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SAAGNY Announces the 40 Under 40 for 2022

October 14, 2022
Ally Mazel
Ally Mazel
Tara Fede
Tara Fede

The Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (SAAGNY) is excited to announce the 40 Under 40 for 2022. Forty individuals under 40 years old from the promotional products industry were carefully selected from nominations received. The chosen individuals represent the best and brightest.

Both Ally Mazel and Tara Fede were nominated by their peers and chosen by SAAGNY judges as a “talent to watch”.

Ally grew up in the industry and was destined to make her mark in this space! As a leader in our e-commerce programs, she handles complex and intricate details to ensure the best customer experience.

Tara sets the example of how to take initiative; she is incredibly dedicated and hardworking, always going above and beyond to ensure our clients' orders and events are perfect for our e-commerce programs.

Barker Specialty is extremely proud and honored to have both women honored by our industry.

Industry Veteran, Bob Steinbach, Joins Barker Specialty

July 21, 2022

Barker Specialty Company is excited to announce that industry veteran, Bob Steinbach, has joined Barker Specialty as Senior Account Executive and Director of Strategic Sourcing. Bob was the president and owner of The Idea Company, a very successful sales company in Wallingford, CT. Bob will continue to maintain his large customer base while sharing his extensive industry knowledge with Barker Specialty’s sales staff.

“We are thrilled to have Bob join Barker Specialty Company. Bob has a wonderful attitude and has already fit seamlessly into our company. Bob’s drive to ensure that everyone succeeds is one of the many attributes that sets Bob apart in this industry.”

Bob is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, and brings over 44 years of experience in business development, supplier sourcing and sales leadership within the promotional products industry.

Class of 2022 Meriden Hall of Fame Honors Herbert Barker

July 12, 2022

Barker Specialty Company is honored to announce Herbert (“Herb”) Barker’s induction to the Class of 2022 Meriden Hall of Fame.

Barker dedicated his entire life to the promotional products industry and was involved in the company’s operations, until his passing in 2019. Together with his wife Gloria, they worked to establish Barker Specialty Company, founded in 1951. Herb started Barker Specialty based on the idea of imprinting company’s names on useful products for advertising. Barker Specialty is now one of the leading promotional product companies in the USA and celebrated their 70th anniversary last year.

Herb also had an endless amount of pride and joy for animation, art, and collectibles! Herb and Gloria began collecting animation art and antique toys, which ultimately inspired them to open the infamous Barker Animation Arts Galleries and the Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum in the 1990’s. Both remain remarkable sources of attraction to this day in Cheshire, CT.

Herb and Gloria were devoted to preserving cartoon heritage by the continuous collection of art, toys, animation, and artifacts. In 2016, they expanded the long-lasting appreciation for artwork by opening an additional Barker Animation location in the Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods in Mashantucket, CT.

Herb's business acumen and friendly demeanor made him a popular figure in Meriden where he chaired the Public Celebrations Committee. He led major events like the Meriden Day at the 1964 World's Fair in NYC and many parades throughout the downtown Meriden area. He also opened the first Golden Skillet restaurant in Meriden, CT. In addition, he was one of the first inductees into the Connecticut Business Hall of Fame in 2006 and was named “Boss of the Year” by the Greater Hartford Jaycees.

“Dad and Mom would be so thrilled and honored to have this recognition by the Meriden Hall of Fame. Our entire family appreciates all the work done by the Meriden Hall of Fame organization!” said President Gerry Barker.

Herb was an amazing person, father, boss, friend, and husband during his lifetime and certainly would be proud of the business’s evolution, success, and the continuous dedication to thrive in the industry. Herb will forever be remembered as a charismatic entrepreneur, visionary, and an icon of Meriden.

Ewa Wlaz - 2022 Sales Person of the Year – Top 10 Finalist

April 6, 2022

Ewa Wlaz emigrated to the U.S. from Poland when she was just 10 years old. “It was certainly an adjustment learning the culture, making friends and trying to navigate school,” she recalls, noting that being young and eager to learn helped her pick up English fairly quickly. And the resilience and strong work ethic she learned in childhood helped her succeed in college and beyond.

Wlaz has brought that eagerness and work ethic to Cheshire, CT-based distributorship Barker Specialty (asi/132690), where she’s worked for nearly 20 years, helping clients develop creative promos. The account director helped one client create sterling silver bracelets for its own clients, adding a new custom charm for the bangle each year. For another, she created a custom 3-D ornament made up of over 100 intricate pieces, all packaged in a beautiful box.

But one of the projects she’s most proud of is a custom online safety recognition program she launched for a Fortune 500 client. Wlaz led the development of online stores, recognition and safety program sites and fully integrated the portal with the client’s internal approval and organizational workflows to make the experience seamless to the customer. After the consolidated process was launched, “Employee recognitions doubled, and employee feedback has been extremely positive,” says Wlaz, who was previously recognized by Counselor for its 30 Under 30 list in 2005.

Wlaz approaches sales with a creative flair – thanks perhaps to a degree in graphic design and theater – and views her relationship with customers as a collaboration. “I look at each client interaction as an opportunity to learn from them,” she says, “but I also get to educate the client in return.”

That “unquenchable thirst for knowledge and ability to quickly grasp new ideas” are some of the reasons Wlaz stands out in the industry, says Gerry Barker, president of Barker Specialty. “Ewa is always pleasant and cheerful, whether a client is looking for a large order or one gift, and she handles stress very graciously,” he adds.

Despite the challenges of the last few years, Wlaz – whom Barker describes as “a master of merchandising” due to her flair for online store curation – has seen a steady uptick in sales, growing her revenue 5.4% from 2019 to 2020 and 6.9% from 2020 to 2021.

Though she strives for success, Wlaz remains humble and has never forgotten her roots, staying active in Polish organizations with her family and enrolling her two daughters, ages 12 and 14, into Polish school on Saturdays since they were in first grade. “I want to make sure,” she says, “they learn about their Polish heritage and culture, appreciate where they’re from and are able to communicate in the Polish language.”

Alexis Frederick – Recognized as NEPPA’s 2022 Rising Star

April 5, 2022
Barker Specialty is proud to announce that Alexis Frederick, Account Manager, has won NEPPA’s (New England Promotional Products Association) 2022 Rising Star Award. Alexis’s professionalism brings new ideas, dedication and enthusiasm to our company and industry. Alexis’s role within Barker Specialty has morphed into a hybrid role where she now works with two of our top salespeople; Account Directors- Ewa Wlaz and Roger Luchnick- where she manages the day-to-day of the orders- from order processing and client and vendor communications. She has gained the confidence and trust of her colleagues and their clients that certain accounts go directly to Alexis first when a need arises, and she is able to swiftly handle product sourcing and suggestions. She collaborates with Ewa and Roger on larger programs and attends client meetings where she assists with the sourcing and logistics of the project. Her attention to detail is impeccable- she has managed to deescalate potential shipping errors for a large kitting program by catching a customer’s error on their shipping list.

Alex D. Bowen - Recognized as the 2022 NEPPA Cares Award

April 5, 2022

Barker Specialty is proud to announce that Alex D. Bowen, Director of Sales- Strategic Accounts, has won the 2022 NEPPA (New England Promotional Products Association) Cares Award for his charitable efforts both professionally and personally. Throughout the year Alex is often supporting charitable causes in his free time for not only his friends and family, but also for his clients. He not only donates monetarily, but he also helps collect school materials for local schoolteachers for their classrooms, and even initiated a Barker Specialty Volunteer Day where employees can take a paid day off to volunteer for a cause close to their heart. But perhaps his most notable charitable endeavor is that he has been a member of the Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus (HGMC) since its inception over 10 years ago. As stated on their website, HGMC is an ensemble of over 35 members whose passion is to perform a wide range of music that inspires, impacts and enriches the lives of the members, patrons and the community in Connecticut. He truly enjoys contributing his time to the organization and the cause.

In Alex’s own words about this organization and what it means to him: “I’ve seen this organization help people stand on stage for the first time as an open member of the LGBTQIA+ community and sing to say “this is who I am”; to people who are transgender who transition and truly “find their voice” as it changes and sing with a group of supportive singers who love them as a human. I’ve seen the family that it is, save the life of people who truly wanted to end it all and then have stuck through it because the love and support of the people in the HGMC. I’ve seen this organization literally find a kidney for a member in need and another member donate. It’s not ‘what I do’ for the organization…. It’s ‘what won’t I do?’”

We can all take a page from Alex’s book- he is inspiring to say the least and we are proud that he is a part of our team!

