Executive Suite: Ken Laffer, Westbury

Ken Laffer, founder and chief executive of Westbury-based

Ken Laffer, founder and chief executive of Westbury-based Motivators, a promotional products supplier, says his company has continued to grow, despite the economic downturn. (May 29, 2012) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

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As you read this, there is probably at least one promotional product in sight -- a magnet from your favorite pizza shop, a pen from your bank, or sugar-free mints from your dentist.

Even in tough economic times, companies continue to view promotional products as a cost-effective way to market. Industry sales reached $1.03 billion in New York State and $18.5 billion nationally last year, up 6 percent over 2010, according to the Advertising Specialty Institute.

At Motivators, a Westbury-based promotional products company started in 1979, sales have continued to grow, despite the economic downturn.

President and chief executive Ken Laffer said the secret of the company's success is personal customer service: "It's not selling a customer what they like, but helping them find what will really work."

In addition to helping customers, Motivators is committed to helping others. The company gave 14,000 beach balls to the Jones Beach Breast Cancer Walk last year.

"We like to make people happy, and I think it transcends business," Laffer, 63, said. "Do we get any business from it? I don't think so. But it's just the right thing to do."

In a down economy, how do you convince customers to spend on giveaways?

Everyone likes to get a free gift. If I give you a pen to thank you for signing a contract, then you will see my brand on the pen for days or weeks or months, and you will feel something positive about that company.

How do you know a winner?

It's 35 years of being in the business. At this point I have a sixth sense of what works.

How do you help a company select the right products for them?

I look at the demographics. Say you are trying to promote a pizza place in a neighborhood with a lot of children. So why not a write-on board with a baby-sitter's guide and across the top the name and number of the pizza place? It's functional, and it's a fabulous promotion.

What's your favorite product?

I have a love affair right now with a new water bottle. It's a clear one with a colored filter. I like it because it's fun, it's different and it's eco-friendly.

Motivators was cited in 2011 by Counselor magazine as one of the best places in the industry to work. You've got cupcakes in the break room, blackboard walls, and funky music videos on Motivators TV. Why is fun such an important part of your company culture?

Again, money isn't everything. It's about coming to work every day and working with people you like and having fun together.

CORPORATE SNAPSHOT

Name. Ken Laffer, chief executive of Motivators, Westbury.

What it does. Distribute promotional products.

Employees. 75.

Roles they play. Art, sales, marketing, video production and e-commerce development.

Sales. $18 million.

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