First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
George Kepnick: I’m as good as can be expected. We have been hunkering down like most and limiting exposure to others. Thankfully, no one has contracted COVID-19 in the family yet.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Custom Comet
George Kepnick: I joined the internet marketing close to 20 years ago. Initially, I worked for other companies before starting mine with a business partner. That taught me a lot about different industries and what it takes to succeed online.
Digital marketing eventually led to getting into custom merchandise. I owned and eventually sold a custom lapel pin company years ago. I loved the industry so much that I started Custom Comet, which has expanded the product line.
How does Custom Comet innovate?
George Kepnick: When people think innovation, they tend to ascribe it to adding automation to the process. Automation is good at times, but I also found it was a big problem in the promotional product industry. Too many companies expected customers to be art experts and guess how the final result would turn out. And from what we’ve seen of small businesses, not many have their own art departments.
We innovated by bringing in a world-class art team that has worked in promotional products for decades. This allows us to work alongside a customer to make sure their product comes out perfect. They can provide us with whatever graphics they have, even a sloppy sketch, and we’ll make it work for them. Having a professional at your side produces a much better product.
From an organizational standpoint, we built a powerful backend that handles incoming leads and all our customers. It allows us to make contact quickly with anyone reaching out. This ties in with our art department so that requested changes can be made quickly and back in the customer’s hands for approval.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
George Kepnick: At first, it was a shock. It seemed like businesses just stopped for a couple of weeks due to the uncertainty. But it bounced back quickly, and we’re doing better than we did a year ago. While some products we sell, such as coasters and coffee sleeves, have dropped, there has been an uptick in other products like air fresheners.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
George Kepnick: We have been lucky in that we didn’t have to change too much when the pandemic hit. With the uncertainty early on, we did use it as an opportunity to look through our expenses. This allowed us to eliminate some services we were not using and find software that fit our needs and budget.
The lesson I’ve learned from this is always to be prepared. The world can change on a dime.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Custom Comet in the future?
George Kepnick: I think getting away from everything helps. That can be a little tough during the pandemic when travel and events are heavily restricted, so enjoying the outdoors has been great. Hiking and camping help with stress and anxiety. And when that’s not possible, playing some video games never hurt.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
George Kepnick: Anyone who makes custom merchandise is a competitor. Our plan from the start has been to offer a superior product. While others cut corners, we feel there is a market for those who want to make something special.
For instance, I believe we make the best custom air fresheners in the world. It has taken us years to perfect the formula of printing, die-cutting, and applying scents. So if you’re planning on giving out air fresheners at a car wash or selling them in your retail stores, you have to go to us for the best quality.
This plan applies to all our products. As long as we can confidently beat competitors in quality, whether through the materials used or process, I think we’ll always stay in the game.
Your final thoughts?
George Kepnick: First, I’m hoping everyone is staying safe and healthy during the pandemic.
As for business, I think we’re going to see some backlash to the lack of personal attention companies provide their customers. Sure it works for many, but sometimes you just want to know someone is handling your project with care. If you’re looking for a way into an industry, being the company that provides that personal touch may be what separates you from the rest.
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