Success Stories with Marshall Atkinson

Episode 18 - "Be Your Authentic True Self" with Monica Maglaris with Liberty Print Co

April 14, 2021 Marshall Atkinson Season 1 Episode 18
Success Stories with Marshall Atkinson
Episode 18 - "Be Your Authentic True Self" with Monica Maglaris with Liberty Print Co
Show Notes Transcript

If you are a successful contract decorator, you know that you don’t sell ink or thread on cotton...what you sell is Trust with a capital T.

One shop in Connecticut has found a higher level of success by generating trust through hard work, creativity, getting the job done, and simply being their authentic selves.  

On today’s Success Stories podcast, we’ll speak with Monica Maglaris with Liberty Print Co about what it takes to be successful as a certified women-owned and LGBT company in this highly competitive industry.


Marshall Atkinson:

If you are a successful contract decorator, you know that you don’t sell ink or thread on cotton...what you sell is Trust with a capital T.

One shop in Connecticut has found a higher level of success by generating trust through hard work, creativity, getting the job done, and simply being their authentic selves.  

On today’s Success Stories podcast, we’ll speak with Monica Maglaris with Liberty Print Co about what it takes to be successful as a certified women-owned and LGBT company in this highly competitive industry.

So, Monica, welcome to the Success Stories podcast!


Monica Maglaris: 

Marshall, thank you so much for having me. It's so good to see you and hear your voice. And I hope all is well and everything. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

We're all good. We've been talking together, what now, for two years or so. I think, you know, I believe so. 

And, I've always admired what you guys do and the customers that you have, and everything that you do there.

And I really think having you and Liberty on the podcast is going to be so much fun. 


Monica Maglaris: 

Thank you. That's such a huge compliment, especially coming from you. I can't thank you enough for all of your wise counsel and friendship and expert advice. So it's, it's such an honor to be here. Thank you kindly very much.

Marshall Atkinson: 

Oh, my pleasure. 

So why don't we just talk a little bit about Liberty because maybe some folks haven't heard about you guys, right? 

So who are you and what type of customers are you guys making happy every day? 


Monica Maglaris: 

Well, Liberty Print Co is a predominantly contract, screen printing and embroidery shop here in New England.

And we try to make everyday people happy and they are resellers and promotional products, distributors. 

So those are that's our core audience and the people that we serve every day and our team with a capital T strives every day to make pretty much everybody happy with a capital H, and in the world of contract, that can be kind of hard.

I always liken it to playing the game of Tetris, where you have all these blocks coming down and you're trying to organize them as they're falling down, all your orders are coming in. And you're basically just trying to make sure that all those blocks have a nice little location to fall into and that you never bottled, that could go through it.

And then the game, so. We kind of play a game with our production schedule here. And like I said, it's just like the game of Tetris and we try to make sure we filter everybody through. 

Everybody gets done on time. Everybody gets done with the highest level of quality possible, and we try to make sure that everything that there are not too many touchpoints, but those touchpoints that we have with our clients are impactful or meaningful. 

And it just constantly reinforces with them. Things are going well, things are moving along as they should. And that their clients, their end-users will be very happy. And hopefully, they will smile as wide when they open up those shirts as we do while we're printing them or embroidering them.


Marshall Atkinson: 

And, and so you do this through better ways of organizing, uh, making sure things are happening the right way. By counseling your customers, you know what I think you should really do this way because the end result is going to be better. Right? 


Monica Maglaris: 

Exactly. It's a very collaborative approach. And we try to involve our clients as much as possible with like little sort of helpful hints and tips from that sort of backend perspective, that shop perspective.

And this is why we want to do this. And they remember those things. If you sort of, you know, That Walt Whitman quote, you know, surely whoever speaks to me in the right voice, him or her, I shall follow them. 

One of those things you just need to speak the language. That and you, you speak their language, but you also have to sort of teach them gently how to speak your language.

And through that interaction, they actually end up getting a pretty good knowledge base from us. And it makes them feel a lot more confident when they're selling. But it also helps them understand if we're at a certain port point in the process. So we're saying, Hey, we want to tweak this. We'll shuffle this around a little bit.

They completely understand why. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

So Monica, can you give us an example of something you guys do every day that makes your customers happy?


Monica Maglaris: 

We have this little label that we just print out on one of those, you know, four by six UPS labels, um, and it's blind. So it doesn't have any information on it, except for PO number, the color of the garment. 