2021 CSR All-Stars: Olivia Monroe, TAS, Barker Specialty

October 20, 2021
By Elise Hacking Carr, Print + Promo

The pandemic has tested even the most resilient of people. From a professional standpoint, employees have been tasked with navigating health and safety issues, supply chain disasters, raw material shortages and production delays. For Olivia Monroe, it taught her about her own character and the unexpected reward of discovering new strengths. When shutdown orders first went into effect last spring, Monroe jumped in to help with Barker Specialty’s marketing efforts, and created outreach documents to pinpoint clients’ rapidly evolving needs. She also recently earned her training advertising specialist (TAS) certificate through PPAI, the largest not-for-profit trade association serving the promotional product industry.

“Olivia is truly excellent at her job and, on top of that, does everything with a positive attitude,” her nominator said.

A human services major at Cazenovia College, Monroe took the opportunity to intern in various marketing and human resources roles. The first stop in her post-grad professional career was a human re-sources coordinator position at Macy’s Logistics. Like many before her, Monroe had never heard about the wonderful world of promotional products, but when a business connection introduced her to Barker Specialty, the industry pull was immediate.

Her typical day involves a lot of back-and-forth communication with vendors, sales staff and some-times clients when needed. Although her approach may be flexible, Monroe is not willing to compromise on accuracy and timeliness for her 280 assigned client accounts.

Her Approach to Customer Service

My approach to customer service is to always be flexible and have open ears, and by that, I mean to truly listen and understand the needs of your clients and vendors. The demands and situations can vary from order to order, so it is important to listen to what is being requested and know how to strategize and acclimate to ensure satisfaction.

How She Keeps Calm and Stays Inspired

When times are tense, I first take a deep breath, stand up to stretch and drink a big glass of water. Sometimes, stimulating more blood flow by moving around helps reset my mind to stay productive and positive. If I am feeling overwhelmed, I know I can always rely on my colleagues, who inspire me daily, for additional support. They are the best!

How the Pandemic Changed Her Job

Since COVID-19, my job has required additional attention to follow up with our vendors due to supply shortages of material around the world. We have noticed the material is not as easy to obtain due to a number of factors as a repercussion from COVID. I have also been given the opportunity to work from home, which has physically changed my work environment.

What She Learned About Herself in 2020-21

During 2020-21 I learned that I can adapt to change better than I originally thought (thanks to COVID)!

Her Proudest Career Achievement

I wouldn’t necessarily call this an achievement, but I am proud of the way I was able to adapt to “the new normal” in the business world during COVID-19. When the pandemic first broke out in the spring of 2020, I assisted my company with creating marketing ideas to promote our business and clients. Some examples were composing marketing flyers, constructing outreach documents for our sales staff and researching what the ‘new’ demands would be for our industry.

Her Best Advice

would say to try and become efficient at multitasking and stay organized! But most importantly, always make time to do things that make you happy outside of work.

What She Does for Fun

For fun I enjoy spending time in the outdoors with my dog and refurnishing wood furniture pieces.

Barker Specialty Named One of the Top Workplaces of 2021

October 8, 2021

Barker Specialty is honored to have been awarded as one of the Top Workplaces of 2021 by the Hearst Connecticut Media Group. The list is based solely on employee feedback gathered through a third-party survey administered by employee engagement technology partner Energage LLC. The anonymous survey uniquely measures 15 culture drivers that are critical to the success of any organization: including alignment, execution, and connection, just to name a few.

“Barker Specialty Company is very honored to be recognized as a top Workplace in Connecticut. Our 70 year old business is dependent on the hard work and dedication of our wonderful and engaged staff. Most importantly, we maintain our core values of dignity and respect for all and take great pride in providing our customers with a level of service that results in an excellent experience. We greatly appreciate this recognition and will continue to empower our employees to be a valuable resource for all businesses and organizations in our country” said President Gerry Barker.

Barker Specialty is currently celebrating their 70th year of business and excels at enhancing brand recognition and identity. Founded in 1951, the company quickly grew to become one of the leaders in the promotional products industry. Barker employees’ partner with clients to communicate their brand story through the creative use of branded products. The company is a one-stop source for all promotional and marketing needs and works with clients to develop a strategic strategy to achieve their branding goals.

Paving The Way For NFTs, Promo And Art

September 1, 2021
Gloria and Herb Barker, Gerry's parents, founded Barker Specialty Co. together in 1951, shortly after they married.

When non-fungible tokens (NFTs) began attracting national attention, Gerry Barker was already knee-deep in minting (creating) one for his distributorship, Barker Specialty Company. Having realized early on the benefits these one-of-a-kind digital assets can offer to both the promotional products industry and the art collectors’ market—for the family-owned business, one has never existed without the other—Barker, president and CEO, and his team, which includes his son, Account Executive Max Barker, began leading the movement in NFT innovation for their clients in both industries.

“I recognized the fact that we’re dealing with tangible products in the promo space, yet at the same time we understand how important digital and technology are to our world. There’s been a real effort made to create tangible products that have application to the digital world or provide support for many of these digital products,” says Barker, noting examples such as web cam covers and smartphone attachments, like PopSockets®. However, researching NFTs led him to ponder, “If the world became almost exclusively digital, what would happen in the promotional products space with a total reliance on tangible products?” He says, “I wasn’t sure NFTs would fit this bill, but I believed it was a step in the right direction.”

Since joining his family business in 1986, Barker has always had a strong interest in technology and how it can enhance creative design and branding potential. The pandemic only propelled the use of tech, and Barker teamed up with Barker Specialty’s Director of Marketing Amy Serrano, CAS, who was recognized as a 2019 PPB Rising Star; Director of Sales Alex Bowen and Max, who represents the family’s third generation in the distributorship, to break into the world of Clubhouse, an invitation-only social media application that allows users to chime in and out of, and participate in, live conversations about any number of topics that are taking place around the world. Together with Max’s brother, Harrison Barker, this group leads a conversation on the app known as “The Swag Shop,” where they discuss industry- and tech-related topics.

Gerry Barker (far right) discusses different notebook options with Art Carbone, Barker Specialty's director of manufacturing; Amy Serrano, CAS, director of marketing; and Kim Chandler, receptionist.

Barker also isn’t afraid to consider a new experience or tool if he feels it may pose an advantage to his business or provide personal growth. The year prior to attending business school at the University of Chicago, he spent a year teaching English to high school students living in the Samoan rainforest, while living in a hut in a small village, side by side with his students and their families. It was an experience that broadened his perspective of understanding the needs of humanity and the humility that comes with living closely with others.

When chatter of NFTs grew louder amongst the general public, he saw that, as the owner of a promotional products distributor—which includes an office in Orlando, Florida, and sister businesses, Barker Character Comic and Cartoon Museum (BCCCM) and Barker Art Animation Galleries, located on the company’s 10-acre office park—not only did NFTs offer the potential for brands to convey truly meaningful, lasting and unique messages that align with modern-day tech trends, but also for special moments, like graduations or weddings, to be forever preserved and cherished, and for artists to sell their creative works in a potentially lucrative, new way as well.

The Allied Bus Company ruler is regarded as an important artifact to the Barker family and the history of Barker Specialty Co. Rudolph Pick, Gerry’s maternal grandfather, owned the Allied Bus Company in Manhattan and told his daughter and her husband, Gloria and Herb Barker, that tangible advertising would be the future of marketing—and this was back in the ’40s.

“It was very easy to think that NFTs were synonymous with artwork, but that really isn’t the case,” says Barker. “What I believe is that artwork provided an easier way for people to start understanding NFTs. Many artists would say, ‘no, NFTs are only about art and this is what we’re sticking with,’ but I saw a greater vision for how NFTs could be used in an ever-expanding number of areas. That’s what got me excited for the world beyond art and to be used as uniquely owned digital assets, which is what they are. Indeed, we are starting to see cross-collaborations and greater support for a convergence of both digital and physical assets.”

But even from its start, Barker Specialty Co. was borne from a forward-focused, go-getter mindset. Celebrating 70 years in business this year, the distributor was founded in 1951 by Barker's parents, Gloria and Herb Barker, a U.S. Army veteran, who sold souvenir salt-and-pepper shakers across the East Coast; something which, in three years’ time, developed into selling branded, custom merchandise and became a multimillion-dollar business not too long after. While running their business, the couple developed their shared interest in collecting, and eventually decided to invite the public to enjoy their personal art and toy collection, opening BCCCM in 1997. Today, the collection the Barker’s started in 1873, spanning more than 40 years’ worth of collecting, features over 80,000 items, most of which are relics of childhood, like cartoon lunchboxes, toys, games and other collectibles. Some of the many smile-worthy characters in the collection include Popeye, Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse and Howdy Doody. Also during this time, Gloria and Herb discovered their shared, niche interest in production works, which began after purchasing a Mickey Mouse original production drawing in the ’60s. This interest evolved into an animation and pop-art collection which opened as Barker Art Animation Galleries in 1997. Recognized as the largest animation and entertainment art gallery in the world, Barker says, it includes an additional location at Foxwoods in Mashantucket, Connecticut, and features works from studios such as DC Comics, Disney/Pixar, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., Marvel Comics, Universal Studios and Warner Bros.

