By using their contacts and expertise in company merchandising and promotions, George and Peggy Curran were able to gather a large donation to give to the Veterans Administration Hospitals as part of "Operation Christmas Cheer."
Their efforts didn't go unnoticed. Earlier this year, the couple received an award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars for their contributions, though Peggy can't believe they were recognized for something that wasn't difficult.
How long have you been in business in Barrington?
Peggy: Actually when George started our business in Palatine in 1995, we realized that we needed more room. So, we moved to Barrington in 1996. We've been in the area ever since.
Describe your business.
George: Our company has its roots in a company started by Peggy’s father, Jack McLennon in the mid-1900’s – McLennon Pen Co. – which was a retail pen shop on State Street in downtown Chicago. At that time, before the advent of the ball pen, a fine pen was treasured just as a fine watch would be today. McLennon’s was also a wholesaler of writing instruments and grew to be the largest wholesale pen distributor in the U.S.
I, along with another son-in-law, Dave Kennedy, bought the business and it evolved into a distributor of pens, office supplies and promotional products. In 1995, because the office supplies wholesale business was declining with the closing of the office supply stores (our major customers), we decided to sell the office supplies part of the business. I continued on my own and started a new company specializing in promotional products such as coffee mugs, pens, calendars and just about any product that can be imprinted.
We now also offer corporate apparel and uniforms, business gifts, recognition awards. And we are print brokers offering commercial print materials like stationery, business forms, labels, four color brochures, catalogs, etc.
In 2002 we joined the Proforma group. Proforma has 750 independently owned locations like us throughout North America and generates $350 million in combined sales. In 2012, Proforma was the largest promotional products distributor in the U.S. and the second largest in commercial print.
What is it like to work with your significant other?
Peggy: When George started the business, I was a retail sales merchandiser with Mattel Toys. I called on all of the major department stores and toy stores and helped them to better merchandise the Mattel line including Barbie and Ken Dolls. I used to put on fashion shows of the doll fashions — duplicated in adult size — using live models, sometimes our teen children – two daughters and my son. As the business developed, George needed some help and I left Mattel. We enjoy working together. George does a lot of the financial and marketing side of the business and I do a lot of the sales part.
We do have an agreement that when the work day is done, we don’t discuss business issues.
George: Peggy loves sales. She is active in the Barrington Chamber most recently as a Chamber Diplomat. She enjoys the woman’s Biznet group of the Chamber as well. She got great sales experience with Mattel.
As we perform different tasks in the operation, we don’t step on each other’s toes. And, a few years ago, Peggy assumed ownership of our business. So, we are now a woman-owned business. The good news is that she hasn't’t fired me yet!
Why did you choose Barrington to run your business? What do you like about the area?
George: The whole Barrington area is very large and very strong in commercial opportunity. Many companies are headquartered in the northwest suburbs. Barrington can almost be considered the hub of the northwest commercial area with Crystal Lake, Wauconda, and McHenry to the north and Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Palatine and Elgin to the south. It’s just a good location for our type of business. We even have easy access via train or expressway to reach our Chicago customers.
Peggy: The other thing great about the Barrington area is the “small town” feel and the opportunity to be close to nature, particularly in the outlying area just outside of Barrington village.
Why did you start making donations to the veterans?
Peggy: When I joined a Chamber networking group a few years back I met Ken Hauser who was, in his spare time, a chaplain for a Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter. He gave some of his time to the veterans in the VA hospitals.
Ken became aware through our networking group that we sold calendars and little gift items as well as clothing. He asked me if we ever had samples left over and, if we did, could we donate them to the Vets. We thought that that was a great idea so we started to donate to “Operation Christmas Cheer.”
Last holiday season, we just didn't’t have much left in terms of samples to offer the vets. So, I had the idea to contact some of our close suppliers to see if they could help with overruns, misprints or discontinued items. Ordinarily these items might simply be discarded. We were amazed with the support we received. We got 100 blankets from one source, pens, mugs and lots of other items from other factories. Lots of boxes were delivered to our doorstep. Ken got the items to the vets in time for the holidays. The veterans have lots of fun trading the various items back and forth among themselves.
Tell us about the award you received. How did it feel to be recognized for your efforts?
George: When Peggy got the call from Ken about the award she was shocked. We did not think that this small gesture was worthy of any kind of an award. But, we are pleased, of course, to be recognized by the VFW. The award is on the wall right near Peggy’s desk.
What do you like about being involved with the veterans?
Peggy: The vets are so appreciative. Even small gifts such as these can help brighten their day. Even though there might be a mix of items – just a dozen of this and two dozen of that and 100 of another, they accept the gifts graciously. Ken introduces the gifts to the vets as “Heinz 57 Varieties.”
George: It has been great working with Ken Hauser of the VFW. He deserves a lot of credit for the volunteer work he does as chaplain. The award should really go to him.
What has been your best experience so far?
Peggy: Just knowing that these small gifts make a difference in the vet’s day.