You've got a little block system of, you know, what, what size is, um, you know, small, medium, large, extra-large, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we had right. What is in that box, on that label? And at the bottom, it says, you know, box one of however many. And we started doing that because we noticed that once in a while, we'd have a client that would call up and say, Hey, you know, my client just called and they're missing one large sweatshirt out of this order.

And we would know darn well that we put it in there and it would be in their internal packing list. But as we all know, is. As decorators. A lot of times we open up boxes from distributors and that packing list says that there are five larges in that box and only four really got shipped. So we decided that if we had written just the numbers on that label, right on the outside of the box, not only could a client just toss that box up on a shelf, knowing exactly what's in there.

But we kind of figured maybe that little extra human touch there of someone's handwriting might deter them from fibbing a little bit. And let me tell you, we went from having, uh, that obligatory phone call a couple of times a month to now we'd sometimes go a quarter without anybody trying that little group does you do with us?

And it saves us time. It saves us money. But the biggest thing that it does is it puts the client's client on notice that they can't kind of go there with anybody, but it makes our client look like a rockstar. 

Because what is in that box is in that box and you can pretty much take that as the Bible. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

And then I think that's really great, cause I know I've shipped stuff all over everywhere and what'll happen is it'll show up to the school or their office or wherever.

And the box gets opened and you know, Mary goes in there and gets a large, and nobody knows that Mary got the large. 

And then now there's one shirt missing and it's a big, you know, Spanish Inquisition about it. And I think this is really great because you're showing this is exactly what's in the box. And I love that.

That's a good idea.


Monica Maglaris: 

A little bit of human touch is really important. You can argue kind of with technology and a computer, be like, well, that's a computer thing. 

When someone takes the time to actually fill that little thing in with, you know, with a Sharpie, it gives a little extra authenticity to it.

That's kind of hard to mess with. It's a psychological thing. It works. Give it a try. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

Yeah, you could also like in the corner, put hand, counted with initials. 


Monica Maglaris: 

Exactly, exactly. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

Cool. Right. 

So women-owned businesses only make up about 38% of the total small businesses in the US, and that's something I kind of want to dig into what, and you're a certified women-owned business.

So why do you think that number is so low? Do you have any thoughts on that? 


Monica Maglaris: 

I think women in business isn't necessarily in its infancy, but it's still a somewhat younger concept in a historical context, just like women in the workforce in general work a big part of the populace until after World War II.

Right? So women in business really only started kind of getting traction and like the eighties and nineties. So it's not at the beginning. It's kind of like in as many adolescents, so it's a trajectory that's been moving forward. But I think that fundamentally, I would say that is perhaps the reason for it.

Would it be the same reason why it took a while for women to go up into the workplace as well because you still have those gender roles where women were expected? There were certain things that women were expected to do and be, and you know, they had to integrate themselves into the workplace and the same thing is happening then in corporate America.

And then now as entrepreneurs. That integration is happening. And I, as much as maybe I'd like to see it speed up a bit, I think that things sort of naturally sort of evolve. And I think that's, what's happening. That's sort of what's being represented here, but I think it does kind of come down to gender roles a little bit.

I think women still feel that maybe being an entrepreneur might take up too much of their time and pull them away too much from family or. A nine to five job may feel more, um, may feel more comfortable for them because they know that that time is locked in and then they can do other things just their time may be more flexible.

Sometimes being an entrepreneur means you're burning the candle at both ends. That's a little hard to do when you have a family. And I'm sure there are many men that can speak to that and understand that. And one part of the conversation that you know, might need to happen is in a sense. No men sort of saying like, Hey, you know what, this is doable.

We, we, you know, we can do it, you can do it. And having that sort of comradery with other business owners is super important or people who are just thinking about starting a business, cause it can be daunting. And there's a lot of expectation on people. And I don't necessarily think that it's strictly related to women, but since we're talking about women in business, I would.

Say that that's probably the reason why is really that it's that worry that maybe they're going to get pulled away too much. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

So do you think it has anything to do with women being a little more risk-averse than guys? Cause guys will just do it. I mean, I can't tell you how many dumb things I've done in my life without thinking.

Right. 


Monica Maglaris: 

I think I, you know what, that's an excellent point and you may very well be right on that. Uh, women are a little bit more risk-averse. Yeah. Unless you're me. Not so much then, you know, sure. Let's do this. What could possibly go wrong?


Marshall Atkinson: 

Yeah. Well, I was reading an article. Uh, it was a McKinsey & Company study and they were talking about, uh, with everything that is going on in business right now with COVID and the pandemic and recovery and everything that women are poised to make better business owners and more sales because they can have a, they're more equipped just as people to lead with empathy and lead with better communication. 

