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When life presents a disadvantage, we find the advantage.

4/6/2022 | Kathryn Kaufmann, 'Til Promo Do Us Part

A student at Colorado State University, Janet nee Spivak was in a quagmire when her date for the dance was, unfortunately, snowed in in Denver. A classmate and sorority sister of Janet’s didn’t want her to miss out, so she offered to set her up on a blind date.

Ron Baellow, also a student at Colorado State University, happened to be teaching a CPR class when he was approached and asked if he had plans for the evening. Janet’s sorority sister, who happened to be friends with Ron, played matchmaker.

Janet will tell you that the date to the dance didn’t fare too well. “I remember Ron had a pick-up truck, and he just—yeah, he seemed like a hick from the sticks to me. We went to the dance, and that was it. I didn’t give it another thought as far as Oh, boy! I hope he calls me or I’m interested because I wasn’t that interested. Let’s just say I was indifferent,” she affirms.

Instead of writing Ron off after their blind date, she accepted his invitation to go out again the next weekend because she said—even though she wasn’t head over heels—he was a fun person. “After the second date, I realized he wasn’t a hick from the sticks, and the pick-up truck became endearing.” 

Ron had grown up in Oakland Park, Kansas and Janet was a Denver native, but they’d both landed at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

Bittersweet was the fact that after having only a few dates, they had grown to like each other. But Ron graduated and moved back home while Janet was finishing her senior year, yet they maintained a long-distance relationship. 

“And you’ve got to remember, this was before cell phones and computers. I used to get a handwritten letter once a week. And I would travel to visit her. The letters I got were sprayed with perfume,” Ron reminisces.

“Yeah,” Janet interjects, “I would spray the letters that I sent to him from school with my perfume.”

So special are the treasured keepsakes that Ron held on to Janet’s letters.

When he would visit Janet during her senior year, he would fly into the Colorado Springs Airport. 

Janet laughs. “It’s funny because the reason we were at the Colorado Springs Airport—while it was farther away from Fort Collins where I was—it was cheaper. So that’s why he flew into Colorado Springs.”

On one of his visits, he surprised her. “I pulled a ring out of my pocket in the parking lot of the Colorado Springs Airport and proposed to her,” Ron says.

“Although we’d talked about getting married, I kept telling Janet that we didn’t have enough money and that we were going to have to wait, although I had already bought the ring.” So he pulled off the surprise proposal extremely well.

Kiddingly Ron says, “If fancy proposals are what you need to stay together, we broke the mold.” They both share a laugh. 

Usually, it’s the woman who can effortlessly recall the date and time, down to the second that she has been with someone. But in this case, Ron spouts the dates off as if his brain has an auto-information eject button when asked how long they dated before marrying. We dated for five months before we were engaged. Then, we dated long distance for nine months for a total of 14 months before marriage.”

Talk about impressive!

They married on May 27, 1984 in a synagogue in Denver, Colorado and honeymooned in Vail, Colorado. 

“Still to this day, our friends who attended will say it’s the best wedding they ever went to,” Ron shares.

“It wasn’t anything elaborate or over the top. It was just really classy,” Janet says. 

Since Janet was finishing her senior year at CSU, her mom handled most of the wedding planning, and she did not disappoint! Ron and Janet were both overwhelmed with how classy and perfectly elegant the wedding was.  

“And this was 1984,” Ron says. “Video was just starting at weddings back then. But there was no video. There were just pictures. And then I moved her away.” 

Ron and Janet lived in Kansas City then Indianapolis, then Baltimore (where their children were born in 1991 and 1993). Ron was working for a company in North Carolina that had bought a company in Virginia and moved Ron and Janet to Charlottesville. 

But life presented a disadvantage, and Ron scrambled to find the advantage. The company that had relocated him terminated his employment. 

“We had two little kids and a big mortgage. I called Craig Estrain with BJB Specialties. He’s the guy who I’d been buying promotional products from at my former job. His dad and brother worked for me at a previous company. I told Craig my situation. That’s what you do when you’re fired. You call everybody you know and tell them you are looking for work,” Ron advises. 

And I asked Craig, “Why don’t you open a branch in Charlottesville? I’ll run it for you.” His response startled Ron but at the same time, it motivated him. 

“Why don’t you start your own company?” Craig suggested.

When Ron told Craig what he was making, which was a lot of money, Craig assured him, “You can make that in a couple of years.” 

Having been Vice President of Sales at his previous job, Craig asked Ron, “You still know how to sell, don’t you?” 

Ron answered, “Yeah.”

“It’s simple. You’ll be fine,” Craig assured him.

In his previous careers, Ron had bought and used promotional products. Besides having that familiarity with promos, his dad was a salesperson. Ron recalls going to the office with his father and being in awe of the items their company gave away all the time for ice breakers. “I used to love going to his work and going to the novelty room and getting the pens, the rulers and the different things. So, I was really raised on—we called them ‘novelties’ at that time,” Ron recollects. 

While Ron was in job transition, Janet was a personal trainer. When she returned home from work—the day Ron had conversed with Craig—he approached her and pitched the idea of launching their own promotional products business and told her they could be making the same amount of money he had been within a couple of years.

Before making his first promotional sale, he’d already sold his wife on the idea. Janet gave the green light. “Alright. Let’s do it.” 

