Top Promotions was founded in 1983 by Don & Louan Reisdorf. It was a small screen print shop in Middleton, WI located on Century Ave. Shortly after this, their son Craig joined the company. Louan ran a small retail shop within the company, while Don and Craig handled sales and production.
In the late 80’s, Craig’s wife Julie joined the company and embroidery services were added. Julie ran the embroidery department balanced with raising their three young daughters – sometimes simultaneously.
The Reisdorf family had a strong relationship with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and through that relations ship established a Wisconsin license. The Rose Bowl win in 1994 was a huge turning point for Top Promotions, launching the company well beyond the $1M annual sales mark.
Top Promotions became known as a “Hot Market” printer, a company that could go to press and turn out product quickly after major events. The mid-90’s also brought the addition of selling non-wearable imprinted products such as pens, padfolio’s and mugs. With this addition, Top became a full-service in-house promotional marketing company.
In 1998, Don and Louan decided to retire and sold majority ownership in the company to Jerry Kilcoyne. Jerry and Craig became partners and the business moved to its current location at 8831 S Greenview Drive. The late 90’s and early 2000’s was a growth period for Top, expanding sales channels and diversifying. At this time, Jerry and Craig also owned the Wisconsin Active Sportswear retail stores, selling primarily Badger merchandise. During this time, Top Promotions formed a close relationship with Reebok/Adidas. We quickly became a major printer for Reebok’s NFL, NBA and NHL brands, further expanding the Hot Market capabilities, printing t-shirts for Super Bowl Champions, Stanley Cup Champions and NBA Championships.
In 2006, Jerry sold part of his ownership to Craig and the balance to Roger Kilcoyne (Jerry’s brother). From 2006 to 2012, Roger and Craig were partners in owning and operating Top Promotions. The company thrived under their leadership and ran lean, managing to avoid much of the economic challenges the country faced in 2008-2011.
In 2012, Top’s largest customer, Industries for the Blind, Inc.-Milwaukee (IB) approached Craig and Roger with an offer to purchase Top Promotions but to have Craig and Roger both stay on to lead the company. IB was looking to both expand their sales channels as well go vertical with a major supply chain. In March 2012, IB became owners of Top Promotions. Shortly after the change in ownership, Top Promotions adopted IB’s mission of providing employment opportunities to blind and visually impaired individuals and before the end of 2012, Top Promotions had it’s first blind employee. 2012 also saw the addition of a brand-new sales channel (retail) as well as the addition of digital printing to the assortment of decoration options provided by Top Promotions.
In 2016, Craig stepped down as President and was succeeded by Shannon Mayerl, a long-term employee of the company. Top Promotions continues to provide blind employment opportunities with nearly 10% of the staff now blind or visually impaired. The company has 72 employees and is going strong in providing imprinted product to a wide variety of industries and customers. The goals in the coming years include increasing blind employment to 15% of staff, growing sales and continuing to be a leader in the promotional marketing industry in the Madison area.
By Shannon Mayerl, President
In 2012, the company I work for was sold. We became a wholly owned subsidiary of a much larger organization, an organization with a mission to provide employment opportunities to individuals who are blind or visually impaired (BVI). At this point our company had been in business for nearly 30 years and like many (most) companies, we had never had an employee with adaptation needs. But suddenly one day in March 2012, we also became a company with a mission to provide employment opportunities to BVI individuals.
We are in a graphic industry, one that is highly reliant on sight. We were faced with questions we didn’t know how to answer. How does one find proactive ways to adapt jobs for someone with limited to no sight while keeping the productivity of the position? Just where are we to find these prospective employees who need to not only be BVI but more importantly qualified to do the job? What positions can actually be adapted? How do we avoid reverse discrimination if we begin specifically recruiting people who are BVI?
It is not surprising that the unemployment rate amongst people with disabilities is high. Even companies with the best of intentions can get weighed down by the logistics of making it happen. So today I am sharing with you our success story. 5 years ago we didn’t have a single blind employee, now nearly 10% of our staff is blind and we have a goal to increase that to 15% in the next few years.
Our first step was to find a really awesome blind person to help us. We were lucky and got a referral/introduction to a woman who has since become an integral part of our team. An alternate option would be to work with a state agency that specializes in placement and adaption (I went to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in Wisconsin and found some great resources). I had to face it, unless someone on your team has specific training in adaptive development, it is nearly impossible for someone with sight to figure out how a job needs to be adapted to be done by someone without sight. We can’t just close our eyes and know what it is to be blind, nor do most sighted people know all the amazing adaptive technology available or how to use it.
