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Life and Work with Marty Harris

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marty Harris.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My college marketing internship morphed into my 1st job with a small financial printer during the Bank and S&L boom. After developing a marketing plan for the company, I assisted the sales team and jumped into sales at age 25 and I opened 36 financial institutions in three years, selling everything from deposit slips to passbooks and even the ropes and poles in the lobby. Right before the S&L bust, a paper salesperson introduced me to Elliott Goldstein. Elliott and his wife Eleanor were the owners of SIRS Publishing, an educational publishing company in Boca Raton. The Goldsteins had a great company and a futuristic team. They planned to move their print publications to electronic media, which created an opportunity. Elliott asked me to start a commercial printing division for him and over the next 15 years, I built the company and propelled it into the next generation of printing with electronic computer to plate technology, upgraded presses, and bindery equipment. We were a fierce competitor in the South Florida market, and in 2003 we added a storefront platform for our clients to access print on demand and their inventory online. The industry was changing rapidly, and it was an exciting time.

The Goldsteins decided to sell SIRS in 2004 and a year later we were discussing the next phase for our commercial division, known then as SCP Commercial Printing. They asked me to find a potential buyer and after a few months of negotiations with several suitors, we sold to National Litho out of Miami.

This sale coincided with several years of an unstable economy, especially for printers. Not only was the downturn affecting marketing spend with major clients, the world was moving toward less paper and more electronic communication. It was during this time that I became interested in diversifying our offerings to our clients. I saw that many of our clients had aggressive trade show strategies and at every trade show, promotional products and signage presented a major opportunity. I determined that the next area of growth would be creating customized online storefronts for our clients to access their branded promotional products and inventory. From here, they could ship to tradeshows and events all over the world.

Unfortunately, National Litho could not pull out of the downturn and declared bankruptcy in 2012. That left SCP Graphics on the market again.

Southeastern Printing, a large commercial printer based in Stuart, FL, was quick to the table with an offer to buy SCP and in December of 2012, we became part of the Southeastern family. Since I had become very fond of our previous promotional products offering, I worked with Southeastern’s owner, Don Mader, to develop a business plan that would bring this specialty to Southeastern, as they had not delved into promo at that point. Southeastern has long been called SEP for short so we decided to incorporate as SEP Communications to encompass all of the visual communications that clients need to enforce and grow their brands. I moved my team to a quaint office just off Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach to focus on this new endeavor. My print manufacturing days would be gone, but finally having ownership after running companies for so many years was exciting to me, and I was still able to sell printed materials to my existing clients through Southeastern. This was a perfect outcome after 25 years of running a printing company.

Experience with my Fortune 500 clients had given me the idea that diversity was important to these companies. Women-owned and minority-owned businesses were getting a significant place at the table. In 2014, SEP Communications became WBENC certified which opened a whole new world of opportunity, not to mention introducing me to incredible women who continue to inspire me today.

Over the past seven years, I have been blessed to work with an amazing team who has helped pave our growth path. We have built countless online storefronts for clients that house print collateral and stationery, promotional products and wide format. With new and exciting promotional items developed every year, we keep our client’s brand fresh and ahead of their competition. I have exceeded my sales goals for SEP Communications and this year we will more than double sales from 2018. Our recent win of the Raymond James online storefront for all of their financial advisors to order branded gifts and goods has been a huge accomplishment from which we are just starting to see results, as we just launched the site on September 8th. I feel re-energized every year as we continue to grow sales and significant market share.

In May of 2019, due to our growth, I moved SEP back to Boca Raton and created a beautiful showroom where clients can preview promotional products and strategize their promotional needs. The space also serves as a central sales office for Southeastern’s reps. The new space allows for collaborative brainstorming and each day brings new opportunity.

Saying that I feel blessed is an understatement. Reflecting on the past 30 years makes me smile, laugh and sometimes tear up as I realize how life has unfolded.

Has it been a smooth road?
Although never a true obstacle, printing used to be a male-dominated industry. I have attended many a meeting where I was the only woman in the room and that felt like a challenge at times. However, the industry is changing and I am super proud that Southeastern has several women in leadership roles.

My #1 challenge is and has been the struggle of keeping up with the rapid technological growth of the industry. Both print and promo have continually been presented with new software(s) offering solutions and /or automation, all at significant cost. My advice is to vet carefully and do not jump around; completely understand the solutions you are selling.

My advice for younger women starting any business is to balance your time between sales and management. Both are equally important. You need good people and to manage them effectively. However, a business is nothing without sales and when you are starting your business, those typically have to come from you.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with SEP Communications – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I am most proud of the work that I am doing today. My company specializes in bringing unique promotional products to our clients and building storefronts to house them along with the print and wide format solutions that Southeastern offers. Finding creative marketing solutions for clients is my greatest strength. Marketing is challenging and fluid for companies. Every company has different distribution channels and goals and once I understand what those are, I can bring them back to my amazing team and present an array of options to help them manage and grow their business.

What advice would you give to someone at the start of her career?
As I mentioned before, women starting out need to take a step back and listen to their client’s and their employee’s ideas and aspirations to be successful. It’s also critically important to listen to your own physical and emotional needs. Work hours can be long and laser focus takes dedication, but the pace must not take a toll on your health and well being. Make time for exercise at least 30-40 minutes a day. Eat right and take vacations! Your best self will best serve your business and your success.

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Image Credit:
Darcey McNiff-Thompson

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