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Business Observer Thursday, May 20, 2021 6 months ago

Clearwater entrepreneur learned the hard way not to cut marketing budget — ever

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Joy Gendusa of PostcardMania says ability to adapt as customers’ needs change pushed company to the top
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

Entrepreneur: Joy Gendusa

Company: PostcardMania, a Clearwater-based direct mail marketergot its start in a 600-square-foot cottage near downtown Clearwater in 1998.

In those early days, Gendusa, 56, says, it was just her and three others. The company did a bit over $600,000 in business its first year. 

A lot has changed in the past 22 years.

For starters, one of the four people working out of the tiny cottage was Melissa Bradshaw, PostcardMania’s current president. For another, the company, which now has 297 employees and works out of a 66,000-square-foot office and print manufacturing facility, ended 2020 with $64 million in revenue. “We’ve grown consistently year after year because we respond to what small businesses need and we market ourselves continually — 52 weeks, 365 days out of the year,” Gendusa says.

One of the keys to the company’s growth, she says, is its ability to adapt as customers’ needs change.

“When you have a team at the top willing to put their heart and soul into creating a meaningful culture, it helps you attract and retain the right people — people who have a high care factor about their jobs and their lives, who want to feel comfortable and confident at work, and who have a willingness to perform and grow.

She says PostcardMania started out as a postcard marketing company that would consult with business owners and provide a list of prospects. Then it  designed a postcard that would be mailed to everyone on PostcardMania’s mailing list.

Over time, websites and email marketing became more important to businesses. PostcardMania needed to adapt.

“Believe me when I say that I never wanted to get into the website development business,” Gendusa says, “but I regularly review our clients’ designs and campaigns, and in doing this, I realized that many of them had websites that would not convert traffic into leads, calls or customers.”

Gendusa says she couldn’t “in good conscience” let those business owners spend money on a postcard campaign designed to drive traffic to a website “only to have 95% of those people abandon ship when they get to that website.”

“So it was important to me, in order to offer a truly valuable service, that we also start addressing other parts of the marketing equation for small business owners,” she says.

Best advice: The best advice Gendusa ever got, she says, was from her husband Sam. This was when PostcardMania was in its infancy — and before he was her husband.

“He told me,” she says, “to set aside 10% of revenue every single week. He said: ‘Money attracts money – when you have a reserve, it will be easier and easier to add to it.’” 

At the time, the idea seemed impossible. She started by saving $500 each week. That eventually grew to $1,000 each week and then $5,000.

“We weren’t able to do it every single week, but this was, for sure, something I would never have done,” she says. “It seemed we never had enough money for anything, ever, when we were young and needing growth money — but I forced it and it works.”

Best decision: Hiring Melissa Bradshaw. She's held every position at the firm as its grown, and before Gendusa could afford more staff.

“Melissa's help in creating and maintaining PostcardMania’s culture can’t be overstated,” Gendusa says. “When you have a team at the top willing to put their heart and soul into creating a meaningful culture, it helps you attract and retain the right people — people who have a high care factor about their jobs and their lives, who want to feel comfortable and confident at work, and who have a willingness to perform and grow."

When you have people like that, “and Melissa was the very first one,” she says you work to develop them and help them build their skills until “they are completely invaluable.”

Biggest mistake: “Hands down — biggest mistake was in 2008,” Gendusa says. At the time, about half the company’s clients were in real estate and when the market crashed, PostcardMania lost a major chunk of its clientele.

Until that point revenue had grown year over year and then, suddenly, it contracted. For the first time in its history, the company lost money – $150,000.

Not a huge deal, she says, but advisors suggested the company cut costs. They “looked at the price of our postcard marketing per week and said, “Wow! You could save a lot of money by cutting that way back.”

“Against my better judgement," Gendusa says, "I listened and cut our marketing.”

Therein lies the mistake: because PostcardMania had cut its marketing budget, there were fewer leads coming in every week. That meant fewer clients.

Gendusa said the $150,000 quickly grew to $4.5 million – the company’s was down about 15% in revenue in 2009.

“It was mathematically impossible to make back our losses on that reduced marketing budget,” she says.

She fixed the marketing budget and the flow of leads — and revenue — were back on track. By 2011, PostcardMania was on the Inc. 5000 Top Companies list.

“After that debacle, I vowed to never, ever cut my marketing again,” she says. “I stuck to those guns during the pandemic, when businesses were forced to close, and we’ve already rebounded from about a 40% earnings loss in early 2020 to end the year up nearly 10%. And so far this year, we’re up almost 40% over last year. I’m glad I made that promise to myself and kept it.”

Up-at-night worry: “I don't have one,” Gendusa says.

“I am so happy with where PostcardMania is right now and where we’re headed. Plus, I’ve learned to be smart about our reserves and built up enough of a nest egg to get us through tough times.”

 

 

The topsy-turvy life of an entrepreneur can be maddening — but also rewarding. Nine of the best in the region share their ups and downs in our annual Top Entrepreneurs issue. Click the links below to read more:

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