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Living Visually Impaired: Kelly’s Story


Kelly Zarkewicz is the HR Manager for ePromos. Learn more about her visual impairment and daily life with her guide dog, Robin, as we honor National Guide Dog Month, this September.

Every morning, Kelly starts her workday by walking three blocks to pick up a venti iced quad with a splash of soy milk at the Starbucks® near her home in Queens, New York. She makes the journey with her guide dog, Robin, whose “puppuccino” – a small cup of whipped cream – will also be waiting for her at the counter.

Kelly and Robin recently celebrated a year of companionship, and Kelly is quick to say that by now, she trusts Robin as much as she trusts her husband, Andrew, when it comes to helping her navigate her day-to-day life.

But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, Kelly was resistant at first to the idea of using a guide dog.

The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind

A few years ago, Kelly explains, she began the process. She completed her application and went away to attend a weeks-long training at the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, but she found the process isolating and overwhelming. After a few days, she called Andrew to come pick her up. “I wasn’t ready emotionally,” she said, “to give the rest of my sight away to a dog.”

By then, Kelly was a “tried and true” pro at minimizing the impact of her visual impairment. She first began to lose her sight at age 18, after three years fighting through a serious virus, two liver transplants, Leukemia, and intense treatment to help her get cancer-free. Chemotherapy and radiation left her with optic nerve atrophy. Around the time she was finishing high school, she was diagnosed as legally blind and visually impaired.

“I was very eager to go to college and put this medical chapter behind me,” Kelly says. “I hid my impairment as much as I could from almost everyone. I hid it for 20 years, actually.” Kelly has no vision in her right eye, and in her left eye, she has very little depth perception, no peripheral vision, and colors appear distorted to her. “Of all the medical treatments and diagnoses,” she explains, “losing my sight was the hardest. Emotionally, that’s what really hit me the most. I have to constantly adjust how I do things, and I’m always relearning.”

Coming Out

By 2011, when she first took a job with ePromos, she’d become so adept at compensating for her impairment that no one she worked with knew she was visually impaired. She made adaptations to her computer to continue performing her job expertly, and she spent a lot of time studying common surroundings to make sure things such as her routes around the office building were familiar. But a couple of years later, when ePromos moved their headquarters to downtown New York City on Wall Street, everything changed.

“The walls and doors of the downtown office were made of glass, and everything inside the building lobby was made from the same white marble material,” she recounts. The effect was that the walls, floor, and furniture (like the reception desk) all collapsed into each other. “Everything looked flat to me, like a giant blanket,” Kelly explains. “It was a nightmare.” It was immediately apparent to her coworkers that something was wrong, and as a result, she says, “I had to kind of come out to the entire office about what was happening.”

Her colleagues were eager to help. In particular, Kelly credits her boss and ePromos CFO, Ken Domnitz, as well as Freddy Eira, ePromos Director of Accounting, with jumping in to offer assistance whenever she needed it.

At first, Kelly continued commuting downtown, but the physical shift from a more organized Midtown office to the frenetic downtown area proved to be too much. “I started using a white cane for the first time ever,” Kelly shares, “and I hated it. I’d use it to walk to and from work and then I’d fold it up and hide it in my bag.” As her impairment worsened, Kelly explains, “I started using the cane more and more because it was so exhausting to be scanning all the time.” The vulnerability she felt while using the cane was what made her rethink the idea of getting a guide dog.
It would take another year, until 2018, before Kelly felt truly ready to bring a guide dog into her life. By then she’d made the switch to working from home, where she’s able to work full-time with a few additional accommodations and adaptive technologies.

The Next Step

“I trained like Rocky to go back to the guide dog facility,” she shares. “I didn’t want to leave again – I really wanted this time to be successful.” The process for acquiring a guide dog is lengthy and complex. Kelly submitted a detailed application in November (including paperwork, several interviews, and a video) before getting word of her approval in June to return to the foundation for a two-week training program in Smithtown, New York.