And I, a lot of the women business owners and business leaders that I know these are their most outstanding qualities, you know, they just they're naturally like you want to do stuff with them because they're so good and relatable and you know, that kind of thing.

Right. Would you agree with that? What do you think about that? 


Monica Maglaris: 

As I would agree with it, I, you know, I almost feel like a sense of reverse sexism even saying that because I get along so well with men and it's a hard thing to say, but. Yeah, a bit. Um, I think, and I think it's more along the lines of women have that.

How can I help kind of Empathy... And especially if you are in a service industry and you know, my part of the industry certainly is I think all screen printing is, is service. And, but especially as a contract decorator, my role is to be the fixer and the person who kind of makes sure that, you know, everybody's okay.

So yeah, maybe that approach does help a little bit of, you know, having a little bit more of a nurturing personality. It may kind of. Give a little bit of an advantage that way, but I certainly do not think that that is something men couldn't tap into. I think men certainly could easily tap into that because it's just about opening up a little bit and kind of really coming at it from that service.

The first perspective is like, you know, tell me how I can help you. 

And that's something that you do really, really well. So there's no reason you can't teach all of the men to do exactly that because you do it perfectly well. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

Thank you, Monica check’s in the mail. Yeah.

So you're a certified women-owned business, right?

So why did you apply for that and jumped through all those hoops? And then what does that actually bring you?


Monica Maglaris: 

Okay, well, the whole process of being certified for anything is, is quite interesting. It's not for the faint of heart, proving that you're a woman is. Interesting to do know, proving, proving that you're a woman.

And then, by the way, we got actually certified as an LGBT-owned business first. And we did that very early, like 2004. So proving that you're gay before gay marriage and things like that was a very invasive process. And it, you know, it was, it was very strange, but. What happens is basically you get, you know, you get certified that you're a woman-owned business scaling the business, a black-owned business, Asian-owned business, and you then try to compete for contracts in set aside programs.

So the federal government, uh, has mandated a certain amount of money to spend in what they call diversity dollars. And those dollars are set aside strictly for minority-owned businesses. And by the way, if you are a veteran, thank you for your service and you should be first in line to sign up. To become a certified veteran-owned business.

It's extremely important. You guys should be the first up right there at the top of the list. And you are, so you should, if you are a veteran, definitely get certified, go through the process, it's worth it. And so after you're certified, you're going to compete for these diversity dollars. And you're basically going to go to large corporations who deal with the federal government, which most of them do.

Because it's almost like a trickle-down system where the government, a lot of certain amounts that they want to spend with, you know, diverse companies. And then also large corporations had that same set-aside program as well. So what we're talking about, it's actually billions of dollars that are out on the table there.

So if you're able to be certified in some way, Uh, you should definitely do. So, even if you're in your, uh, disadvantaged community, for instance, that's a huge part of supplier diversity. So it's not just about, you know, your sexual orientation or your gender. There are so many things that encompass diverse spend and.

It tends to be a little bit easier for people like promotional products, companies, for instance, to get in on there because they have direct, um, direct access to those contracts. Right? So someone like ourselves at Liberty, we would become what is called a tier two supplier. So. Therefore, let's just say company a is the promotional products company.

And let's say she is a black lesbian veteran and she owns a promotional products company and she goes to the government. She's got what, let's see women black and veteran. She's got three diversity classifications that make her look very, very, very sexy. To large corporations and the federal government and state and local as well.

And because that means that those diversity dollars are then counted one, two, three times, which is huge for them, for their reporting purposes. So then she says, Oh, by the way, on my contract, I'm going to use Liberty Print Co because they're women-owned and they're get. So then now she has five times the diversity dollars.

So she looks off the charts. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

Yeah. You should have went to the Marine Corps too. And then you would have hit all three also. 


Monica Maglaris: 

Yeah, I'm not that brave. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

So I think one of the things also is not just for diversity dollars is because sometimes, uh, the people in a certain group or tribe or whatever you want to call it.

Look for themselves in their vendor chain. Right? We want to find people just like us. So, you know, certified women-owned businesses like to use. Uh, certified women on business because you guys speak the same language you're having the same struggle. And it's probably the same thing for, you know, uh, the, the gay community.

Right. So that, you know, the gay and lesbian, chamber of commerce thing. Right. So, uh, so it's like one of these things, where do you, does that ring true to you also? 


