Bret Bonnet – Co-founder of Quality Logo Products

It’s not about being right, it’s about what is best for the company, and what’s best for the company is what makes the experience better for our customers.

Quality Logo Products was started by Michael Wenger and Bret Bonnet in 2003. The two met while attending North Central College in Naperville, IL. Armed with a beer-covered laptop and a $10,000 grant from the Coleman Foundation, Bret and Mike were determined to change the way this traditionally offline industry operated.

What started out originally in Bonnet’s basement is now a $40M company with over 110 employees. Quality Logo Products has made the Inc. 500/5000 list 7 years in a row and was recently ranked the 34th largest distributor of promotional products by Promo Marketing Magazine.

Where did the idea for Quality Logo Products come from?

Fifteen years ago, before Google and Facebook, the idea of selling promotional products online was still relatively new. For such a high margin and volume industry – competition was low. You could literally count the number of providers on one hand. Not only was the space wide open for new entrants, the current experience and market offering was in desperate need of improvement. With a heavy focus on technology and R&D, Quality Logo Products was born and today is a leading provider of promotional products.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

When I’m not sorting or responding to emails (I literally average 2100 inbound emails each day, including weekends and holidays), I spend most of my time with our developers and various members of the Marketing Department. I seriously love my job. I have the luxury of having a co-owner who excels and enjoys ALL the activities that I either dread or suck at, so I get to spend my non-email time solving problems, making awesome software, and innovating.

In terms of productivity, we use various solutions across departments. For example, the developers use Slack + JIRA and our marketing team uses DaPulse. At day’s end, I start each day with a plan/goal, and I don’t let myself go home until I accomplish that goal. I’ve got a 10-month-old at home, and I love spending time with him. There has never been greater motivation to get my work done instead of burning the midnight oil day in and day out.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have the luxury of being surrounded by amazing development and marketing teams. There is literally no idea or project they can’t make a reality. The biggest problem is finding the time for ALL the ideas! Most of our ideas are the result of extensive data analysis and user testing. Nothing is programmed and no task started without proper evaluation and data to substantiate the investment. We’re constantly testing and improving because our best ideas are the ones that improve the customer experience.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Personalization. The sooner we can start providing a unique experience for each individual customer, the better chance we have to succeed. What drives personalization? Data. I love data. Some of the most amazing ideas, tools, or enhancements we’ve made to our website came from mining customer data. Being able to identify and take advantage of trends has had a huge impact on our bottom line.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

As an entrepreneur, it’s very important to learn to take things in stride and not take ANYTHING personally. Focus is key. If you’re not running your business, it’s running you. Being selective with who or what gets my attention or time has allowed me to improve my focus and become more productive.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t start a business whose primary marketing tactic depends on internet marketing for its success. Whether it’s search engine rankings or the latest social media ad unit, I feel at times the likes of Google, Facebook, or Amazon actually run my company vs. myself. I’d probably tell my younger self to learn a trade or skill that could never be marginalized, like becoming a programmer or a scientist studying medicine.

Knowing my younger self, I probably would have ignored this advice though. The fact that so few players control so much of the online marketplace is indeed a pain in the butt but it doesn’t stop my love for this industry.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

The world is flat. Honestly, I can’t think of anything. Quality Logo Products is a very data-driven organization. The numbers don’t lie. It’s not about being right, it’s about what is best for the company, and what’s best for the company is what makes the experience better for our customers.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Always have a plan, but don’t be afraid to fail fast. And when a plan does fail or things go wrong, never show weakness. Your attitude has everything to do with your team’s reaction; even if you don’t know what you’re doing or what went wrong, it’s usually better to give others the impression you’re in control.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Take the road less traveled. I know this sounds cliché, but since day one, Quality Logo Products has been focused on the finish line. In an industry where there are 32,000 companies that do the exact same thing as Quality Logo Products, it’s not easy to stand out. By not settling for the easy wins, we’ve managed to turn $10,000 into a $40M business.

