Serving customers with SWAG-ger, alumnus taps Stritch experiences to discover business niche
Alumnus Pat Baudhuin, B.F.A., ’93, became a prospective Stritch student at an age when most kids aren’t even thinking ahead to college.
“I took a creative writing class through Stritch’s reading clinic,” said Baudhuin, remembering back to third grade. “The experience was so positive, I knew early on that Stritch was going to have a place in my life at some point.”
That proved to be a turning point for Baudhuin, who had originally planned to go into engineering, but wasn’t sure college was right for him after a two-year stint at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.
“I quickly learned math and science were not my strengths,” said Baudhuin, recalling his poor grades.
As someone with a deep love for art and a creative side, Baudhuin thought changing his focus to creative arts may lead him down a better career path.
While he was considering well-known art schools in the area like the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, ultimately Baudhuin chose Stritch because he determined he could get a more well-rounded liberal arts education.
“I wanted to learn more than just art theory and technique,” Baudhuin said. “My mom mastered in theology and that Catholic background I was brought up in was important to me.”
Stritch provided Baudhuin with an environment that made him thrive by allowing him to explore his creativity, learn new cutting-edge technology, and surround himself with people who believed in his talents.
“For the first time in my life, I wanted to do well in school,” Baudhuin said. “Stritch was one of the best things that happened to me.”
During his time as a fine arts major, Baudhuin spent a lot of time in the studios, located in the basement of Clare Hall at that time.
“I loved the environment of that space. It allowed you to really get away from the rest of the world,” Baudhuin said.
More than that, he remembers being excited to take courses that showed him a new side to the world of art.
“I was able to catch the very beginning of computer graphics during my course work at Stritch,” Baudhuin said. “This included the launch of Adobe and other graphic software that was very new to the industry.”
And for someone who had been struggling to figure out what he wanted to in life, those courses inspired Baudhuin to find his calling.
“After graduating from Stritch, I knew I wanted to do design work and I wanted to do it on a computer,” Baudhuin said.
His first job after college involved working for family-owned and-operated Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc., which specializes in creating in-store merchandising, including point-of-purchase displays, custom fixtures, and interactive kiosks. As a production designer, most of the work Baudhuin did was on the computer, designing point-of-purchase solutions for clients.
“Because of Stritch, I was on the cutting edge of a relatively new method within the industry,” Baudhuin said. “I was the only one besides my mentor who knew the computer design aspects to the job and I was able to teach that to others.”
While he loved what he did, after five years with the firm Baudhuin knew he had more skills to offer than what the job demanded.
“I left for one reason and one reason only: I did not feel personally challenged to the level I wanted to,” Baudhuin said.
Instead, he sought a position that would allow him to work from start to finish with a customer.
“I wanted something that allowed me to be a part of the entire creative and sales process, not just filling an order,” Baudhuin said.
Knowing he wanted to use his design background, combined with sales, he landed at Mr. Z’s fundraising in Port Washington, Wis. Mr. Z’s specializes in helping area schools and smaller non-profits fundraise through various product sales and promotions. Baudhuin arrived at a time when the Mr. Z’s had recently purchased a screen shop company to help them produce promotional products that supported their customers’ fundraising efforts. Baudhuin took charge of the promotions side, named MRZ Promotions, and developed a business-to-business client base for Mr. Z’s portfolio, which was a new venture for them.
“I learned a lot in those first few years in the promotions industry,” Baudhuin said. “There was no carved out guidelines on how to develop this type of a business.”
What Baudhuin did was watch and learn – what were other companies offering and where were there voids in the business that he could help fill? Soon, he felt he had a good idea of the type of company he wanted to see in the industry. Baudhuin envisioned a full-service company that could handle all the client’s promotional and marketing needs in house while providing a consistent level of customer service.
After five years growing MRZ, Baudhuin made the move to branch out on his own. With Mr. Z’s as a business partner, Baudhuin became the owner and operator of MRZ Promotions, taking the company to a stand-alone identity.
Known today as SWAG Promotions (named after the promotional industry’s term for “stuff we all get”), Baudhuin serves as its president and runs the full service promotions company. A one-stop shop for promotional and marketing needs, SWAG’s company motto is “we don’t sell –we solve.” Baudhuin and his team at SWAG take a personalized approach to serving their customers.
“No one sells promotions like we do. We don’t want to just slap your logo on key chains, T-shirts, or pens,” Baudhuin said. “What makes SWAG different is we come up with solutions that are unique to a client’s own marketing needs or goals.”
Product catalogs are all too common in the promotions industry, but SWAG prefers a more client-tailored approach as apposed to the clutter and confusion that catalogs tend to produce.
“We have a ‘no catalogs’ mentality,” Baudhuin said. “And it starts with our sales team. We pride ourselves on really getting to know and understand the customer’s needs, then designing products to meet those needs.”
With a complete in-house design and production team, SWAG has the ability to develop creative solutions for clients and produce items in house, reducing turnaround time and giving clients access to a creative team.
“We work with a lot of small businesses that don’t always have those creative/design folks on staff,” Baudhuin said. “Being able to bring the brand and images of these businesses to life on something fun, unique and catchy is why I am in this industry.”
Being needs-specific has helped SWAG stand out and earn customer loyalty. Baudhuin’s approach to managing also has been instrumental in building that client base. He was lucky to have role models in that first job out of college.
“I learned so much from that first company I worked for,” Baudhuin said. “They were family run with family values. Things were done right and I wanted to implement that in any future company I ran.”
Baudhuin credits Stritch for giving him a strong moral guidance and foundation.
“It’s much more than knowing the computer software or how to develop a solid business and marketing plan,” Baudhuin said. “It’s knowing how to treat people and how to develop a program that benefits the client, putting the client’s needs first. That’s the moral compass Stritch gave me.”
Baudhuin credits this approach with leading to the company’s successful growth. SWAG is one of the fastest growing promotions companies in southeastern Wisconsin, recently landing a national distribution account with Waste Management and maintaining long-standing contracts with large organizations in Milwaukee such as Potawatomi Bingo and Casino. In 2012, the company moved from its original shared location in Port Washington to a more visible, stand-alone location in the heart of the Menomonee Falls, Wis., corporate community.
“For many years, we flew under the radar,” Baudhuin said. “Moving to the stand-alone location and being a block away from Kohl’s Department Store’s corporate headquarters has allowed us to become much more visible and has helped to get our name out there.”
But for Baudhuin, he measures success based on relationships he has been able to grow over the years.
“Being able to retain clients for multiple years in an unstable economy and having staff who have been with us for 10 or more years, that means we are doing something right,” Baudhuin said.
So what does the future hold for Baudhuin? He and his high school sweetheart are celebrating 20 years of marriage this year, his children are active in sports (he coaches baseball) and will soon be looking at colleges, and he looks forward to expanding SWAG outside of Wisconsin.
“Opening remote SWAG offices has been a goal of ours for some time,” Baudhuin said. And while it’s still fun to see a T-shirt he printed walking down the street, he said, “I’m a happy man!”