Vladimir Gendelman is the Founder and CEO of Company Folders, Inc., winner of multiple awards, including making Inc.’s list of 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in America three consecutive years. Raised in the Soviet Union where consumers were not considered “customers” and waiting in long lines for basic goods was the norm, his driving value has always been providing the highest standard of customer service.
He has cultivated a high-performing international team that delivers cutting-edge print design and production for clients such as Sony Pictures, Nestle, Hallmark, and Bed Bath & Beyond. An active thought leader in business and marketing, he has published numerous articles in major publications, including Forbes and Time.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to Valiant CEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Vladimir Gendelman: The story of my company, Company Folders, Inc. starts in the Soviet Union, where I grew up.
In the Soviet Union, everything was government-owned, and when the government owns everything, there is no competition. The result is that there’s no variety in the goods you can buy. There were maybe five different wallpapers available in the whole country, out of which two were absolutely hideous and the other three would be alright – so any house you would go to would have one of those wallpapers. Same with furniture, refrigerators, TVs, clothing, food and literally everything. Because of that, you really couldn’t stand out.
I wasn’t that aware of it when I lived there, but then I came here and you go to the grocery store and you have dozens of different salamis and cheeses, hundreds of wallpapers, clothing, silverware – in the Soviet Union, everyone had the same silverware. In the United States there is so much variety.
I came here as a teenager and had a series of odd jobs and then I started a computer repair company. One day one of my customers came in and said, “hey you’re a computer guy, can you help me find cool folders?” He specifically asked for “company folders.” I thought “how hard can it be?” – it was 2002 and the internet was in full swing. I went online and didn’t see anything crazy interesting. I started calling local printers. I realized there weren’t a lot of good options, and I got frustrated because it reminded me of the Soviet Union. So, I drove from printer to printer looking for good folders and there was nothing. We ended up doing a kind of standard folder for him.
Then a year went by, and a friend asked me about presentation folders for his maintenance company – this was in 2003. I started thinking “if these two need it, how many more need it?” And I was still frustrated that no one out there offered a lot of options. I thought “they should fix this.” Then I thought “who is they?” And then I thought “why not me?” That’s how Company Folders, Inc. was born. And I named it after that request for company folders.
Fast forward 18 years, Company Folders, Inc. is the ultimate presentation folder boutique, providing expert graphic design services and the broadest selection of folders available with a multitude of stocks, coatings, foils, and imprint methods to choose from.
We ran the numbers and between all the different folder styles, stocks, and imprint options we offer, we can create over 100 million variations for our clients. As of day one, we want to help people stand out, and by offering the most options, we can help our customers really shine and be proud of their image. We started that way, and we still operate that way, and we make all our decisions based on that vision.
Who has been the most influential person(s) in your life and how did they impact you? How did that lead to where you are today?
Vladimir Gendelman: The most influential person in my life was definitely my mother. Growing up, I spent most of my time with her, and, to this day, I talk to her at least once a day, sometimes much more, and I see her multiple times a week. So, purely because of proximity, she was the most influential person.
But also, there was her approach to parenting. There were certainly times when she would let me or not let me do something, but most of the time she let me make my own decisions. She would talk to me about it and help me see her perspective, but then usually she would let me decide. She also never took anything I did or said personally. So going through the teenage years, there was never any guilt laid on me when I was doing teenage stuff. There were times I wasn’t fair to her and didn’t talk nicely to her but somehow, she just understood. I always felt unconditional love coming from her. Even when I did something bad or wrong and she was angry, I still felt she loved me. I always felt her support in anything I did, so I think that had the biggest impact on who I am as a person.
There were also several pearls of wisdom I learned from her that trickled down from her father. The one that most directly impacts how I do business was “we’re not rich enough to buy cheap things.” That one’s ingrained in me. All the decisions I make are based on not buying poor-quality stuff. If I can’t afford the good stuff, I don’t buy it. It’s not worth getting cheap stuff. I don’t do things for short-term gratification. I’m always focused on the long term.
When I think of my clients, I think of myself as the client. Since I’m not rich enough to buy anything cheap, I think of my customers the same way – they’re not rich enough to buy anything cheap. I’m fine with the fact that we may not be the cheapest solution, because I know we’re the highest quality.
2020 was a challenging year for all of us, particularly for businesses. How did the pandemic impact your business? Please list some of the problems that you faced, and how you handled them.
Vladimir Gendelman: Short term, the pandemic was horrible for us, just like everybody else. When the pandemic started, in April of 2020, we lost 69 percent of our sales, which was devastating. And, obviously, the fear set in about what was coming after, and May wasn’t better and June and the rest of the year. The whole year was really horrific.
However, that forced us to think differently and to do different things. I’m always grateful when problems come up because people usually innovate and improve when there are problems. For us the biggest problem was all our products are made for face-to-face interactions, and nobody was meeting face to face. So, nobody needed folders or binders.
