While working at Aztec Environmental, I was exposed to promotional merchandise as a marketing buyer. (Little did I know, this would be the introduction into the world of promotional products, and what would later grow into my business of today.)Not long after, the environmental company was merged with another company and I found myself wondering what to do next. In the weeks following, I connected my promotional products vendor to my network of contacts. Then I thought, “I should try this.”
In a deal made with my girlfriend’s dad/investor/now father-in-law, I made a deal to still answer the phone “Aztec” (and forward any calls that were environmental) and to borrow $30,000. With that, the Aztec Group, Inc. was born. Armed with six shirts hanging in the door and a box of key chains on the floor, I took to the streets, from my make-shift pole barn office, to sell (not really knowing what to sell). I fondly recall the first t-shirt order I received from a client. I called Fruit of the Loom and reached someone on the factory floor in Tennessee….. that was my introduction to the term wholesalers and what the term “ASI” meant. Soon one client was landed, then another, and another, and sales started to take off. Back then, doubling sales every year was easy.
By 2002, we were well on our way to something big in the promotional products industry. Then, I met Larry Sheakley. Larry would prove to be the most influential person in our business’s future and the person that would provide me the guidance, mentorship, and resources to allow Touchstone to grow into what it is today. Larry is a self-made business magnate, living in Cincinnati, Ohio. He started in business when he was 19, working for his father in the workers’ compensation and unemployment business. It was a family business that Larry would eventually buy from his father and turn into an empire through “bootstrap,” “pound the street” hard work, much like the path I was on.
On January 1, 2005, Larry bought a majority interest of Aztec. We changed the name to Touchstone Merchandise Group, LLC., and we became partners. Today (in addition to Touchstone) Larry has ownership interest in some 26 companies, including Il Mulino (a world-class restaurant in NYC, Las Vegas, Chicago, and others), a shampoo company, many real estate properties, and the Cincinnati Reds.Since our partnership in the business, Larry and I have purchased other businesses in the branded merchandise space. Most notably is Pro Procure U.S., LLC., a technology platform business to the promotional products industry that is revolutionizing the way buyers and suppliers work with each other.
As we move into the next chapter of Touchstone, we are poised for growth. In a very fragmented, undercapitalized industry of mediocre distributors, we are giving our clients value every day. I’ve assembled an executive management team of the finest and most successful people in the history of the promotional products business. Additionally, we are financially committed to our business. With the financial resources we have, Touchstone will continue to grow in our service offering to our clients.However, through all of this, our most important assets are our Culture and People. Anyone who engages with Touchstone as an employee, vendor, or client recognizes it right away.
From our new, state-of-the-art headquarters, in Mason, OH, to every person in our organization, every touch point is the real deal. Our facility is a showpiece of the Culture of Touchstone. Our people are our biggest asset and we treat them that way.
Today, Touchstone operates around the world with sourcing offices in Seoul South Korea and with Chinese sourcing offices in the city provinces of Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Ningbo.