FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Bradley (Brad) Ball
October 4, 2016
The business world is full of promises and those who make them. Also, the notion that people with unique or small requirements don’t deserve speed, good service, attention to detail, reasonable prices – just isn’t prevalent in our ‘everything is on-line or at a big box store’ society. My recent experience with someone who under-promises and then over-delivers deserves some horn tooting. Toot, toot. …
His game is printing – actually, printing management of things large and small in quantities large and small; could be a sign, printing and delivering flyers or catalogs to the whole city or that next package of letterhead. Or t-shirts, business cards or mugs you serve coffee in …
I’ve known Brad Ball for a couple of years now – we’ve crossed paths in the Toastmasters world, and more recently on a printing task. Two small unusual things, needed them in a hurry – lack of pre-planning was all on me. He and his company ready.set.go printing services … supplied signs, buttons and printed materials in short order, and ‘perfectly’ which makes for a stunning testimonial piece on customer service I thought worthy of an article. But, as I explored that I thought an interview of the full Bradley Ball was more in order. The view I have is the items ordered, produced and delivered is not the main story here – but rather the nature, character and motivation of the man behind that outstanding service delivery.
We met over coffee – and soon were wandering through his fascinating journey. Do you remember that TV show about the guy who said, “meet my brother Daryl and my other brother Daryl?”. Brad goes one better – he has two half-sisters and an ex-wife all named Jennifer!
Born in London, Ontario – Brad is part of an unusual blended family. Mom and adopted dad came west to Edmonton for jobs. He has one sister, and three step-sisters – and possibly more. He’s out of touch with both adopted dad and bio-dad these days - but he keeps close with his sisters and mom who is still in Edmonton. Brad graduated from J. Percy Page High in Edmonton, then studied graphic communications in what was then called a Pre-Press program at Westerra (now NAIT). He describes himself as a good student who got lazy. Interests were music (he started working as DJ in high school days), snowboarding and skateboarding. Following his NAIT time, a variety of jobs in Edmonton, marriage, moving to Calgary – and series of printing company jobs, including REID More Books, SMART Technologies, Mountain View Printing, Avenue Magazine, and doing promtional work for Calgary bands. Each time he got ‘the itch’ he found his way back to Mountain View Printing. Some adventures with partners in new ventures never worked out. Often his moves were ‘head-hunted’. Then, Rock Paper Scissors, and finally – his own firm. Indeed, he seems ready, set and going …
Along his path – one marriage, one divorce, part-time custody of his 16-year-old son, a new partner Allie (who introduced him to the world of roller-derby where he’s become quite the ‘announcing sensation', “I love it, I’ve got a stage and a microphone …”).
Brad describes his business as advices and deliverables - 80% ‘hold in your hand’ things, 20% large format printing. He doesn’t run a plant – he has a diverse network of suppliers which leaves him not-tethered to any one supplier. It seems he doesn’t have equipment and high overhead, or the headaches that go with that; just happy customers – of which I’m pleased to be one.
Why are you successful? “my bigger WHY? is ‘what I’m fond of?’, that I can leave a legacy for my son, my love of travel, and ‘finding my way’. Also, I’ve really found my involvement with BNI important – got me going on my own business and is an important source of clients and revenue.”
What has held you back? “FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. A lack of confidence in the past. Procrastination – but I’m getting better all the time!”
How do you see your business – independent printing consultant / printing broker – going forward over the next quarter?
… I’ve seen some companies (competitors and suppliers) going down, closing up shop. But I’ve also seen some companies flourishing. I’m really busy right now. Traditional suppliers are ‘shrinking’, on-line retailers and Staples-types are gaining traction in traditional printing business.
And over the next five years?
… I see lots of consolidation – more growth from on-line suppliers. The big question is whether customers find reliability from on-line strangers somewhere else. There are three elements that I expect will continue to be important for independent and local suppliers: customers who 1) know what they want, 2) I think I know what I want, but I need some help, 3) I don’t even know where to start – please help me!
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I build relationships with suppliers – I don’t always go with ‘best price’ if it doesn’t feel like the right way to go. I like to work with people who aren’t ‘it’s all about them’ types.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Brad Ball, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… the big why? … I truly believe the product I provide/produce should make my client more money than they spent for it – I’m all about ROI. Most customers don’t want an order-taker. My clients come to me for guidance first, products second.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I’m not sure I have a ‘style’. I try to be understanding, patient and loyal. Decisions, trust, fairness – and now means NOW.
… “if you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life” is a quote I like. Over the last year I’ve gotten to have more life and less work.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… living my life without tying up loose ends. Leaving a legacy for my son. That my son turns out OK …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Phil Gilkes from Focal Point Coaching. When I was at Mountain View they brought Phil in as a sales coach – he introduced me to Lou Tice and others, and I can say, “if it wasn’t for Phil …”. He never gave up on me, held me accountable. My mom was very supportive – she influenced my interest in artistic things, music, art and guitar.
… travel, roller-derby announcing, BNI, time with Allie, time with my son.
What do you read?
… self-development books, sales (Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, Lou Tice). No fiction!
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