“I specifically asked for a yellow lab, because it was really important for me to be able to see the dog’s face,” she says. The contrast of Robin’s dark eyes and nose against her yellow fur makes her features more recognizable to Kelly given the specifics of her impairment. After arriving at the foundation for training, Kelly was paired with Robin.Kelly and Robin

The time and funding that goes into training guide dogs is impressive. It costs over $50,000 to breed, raise, train, and place a single guide dog, and dogs often spend a year or more training to work with someone with a visual impairment. Fortunately, the foundation’s services are provided at no charge to the individual. Funding comes entirely from the generosity of donors.
“Trainers put so much time and effort into these dogs, and it’s such a big deal when they successfully make it through the program and are partnered with a visually impaired person,” Kelly explains. When Robin successfully graduated from the program and was ready to go home with Kelly, her puppy raiser, Jessica, flew up from Georgia for the event.

Life With Robin

“Kelly and Andrew are beyond the perfect family for Robin, and I can already tell how loved and spoiled she is since getting matched with Kelly,” Jessica shared. “I love hearing the stories and experiences since they started working together and hearing how much their lives have changed since accepting Robin into it. I can’t thank this program enough for introducing me to such wonderful people and showing me that when action meets compassion, lives change.”

Robin and her PuppachinoNow, as Kelly performs her daily activities, Robin is there offering guidance and support. In addition to walking with Kelly to Starbucks, she can navigate to the post office, bank, Kelly’s favorite clothing stores, and even lead Kelly to an empty seat on the subway. She’s smart and well-mannered, and her guidance frees up Kelly to give more time, focus, and energy to other things that are interesting and important to her, such as her job at ePromos.

“As an HR manager, you have a lot of people that come to you with health issues or other needs for accommodation, and my background has really made me someone who is empathetic of anyone’s situation or circumstance,” Kelly shares. “I always wanted to be judged on my merit rather than on my impairment, and this perspective gives me the ability to go the extra mile for people because I have a special place in my heart for anyone who’s going through something. Everyone has a story.”

This piece is such a testament to our culture at ePromos, and we’re so thrilled to be able to share it with you. To keep up to date on all things ePromos, follow us on Facebook, Instagram,Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest!


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Ideas For Using Pantone’s Color of the Year


After the year we’ve all had, it’s nice to take a break, take a breath and indulge in something a little more mellow. And that’s exactly why we’re loving this year’s Pantone Color of the Year, 16-1546 Living Coral, which the Pantone team describes as “humanizing” with “heartening qualities” that speak to our need for “human interaction and social connection.”

Ideas for Using Pantone's 2019 Color of the YearWe couldn’t agree more. Already we’ve been digging into this calm, cool, playful color – and, we admit, it’s definitely lightened the mood and helped curb some of the holiday chaos.

If you’re looking for that added optimism or, simply, a little respite from the craziness of the year and the season, look no further than Living Coral…

AT HOME

We’re all about a pop of color at home. Whether it’s a coral throw pillow, blanket or, even, an on-trend wall hanging (coral juju hats, anyone?), there are countless options for integrating this warm, friendly color into your space.

And if you want to take things even further? Check out the seven paint matches, all readily available at your local home, DIY or big box store. Add an accent wall, makeover a small space or bathroom or, simply, refinish a piece of furniture and you’ll instantly have a cool new addition to your space that’s fresh, upbeat and totally on trend.

IN YOUR GIFTING

Given how versatile and universal coral is, it’s no surprise some of our favorite gifts come in this dynamic color. Customize a set of Full-Color Ray-Ban Style Sunglasses and opt for any one (or more…) of the 15 colors available, including coral. Looking for something that will be used around the office? Our Full-Color Vibrant Retractable Gel Pens are perfect, available in 12 coral plus 11 other shades.

IN YOUR CLOSET

Teen Vogue: Celebrities Embracing The Color of the YearCoral has long been a popular go-to for fashionistas – and with good cause. Not only is it a rich, beautiful color, but it’s easy to wear, regardless of your style or skin tone. In fact, the Spring 2019 runways were packed with coral hues, including everything from gowns to camisoles to vacation-approved maxi dresses.

And if your budget isn’t runway-ready? Coral has increasingly trickled down to boutiques, department stores and mass retailers – we’re loving this pop of color in everything from cords to cardigans to hats, gloves and scarves.

That, though, is just the beginning. Now that Living Color has taken the top spot, it’s only a matter of time before accessories and wardrobe staples will be hitting the shelves in this must-have hue.