Craig promised to teach Ron what he needed to know to get started with Bright Ideas, the distributorship they launched in 1998. 

“I met with Craig and spent a couple of hours with him. He gave me an ASI media file, the name of a rep at Bic, the name of a T-shirt company along with the price codes and said, “Call me if you have any questions,” Ron says. 

“That was our research into starting a promotional product sales company. My first year, I sold a million dollars by myself, without being part of any buying group, with nobody to lean on to help me do anything, and with no experience. Within a few months, Janet started helping me.” 

If anybody deserves bragging rights for launching a new business and selling one million dollars the first year, it is Ron Baellow. 

Janet professes, “We didn’t have a choice. It’s interesting what you can generate when you just have to do it. Because he was such a good salesman, Ron did really well. And he was so busy, it became obvious that he was going to need help. So, I started pitching in and doing different things. I remember hand writing checks to vendors from a little checkbook.  All of them were handwritten. Things weren’t in a spreadsheet. This was 1998, and we had to FedEx artwork to suppliers. We had great big filing cabinets. Everything was on paper so we had all these files of customer records. Ron needed the help, so I dove in.”

Their two children dove in to help as well. “We sent out mailers and the kids would help us glue and stuff,” Janet recalls. 

Ron adds, “They sorted catalogs and recycled. They arranged the sample room. They attended vendor meetings. We started out of our house. Some of these reps who still call on us today remember our kids sitting in meetings when they came home from school when they were in second and third grade. They loved it!

“And they would always be promoting our products. I remember one time when our son was in elementary school, they were talking about summer reading and if you read a certain number of books, you can get a tote book. He raised his hand and said, ‘You know, you can buy that from my dad. He can sell that to you.’” 

When asked what the biggest product hit in their career is, Ron shares, “We sold millions of custom-shaped spinners to Wal-Mart for their internal use.”

Not only is he a success in the world of sales, Ron uses his assets in a side company called “Bald Ron Consulting.” With a laugh, he points to the top of his head where there isn’t a hair to be seen or found. In all seriousness, though, Ron helps promo companies grow their sales, grow their sales people, increase their top line and bottom line. “I’m a sales trainer,” he says. 

Ron’s favorite thing about the industry, “No two days are the same,” he says. “I like helping people. That’s what we’re doing. We are in the solutions business. I’m not in the promo business. People have a need for something, and we find it for them. I like to shop, so I’m helping other people shop.

“And it is a fun business to be in. It is certainly stressful with the time lines and deadlines and today with stock outages, freight and all the other issues. But every industry has their challenges. You’re selling fun. People enjoy buying what you are selling. This is a relationship business. People buy from people they like and trust. And we do everything behind the scenes. If we can just get enough people to like us, we are fine.”

Ron adds another bonus to being self-employed. “As parents and business owners, one of the greatest assets of being in this industry was being able to attend our kids’ home and away games and whatever activities they were involved in at school. The flexibility is great.”

Janet confirms, “We pass this on to our staff as well. If they need time—if they need to run out—we give them the freedom to do so. Our reaction and attentiveness to their needs alleviates the stress that they might be feeling.”

Ron and Janet’s willingness to pay it forward has paid off. Bright Ideas seems to be an employee’s dream workplace. In fact, so much so, Counselor recently named Bright Ideas as the Number One place to work in 2022. This lends to Bright Ideas now having eight appearances in Best Places to Work.

Ron emphasizes, “We don’t make our staff slaves to the time clock. Your job is to get your work done, and you do that however you can. Years ago, your clients had a little animosity toward salespeople because you were out and about. Sales people maybe had more time off, but clients don’t know where I am when I answer an email or a phone call. And they don’t care as long as you get the job done for them.”

Many couples have difficulty understanding how a husband and wife can make it as a team without landing in “Splitsville.” 

Ron explains, “Janet and I work together. We each have our own hobbies, but we enjoy watching sports and doing stuff together and just hanging out. She runs the operations side. I run the sales side. We are at opposite ends of the building. That wasn’t by design; it just happened.”

Janet chimes in, “We live in Charlottesville, where the University of Virginia is located, so we are big UVA sports fans. Any time we can do sports spectating, we will do it.” 

On top of helping Ron operate Bright Ideas, Janet is a personal trainer and teaches  fitness classes. Hiking, playing tennis and reading are her passions as well. 

When asked what Ron likes to do outside attending UVA sports, “I’m an avid golfer and play around—oh, about a couple hundred days a year.” He laughs.

For someone who can smoke up some killer promo sales, Ron also likes to smoke meat. In fact, he is a certified Kansas City Society Barbecue Judge!

The man Janet thought might be a “hick from the sticks” turned out to be a pretty swell husband and a very successful businessman. 

When it comes to our personal, professional and social lives: Don’t quit on the first try. Two people, who didn’t really have a good time on their first date, have been married now for thirty-eight years.


Kathryn Kaufmann is a freelance writer and the author of Marriages Meant to Be, Dating Daisy Fields and The Priest and the Princess. Her books can be found on Amazon, BN.com, and autographed copies can be purchased through www.BooksandSwag.com. She also owns Authentic Creations, an ASI Distributor located in Birmingham, Alabama.
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