Gloria and Herb Barker opened The Barker Character, Comic & Cartoon Museum in 1997, which remains open to the public today. It features a collection of more than 80,000 toys, games and other collectibles, with a special focus on cartoon characters.

Considering the Barkers' joy for celebrating the collection of toys and other collectibles and creations, it only made sense for Barker Specialty Co.’s very first NFT to be of a treasured toy from Gloria and Herb's personal collection. The chosen item was a cast-iron elephant ramp walker manufactured in the 1870s by Ives Toy Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, using discarded Civil War bullet casings. Being one of BCCCM’s oldest toys, an original is hard to find on the marketplace, but now toy collectors and fans alike can purchase their own digital version (NFT), aptly named “The Ramp Walker,” complete with music and animation to add to the experience. An NFT created by the company soon after, showcasing Barker Specialty Co.’s logo, can be found at bit.ly/3jgAzsD.

Today, the promotional products distributor has grown to a staff of 100, and serves as a one-stop resource for all promotional- and marketing-based solutions, including custom graphic design, webstore capabilities, warehousing, fulfillment, in-house decoration services and overseas sourcing capabilities. Its office includes an impressive 6,000-square-foot showroom with a meeting area that was purposely designed with a relaxed feel. The showroom includes a bar space complete with barstools and a large-screen TV for viewing products, and now NFTs. Serrano’s plan was for clients to meet with salespeople in a comfortable environment—and comfortable, it surely is.

Barker, together with his business, remains focused on continuing to offer advanced tech solutions for clients. To educate them and fellow promotional products professionals alike, the company created a webpage dedicated to NFTs, their purpose and how they are being used today: promoNFTS.com. Currently, Barker is partnering with Craig Wolfe, the owner of Celebriducks, a line of collectible NFTs featuring these iconic ducks, which can be viewed at bit.ly/3AdKLsC.

“We may be wrong in our vision, but many ideas in our country take time to evolve, which is exactly why I have been speaking out on this subject (NFTs),” says Barker. “I often think of the creation of the microwave oven as an example of an innovation that was designed to accelerate cooking time! However, most people don’t use their microwave as often to cook food but everyone has one, as people recognized the value of reheating and defrosting, which was never the original intention. Our latest project is the creation of a business to use NFTs to help charities expand their fundraising as these exclusive digital assets can be marketed to a large audience, even a universal one. I have teamed up with Lisa Fosdick [a business leader and early adopter of crypto currency and blockchain] to build NFTs4Charity (www.nfts4charity.io) and this is already gaining traction.”

For more on NFTs, read Barker’s “NFTs: The Next Revolution In Promo” in the May 2021 issue of PPB by clicking here.

SAAGNY Announces the 40 Under 40 for 2021

August 18, 2021

The Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (SAAGNY) is excited to announce the 40 Under 40 for 2021. Forty individuals under 40 years old from the promotional products industry were carefully selected from nominations received. The chosen individuals represent the best and brightest.

SAAGNY President, Rachel Levin, commented “Recognizing young professionals who have made noticeable contributions to their companies, the SAAGNY community, and the overall Promotional Product Industry is a great pleasure and honor. These individuals are a guiding light to our future."

Two of Barker Specialty’s very own were recognized:

Chelsea Fishman Chelsea Fishman began her promotional products journey, in 2014, after working for a nonprofit for a few years and graduating from the University of Hartford. Chelsea joined Barker Specialty Company learning the operations and supporting various salespeople eventually taking over a number of existing accounts and growing them exponentially. Chelsea’s creativity and diligence are instrumental in her growth. Chelsea is an amazing sales professional and Barker Team Management would love to replicate her! It is noted that her calm demeanor in the face of intense pressure, and her warm and engaging personality have helped her succeed. Chelsea never says “no” and always figures out a way. Her uncanny ability to get suppliers to work with her and support her is legendary.

Amy Serrano To reflect on the accomplishments and growth Amy Serrano, CAS has achieved in just five years at Barker Specialty, could outshine what some people achieve in an entire career. Joining Barker Specialty as an account manager, she quickly proved her skills and dedication and was promoted to the Director of Marketing. As if that is not enough, recently Amy also took on the role of Vendor Relations to help Barker Specialty build and maintain exceptional partnerships with suppliers. In each of her roles, Amy has brought new ideas and a drive to the positions. In her role as Account Manager, she opened several new and prosperous accounts that continue to see great success under her management today. When she took on the role of Director of Marketing, she worked on a team to overhaul the outdated Barker Specialty website. Amy doesn’t back down to complicated situations either. She helps facilitate and guide salespeople through the development of new webstore programs. As an active part of the Program Development Team, she works to analyze and assess potential new programs and determine the viability of each one’s success. As each program is different, multiple scenarios and challenges arise, but Amy doesn’t back down and works alongside her colleagues to help find the best solution for the client’s desires.

Barker Specialty named one of PPB’s 2021 Greatest Companies to Work For

June 2, 2021

On May 13, 2021, Promotional Products Business (PPB) Magazine announced Barker Specialty as one of the 52 companies awarded the title of “Greatest Companies to Work For.” These companies represent promotional products distributors, suppliers, and business services from across the United States and Canada.

Companies were nominated by an employee, and then a 15-question survey was sent to each full-time employee to rate their company in 5 areas which included benefits, resources, culture, leadership, and company direction. “This competition is extremely popular and competitive, and we were so happy to be able to reinstate it this year. After the challenges we’ve all been through over the past months or so, it was a joy to give our member companies a way to engage their employees and an opportunity to celebrate,” says Tina Berres Filipski, PPB’s editor and director of publications.

Barker Specialty is currently celebrating their 70th year of business. Founded in 1951 they quickly grew to become one of the leaders in the promotional products industry. The company is a one-stop source for all promotional and marketing needs and works with clients to develop a strategic strategy to achieve their branding goals.

“We are so thrilled to be honored as one of the 2021 Greatest Companies to Work For. We are a family owned and operated business and I think it really shows in how we are treated by management, how we treat one another and how we treat our clients. Those values run deep and make us who we are” said Chelsea Fishman, Account Executive and Senior Marketing Manager.

Premium Promotional Product Provider Goes Solar

Barker Specialty in Cheshire brings solar to 55 Realty Drive property through C-PACE financing.

May 9, 2021

Press release from Connecticut Green Bank:

The Connecticut Green Bank proudly announces that 55 Realty Drive in Cheshire has closed on Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) financing for the installation of a rooftop solar photovoltaic system. The 26,458-square foot office building is owned by sibling partners Amy, Gerald, Adrienne and Steven Barker, and is home to six tenants, including Barker Specialty Advertising Co. Inc.

"Barker Specialty is committed to help build a sustainable future for our community and planet. We mitigate our carbon footprint through environmentally conscious actions, and partner with suppliers who responsibly source products and materials," said Gerry Barker, President of Barker Specialty. "Adding solar to our property helps us take another step to our goals."

The 102.4 kW solar system will be installed by Verogy, a solar developer headquartered in Hartford. The system is projected to produce energy savings equal to the energy used by 212 homes in a year and gross total cost savings of more than $730,000 over the 25-year effective useful life of the panels.

"To reach our goal of continuous reduction of our carbon footprint, we have looked inward to what we could control through business operations and culture. This project is a giant leap towards showing how our buildings can also be a part of the solution," said Jane Leukart, Director of Sustainability at Barker Specialty.

“It’s a real sort of sea change in thinking,” Barker said. He first read about NFTs, then asked his twenty-something sons about them and researched the practicalities on the social media platform Clubhouse.

Barker Specialty has been the one-stop source for all promotional and marketing needs for over 70 years. Barker is a service oriented, innovative promotional marketing agency, specializing in promotional products, logoed merchandise, apparel, premium gifts, awards, tradeshow displays and signage.

"We are always excited to see businesses using C-PACE financing to advance their sustainability plans," said Mackey Dykes, Vice President of Financing Programs at the Green Bank. "The installation of solar systems is a great way to reduce costs and improve the environmental footprint of a building."

For more information on C-PACE please visit www.cpace.com.

Digital Assets: Cheshire firm sees the future of promotional products in NFTs

May 3, 2021
By Liese Klein, Hartford Business Journal
Gerry Barker (center), president of Cheshire promotional products firm Barker Specialty, is experimenting with creating and selling digital assets known as NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, a hot area of investment in the tech world. With Amy Serrano (left), director of marketing at Barker Specialty, and Blake Bassett, docent at the Barker Character, Comic & Cartoon Museum.

