By Nancy Leonard
Of the Independent
Little things can make a very big difference. Lori Mayfield, a 1982 graduate of Eagle Point High School, knows that and so does the company she works for– CustomInk.
Some 10 years ago Mayfield went to work as the eighth employee of CustomInk, located in Virginia. The start up company was in the hands of 23 and 24-year-old Harvard graduates. Today that company has over 300 employees.
Mayfield didn’t care for the extremes in Virginia’s weather nor did she care for the prospects a son would face entering high school. She was ready to give up the position as bookkeeper and office manager to move to a warmer climate, namely Arizona and the prospect of a better high school. The firm liked her work ethic, saw real potential in her, and transferred her to Arizona where they created the position of analyst for her. That was a good mix.
As Mayfield set about analyzing the clients, she noticed many orders were for charities.
CustomInk is a dot.com company and as such there is little need for personal contact. Customers can select the item they want on-line (anything from t-shirts to posters and coffee mugs), place their logo and whatever they want where they want it on the product they want to purchase. From there a CustomInk artist finishes the order and from one to 14 days (depending on order size and customer need) the customer has the order. Efficient, but far from that thing called personal service.
Mayfield began to reach out to customers, learning more about them. And then she saw an opportunity to make a difference–perhaps only a small difference to a customer and to the company. That simple idea was to give to the customer’s charity or charity of choice.
As a recent feature in “Small Business Trends” by Jeanne Bliss, said, “With this one gesture they let their customers know they back their efforts. What’s most important about this feature is that CustomInk did not take this action as a marketing effort. It began as a personnal expression by an order analyst who wanted to give back to companies that trusted CustomInk.”
CustomInk has donated over $307,400 to support causes, sometimes with as little as $30. The appreciation level rates 98.9 percent.
Some time ago, Oprah had a contest. Mayfield prepared an entry, which actually tells more about Lori Mayfield as a person as well as about what it means to give. Because the letter needed approval, it just missed the deadline. Following is a copy of the never mailed letter:
To the Producers of the Oprah Show:
How many times have we let an opportunity to help someone pass us by because we thought we lacked the resources to really make a difference? For me, the answer to that question was way too often. I don’t remember the exact episode; was it when Oprah talked about the movie Pay It Forward? Was it the introduction of the Angel Network? Or was it just the constant flow of inspiration that finally made me realize that I too, had that power, and the resources to do something bigger than myself? Each of us has a purpose, a calling, an inner voice that speaks to us in our darkest hour and our shining moments. Oprah taught me that. It’s amazing what can happen when inspiration meets opportunity and despite or perhaps because of my modest income and single mom status, I found that calling.
In September of 2001, I landed a job as the bookkeeper/office manager of a small startup company called CustomInk.com (www.customink.com). At the time, there were just 10 of us, and although I didn’t realize it then, this company and a lot of taped Oprah episodes would help me change the world. I’m proud to share with you just a few of the concepts that were created from Oprah’s inspiration, my need to make the world a better place, and a boss who looked way beyond the bottom line. It was in the creation of these charitable programs that I discovered something amazing – despite not having money or connections, I had opportunity. With the support of an amazing boss, (Marc Katz), and the backing of a growing company, CustomInk has proudly (and quietly) donated over $275,000 to support causes that touched our hearts and the hearts of our customers. We’ve helped purchase cattle and goats for families in Africa, sponsored “Yappy Hours” for pet rescues, and donated to the scholarship funds of fallen soldiers, firefighters, and police officers. We support the Capital Area Food Bank, the relief efforts in Haiti and in New Orleans, as well as thousands of customers who walk for a cause to make the world better, find a cure, and give hope. They may think that we are helping them, when in truth; it is they who inspire us! I recently spoke with a customer who had been declared cancer free and was walking in a breast cancer charity event. Her shirt design proudly displayed this: “Hell yeah they’re fake – the real ones tried to kill me!!” People are amazing and so resilient!
My next Oprah inspired project is a favorite among our now 300+ Inker team members. The Giving Tree comes from the heart. In the small community of Winchester, Virginia there is a very special place for abused and abandoned children. The Evans Home has been in existence since 1952. The children there have all been abused and removed from their original homes. They’ve been bounced around in the system of foster care and adoption, often as many as 15 times prior to finding permanence here, (www.evanshome.org). After a site visit, our company adopted 15 kids, one pudgy rescue dog, nine loyal house parents and one very big, old house! Every holiday season and a few times in between we grant the wishes of the Evans kids. They may never know that the gifts of new bikes, football jerseys, hot sauce and new flooring come from a company in Tyson’s Corner, VA, but to us, we’ve fallen in love with this very special family.
Since then, Inkers have risen to the occasion! From bake food sales benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to opting out of company sponsored meals and donating those monies to our local food bank. This company of thoughtful team members and our customers know what is important. One such customer is Karen Mcnamara, the youth coordinator for SHARE, (www.shareinafrica.org), an organization that helps educate young girls in East Africa. We loved her SHARE shirts that say “Today a reader…Tomorrow a leader!” (SHARE Shirts). There’s no doubt that t-shirts can help inspire the world!I am so thankful that this once small company had the courage to look past their bottom line and step up to the idea that we truly could make a difference in our community, our country, and our world. So thank you Oprah show! Thanks for inspiring me to do what I could, despite not having a trust fund or a six figure income!
You may not know this, but Harpo’s own Angelo Petratos recently ordered Crew shirts from CustomInk. I was ecstatic! There is no greater compliment than to have him and the Harpo organization as our cherished customer. After all these years, it will be so hard to say goodbye – The Oprah Show and I share a birthday, I turned 21 the day of the very first show and yes, I was watching!!
Best of luck for an amazing final season and thank you for the years of inspiration!