Day in the Life: Three Leaf Productions

Originally published on May 11, 2012
Written by Jeff Bell, Staff reporter Columbus Business First

8:10 a.m. Three Leaf Productions Inc. CEO Ron Stokes is already well into another busy day, sorting through emails and preparing a sales proposal for a 10 a.m. meeting at Ohio State University.

It’s been this way since 2003, when Stokes acquired the company from Bob Troop, owner of Shamrock Companies Inc., a Cleveland-area business that offers marketing, design, printing, promotion and data management services.

Three Leaf Productions CEO Ron Stokes and his partners have built the company into a marketing and print management business that expects to do about $7 Million in sales this year.

Three Leaf was a Shamrock subsidiary doing little in the way of business at the time, Stokes said. Troop was looking for someone energetic to put a charge into the business, and he connected with Stokes through Larry Huggins, Stokes’ former Ohio State basketball teammate in the early 1980s.

“(Troop) wanted not only a partner but to mentor a company that is minority-owned,” said Stokes, who owns the business in partnership with his wife, Lavita, and Mark Hall, a printing industry veteran.

With Troop’s help, the three partners have built the company into a marketing and print management business that expects to do about $7 million in sales this year and employs a staff of 13 at its 5,000-square-foot office and warehouse building in Gahanna. It has customers ranging from mom-and-pop pizza shops to major corporations such as Cardinal Health Inc., Kroger Co., Honda Motor Co., Cintas Corp. and JLG Industries Inc.

“I feel blessed with how we’ve grown despite what’s been going on with the economy the last five years,” said Stokes, noting Three Leaf has been able to maintain double-digit percentage sales growth despite the hard economic times.

8:50 a.m. Darrin Carter, Three Leaf’s office manager, heads to the company’s warehouse to get boxes of labels ready for shipping to a Wayne-Dalton door plant in northeast Ohio.

Like other Three Leaf staff members, Carter is a multitasker, whether it’s driving a forklift, emailing a purchase order to Three Leaf’s printing plant in Illinois or setting up office space for a new employee.

“Customer service for our clients has always been why we’re successful,” said Carter, who has been with Three Leaf seven years. “That certainly contributes to us getting referrals.”

He called Stokes a “good boss,” giving people the room they need to do their job. Stokes also is willing to pitch in where needed.

“There are weekends when I’m on that forklift myself,” Stokes said. “You have to do it all, and I can’t ask someone to do something I’m not willing to do.”

9 a.m. Piper Moore, Stokes’ executive assistant, works on her boss’ always hectic schedule. She also helps him with the sales proposal he will make later in the morning to some development staffers in Ohio State’s athletics department.

In addition to his CEO duties at Three Leaf, Stokes serves as the analyst on radio broadcasts of Buckeye men’s basketball games, does speaking engagements, helps run basketball camps and oversees some real estate investments.

In addition, he and Lavita have four children, including two in high school who play sports and need rides to practices, games and other school activities.

“This makes the flow of his day simpler,” Moore said of the online schedule she organizes. “I get everything coordinated from my end.”

Stokes said the months of November through March are especially crazy for him as he travels to Ohio State basketball games to do his radio work.

“It’s helped a lot that I have a great team back in Columbus starting with Piper,” he said. “It allows me to be effective even when I’m not physically in this building.”

9:40 a.m. Stokes leaves for the sales meeting at Ohio State where he will pitch for Three Leaf to handle an order for OSU promotional items with the Buckeyes’ football schedule on them.

Ohio State placed a similar order a year ago, and Stokes obviously enjoys doing business with his alma mater. He said being a former Buckeyes basketball player and long-time radio commentator helps him get his foot in the door at Ohio State and companies with a need for Three Leaf’s services.

“You try to stay relevant,” Stokes said of his ties to Ohio State. “It helps you get opportunities to make (sales) presentations, but at the end of the day you still have to deliver the product and price.”

He said the same applies to landing contracts through programs designed to assist minority- owned businesses. Three Leaf maintains certifications with a number of such programs and is active in the South Central Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council.

“They get us an audience and opportunity to engage potential customers,” Stokes said. “but you have to have a value-added proposition and deliver the service and product to their expectations. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to be in business long.”

10:20 a.m. Stokes receives a warm welcome from Ohio State athletics administrators Jordan Birkemeier, Ben Waite and Bridget Weigly, before the sales meeting at the Fawcett Center.

Stokes goes over the details of his proposal for the promotional items. He also asks the three to keep him in the loop if Three Leaf can provide other products. Within 15 minutes, Stokes has an order, agreeing to meet a June 20 delivery deadline.

10:50 a.m. Driving back to the office, Stokes gets a phone call from his son, Ron Jr., asking when Stokes will pick him up to begin an afternoon trip to a youth basketball tournament in Pittsburgh.

The younger Stokes, a junior at Gahanna Lincoln High School, plays on an Amateur Athletic Union team as he tries to attract college recruiters and land a basketball scholarship.

Stokes said he and his wife can’t wait for Ron Jr. to get his driver’s license so he can drive himself and younger sister Sydney to school and practice. The couple has done their share of driving their kids to basketball games over the years – their oldest daughter, Laurel, played at Kenyon College and daughter Amber is a starter on Ohio State’s women’s team.

11:30 a.m. Stokes arrives back at the office, and his wife comes in with a cashier’s check that she picked up at the bank for a vendor.

Lavita Stokes is Three Leaf’s vice president of finance, handling the company’s books and managing the financial and clerical staff. She also plays a key role in developing and maintaining Three Leaf’s relationships with various high-level customers.

“She’s a terrific liaison with them,” Stokes said.

Noon Stokes leaves the office to pick up Ron Jr. as they head to Pittsburgh for the weekend of basketball. He will stay in touch with Piper Moore via cell phone as business matters arise during the afternoon.

12:45 p.m. Lavita wraps up some work before talking about what it’s like to be in business with her husband.

She said she has known “Ronnie” since they were kindergartners, and they graduated in the same class from Canton McKinley High School. The couple has been married 25 years.

“It’s a process when you work together,” Lavita said. “He has his way of doing things as president and CEO, and I have my way of doing things. We’ve been together so long that we balance each other out.”

She called her husband a classic “go-getter” – someone who is intense, determined and hardworking.

“He doesn’t micromanage,” Lavita said, “but he wants things done right.”

1:40 p.m. Three Leaf Vice President Mark Hall returns to the office after a business lunch, talking on this cell phone with a client as he walks in the door.

Hall is Three Leaf’s expert on the business certification process that helps it land contracts. He also manages the company’s partnerships with Kroger, Honda, Cardinal Health, Ohio Housing Finance Agency and some other customers.

Print project management services remain Three Leaf’s biggest slice of business, but Hall said the company has taken steps to diversify. That includes helping clients with media buys through services provided by Doug Miles, director of electronic media. Three Leaf also has moved into warehouse services and marketing project management, including website development and promotional items.

Big companies diversify, Hall said, and small businesses such as Three Leaf need to do likewise.

“We’re constantly looking at ourselves,” Hall said, “so we’re sure we’re plotting our course correctly.”

Bryan Buchko