Success Stories with Marshall Atkinson

Success Stories EP 27 - "The Ace of Political Fundraising Campaigns"

August 25, 2021 Marshall Atkinson Season 2 Episode 27
Success Stories with Marshall Atkinson
Success Stories EP 27 - "The Ace of Political Fundraising Campaigns"
Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever wondered who is behind the amazing success of political fundraising for campaigns?  

On this episode of Success Stories, Christl Mahfouz with Ace Specialties in Lafayette, Louisiana will share her story of the success of building a branded merchandising business that focuses on fundraising and politics.

During the discussion, you’ll hear how she started her business in 2007 focusing on the oil and gas industry but pivoted in 2015 into the political arena.  In 2020, Ace Specialties raised over a billion dollars for candidates through branded merchandise and online stores.

Whether you work with political candidates or not, learning how Christl and her team at Ace Specialties have generated that level of success is something that you should hear.



Marshall Atkinson  

Welcome to Success Stories brought to you by S&S Activewear. I'm your host, Marshall Atkinson. And this is the podcast that focuses on what's working so you can have success too. Have you ever wondered who was behind the amazing success of political fundraising for campaigns? On this episode of success stories? Crystal Mahfouz moody with Ace Specialties in Lafayette, Louisiana will share her story of the success of building a branded merchandising business that focuses on fundraising and politics. During the discussion, you’ll hear how she started her business in 2007, focusing on the oil and gas industry, but pivoted in 2015 into the political arena. And 2020 A specialties raised over a billion dollars. Yes, that's billion with a B, for candidates through branded merchandise and online stores. Whether you work with political candidates or not learning how Krystal and her team and Ace Specialties have generated that level of success is something that you should hear. So welcome crystal to the success stories podcast.

Christl Mafouz  

Wow, Marshall, first of all, thank you so much for having me on the show super excited to share my story. This is actually my very first podcast. So you know, I'm excited. 

Marshall Atkinson  

Well, you're in good hands, because I've been doing this for a while.

Christl Mafouz  

And we have a business relationship that we've established several years ago. So it makes it even that more special. 

Marshall Atkinson  

Yeah, I've been to your company three times. Now I think you have you've seen the progress and the growth. So you're ready first in the questions. I'm ready. All right. So let's start by discussing how you got into their branded merchandise industry. Your company's background was in oil and gas. So talk about how you got started in the business, what has driven your growth, and how you ended up really championing political campaign fundraising. 

Christl Mafouz  

So to tell my story has to take you back to the very beginning back in 2007, I was very close and had a mentor who was president and CEO of an oil and gas industry. And that was Mr. Donald Mosing his father had started Frank's Casing Crew, seventy years prior. And Mr. Don was always looking to motivate and encourage others. And one day he came to me and he said, you know, you should start a company selling work gloves, we buy thousands and thousands. He said, If you start a company, I'll be your first customer. So what I do, started an LLC. And, of course, it wasn't that easy for Don was an old grumpy man. But he taught me a lot because he made me go through the road, the business wasn't given to me, he showed me how to do a pitch, how to sit with the sales, the safety director, what I needed to say, and how I needed to make the deal happen. So after a few months of going through the ropes got my first order, and the rest is history. And from there, I realized there was a great need in the oil and gas industry. Back then I was motivated as I am today. But even more because here I am starting this business from scratch had you know started at literally with $100 in the checking account. 

And one product one mission, which was to build this great company owned by me. Oh, right. Right. Yeah, yes. So when I was in college at ul, that's when the.com became famous and everybody was buying coms and starting websites and so I had the idea back then in 2007 to start an online portal for clients oil fill clients to where they could go in and we would have pre-approved products where they could go in place an order we would get the order, we would drop ship it, customize it, etc. Within a few months after starting an I was at EDIS breakfast place which I had worked at in college. I think you've had the pleasure of visiting that restaurant. And when I was there my friend, Marla was with a gentleman who at the time I didn't know where he worked or who he was. And he said, Oh, I heard you started a new company. You do oil-filled uniforms. And I said, "Yes, sir. Whatever you need, I could do it". And so he said, "Okay, well, let's schedule an appointment. Can you drive to Houston next week? Let's sit down and see what products you have to offer". So get in my car, schedule a meeting. The next week, here I am in the woodlands pulling up to this massive skyscraper, only to realize that they occupied the whole building. And that was Anadarko Petroleum. 

