Shakespeare famously wrote “What’s in a name?” and that question is loaded with meaning for Kate Burgess.
The owner and CEO of a Green Bay-based customer fulfillment and marketing service provider felt her company’s name didn’t quite get across everything it did.
“We felt we did a good job of serving our customers and meeting all their needs, but we didn’t do a good job of telling our story and everything we can do,” Burgess says. “We simply outgrew our name.”
With that in mind, Burgess and the company’s president, David Coe, started down a path that led to a new name and identity for the company known as Fulfillnet since its founding 17 years ago: Elevate97.
“Elevate was chosen because that’s what we do – we elevate our customers and we’re also elevating our employees,” Burgess says. “And 97 stands for 1997, the year this whole thing started.”
This is the story of how a company began with a simple idea, built itself into a well-oiled machine and eventually outgrew its original mission to the point its name no longer conveyed its full potential. The company’s journey toward launching a new brand offers insights for any company on the evolution from startup to maturity.
Borne of a highway brainstorm
In the late 1990s, Burgess and her husband, Tom, had finished traveling the country for two years in a semi-trailer for Anchor Foods, meeting with stores and providing them not only with samples, but marketing materials on how to sell the frozen appetizers. The result? Increased sales. Once home, Tom Burgess decided to launch his own business, bringing together fulfillment, database and direct mail services. In 2002, Kate joined him and two years later she took over as Tom moved on to start another company, AEI Dish Inc.
Today, the business that started in a 10-by-10-foot space occupies a 190,000-square-foot building with 65 full-time employees and a pool of seasonal part-time employees. In the past five years, Elevate97’s revenue grew more than 450 percent, including more than 250 percent in the past year alone.
“I didn’t imagine it would be like this, but as I look around now I can imagine it as so much more,” Burgess says as she guides a tour of the warehouse facilities where marketing materials and products wait to be shipped to their destinations. An impressive array of nationally-known brands fills the space: Pandora, Nautica, TaylorMade Golf, Kimberly-Clark, UnderArmour, Kate Spade and more.
The past few years have been busy for Elevate97. The company moved into its current facility and added Coe as president to handle day-to-day duties so Burgess could focus on strategic planning. It expanded its offerings through its purchase of Firehouse Graphics, and added clients and employees.
“We’ve been able to successfully execute our customers’ plans,” Coe says. “Clients want a turnkey solution and we have the technology and people to get it done.”
Getting it done is a motto for Elevate97, which has more than 200 clients and sends out more than 40 million pieces of marketing collateral annually. Burgess says doing what it takes to get their customers’ materials where they need to be on time makes all the difference.
She proudly shares a story about their involvement with the Green Bay Packers a few years ago, when the franchise offered stock certificates for sale. Their goal was to have everything arrive at their destination in time for Christmas Eve. Burgess and her team split the job with another company. Her company was able to get their certificates out in time, but the other company struggled with the deadline. Her team jumped in to help and got it done.
“We canceled our Christmas party and worked through the weekend to finish it,” Burgess says. Packers President Mark Murphy showed up and passed out Packers hats to employees on the floor to show the organization’s gratitude. “That’s a memory I’ll always treasure … seeing him down there and thanking employees for what they did.”
Ray Murray, vice president of creative services for Nautica, has worked with Burgess and her company since 2002. He says Elevate97 is a partner his company can depend on – something that’s crucial in the competitive retail industry.
“You’ve got to be able to move with a company,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to evolve with a company, because they have to deliver the way you work creatively. Companies like Elevate97 are committed to doing this; they are committed to changing with you. It’s a relationship that we can continue to build over time.”
Innovation is one of the company’s hallmarks. For example, Elevate97 was working with a company with several different brands that was shipping its marketing materials separately to stores such as Younkers.
“It was an ‘ah-ha moment,’” Burgess says. “Instead of shipping eight boxes to one store, why not combine them all and ship just one box? You’re saving the customer money, which they liked. We use technology to help companies with their product ordering – they can go online, order what they need and it gets sent. It’s more efficient.”
Burgess says the company’s “secret sauce” is taking one opportunity with a client and growing it into additional business. For example, the purchase of Firehouse Graphics, a long-time, frequent collaborator, has enabled Elevate97 to offer large-format printing. Such a product is in high demand by customers such as Nautica, which uses it on the walls of their stores.
“We can do everything from shipping a sample or box of marketing materials for a company to developing an entire environment and shipping it on their behalf,” Burgess says.
With Pandora, Elevate97 has everything in its Green Bay warehouse that’s involved with a purchase – except the jewelry. They have the small jewelry boxes where the charms are placed, the tissue paper used in the Pandora bags, the bags themselves, handouts that go with the jewelry and marketing materials that are placed around the store promoting the brand.
With many companies owning multiple brands, Elevate97 has been able to take success with one line and translate that into additional business with a company. For example, Elevate97 began working with the Vince Camuto Group in 2004 by sending out an invitation launching the Jessica Simpson Collection. By successfully completing that project and showing initiative, Elevate97’s work with the New York company grew to include additional brands, including Vince Camuto, BCBG and Lucky Brand Jeans.