Popeye, meet the Ramp Walker

At the Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum in Cheshire, the iconic cartoon character of Popeye lives on in dozens of tin toys, plastic figurines, masks and other collectibles in glass cases for visitors to see (by appointment) and enjoy.

The Ramp Walker, however, exists in a pixelated form for the entire world to see at any time — and buy. The Ramp Walker is an NFT, or non-fungible token, an animated digital object created by Gerry Barker of the Barker Museum. The digital creation is based on an actual cast-iron toy made in 1873 from discarded Civil War bullet casings, which sits in a case near the Barker Museum’s front door.

“The idea of having it in a digital space, as well as the tangible collectible — I feel that’s a convergence of the two, the digital and the physical,” Barker said. “We really liked the idea.”

Barker and his family firm — Barker Specialty, a supplier of promotional products — are the first known local company to create and deal in NFTs, a relatively new digital asset that has seen an explosion in interest since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like cryptocurrencies, NFTs exist as an outgrowth of blockchain or digital ledger technology. NFTs are technically not assets in themselves but encrypted chunks of data that serve to certify the authenticity of a unique digital image or animation clip.

“It’s a real sort of sea change in thinking,” Barker said. He first read about NFTs, then asked his twenty-something sons about them and researched the practicalities on the social media platform Clubhouse.

Family legacy of innovation

Barker’s main occupation is CEO of his family business, Barker Specialty, started by his parents in 1951. With promotional items ranging from plaques to pens to T-shirts, the company has grown to $20 million in annual revenue and just under 100 employees, based on a 10-acre campus off Route 10 in Cheshire.

Barker’s dad, Herb, pioneered many sales techniques in the promotion business, opening the first showroom for swag in the 1960s. The company also became an early adopter of digital marketing and social media.

But the senior Barker’s abiding passion was toys and collectibles — an obsession born of his work-centric youth in Meriden helping to run his family’s grocery business. With his wife, Gloria, Barker amassed a collection of more than 80,000 items, which he began displaying to the public in a barn on the Cheshire property in 1997.

“That was the big thing with my parents, the love of collecting and sharing,” Gerry Barker said. Both of his parents have died, but Gerry has continued adding to their collection and promoting the joy to be found in vintage toys and collectibles.

When Barker noticed the swift rise of NFTs in the media earlier this year, he saw the potential to link both his parents’ passion and his own promotional skills.

Barker picked the Ramp Walker as his first NFT experiment and set about working with an artist to create an animated GIF. He then “mined” the NFT and put it up for sale on OpenSea, one of a half-dozen or so major NFT marketplaces. The entire process cost around $400 and took only a matter of weeks, Barker said.

Now you can buy the Ramp Walker NFT for about $600 — just make sure you’ve got enough digital currency in your wallet. Only cryptocurrency can be used to pay for the items, in most cases Ethereum. (The Ramp Walker, Popeye, and all of the physical objects at the Barker Museum are not for sale.) Other NFTs on the various platforms include baseball cards, animated art and audio clips.

Selling art objects as NFTs got a huge boost in March when Christie’s auctioned off a collage by the digital artist Beeple. The final price — $69 million — topped all previous records for digital art and kicked off a boom in NFT speculation. The opening bid for Beeple’s work, a jpeg image file, started at $100.

Major players in the NFT space like the NBA have even created their own marketplaces. At the NBA’s Top Shot website, fans can browse, collect and buy more than 7.6 million “Top Shot Moments,” or NFT clips of players. A basic pack consisting of nine moments starts at only $9.

But NFTs offer far more promise than just opening up the world of vintage toys, jump shots and baseball cards to everyday collectors, Barker said. Imagine gifting a departing executive with a unique, one-of-a-kind digital memento of their service. Imagine fundraising for a dance company by offering clips of duets that donors can own in perpetuity.

“I said to myself, there are so many great opportunities for this not only in the world of not just promotion, but business and fundraising,” Barker said. “As the world becomes more digital, I’m thinking there is a place for this in the world of promotions.”

In a society seeking to rid itself of clutter, memorabilia, arts and gifts could be transformed into something infinitely portable, durable and affordable. Although crypto-mining and other blockchain activities have an environmental cost, the technology is expected to become more efficient over time.

“We think it has legs, we think it has long legs, particularly among younger people,” Barker said of NFTs and other blockchain innovations. “We’re willing to invest, but we do need a return.”

New frontiers in accounting

Measuring the value of digital assets like cryptos and NFTs has become a growing part of business at firms like Deloitte, an international accounting and professional services firm with offices at CityPlace in Hartford.

“The conversations we’re currently having around NFTs are similar to the conversations we were having four to five years ago with companies that were exploring Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies,” said Michael Berrigan, a Deloitte partner.

“Digital content isn’t new,” Berrigan said. “What we are seeing is the blockchain technology and the cryptographic signature embedded within each NFT really over the last year has provided a viable way to really monetize and market digital content. I think that’s part of what’s driving the surge.”

Firms that are considering diving into NFTs need to do their homework and determine if they have the infrastructure to report on and value digital assets.

“What I tell clients is that when it comes to accounting and reporting for these, we have the framework, which is GAAP [generally accepted accounting principles],” Berrigan said. “The question becomes how do these new ventures fit into that.”

“It’s an evolving landscape,” Berrigan said, adding that Deloitte has a blockchain task force that approaches the assets from a variety of angles. “What’s important here is trying to educate yourself more broadly.”

Playing it safe with content

Despite the wild-west novelty of the blockchain space, existing intellectual property law applies to all minted NFTs, said Jesse Halfon, an attorney who specializes in NFTs and advised Gerry Barker. Content has to abide by copyright law and rules governing the images of celebrities and others.

“When you’re purchasing an NFT, even if it is linked, you are not receiving any intellectual property rights, you’re not receiving a copy of any digital work,” Halfon said. “It’s a sort of indication of authenticity on the blockchain.”

In addition, any mistakes made when minting an NFT are difficult to correct because the token cannot be retracted or removed.

“From a business perspective, if you are entering this space and creating an NFT, I would be more cautious than normal,” Halfon said. “It’s out there forever — there’s no traditional way to take work down. I would be more conservative.”

NFT creators should stick to original work and make sure they fully understand their rights and responsibilities on the blockchain, Halfon said. They should also ensure the platform they choose is likely to survive into the future, or their asset may be lost forever.

“The best practice is to use original content when creating NFT and to underpromise and overdeliver,” Halfon said. “The reward is that, like anything else, being first here allows a brand to fit with their profile of being forward thinkers or technologically savvy.”

Betting on ducks

Regardless of the potential risks or rewards, Gerry Barker takes a childlike joy in watching his Ramp Walker NFT march tirelessly across a computer monitor. He hopes to make money on the technology at some point, but he also sees the value of being a pioneer and helping his customers understand blockchain and its related innovations.

The next step for Barker is a collaboration with Craig Wolfe, the owner of a line of playful figurines called Celebriducks that feature the likeness of sports icons, musicians and movie stars. Digital artists will be commissioned to create the Celebriduck NFTs, which will be mined by Barker Specialty.

“We are so excited to use the creative aspect of NFTs to bring our unique line of collectibles to the digital art space,” Wolfe said. “We believe our many collectors throughout the world will be thrilled to own a Celebriduck NFT and we are looking forward to seeing the creative vision of NFT artists.”

Barker is looking forward to the Celebriduck project and hoping his promotional clients warm to the idea of digital branding.

“Barker Specialty has always been a thought leader in our space,” Barker said. “Over time [NFTs] are going to evolve because it’s a great product, but we haven’t figured out yet where it’s going to go.”

Barker Specialty Celebrates 70 Years In Business

March 26, 2021

Barker Specialty is pleased to announce they are celebrating 70 years in business! The promotional products company was started in 1951 by Gloria and Herb Barker who had a vision that tangible marketing products would one day become a critical advertising medium. Their thought was that useful products, those that can be seen repeatedly, would be a popular way to carry a branded message.

“I am so proud that my parents’ vision has become a reality and the company they started in their kitchen has become one of the premier promotional products companies in the country with nearly 80 employees. While I am saddened Gloria and Herb are not here to share our 70th anniversary, I am thrilled they were both here for our 65th, and we are committed to continuing the wonderful legacy they created.”, says Gerry Barker, President of Barker Specialty.

What started as a desire of Gloria and Herb’s to share in the joy people receive when getting a gift of a promotional item has turned into a thriving second generation family-owned business. In addition, they wanted to create a work environment where respect for fellow employees and clients was paramount. This mentality extended to the greater community where Barker Specialty has and continues to give job and internship opportunities, donations and volunteers to many worthwhile causes and organizations.

