As a new Social Marketing Intern, I was curious about how Newhall Klein came to be. I sat down in a Q&A with Founder and Owner, Sandy Klein, and here's what I found!
What is your startup story?
I started my career in Cleveland in marketing communications and moved to Atlanta where I was working as a sales rep/manager for a branding and packaging design agency. After 5 years, my husband and I wanted to move back to the Midwest to be closer to family. My husband accepted a job in Kalamazoo, Mich., and we moved up here in 1989. In 1990, representing the folks I worked for in Atlanta, I landed GFS [Gordon Food Service] through a cold call. I thought their packaging could use some work, so I called them and suggested we help design new packaging and ended up redesigning their logo as well. I hired a designer and a marketing assistant and we all worked out of my home basement. As we continued to get more business from GFS and other accounts as well, I hired a few more employees, and at one time, there were 12 people working out of my basement. Eventually, we had the opportunity to buy this land, build on it, and move everyone to this [Kalamazoo] office. It was more of a managed evolution rather than a big startup business plan – definitely more of an entrepreneurial approach. We started small and grew organically through building strong relationships in foodservice, B2B and B2C industries.
What has been your hardest challenge as a business owner?
Internally: Realizing I can't be all things to all people. I won't always make everyone happy and I can't take it personally.
Externally: Convincing clients of our value. There will always be people who claim they can do it better, faster, or cheaper than us. We have to continually sharpen our competitive edge, so our clients keep choosing/needing to do business with us.
Another challenge is growing the business in an environment that can be largely project-based. For example, if we design a brochure for a client, we have to replace that business as well as go earn new business so we continue to grow. We have evolved to becoming much more strategic in our offerings so that we are more of a true business/marketing partner.
Where did the name Newhall Klein come from?
Maiden + Married
I also didn’t want to appear so small, like "Sandy Klein Marketing." My parents had two girls, so I wanted to keep the Newhall part of the name in the lineage for as long as I could.
How do you define success as a business owner?
Internally: To be able to sustain the employees that we have, and their families, and know this is where they want to work. We've been able to keep 15-20 employees on board for 20 years and that's just awesome.
Externally: It is hard to consider myself successful because I never completely feel that my job is done; I am constantly learning. What I love to see is people becoming aware of who we are and what we do in the community and among our client base. It's rewarding when I meet people and they say, "I've heard of you, you do great work."
What's the single most critical talent you possess as a business owner?
Good judgment. I know when I see good people. I have to be able to listen to what my clients need and translate that to my creative team so they get excited about it. Also, the ability to laugh! I will always make mistakes but I have to be able to roll with it.
What is your best advice for entrepreneurs?
Be an excellent communicator. You must be able to sell your ideas both internally and externally.
Have a great sense of humor and the ability to roll with the punches because they will come.
Fail often and learn from it.
Surround yourself with change so you don't grow stagnant.
Keep the right perspective of life balance. As a mother, I have an obligation to take care of my kids before myself. I also feel obligated to take care of NK before myself. I feel guilty if I put myself first, but I now realize that taking care of myself is what enables me to support others. If I expect my employees to be here at 8 a.m., I have to get here at 8 a.m. too.
Realize you can't do everything on your own. Surround yourself with people who are smarter and more talented than you are because that is how you learn and grow.
How do you generate new ideas?
I look for inspiration everywhere. Whether it's a walk in the woods, traveling, a road trip with my team, or a great conversation with someone, I always look to be inspired. Traveling really helps by seeing different cultures and experiencing new things. We work for clients all over North America and it is so important to go to those places and experience life there. I love going to New Orleans, Miami, or NYC, to feel the pulse of the cities and see how their cultures are considered in our solutions.
How do you stay inspired every day?
I love what I do. I am passionate about what I do. I am very fortunate to have found a career in something that I love to do every day.