Like trying to read the squiggly lines on a retro US roadmap, determining our direction in life can be quite the same, difficult to define at times, but inevitably we reach a destination.
As a child, Barry Pearson would attend tradeshows with his family. His father, Lindy, was the Vice President of sales at Alabaster Industries, the Salesmaker Line located in Alabaster, Alabama. Barry specifically remembers the year 1965 when their family traveled to Chicago. They stayed at the Palmer House, famous for being the city’s first hotel with elevators, electric light bulbs, and telephones in the guest rooms.
While his father exhibited products at a tradeshow booth, Mrs. Pearson took Barry and his siblings sightseeing and to museums. “The tours around Chicago were fun and educational, and the museums were very memorable. Nothing like them in Alabama at the time. When we’d return from sightseeing, we did have fun going from room to room at the Palmer House collecting swag from the various suppliers,” Barry recalls.
Mary Beth grew up in Ohio and never could foresee her father relocating the family to Dothan, Alabama, during her senior year of high school. Being in charge of the entire facility and responsible for all aspects of the plant was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. With lifelong friends in Ohio, she contemplated returning for college but decided to enroll at the University of Alabama instead.
At UA, Mary Beth joined a co-ed softball team her senior year—and that’s when she and Barry first crossed paths. One week before she graduated from college, Barry attended her birthday party. A one-on-one conversation that evening led to a date. They still laugh about ordering a seafood pizza on their first dinner date because Mary Beth had given up red meat.
In August 1978 Mary Beth and Barry moved to Birmingham. While she worked at Bennigan’s in Homewood, Barry was in sales with Orkin Pest Control.
With a fever to leave the South, Mary Beth and Barry moved to Denver, Colorado in 1979. It was there that Barry took a job with L.W. Barrett, an ASI Distributor in the Centennial State.
Barry won’t forget those days. “Working with L.W. Barrett was more difficult than I could imagine,” he says. “I would knock on doors in various industrial parks and was rejected on a regular basis. Back in the day when I finally landed an order, I had to mail the order to the supplier. The supplier would acknowledge receipt of the order within three to five days and let me know what was missing, which was usually good camera-ready art. That process would take starting over with new art and having to mail it back to the supplier. Once the order was complete, production time ran between four to six weeks. L.W. Barrett paid their sales staff when they got paid, so it would take up to three months to receive commissions.”
In need of additional income, Barry began bartending at Bennigan’s. While employed there, he looked for other job opportunities in the want ads of the Sunday Denver Post. Barry landed a superintendent job in 1980 with US Homes and began building houses in Colorado Springs and Denver.
After three solid years of dating, Mary Beth and Barry tied the knot in Gulf Shores, Alabama in 1981 but maintained their residence in Colorado. Two years later and after having their first child, Katie, nostalgia set in and Mary Beth and Barry relocated back South and made their home in Atlanta, Georgia, because it offered the most opportunities in the home building industry.
“After six more years in the building business, it was time for a change,” Barry said.
“In 1990, with the help of my brother, Lee, and my father, we began our MLR business. As everyone knows, starting a new business is difficult. The first two years were tough. You had to work hard, create a good reputation, and maintain it. By this time, Mary Beth and I had two children. Matt came along in 1986. Money was tight. It was difficult to find good companies to represent as I lacked industry experience. One of our first really good suppliers was Gold Bond. Bob Bickert was the sales manager then, and he took a chance with us. We worked hard to prove our worth to the company,” Barry shares.
Managing their family on a shoestring budget, Mary Beth packed sandwiches for Barry’s travels and he found the least expensive hotels possible. He won’t forget paying $17.88 per night in Knoxville on one of his early trips, a steal of a deal in current times but not for them when money was scarce.
While Barry was out beating the pavement, Mary Beth would answer his business calls and check his messages, assisting him with any fires that needed to be extinguished relating to client orders.
With a minor in advertising, not to mention her sociable personality, Mary Beth had created a position for herself without the need for a resume or job interview. She was now partnering with Barry in the specialty advertising business, volunteering on the SAAGA Board (Specialty Advertising Association of Georgia), attending educational classes, and eventually attaining her MAS certification.
After all the hard knocks, the Pearsons gradually began to represent additional suppliers and the business took off.
“There are many perks being in the industry,” Mary Beth said. “In 1995, I applied for a SAAGA scholarship and won. I used it to attend the PPAI ‘Cruise to Communications,’ and the entire Pearson crew set sail on a seven day Caribbean Cruise.
“Also, working together as multi-line reps has afforded us so many opportunities to travel and have fun at the Las Vegas, Dallas, and Orlando shows. Meeting and making lifelong friends in the industry is an extra special bonus,” she adds.
Rookie or veteran, anyone in the promotional products industry has more than likely experienced that dreaded call that makes your heart stop or skip a few beats. When asked about any upside-down orders, both Mary Beth and Barry shared the time a customer ordered 600 Tommy Mohawks, a custom 12” tall plush Indian. “Each piece came with a damaged feather in his headband and they needed to be replaced. Our supplier at the time, Greystone International, sent six hundred additional feathers and Mary Beth and I—along with help from our daughter, Katie—used a hairdryer to loosen the fabric, remove the damaged feather, and slide in new feathers….all in one weekend before delivering the fixed and finished product,” Barry recalls.
Circling back to the squiggly lines on a life map, it doesn’t matter what route you take, all roads lead somewhere.
A round of applause goes to Mary Beth and Barry Pearson, team players with Pearson Marketing since 1992. And let’s raise a toast to help them celebrate forty years of holy matrimony in March 2021.
Pearson Marketing reps Best Promotions USA, Galaxy Balloons, Gempire, Picnic Time, Antigua Sportswear, Pilot Pen, and Crystal Images.