Matthew Streem, founder of Trend Evolution tells us about the print advertisement and the impact of Covid-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Matthew Streem: I am doing ok because entrepreneurs always make lemonade out of lemons. We always have a positive outlook. My family is also finding positives like extended family time and family discussions. We are hanging in there, but we hope for things to improve.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Trend Evolution.
Matthew Streem: I am proud of my career story. I started painting people’s garages in college, sold t-shirts dorm to dorm, learned some sales skills, then learned management and execution in my first job as an assistant to a president of a sports marketing company. I paid attention, listened and took notes. I learned from being in meetings, doing follow up, and sometimes I was just there carrying my boss’s bags. I always tried to learn everything I could. I learned the sports licensed products business, then became a VP of Sales at a sports music record company, and then started my own music and video distribution company in New York City. I moved back to Cleveland in 2004 and got into the skincare business just on a fluke since one of my buyers changed her category from music/video to skincare. Then built bestseller programs putting together the best of the top brands. We also found a niche in taking care of retailers who have a lot of specific needs. My company mostly distributes existing brands, but we have taken advantage of a few opportunities where we created products for needs in the market. We have worked hard and had much success due to our concept and our talented employees.
How does Trend Evolution innovate?
Matthew Streem: We constantly talk to buyers and brands and read about trends in trade publications and websites. We take every obstacle as an opportunity to create a solution, and we focus on solutions. When a brand or product line meets a need in the market, we take steps to grow the opportunity. When a trend starts to slow down, we get out of it and constantly search for the next trend. For example, early in our company, we went after the natural trend. We have done a lot with the K-Beauty trend, the charcoal trend, and the CBD trend. This past year we have done three Covid related projects.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Matthew Streem: The pandemic has been a very big disruption to our business, especially when our customers (retailers) had to close their doors, and retail traffic was greatly diminished. But we found some opportunities too. We created one of the first antimicrobial brass touch-free tools sold in retail chains that helped users open doors, pushbuttons and use touch screens without touching to avoid germs. Later in 2020, we saw the shortage of paper towels and limited production capacity issues in the US with domestic manufacturing. We brought over large quantities of paper towels from overseas to solve this problem and shipped hundreds of thousands of six-packs. Now we see some light as the possibility of people going back to the office and the economy opening up is getting closer. To help lower the wall of fear as we get back to meeting people in person, our company has created a brand called Covid Status Wear to help put others at ease by visually communicating a person’s safer status on wearable magnetic pins and cotton reusable face masks. The best seller so far has been our Vaccinated Pin.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Matthew Streem: Sure, I make difficult choices. The lessons learned are keeping it simple, prioritizing, and making your least errors with the highest priority issues. Don’t be afraid to fail. Just don’t make the same mistake twice. And keep focused on taking care of the customer and the customer’s needs.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Matthew Streem: I am using more video conferencing, more intercom meetings in the office. We are transitioning more assets to building an online presence as we just built CovidStatusWear, and we are working closely with Amazon on some brands as well.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Matthew Streem: Our competitors are mostly snack and candy distributors like Vistar and PFG, but they focus primarily on food as opposed to skincare and non-food trending impulse items. We are more reactive, quicker, lower cost, and we provide more customer solutions such as fixturing and displays. We are much more flexible and faster moving on the trends.
Your final thoughts?
Matthew Streem: The next step in the Covid pandemic is interesting as we get back to the office. It is tough to know how fast normalcy will come back. We hope that our Covid Status Wear concept will catch on as a 100% voluntary visual communication method to share one’s safer states and reduce the fear of getting all the way back to normal.
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