100 Years Of Family Leadership
Above photo: Larick Associate's current team consists of Lisa Duffy, Eric Mohr, Nancy Larick, Patricia Ahumada and Charles Mohr.
Nancy Larick, MAS, is the president and owner of Larick Associates, a third-generation, family-owned distributor that’s celebrating 100 years in business this year. For the business, and for the Larick family, it’s been a century of hard work and difficult, forward-focused decision-making, along with many surprises. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises is Larick’s long-time leadership role with the company. She never thought she’d join the promotional products industry or become owner of the business—all of which is rooted in the hands-on guerilla marketing and sales strategies that originated with the company’s founder and Nancy’s grandfather, Emanuel Larick.
Emanuel founded Larick Associates as Larick Manufacturing Company in New York in 1920, but previously, he worked for Elwood Myers Company, a leather manufacturer in Springfield, Ohio. That same year, Emanuel’s employer reorganized and eliminated its sales force, but saw Emanuel as an integral part of the team, a “priority,” Nancy says, “and they wanted him to stay on.” It’s no wonder, because Emanuel didn’t just sell products, he created them, too. Emanuel took the company’s leather pieces and gold-stamped them by hand, adding a custom option, and sold the leather goods to insurance companies. When the orders started slowing, Emanuel would hop on the train from New York City to Albany and try his hand at selling leather goods to passengers. He hand-made the Larick Desk Aid, a three-by five-inch Bakelite plastic memo box with a gold-stamped custom message on a leather swatch on top. When the company started selling calendars, Emanuel would approach clients, boldly asking, “How many thousand do you want?” and it would generate sales. “It was a whole routine he had, and he was good at it,” says Nancy.
One of Emanuel’s most-memorable sales tactics, however, was the unusual way he’d show customers the durability of his products. He’d remove his watch, Nancy says, and throw it against the wall and say, “That’s how strong my products will hold up.” The watch eventually broke, Nancy says with a chuckle, but the routine garnered a lot of business during its time.
When Nancy’s father, Stuart Larick, joined the company in 1945, he employed a far different approach. Stuart, formerly an electrical engineer, had a more methodical style of selling. “He was an intellectual, a scientist, he built things, and he decided to join his father’s business and bring a solution and problem-solving orientation to the business. He would go in to see customers and ask, ‘What’s going on?’ and ‘What are your challenges?’(which is how we should all sell)—and he’d then come up with a solution.” Nancy recalls many evenings throughout her childhood when her father would be in his home office, heavily researching and developing new ideas. The company became a member of PPAI (then called Specialty Advertising Association) in 1964.
A photo taken during a holiday party in 1945, after Nancy's parents, Stuart (pictured left, fourth from front), and Ethel Larick (left, third from front) were married. Emanuel Larick, founder of the business, is pictured right, first from the front.
Nancy took over the company with her brother, Bob Larick, in 1980, she never imagined she’d become so involved in her family’s business. In fact, it was something she hadn’t planned to do. Growing up, Nancy watched as her father shouldered much of the burden of the business and was also her grandfather’s caretaker.
As a young woman entering the workforce in the mid-1970s, following the Vietnam War, Nancy pursued opportunities in public relations promoting authors. Her publicity work led her to work for one of the sponsors of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament, and later sold boxes and series seats for the women’s year-end tennis tournament at Madison Square Garden. Nancy, like her ancestors, was a good salesperson. Her earliest days in sales, she recalls, involved selling the most Girl Scout cookies in her troop and winning awards as a teen for selling the most raffle tickets to raise money for the Association for the Help of Retarded Children in Long Island, New York.
But Nancy’s perspective of the industry and her appreciation for her father’s role dramatically changed when she attended her first promotional products trade show in 1980, when PPAI—then Specialty Advertising Association International—held its annual trade show in Dallas. “My father said, ‘Nancy, why don’t you come to a convention in Dallas with me?’” she recalls. Although she was reluctant to tag along, she was pleasantly surprised with the way suppliers responded to her father, and the amount of respect they had for him. “I saw the kind of respect my father got that everybody, I mean everybody, dropped everything to speak to him,” she says. “I saw what my father was telling me: that you can make what you want in this industry. The more time you put in, the more you get out of it.” She then joined her father, working as a salesperson.
During her first year, she won an award from Pilgrim Plastics for an unusual promotional giveaway used during conventions. “I didn’t know where I was going to get my first client, so I went back to my second job,” she says, which was the publisher of Body Language and a forthcoming sequel, Sexual Body Language. In preparation for a convention in the publishing industry that catered to librarians, Nancy helped design and customize heat-changing plastic cards, which attendees could touch to reveal how sexually attracted they were to the person holding the card. The cards wound up being a hit at the convention.
In 1995, Nancy tried to sell the business—a plan that eventually resulted in her buying out her brother, Bob, and taking over sole ownership. “It was a horrible experience,” she recalls, “but six months later, we were better for it.”
Over the years, Nancy has updated Larick Associates, keeping her eye on the pulse of technological advances, both in and out of the industry, and adapting as needed. The company, she says, has its own proprietary software to help with business processes, specifically with tracking orders. And to add to the company’s family heritage, it was Nancy’s stepson, a computer engineer, who developed the software. “We’re invested in the computer world,” she says.
Larick Associates has also undergone other changes. In 2003, the company relocated from its office in Manhattan, overlooking Union Square, to a home office in Port Washington. Today, Nancy employs three salespeople and three employees in support roles, and together, they share a casual, laidback workplace environment, where the sound of laughter is frequent. “I’m relaxed. We all like working here,” Nancy says.
As for the next 100 years of Larick Associates, its direction remains somewhat of a mystery, which adds an air of excitement for Nancy. “I don’t know what will happen over the next 10 minutes or the next 10 years,” Nancy says, with a chuckle. But whatever direction Larick Associates is headed in, it’ll be followed by a century of colorful sales and marketing strategies, innovative promotions and plenty of satisfied clients.
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.