And so I walked in and sat down with the two supervisors for the offshore division, and did my pitch and said, "I know I'm a new company, but I can promise you one thing. And that's excellent customer service". And from there, we went through the products and their needs. And they looked at me and said, "Well, looks like you've got a deal". And so when I walked out of that office, I immediately went to my car and just got on the phone. I was like, I need embroidery machines. I need sewing machines. I need accounts with Dickies, Walls, Redwing, Wolverine, all of these companies. And I'll never forget, one of them, one of the suppliers, which was Radianz, their sales rep happened to be in the area. And so she came into the warehouse at the time, which was full of women's clothing because that's what we were wholesaling at the time. And I said, Look, you just have to trust me, I know I'm starting this business from scratch. But I guarantee that I'll buy thousands and thousands of units, just trust me. And so she did. And so we still laugh about that to this day, because I ended up being one of their top suppliers of safety products. And so that's sort of the story from there. Once I got into the uniform business and safety products, I immediately realized that there was a need for outfitting not only the offshore division for companies but also onshore. And that's where we started discussing holos for office staff, promotional products. Do you have little notepads for the guys offshore? Do you have this that we could get with our logo? So that's when I started looking into the promo industry and realized that ASI existed and immediately became a distributor for ASI. And so that's how I got into the promo world was basically being a one-stop-shop for clients from head to toe, whether they were onshore offshore, etc.

Marshall Atkinson  

Okay, now, how did you get into doing political stuff, because that's basically all you do now, you've completely switched. And you do and you help with election campaigns. So walk us through that, because it's such a fun story to hear.

Christl Mafouz  

So I became involved in the political world, really by faith, and 2014. The oil and gas industry, which was my primary source of income, primary clientele, took a steep downhill turn. And it was really unexpected. And I woke up one day and realized, wait, I can't pay my bills. And I began to worry, panic, had just moved into a new building had purchased a ton of inventory, a ton of equipment, and just saw my dream crashing in front of me. And I had to let go, probably 70% of my employees and all I could do at that moment was really turn to God. And I began, I'm Catholic. And so I began praying nosiness, I prayed four or five times a day, asking God to give me direction to show me the why. I had meetings with my CPA attorneys, they were encouraging me just to file bankruptcy and give up and I said, Well, that's not me. So I'm gonna do whatever I can to try to get my business to survive. I mean, I started it from scratch. And at that point, it was seven years old. And so it was early 2015 where it really, really got tough. And by tough I mean maxing out the credit cards. I took Shark Tank loans or shark loans, I guess, you know, with streaming high-interest rates made terrible decisions but continued praying. And I prayed for a door to open. 

And so it was in June of 2015, you know, the infamous day where President Trump came down the escalator and announced that he was going to run for president of the United States. And so immediately, as I sat there and watched his speech, and I listened to every word, these visions, these logos popped into my head, Women for Trump, Veterans for Trump, Team Trump, and at that time, one of my top employees, I had just let go. I mean, it was really hard. And so I reached out to her, and I said, hey, look, I think this is our chance, this is our chance to bring ice back, our chance of survival. This is what I envisioned in my head, can you bring it to life. And so Nicole being the great graphic designer that she was, we immediately started putting together I mean, she put together Team Trump with the flag and Women for Trump, and Veterans for Trump, Oil-fill for Trump. I mean, anything we could think of we designed it and within 72 hours printed the product, and we sent the sample pack to Trump Towers. And I followed that also with the email saying to Eric Trump, that your father's running for office, I would love the opportunity to be the go-to supplier for all of your campaign needs. And at that time, I had pitched doing an online fundraising store where people can contribute and get a product in return. And when I look back at the email, the words I used were, let's do this. So not only can your father get support, but we could get his message across America. And within a few weeks once Well, once they received the package, I got a call immediately that everyone loves the products wanted to know who made them, where did they come from who designed them. 

