by Anne Pechuls, PPAI
The year 1878 was a good time to start a business. Thomas Edison produced
the first practical electric light bulb. The first telephone exchange opened in
New Haven, Connecticut. Petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania. New processes
for making steel had been developed. Gerhardt Mennen opened a small drug store
(now known as The Mennen Company). And brothers Andrew and Jacob Geiger hung the
first "Geiger Bros." sign above the door of a small print shop in Newark, New Jersey.
This new sign introduced a name, which in 125 years has become internationally
famous as one of the leading American firms in manufacturing and distributing of
calendars, diaries, executive gifts and specialties for advertising, public
relations and sales promotions. Displaying this modest shingle marked the beginning
of one of those rare family businesses able to maintain its identity through the
The first generation of Geiger brothers--Andrew and Jacob--had printer's ink in
their blood, having learned the printing craft from their father, Andrew, Sr. They added
a line of commercial advertising calendars and printed novelties to enhance their
printing business. Not only was this a successful venture, but the brothers also
became pioneers in an important, new enterprise that became known as the specialty
advertising industry. Andrew and Jacob ran the steadily expanding business for the
next 29 years. In 1907, Jacob was killed in a tragic automobile accident and Andrew
decided to retire - bringing an end to the fruitful era of the first generation.
The Second Generation
Jacob Geiger's eldest son, Frank, started The Frank A. Geiger Calendar Company
in 1902 and was joined two years later by brother Charles. In 1907, following the
death of their father, the brothers purchased Geiger Bros. from their mother and Uncle
Andrew and combined the two companies. (Another brother George joined later as did
Andrew's son Jacob.) Frank, who served as president of Advertising Specialty Association
(ASA) in 1925, remained at the helm of the company as president until his death in 1944.
The brothers saw the potential in commercial calendars and became one of the country's
largest manufacturers of business-oriented calendars. They also saw promise in diaries
and date books and acquired two pioneer diary manufacturing firms - H. B. Hardenburg Company
and Walker Longfellow Company.
The Third Generation
Frank's sons, Francis (Frank) and Raymond (Ray), received on-the-job training by packing
sample kits, running errands, delivering orders, hand-tinning calendars and handling many
factory production line chores. Frank, who received his BS degree in Business Administration
from Georgetown University, joined the company as a full-time employee in 1930. He quickly
realized the potential for specialty advertising items such as yardsticks, ashtrays, badges,
pens, key cases and other goodwill builders furnished by outside suppliers.
Ray received an AB degree in Philosophy from Notre Dame University and joined the firm in
1932. He saw a future in the renowned Farmers' Almanac (which had been in continuous publication
since 1818), as a goodwill builder and public relations giveaway that easily fit into the Geiger Bros. line of products. The company obtained the franchise, and Ray became its editor in 1935, serving in this role for 60 consecutive editions.
During World War II, both Frank and Ray went into the service. Frank became a major in the
Air Force with duties as contracting officer stationed at General Motors in Detroit. Ray served in the South Pacific, achieved the rank of Army captain and managed to continue editing the Almanac - by mail. Both sons were still in the service at the time of their father's death, so
Jacob (Jack) Geiger, son of company founder Andrew, took over as interim president.
Ray returned in 1945 and Frank in 1946. By 1951, the third generation was in place with Ray
as president and Frank as vice president, sales.
In 1949, Ray and his wife Ann purchased the rights to the Almanac, which had never been sold
on newsstands but distributed only as a public relations medium by businesses all over the United
States and Canada. As the -longest running Almanac editor,- Ray upheld the Almanac's reliability
as a practical guide to planting, astronomical phenomena and weather, while also fashioning it
into a homey handbook to life.
In 1955 (after 77 years in New Jersey), Geiger Bros. moved into its new 60,000 square-foot
facility in Lewiston, Maine. Just six years later, an additional 20,000 square-foot space was added
to the plant. In 1969, a two-story office building was added as the administration facility.
The Fourth Generation
Ray Geiger had four sons, Eugene (Gene), Peter, Kenneth (K.C.), Michael and a daughter Barbara. Today, Gene serves as Geiger (UPIC: geiger) president and Peter as executive vice president. Gene formally joined Geiger Bros. in January 1973, having graduated from Notre Dame two years before with a Bachelor's Degree in Economics. Peter came on board later that year having recently graduated from
Villanova University with a Business Administration degree in Marketing.
