Designs on equity.
With a mere $1,500 in her bank account and virtually no technology, Tracy Stanhoff never imagined her home-based business would grow as large and in the direction that it did. She anticipated opening a boutique design firm that created logos, advertisements, brochures, and collateral print materials. Now, 31 years later, her company, AD PRO, is a full-service advertising, graphics, and branding “superstore,” with in-house digital print production, large-format graphics and exhibit production, embroidery machines, and screenprinting production housed in a 5,000-square-foot graphic design studio and production facility in Huntington Beach, California.
“You can come here and get your logo designed, and then we’ll go on and do your collateral materials and electronic advertising or websites. We’ll go from there and do your branding. It could be branded clothing, or bags, or uniforms, or anything to build your exhibits for your trade shows. We also put out promotional products. We call ourselves a super-firm,” Stanhoff says.
As the former Tribal Chair of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Stanhoff is a tireless advocate for Native Americans. She served as president of the American Indian National Chamber of Commerce (AINCC) while simultaneously holding the same role for the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California, and developed a Native American news publication titled Indigenous Post.
Stanhoff is a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation of Kansas and grew up in Los Angeles. Her parents moved to the city as part of a 1950s Native American relocation program whose goal was for Native Americans to leave reservations and find opportunities in five urban areas: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, and New York City. Growing up, she was an Olympic-level competitive swimmer who missed the 1980 Summer Olympics due to the U.S. boycott. However, she continued to swim and has competed in triathlons. Her competitive nature has proven useful in her career, and she makes sure AD PRO consistently outperforms its competition.
“Our customer service and client interaction is unparalleled. We have 24/7 coverage, especially with our own exhibit details. You call us, somebody answers the phone. Unless they’re sleeping, they’ll answer very quickly—all the time, which is unheard of in the advertising field,” she says. “We have a lot of energy, and we’re not satisfied to stay status quo. We’re always improving ourselves.”
That improvement has paid off in a long list of honors and awards, including 2013 National Minority Supplier Development Council National Supplier of the Year–Class I; 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012 Winners Circle Awards from the Southern California Minority Business Development Council; and Top 10 Native Businesses in the Country from Native Peoples magazine.
Gender pay inequality exists in many industries, and particularly in corporate America; Pew Research reports that in 2018, women earned 85 percent of what men earned. However, the conversation rarely centers on pay inequity as it relates to suppliers. Despite an extensive and diverse client list from Fortune 500 to Indian Country and small businesses, Stanhoff says she has sometimes faced gender pay disparities as an entrepreneur.
“We’re able to do business at any level, and we do. But it’s a fact that there is a challenge nowadays in being a woman. They don’t want to pay you as much as they pay the majority or a male-owned firm. It’s very interesting to find that after all these years, I haven’t felt discriminated against being a woman, but when you’re looking at what other [people] get paid compared to what we get paid for our jobs, it’s interesting. It’s not a struggle—it’s a challenge to continually prove your value and your skills,” she says.
Stanhoff believes the solution to these challenges is for corporations to take a more holistic approach to equity and look at it as a “win-win for both companies and sustaining women professionals, whether you’re working internally for a corporation or externally as building a business.”Going forward, she anticipates growing AD PRO’s offerings, using technology in to get clients more engaged, and expanding more in Indian country. “It’s really heartwarming that I can offer great services to our people. Keeping money in our own community is really cool. And being a role model for Indian people to say, ‘Hey, we can do this on our own and get great businesses that support our other great businesses’—that’s really been a real honor.”