That forced us to get a bit innovative. We started working to improve conversion on the website so we could get a larger percentage of site visitors to eventually buy from us. We hired a sales consultant to improve cross-selling and conversion on phone calls. And we instituted a loyalty program to increase reorders.
We also started offering design consultation, which we never had the manpower to do before. But now that we had time, we could spend more time with our customers and serve them better. And going forward we’re going to continue that. Now, as things are coming back, the higher conversion rate means we’re exceeding our pre-pandemic sales numbers. So, while there were certainly problems going through the pandemic, I choose to see the business challenge it presented as a blessing.
The pandemic led to a myriad of cultural side effects, including one that was quite unexpected that is informally known as “The Great Resignation”. Did this widespread trend affect you in any way?
Vladimir Gendelman: We are fortunate enough to where this great resignation did not affect us. Luckily everybody likes working here. However, it makes it very hard to hire new people as we now have open positions. Because of the great resignation, there is great hiring out there.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. How do you feel about this trend? Explain.
Vladimir Gendelman: It is a very high number, and I would be really interested to know why they quit those jobs. I suppose some people quit because conditions weren’t good, or it wasn’t the right match. I imagine some quit because they found better jobs, which is great. However, I think a good number of people, maybe more than before, quit to try being entrepreneurs. With evolving technology, more and more people are starting businesses on Amazon or Etsy. The entrepreneurial spirit is what America is built on and it’s a great thing. Statistically, most of those people won’t succeed and will come back to the workforce. But the ones who do succeed will make this country better.
According to a study by Harvard Business Review, Employees between 30 and 45 years old have had the greatest increase in resignation rates, with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. That can be quite an alarming rate. What advice would you share to increase employee retention?
Vladimir Gendelman: Thirty to 45 is a big spread. I think that’s two different groups of people and employers need different retention strategies for each one.
At 45 you’re starting to think about retirement, but in your 30s you just got your feet wet. Somebody who is in their early 30s might feel they have reached a point where they have some real-life work experience, and they are looking for a job to propel that further. Somebody in their mid-40s may feel they have learned most of what they can learn and are getting close to the last stretch before retirement. They may be looking at their next move as the last chance to determine their final career phase for the next twenty years.
So, as far as advice for retention, employers should ask themselves what they can do to acknowledge what people in their early/mid-30s have learned, make them feel valuable to the company, and show them a path of growth. For people in their mid-40s, future security and ensuring a life they can afford in retirement are becoming important. So, retention is based more on communicating to them that this is a place you are established enough to stay until retirement, the rest of your years in this company will be great for you, your future is safe, and this job will provide for your retirement.
According to a Nature Human behavior study, In 2020, 80% of US workers reported feeling that they have too many things to do and not enough time to do them – a phenomenon known as “time poverty”. What is your take on the work-life balance? Explain.
Vladimir Gendelman: Work-life balance is a myth. Work and life should never be balanced. The way I see it is that at some times, work is more important than life and other times, life is more important than work. It comes down to channeling the right energy into whatever work or life situations you have in a way that is most productive.
The reason a lot of people feel they don’t have enough time to do things comes down to social media – many people who have time poverty spend a lot of time browsing Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, consuming content that doesn’t affect their lives in positive ways. A lot of that social media grows fear, anxiety, comparing yourself to someone else who seems to have a better life without true understanding that that’s just what you see on Facebook. None of this is a good use of time or energy.
A more recent survey by Joblist asked about 3,000 respondents if they’re actively thinking about leaving their job. That survey found that 73% of 2,099 respondents who answered this question on their employment plans are considering quitting. How are you preparing for the future to counter this potentially persistent problem?
Vladimir Gendelman: At the end of the day, the size of the overall workforce doesn’t change long term. It’s just that people shuffle from one place to another. So, long term, for the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years, I am not necessarily worried about it. The world is changing and we’re changing with it. We have employees who work remotely. We have employees whose schedules help accommodate their lifestyles.
And, going forward, we are working toward finding that golden balance between what’s best for the company and the person. And all the people who quit their jobs now will find new jobs elsewhere, in the same way, customers buy from one company today and another one tomorrow and the people buying from the second company then go to the first company. This movement just forces companies to improve their values, to improve their mission, to improve their employment practices. And the companies who are “bad actors,” as employers and in the community, tend to go out of business, which is a good thing.
Thank you for all that, our readers are grateful for your insightful comments! Now, if the Great Resignation isn’t your greatest concern, what is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Vladimir Gendelman: The most pressing challenges are the paper shortage and the lack of qualified people to hire. The paper shortage is to the point where there are orders that are not getting produced because there is no available paper. And we can’t find qualified people to do work.
Before we finish things off, we do have one last question. If you had $10 Million Dollars to spend in one day, what would you spend it on?
Vladimir Gendelman: If I had 10 million dollars to spend in one day, I would buy Bitcoin.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Vladimir Gendelman for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Vladimir Gendelman or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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