In their 30-year tenure as the company's leaders, Gene points out he and Peter have faced three
The first has been adjusting to the inevitable people transitions. "We have seen the gradual retirement of the talented and loyal Geiger managers who moved the firm from New Jersey to Maine in 1955 and guided its rebirth, as well as the exit of brothers K.C. and Mike from the business. Through it all," Gene says, "the loyalty and commitment of our 500-plus associates and 400-plus sales partners have enabled us to handle the changes and get better in the process. There is no more important business process than the growth and development of each person - and the collective
commitment to the company and its goals."
Preserving and enhancing Geiger's manufacturing heritage has been another challenge.
"We are primarily a marketer and distributor of promotional products, but we have a manufacturing
heritage (today's manufacturing space exceeds 110,000,000 square feet) that goes directly back
to our founders," says Gene. "During the last 30 years, we developed a capacity and capability
for making world-class, quality planners, diaries and calendars. In our category, we have no U. S.
competitors, only European and Asian ones. We have survived and prospered because we have consistently
invested in ourselves - people, equipment and product development - and have sought new markets both within
our industry and beyond."
Finally, adjusting to economic twists and turns has been essential. In the early 1990s and
especially now, Geiger has been buffeted by economic down forces and the globalization of competition
and opportunity. "We are now playing on a much larger field so we have to be fast and flexible,
recognize trends and adjust strategies regularly," says Gene. "We have had to learn harsh lessons and
make difficult decisions, but these are times when we learn best?and the testing makes us better."
When Gene and Peter began in 1973, Geiger Bros. was generating about $8 million in annual sales.
For 2002, sales were around $125 million. Its sales force now exceeds 400. (Thirty years ago, this
number was approximately 75.) However, Gene quickly points out the key issue today is not numbers but
professionalism and productivity. "As customer demands have increased, we have been able to attract and
develop people whose emphasis is on understanding and supporting customer needs, rather than showing up
and presenting products," he says.
Geiger has actively acquired companies since the 1960s as a way to add quality salespeople and expand
geographically. "It is widely known within the industry that we know how to bring companies and salespeople
into our organization. We have a reputation for being people of our word and a good option for those who
want to cease running a company and concentrate on selling," says Gene.
Geiger's associates number more than 500 today, and this includes approximately 100 located in field
offices around the country. Gene says, "Our growth and growth strategy has meant we are more decentralized
and have staff where we have salespersons and customers. It is more difficult to manage this way, but
technology has been a vital enabler allowing us to do a good job."
As for products, Geiger has evolved with the industry, which means sourcing from non-traditional vendors
domestically and overseas. However, Gene says the company's emphasis is to continue to rely on those vendors
who serve the company and its customers best. He says, "Our salespeople sell all industry lines, products
from our manufacturing side and sometimes overseas-sourced products. Our job is to find products meeting our
customers' promotional and budgetary needs. We strive to "partner" with and actively promote "star suppliers,"
firms demonstrating their commitment to Geiger and its customers," says Gene.
Giving Back To The Community
Geiger's community involvement is etched in the Geiger Way document, which reads: "We give back to our
community. Our strengths are drawn from the place we live and work. As a company, and as individuals, we seek
to be leaders in education, charity and civic affairs." This involvement has taken the shape of encouraging
management to actively participate on civic boards and associates to volunteer in organizations helping the
community. Peter explains, "Geiger has long sponsored a cutting edge Business/School Partnership with Montello
Elementary School in Lewiston, for which we have received state-wide recognition. Our contributions are in
initiatives that make the places where we work also good places to live." (In 1992, President George Bush
named Geiger the 618th Point of Light in recognition of its dedication to the children at Montello.)
Technology is a set of tools supporting business processes and the sales force's work, but it does not
solve customer problems nor does it build relationships. Gene says, "We have consistently invested in
technology to help our salespeople do their jobs more efficiently and effectively, and we have found it
is typically more cost effective to acquire best-in-class technology tools or services from others.
However, occasionally, we have to do things ourselves when outside solutions are not available or do
not fit our systems."
Technology has given Geiger internal systems to support financial and administrative processes as well
as external systems enabling communication and interaction with trading partners (customers and suppliers)
and tools to link the company with its sales partners. Gene says, "Internally, we have recently converted
to a new "enterprise" system to house our database of customers and orders. This is the engine driving all
our processes and the financial controls managing our business. Field staffs are even linked to our Maine
headquarters so everyone can see the same information at the same time."
Geiger has also implemented ePSA standards with some of its suppliers to reduce the cost of moving orders
and order-related information back and forth. "We see this as a major step forward in improving speed and
reducing back-office costs."
Even though technology is expensive, takes time to exploit and can lead one down the wrong road, Gene says,
"Technology is a key competitive weapon in an industry where every firm can offer customers the same products.