It’s not easy being different. People don’t understand different. By taking the time to develop our own custom platform, 100% tailored to the user experience, we’ve created something completely different and unique, and it’s allowed us to stand out amongst our competitors.

One example is our trademarked No Surprise Pricing technology. We’re the ONLY promotional products distributor who on page load gives the customer a guaranteed total delivered price and delivery date. In a business where the 20,000 products we offer are available in unlimited options/configurations, being able to present this pricing and delivery information upfront was no easy feat. It took over 5 years of development to perfect. Since launching No Surprise Pricing in March, we’ve seen all metrics (average order value, conversion rate, number of orders, etc.) exceed all expectations.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve been a participant in the promotional products industry in some capacity since I was 16. Logo products are pretty much in my DNA. Before I started Quality Logo Products, I had a similar venture with another party that eventually failed. The lessons I learned from that experience are countless. For one, be VERY careful who you go into business with. If you have the slightest doubt or sense of mistrust, trust your gut, and no matter how amazing the opportunity, move on. Not only is honesty between business partners super important, so is having a shared vision. If one wants to give up at the first sign of trouble, and the other doesn’t, it’s almost impossible to keep the business afloat when the owner has one foot out the door.

Luckily, Quality Logo Products has provided ample opportunities to learn and correct my mistake. In our 14 years working together, my other co-owner (Michael Wenger) and I have somehow managed to see eye to eye on almost EVERYTHING, and we’ve never had a disagreement that’s memorable. If anything, Mike’s more like my brother from a different mother as opposed to my business partner. Quality Logo Products has enabled us to become better friends and people. Even if I were to walk away from Quality Logo Products with nothing financially, Mike’s friendship would be payment enough.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There is a surprising number of custom home builders located nationwide. These firms might have 3 or 4 employees and maybe build anywhere from 10 to 20 homes a year. What’s one thing all these builders have in common? They’re disorganized and the amount of back office work, if done properly, is overwhelming. As a result, the customer (home buyer) suffers. There HAS to be a better way to manage the construction process, and the first person to create an easy-to-use mobile app that not only reduces the amount of back office work, but also improves the customer experience through increased efficiencies and transparency, is in line to make a lot of money.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought a JBL Flip 4 Waterproof Bluetooth speaker on Amazon the other day. It’s amazing. I use it all the time. I have a home surround sound system in my backyard that I think is pretty easy-to-use, but my wife can never get it to work properly. This speaker can be left outside, thrown in the pool, or be thrown repeatedly by my 10-month-old, and it still keeps on working. My wife can even get it to work without having to call or text me every time she wants to put a summer mix on outside while in the backyard. Each phone call or text exchange saved is money in the bank in my opinion! ????

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We use various software or web services across departments to remain productive. For example, the developers use Slack + JIRA and our marketing team uses DaPulse. I understand WHY people like these tools, but in my opinion, they don’t provide anything that I can’t do with email. I spend most of my time in Outlook to stay productive. Whenever my email gets corrupt or Exchange goes down, my life abruptly comes to a standstill and I get cold sweats!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I can’t recall the last time I had a chance to sit down and read something other than what appears in my Facebook feed, but if I had to pick a favorite book, I’d recommend Good to Great by Jim Collins. Collins identifies and evaluates the factors and variables that allow a small fraction of companies to make the transition from merely good to truly great. This book’s advice on management, operational practices, behaviors, and attitudes has helped shape our path to greatness. With a focus on core competency, we are able to craft and recognize our strengths as a company.

What is your favorite quote?

“Remember this key concept. People don’t always act on facts – only what they believe to be the facts (at the time)” – Trond Lyngbø, 2014

I love this quote because it applies to all facets of life. The sooner you accept that most people are indeed rational, but maybe misinformed, the easier it is for both sides to negotiate their differences.

Key learnings:

• Know and trust who you’re going into business with before you start your company.
• Make as many decisions as possible based on data.
• Take calculated risks and be willing to be different from the competition.
• Outlook is amazing!


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