Monica Maglaris: 

It sure does, and a lot of it is part of, I think, any disenfranchised community has a sense of community service. You know, when you get somewhere, you want to help other people up and stuff like that, show them the way forward.

And so for me, um, you know, we're certified, uh, by the. National gay and lesbian chamber of commerce. The NGLCC that's the certifying body. Um, our local chapter regional chapter actually is CTGLLC, which is the Connecticut gay and lesbian chamber of commerce. And I served on the board of directors and I was actually the chair of supplier diversity for them.

So what I would do is I would go out into our community. And I would say to people, Hey, are you a business owner? If so, let's get you certified. Let's get you competing. You know the biggest thing to really like to explain to people is that you still have to be damn, damn, damn good at your job. You have to hit all of those parameters that they would be looking for in any other company.

So you've got to somehow compete at the same level, but then also differentiate yourself as like, Hey, I can help you. You know, spend that money that's mandated. So they set it aside, you know, you gotta go for it. And we just try to kind of help everybody get there. It's not an easy process at all, but if you can, if you can make a good go of it, you can actually do a heck of a lot of business.


Marshall Atkinson: 

So just curious, what, what percentage of business would you say from your overall sales comes from these connections versus just I'm using you because you're in my same neighborhood?


Monica Maglaris: 

I would say currently, um, off the top of my head, I'm going to say right now, probably only about 18%, actually. It's not our core focus. Uh, we definitely do not leverage it as much as we probably could. And one of the reasons why is that? Because we're a tier two supplier, once again, you know, we're down on the food chain a little bit, we're not going right up to like the big corporations and the federal government.

We're going to, you know, patties promotional products and saying, Hey, this is who we are. And so as the pool gets larger, Of diverse suppliers then, and you start swimming in that pool. You start making a little bit of traction, um, but it's still a very small pool. So we, you know, and the other component of that is just our business model and the way we do business, to be honest with you, most of the, most of the companies that.

That contract to us is straight white men, because that's just the predominant group that you know, that you're talking to. And so it doesn't, it doesn't add up to a whole hell of a lot of volume. But what it is doing though, is its sort of chipping away a little bit and to the point where maybe that playing field can get a little bit more even, and it's, it's great.

It expands your network of people a bit. But as I said before, I've looked at it as way more of an opportunity for me to serve my community. Than anything. So I've spent more time advocating for other people to get certified than I have to leverage my own certification. If that makes any sense 


Marshall Atkinson: 

It does.

And Monica, we should talk. I bet I can help you with that.


Marshall Atkinson: 

Things I've always liked about you is you don't shy away from the fact that you're gay and you're a member of the national gay and lesbian chamber of commerce. Can you talk about that a little bit about what it just brings to the table for you? You know, have you lost business because of it, if somebody got, you know, kind of like that bakery that won't make the cake, you know, kind of a thing or whatever, like also, how does it.

I think being your authentic, true self, I just feel so natural. Right. So we just want to do what we do, right? Yeah. Um, so talk about that a little bit. Cause, um, you know, I just want to make sure everybody kind of understands 


Monica Maglaris: 

Sure. To the best of my knowledge, we've not lost any business from being open about who we are and that.

That's a great thing. I mean, but I also don't know if we, if, if, if it has been a factor that I don't know if anybody, you know, nobody's ever actually called it to my attention. So I don't think so. Um, I also think we tend to live in an area of the country. That's pretty open and diverse. A lot of people have a stereotype of Connecticut, a little bit as being a certain way, but.

For such a small little state, we are jam-packed full of a lot of different kinds of people. And we all get along really well. We're, you know, we, I would say New England or Connecticut puts the England in New England. We're very polite. So I've never heard of anything like that at all. I've never had any kind of discrimination at all.

I have had one instance with a very large promotional company that I will not name publicly, that did use us for our diverse status to get a rather large federal contract, and then went to another supplier after they secured the contract. And, you know, basically what with kind of the old boy's system, you know, but they were savvy enough to try to leverage our certification and they won the contract.

And so tokenism is still an issue. It does happen, but I would say that's really the only negative experience I've ever had. Everyone else has been just. Amazing. And I am very grateful for it, but I was also grateful for what happens in that negative sense because it taught me that you do have to kind of protect your status, you know, if you, it, you know, because it is, there's so much money involved in these things that someone yeah.

It's probably going to be a little nefarious and try to use you. And you've just got to protect yourself. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

Well, nobody wants to be taken advantage of, right? 