And so I said, Nicole and I put together this great package, and we would love the opportunity. So two weeks later, I find myself in Trump Towers, doing the pitch, what I would call was the pitch of a lifetime. And when en literally bought every product that I could that was made in the USA, and printed it and took it to New York and set up this Shark Tank-style presentation. And everything from we actually built an e-commerce store, we had all the product there that we could on site, we had binders showing you the products, here are the prices, here's how it would work, etc. and had a 1-800 number, everything you can imagine there was no detail left unturned. And so to set the scene on here I am setting up and I think one of the greatest moments was sitting there and I was nervous. And I was just praying to myself and before anyone walked in, Ivanka walks in and she looked at everything and she said "American Apparel, made in the USA", and she gave me a high five. And at that moment, every ounce of nervousness left my body. And I said, “You know what, I've got this, I could do this.” And so she walks out. And about 20 minutes later, that campaign team walks in, and immediately they run to the table. I mean, it was just so beautiful and amazing. And so they look at everything, and Eric walks in, and he says, "Tell us how it's gonna work". And so I said, "I will be the go-to supplier for the website, we will manage the product, we'll come up with the creative, we'll help develop logos, and people can donate. And we will handle everything from making the product to getting it out the door to handling customer service". And within 10 minutes, I would say someone called Mr. Trump to come down, and immediately, he walks in and looks at all the products. And you know, and I'll never forget, he said, "You see this red? This is our red, we're going to win with this red. This is presidential red. I want everything to be this red".  And I said, "Yes sir, got it". And they looked at me and said and how fast can you get this done? I said, "Well, give me a week". He said, "Okay, looks like you've got a deal". And when he turned around he said, "Do you mind if I take some of these bumper stickers?"  And I said "No sir, please. There's 500 please take them" and that pretty much was the launch of probably the most iconic brand employee political history. And we know it makes you want to cry, but so grateful to have been a part from the beginning.

Marshall Atkinson  

I think what's so amazing Christl is that you're from Lafayette, Louisiana, you're not from New York, you're not from a big city. You're not tied in where you would think they would turn to, and you made it happen yourself by taking the risk by taking the chance by creating their product on the website and all their printed stuff. And it wasn't just on the paper, and I'll make you some samples later kind of a thing. You actually did everything to win the business. And it's not just winning it, you earned it by taking that risk, would you say?

Christl Mafouz  

I would say yes. And that is correct. And you know, if there's one thing that I've learned over the last few years is taking that proactive approach doesn't matter if the clients large or small, when you put something in their hands, hands down, send them a package, we went ahead and went the extra mile and printed a few products with your logo. What do you think? And I think that goes a long way. I mean, rarely have I had someone say, "Oh, I'm sorry, you know, we're going to go a different route". But when you actually give them tangible items that they could touch and feel, and they know that you've gone that extra mile, then they know they have a partner for life. And so that is sort of the motto that I've built within the company, we have to think outside the box, we have to be proactive. I had a motivational pop-up that came through my phone yesterday. And basically, it said no matter what, and where you are in life, how successful you are. Never forget where you came from. And I think that that should never I will never think I'm above or better or you'll not find me hands-on in the warehouse. Because I've had nothing before literally. I mean, I've been at the lowest of the low the bottom of the barrel struggling every day. And I never want to go back there ever and building this team spirit and this in Ace takes hands-on or interaction, just reminding everyone you know, I like to think that everyone here is like a family. And I've heard other employees say that when we're out and about, you know, aces like a family. And I never want to lose that. And so we've come a long way and we all love what we do and it's been an amazing ride.

Marshall Atkinson  

So catch everybody up where you are now. So you did stuff for the Trump campaign. And now you've branched out and it's basically every single republican campaign in the entire country. You're involved in, correct?

Christl Mafouz  

Well, not every single one. I mean, if they're not using us, then they're not winning, right? No, but I mean, the campaign, right?

