Christl Pitre Mahfouz - Living The American Dream
Sep 08, 2017 04:30PM
● By Marisa Olson
In 2007, Abbeville native Christl Pitre Mahfouz put herself on the map as a Lafayette business owner when she opened Ace Specialties, LLC. The small supply company sold only one product: safety gloves for workers in the oil and gas industry. From the humblest of beginnings, Mahfouz has grown her company into a flourishing multi-million dollar enterprise, and proven herself a formidable business leader.
A Versatile Business Model
Since its founding in 2007, Ace Specialties has expanded and adapted to ever changing economic market forces, experienced exponential growth, and survived a close call with bankruptcy during the 2015 recession when the bottom fell out of the oil and gas sector. Versatile and adaptive, Mahfouz course corrected, rebranding her company as a full-service source for client companies seeking to build and promote their product and brand. She introduced new lines of service, providing B2C e-commerce and fulfillment center capabilities. The new services include website creation, product design, inventory management, daily reporting, package and shipment services, and social media integration.
Within two short years of its re-branding, her business experienced a powerful resurgence, and currently is counted among Lafayette’s Top 50 Businesses. Today, her biggest client is Donald J. Trump For President, Inc., the president’s campaign committee.
Mahfouz has learned firsthand that a company’s survival lies in its ability to innovate rapidly in response to unpredictable market pivots and upheaval. This flexibility in the architecture of her business model serves as a template for her own clients and for other Acadiana companies that hope to withstand the fluctuations of the oil and gas industry.
But how did a single mother, born and raised in Abbeville, catapult a small venture into an industry powerhouse?
Building a Personal Brand
Years before she dreamed of launching her own business, Christl Pitre Mahfouz was forging a personal brand based on commitment to customer service, a hands-on management style, and an unfaltering work ethic focused on quality results.
To support herself while attending ULL, she applied for a waitressing position at Edie’s Express, and continued working at the restaurant for several years after getting her bachelor’s in General Studies. After graduation, Pitre married Alex Mahfouz, owner of Fashion Warehouse, and gave birth to their beautiful son, Alex, now 12. During those early years, she also helped her (then) husband with the merchandising and part-time management of his two retail stores in Lafayette.
Life Lessons & Beloved Mentors: Stanley Leece and Donald Mosing
During her tenure at Edie’s, Mahfouz gained invaluable real world experiences and learned what it took to run a business from the ground up. Eventually, she was ready to assume a role in its management. In an industry known for grueling hours and a demanding pace, Mahfouz thrived. She loved it, deriving tremendous satisfaction in learning how to run a complex, service-oriented operation.
Through years of dedication and perseverance, she honed her acumen and acquired a poised, highly confident style of leadership. As importantly, her engaging, accommodating personality resonated with Edie’s customers, and over time Mahfouz became owner Stanley Leece’s trusted right hand:
“Stanley Leece is an inspiration and major influence in my life. At Edie’s, he taught us work ethic, business principles, and about caring for the customer. We learned that the customer is always right, and always to exceed their expectations. Whatever a customer asks, the answer is always yes. Stanley is a great businessman, a terrific boss and mentor. I am so grateful, and credit much of my success, and the success of my company, Ace Specialties, to Stanley.”
Mahfouz's unassuming demeanor and hard work ethic impressed the regular patrons with whom she became well acquainted, many of them notable business leaders. One patron in particular, Donald Mosing, founder and then President of Frank’s International, Inc., recognized an entrepreneur in the making. He began mentoring Mahfouz, providing insight, and teaching her about the oil and gas industry.
Mosing bought a high volume of safety gloves from several suppliers for his oilfield workers, and promised Mahfouz that if she were to open a store offering work gloves, he would be her first client.
After eight years at Edie's, she was ready to make her dream come true and go into business for herself. Decisive, Mahfouz moved quickly to open Ace Specialties. Mosing began taking her on business luncheons at the Lafayette Petroleum Club, introducing her to fellow industry leaders. He was a wise and kind counselor, and Mahfouz followed his advice to the letter.