Barker Specialty continues to thrive and stand out as a leader in the promotional products industry. With multiple recognitions including most recently the 2020 PPAI Pyramid Award for Technology, Barker Specialty is committed to growing and adapting to offering the best services for our clients for years to come!

Barker Specialty Announces Promotions

January 18, 2021
Stephanie Netherton
Stephanie Netherton
Alex Bowen
Alex Bowen

Barker Specialty is pleased to announce the following promotions:

Stephanie Netherton will be taking on the responsibility of Director of Sales- National Accounts. Stephanie brings over 15 years of industry experience with strong leadership skills and a deep understanding of best tactics for growing sales in a diverse marketplace. Her professional expertise is coupled with her passion for innovative and engaging solutions for sales strategies.

Alex D. Bowen has been promoted to Director of Sales- Strategic Accounts. Alex has a proven track record of sales success, and provides a unique skill set of motivational leadership, organizational proficiency and business knowledge. In his new role, Alex will be able to share his proven sales talents to further grow Barker Specialty’s business.

“Stephanie and Alex together have robust product knowledge, charismatic personalities and the creative insight for sales strategies that will propel Barker Specialty and the sales team to new levels of growth. I am very excited for the year ahead and what they each will accomplish.” remarks Amy Serrano, Director of Marketing.

“Together, Stephanie and Alex have crafted a plan for Barker Specialty to achieve increased growth and profits for 2021, which should ensure the long-term success of our company.” said Gerry Barker, President of Barker Specialty.

‘Bring Your Own Blanket’ Idea Supports Local Restaurants, Illustrates Promotional Opportunities

October 20, 2020
By PPAI Media

While the temperatures are growing cooler, preferences and restaurant occupancy limitations are keeping many diners on restaurant patios and outdoor dining areas. To encourage people to keep going to area restaurants and to make eating outside a more comfortable experience, Gerry Barker, president and CEO of Cheshire, Connecticut, distributor Barker Specialty Co. (PPAI 102001, D10), along with several area chambers of commerce and local restaurants, are collaborating on a “Bring Your Own Blanket” campaign.

The “Bring Your Own Blanket” or BYOB idea was created to spur business for restaurants, a sector hit hard by the pandemic, during the fall and winter months, and persuade diners to bundle up, visit their favorite local eateries and have a good time.

In a recent story in the New Haven Register, Barker said, “Changing people’s perspectives is really hard … people don’t want to be indoors, we want to socialize with our children and friends [at restaurants]. I can see this campaign being very positive.”

Barker also noted that as diners are encouraged to bring their own blankets to restaurants, the program isn’t intended to be a moneymaker for Barker Specialty. However, in a conversation with PPB Newslink, he did highlight how the program showcased how the right product at the right time can make a difference. He says, “The best element of this campaign is the opportunity to present our creativity and openness to a new way of thinking. We have been impressed with how receptive everyone is and how gracious both patrons and restaurants owners have been.”

Barker adds, “The idea wasn’t to create an avenue for business but there certainly are many possibilities. Blankets are an obvious one—whether sold to restaurants for resale or as a gift with purchase of maybe gift cards. The use of blankets as a fundraiser to support a local charity is another idea as is their use as a prize for a best picture submission or other contest involving outdoor dining. Signage is another opportunity. And we are also discussing possible programs with all types of restaurant suppliers to support their clients.”

Outdoor dining, which has gotten renewed attention due to COVID-19, is increasingly representing a year-round opportunity for promotional products companies. Bob Strem, executive vice president of supplier Kanata Blanket (PPAI 217153, S6), says, “We have recently seen changes in all industries, especially the restaurant industry, with new innovations in safe, outdoor dining. However, with the weather turning colder as fall is here and winter approaches, not every climate is perfect for year-round outdoor dining. This has created a demand in premium products that bring warmth to customers looking to get out and support local restaurants offering outdoor dining experiences. Kanata Blanket has seen an increase in orders from clients looking for products to be used in outdoor-safe gatherings. The world is changing to fit our needs, so Kanata is too.”

Barker’s initiative is finding traction with several area chambers of commerce, with several participating or exploring the idea. He tells PPB Newslink, “We are calling this a ‘community initiative’ and partnered with our local chamber of commerce. The genesis of the idea is really to share an idea to help restaurants, but also to provide opportunities for those who like to dine out—but not in—to have a longer season of outdoor dining.”

2020 CSR All-Stars: Jessica Defilpo, Barker Specialty Company

July 22, 2020
Jessica Defilpo

Account Coordinator
Barker Specialty, Cheshire, Conn.

It is such a pleasure to work with Jess and she is well deserving of this recognition. In the two years she has been with Barker Specialty, she has become a valuable asset to our team and someone we can rely on. I never have to worry about orders and requests as I know they will be handled correctly, professionally and quickly. I’m proud to have Jess on my team. – Tracy Howson, Account Executive

It’s every company’s nightmare: Production hiccups, shipment delays and low stock supplies threaten to jeopardize the customer experience. Sometimes, there is no way around it, but thanks to ready and able employees like Jessica Defilpo, there are ways to correct it. The account coordinator for Barker Specialty Company recalled an incident where a decorator did not receive the correct sizes needed to complete an apparel job. While others may throw up their hands, these are the situations where Defilpo thrives. She jumped in and coordinated the details, ensuring the decorator was well-equipped for the task. The deadline was met without her account executive or customer having to worry about a thing.

A described “team player,” Defilpo has been known to arrive at the office early, stay late and even work weekends to ensure appropriate timelines are followed to meet in-hands dates.

With only two years of industry experience behind her, Defilpo is no stranger to customer service, having served at restaurants, worked with clients and their dogs, assisted the elderly and even driven school buses, to name some examples. Prior to joining the world of promo, she was a senior bilingual customer service representative for a company that sold event tickets. During her time in that role, she promoted company-sponsored events, particularly UConn games—an experience she credits with giving her insight on branding and promoting, and how they relate to specific events.

“When I heard about the position being available in Barker Specialty, I was genuinely excited, and once I was hired, I was eager to get my feet planted in the industry,” said Defilpo, who works directly with five account executives, each with approximately 100 to 200 clients of their own.

Her Approach to Customer Service:   My approach to customer service is being the one behind the scene making sure it all works out in the end—whether it’s catching a problem before it becomes an avalanche or making last-minute changes per our client’s request. Each day is different, and it’s hard to know what your workload will be like, but that’s what makes it exciting—the challenge. It’s handling each case as a puzzle piece, making sure it goes where it needs to go to complete the bigger picture, even if I may not even know what the picture is exactly! My ultimate goal is to make sure our customers are satisfied with what they ordered and that it meets their expectations. Sure, anyone else can do this job, but I take pride in handling all aspects of the field, especially the tough knots I have to untangle sometimes.

How She Keeps Calm and Stays Inspired:   As silly as it may seem, sometimes I just pause, take a deep breath in and sigh it out. My supervisor chuckled once when she heard me do a few of those throughout the day. She knew I was having a tough moment, but realized that it was my way of working it out. I also try to reorganize my work area daily, from the sticky notes on my desk, to my emails, and to-do lists. Though they always seem to pile up, every cross off or check mark is one accomplishment achieved—and one less headache.

How COVID-19 Has Changed Her Job:   The amount that I communicate to my account executives, fellow account coordinators and clients seems to have increased since the COVID-19 outbreak. Now that we don’t cross paths in the office, I make it a point to reach out to each of my teammates as much as I can. My workdays are also much shorter with reduced hours, yet all the orders I work on are still monitored by my colleague when I’m not on and vice-versa. Though COVID provided another challenge on top of a tense job, it definitely taught me, again, the importance of reaching out for help and working as a team to make sure things get done.

Why She Loves Her Job and the Industry:   I love the ability to be creative, even in the position that I’m in. Though I process orders and follow up on them, I am able to provide input on how the decoration on a product looks. One recent example was an order of tumblers the customer brought to our company. They were engraved with a wedding date, but she had to reschedule due to COVID-19. The plan was to cross off the date and add the new one below. When the proof came in, it was just an “X” on top of the date. I suggested crossing off the date with an arrow to make it look cleaner and the customer agreed with the concept. Though it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience, the fact that my advice was considered made me happy to be a part of the project.

Her Proudest Career Achievement:   The proudest moment I had was delivering an order to a client. They had ordered and received a plaque with pieces that did not line up. The plaque was needed that same day since they were mounting it on the wall for an event the following day. Rather than trying to coordinate with my account executive on what to do and how to retrieve the plaque to fix it, I went and met up with the client, grabbed the plaque and brought it back to Barker to have it fixed by our awards department. I then drove back out to meet with the client and hand them the plaque. They were happy with how quickly the situation was resolved. The team that I worked with at the time was thrilled that I took initiative, as it was such a time-sensitive case.