Monica Maglaris: 

No, no. And it, you know, and I'm a huge believer in karma. And, you know, she shall rain down on their heads. I'm sure. But, uh, in the meantime, you know what, I was kind of like, all right, you do, you, that's fine.

You know, that'll come back on you someday. Um, but for the most part, yeah, nobody's ever really like dropped us or anything like that for being who we are. Ever had a problem with it. We have a really diverse team. Like I said, with a capital team, we've got a very diverse team. Uh, we have other gay people here.

We have black people here. We have Hispanic people here, men and women, and everyone just sort of coalesces together. And I think I always, I always put a lot of emphasis actually on our logo. If you look at our logo, we've got the class hands. And that means partnership. And that is at the heart of every little thing we do.

So whether it's how we conduct ourselves out in the community or how we treat each other inside the shop or how we treat our clients, everything is about partnership. And how can you further strengthen that partnership? So when you have that foot forward, first, the restaurant falls into place. So we've never really had any issues here.

With any types of strange feelings or discrimination or, you know, meanness or anything like that? I think that like attracts, like, and if you go out in the world with an open heart and an open mind, you're probably going to come across people like that. And you just keep them tight in your circle, make them part of your tribe.


Marshall Atkinson: 

Well, that's great. And the one thing I do know is that having diversity in the workplace always leads to better ideas because you know, you don't have group-think everybody brings. Whatever's awesome about whatever they do to the table and that, you know, makes the chili spicier. If you know what I mean?


Monica Maglaris: 

That's funny that you should say that because that's, I think one of the best parts is that we do a lot of, uh, a lot of lunches here. Now of course, with COVID we've had to take a break from that, but. The food, the amount of food that comes through this shop is just phenomenal. Everybody brings their A-game.

We actually do have a chili cook-off and we have a golden ladle award and everything. So yeah, those little team-building things are seriously key. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

Yeah, we did a, uh, always ran a chili cook-off for the employees with monetary prizes. And I would invite clients to be the judges and we'll get all of them involved.

And that was always a lot of fun. 


Monica Maglaris: 

That's a great idea. I can't wait till COVID is over. We're going to have a lot of parties. Absolutely. Sure. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

So a final question here. 

So what do you think that, you know, you're a contract decorator, right? So what do you think are the top one to three things? Or that makes a really fantastic contract decorator for somebody who's like not happy with what the company they're using.

What's the one or two or three things that they should be looking for?


Monica Maglaris: 

The first thing is that you've gotta be on point with your quality, uh, every single best practice. And, and just in terms of educating yourself and training your staff in how to do things, the old school way. First, get their hands dirty before you start bringing on the technology, I think is, uh, is a huge, huge marker in helping to make someone like a better printer and brighter.

And the second thing I would say would be just truly being present with your clients. And making each one of them, whenever you interact with them, feel as if they're the most important person that you could possibly be talking to that day, you know, and remembering little details about them, you know, if their mom was sick or if they told you that kind of a thing, you know, Make a mental catalog of that, you know, and, and have those touchpoints with them.

So they know every step of the way that you care about them. And I think the other, the last thing I would probably say would be transparency and honesty. Sometimes when you make a mistake is actually when you shine the brightest. Because of the way you handle that mistake because they're inevitably going to happen.

We're all human beings. We can't all be flawless at all times, but how do you handle that mistake taking ownership of it and then showing how you've learned or how maybe you, it, sometimes when you make a mistake, it actually opens up a doorway for you to become better at something. And if you happen to have that little nugget, then sharing that with your client.

You know what? This just opened up a dialogue with my team about how we can do this better. So I would say just quality being present and being honest. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

Love it. Love it. Okay, great. So thank you so much for sharing everything about your success today. Monica was really awesome.


Monica Maglaris: 

Thank you so much for having me.

I really appreciate it. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

Yeah. If somebody wants to know more about Liberty or you or whatever and wants to get a hold of you, what's the best way for them to do that? 


Monica Maglaris: 

Well, you could go to Libertyprintco.com, our website. Uh, you can hit us up on Instagram or Facebook at Liberty Print Co, and of course, by all means, feel free to email me, Monica Maglaris at [email protected], I'd be completely stoked to talk to people. Absolutely. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

Okay. That's fantastic. Thanks, Monica. You're a great, 


Monica Maglaris: 

Thanks, Marshall. 


Marshall Atkinson: 

Well, that's our show today. Thanks for listening and don't forget to subscribe so you can stay up to date on the latest Success Stories, episodes.

How many suggestions for future guests or topics send them my way at [email protected].

And we'll see you next time.