A Small, Woman-Owned Start Up in a Male-Dominated Industry
Mosing advised and encouraged the fledgling business owner, and facilitated a few introductions, but Mahfouz was on her own in terms of proving that her new company was worth the investment. Her potential clients already had established loyalties and long-term relationships with other suppliers, and the placing of a single order was no assurance of future commitment. Mahfouz had to prove that Ace Specialties could play in the same league as other proven companies - and could beat her competition. It seemed a tall order.
However, Mahfouz sensed not only opportunity, but advantage. When asked how she planned to distinguish her newly minted brand from the competition, her answer was simple: “My company may be small, but I know I can deliver the best customer service.” She had a way of reducing complexities down to manageable size.
The First 6 Months
Mahfouz opened her business with one employee, one client, and one product, and a mission premised on a single concept: To deliver the very best in customer service. After two months, she landed her second client, a major oil and gas company based in Houston, and added uniforms to her inventory. The client had asked whether Ace Specialties offered professionally embroidered corporate uniforms in addition to safety gear. Bearing in mind that the answer to a customer’s request is always, “yes,” Mahfouz answered, “Absolutely. No problem.”
In a matter of days, the embroidery machines arrived, and Mahfouz taught herself how to operate them. She then quickly hired and trained employees in stitching and embroidery, favoring applicants with a strong work ethic and a solid customer service orientation. By month six, she had expanded her small store into a one-stop shop that offered a full-service line of safety products, work wear, and promotional products for oil and gas companies.
Success Is No Accident
Mahfouz had landed the Houston account by identifying her customer’s need for a supplier that provided two lines of company apparel: safety wear for the oilfield worker, and corporate wear with embroidered logos for the professional staff. She adjusted her business model accordingly, making Ace Specialties Acadiana’s go-to supplier for oil and gas companies. The ability to adapt to the customer’s business needs would prove critical, not only to her company’s early success, but also to its survival years later during a crippling economic downturn.
Co-Founding Sky High
In 2007, the same year Mahfouz founded her company, longtime friend Brittany Hebert asked for her help in organizing a charity clay shoot for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. The goal was to raise $10,000. They raised $50,000. That remarkable success inspired the two women to form their own nonprofit, Sky High, whose mission is bringing communities together through fundraising events to provide comfort, fund research and save lives of children fighting pediatric cancer and other life-threatening conditions.
Today, Hebert is president of the nonprofit, and Mahfouz sits on its board of directors. Their organization comprises fifteen board members and a cadre of advisors, sponsors and volunteers. Sky High holds several annual fundraisers in Texas and Louisiana, including clay shoots and a golf tournament, and hosts a carnival at the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis, which receives the proceeds from that event. (A Ronald McDonald House provides a place for families to stay at little or no cost while their children undergo treatment at St. Jude Hospital.) This September 23, Sky High will host its first sporting clay shoot in Midland, Texas.
Since 2007, Sky High has raised and donated over six million dollars to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Texas Children’s Cancer Center, and the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis.
As their volunteer organization grew, Mahfouz and Hebert approached the Eric Trump Foundation (ETF), a charity founded by Eric Trump that supports St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, to find ways to work together and raise more money for childhood cancer research. After a brief presentation in 2011 before ETF’s board of directors, Sky High joined their pledge to ETF’s to raise funds for a new Surgery and ICU Center for St Jude’s. Their united, volunteer effort, along with their love and passion to help find a cure for childhood cancer, led Mahfouz and Hebert to positions as ETF board members.
“I’m going to lose everything”
2015 was a year of profound economic insecurity for the oil and gas industry, its clients, business partners, and service providers. Ace Specialties, which had turned a profit for years, was directly impacted. Mahfouz had just relocated her company, and expanded into a new space with 12,000 square feet. The future never looked brighter--but within a matter of weeks, business came to an abrupt halt as oilfield customers stopped ordering product. Revenue dried up and bills mounted. As a business owner, Mahfouz’s worst fears were becoming realized.
