Every distributor has heard that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.

But when that basket is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the United States, with more than 2,600 branches across the country, Ryan Paules can’t help but load up.

The CEO and “Chief Swag Officer” of Los Angeles-based Radar Promotions (PPAI 500797, Silver) says that two-thirds of the firm’s business comes from that one client. Even riskier, Paules nearly bit the hand that fed him by recruiting the buyer – Jill Spencer – at his largest client to be his vice president of sales.

“The perception of us poaching our No. 1 buyer from our No. 1 client can be horribly corrosive to the relationship,” Paules says. “But Jill empathized in a way that most departing people never would. It told me more about Jill as a person and as a team member than the five years of history we had together did because she hand-delivered an internal candidate to replace her when she gave her notice. Who does that?”

‘White Glove Service’

Spencer’s goodwill gesture symbolizes the empathy that Radar Promotions is built upon.

Supplier partners, clients and prospects are all treated with respect and kindness. Phone calls and text messages are quickly returned. Details are double-checked. Tracking information is sent as soon as the client’s project ships, and the project rep follows up immediately after delivery.

Paules attributes the company’s 915% growth rate over the past three years to this “white glove service.”

“We don’t participate in bidding situations, and we haven’t acquired any companies,” Paules says. “When you see these growth numbers, this is just me flying like a pinball all over the United States selling the shit out of promotional products.”

Paules’ impeccable memory is his superpower, as Spencer learned during their first conversation. In a 45-minute call that covered business, branding, family and more, Spencer mentioned that her son attends DePauw University in Indiana. The next week, a DePauw-branded water bottle showed up at her office.

“Customer service is why I used to buy from him,” says Spencer, whose alternate job title is “VP of Swag.” “If something wasn’t going to make my deadline, he would overnight it on his dime. He went above and beyond to be a good partner, and now I try to approach each client as a partner rather than as a sale. I want to learn their business and understand how we can help them grow.”

Spencer adds that Radar Promotions hasn’t brought on many new clients; the team has simply doubled down on strengthening its current relationships and getting more out of the clients it already has.

“The industry has a ton of really good order takers,” Paules says. “If that’s what a customer needs, there are TV commercials with lots of companies in our industry that will be happy to take their order. But if you need somebody to tell you that the orange on this product isn’t Pepperdine orange, which is PMS 166, I’m the person that will tell you that before your people will.”

Journey To Promo

Paules’ infinite compassion for others stems from navigating his own share of vicissitudes.

Roughly four months after graduating from Cal State Fullerton’s entrepreneurship program, he became a franchisee of Cookies By Design in Tarzana, a suburb of Los Angeles, at just 22 years old. The bakery had already been struggling before Paules took over, and even after he invested in marketing and operational improvements, he was forced to file for bankruptcy – both for the business and personally – a few years later.

“Mentally, the final nail in the coffin was when I bounced a paycheck for one of the employees,” Paules says. “I knew we had to shut it down. I couldn’t stomach that feeling ever again.”

Paules then went to work for Desco Industries, a manufacturer of production supplies with a company culture that he’s tried to emulate at Radar. But after three years, Cookies By Design’s headquarters offered him a 40% salary increase (with bonuses based on sales goals) to reopen his old store and be the West Coast manager. Assuming the company had signed a five-year lease, he jumped at the opportunity.

“I had to figure out how we could get this retail storefront to act like a giant production facility and push 10x the volume we ever did as an individual franchise store with the same footprint and equipment,” Paules says. “The short answer is that we couldn’t, and I learned that the lease had an 18-month early-out clause.”

On a Monday in January 2014, Paules showed up to work a bit late due to his then-wife’s first ultrasound appointment and found the HR manager and his boss standing in the lobby with final checks for everyone. So, while being a stay-at-home dad to his newborn Harrison, he launched Radar Support, providing IT support to local businesses, such as the Bob Levitt Company.

And that’s how Paules entered promo.

Staying The Course

With more than 40 years of experience in the industry, Levitt has held leadership roles at PPAI 100 firms Staples Promotional Products, PromoShop and HALO.

Throughout the first half of the 2010s, he ran an eponymous consultancy for both suppliers and distributors. When his billable hours weren’t meeting his financial goals, he would also sell promo products. As the sales grew, he hired Paules to help run that side of the business. Eventually, he decided to exit his company for another opportunity, and Paules took over.