Her Best Advice:   Be clear when it comes to communicating with your customers and team since it will lead to direct responses, cleaner orders and less troubles down the road. When you, your team and customers are all on the same page, it provides a greater chance of success. That being said, the customer will more likely return and, therefore, your business with them will increase. It goes full circle, but starts with exceptional customer service. Also, it never hurts to ask for help when needed. As much as you can do most things on your own, you still have quite a bit to learn from others in a field that is so large, diverse and ever- changing.

What She Does for Fun:   I love exploring new places, especially spots with waterfalls. There’s just something about going on a trail and hearing the rumble of the falls as you get closer. I would have never known there were so many places in Connecticut, as well as the surrounding states that have these hidden gems. Nowadays, I have been working on crafting more, mostly preparing for my wedding. The whole process has been rather interesting during these times, but just like I do with work, I take a deep breath in and a long exhale out!

2020 Women in Print and Promo: Karen Rivkin, Barker Specialty Company

May 20, 2020
Karen Rivkin

Director of Program Fulfillment
Barker Specialty, Cheshire, Conn.

Throughout the promo industry, Karen Rivkin is known for her “unstoppable energy and calm demeanor, especially during a difficult time,” her nominator shared. With companies abruptly forced to pivot strategy during the current COVID-19 outbreak, they would fare well with Rivkin on their team.

Like others in her age group, Rivkin had to deal with professional disruption straight out of college. Armed with a marketing degree, the 2002 Central Connecticut State University graduate was excited to put her skills to use. But the job market transformed after 9/11. Positions were scarce and bills needed to be paid, so Rivkin jumped at an opportunity in the retail sector. A year later, she realized it was not a good fit and was fortunate to find work in her hometown at promotional products distributor Barker Specialty Company.

Rivkin quickly acclimated herself to this world of marketing, starting out on the fulfillment team, where she processed e-commerce orders, provided customer service and restocked merchandise. After proving herself and her commitment to the company, she was asked to lead the department.

“It wasn’t until I was really in that role that I started getting into sales,” Rivkin said. “I had obtained industry knowledge, a comfort in dealing with customers and confidence in myself to know that the sales role was something I could do.”

Her current role is split between managing the program fulfillment team and sales—the latter of which she generated more than $1 million for. Rivkin enjoys working closely with her 10 direct reports in managing inventory, websites, product selection and customer service. The sales side, she said, provides a nice balance that allows her to build relationships with clients while using her marketing background to develop creative ideas that promote their brands.

What Brings Her Joy Professionally and Personally:   I love getting feedback from a customer after they receive an order and share with me the outcome of the event. It is satisfying and rewarding to hear how sometimes a “simple” item can really make an impact on a person or event. In life, overall, seeing people laugh or smile brings me joy. I love exercising and also curling up on the couch to read a book. I am a proud dog mom, and, most importantly, the love and happiness of my family and friends bring me the greatest joy in life.

Her Proudest Career Achievement:   Personally, I am most proud of earning the position to lead my team. I learned long ago that you don’t need to be a loud and outgoing person to lead. Professionally, I am most proud of reaching the Million Dollar Club. I think I am often overlooked at being a successful salesperson since I am shy and reserved. However, I enjoy quietly building relationships with my clients, getting to know them and the way they think, and using the industry knowledge I have obtained to creatively and effectively suggest the print and promo products to best display or portray their message.

On Working in a Traditionally Male-Dominated Industry:   While the industry is male-dominated, I am so fortunate to work for a company that has had, and continues to employ, a strong group of women who have paved the way for me and others to follow. It is only natural to struggle and face challenges when you are outside of your comfort zone. Learning as much as you can about the industry and trusting yourself will give you the confidence to sell just as well (if not better) than your male counterpart. I think that cultivating friendships and finding mentors within the industry is important to our success.

Her Job Advice to Women:   Learn. There is so much to learn about this industry and it is constantly changing. Take classes, attend vendor meetings, follow industry leaders on social media, read industry magazines–there are many tools to take advantage of and learn from. Be confident. Believe in yourself and your ability to express all that you have learned through your own creative avenues. Have fun. Look at what we sell. The selection of promotional products and print capabilities makes this career field stand out on its own.

Her Favorite Leader:   My father is my favorite leader for more reasons than I can share. He is someone that I looked up to until the day he left this world. He taught not only his children but everyone who had the honor of knowing him the value of honesty, confidence, a positive attitude, sense of humor and commitment. Both in and out of the workplace, he was empathetic and passionate to all. He listened, he taught, he encouraged and he fought. He earned respect by being true to himself and providing guidance in all aspects of life. In my eyes, my father possessed every quality that makes up an inspiring and successful leader, and so much more.

Her Upcoming Goals:   I’d love to hit a million [in sales] again this year, but COVID-19 is trying to interfere. I do, however, like a good challenge and will look toward a brighter second half of the year. Personally, I would like to complete my second half marathon and reach my reading goal (quarantine is helping with that).

How She Maintains a Work/Life Balance:   One of the things I enjoy most about this industry is the pace. COVID-19 has certainly changed our daily lives and [has] forced us to slow down in many aspects. Like many of us, I have formed a new work/life balance while working from home. I am still committed to getting up and working out before the workday starts and I have also formed a habit of practicing yoga during lunch. The workday is filled with fielding questions trying to figure out which suppliers are open, who has stock, updated production times, etc. It has been a challenge, but knowing we are all in this together is comforting. I think that keeping busy with the business we are fortunate to have and doing video chats with coworkers is helping to maintain some normalcy to our days. My day ends on the couch just like it used to, binging Hulu with my husband and cuddling with the pups.

Barker Specialty Update

March 13, 2020

Barker Specialty (BSC) has taken a serious interest in the coronavirus and its potential health implications as well as the potential for supply chain disruptions. The health and safety of our employees, vendor partners and our customer base is our number one priority as such, we will follow the guidelines that the CDC, state health departments and other appropriate agencies provide us. At this point, that means we are all focused on enforcing our Social Distancing protocols as well as identifying supply chain disruptions along with our counter measures.

Social Distance:
In order to minimize transmission from person to person, BSC’s Emergency Plan includes social distancing provisions, some of which are currently in effect and will be augmented per CDC, WHO, along with Local & Federal Government mandates. Social distancing is designed to limit the spread of a disease by reducing the opportunities for close contact between people. We are accomplishing this through the strategic implementation of one or more of the following protocol/s:

  • reducing face-to-face exposure by using conference calls and video conferencing;
  • avoiding unnecessary domestic & international travel;
  • canceling meetings, workshops, training sessions and scheduled events;
  • employees to work from home and/or establishing flexible work hours to reduce exposure in the workplace;
  • installing protective barriers between work stations or increasing space between workers;
  • reinforcing hand washing and requiring the use of protective equipment such as hand sanitizers, positioned throughout BSC and masks (if deemed effective);
  • scheduling employees in shifts;
  • providing laptops to any essential staff that doesn’t have at home connectivity;
  • increasing the frequency of our office cleaning staff with particular attention to common surface area sterilization;
  • controlling access to buildings; and
  • requiring asymptomatic individuals traveling to affected countries/areas not to return to work until one incubation period has passed after returning home.

Supply Chain Distance:
As a number of our products are sourced from China, we wanted to alleviate any concerns of the potential risk of catching the virus from products imported from China. According to the CDC, coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. There is poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces; according to the CDC, there is “likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures”. Furthermore, the CDC notes that “currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported good”. It is unlikely that any health care expert will declare that it is “impossible” to get the virus from products imported from China. However, it is believed that this type of virus only last a few hours at ambient temperatures. Therefore, consistent with previous guidance from the CDC, the transmission risk is described as “extremely low” –especially given the extended transit time for most products from China.

Barker Specialty has long maintained a diverse supply chain management strategy with products sourced from China, USA, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, and many other countries. While there are some products that are produced exclusively in China, we are confident that we will be able to meet our product commitments to our customers by utilizing an alternative avenue within our supply chain. Of importance, prior to the current coronavirus outbreak, BSC had transitioned towards a more sustainable purchasing model with emphasis on products made in the U.S.A. We have found that sourcing domestically, affords ourselves and our customers the assurance that our collective promotional dollars are recycling through our economy and creating more jobs for Americans. At the present time, we estimate approximately 35% from USA, 30% from China, and 35% from other countries.

Fields and Fishman Earn Top Industry Professional Certifications

March 03, 2020
Amy Fields & Chelsea Fishman - CAS

Amy Fields and Chelsea Fishman, of Barker Specialty, earned the certification of CAS administered by Promotional Products Association International (PPAI; ppai.org), the largest international not-for-profit association for more than 15,000 members of the $21-plus billion promotional products industry.