“I went to see Stanley, and completely broke down: ‘I’m going to lose everything.’ When a bill came across my desk, I asked myself, ‘How am I going to pay this?’ The hardest part was having to let go of the people whose livelihoods and families depended on my business. I prayed my novenas every day, asking God, ‘What am I supposed to do? Please guide me.’”
Making America Great Again
One evening as Mahfouz was watching the news, she caught a few minutes of the campaign coverage taking place in Trump Tower. The date was June 16, 2015: Trump had just announced his Presidential bid for the 2016 election. As Trump descended the escalator, the camera panned to a group of supporters wearing hats and holding T-shirts emblazoned with “TRUMP Make America Great Again.”
Mahfouz received the flash of insight she had been praying for: Trump’s campaign needed her to merchandise their brand. “I just knew immediately this was what I was called to do.”
Wasting no time, Mahfouz and her graphic designer assembled a bid package of promotional items containing T-shirt designs, printed product that included hat prototypes, and a mock-up of a new website design, which they overnighted to Trump campaign headquarters. Those samples landed Mahfouz the opportunity to pitch the campaign staff. One week later, she was on a plane bound for New York City to give her presentation. The meeting was scheduled in the Trump Tower boardroom.
As Mahfouz entered Trump Towers, she mentally rehearsed her pitch. Her products were American made. What better way to “make America great again” than by hiring American workers to make and distribute the campaign’s promotional products?
Her instincts were spot on. Trump was there with his campaign staff, and Mahfouz sold them. Her commitment to market and distribute all of the campaign’s promotional product exclusively through American-based companies was a winning idea. Mahfouz also promised to find her own vendors who would manufacture everything from yard signs, hats, decals, even Christmas Ornaments. When Trump asked how long it would take to get the entire production up and running, she replied, “One week.”
Mahfouz had just won her biggest client: Donald J. Trump For President, Inc., the president’s campaign committee.
Ace Specialties was back in business, and business has been booming ever since. Mahfouz has assembled a dedicated team of skilled, hardworking staff who are like family: Forrest Moodie, Vice President; Nicole Birdeau-Rabalais, Senior Marketing Manager; Tressie Ham, Business Development; Jared Bourque, Operations Manager; Courtney Gray, Customer Service Manager; and Marion Sylvester, Warehouse Supervisor. Even Mahfouz’s brother Bennett LeMaire has joined the team. Each invests proud labor into promoting and distributing the President’s campaign products. Under Mahfouz’s seasoned leadership, they are helping to make America great again, starting in Louisiana.
Since 2015, Ace Specialties has sold and distributed over 23 million dollars’ worth of hats, yard signs, stickers, mugs, decals and clothing to the campaign. As the official distributor of President Trump's "Make America Great Again" caps, Ace Specialties will soon ship its one-millionth MAGA cap from its Lafayette headquarters. (The hat, made by CaliFame Headwear, is available online through the campaign’s shop website.)
Recently, Mahfouz streamlined Ace Specialties’ services by offering promotional products made only in the USA, and this year will launch America’s Box, a monthly subscription that will feature a different manufacturer’s product every month. The new company (headed by Mahfouz), believes America is ready for the new concept, “because Made in America means something.”
Mahfouz conceived the idea of America’s Box earlier this year when she “and a small group of proud Americans” decided it was time to buy from and support American businesses – it was time to reignite the American Dream. So, they sat down, and like many people who want to create something special, thought outside of the box, which ironically, led them back into a box. Mahfouz explains:
“But, this box would be far from ordinary – this is America’s Box – 100% fortified with freedom, tradition, heritage and craftsmanship. A box that represents grit, determination, and American spirit. Together, we will build a movement to buy American, help businesses thrive, support hardworking men and women, and keep jobs right here in our backyard.”
From Abbeville to America, Christl P. Mahfouz has become a dynamic and accomplished entrepreneur. Her drive and continued commitment to old-fashioned virtues in both life and business is an inspiration for those who aspire to live the American dream, and proof that with enough hard work, perseverance, and determination, you can accomplish almost anything.
Ace Specialties http://www.acespecial.com/