Looking for the perfect gift in the perfect color? Get in touch with our expert team to explore coral premiumsand more.


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Our Best Selling Triple Insulated Bottles Side-by-Side


Best Sellers - Triple InsulationTrying to choose the right insulated water bottle can be challenging to say the least. Cup or tumbler? Mug or bottle? Hot or cold? Metal? Stainless?

And that’s before you choose a color.

Our goal? To dig into our latest and greatest drinkware offerings, helping you choose the perfect product for your business. We’ve created a series where we’ll stack a few options side-by-side calling out some key details and fun facts to consider as you’re deciding what to add to your promotional arsenal. First up, our Triple Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottles, in 17 or 26 ounce.

 

FIRST UP…

17.oz Triple Insulated Stainless Steel Custom Waterbottle

SPECS: A smaller bottle means increased portability without sacrificing usability. Consider this the ultimate in form-meets-function.

WHY WE ❤: Trying to get to the 64-ounce mark? Think of it as one fill before the office, one pre-lunch refresh, one before heading home and another before calling it a day. Easy.

MY IDEAL SIPPER: The type-A taskmaster — someone who loves to check things off of their to-do list and will feel uber-accomplished every time they hit the bottom of the bottle.

FUN FACT: In addition to keeping cold cold for 24 hours, hot drinks will still be piping come lunch — dinner, even.

GET CREATIVE: With a rock solid screw-top the contents of your bottle aren’t going anywhere. The end result? We’ve toted everything from homemade pasta sauce to hot fudge in this bottle.

KICK THINGS UP A NOTCH…

Freeze coffee in an ice cube tray, then add to your cold brew. If (OK, when…) you go back for seconds midday you’ll get an added jolt of java thanks to the still-cold cubes. Bonus!

THE CHALLENGER

26 oz. Triple Insulated Stainless Steel Custom Waterbottle

SPECS: 26 ounces of stainless steel vacuum copper insulation, complete with a twist-off lid for easy, leak-free access

WHY WE ❤: Despite its sleek proportions this bottle holds a lot — more than three full glasses of H2O or a Venti-plus serving of coffee.

MY IDEAL SIPPER: This bottle was built for all-day, all-purpose, all-drink use. No matter their drink, their drive or where this custom bottle needs to go, it’s up for the challenge. Consider it the ultimate partner-in-hydration.

FUN FACT: Cold drinks stay cold for up to 24 hours. Really — the ice will stay plenty icy all day long.

GET CREATIVE: Don’t be surprised to catch us sipping a little soup out of ours. When there’s no time for a lunch break — and no microwave in sight — it’s a super convenient way to refuel.

KICK THINGS UP A NOTCH…
Freeze fresh, whole berries and chopped up fruit, then pop into this insulated bottle before filling with water. The fruit will thaw over the next 12 to 24 hours, adding consistent flavor every time you refill.

Not convinced either may be the right choice? Check out what makes these bottles so fantastic:

The Triple Insulation Advantage

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So there you have it! Which one works best for your brand? Call us today and we can work together to get one of these best sellers incorporated into your next marketing campaign.


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Students Without Mothers: ePromos Gives Back


by Kelly Ellwanger

High school graduation has passed and now you’re looking forward to beginning a new phase of your life in college. Excitement and nerves are among the many emotions experienced at this time. Now imagine going through all of this without a mother’s wisdom and support.

Students without Mothers program hosts a luncheon for 6 of their students heading to college.

Students without Mothers program hosts a luncheon for 6 of their students heading to college.

Students Without Mothers is a non-profit organization which helps high school students without mothers help themselves by empowering them to continue their education. The organization was founded in 2004 by Mary Torrence Williams, whom experienced this situation first hand. After losing her mother at the age of 14, Mary was determined to help others in situations similar to hers. The organization has a scholarship program designed to be life-sustaining, which also provides an opportunity for students to “pay it forward”. Once students are able to do so, the organization asks the individual to help another student in need. Since the organization began in 2004, Students Without Mothers has provided 63 students with a four-year scholarship.

ePromos has recently had the proud opportunity to work in collaboration with Students Without Mothers in giving back to those continuing their education without a mother, preparing 6 students with necessary items to begin their journey through college. This occasion fits in well with the ePromos culture of giving back. Along with this awesome opportunity, ePromos holds #GivingTuesday on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday giving season and inspire people to collaborate in improving their local communities. They also award $500 of Free Promo items, as part of their ePromos for Good program, bi-monthly.

