Close Up: Forrest Fairley
Leaving A Footprint
Forrest Fairley strives to make a difference
“He proceeded to show me my first lesson of earning and valuing what you want out of life with a project that became something that I would look back on and realize that, with ingenuity, creativity and marketing, anything is possible,” says Fairley. Father and son planted tomato seeds and sold the plants to neighbors, church members and his father’s co-workers until Fairley earned his 50 percent.
Not surprisingly, Fairley brings that same “anything is possible” philosophy to his job as director of product support for promotional products and apparel at distributor Safeguard (UPIC: S587086), where he recently celebrated his 10th employment anniversary. He urges distributors to use a consultative approach with customers, rooting out their business challenges first and providing great solution ideas second. “Those ideas are what get you invited back the next time they need ideas,” he says. “Otherwise you become one of many in our industry who treat customers like those at a fast food drive-through establishment.”
When he’s not at work, Fairley spends time with his wife, Pamela, and gives back to his McKinney, Texas, community by serving on the boards of two local non-profit organizations: Hugs Café, an organization dedicated to providing training and employment for adults with special needs, and Believe, an organization that raises money to provide private school scholarships to low-income children. He’s also an accomplished actor who has performed in more than 100 theater productions.
What was your first job in the promotional products industry?
I got my start in the consumer packaged goods industry in brand promotion and trade marketing, working for a large company in Cincinnati, Ohio. One of my responsibilities was developing promotion strategies that our national broker sales force could use to get incremental off-shelf merchandising at the retail level for food, drug and mass merchant accounts. One of the common vehicles was using promotional and premium products in dealer loader and liquidator-type promotions to get customers to respond and purchase our products. I instantly fell in love with this avenue of execution and saw how impactful promotional products were in driving customer purchase intent.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The ability to create and innovate. And my position allows me to do just that. By working together with our preferred suppliers and developing unique and innovative promotion strategies that benefit both our distributor network and our Safeguard customers, we are constantly attempting to develop outcomes based on providing promotional solutions rooted in our industry’s greatest products.
However, the one thing that I probably enjoy most about my job is when I see the “light” go on inside a distributor’s head that signals that he “gets it” and understands the importance of providing a professional consultative value to the customer, which automatically separates him from the competition.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
When I was recruited to come to Safeguard 10 years ago, we were hardly registering any measurable revenue in the promotional products category. After gaining a firm foothold in what I had to do, I teamed up with my coworker Tracey Barton, director of distributor services, to offer our 250-plus Safeguard distributors and associates a strong platform of education, mentoring, resources, inspiration and tools provided to us by more than 100 A+ preferred suppliers, of which 22 are in the Top 40 supplier rankings.
As a result, a network of once “service-minded” print and forms distributors have learned, invested and engaged in this vibrant category space, marketing effectively to over 600,000 Safeguard customers and allowing us to be recognized as one of the leading national promotional organizations in the industry.
What advice would you give to an industry newcomer?
Consider affiliating yourself with one of several larger promotional company organizations that can provide a strong platform of benefits, tools, resources and mentoring, whether it is a company like Safeguard or one of our great industry competitors. With today’s online ordering, storefronts and so much more, it becomes inherent that a new person be equipped with all the tools that the larger companies can provide from the get-go as part of their support program. And finally, I have a favorite saying: “Market ideas first and products second.”
What motivates you in business and in life?
My life motto is, we should all strive to leave a “footprint” so that when we are gone from this earth, others might know we have been here. Whether in my day job attempting to make a difference by changing how our distributors view this category and the way they approach customers in marketing promotional products, or in my involvement in nonprofits, I simply try my best to practice my life motto.