The history of one of branded merchandising’s biggest names: Jack Nadel International
The branded merchandising, or promotional products industry, is now worth $23.3 billion to the economy of the United States. Of course, it wasn’t always so lucrative a business to be getting into.
If you read our last article (which you can access here), then you’ll know that the production of branded items for gifting to potential customers began in the mid-1800s. But, quickly and powered by the success that brand-builders witnessed using promotional products, the industry boomed.
So much so, that by 1947 the branded merchandising industry of the United States, the country that invented it and adopted its usage most thoroughly, saw $124 million in sales. It was an incredible return for the still young sector of industry but the figure is obviously dwarfed by the numbers witnessed today.
The story of how the industry developed from what it was at the mid-point of the 20th century to today cannot be told without reference to one of its biggest and most successful names: Jack Nadel International.
‘Ideas That Mean Business’
In 1953, Jack Nadel, a man described by friends and former colleagues as ‘a dynamo’ who had ‘100 ideas a minute’ and the ‘most creative guy’ they’d ever met, began what was then called Jack Nadel Inc. in Culver City, CA.
Jack had recently retired from the United States Army Air Force. He was a veteran of the second World War where he had been a navigator on a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, on which he successfully completed 27 missions. He received a distinguished flying cross for the service he did for his country and, afterwards, got his first taste of sales buying and selling army surplus.
Jack brought a steely determination to his new project and, with support from his late wife Elly, the nascent Jack Nadel Inc. started operating out a small office in Beverly Hills. He created his company’s mantra: ‘Ideas That Mean Business.’ He built himself a small team of, mostly, part-time, salesmen and quickly went about establishing his small company in the Los Angeles area.
There were not so many products available to branded merchandising salesmen back then. Some of the more exciting pieces offered up for branding were light-up pens and an aluminium calendar that could be attached to your watch. The salesmen who sought to promote these items would travel around in their cars or vans visiting offices for face-to-face meetups.
There are still those within the business that can remember those early days. They were days of inventive sales techniques and acting on one’s feet. One JNI legend recalls how he would always drive to the office of potential customers, how ‘it is too easy to say no over the phone’ and that, when offering up sample products for consideration, ‘3 is the magic number’. Any less and you’ve come ill-prepared, any more and your contact loses interest.
Jack brought his younger brother, Marty, onboard and together they realised the need to push northward and expand their area of operation into Northern California. Employees of these early days remember monthly meet-ups where Jack drove down from Oakland to meet with the rest of the sales team still headquartered in Culver City.
Gradually, and aided by some huge deals with companies like the of Bank of America, Jack Nadel Inc. was beginning to really establish a name for itself on the corporate landscape.
The ‘70s: Disco and the ‘Age of the Conglomerate’
So great and noteworthy were Jack Nadel Inc.’s successes that some of the United States’ largest conglomerates began to show interest in Jack’s branded merchandising project.
Corporate America of the late 60s and early 70s was defined by huge and powerful business entities who were all looking to diversify their business interests in an attempt to increase revenues and manage risk better.
The over-achieving Jack Nadel Inc. got caught up in this wave of acquisitions and, despite growing successes and initial forays into international markets, Jack and Marty sold their company to Republic Corp. in 1973.
Jack became an executive with Republic and Marty stayed on as the President of JNI. As the decade progressed, and despite continued success for their branded merchandising arm, Republic Corp. began to fail.
Jack and Marty were, however, still very committed to the project they’d started some twenty years ago. With Republic failing, the two brothers joined forces with two business affiliates, John Dieball and Robert Buckingham. Together, they formed a new company, Measured Marketing Services Inc., and bought back JNI and 7 other companies. It was one of corporate America’s first leveraged buyouts and represented quite a turn around for JNI, as well as a seismic shift in the way business had previously been heading in America.
Under the Measured Marketing Services umbrella, JNI wasted no time in establishing partnerships with Europe, truly taking the branded merchandising provider into international markets. By the early 80s, JNI had secured a lucrative licensing deal with the French-Italian design firm Pierre Cardin.
The deal was a huge coup for the promotional products firm and a great statement of intent now that JNI was back in Nadel hands.
A fresh start and new ideas
Today, Jack Nadel International, as it was rebranded following a meeting in Culver City, is known amongst industry professionals for its personalised touch, for the creative, human and exciting way that it interacts with promotional pieces as a form of advertising.
And it was in the 1980s and ‘90s that this focus was born. Robert Buckingham made it his mission to change the way JNI approached the service it sold.
Over the course of the 1980s, Buckingham had been put in charge of Krupp/Taylor, a direct marketing company that was another part of the Measured Marketing Services group. In 1989, following the sale of Krupp/Taylor, he made the switch to promotional products and JNI.
Under Jack and Marty’s guidance, along with Robert’s ideas, JNI developed a new approach to the way business was conducted. The language used within the company changed.
Customers became clients. Salespeople became account executives. And, crucially, the service was changed. Instead of satisfying itself with providing a service that simply printed logos on to objects, JNI began to try and understand how exactly their clients took themselves to market, what they wanted to accomplish when they got there, and how JNI could facilitate the whole process.
It was in the final decade of the 20th century that the modern iteration of Jack Nadel International was born. It had become a company that sought inventive, creative solutions to its client’s brand-building questions.
To mark Robert Buckingham’s influence in helping to place creative problem-solving at the heart of the company, the ‘Bucky award’, given to the most creative project of the year, was created in his honour and on the day of his retirement.
The Jack Nadel International of today
Today’s JNI, under the leadership of Craig Nadel, is known industry-wide for its commitment to invention and creativity. It is also one of the best-respected and most successful branded merchandising companies to operate internationally.
This is not the history of a merchandising solutions company. Rather, it is the story of how a specialty advertising company adapted to changing times in order that it might provide engaging brand-building solutions to the globe’s biggest companies.