The “Stock the Dorm” Initiative. ePromos was grateful to be a part of it this year.


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5 Things You Need to Know When You Start a Business


By Jason Robbins, CEO

I’ve learned a great deal in my 20 years with ePromos. I started the company with a clear mission to help customers promote their brands and use modern technology to serve them. I used some of what I learned with my undergraduate and graduate degrees in business, but there was so much that had to be learned on the job.

Here are five key lessons I’ve learned since starting ePromos that I think would be beneficial to any entrepreneur, young or old.

#1 Talent makes or breaks a business.

You can’t build a company alone. Many entrepreneurs (like myself) get out of the gate by brute force. At some point, doing everything yourself starts making things worse. You get stressed, there is little engagement from those who work for you, and you hit a plateau. You can put great processes and systems in place so that operations can run smoothly; however, when you want to grow, adapt or evolve on a strategic objective, you can’t keep the ship running and also invent the next thing.

You need great people to keep the ship sailing, and you need great people to start figuring things out with very little input from you. There is no pride in doing everything yourself. If you want to be a $10 million company, you are going to need some people on your team who have been there.

I learned that it’s best to hire for attitude and train for skill. It’s the attitude that typically gets in the way for people, not their intellect. You can have the smartest person on your team, yet if they have a bad attitude, it can be like a cancer growing in your organization, poisoning it from the inside and costing you big in missed opportunities. Conversely, people with great attitudes take obstacles in stride as part of the journey; they don’t focus on blame and what should be that is not. I am lucky to have a number of great leaders who have been with me from the beginning, who have become managers and adapted to new roles because they have a great attitude. A huge bout of success is due to these types of great attitude players.

#2 Setting fewer goals per quarter leads to a higher success rate.

As a new business (or even an existing business) the list of things to do and new ideas developed daily can run like a ticker tape. For years we tried to manage these ideas while growing and running the day-to-day business. Many times we’d meet and think we were clear on three-five goals, then we’d realize we were working on about 10 goals, and nothing really got finished. Effort was spread so wide that we didn’t accomplish anything meaningful.

You may have heard about leading and lagging indicators… For example, if you want to lose weight, you can’t just weigh yourself and expect change. The lagging indicator is the weight, or, the final success measure. The leading indicators are the calories in and out. If you are taking in more than you are burning each day, for example, you are aware of this and know that the weight won’t drop. You don’t need to wait a month to check in and find that you haven’t made progress. It’s the same thing when running a business. Make sure to define a leading goal, and follow through each step of the way through to completion.

In the past few years we’ve learned two great lessons. The first, is to identify realistic goals with which both the progress and result can be measured. The second is that the recipe for success is having very few goals combined with daily and weekly discipline checks. Stay on top of this and you’ll be very much aware of how things are going along the way. It makes it easier to not lose focus and to re-align when necessary.

#3 Define the what; let your team figure out the how.

When I first started out, not only did I decide what we were going to do, I also would work with my staff to figure out the steps and how we would do it. I was heavy handed and came off as the guy who needed to be the smartest, who needed to do things his way in order for it to be done right.

As a leader, you may feel that you know the best way to tackle a problem. You may want to continuously give great advice,to get involved in all details of a project or process. But that is not your role. Your role is to remove obstacles for the group that is figuring out how to hit the goal. I realized at some point in the development of the company that even though my favorite thing was creative problem solving,  I had to stop. I stopped, but then I started second-guessing. Finally, I realized that while it might take a little longer, my team – the people I hired for their brilliance –  almost always got there (and often times got there faster than I would have). Even better, they did it on their own, freeing me up to continue to lead and set direction and remove other obstacles.

The freedom this method provides to a team also makes a huge difference in engagement. Imagine a company where the boss comes in and tells people how to do things. That isn’t fun for smart, capable people. They want to try. They want you to give them the proverbial video game controller and play themselves vs sitting there watching you or having to follow specific instructions. This is particularly important with Millennials. Give them the freedom to figure out the how, and they will be engaged… otherwise risk bad attitudes and high turnover.

