Amazing things can happen when you slip your hand into the Rightsleeve.
Two young twelve year olds became fast friends at a summer tennis camp in Toronto, Canada. Other than having good conversation and biking sometimes, the friendship didn’t lead to anything more.
Mark Graham speaks of meeting and making friends with the girl named Catherine. “We met at a summer tennis camp. This was a two week experience for two summers in a row. Then we went into our respective different lives. Occasionally, we would encounter each other at social events, but we didn’t date.”
After having graduated from different high schools, Mark and Catherine reconnected six years later at Queens University, both earning Arts degrees. Yet again, both Mark and Catherine went their separate ways after college, but entered the workforce at the same time.
“I, like Catherine, started off in banking for a brief period of time, but I hated it. It wasn’t suited for me,” Mark says.
Fueled by an entrepreneurial enthusiasm and spirit, Mark exited the banking field in 1997 and tried his hand in the promotional products industry, a perfect job for him since he loved sales and marketing.
Meanwhile, Catherine was getting her MBA and working in management consulting, using her business savvy to help launch Ebay Canada.
It wasn’t until 1999 that the timing was ripe for romance. From tennis camp to Queens University, Mark and Catherine finally landed on the dating field at the age of twenty-five.
In the year 2000, Mark started a distributorship called Rightsleeve. “I was just her weird little boyfriend with this tiny little business,” Mark speaks about Catherine.
It’s interesting that the “weird little boyfriend” became Catherine’s husband in September 2001. And that was only the beginning of how someone, who didn’t quite fully credit their own talents and abilities, made much of himself later—but not without difficulties and setbacks.
Around 2005-2006, and with its exponential growth, Mark’s Rightsleeve distributorship was experiencing growing pains. Specifically, the company was struggling with inefficient order processing and customer service relationship management.
To say the least, “Managing production for the growing Rightsleeve business became a real contact sport,” Mark says.
What saved the day? “A superpower,” Mark says, “one hundred percent qualified for the job and one whose worth I could not afford to pay, came on board.” It was none other than his wife, Catherine.
“All of a sudden, almost overnight, Rightsleeve was able to go from quite a successful growing promotional products distributor into a serious horse to be reckoned with,” the entrepreneur adds. “Without a doubt, bringing Catherine on was a game changer to the business and also a game changer in our relationship because it opened up a new relationship with each.”
And that’s not the only opportunity that opened up. In the midst of growing by leaps and bounds, Mark was building a software platform for his business to help satisfy their needs by curbing the headaches and hassles related to order processing and customer service management.
Regarding the software, Mark says, “It ended up being very hard, but we did it. And it became a great part of our business but at great expense.”
With phenomenal resources, Mark built the solution, which became a greater sensation. In 2009, Mark entered his software in a global competition sponsored by Dell Corporation to showcase how small businesses use technology to innovate and differentiate themselves.
Suffice it to say, Mark had way underestimated his abilities and talents. He and Catherine flew to Austin, Texas, to meet Michael Dell when their software program was awarded the winner for Canada. Over the course of a few days, they were also afforded the opportunity to meet with many top executives.
Mark shares, “We didn’t have any intention of commercializing our software, no interest in selling it to other people. It was outside of our area of interest. But winning this award forced us to think about what we had built. It was clear it would benefit more people than just us.”
After a huge amount of press and a lot of calls from people expressing interest in purchasing the software to assist with their own company’s internal needs, Mark and Catherine launched commonsku in 2011.
When asked about commonsku, Mark explains, “We are exclusively focused on the promotional products industry in building a world class business management solution." commonsku not only helps distributors run their businesses more smoothly, it also helps suppliers. With suppliers, it allows them to work more strategically to share project information and recommend suggested products.
“Catherine and I both founded commonsku. It was such a privilege to build this. We were equal partners and brought our own experiences and talents to the table. Billions in distributor volume and unbelievable to think it started at zero. The rest is history.” Mark smiles.
With the exponential growth of commonsku, Mark sold his Rightsleeve distributorship in 2019 to Genumark.
Catherine, adds, “One thing I would say is I never would have imagined us working together. And we both feel so lucky, and it’s fun. It is a great industry, and we are so fortunate to work with wonderful customers on the distributor and suppliers’ side.”
Ironically, with the birth of every personal or professional labor pain—the purchase of a first house, second house, home renovations—Catherine gave birth to 3 children. Those kids are now two teenagers and a tween, keeping the family busy.