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Meet Gina Smigel of Elevate Printing Solutions in Carlsbad

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gina Smigel.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Gina. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My name is Gina Smigel and I am originally from Aurora, Ohio, a small town near Cleveland. My passion has always been in graphic arts, in particular, drawing and painting, which have been my jam since grade school. I really got to nurture this passion during vocational school where I spent two years in Commercial Art class.

A friend and I always got selected for outside painting jobs that came through our program, from painting logos on office walls to car dealership windows. One fateful day, my mom got me ‘Artist’ magazine where I found a vinyl plotter which cut colored vinyl graphics. I recognized the possibilities that this machine offered to expand on my passion and make it into an actual viable business. For 16 years, I held my day job in a factory whilst also learning and building my side business of creating vinyl graphics and transferring them onto commercial vehicles. I was also fortunate enough to have the help of my stepdad, who is a successful entrepreneur, guide me in my path of building a real business.

At 23 I became a single mom and to protect myself and my son, I ended an extremely abusive relationship. My factory job had an unforgiving attendance policy so when my child was, for example, home sick or participating in sporting events, I had to be at work. This led me to the determination to start my own business full time and have the freedom I needed to be a single mom AND follow my passion.

I put that vinyl plotter to work full time and started down a path of creating vinyl graphics and transferring them onto vehicles until I had enough work to leave the factory job. I became well known in the trucking industry, decaling fleet vehicles for companies like Pepsi® and Sysco® Holiday Inn, FedEx®, Levin Furniture and Rush Trucking. I loved what I did and continued for 15 years until recently when once again life intervened, and I needed to make some serious changes.

My son decided to join the Army and wanted to move to California once his term was completed. As I tried to process this, my world flipped upside down thinking what in the hell am I going to do with myself now. My whole world had been MOM… everything I had done for the past 18 years was centered around my son. In the midst of this crisis of identity, one of my best friends invited me to join her on vacation in Encinitas. With my whole world seemingly falling apart, I jumped at the chance!

My son went to boot camp and I went to Encinitas for a few weeks. My friend and I were like 2 excited little kids. We said, “this is the best place ever and we need to live here!!!”.

When we got back home to Ohio we had many coffee shop meetings conjuring up a plan to move from Aurora to California. A year later my friend and her family made the move. I spent another 6 months restructuring my business to make it work a little differently and decided it was time for me too.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road has been far from smooth! At the same time as I planned my move to San Diego, my son was deployed to Afghanistan. Thank goodness I had a major distraction like this move to keep my mind a little occupied because that deployment was NOT easy on me.

Thankfully my son returned home safely, finished his army term and moved to San Diego with me for a while. He now resides in Arizona and is going to school for biology. As for business, San Diego has been a tough market to grow my company in. There have been many ups and downs and uncertainty as to whether I would be able to stay in California or not. I have spent the last six years here trying to find my way and molding the business to find the market that best works for me, my passion and my freedom.

Being an entrepreneur is all about freedom for me. Freedom to see my family in Ohio and my son in Arizona when I want. My role in raising my son and supporting my brother, who is mentally challenged, meant that the restrictions of a conventional 9 to 5 job made it difficult for me to fulfill my responsibilities which is why I decided long ago that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Whilst this has been a decision which was central to my happiness, it means that smooth is rarely a part of my vocabulary. Albeit a rollercoaster, it has been more than worth it!

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Elevate Printing Solutions – what should we know?
My company is Elevate Printing Solutions. I offer Promotional Products and Printing. I am a home-based business in Carlsbad and can ship anywhere in the U.S. I still have many clients in Ohio. I specialize in promotional products and printing such as banners, marketing materials, yard signs and decals. My current favorite promo product is a lipstick pen which I love to take out when writing a check or note and seeing how people respond!

I was asked a while ago to pick my word to describe myself and how I want to live my life. As broad as that question is, my word is FREEDOM. After many years in an abusive relationship and a very strict work environment, I realized how important the feeling of being free is to me. Which probably led me to my second passion – Motorcycles! The ultimate feeling of being free!

I learned to ride motorcycles at 9 years old. My parents, brother and son all have motorcycles. I love the feeling of losing yourself on a long ride. All stress blows away with the wind on a bike. There is nothing like it for me! With the way that I have built my business, I can pack up my laptop, bungee it to the back of my bike and take a ride up the coast for my lunch break and find a coffee shop to work from for a few hours. That really makes my day! My desire is that my clients will be able to use my business to also experience freedom in their endeavors.

What am I best known for?… Hmm. I’d have to say delivering orders on my Harley to quite a few clients! I think when people see me in the network setting or on an appointment in heels and dress clothes they do not expect the biker thing! I don’t think any other promo companies deliver on a bike. 😊

What I am most proud of as a company is a level of personalized service I provide which reflects my passion for what I do, and for people’s happiness. I genuinely want to see my clients succeed. The products I offer are about branding and when my clients get to see their brand printed on a product for the first time, it is really special. That is my favorite part of the business. Seeing the client’s reaction when they get their first promotional products in their hands can often mark their ‘I’ve finally made it’ moment.

I also think that this is what sets me apart; it’s that I am genuinely interested in people and their story, I truly care, my clients often become my friends. I really listen and I make people feel seen.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
The most important elements of my success are two simple things: being punctual and listening. All too often I have won over a client simply for showing up on time or giving a quote the same day of our meeting. Their time is valuable and I want them to know I realize that. When I call or meet with a client I am there to hear what their needs are and what problems they need to be solved.

I am not there to close a sale, that takes time and trust. I am willing to take my time and build a relationship and earn the trust of a person so they want to do business with me, not because they feel pressured. There have been many people I have met who end up as really good friends, without ever placing an order. To me, that is far more valuable than closing a sale.

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