That’s also why lesson #1 is so important: having the right team. Not all employees can run with this freedom. It may be their personality or maybe engrained in previous life experience, but sometimes if you feel you have a good person, you have to explain to them that they are allowed to take chances and have fun trying. It can be a challenge to relinquish control – trust me, I know – but it’s the only way to succeed. It’s really a nice human thing to do. No one should come to work to be told what to do with an attitude. Good morale and ethics are always, always good for business.

#4 There is a target client.

You can’t be all things to all people – no one can – and it’s counterproductive to try. Not everyone will be interested in your product or service, and sometimes you’ll need to establish what market you’re after. It is as much a choice to determine what you are going to be bad at as it is to determine what you are going to good at. “Good at” is the enemy of “Great.” By embracing what types of clients you do not wish to serve, you can better serve and evolve to thrill your target audience.

As a company that started online with Google search providing many of our initial leads, we were forced to be all things to all people. We wanted every sale, and we wanted all customers to be treated with the same love and passion regardless of size. We realized that we couldn’t make a profit if we were going to overserve the smallest customers. We also realized that we couldn’t make a profit even on huge customers if their requirements were too costly to service.

So the biggest lesson here is to find out why your best customers like you and find more like them.

#5 You must accept what you cannot control.

I wasted a lot of energy, resources and time over the years just complaining and worrying. While it’s so logical that we can’t control 99% of what happens, many of us still spend time talking, thinking and expensing energy over things that happened that we can’t change and over things that haven’t happened yet.

How much time are you spending on thinking about something in the past, that is over, that you can’t change? In my experience, business is going to unfold for you, and you can either see things as good and bad or just see things as they are. You can move forward, or you can stop progressing and dwell on the past. I meditate daily, and I’ve developed a skill that helps me be mindful of if I am thinking in the past or future. I continue to meditate because I view mindfulness as a muscle that needs to be exercised.

There is always a silver lining. Accept what you cannot control; learn from what you can. Embracing mistakes will make your company better. Embracing the attitude that mistakes are welcome will help you make the world a better place through your people, through your team. It’s been said that mistakes are just lessons, repeat until learned. At ePromos, we try to learn from our mistakes and move on.

So there you have it… five tidbits from my experience. These past 20 years have been hard work and fun. Best of all, I have grown into a better person. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead my own team – to help all our wonderful staff build their careers and make their positive contributions on those they impact. I love the promotional products business because it give us a chance to use our creativity and advice to help our clients look their best and make their own impact on the world. We are all interconnected, and I really appreciate that. I look forward to seeing how our ePromos family evolves in the next 20 years and thank everyone for the opportunities they have given me to grow and learn as a leader.

Interested in learning more about our story? Click here.


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A Shout-Out To The Winners Of ePromos’ 2015 Top Supplier Awards


It’s always fun going to The PPAI Expo, the promo industry’s largest and longest-running tradeshow. Our team was there in Las Vegas last week, scoping out all the hottest promo items for 2015, uncovering new trends, and keeping our finger on the pulse of all that’s new.

But that’s not all we were up to.

We were also there to give some major kudos to some of our supplier partners. We were there to bestow our annual Top Supplier Awards.

These awards showcase the very best in supplier partnerships. The companies and individuals who we honored this year are the ones who stood out from the pack and went above and beyond the call of duty.

Congrats are in order for:

  • Jane Rice: Inside Rep of the Year
  • Michelle Newhouse Weiss: Outside Rep of the Year
  • SnugZ: Supplier of the Year
  • PCNA: Elite Supplier of the Year

“The winners of our Top Supplier Awards demonstrated excellence and creativity time and again,” says Hope Binegar, ePromos’ Senior Supplier Relations Manager. “They created amazing products, they helped educate our staff on product benefits, and if we wanted to create something unique for our clients, they were there to discuss innovative options. These suppliers were true partners to the ePromos team.”

To our 2015 winners: Thank you for all your support. Let’s make it another great year.

Top Supplier Award

Hope Binegar (center) presents the Top Supplier Award to SnugZ.

 

Top Supplier Awards

PCNA receives the Elite Supplier of the Year award from Hope Binegar (left).

Check out our press release for more information on the Top Supplier Awards.