Ramos, Lindsey put in the hours, effort needed to make two-person company a big presence
Crain & Craig is a small business with a big can-do attitude. And that’s what earned the company the title of "Business of the Year" from the GLBT North Texas Chamber of Commerce this year.
The company, which is just a few years old, concentrates on selling promotional items to other companies, but also does marketing for some of their clients.
Co-owner Rebecca Ramos laughed as she told the story of attending a trade show with her business partner, Steven Lindsey. They were surprised that other competitors were not handing out promotional items as generously as they were.
"There’s a person Steven knew there, and he’s a competitor here in town," Ramos said, adding that Lindsey approached the competitor and asked why they weren’t distributing items as aggressively as he and Ramos were.
"He said, ‘We don’t really do much because at every event, you guys do it so well.
And we’re really small,’" Ramos said. "Steven asked, ‘How many people do you have?’ and he goes, ‘Oh, there’s only 12 of us.’ And Steven says, ‘Dude, there’s only two of us.’"
Lindsey said they were their own best customers. "We have about 45 products with our brand on it," Lindsey said.
But it has to be useful and something that’s going to last longer," Lindsey said. "I think when people see how we do it, they comprehend it more."
Their customers see that they don’t make recommendations they wouldn’t follow themselves.
Craig & Crain projects the successful image of a much larger company. They share space with an advertising agency in a larger downtown office in the West End. Calls are answered with the message, "For marketing, press 1. For promotional items, press 2 … ." But all calls are all forwarded to Lindsey’s cell phone. They joke that to get through, just press any number you like.
Even the company name suggests different owners. "Crain" and "Craig" are the partners’ middle names.
But along with that big image comes quite a bit of hard work, over-promising and over-committing that must be achieved to satisfy their customers, Ramos said.
For several years, Lindsey and Ramos, along with a third partner, ran a marketing firm. They counted Wal-Mart among their customers. Despite the retail giant’s reputation for devouring and destroying small companies, both describe their relationship with the company in good terms.
They created product displays for several departments not just to increase sales but also to improve consumer knowledge and minimize returns. Once approved, they would have to replicate the display for more than 4,000 stores.
That experience with the world’s largest retailer gave them the confidence to pursue business relationships with any other store chain. Now when a retailer asks them to create a display and duplicate it for just 100 stores, Ramos said that’s easy.
When the previous partnership broke up, Lindsey and Ramos knew they wanted to continue working together.
They knew they were going to create a new business, and Lindsey said it didn’t matter what. He said it could be a laundry business, as long as they were working together.
They decided to concentrate on promotional items.
But their marketing background didn’t stop intruding into the business. Lindsey admits that sometimes it adds to sales, but sometimes it hurts.
He said that he will talk a customer out of buying an item if it doesn’t fit the image of the company, and he prefers items that customers will keep rather than something they’ll use once and toss out or consume.
However, their marketing experience has increased their business overall. He explained that promotional items should be part of a larger campaign, and that’s something he helps his clients understand.
Without an effective marketing plan to use the promotional items, they won’t be effective and repeat sales would be limited, Lindsey said.
Ramos said they are always looking for new ideas or how something might work for a particular company. Both were sitting with their laptops open.
"When we’re at lunch, we’re working," Lindsey said. "We take our notebooks and we’re coming up with tag lines and searching for products. Or I’m at home watching television and I see something and think it would be perfect for someone."
Lindsey said he’s never been happier than he is with Crain & Craig but his business consumes every waking hour.
"It’s what you have to do when you’re a small business," he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 28, 2010.