May 1996: Kellie “leaves” a job at Lyons Safety with big dreams, a broken Sylvester and Tweety desk clock, and not much else.
(Later that day): Kellie and husband Todd create Panda Communications in their house on Milwaukee’s northwest side. Todd begins a long summer of writing safety copy in the sweltering attic wearing little more than boxers, a t-shirt, and a smile.
June 1996: Panda starts work on a Bloodborne Pathogen brochure for ANI Safety. Kellie and Todd celebrate by eating more than just Ramen noodles that month.
July 1996: Kellie lands the Cameron & Barkley catalog. Life is good.
August 1996: Panda moves into an office in downtown Milwaukee’s LoDuca Building. Cue the theme from “The Jeffersons”.
January 1997: Panda starts building its massive content Database, which is still growing today and will become self-aware and take over the world in 2012.
February 1997: Kellie creates Esafetymall.com thinking that a buying portal for both sellers and buyers is a great idea. The concept has a hard time catching on in safety, but worked out just fine in other industries (ever heard of Amazon or eBay?). Catalog production ramps up with Gann Safety, Balco, and Libra Safety all using Panda.
March - December 1997: A busy year for Panda. Custom catalogs for Gann Safety, Balco Supply, Libra Industries. Kellie will never forget how she got the Libra job. Bill Maki calls her to Chicago. In he walks, donned in a beagle mask, talking like a beagle and telling her "anyone who worked for Bill Thompson has my respect and business". Bill taught Kellie the lesson of the value of handshake and keeping the lawyers out of negotiations. The deal? "Kellie, you do this catalog for me and I will pay you. I promise". Deal!
Sometime in 1997: SEDA comes a calling. Bob Dool of Mid-Continent scouts out Panda and convinces the SEDA board to let Panda present its services. Kellie rushes to Chicago to make a presentation. Wearing jeans and casual shirt, and hair up in a clip, she arrives at a swanky hotel ("Yikes, suits are in the lobby, this could be serious"). Oh well, with a stack of catalogs and recommendations a mile long she presents to the SEDA board. SEDA accepts Panda as their "official marketing company". Panda pays for the shrimp buffet at the SEDA conference that year.
Sometime in late 1997: Keith Skipworth from Safety Source, in Mobile, Alabama calls Panda and begins the six-month process of talking Kellie into doing a "generic catalog". "Have you ever heard of the Washington Tool Catalog?" Keith asks. "You can do this Kellie, I can't afford to do my own catalog, but if you do this I bet you can sell this to other safety distributors. In fact, I have a buddy over in Florida, Richie Reggiani of Colonial, he wants a catalog too. We can share the costs." Kellie thinks, "Oh great, two for the price of one. Typical distributor!" After six months of monthly phone calls from "Skippy", Kellie decides to try, but on one condition: Panda remains the product manager (can't have too many cooks in the kitchen). Let Kellie do a catalog the way she knows how. Too much involvement from the distributor equals never getting a catalog actually produced.
March 1998: Panda creates Version A1, the industry’s first generic safety catalog. With the 160-page beauty Panda changes the industry and creates a new market. A1 is Panda’s First Edition and limited collector’s item copies are available for $1,000 at the Panda Gift Shop. Mark this down, this was the month and year that the first "generic" syndicated catalog was created in safety. It caused quite a stir, but appears to be a popular concept after all.
September 1998: The first controversy begins at Panda. One vendor threatens to sue Panda because they appeared in a Panda catalog possessed by unauthorized distributors. Another big vendor wanted to only be in "certain catalogs". One problem, vendors never paid anything to be in the Panda catalog. All content was created by Panda and it printed thousands of books. Distributors love the catalog. The vendors? Well, they eventual change their mind, realizing that this might be a good thing for them. (Can you imagine such a thing today? Man, have things changed!)
April 1999: Kellie launches the first syndicated Panda website. A few years later customers realize that the whole Internet thing just might catch on. In the process Reliable Safety gets a $250K website for peanuts…it’s nice being a beta. The next beta is Minnesota Glove, who Panda has to this day. (Thanks Bob!)
Sometime in 2000: It's a blur. Panda is the most popular girl at the prom. Version B is born (a spin-off of A1) and sold to Safety-Wear and others, and more custom catalogs. Cameron & Barkley is back and Panda quickly progress through the letters of the alphabet for generic versions.
March 2001: The Panda Bears Never Sleep: SEDA and Panda continue and catalogs just keep a coming. Panda launches CD-RO project. As soon as it launches, the "internets" became a hot topic. CD-ROM out, internets in.
Read on: SEDA Newsletter - March 2001
SEDA Newsletter - April 2001
April 2002: The LoDuca Building goes condo. Panda gets kicked out and moves operations to the suburbs. A bigger space, but the view sucks.
March 2004: Panda completes its largest custom catalog. The 1,600-page behemoth, requires Panda employees to clean 500,000 part numbers. The project, completed in just nine months, proves that the Panda team is: a.) capable of anything, and b.) glutton for punishment.
January 2007: Panda’s ecommerce program becomes to safety websites what Google is to search engines. Kellie refers to it as the "overnight" ecommerce success that took more than eight years to achieve and cost a fortune. Todd asks, “Do you think this ecommerce thing is ever going to pay off?”
December 2008: Panda completes its 52nd generic catalog, Lucky E13. Like every Panda catalog before it, E13 is the coolest generic catalog in the industry. Panda also continues making first-rate custom catalogs, brochures and website.
March 2009: Panda Productions begins creating product and promotional videos. The Panda staff considers moving to Hollywood. Kellie begins wearing Ray Bans at work and starts overusing the phrase, “My people will call your people.”
June 2009: Panda enters its 14th year in business. Kellie still has big dreams. But now she also has an office, loyal customers, and an extremely smart and attractive staff.