Our next step was to visit a few Industry for the Blind agencies (affiliated with the National Industries for the Blind). It is very eye-opening (pardon the pun) to see a factory full of BVI employees doing jobs that you could never imagine someone with limited sight to be able to do, and at a pace that doesn’t drive the cost through the roof. Even though these companies are in different industries, these visits helped me stop limiting my imagination of where we can take this. One of my most memorable visits was to a wood shop where I observed a BVI student working with a BVI instructor using a bandsaw to make a wooden cigar box. They were doing this without any special equipment and they both still had all their fingers. I have sighted friends who don’t have all their fingers after a run in with a bandsaw.
Next, we needed to start exploring which positions could be adapted. We immediately identified that we could not adapt any positions in our graphic art department and that when we get out to production (decorating), we must have at least two sighted people per three person press team. As much as we want to say the sky is the limit, there are some natural limitations. A blind person is not going to be your delivery van driver. Then we started evaluating with the assistance of our blind employee and state resources. What are the requirements of the position? What adaptive technology is needed? Is that technology available? How might the adaptations affect the efficiency of the position (if on an assembly line, will the employee be able to keep up to the pace of the line)? It all came down to picking one position and figuring out how we could adapt it. Then we picked a second and a third and so on, but the first was the most difficult and had the steepest learning curve.
Recruitment has been a particular challenge. We have discovered that we find our employees through referrals and word of mouth. BVI individuals form a community just as any other group might, so once word gets out that there are companies looking to hire people who are BVI, word spreads. But even so, there is a limited population in any community which means the search must move outward to the state or even to a national level. This can be a challenge, but networking has proven to be the most effective method for us.
The top of the list for us was making sure this job was not a hand out. We do not lower our expectations because an employee is BVI, we work with the employee to provide them the technology they need in order to be able to perform the job. It may be a screen reading program for the computer or a special magnifying glass for reading paperwork, or it may be converting away from physical paper with handwriting and moving to a more computerized system, so they can read the documents. What we felt were insurmountable obstacles 5 years ago are now the norm. We have sighted and blind employees. We have guide dogs who work at our company alongside their handler (although we don’t get to count them in our employee counts). We don’t even ‘see’ the blindness anymore. We don’t have blind employees, we have employees who happen to be blind, and it is this view and attitude that I am the most proud of.
By Shannon Mayerl, President, Top Promotions
All too often an awesome employee is promoted to a management position and when they don’t do well, we wonder why did they fail at this when they were so good at their previous position?
For most, managing people is not an intrinsic skill. Being a manager is hard, and without training, being a GREAT manager is nearly impossible. We don’t expect a new employee to know how to do their job without training, so why do we think that someone promoted into management will know how to manage without any training? An untrained manager may stumble through and even do well enough to fly under the radar, but in these competitive times when finding and keeping great employees is so critical, management is of utmost importance.
In this short blog there is no way to jump into actual management training, but it’s a great start. Below I share the 8 key steps I’ve learned to refine management training:
1. How to hire the right person
a. Writing an accurate job description
b. Evaluating your must have vs. want to have skills for a position
c. Evaluating resumes and selecting who to interview
d. Determining interview questions – Don’t just ‘wing’ it
e. Interviewing consistently and evaluating candidates quantitatively
2. On-Boarding and Exiting
a. What do the first 2 weeks look like – Training Plan
b. How to set benchmarks and evaluate performance in the first 90 days
c. The importance of an exit interview and what to do with the feedback once you have it
3. Defining Success
a. How to make sure your employees know where the goal line is
b. How to hold employees accountable to success
4. Effective Performance Reviews
b. Conducting an effective review
c. Post review follow-up and goal setting
5. Coaching and correcting vs. writeups and discipline
a. How to give effective feedback
b. When to cross the line into formal discipline
a. What needs to be documented
b. What must go in the official employee file
c. Yes it’s a pain to do, how to keep track efficiently
7. Employee Personality & Motivation
a. The importance of knowing what motivates each employee
b. Understanding each employees’ personality and using this to improve communication
8. Managing Generations – What each generation needs.
The biggest tip of all? Ask your management team what they’d like to learn about! I did a quick survey of my management team and asked each of them to identify 3-5 topics within their management responsibilities where they feel additional training could be useful. We dedicate half of our monthly management meeting to training (~45 minutes per month). I take one topic a month, build a simple training program around the topic and share it with the team at our monthly meeting. If the topic is more complicated, I have found it best to break it into sections and spread the training out over several months.
This will take time and effort. I’ve read many articles and blogs about how employees leave managers, not jobs. Take this opportunity to do something about it and make the investment in solid management for your company.