Marshall Atkinson  

So you're involved at a super high level, and it's just an amazing kind of thing that you've built from scratch. And I remember when I started working with you a couple of years ago, I absolutely couldn't believe it. It was just astounding to me. What you and your team have built from scratch just from somebody going you know what I want to work with you because I like your moxie. And I think that's just amazing. It's an amazing story.

Christl Mafouz  

Well out over the last few years what we've done, I think this is something that all businesses need to focus on is really where technology is today. And in the promo world being able to be innovative, think outside the box, invest in whatever you need to invest in to solidify and to keep up with the times is very crucial. And so we've worked over the last two years to develop an online integration with a donation portal for conservative organizations, Republican candidates, and like-minded companies. And so what we do is we offer a print-on-demand solution, all products made in the USA. And when someone donates, and they get a product in return, then we print the product and ship it out on behalf of the client. And I believe that that has really been a game-changer for our business, but also for the industry as a whole.

Marshall Atkinson  

You have served several business clients and political clients. Can you describe the differences? Or even maybe the similarities between them? Like how do you keep everybody happy? You know, because I think the political engine works a little different than like B2B.

Christl Mafouz  

Yes, they are different. But ultimately, the same, I mean, every client has the same need when it comes to promo products. And what I found is that everyone needs it. Now, by the time they pick up the phone, and they call you, it's already too late, right? So everything is rush, but being able to deliver and meet the needs of the client, and being able to think ahead and outside the box, what sets you apart. And so that is our goal here at Ace, I tried to at all times, keep thousands upon thousands, hundreds of thousands, really of blank products on the shelf. That way, when we do get that call, we're able to stop what we're doing. Throw in the order, get it out the door, and the end result is a happy client. 

Marshall Atkinson  

And even a sample. I mean, sometimes they sample or they need to see a yard sign or a bumper sticker or whatever. And you're busting that out from scratch sometimes the same day.

Christl Mafouz  

Correct, correct. And one of the greatest tools that we have is being able to respond to the news--rapid response is what we like to call it. So let's say we if I had to say the difference between political and business, the political client says something in the news and it takes off, well, next thing you know, and the next 10 minutes, we are printing a shirt with that slogan, or coming up with a new one. And that also takes off, right? Being able to rapidly respond with products, getting the message out there, on behalf of our client has been a huge, huge, huge success for our clients, but also for Ace. And it's fun. I mean, a lot of great things out there.

Marshall Atkinson  

Right? I know, I've been in your office and watched you just look up at the news. And it's like, "Oh, wheels are turning. We're gonna do something with that".

Christl Mafouz  

Right, right. I think one of the greatest rapid response moments was when we were at a Trump rally, and President Trump said, we should have a shirt that says, "Where's Hunter?" And within five minutes, we had a design ready. We had the product online approved before he even walked off the stage. And so that's what I call rapid response, being in the moment, just really going for it. So the takeaway from here is maybe somebody listening isn't, you know, political, and maybe they don't support the republican conservative strategy, but that's okay. Because the key here is to learn how to respond to your clients quickly, and get the stuff that they can use to further their business or make them happier roll and somehow, when you say, yes, yes, and for us here, I mean, it's not just me alone, it literally takes the whole team. And so when we seek new employees, and when we work with our current staff, it's very important that your whole team is on the same mission. And you have the same beliefs and you have the same goals at the end of the day because it truly takes a team to be able to monitor what's going on in the news, being able to understand what all of your clients are wanting and needing and being creative and being able to do the rapid response. So I had to encourage any business owners out there, it's to make sure that you never lose sight of your mission. Never lose sight of your goal earlier this year, we were canceled by cancel culture. And did that affect who I am? And my end goal? No, it didn't. But it again made me realize, well, it reminded me of where I was in 2014, where I was struggling. And again, thank God every day for blessing us and for being and thinking outside the box, being innovative, keeping up with the times creating this new technology that is only going to help us grow for the future.

Marshall Atkinson  

So you're talking about your team a minute ago, so and I think most successful business leaders, you have to have that great support team behind them to make everything work. So what is it like to actually work at a? And how does your team fuel that growth? So what are you doing to make that happen?

