Pros of Promos
By Valerie Vinyard
Sometimes, all it takes is a cool T-shirt or a flashy pen to give a company an edge.
For the past 45 years, Tucson promotional products company Williams & Associates has provided that edge in many companies’ quests to attract customers.
Whether they’re banks or schools, companies and organizations realize they need to stand out from the competition. What better way than to pair their printed information with a free logo-emblazoned tote bag, apparel or drinkware?
According to Bert Williams, the 78-year-old founder of Williams & Associates, adding size and weight to a direct mailing is a proven way to get results.
After all, it’s easy to toss out a flimsy cardboard mailing trying to persuade you to open a bank account. It’s another to hold on to and make your way through a pad of handy sticky notes with the company’s name printed on them.
Promotional products such as notepads serve as a constant reminder to potential customers that often translates into business. And according to Irving, Texas-based Promotional Products Association International, it’s a $25 billion-a-year industry.
Williams & Associates’ headquarters is located in a 7,500-square-foot building on Wilmot Road south of Broadway. The company employs 28 and has offices in Tempe and Lahaina, Hawaii.
In the company’s conference room, three Gold Pyramids sit along the center of a long table surrounded by a dozen chairs. A mere 18 of these awards are presented each year in honor of the creative use of promotional products and are the equivalent to the Academy Awards in the industry.
Williams didn’t start out as a promotional products guy, however.
He had stints as a soda jerk in 1963, worked in retail credit at Sears, Roebuck and Co., and served as a credit manager at Montgomery Ward. From 1973 to 1977, Williams made a lucrative living selling Native American turquoise jewelry, eventually becoming the national jewelry supplier for Montgomery Ward.
One weekend, Williams attended a promotional product trade show in Las Vegas with his brother, Bob, who owned radio stations. “I was blown away,” he said. “It was a natural machine where there has to be a supplier and a distributor.”
He saw how magnets, calendars, mugs and other products could be customized to meet the needs of clients’ advertising or marketing efforts. Williams saw the power of promotional products, but was a bit leery about changing professions. “I didn’t want to go from selling thousand-dollar bracelets to 49-cent pens,” he said.
At first, he didn’t realize how expansive the promotional products industry was. “Bob was strictly a pens and pencils and T-shirts kind of guy,” Williams said. “I was interested in the creativity.”
Once Williams became involved, he liked to solve marketing problems for companies.
“We have to rise above our competitors for our buyers’ attention,” he said.
Even in Tucson, Williams & Associates faces competition – there are an estimated 30 to 40 product competitors throughout the city compared to 12 when he started in 1977. The company also has served thousands of national and international clients, including Raytheon, Invisalign, Maui Jim, Marriott, Westin Kapalua, Wailea, L&L Manufactured Components, Tucson Roadrunners hockey team and American Airlines.”
Williams said that, in the company’s 45 years, it has survived some rough patches. But through hard work and dedication, they have persevered and continually rank in the Top 1% in sales in the nation out of 22,000 companies.
“Besides the honors and awards we’ve won,” said Williams, “Anne and I are especially proud of the fact that our average salesperson has been with us 35 years. Many have retired – but us – we’ll probably be here till we drop.”
Williams met his wife, Anne, in 1961 during a high school group trip to Flagstaff. Both had attended Camelback High School in Phoenix. They married two years later after their freshman year at the University of Arizona. Anne still runs the accounting department and serves as the company’s corporate treasurer. Their three kids also work for the company: Jeff, 46, Mike, 50, and Kim, 57, who works in Lahaina.
In 2016, the company was awarded the “Family Business of the Year” at the Counselor Awards, which honor resilient and innovative leaders in the promotional industry. Advertising Specialty Institute named Williams & Associates the No. 13 “Top Place to Work” in the nation.
“I never planned to work in the family business – it was never a thought,” said Mike Williams, who has been with the company for 21 years. “But 21 years ago, I was in a rut. I needed to find a job where I could better support my wife and kids. So, I asked my dad for a job. Thankfully, he felt I would make it as a salesperson.
“I love my job. I love that I get to come to work every day and see my parents. I look forward to the future of Williams & Associates. I hope someday my kids will want to be a part of the family business.”