Meet the Women in Wide Format: Susan Braverman
Braverman grows and expands the family legacy.
The Flag Shop
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
“Susan is unique, not just for being the second-generation woman owner of a digital print business, but for her knowledge and innovation in digital print. She has transformed the use of digital print in the flag space.”
– David Lindsay, PR Manager, EFI
Your mother founded the business in 1975. What did you learn from her and what does it mean to be a woman in the wide-format digital printing industry?
I’ve been in the flag and banner industry for 40 years, since I was 7 years old. My mother founded the retail flag industry by opening the first retail flag store in the entire world. There were others stores that sold flags, like map and army surplus stores, but flags were always an add-on. There were two main flag manufacturers in Canada, and their product lines were identical. The stores that sold flags were limited to what these two flag manufacturers made. Whenever we went on vacation, which was twice a year, the first thing my mom did was open the yellow pages in the hotel room, rip out the “flag” page, and then we’d go and visit all the stores listed. Whether it was Hawaii or Milan or London or Paris, none of them were stores that exclusively sold flags. So my mom saw an opportunity to stand out and make a name for herself.
My mom was new in the business and saw things from a different perspective. She formed partnerships with different manufacturers from different industries. My mom didn’t know what she was doing, so she made a lot of mistakes in the early years, but she also did things that had never been done before. She found a way to stand out from the others and give customers more options and better service, as well as help them find new solutions and ideas they had never considered before.
I grew up in a matriarchal family. I didn’t know until I got to university that women weren’t always treated equally or how much women had to, and still have to, fight for equal rights, or even just to be treated fairly. In my family, my mom was in charge (my dad was her lieutenant) and when my grandma, my mom’s mom, came over, she was in charge. In our family, women were rightly respected because women had to juggle more than men. They carried the babies, had the babies, nursed the babies, were the main caretakers for babies, did most of the cooking and cleaning and family chores, they got jobs and went to school to better themselves, helped the kids with their homework at night, and sewed buttons onto shirts when the buttons fell off.
In my family, my mom brought me up with a very clear understanding that giving is more important than getting. You give, aka volunteer, as much as you can, not because it’s a good thing do and makes you look good, but because that’s what being an active person in your community looks like.
My mom also taught me there is no such thing as failure unless you keep falling down and stop trying to get back up. And when you make a mistake, you say you’re sorry. When you have hurt someone’s feelings, even if it was unintentional or the other person is being too sensitive, you do what it is right, which is be kind. If you want to be right, be kind. That’s what being right looks like. My mom brought me up believing that women can do everything that men can do. And if a man tells you otherwise, it’s just because that’s how he was brought up, and if he insults you, you bite your tongue and smile.
You have served as a board member for the Common Thread Co-Op, a non-profit providing sewing training and production coaching for newcomers to Canada, people living with mental illness, and others who thrive in a flexible work environment. Can you share why Common Thread is important to you?
Whenever we make banners for our customers we always have some overruns, so we make bags for Common Thread. We let our customers know if you want to do this with your banners after you’re done with them, you contact Common Thread. And now Common Thread works out of our sewing department and their contract sewers walk around our sewing department just like our employees do. It’s a fantastic relationship. To me, being in business is not only about the bottom line. It’s about making a difference in your community. If you can’t donate money, then do what is often better, and donate your time and your heart.
Your nominator, David Lindsay, says you have been remarkable in growing and transitioning the business as it grew from its retail flag sales and screen printing roots to advanced adoption of digital printing and growth into display graphics production. Can you talk about the shift to digital printing and how that has shaped your career?
Once upon a time there was a flag and banner industry and a sign industry. The industries made completely different products and their techniques and everything about them was different. I know this because my mom owned a decal shop for several years before we started printing flags.
Then one day came along digital printing. It was on substrates used by the sign industry, but it had potential for growth in the flag industry. And as the years passed and the digital technology improved, more and more the two industries started overlapping in what they were selling because they were both buying the same printers – the sign companies were using them the way sign companies did, and the flag manufacturers were using the printers in the way the flag manufacturers would.
But we were different. We watched how the two industry were moving toward each other. But neither industry understood they could both print the same products. Sign companies didn’t know how the flag industry worked, and flag companies didn’t know how sign companies worked.
We understood this. And in fact, I hired people from the sign industry to help me grow our business and be, or at least learn about how signs companies operated. Understanding both sides allowed me to come up with new opportunities that would work for both industries.