The Certified Advertising Specialist (CAS), are the promotional products industry's premier professional designations. Individuals with a PPAI Certification are industry leaders—those who have attained a higher standard of professional competence, knowledge and experience. PPAI industry certification is acquired through a combination of: required certification classes, demonstrated years of employment in the industry, education, industry contributions and a successful demonstration of expertise. Certification is maintained through continuing education to ensure current knowledge and leading-edge professional skills.

The Certified Advertising Specialist (CAS) Certification requires 75 hours from a structured industry approved curriculum, a minimum three years of experience in the promotional products industry and a passing score on the CAS Certification exam. The rigorous curriculum required includes an overview of the promotional products industry, promotional programs, best practices/ supplier-distributor relations, advertising and marketing overview, product safety basics and business ethics. Upon completion of the core curriculum, individuals then can structure their own course schedules to deliver the greatest relevance and value for their careers.

“I am very proud of all of the accomplishments of our terrific marketing team of Amy Fields and Chelsea Fishman…. receiving their CAS certification is another example of their dedication,” noted Gerry Barker, President of Barker Specialty.

“We were eager to expand our knowledge so we can help position Barker Specialty as a leader in promotional marketing. Earning this certification is a proud moment for us,” said Amy Fields.

“Achieving our certification has empowered us to challenge ourselves and further our dedication to our careers in this industry. We’re excited to continue pursuing all opportunities this industry has to offer,” said Chelsea Fishman.

Steve Kliamenakis Achieves MVP Status With CFHLA

March 02, 2020
Steve Kliamenakis

In March 2020, Steve Kliamenakis of Barker Specialty achieved MVP status with CFHLA. Over the past several years Steve has been an active and valued member of the foundation.

Annually, the CFHLA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity, conducts fundraising to support Hospitality Scholarships and Grants for Central Florida area students and schools.

Each year CFHLA awards approximately $200,000 in scholarships and grants. Individuals, like Steve, are asked to secured over $1,500 in auction items or monetary contributions for the 2020 CFHLA Gives Program.

Barker Specialty is proud of Steve and his continued involvement and support of CFHLA!

2020 Under 40: Chelsea Fishman, Barker Specialty

February 20, 2020
Chelsea Fishman

Account Executive and Senior Marketing Manager
Barker Specialty, Cheshire, Conn.

In just three short years, Chelsea Fishman has already accomplished one of the most difficult goals in the promo business: exceeding $1 million in annual sales. At the same time, this popular team member has been instrumental in co-handling internal and external marketing initiatives for promotional products distributor Barker Specialty Company. But the promo world almost missed out on this person, who her nominator describes as “indefatigable.” Right out of college, Fishman worked in the nonprofit sector, providing marketing and advertising expertise to a performing arts theater. But she craved something more to put her talents into. At the suggestion of her mother-in-law, she turned to promotional products. “I learned what the industry was about, and fell in love with the fast-paced environment and ever-changing clientele,” Fishman said of her employment with a small distributorship. Barker later hired her as an account manager, and she has since earned a few promotions. Today, Fishman deals with a variety of clients ranging from local, small businesses to national accounts, collaborating on new product ideas, creating mock-ups and sending spec samples to help in the buying process. On the marketing side, she updates the company web pages, supports internal recognition initiatives, grows the business’ social media presence, facilitates new client and referral programs, and more.

Why she loves her job: My favorite part of my job is getting to know my clients and feeling like a true part of their team. I greatly value being depended on and love nothing more than when a product truly resonates with the client and they are thrilled with the end results. My other favorite part is the creative aspect of brainstorming unique ways to achieve a client’s desired goals. When a client comes to me and says, “Tell me what you got in this price range, for this type of an event,” my head starts spinning with ideas!

Age roadblocks and advantages: The biggest challenge with my age is that while I am well versed in this industry, I service a lot of clients who are older and see me as a “young kid.” Once I explain logistics of concepts and ideas, I tend to earn my credibility by showing how I can save them time and money. The biggest advantage of my age is that I still have a lot of time to continue to perfect my skills, grow accounts and pursue further certifications in the industry.

Her biggest career influence: Our president Gerry Barker has been an invaluable mentor and supporter from day one. He takes the time to work through complex projects, encourages education and growth and is open and receptive to new ideas on how to continue to position Barker Specialty as a leader in the industry.

Her most meaningful business accomplishment: I focus on the order itself, making sure the product is of good quality, and [the] branding is accurate and [the] details of the order stay on track, from start to finish. Taking a step back to see the overall picture at the end of the year and realizing how much I’ve done is really astonishing.

Her differentiating factor: I take a more in-depth approach to working with my clients beyond a transactional partnership. For example, once a client told me they’d be out of the office for their upcoming wedding. Upon learning this, I sent them a branded cake serving set as a wedding gift. They were so surprised and appreciative of the thoughtful gesture. I also make sure to consistently send “thinking of you” virtuals to clients. I’ve also been known to send spec samples to clients without notice. I’ll include a short note explaining why they are getting the item and how it could be used for future needs. Each of these touch points keeps me top of mind and their go-to when promotional product needs arise.

What she hopes to accomplish in the next year: This year, I plan to earn my MAS certification with PPAI. I plan to continue growing my education in the industry so I can better educate myself and my clients, and share valuable information within my company. I am currently our custom packaging specialist at Barker Specialty and I strive to be the best resource I can for my colleagues. Additionally, I am focused on furthering our marketing initiatives and getting our best practices in sync.

Why she believes the future is bright: There is no doubt in my mind the print and promo industry will thrive in the next five years (and for many years to follow). People love to receive promotional products. A [recent] study from PPAI said 99 percent of people go out of their way to get a promotional product. There are many more facts that further prove the power of promotional products is just as strong as ever. Print continues to evolve as well. The abilities to use unique printing techniques and materials, print variable data and use geo mapping keeps print modern and trendy. After all, who can resist that soft touch paper on a flyer or business card?

How the industry can better recruit young talent: I don’t think enough people know this industry exists. I didn’t! When I was just out of college applying for jobs, I don’t recall any listings in the promotional products industry. I think that our industry needs to approach colleges and engage with students majoring in relevant career fields. These are the future leaders that will help propel this industry forward.

What she does for fun: In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my husband and our 17-year-old Shih Tzu and 1-year-old Labradoodle. We are working on training our Labradoodle in advanced commands and tricks. One day it would be our dream to be able to train him to be a therapy dog visiting nursing homes and spreading cheer to those who need it.

Barker Specialty Receives Highly Distinguished Industry Award

February 17, 2020
Award Presentation

On February 5, 2020, Barker Specialty won the PPAI Pyramid Award which honors creative excellence in the promotional products industry. The PPAI Pyramid for Technology recognizes members who develop creative and effective websites, mobile apps, video content, social media campaigns and blogs. Each winning entry demonstrates the effective use of images, content relevance to the intended audience, ease of use and creative delivery.

IT-Marketing Team

“Barker Specialty is very excited to be recognized as the Distributor Technology leader in the promotional products field. This is a testament to our incredible and industrious IT staff,” commented Gerry Barker.

“In our inaugural year in the Marketing Department, our first goal was to overhaul our company website. We were in need of a dynamic and engaging functional website and our partnership with our IT Department brought this to life! Our IT Department is truly an immeasurable asset to Barker Specialty,” said Amy Fields, Director of Marketing at Barker Specialty.

Barker Specialty Receives Industry Accolades at Annual SAAGNY Awards Dinner

December 12, 2019
Distributor of the Year

Barker Specialty Company (BSC) is excited to be the recipient of two awards at the Annual SAAGNY Awards Dinner on December 11th. Barker Specialty was chosen as the Distributor of the Year and our own Alex D. Bowen, Account Manager at BSC, was given the Rising Star award. SAAGNY is a regional association for professionals in the promotional products industry covering Greater New York.

Alex Bowen

Alex D. Bowen was selected not only for his continued growth in sales, but his commitment to BSC and his philanthropy work. Bowen has responsibility of coordinating BSC’s nationally recognized end-user show. Bowen is also head of our B.E.A.T program – Barker Employee Appreciation Team, where he coordinates and plans monthly events to assure that all employees are engaged and valued. Outside of BSC, he is active in the Hartford’s Gay Men’s Choir and a number of organizations concerned with protecting the rights and health of those in the LGBTQ community.

“It is an honor for Barker Specialty and Alex Bowen to be recognized at SAAGNY’s Award Dinner. We are very proud of Alex for his award and are grateful to all of our customers and employees at BSC who play integral roles in making us the Distributor of the Year,” said Gerry Barker, President of BSC.

Barker Specialty Ending the Year Strong with Five New Hires

October 2, 2019

Barker Specialty Company (BSC) is excited to announce that Judi Mariano has joined the Barker team as the Director of Strategic Initiatives. BSC is also expanding their Production Team with the recent hiring of four additional Production Team Specialists.