“Ryan has since changed the name and taken the business to exceptional levels that I never dreamed of achieving on my own,” says Levitt, executive director of the Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC).

“I’d like to say that his success was clearly linked to his training while he worked with me, but in all reality, Ryan has the work ethic, integrity, focus and insatiable appetite for learning that his success is truly due to his own efforts. His ability to stay the course and not follow all the shiny objects that distract us squirrels makes him an exceptional leader.”

Simply because RadarPromo.com was available as a domain name, Paules bought it and that has been the name of the firm since 2017. In the beginning, because of his bankruptcy, he had to play a shell game with credit cards with $1,000 limits for pre-payments to keep the business running. Although cash flow remains a challenge, Paules has established trusted relationships with suppliers who are happy to succor him in a pinch.    

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“The relationship side of this business is something that distributors specifically are missing the mark on, especially regarding their relationships with suppliers,” he says. “I’ve had supplier reps tell us that we’re so nice to work with. That’s what I like to hear. I can’t put that in my profit and loss statement, and it doesn’t necessarily help me hit my sales goal for the month or the year…”

“Sometimes it does, though,” Spencer adds, “because when you’re in that bind and you have that relationship and you call that supplier, they bend over backwards to get it done for you. That’s happened to us many times.”

Rowing Together

A commonsku Ambassador, Paules credits the cloud-based CRM, order management and social collaboration platform for being the only system with the software capabilities to allow for his firm’s revenue growth, especially compared to previous platforms he’s used.

Mark Graham, president and chief brand officer at commonsku, commends Paules for not only investing in technology to improve his business, but also being a strong sales and marketing leader.

“Ryan is a very conscientious, enthusiastic and curious business leader,” Graham says. “He’s always keen to better himself and his business and isn’t afraid to embrace education as a way to get there.”

Graham adds that Paules has also streamlined operations by ensuring that each person in his organization is focused on a specific task. However, the firm doesn’t have any outside sales reps or 1099 contractors – all 10 employees, half of which are in the Philippines, have salaries.

  • Among the benefits and perks they receive are unlimited PTO and bonuses based on monthly sales goals.
  • To celebrate reaching last year’s goal, Paules took his team to a resort in Batangas, a popular hotspot in the Philippines, and booked the penthouse suite.

“We’re all rowing toward our budget goal every month,” Paules says, adding that this year’s goal is $3 million in sales. “My forecasting mentality is going back three years and averaging what percentage of the cumulative year was a certain month. For example, if, on average, June is 7.5% of our annual sales, we have to hit 7.5% of $3 million this month. That’s how I forecast, and everyone gets a bonus off of that number.”

He has also made a “lifetime employment commitment” to his team, which sounds too good to be true. But mass layoffs in the technology, media and finance industries have hit close to home for Paules, whose father worked in residential home development and was laid off nearly a dozen times throughout the ‘90s.

“The idea of an elastic workforce is painful to me,” Paules says. “I knew that whenever I got the option to be a business owner, I wouldn’t lay anybody off. If sales take a dip for the rest of the year, Jill and the rest of the team are here. It may not be a great six months regarding the information and tone they get from me, but the paycheck will still clear until it costs me my house or something. I don’t know what the fatalistic trigger would be to change that policy.”

Kindness Is Key

Paules also attributes his success to getting involved with regional associations, such as the SAAC and the Virginia Promotional Products Association (VAPPA), whose end user-friendly trade show is a big hit with his clients.  

“I really lean into those relationships,” Paules says. “As much as we can learn from webinars, I can also learn more about Hit Promo from going to San Diego and getting drunk in a bar with our rep Jodi [Friedman].”

Friedman, regional sales manager at Hit Promotional Products – the No. 4 supplier in the 2024 PPAI 100 – says Paules is a sponge who asks a plethora of questions and listens for answers that he can put into action for his company.  

“Ryan and his team utilize the tools we offer online, such as inventory check, order status and freight quotes, to get immediate information and lighten the load for our customer service team,” Friedman says. “Getting to know the sales reps for his favorite suppliers, he has learned that relationships can be his secret weapon to meeting ‘in hands’ dates, special pricing and free specs.”

In addition to being an excellent businessman, Friedman adds, Paules is courteous, respectful and a gentleman to work with. “He isn’t demanding, which inspires us to want to help him more with his orders,” she says.

“Nice goes a long way with us.”