloud-based online store. The stores create a single, organized location for promo and apparel needs. Moreover, customers can pull accurate spreadsheets, reports and accounts, giving them a clearer idea of their campaign successes and their budgetary needs.
One of Thumbprint’s clients is a retirement facility with 258 communities nationwide. Prior to working with Thumbprint, the corporate office of the retirement facility ran a gift-giving program for its residents every year. With as many as 150 individuals at each facility, the program was a daunting undertaking, requiring the facility to account for thousands of orders, place bulk orders for the products and ship gifts to each retirement home. When it became too much for the retirement facility to manage alone, it turned to Thumbprint for help.
Armstrong says Thumbprint sat down with executives from the retirement facility to get a clear understanding of the pitfalls of the program. Ultimately, Thumbprint realized the gift program could be cleaned up with clearer communication and organization. The company first chose four gift options for residents and distributed a flyer to the communities with clear communication about each option. Then they created an online website for the managers at each community to place their orders.
“The best part is that marketing at corporate was able to see who placed their order and who didn’t,” Armstrong says. With clearer visibility for both community managers and corporate marketing officials, the biggest headache — placing a bulk order only to discover a handful of communities had not yet reported their gift needs — disappeared. Instead, corporate marketing officials could see with a simple glance at the website whether any communities had not yet reported their gift needs, and could call those communities to ask for the numbers.
The website came in handy later in the process, too, as Armstrong was able to pull spreadsheets clearly showing how many of each gift needed to be shipped to each community. With such concise organizational tools available at every step of the way, the process lasted a painless three weeks.
“It was a win for them, and we got the same order next year and picked new items. We’re constantly getting that order now because they don’t want to do it any other way,” Armstrong says.
While Armstrong was helping with projects like the retirement facility gifts, she was also keeping an eye on PSDA events. Thumbprint has long sent attendees to events like CEO Summit every year, and Armstrong says she noticed a marked change in energy when Gill and other executives returned from the events.
“I always knew they went and came back recharged and excited,” Armstrong says. She always kept an eye on PSDA emails and watched webinars whenever possible, but she was intrigued to know more about the goings on at events. Armstrong asked for the opportunity to attend one herself and ended up at the 2018 P2P Technology + Innovation Summit in Indianapolis.
“I came back feeling so recharged. I feel like that’s a good way to put it,” Armstrong says. She enjoyed every aspect of the summit, from the speakers to the classes, and especially liked connecting with new vendors. According to Armstrong, Thumbprint struck up partnerships with new vendors based on connections made at the summit in 2018.
She connected with a group of female customer service representative (CSR) workers at the summit and has stayed in touch with them since. The group shares updates, recommendations and difficulties with one another, fostering a sense of community within the larger PSDA. “We all wanted to help each other out, which I really liked. You’re all cheering for each other and wanting each other to win,” Armstrong says.
It is that approach — collaborating and building up mutual trust and cooperation — that has helped Thumbprint weather crises in the industry. As the COVID-19 pandemic upended business across the world, Thumbprint stayed cool, calm and collected, focusing on how the company could help rather than dwelling on difficulties and challenges.
Thumbprint immediately identified trusted vendors and partners and worked with them to ensure that operations could continue with minimal interruptions. Drawing on partnerships formed over almost 26 years of operations, Thumbprint has weathered an influx of requests from customers new and old. Of particular significance, Armstrong says, is the fact that personal protective equipment like hand sanitizer, gloves and masks was available to Thumbprint through its promo partners.
“It’s mostly been, for us, working with the right people and finding those partnerships and then staying strong with them,” Armstrong says.
And with community building being one of the strengths of PSDA, Armstrong says she is hoping to attend more events, including a CEO Summit, on the other side of the pandemic. Ideally, she says, the company can start sending multiple employees every year on a rotating basis to maximize the benefits across the board. After years of observing her colleagues’ reactions when they returned from PSDA events, she says she understands why they always seemed so rejuvenated, because she felt the same way after P2P.
“I just came back pumped. I couldn’t wait to get back with my team and tell them everything I’d learned,” Armstrong says.
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