Leah Roberts, vice president of marketing for the Vince Camuto Group, says excellent customer service sets Elevate97 apart.
“The trust started at the very beginning in the commitment, the constant follow-up, the clear communication the open communication,” Roberts says. “I think all of those different elements contributed to the trust. From the very first project we worked on together, I thought there was a level of customer care and client management there that you don’t necessarily have with other partners in the field.”
Going that extra mile is paying dividends for the company, which added 20 employees in 2013. But it’s not “all work and no play” at Elevate97.
“We like to have fun,” Burgess says as she shows a visitor around the comfortable, open-concept offices. She and Coe have their desks in the middle of the space, which also features several living room areas with comfortable couches and tables so employees can easily collaborate. Two small rooms called “phone booths” each include a phone and a couple of chairs for private calls or conversations. There’s also a cafeteria area and kitchen along with a classroom separated by a garage-style door dubbed Tommy’s Garage – in homage to the company’s first location.
“We have a lot of activities that we do with the employees since we know they are the reason for our success,” Burgess says. “When we moved into here, I realized we had several employees who helped us move in 2002. We have longevity, which plays a role in our success.”
Burgess and the Elevate97 team also enjoy welcoming clients to town and showing them around Green Bay. “We had one group here this past fall and did a Packers game,” she says. “We also went to some local places to eat. We want to show them what a great place Green Bay is and how we’re proud to call it home.”
During the past year, Burgess and Coe realized the company’s name wasn’t truly representative of what they were doing. They turned to Bridget Krage O’Connor of O’Connor Connective, Green Bay, and tasked her with helping the company tell its story better. O’Connor says it was clear to her that a new name was needed. As part of the process, she interviewed more than 30 employees about what the company did.
“What I kept hearing over and over again was how the employees helped ‘elevate’ the brands they worked with,” O’Connor says. “Then when I spoke with Kate, it was quickly apparent how much the company values its workers and how she wants everyone to be their best. The word ‘elevate’ just came naturally.”
Along with the new name, which was unveiled Feb. 25, the company launched a website filled with testimonials and examples of how the company helps businesses promote their brands.
Burgess and Coe are excited to talk about the new name and brand and how every piece of it has a meaning. “In the video we did (for the name change), we have these three little dots that help elevate the ‘e’ in our name,” Coe says. “Those little dots are the pillars to the company’s success: fun, personal responsibility and innovation.”
Personal responsibility is integral to the company’s success, Coe says. With each employee doing his or her best, the end result is a job well done, he says.
“Everyone is trying to make the end result better for our clients. When we can deliver the marketing materials on time, it leads to better sales,” Coe says. “And it’s not just one touch. For example, you get a free sample in the mail and then maybe it’s followed up by an email to make sure you got it and then a week or so later you get a coupon in the mail for that product. Timing makes a difference.”
Burgess says having the “e” stand out means a lot. “In our former branding, the ‘e’ in Fulfillnet was always highlighted and now we lead with it in the new name. It all ties together,” she says.
Looking to the future, Burgess says Elevate97 will continue to grow, whether it’s organically, by adding new products and services, or by future acquisitions.
“We need to keep up with our customers’ needs,” she says. “It’s all about listening to our clients and anticipating their needs and being there to meet them. That’s our key to success.”
Kate Burgess, CEO of Elevate97, received the 2013 Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Athena Award, which honors not only a woman who is successful in business, but one active in the community.
“I just enjoy giving back and helping our community,” she says, adding that Elevate97 often works with local non-profit organizations on their mailings. “The community plays a role in our success and who we are.”
Burgess actively participates with the Women’s Fund of Greater Green Bay, including co-leading the campaign and sponsorship committee for the Power of the Purse, the organization’s main fundraiser, and previously co-chairing the Friendraiser committee.
She also serves on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club of Green Bay and chairs the club’s annual Wine & Cheese Event, which raises more than $300,000 for the club.
“Kate is very active in the community and very modest about what she does. She was board member of the year for the Boys & Girls Club,” says Bridget Krage O’Connor of O’Connor Connective in Green Bay, who worked on a Women’s Fund committee with Burgess. “She is very giving and just as she does in business, goes the extra mile to help non-profits.”
Then, there was her 2012 turn on the dance floor for the Northeast Wisconsin American Red Cross event, “Dancing With Our Stars,” raising more than $47,000. After Super Storm Sandy, she decided to forego the traditional company holiday gifts and instead donated the money to Red Cross relief efforts in the region.
“We have a lot of clients who live on the East Coast and we wanted to do something to help,” Burgess says.
Burgess received the 2013 Clara Barton Award from the Northeast Wisconsin American Red Cross, the organization’s highest volunteer honor.
A CLOSER LOOK
Location: 1085 Parkview Road, Green Bay
Number of employees: 65 full-time
Company leaders: Kate Burgess, CEO, and David Coe, president
What it does: Provide fulfillment, direct mail, print and technology solutions to companies looking to increase their brand awareness. A roster of more than 200 clients includes the Vince Camuto Group, Jones Apparel Group, Pandora Jewelry, Kimberly-Clark, the Green Bay Packers, Nautica, TaylorMade and UnderArmour.