Standing out in a Crowd: How innovating and networking helped grow a small business
When Stacy Johansen moved to Utah in 2000 from Southern California and started a screen printing and embroidery business in her garage, she didn’t know anyone in the state who could help her to grow her business and gain clients.
But now, nearly two decades later, her Sandy-based business, Advanced Apparel, Inc., has its own office, printing equipment and warehouse facilities—and thousands of clients too. And on top of that, Advanced Apparel, which is 100 percent women-owned and operated, has also created a couple of strategic partnerships with other homegrown companies in Utah—something Johansen says she couldn’t have done without years of savvy networking.
Becoming a networking ninja
Because Johansen didn’t know anyone in the corporate world when she moved to Utah, networking was a natural fit for her in the early days of building her business.
“I started small by getting involved in local chambers of commerce and at local city events,” she says. “Next I got involved with a few larger networking companies where you have to sign up and pay to be a member. It’s a more expensive route, but because it’s more expensive, I found that during those networking events I was able to meet the decision makers and help them with exactly what they were looking for.”
Johansen admits that when she first started attending networking events, she’d just try to hand her business card out to as many people as she could. But eventually she learned to look at the events differently, which led to greater success. She began to look at each event as an opportunity.
“Instead I thought, ‘Who can I meet? How can I help these people [with their business or personally] through my business? How can I make friends?” she says. “Now I actually have friends, whom have never done business with me, but have referred several people to me simply because they know what I do, they trust in my expertise and we share commonalities as business owners.”
Johansen adds that it’s important to never force a business relationship—it’s easier to let them happen organically. “Have true and honest intentions for your relationships,” she says. “Don’t be selfish. It takes time to build those relationships.”
Building successful relationships
Recently, Advanced Apparel teamed up with Rockwell Time, a watch and accessory company, Located in Woods Cross, and Draper-based, Black Clover, a lifestyle apparel company, to represent both companies’ as a premier supplier.
“Our relationship with Rockwell started out as a friendship that grew over the years as we provided printing services for their apparel. As the trust and friendship deepened, we were offered the opportunity to become an exclusive dealer for their branded accessories,” says Johansen. She adds that the partnership was “a match made in heaven” with her client base and her years of experience when it comes to corporate branding and sales.
Johansen has worked with Black Clover for a few years, and shares a similar story with that company. “Working with other companies and gaining that trust takes a lot of time and patience,” she says. “We’ve proved ourselves to provide the highest quality. My favorite part working with my clients is brainstorming on how to make their event and gifts a huge success!”
Johansen adds that because of the partnerships built with these and other local companies, they’re all able to help keep the Utah economy strong. “By offering high-quality products locally, we can help several brands grow, keep it local and help grow all of our bottom lines,” she says.
Johansen is the first to admit that screen printing and embroidery companies are a dime a dozen, and that to maintain and recruit clients, she has to continually stand out.
“I have looked everywhere to get my clients, and they come from all different walks of life,” she says. “I have tiny little landscaping companies and huge corporate organizations who come to me. I am the kind of person who can think outside of the box and make each client stand out in the best ways.
Johansen enjoys working being creative and her ability to find—or create—unique promotional products. “I don’t like to just do promo products that will end up in your kids’ toy box. I research every company. I work with a factory in China that helps me create prototypes for things that don’t exist yet,” she says. “It’s been a win for everyone, and fills a niche that’s needed.”
For example, one of Johansen’s clients, Challenger School, requires parents to hang a card with their kids’ names on it in their car during pick-up after school. “Moms were making DIY hangers, and I knew there had to be a better way,” she says. “So I created something that goes on the car visor, it has clear windows where the kids’ names go, and folds up and Velcros to the top of the visor. You can also put CDs or change in it, and it has the company logo professionally printed on it. This promotional product is something that has been totally beneficial and useful to them. They have reordered them for seven years now.”
Johansen says she does this same thing with every client. “I find out what they have going on, who their target market is, and create promo products that are practical, useful and unique,” she says. “My goal is to help every client stand out and create products that relate to their business and appeal to potential customers. I never tell a client no. It’s always a yes, and then I figure it out.”