Widget wonder, problem solver
Sue Ann Kaestner’s promotional prowess has been helping businesses shine for over three decades.
Two events allowed Sue Ann Kaestner to downsize her business into a home office: the availability of high-speed internet, and becoming an affiliate tenant of University Research Park, allowing The Widget Source to have a business address and conference rooms by appointment. “Without that, [downsizing] wouldn’t have worked,” she notes.
Photograph by Sarah Maughan
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From the pages of In Business magazine.
Thirty-five years ago, Sue Ann Kaestner left a job at the state Capitol to launch the former KaestnerBodway with former co-founder Naomi Bodway. The women had been colleagues in Gov. Lee Dreyfus’ office, but when his administration ended in 1983, they decided to start a fundraising and special event planning business together.
They soon realized, however, that when it came to searching for the promotional items their clients requested, they were on their own.
“We’d call companies out of the Yellow Pages, and they’d drop off huge catalogs for us to page through, but they’d offer no help. One day we just looked at each other and thought, ‘maybe we should get into this,’ and that’s when we became problem-solvers.”
In 2000, Kaestner bought Bodway’s portion out, became the sole owner and president, and renamed the company The Widget Source Inc.
Recently she discussed the promotional products industry where much has changed, but a lot remains very much the same.
IB: Who was your first client?
Kaestner: Dan Neviaser, who developed the Howard Johnson’s downtown. He’d just refurbished the hotel and hired us to do a grand opening with gifts for attendees. Nobody at the time had ideas, so we had to problem-solve it. We were carving a new path.
IB: As a women-owned business, did you have a sense of breaking a glass ceiling back then?
Kaestner: I graduated from high school in 1972 and we’d been hearing about the women’s movement since the 1960s, so the whole idea of ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ was my generation. We believed anything was possible.
I do remember meeting with a banker, though, who asked us if this was our hobby. Imagine!
IB: Have promotional items changed over the years?
Kaestner: In general, no because people have always been consuming beverages, writing with pens and paper, and wearing clothes (which is a good thing!). The most requested items still are pens, notebooks or paper, water bottles, and clothing. Styles and technology have changed, obviously.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the more technology we’re exposed to, the more people need paper and pens in every day life. Sometimes it’s just easier to jot things down.