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Building a business, one happy event at a time

Jeannie Noll, Lutherville resident and owner of Select Specialty, won the Home Based Business Champion Award from Maryland Small Business Week. Noll makes custom promotional products through Select Specialty.
Jeannie Noll, Lutherville resident and owner of Select Specialty, won the Home Based Business Champion Award from Maryland Small Business Week. Noll makes custom promotional products through Select Specialty. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana)

When you call Select Specialty, a Lutherville-based promotional product provider, an automated menu prompts callers to press "2" for customer service, "3" for sales and "4" for accounting.

But all numbers lead to the office of Jeannie Noll, who operates the business out of her Lutherville home and was honored as the Home Based Small Business Champion at the 2012 Maryland Small Business Week Awards, which were held Friday, April 13 at Martin's West in Woodlawn.

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"I really feel honored," Noll said. "I kind of feel I do my job, and I'm honored that somebody recognizes that maybe I take it to another level."

Those levels have changed since Noll, who had some prior promotional experience, began Select Specialty out of her then-Catonsville home in 1993.

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Back then, she operated out of what she called a "simple" room in the house with a second phone line and "lots of paper" everywhere.

She would walk through entire industrial parks in a day, leaving her card and fliers in every business' door. Her car was something of an office-on-wheels.

"I worked out of the trunk of my car," she said. "I probably didn't get very good gas mileage because I carried these samples and catalogs around. I'd have all that in my trunk and off I would go."

Her business has changed a lot since then, she said.

For starters, her home office relocated to Lutherville, where she still operates out of a space in her house.

But with the company's 20th anniversary approaching, the work speaks for itself.

"Now, my business is pretty much by referral," Noll said. "I get some work off my website, and some new business just meeting people in different places, but a majority is from referral work."

The business was "built on mugs and pens and T-shirts," she said, but the list of products offered by Select Specialty includes nearly everything you can slap a name on.

Her business operates a website, PromosEtc.com, and has provided corporate apparel and uniforms for companies, seat-cushions for school fundraisers, and plaques and awards.

There is no "typical job," she said, and that's what makes her business so attractive.

"It's a fun industry," she said. "You're meeting with a lot of fun people, and most of the events that you're involved in are happy events, so there's a real positive spin to the entire industry."

That positive spin has helped guide the business through both an economic downturn and a societal transition in which nearly everything is becoming digital.

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She said industry studies have shown that young people, even with their entire lives being conducted online, are more apt to patronize a business that they receive promotional products from.

And even if a company has to cut costs, Noll said they're more likely to abandon advertising before promotional products.

"People like to see their names on things," she said.

Such a career made Noll natural fit for the Small Business Champion honor, which she received at the luncheon also attended by Governor Martin O'Malley, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

Stephen Umberger, director of the SBA Baltimore District Office, said the award Noll received was deserved for more than simply her business successes.

"Jeannie's a successful small business owner with a busy schedule, but she always takes time to share her experiences and encourage others to be their own boss," he said in a statement. "She volunteers with area chambers (of commerce) and participates in numerous networking groups, promoting the benefits of entrepreneurship.

"She gets a lot of satisfaction from helping others by sending business their way or sharing tips and tricks of the trade, and knowing that she played some small part in their success," Umberger said.

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