BIG SANDY — After growing Strategic Fulfillment Group by 50 percent in the past four years, Tony Pytlak has no plans of slowing.
For more than six years, Pytlak has served as president and chief operations officer for the company, one of Upshur County’s biggest employers.
“As we grow, we’re looking for a second site to expand our footprint not only in Big Sandy but in other (East Texas) communities,” Pytlak said.
Strategic Fulfillment Group, or SFG, serves more than 125 national and international brands, including magazines, newsletters and digital subscriptions. Most of the partners are “in the business of publishing, catalogue, continuity marketing, consumer package goods, membership organizations and nonprofits,” he said. “Anyone who does direct marketing for consumers or businesses, we can provide services.”
Some of its partners include Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinic, Saturday Evening Post, DC Comics and Texas Highways. Pytlak said the company has more than 46 million customer names and addresses in its computer systems and more than 14 billion associated transaction records.
“We changed the way we went to market several years ago,” Pytlak said of why the company has doubled in the past four years. They changed from being a vendor to a partner and from an operations company to a marketing company, he said.
Pytlak, 42, of Tyler, grew up in Elmwood Park, Ill., and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in applied mathematics from DePaul University in Chicago. He chose the field because he wanted to use computers and math to solve business problems. The marketing field offers many opportunities to do that, he said.
Pytlak has a 20-year background in direct marketing and database marketing and has worked for Granger, Reader’s Digest, Reiman Media and General Electric. He has been married to Jeannette for 17 years and they have two daughters.
BREAKING THE MOLD
SFG has 230 employees and uses anywhere from a handful to 50 or 60 temporary workers a day depending on volumes, he said. About 30 employees reside in Tyler, and he is trying to recruit more people from the city. Employee positions include computer programming, account management, customer service, material handling and order filling.
“Not a lot of people here know we exist,” he said. “People in New York City know we exist, and that’s the funny part. We’d rather be known locally for recruiting purposes.”
SFG is the only resident in the Big Sandy Business Park and sits on 50 acres, surrounded by piney woods, open fields and a lake. Its two buildings, constructed in 1997, make up 140,000 square feet.
The company has been in Big Sandy since the early 1980s but wasn’t always SFG. Two companies, Annie’s Attic and The Needlecraft Shop, which published magazines and marketed craft products in catalogues, were bought by the Muselman family and their operations consolidated at the Big Sandy facility and in Berne, Ind.
SFG is a privately held company and is in the third generation of ownership. The Muselman family business has been around since 1925 and includes SFG, its sister media company Annie’s, EP Graphics and other interests, he said. The private ownership has allowed them to take the growth it has had and invest it back into the company for new employee benefits, equipment and computer systems, as well as upgrading the building and reinvesting in new services for its partners, he said.
Taking a tour of SFG, the first stop is the call center, where 3,000 to 5,000 calls are handled per day, as well as thousands of emails and letters responding to customer service requests, Pytlak said. The company also has remote employees who take calls from their homes, he added.
The letter shop processes more than 25 million pieces of mail annually. SFG has a U.S. Postal Service employee stationed there full-time to sort the many different types of mail before it goes to the bulk distribution center, Pytlak said.
A lot of the work in the letter shop includes automated solutions for mailing letters, invoices, renewals or consumer products. Electronic check processing and scanning machines scan documents, such as checks, to utility and credit card companies, create images and file data to deposit the checks.
They also do book fulfillment orders, automatically packing books in cartons with machines. Orders go through a conveyer belt and end up as stacks of shipments waiting to be picked up by trucks for delivery.
The spacious warehouse is where anything from envelopes, books and magazines to craft items, doll houses and other toys are stored. Employees use “swing reach forklifts” to move large boxes from rack to rack without coming out of the aisle, he said. It also has a walk-in refrigerator to house partners’ chocolates, cakes and other refrigerated goods, he said.
In January, SFG received the BBB Award for Excellence for a company with more than 25 employees. The award is given annually by the Better Business Bureau Serving Central East Texas to companies that exemplify ethical behavior and display integrity in all aspects of their operations.
Pytlak said it was an honor to receive the award. “It’s something we strive for in our corporate values to provide top-notch service to our partners, our customers and also to basically do our best with the utmost of ethics and respect,” he said.
SFG, at 111 Corporate Drive in Big Sandy, can be reached at 903-636-2233 or StrategicFulfillment.com.