Christl Mafouz  

Oh, wow. You know, I don't know if you should ask me or ask. I think like I mentioned before, the job we have, the clientele we work with, there's always something exciting, always something behind the scenes, there's always something that we're doing before the whole world knows it. And I think having that passion that that mission, and then seeing it become a success, like when we launch a product. And next thing, you know, it's all over the news. And oh, this person at selling this product and come into thousands upon thousands of borders. It's exciting. I mean, no one can deny that no one can take that away. And what we do every morning, we have a team meeting, we try to have multiple meetings throughout the day, encourage each other, motivate each other. And like I said before, I don't look at myself any different with if we're you have to put on TNA shoes and work the warehouse all week, then it's all hands on deck because it takes a team to make it happen. And we strive to keep that motto and culture in the company.

Marshall Atkinson  

So a good chunk of your success is generated through those online store platforms. So what do you think the best practices are that fuel that success that someone listening could take away and implement with their online store platforms.

Christl Mafouz  

So I think when it comes to e-commerce and online store, creativity, innovation, having control of the entire process is probably the most important, or unless you're working with a partner who really meets your standards. And by that, I mean working with someone who can print the orders for you, but also get them out in a timely manner. Because the first minute, it takes 30 days to get an order, your clients not going to be happy. So we strive here days to fulfill, pack, ship, and deliver to our clients within 10 to 14 business days. And time last year one of we were on a conference call and someone said yeah, aces like the Amazon of political. And that made me feel so good. Because that's really what we push for every day is to always keep our commitments, try to go over and beyond try to oversell deliver under our deadline. And so it keeps us going.

Marshall Atkinson  

Though you meant under promise and over deliver under-promise and over-deliver. Yeah, I couldn't find the word. Dallas like, what's that word? Yeah. And for you guys, the technology component is such a key, tell how everything runs. And it's can get really confusing when you think about the multiple 10s of thousands of SKUs that you guys deal with every day. And so I think one of the things that set you guys apart is the fact that you've done a really good job of how you name things, where things are, how organized you try to be. So let's talk about that real quick, because I think standardizing how you do things is the key to moving faster, don't you agree?

Christl Mafouz  

Yes, I do agree. I will say one of the largest struggles that we've had over the last several years as we've been developing this print-on-demand solution is the technology. There is not one software out there that provides everything that a promotional product company needs. Bad sales, production, manufacturing fulfillment shipping, there's not a one-stop solution. And so, over the last three years, it's really been a struggle for us to set these processes in place, we've won the route of Okay, this is the process, this is how we're going to do it. And then two months later, realize, Oh, wait, this software upgraded and added this new step that will make our life easier. And so we basically have a change in the process. And so having to retrain everybody, redo the process, make sure that everyone's on the same page. It's been a little struggle, but communication training, walking through the process over and over and over until everyone feels comfortable with it is he and making the whole operation work when basically, you're trying to piece the puzzles together with different software solutions. And so what we've been working on over the last month or so is trying to build and develop our own process that can meet our needs. 

Marshall Atkinson  

Right? Well, cool. So before we go, for somebody that's listening out there, that might need a word of encouragement, because something's not quite right. Help their crystal. Give them some words of wisdom here.

Christl Mafouz  

So to all the wonderful business owners out there, if you're struggling, if you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, I would say don't give up, right? Believe in yourself. Believe in your mission. If that means diverting the mission to meet the industry needs, doing your research, putting a new business plan together, and going for it. And that's my encouragement, just to never give up.

Marshall Atkinson  

Awesome. That's fantastic. So thank you so much crystal for your time today, you were great. If somebody wanted to learn more about you, or maybe contact you to learn more about how you can help them what's the best way to get ahold of you.

Christl Mafouz  

So the best way to get ahold of Ace is to visit acespecial.com. And there you will find a Contact Us link. And we're here and readily available. Awesome. 

Marshall Atkinson  

Well, thank you so much, Crystal, you've been great.

Christl Mafouz  

Thank you, Marshall, and have a wonderful day.

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. Have any suggestions for future guests or topics? Send them my way and [email protected] and we'll see you next time.