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Jami Daniels propels The Daniels Group to success

By Jami Daniels

The pandemic was not our first punch in the face. You could say the first one came before our company started in 1948, when my grandfather, Ernie Daniels, came to Asheville, North Carolina to die. He suffered from tuberculosis. Back then, doctors prescribed clean mountain air as a cure. But, he did not die, and, like my father often liked to say, he had to find something to do so he started a company.

My grandfather was a businessman and an entrepreneur who did not take kindly to sitting still. Armed with just a steno pad, he took up shop on a bench at Pritchard Park and offered his typing services to local businesses. Later on, he cut a deal with a local law firm. He offered to do all of their typing in the mornings for free if they would allow him to use their typewriter and sell his typing services to other businesses in the afternoon. Before long, he saved enough money to buy his own typewriter and set up a small “letter shop” to serve the local community.

All of our lines of business involve giving freedom to our customers. The freedom to focus on growing their business rather than being in the weeds.

Daniels Secretarial was off and running. And even though his health stayed poor, the business grew. Much of its success can be attributed to his continual entrepreneurial spirit. In 1955, he expanded the company by purchasing an existing answering service provider from a blind woman who worked from her bed, retrieving calls from 10 phones by following the vibrations. The acquisition went on to create the first professional telephone answering service in Western North Carolina.

In the shop: Matthew Hughes, Binderyman; Nick Baynard, Digital Pressman; Chelsy Polivchak, Production Planner; and CEO Jami Daniels.

In 1956, the fledgling company became a part of the Diser Corporation, billed as the country’s first conglomerate. From there, the company incorporated as an independent firm in the State of North Carolina as Daniels Business Services Inc. in 1960. By 1965, my dad assumed the reins of the family business, eventually acquiring the largest printing company in town—Miller Printing.

As a regular at the company throughout my childhood, I watch as my father channeled our family’s entrepreneurial vision, always working to stay one step ahead and propel the company to success. In 1978, he expanded into the alarm monitoring central station market with Daniels Monitoring Service, which was among the first companies licensed by the newly established North Carolina Alarm Systems Licensing Board.

The “firsts” continued. In 1986, Daniels Business Services became the first to integrate printing, telecommunications and fulfillment. By 1993, we offered variable data documents using an in-house DOS based program written by our general manager at the time. By 2001, we developed an internal Information Technology group to help our customers better communicate their marketing messages through the technology available. In 2002, we added the first digital printing press in Western North Carolina to our service offerings, later becoming the state’s first Tri-certified printer for sustainability.

We started to realize in the early 2010s that it was less about the printed pieces themselves, and more about managing them. Getting the right pieces in the right hands. Marketing departments we had worked with that were as many as 10 or 15 people deep were now a person and a half. They were tasked with all facets of their company’s marketing from print to trade shows to SEO. We leveraged our fulfillment experience to create internal online storefronts to manage collateral and trade show materials. The marketing portals enabled our customers to get out from under juggling materials and focus on business growth.

My turn at the wheel

We lost Dad in 2016. After spending a lifetime watching and learning every move he made—through good and trying times—it was my turn at the wheel. After serving a stint as COO, I assumed control of the company as CEO, becoming the third generation of The Daniels Group to punch and counterpunch the way forward.

As a newly minted Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) and Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB) Certified by WBENC, The Daniels Group is as enterprising and resilient as it ever was. Hellbent on adding services and new technologies to improve our ability to communicate our customers’ messages in the most cost-effective ways, our mission is to grow your business. That means different things for different customers. One of our best qualities is that we are big enough to have a complex infrastructure, but small enough that we can be nimble.

So, when life decides to throw a punch, we are ready. Pivoting is not something that scares us. When the pandemic showed up and threw each of us around like rag dolls, we had to learn to limit our dependency on textiles packaging, a major focus of our business. We had to find different industries to serve in a time when it felt like the whole world went away.

At first, I thought we would just hunker down and ride this out. How long could this last—a couple of weeks at best, I figured. But then it started to sink in. Our forte is to meet every challenge head on. We had to completely refocus some of our key initiatives. Mainly that involved figuring out what others were doing to get through this and how we could help them do it. For example, when a North Carolina textile company moved quickly to make an antimicrobial mask, demand surged. But they did not have the infrastructure to meet that demand; we did.

With our normal lines of business gone almost overnight, we knew we had to use our strengths to meet what people needed. Things like this test your company’s mettle. While some of the changes will be in place until we get through this, others will be permanent. The choices to strengthen our company going forward is on all of us.

Our customers are not looking for a commodity job shop. They want to grow their business and they are open to trying new approaches, testing the market and finding out what works. Moving forward, we must continue to meet those needs. One of our core values is customer focus. That means we make business decisions based on what our customers want. They move fast, because as we continue to see, things change fast. Our story has to meet their story.

Our customers are not looking for a commodity job shop. They want to grow their business and they are open to trying new approaches, testing the market and finding out what works.

So, we continue to evolve. Take our 24-hour call center. Because we offer a wide range of services, we can truly offer a complete suite of marketing support services. And while we do not have that many customers who take advantage of everything we offer, the few who do are really exciting to us. They are true partners. We love every one of the customers who show up and say, “What if we…” Our answer is always yes. All of our lines of business involve giving freedom to our customers. The freedom to focus on growing their business rather than being in the weeds.

Is today different? Yes. But we are not. Sure, wherever we land will be different. But that is because the needs of our customers are shifting. The type of print we are being asked to print is changing, but it is hard to know if it will stay there or change again.

What we know is that we will be ready to meet it wherever it is.

Jami Daniels is CEO of The Daniels Group (groupdaniels.com), a family owned Asheville, North Carolina-based commercial printing company and call center service. Daniels oversees management of the company’s leadership team, billing, sales, new equipment and software, and strategic growth. The company was founded in 1948 from a bench in Pritchard Park by Daniels’ grandfather, Ernie Daniels.