We believe we have assembled a very strong arsenal."
The Farmers' Almanac Continues
After 15 years of working together with his father on editing and publishing The Farmers' Almanac, Peter
began as editor of the 1995 edition. This was the year a $2.95 retail version appeared in bookstores and
newsstands. Peter says, "The retail Farmers' Almanac gives us a presence in every city in the U. S. and
prevents the confusion that occurred when people would hear about us on the media but purchase an imitator--
this was often the case when it was sold exclusively as a promotional product."
Peter says another major advantage of this retail version is salespeople can now associate an exact
consumer dollar value with the Almanac to strengthen their sales opportunities.
Without giving away too much inside information about how he makes his predictions, Peter
says, "The weather is determined by a mathematical formula applied to sunspot activity, planet
positions and the impact of the moon. We are able to predict weather developments two years in
advance with what we are told is a 75- to 85-percent accuracy rate. Best of all, only seven gentlemen
have used this formula during the last 186 years, making longevity and consistency the cornerstones
of our respected reputation."
Yes, only Ray Geiger would invite friends and family to a grave event like this.
Upon receiving his very handsome tombstone for his plot in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Lewiston,
Ray Geiger found it distasteful to realize he had just spent a great deal of money on something
he would find very difficult to enjoy. So, in his own inimitable fashion, he decided he wanted
to see smiling faces where mourning ones would be sometime in the future--at a tombstone unveiling.
Several friends and family members gathered at his future gravesite to listen to Ray speak of
his gratitude for what has already transpired during the course of his life and of what is to come.
Several attendees also spoke on his behalf.
But the story doesn't end there. Ray, a master of publicity, has received a great deal of media
attention for the event, with local papers carrying the story and the Associated Press releasing
it as well. So don't be surprised when somebody asks you, "Say, is it true the editor of the The
Farmers' Almanac staged his own funeral?" Tell them it's true indeed.
Excerpts from the dissertation Geiger wrote for this event:
Friends, I am delighted and really quite excited
That you came to this unusual grave event,
For I'd rather have you gather as I write it
Than to have you come to see me when I'm dead.
Now at eighty I have reached the plateau of my life
And each year as it comes and passes is a bonus year,
For me to pay more attention to my sainted wife
And still continue with my editing career.
As a boy scout I was told to be prepared,
And I have gone as far as I can go.
I want to enjoy the beauty of this tombstone while I'm living
For there's no enjoyment in a tombstone when you're dead.
Yes, you can't enjoy a tombstone when you're dead.
November 1, 1990
Source: January 1991 Network, official sales publication of Geiger Bros. and its subsidiaries.
Editor's Note: Ray Geiger died April 1, 1994.
Not only has Geiger's fourth generation of brothers impressively grown their company's
statistics and been actively involved in community events and activities, but also these men
have given of themselves to the promotional products industry. Having served on the PPAI
Board of Directors, including leadership roles of treasurer and vice chair in the class of
1986, and as chair of both the Government and Legal Affairs and the Technology, Terminology
and Standards Committees, Gene currently serves as chair of ePSA (ePromoStandards Alliance),
which sets the technology standards for the industry.
Gene was recognized for his industry contributions in 1994 as The Counselor Person of the
Year and as a 2001-2002 winner of the PPAI Distinguished Service Award. He has also served three
terms as president of Diary Publishers International. His work on civic and business boards
in Maine has led directly to Geiger receiving the 1994 Governor's Award for Business Excellence
and the Margaret Chase Smith Maine State Quality Award three years.
Peter, who was named the YESAA (Young Executives Specialty Advertising Association) 1994
Young Executive of the Year, served on the PPAI Board of Directors, class of 1992, as well
as on PPAI Awards, Membership Services and Marketing Committees. He served as chair of the
Maine State Board of Education and is the founder of "Adopt-A-School" partnerships in Maine.
His civic works led to his recognition as the Distinguished Service Award winner from both
the Maine School Superintendent's Association and the Maine School Board Association.
Celebrating 125 Years
As Geiger celebrates its 125th anniversary, the words of Ray Geiger at the company's
100th anniversary are still true today:
"This important milestone in the history of a company is a jewel that reflects the hopes
and dreams, heartaches and sufferings, joys and satisfactions of all the people who made it
possible. It recalls for us insights into those who guided our destiny through the generations
--dynamic, religious men of high moral integrity who took pride in the quality of their products
and gave and demanded honesty in all business relationships." PPB
Anne Pechuls is an associate editor for PPB.
Reprinted with permission from PPB, January 2003. © Promotional Products Association International.