Ken Chelko, owner and founder of Gooey Promotions, has a passion. That passion is to tell anyone who will listen how important it is to support our veterans. “Veterans come from all economic classes, races, religions and education levels,” states Ken. “Veterans are the only group that has put their lives on the line, and they have done so because they truly love their country.”
Ken Chelko is a veteran, and Gooey Promotions is a proud Veteran-Owned Small Business (VSOB).
Ken established Gooey Promotions in 2000. It operates as a full service advertising specialties company that distributes a wide range of items that can be logoed to promote its customer’s organization or products. Gooey Promotions prides itself on helping customers find a cost effective way to market and promote their business through custom promotional items.
The firm distributes over 600,000 promotional items ranging from coffee mugs to golf balls, pens to tape measures, desk accessories to mouse pads, and hats to trade show clothing.
Gooey Promotions, like many firms, found itself in survival mode following the 2008 economic downturn. John Renner, veterans’ business development officer at the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Cleveland office, along with Jane Stewart, procurement counselor at the Northeast Ohio Procurement Technical Assistance Center, had long prodded Ken that he should participate in their Veterans Business Symposium to learn more about opportunities for selling his goods to the federal government. He finally agreed to attend.
At the symposium, John and Jane shared some survival advice with Ken, encouraging him to pursue GSA certification as a potential path for helping diversify Gooey’s customer base outside of northeast Ohio. They pointed out that veterans have served their country and, in doing so, acquired many leadership skills through this experience. “I have come to find out that veteran-owned firms are trusted and well thought of by government buyers,” states Ken.
Jane spent nine months and many hours walking Ken through the GSA application process, but the time spent proved to be worthwhile. On April 1, 2009, Gooey Promotions was awarded its first GSA contract.
Follow-up counseling by John, Jane and GSA personnel drove home to Ken the importance of marketing his firm to federal government buyers. The counseling paid off as government sales helped Gooey Promotions finish both 2009 and 2010 with record sales, and the firm is on pace to set another record in 2011.
Ken is having fun pursuing government sales. “We talk to Americans all over the world that are doing hard work for our country,” states Ken. “We’ve even worked with embassies in Tajikistan and Haiti.” The company identifies the Job Corps, VA hospitals all over the country, all four armed services, the Park Service, and GSA as some of its newly acquired customers.
Ken is grateful for the assistance that he has received along the way. “We could not have done it on our own. And who could have known that serving your country would still have its rewards 30 years later,” he humbly states.
Finally, Ken likes to tell the story of how the company came up with the name Gooey Promotions. He was listening to the radio in early 2000, and the broadcaster said the word "Gooey". The word made an impression on Ken as a possible name for his newly formed business. This was at a time when uniquely named firms like Yahoo, Amazon, and Google were first gaining favor.
Ken contemplated the potential name around for several months, getting feedback from people whose opinions he valued, including his mom.
Mom did not like the name, but Ken saw something memorable, fun, different and not conservative in it. With further thought, Ken came up with the firm’s tag line, “Gooey Promotions, Ideas that Stick!”, and the rest is history!