Pictured above: Asher and Alex Provda
Can you tell us the origin story of your family business? What inspired its inception?
The origins of The Pencil Grip, Inc., is attributed to the age-old premise that necessity is the mother of all invention. The roots of what we strive to do as a company (to make products that help people solve a common problem) can be traced to our origin. Dr. Lois Provda, the mother of Asher & Alex Provda, who are the current owners of the family company, was the creator of The Pencil Grip, and worked as an Educational Therapist who helped children with reading and writing difficulties. In her years of practice helping hundreds of children, she identified a need for a new and modern version of The Pencil Grip. Millions of units sold, and over 30 years later, it looks like she hit the nail right on the head.
In doing so, she created one of the most enduring products for Activities of Daily Living, or “ADL” products known to the world. Our Father, Mr. Paul Provda along with our mom, founded the company in 1994. Together, they brought their one sole product to a booth at the NSSEA show to introduce it to the world. The rest is history, and we find ourselves now with hundreds of products and customers around the world. The company has products that span many categories, with our largest brand expressions being The Pencil Grip, The Classic’s, & Kwik Stix amongst others.
The company changed drastically one day soon after inception. A few months after the founding of the company, our father suffered a major stroke that left him with aphasia. With nowhere else to turn but to family, Mr. Asher Provda, the CEO of The Pencil Grip, Inc. and Mr. Alex Provda the President of the company, moved home from the schools they were attending and started to work at the ages of 22 & 19, respectively. In those early years, Asher did much of the heavy lifting to keep the operational side of the business moving forward and growing. Alex took up the mantle as Sales Leader. Together, we found a way to make it work. At the time, like many entrepreneurial success stories, we worked out of the garage.
Our origin and continued inspiration is directly traced to helping people achieve. Our roots are firmly planted on the basis that our products are steeped in “Universal Design Principles”. The premise we follow is “If something is designed & made properly, it will work functionally for most everyone”. This is true of most every product we have created, developed, and brought to market. We want every product that carries our name to be seen as the highest quality product in whatever category it inhabits. As our grandfather said, and our father instilled, “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a second to lose one”. We value our reputation and work hard to be the best company we possibly can be.
What unique benefits do you believe a family-owned business brings to customers and employees?
We are built on principles, values, integrity, and hard work. This is best reflected in our amazing team of people. It is what gives us the ability to be unique and differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. We have an incredible team of empowered professionals who have been with the company for many years.
We make sure everyone we work with on our team follows what we call the “TPG Basic 8” which is adapted from the work of Colonel Jimmy Blackmon, who is an amazing author, speaker, and leader. These 8 primary attributes we work as a team to uphold are: 1. Be on Time, 2. Be Prepared, 3. Be Engaged and Pay Attention, 4. Be Willing to Learn and be Coachable, 5. Do Your Best, 6. Help Others and be a Team Player, 7. Maintain a Good Work Ethic, and 8. Maintain a Positive Attitude. Basic 8 is a philosophy that extends through what we do as a team and benefits everyone in our supply chain, from our suppliers and factories, to our customers, and their customers. We are a cog in the wheel, and we focus on doing things the right way.
Working with family has the potential to bring families and generations closer together. When Asher and I had to change the course of our lives to keep the company growing, it gave us a unique opportunity to forge our careers working with one another. It has not always been easy, but a major benefit is knowing the work you put in is going toward helping the people you love most. It also offers the opportunity to build a team that reflects the core values of the family. We have built an incredible team of tremendous professionals who treat the decisions they make as if the business were their own. We are blessed to have several employees who have been with us for well over a decade. This investment in people who show personal pride in the work they do is our biggest advantage and most unique benefit.
3. How has your business evolved over generations and what changes have been most significant?
When we first took over, it was out of necessity, but it has since evolved into a labor of love. The act of bringing amazing products to life, despite the hard work, headwinds, and unforced errors, has led to our growth and evolution from a company with a single item into a multi-product company. We are so lucky to to be able to invent, improve, manufacture, distribute, and market products of our own conception. We are the product of hard work and determination, and we always keep an eye on improving the process.
We evolve through better understanding of what our customers ask from us. We evolve our products and packaging to stay current with our product expressions, all the while innovating and improving products that world has either never seen, or never seen done right. We love seeing a useful product and enhancing a primary feature to better address consumer needs. A notable example of this would be our Magic Stix Markers, where we heard from parents and teachers about the pain point of having a marker dry out if a cap were misplaced. That is why we developed a marker that gives you at least a week of opportunity to find a missing cap before the marker dries out.
4. What are some challenges you have faced in running a family business and how have you overcome them?
Communication and the division of labor have always been issues we have had to overcome. This was a particularly thorny issue when we were younger, and the company was smaller. There were too many chefs in a small kitchen. We needed to figure out how to put the right person in the right chair. We wrangled and managed our way to creating our own niches in the company, with a few areas of overlap where we worked collaboratively. Once again, all credit goes to out team who take challenges head-on in helping improve communications and the processes we use.
5. Can you share a memorable family moment or anecdote that happened within the business?
One indelible memory is when our mom threw us out of the house. We had started to spread out of the Garage, into the Den and Dining Room, and Mom wanted her house back. It was at this point, we took our first office in a tiny 1100 square foot location in Santa Monica, CA. At the time, this seemed like a huge leap! Looking back, it was the start of making an actual company out of an idea. This little space gave us the opportunity to add more products. Things were much simpler back then. Trade show booths were certainly easier to set up.
6. How do you cultivate a culture of innovation and growth within your family business?
One of the main ways we foster a culture of continued innovation and growth is to understand that you never stop learning. Several members of our leadership team are members of Business Coaching and peer to peer groups like Vistage or Compel.
We have now been through several business cycles and have helped millions of people with our products. As an example, during Covid, we were able to quickly manufacture and proliferate our “Personal Space” Desk Dividers”. We looked at the educational marketplace and asked ourselves how we could use our skills to help the most people. We were the first company shipping “Dividers for School Desks” to help with the mandated requirement to get kids back to in-person learning. We used the lessons learned through the years to do what we could to help. In this area, we knew we could come through for others.
7. What are your family business’s values and how do they influence your strategy and operations?
We have a long-term vision that is not just focused on quarterly earnings or short-term gains. Instead, we think about the business’s health and survival for future generations. We also feel a keen sense of responsibility to our employees and their community. We work as stewards, responsible for the well-being of the company, its employees, and the surrounding community. Loyalty is a key value in our business. This refers to loyalty among family members, loyalty to employees (who often become like extended family), and loyalty from customers who appreciate the individualized touch of a family-run firm. We pride ourselves on offering personalized, high-quality service. We often know our customers by name and work hard to build and support these relationships. We place a high value on honesty and trust. They are reflected in the way we do business, our relationships with customers, suppliers, and employees, and in our commitment to quality and service.