Interview with Tom Riordan from Maple Ridge Farms

This blog article was originally posted on the commonsku blog on December 17, 2014, and written by Jen Vaughn of commonsku.



The future is bright as long as we continue to bring value to our customers.

What is your role at Maple Ridge Farms?

I am the owner and its President.

When did you know that you wanted to go into the promotional products industry and what was the path you took to get here?

That’s an interesting story.

We started as a local, direct sales company. In an attempt to develop national distribution, we tried commissioned reps (that failed) and direct mail (we were fairly successful but not sophisticated enough to understand that we were successful).

Our banker introduced us to his brother in law, Bob Leklem, who worked for K-Promotions, a large distributor from Milwaukee. Bob told us about the “ad specialty” marketplace. Since we were branding company logos on our cheese boxes, it sounded like a good fit.

He introduced us to a multi-line rep from Chicago, Paul Rizzo, who brought us into the industry in 1982. So it was not a matter of wanting to get into the promotional products industry, it was more or less a case of backing into it.

What do you see as the future of the industry?

I think the future is bright as long as we continue to bring value to our customers.

What are some of the challenges that you have communicating with distributors and how do you think we as an industry can overcome them?

For many years, most of our communication with distributors was via telephone. That allowed for lots of things to get lost in translation. The fax machine, and to a much greater degree email, allows for more written communication. I’m a big believer in clear, succinct, written communication. Less things get lost in translation.

What does it take to bring a new product to market and how does Maple Ridge approach new products and categories?

New products are frequently driven by distributor requests. Custom products, items not found in the product line, represent about 25% of our business.

Many times, a custom item we create for a distributor ends up in our product line. An example of that is our tremendously successful line of gift towers made from pillow top gift boxes. An end buyer “demanded” that we build their towers out of pillow top gift boxes. We told the distributor why we did not think it would work. The buyer wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. We used the pillow top boxes for their order and, with the distributor’s o.k., added the pillow top towers to our product line.

Today they’re the most popular tower design we offer.
How do you know when it's time to introduce a new category or eliminate a category?

By watching trends in retail, we can see when it’s time to introduce a new category.

For example, a few years ago, we noticed more and more mail-order companies offering fresh-baked cookies. We added cookies in 2007, and since that time have sold over 10 million cookies!

When it comes to eliminating products or categories, that’s relatively easy. We just watch the sales trends of a product or category. When you see sales of an item or category going down, not just in one year, but for a few years, it’s time to jump ship and move on to something else.

You are the largest company in America specializing in corporate food gift programs, what do you think has been most important to your company in growing and maintaining that top spot?

Three things:

  • Innovation

  • Service

  • Marketing tools

Continuing to come up with new food products and new packaging is always important. Providing our customers with excellent customer service is a given. And, developing tools to help distributors market food gift programs to their customers is very important too.

What is the best management decision that you've ever made?

This isn’t exactly a management decision but a management idea. In 1979 was selling wooden boxes to the cheese industry for gift packaging. I would imprint the cheese company’s logo on the lid of the wooden box. One night, while I was imprinting box lids for a large, national cheese company, I had an idea. If I put a local company’s logo on the lid of the box and filled it with cheese, I’d have a great executive gift. As they say, the rest is history!

What is the worst management decision that you've ever made?

Building a new 85,000 square foot facility just before the “Great Recession.”

What would you do differently if you had the opportunity to start again fresh?

I am not sure.

About commonsku:  commonsku is complete promotional products business and sales software. It has all of the software tools you need to run a modern promotional products business. commonsku is unique to the industry as it is the only community where suppliers and distributors gather to help each other close more business. Learn more at