Judi Mariano, Director of Strategic Initiatives, bring overs twenty years of promotional marketing experience to BSC. She has managed many programs for high profile brands and will use her vast skill set to expand our customer merchandising programs.

Patricia Mich and Christina Kopcza have joined BSC as Production Team Specialists. Both Patricia and Christina came from customer service backgrounds at Edible Arrangements.

Kimberly Chandler, Production Team Specialist, is a graduate of UCONN and has experience in marketing and event planning.

Amanda Cruz, Production Team Specialist, has previously worked in the insurance and banking industry, as well as customer service and order entry.

“As our sales continue to grow, we are thrilled with the addition of five dynamic employees. As more people understand the power of promotional marketing, Barker Specialty is well positioned for increased growth”, said Gerry Barker, President of Barker Specialty Company.

PPB Magazine Rising Star – Amy Fields

Sept 01, 2019
Amy Fields

Amy Fields from Barker Specialty was named one of the fourteen most watchable young leaders profiled in the Promotional Products Business magazine. Named as a Rising Star, Amy was selected from among 81 individuals who were nominated by their supervisors, co-workers, clients, peers and vendors from across the promotional products industry. Among the qualities that propelled Amy into the spotlight were her accomplishments on and off the job, coupled with demonstrated leadership potential through involvement in the industry and in her communities.

When asked why Amy is a Rising Star, President Gerry Barker said “Fields joined the company three years ago as an account executive; this year her sales will exceed $1 million. She took on the additional marketing role last year and transformed the company’s marketing both internally and externally. She also redesigned the website, implemented a referral program and initiated an internal employee recognition campaign. She represents the company as a principal in the Premier Group and is involved in the local Chamber of Commerce and in the group Abilities Without Boundaries.”.

Barker Specialty Gives to The Cheshire Community Food Pantry

July 29, 2019

As a family business rooted in Cheshire, CT, Barker Specialty was inspired by the opportunity to help support The Cheshire Community Food Pantry when they announced the great need for non-perishable foods. During summer months children are home from school, placing a larger weight on families to supply meals, in turn nearly depleting the pantry’s stock. Barker Specialty not only understands the importance of supporting local businesses, but doing what we can to help our neighbors and friends whenever we can. Food Drive

In the spirit of friendly competition, we split into four groups, assigned by birth month to combine people from different departments who may not interact with one another on a daily basis. The four groups were challenged to see which team could collect the most amount of non-perishable goods for the pantry. Over the course of two weeks the teams brought in food and put them in their designated boxes. The boxes were located in our main showroom, so staff and visitors alike would see the efforts made to collect non-perishables, with the goal to continue to inspire more people to dontate. It was a great way to start the day by seeing the growing piles of peanut butter, pastas, canned vegetables, fruit cups and so much more.

Food Drive Within two weeks we tallied the amount of items and counted 1,200! The pantry was thrilled to be able to collect these items and refill their shelves with an abundance of food varieties for families to enjoy.

It was truly rewarding to see what we can do as a company when we all pulled together for a meaningful purpose!

NEPPA MVP Spotlight: Gerry Barker, Barker Specialty Company

June 25, 2019
The Beacon / New England Promotional Products Association / June 2019 Newsletter
Gerry Barker

What is your title/role at Barker Specialty? My title is "President". My role is helping others succeed.

What do you like best about your company? I really enjoy our diverse group of employees and respect their commitment to customer satisfaction.

What is new & upcoming with your company? At Barker Specialty Company we are continuously reinventing ourselves - in addition to onboarding of new employees and our growth of business, we are pushing the print side of the business in response to the large number of print vendors who have ventured into the promotional industry.

Tell us something about you that most people may not know? Before business school, I taught high school for a year in a village in the Samoan Islands. Some villagers had never seen a red headed white man before - some were quite awed and some were quite scared!

If you could choose any profession other than your current one, what would it be? To be a rock star like Dave Andrews!

What is your favorite quote (movie/literary/personal)? "I wish I had all the money in the world, so I could give it all away" - a quote from my mother, Gloria Barker.

What is your passion? My family (Debbi, Alivia, Max, and Harrison) - I cherish every moment we are together!

What drives you? I have a sense of responsibility to a number of people - this includes family, employees, community, clients, and suppliers - I don't want to let anyone down!

Barker Specialty Company Outing to Hartford Yard Goats Game

June 4, 2019

Barker Specialty enjoyed a company outing to Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford, CT to celebrate and support Pride Night at the Hartford Yard Goats game! Our company strongly values the importance of coming together outside of work hours for fun and meaningful events like this one. And the night certainly did not disappoint!

The Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus sang a beautiful version of the National Anthem and we cheered extra loud for two of our staff members who are part of the chorus, Alex Bowen and Josh Burkhardt. Between innings we were entertained by local youth participating in games on the field and an animated race by the Dunkin Donuts mascots!

The weather was perfect for a ball game, the Yard Goats won and the night was filled with positive messages of inclusion, acceptance and love.

Barker Specialty Announces New Hires & New Roles Coming Into 2019

December 14, 2018
L-R: Jessica Defilpo, Olivia Monroe, Debra Diana, Chelsea Fishman, Amy Fields, Max Barker

Barker Specialty Company (BSC) is pleased to announce the following new hires and new role responsibilities to the following employees:

Amy Fields, a graduate of Central Connecticut State University, will assume the role of Director of Marketing.

Chelsea Fishman, a graduate of the University of Hartford, has been named the Senior Marketing Manager.

Maxwell Barker has been named Account Manager. Maxwell is a graduate of Syracuse University and was previously an Account Executive at Justworks, selling modern HR, payroll and benefits solutions.

Olivia Monroe and Jessica Defilpo were named Production Team Specialists. Monroe, a graduate of Cazenovia College, comes to BSC with experience in customer service. Defilpo, a graduate of South New Hampshire University comes to BSC with a great deal of customer service experience and is fluent in Spanish.

Debra Diana has been hired for the BSC Fulfillment Team. Diana has experience at both private and public companies, as well as the not for profit industry.

“We are thrilled to be hiring and promoting so many employees as we reach the new year. The growth we are experiencing at BSC will help us best serve our loyal customers", said Gerry Barker, President of Barker Specialty Company.

2018 Women in Print and Promo: Ewa Karolina Wlaz, Barker Specialty Company

May 16, 2018
Ewa Wlaz

Ewa Karolina Wlaz
Sales Executive
Barker Specialty Company
Years of Experience: 16

How she got her start: I love visual and performing arts and was a double major in graphic design and theater at Regis College in the Boston area. Upon graduation, I was looking for a career in the graphic design field and dropped off my résumé at Barker Specialty Company. [Company president] Gerry Barker met with me and asked me to give him three months to try out being an admin for him. He promised I would still be able to use my design skills, but that I would see a very different side of business. I developed a new appreciation and love of the industry, and, very soon after, I moved into sales.

Her proudest career achievements: One of the key career achievements I am proud of is having a Fortune 100 client provide us with an evergreen agreement. This agreement means we are the client’s preferred vendor forever as long as we always fulfill their ethical and safety standards, which we, of course, certainly plan on doing. I am also very proud of finishing my MBA along with my husband while working full time and raising two young children.

On working in a traditionally male-dominated industry: Sales roles have predominantly been male dominant, which makes it tough to prove oneself being a woman. Generally speaking, women often have to work harder to be recognized or rewarded, but this paradigm is evolving. It has taken some time, but I do feel perceptions are shifting and people see me not only as a woman, but as a professional salesperson and, more importantly, an equal colleague among many male counterparts whom I greatly respect.

Her job advice to women: Don’t be afraid! Just go for it, be confident, acquire the necessary skills, learn as much as you can from everyone and develop your own unique style. It is always important to have a mentor or someone you can really learn from. This is a fun, energetic and creative business that many women would be thrilled to be a part of.

Her industry mentors: From the beginning of my career I have always looked up to Gerry Barker. I’ve appreciated his advice and his creative solutions to some of the most challenging tasks. He has been an integral part in making me the salesperson I am today. I also always rely on the advice and support of my husband Krys Wlaz, director of IT of PW Power Systems. Krys has always had great advice and a slightly different perspective coming from a drastically different industry.

Her biggest lesson learned: This is a great question as I feel like there is always something to learn every day and with every situation. However, at the end of the day, I think the most important is to always have a positive and caring attitude—with clients, colleagues and suppliers. [Doing so] only brings out the best in people and, in turn, makes you a success.

How she maintains a work/life balance: Having flexibility in the workplace is crucial in maintaining a healthy work/life balance. I am able to care for and spend time with my family, while being connected and aware of what goes on in the office and with my clients at all times. Having great support, both in the office with wonderful sales staff and at home from family, is key.