“Just keep going.”
It’s a mantra that guides Tim Sterling through every day, as the self-employed salesman makes his rounds throughout Gainesville. He braves the heat, cold, rain and wind to sell business cards, cups, pens and other supplies custom printed for his clients.
It is a demanding job for anyone. But most people who know him agree that Sterling is not just anyone.
In 1951 at the age of 5, Sterling was hit by a car on his Centerport, N.Y. street. He suffered right frontal lobe brain damage that resulted in lifelong disability and slowness on the left side of his body. At the time there was not much that could be done for brain injuries, so he had to adapt to his situation
“Over the years I’ve taught myself some things. I’ve worked with it and I think I’ve recovered as fully as I can,” he said, before adding with a grin, “I don’t like to talk about it because I don’t like to boast!”
Sterling has defied naysayers ever since. After moving with his family to Florida when he was 8 years old, he went on to graduate high school and attend Central Florida Community College (now Central Florida College). Two years later he transferred to the University of Florida, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1972.
He dabbled in the printing industry, often relieving friends on the presses as they took breaks. His first love, however, was always sales. His friends taught him more about the printing profession, and it led to the launch of his own business that he still runs today.
Sterling’s determined gait and proper business attire are a familiar sight to Gainesvillians. Even in the hottest summer months one can usually find him in a coat and tie, walking or taking the bus to every part of the city and making sure that his customers are well served. His hearty laugh and the mischievous twinkle in his eye immediately let clients know that they are not just customers; they are also friends.
Sterling’s work ethic and outgoing personality make him a favorite among his customers and associates. Kevin Marsh, of Raintree Graphics, has been a supplier for Sterling for nearly 30 years.
“He’s out there every day. When he tells you he’s going to be somewhere, he’s there even when it’s nasty weather,” he said. “He’s a very social person, always optimistic, and he’s quick with a laugh or a little joke. I see the way he treats his customers. He always wants to give them good pricing, and he gives excellent service. Tim is just a good businessman.”
Sterling has built an unparalleled loyalty with his customers partly by avoiding the hard-sell stereotype of the sales profession. Instead, he prefers to simply offer his goods and let things take their course. But his easygoing approach doesn’t sacrifice an essential part of sales – persistence.
It’s a quality that Sterling knows a thing or two about.
“A lot of people were saying I couldn’t make it through journalism [school] but I stuck in there and I found out that as long as you hang in there, you’ve got it made,” he said. “[Now] my philosophy in business is to just keep going.”
In recent years Sterling has had to “slow down” to a five-day workweek because of medical issues. But as with every other challenge he has faced in his life, he adjusted to the change – even if he was a little resistant to the idea.
“It was killing him to not be out there. He was scared of losing customers and business,” said Marsh, who had encouraged Sterling to focus on his health during that time. “He’s just dedicated to his job. He enjoys people and I can’t see Tim stopping. If only more people had a work ethic like him, to get up and go at it every day.”
With no plans to retire anytime in the near future, Sterling is content to stay the course of his career. He also has another love and motivation – his teenage daughter, Rebecca, whom he calls “the best roommate I’ve ever had.”
His life is a full and happy one, much like what this eternal optimist envisioned for himself many years ago.
“Right after my accident, I made up my mind that I’d be where I am now, selling and being successful,” Sterling said. “I did a lot of other things in my life, but over the years sales just stuck with me.
“You just keep going. There’s bound to be something that will cheer you up and get you where you want to go.”