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On the lacrosse field and at work, EmbroidMe’s new president, Joe Loch, uses his coaching skills to help others succeed.

By Julie Richie

Joe Loch is the kind of man who doesn’t back down from a challenge—even when that challenge involves coaching a girls’ lacrosse team, a group no one in his Ohio town knew how to coach, including Loch.

To be fair, Loch is accustomed to girls, given that he is raising two of them—Rebecca, 14, and Courtney, 17—with his wife, Patty. And after growing up in Maryland, a state where you’re practically born holding a lacrosse stick, Loch is a lacrosse player himself who ran a men’s league and still plays on a team. But women’s lacrosse is a very different game with different rules, he says. And coaching your own kid can be complicated. Undaunted, Loch overcame those obstacles.

When he began coaching, the team was a high school club with 16 girls that hadn’t won a game in four years. “Five years later we had over 30 girls, were made a varsity sport and went 12-4. Now there’s a program there,” says Loch. “I get to leave something behind that someone can make even better.”

But winning wasn’t the best part for this proud father. “Every afternoon in the springtime I had a guaranteed two and a half hours with my daughter. It was special. I enjoyed it,” Loch says.

“My two girls are just wonderful people and they’re going to be incredible adults. They’re both successful in their own ways, whether is cross country or lacrosse or their grades and how they carry themselves with their friends—that’s my proudest accomplishment,” he adds.

Next fall Courtney will be in college, and he and Rebecca and Patty will have relocated from Toledo, Ohio, where he oversaw retail, franchise, B2B and franchise sales operations at Hickory Farms, to West Palm Beach, Florida, where the distributor company EmbroidMe (PPAI 240143), which he joined last September, is located. Loch says they’re excited about the upcoming move. “We used to live in St. Augustine and we had always hoped to get back to this part of the country.”

With Rebecca’s sport of choice being cross country, not lacrosse, Loch will cheer her on from the sidelines while directing his coaching talents toward EmbroidMe’s franchisees.

Who has had the greatest influence on your career and why?

I’ve been blessed and have had several great mentors in my career but I think the biggest influence has been my father. He was a self-made man who got out of the Navy as a young man and started as an apprentice in the printing industry in New York City. He raised a family and one day wound up owning a printing company, and I remember working with him in the plant and going on sales calls with him. My dad was not an educated man but he knew the value of relationships and keeping commitments. When I used to work on the floor of his plant—even though I was the son of the owner, my dad made me work the floor—even as a young man, I could sense the respect the employees had for my father because he treated them well. He respected them. He knew them. He was on that floor. He knew the jobs because he had done the jobs. There was a sense that my father was a good man, an understanding and compassionate man who understood the importance of everybody working together. My dad didn’t learn that in college from some business strategy or textbook. He did it because he knew it was the right thing to do, and that’s always carried with me.

What was your first job, and what lessons did you learn?

I had a paper route when I was 11 years old. I learned if you don’t deliver papers on time, people are not happy. Now we have all these fancy online [customer satisfaction] surveys, but when I had to go collect the money on Saturdays it was the ultimate survey right in my face. “You didn’t get my paper delivered last Saturday morning and that wasn’t good.” It was an early lesson in life that meeting customers’ expectations is important.

How has your transition to the promotional products industry been?

At Hickory Farms, we managed 700 stores in North America and about 20 percent of those were franchise owned. So, from the standpoint of managing a franchise with 300 retail stores [at EmbroidMe], the transition has gone really smoothly. We had a significant business gifting program and did a lot of custom print ad specialty items coupled with our gift packs. It was not to the scale of EmbroidMe, but there are similarities between the customers we were selling to at Hickory Farms and the customers that the EmbroidMe stores are selling to so it’s been a really good transition from that perspective.

What’s been the most interesting you have learned about the promotional products industry?

I’m really intrigued with how well the industry is managed and organized. There are caretakers in this industry with PPAI, ASI, SAGE and other folks. There’s a need to help businesses grow and standardize the way we operate and how we work between stores and suppliers and distributors. I find it refreshing that we’re trying to maintain margins and grow the industry and the benefits of our products and services to businesses. I’ve been encouraged and, quite frankly, I’ve been impressed.

What motivates you?

Prior to Hickory Farms, I worked for Independent Stationers where we had a cooperative of several hundred independently owned dealerships. It really is about helping the small-business owners be successful. If we’re doing our job, they’re growing their sales profitably and that’s money for their families. Now that I’m leading a brand of 300 franchise owners, what motivates me is their success.

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

At Hickory Farms, we developed an amazing online training resource for our 7,000 seasonal retail associates, who had to be retrained every year. We created a character named Abe [his full name was Abe Froman, the “sausage king of Chicago” from the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off]. Abe took on a life of his own. He had his own Facebook page and he became the face of our training for Hickory Farms. When I traveled around the stores, people would say, “How’s Abe doing?” or “I love Abe!” It was one of those rare projects where the objective was to improve associate satisfaction and improve training and improve sales, but it morphed into something else. We created a character that represented the success in a way that people could relate to. To this day, people still say happy birthday to Abe on his Facebook page.

Julie Richie is associate editor for PPB.


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