Bienali earns WBE certification in 1st year
Lauri Konik Zessar of Highland Park already had 20 years of experience in direct marketing and promotional gift items when she launched Bienali Promotions, located in Highland Park. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
NAME: Bienali Promotions
SPECIALTY: Bags, accessories, promotional merchandise
OWNER: Lauri Konik Zessar
LOCATION: 1811 St. Johns Ave., Highland Park
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:31AM
HIGHLAND PARK — Highland Park resident Lauri Konik Zessar had 20 years of experience in direct marketing and promotional gifts before she launched her own firm in June of last year.
Her customer contacts gave Bienali Promotions instant credibility, allowing the firm to earn standing as a Women’s Business Enterprise within its first year. The company, which specializes in “free with purchase” handbags, opened last year in second-floor space in downtown Highland Park.
“Lauri has built a brand name and relationships with customers,” said business manager Stephanie Koretz, who navigated the maze of paperwork required for WBE certification. “If we didn’t have that going in, we wouldn’t have been able to get certification for another year. You can’t just get it when you open a business.”
The firm worked with the Chicago Women’s Business Development Center, a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. The designation will give Bienali an edge with large customers striving to diversify their supplier relationships.
Zessar, the firm’s president, was shocked at the volume of documentation required, particularly the need to provide her husband’s tax returns. To be certified a women-owned enterprise for diversity purposes, the business must be at least 51 percent owned, operated and controlled by a woman or women.
“I was surprised at how many times we went back and forth with proof of our lease, proof of our payroll, income tax returns, sales tax returns,” said Koretz. “They want to make sure you are a viable business with real customers and real vendors.”
Bienali Promotions supplies promotional items and fashion accessories for companies in the retail and beauty industries. The low cost of the item, typically $1 to $5, make them attractive “gift with purchase” marketing incentives. Popular items, manufactured in China, include reptile-print nylon tote bags, cosmetics cases, umbrellas and organic cotton bags.
Still, Zessar said it’s not gender that differentiates her firm from competitors.
“The reason you would want to work with us, if you are looking for promotional items, is because of our fashion sense. We pay attention to details. We are just not another mug company slapping your logo on a mug. We are looking at details and consistency, so that everything matches with color and detail.”
The entrepreneur envisions moving beyond the promotional market and offering accessories that are sold to customers in superstores and drug store chains.