LIVINGSTON, NJ — When Steven and Georgia Solotoff purchased a PIP franchise in 1990, they looked forward to building a great business and maybe selling it one day.
But they never dreamed that some two decades later, their daughter Jodi would be the one to buy it. After all, most second-generation owners grow up in the business.
“I must admit I had no interest in printing and didn’t grow up around the business," said Jodi. "I thought it was all about ink and paper. And it would be a lot of years before I discovered it was far more than that.”
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Before opening his printing business, Steven spent many years in the garment district selling ladies’ clothing. His daughter decided to follow in his footsteps.
After studying fashion buying and merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City, Jodi landed a job as a buyer at a retail company where she’d worked throughout high school and college. The owner asked Jodi if she would take a six-week break from her daily responsibilities and take the lead installing a new point-of-sale system throughout the entire chain.
As luck would have it, six weeks became 18 months. Jodi then joined another small local company that was just starting out in the retail systems space.
When Jodi came on board, there were four staff members. Nineteen years later, the business had grown to 100 employees and Jodi was second in command. But despite an accomplished career, Jodi longed for something more: a sense of ownership.
Meanwhile, a world away from Jodi’s burgeoning career in New York City’s garment district, Steven and Georgia built their printing business in the small township of Livingston—project by project and customer by customer. It wasn’t long before they outgrew their original 800-square-foot facility and moved to a new space with room to grow.
Today, PIP Livingston occupies 4,500 square feet at 465 W. Mount Pleasant Avenue.
A birthday party, an intriguing conversation, and a personal epiphany
In 2010, Jodi attended her father’s 65th birthday party and stayed for the weekend. As family and friends gathered together, Steven announced that he and Georgia were planning to retire.
“I told my family, ‘I think I’m done,’” he said.
Following her father’s big announcement, Jodi sat in on a conversation about marketing between her father, one of his business colleagues and a few other franchise owners.
“To my great surprise, I was drawn to it,” she said.
Even more surprising was that when she returned home, Jodi found herself thinking about her father’s plans. A couple of days later, after experiencing what she described as “an epiphany,” Jodi phoned her father and asked him if he had sold the business.
When Steven replied that he hadn’t, Jodi uttered the following words: “I’m going to quit my job and buy your business.”
Although Steven was very happy to hear this news, he was also slightly taken aback, he said.
“I was a little surprised Jodi wanted to buy the business because she was VP of operations at a larger company in a different industry, and she was very successful,” said Steven.
Before long, the three Solotoffs agreed that Jodi would come on board, learn the ropes and purchase PIP Livingston from her parents.
The sometimes rocky road to success
A few months later, in July of 2010, Jodi joined the world of marketing services at PIP Livingston. She was nervous and excited and about to experience a little culture shock, she said.
“Considering my background in a point-of-sale retail environment, the paper world was hard for me to understand,” said Jodi. “I had a pretty steep environmental learning curve.”
Besides joining her parents company during the tough times of the Great Recession, Jodi admits to challenges related to the dynamics of a family business.
“My father is smart and I respect him a lot but we have different styles,” said Jodi.
So she took a step back, soaked up everything she could from her father’s successful approach and experience, and learned what worked for him before adding in her own ideas.
Mastering the business of printing—from the outside in
Although his daughter did not grow up printing, Steven claims she grew into it fast.
“It took Jodi less than a year to completely understand the printing business,” he said. “Which is pretty darned good for someone coming in from another industry.”
Jodi worked alongside her parents for several years, officially took ownership on Jan. 1, 2014, and was fully in charge in 2015.
“I felt like I was running a marathon,” she said at first, but by the following year, she had settled in and saw some major breakthroughs for PIP Livingston. “2016 was a really good year for the business. I embraced a sense of freedom and autonomy to make my own decisions.”
She also purchased the building from her landlord.
A go-getter really gets going
Once Jodi settled into her role as owner and manager of PIP Livingston, she turned her attention to cultivating relationships, taking a grassroots approach and reaching out to the community.
“I went outside my comfort zone and got out there and did different things to meet people,” said Jodi. “I knew it was important to begin forging relationships.”
In addition to joining her local Rotary Club—which helps members of the community see Jodi in action in a volunteer role—she spent two days in January at a retreat with an all-women’s board group in the PIP/ Sir Speedy network.
“I asked to be put with a group that didn’t know my parents,” she said. “I never came back from anything more energized and motivated.”
Jodi also served on the Ricoh Customer Advisory Council.
“Ricoh gets its clients together annually for two or three days,” said Jodi. “You meet all kinds of customers there. Not just independent print shops but in-house as well, from universities to hospitals.”
Jodi sums up her customer service philosophy succinctly:
“I want us to be the easiest people to do business with. We’re problem-solvers. We provide printing and marketing strategies and strategic incentives—not just ink on paper.”
She is also fond of stressing the importance of customer service plus.
"I actively work with customers and have two full-time customer service people.”
Along with a first-rate customer service team, Jodi’s eight employees skillfully manage graphics and pre-press, production, bindery and finishing. She stresses open two-way communication with her staff, and understands the importance of being an active, effective listener.
Some of her people have worked with PIP Livingston for many years. Here’s how customer service representative Gina Pepe sizes up “the new owner’s” approach:
“Jodi’s management style is much different when it comes to planning large projects and keeping productivity improvements in mind. Not doing things because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done them,’ instead always looking for new methods to further improve processes.”
Jodi’s goal is to empower employees to make as many decisions on their own whenever possible.
“This will help me be more strategic and less reactive,” she said.
A journey that’s only just begun
“She’s doing great,” Steven said. “Absolutely phenomenal. I love my daughter and the success she’s had.”
Building upon her parents’ foundation of success, Jodi continues to refine and expand PIP Livingston.
“I knew nothing about the business or the industry, grasped it, and took things to a whole new level,” Jodi says when asked what she is most proud of.
Backed by outstanding customer service and an energetic, motivated staff, Jodi looks forward to creating more raving fans and blazing new trails.
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