February 2, 2016
ASI’s Mickee Chai was a 20-year-old student living in her native Malaysia when she took her very first plane ride halfway around the world – a trip that changed the course of her life forever. The night before she left her family behind, she went outside and looked up to the night sky.
“And I realized at that moment that the only thing that would be the same after tomorrow was that I’d be looking up at the same moon,” Mickee, VP of our project management office, told a spellbound crowd of nearly 100 employees gathered for a TED-like talk during ASI’s recent Diversity Week. “It was exciting to think that I could be anything I wanted to be.”
Like many others then and now, Mickee came to the U.S. to pursue higher education, coincidentally at Indiana University in my home state, making her a fellow Hoosier! It’s also where she met her husband, who’s from Japan, and started a family with two daughters.
I’ve known Mickee for over 10 years and learned more about her in that hour-long talk than I did in a decade, which was exactly the point of Diversity Week, organized by the ASI Diversity Council chaired by HR’s Miranda Doane. In addition to Mickee (pictured with ASI’s Matthew Cohn, left, and event MC Joe Haley), we also heard from our offshore tech team in Pakistan about life in a Muslim country and read telling intranet posts from employees who journeyed here from countries as diverse as Argentina, Bulgaria and France.
Whenever I think I had it tough, I consider what so many immigrants experience – leaving behind the only friends, families and communities they’ve ever known, landing sight unseen in a foreign country, confounded daily by different languages, customs, etiquette and protocols.
Here’s a small sampling of insights from my colleagues:
The same week, in conjunction with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service initiative, the Diversity Council organized volunteer activities at area nonprofits like the Philabundance food distribution center (pictured, at right), Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Libertae, Impact Thrift and Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
Employees worked together in small groups, packing up boxes of food for seniors, re-stocking shelves, painting a kitchen for a group that helps women battling addiction and serving lunch to the hungry. While lending muscle to well-deserving community groups, people from different departments also got to know each other better – another benefit of the diversity initiative.
Most of our employees participated in several of the events, and the reviews were incredibly positive. We learned a lot about each other, and ourselves, and we gave back to the community in the true spirit of Dr. King.
January 6, 2016
I admit, I didn’t know who reality TV star and businessman Marcus Lemonis was when we secured him last year as the keynote speaker at the 2016 ASI Show® Orlando.
But since then, I’ve binge-watched The Profit and become a huge fan. His message to our overflowing audience of 1,000 on the closing day of our three-day trade show: be vulnerable, sharing with people deeply meaningful things they don’t know about you to build true personal and business relationships.
Overall, his speech was about the most open, honest and, yes, vulnerable one I’ve ever heard.
“You don’t hear this stuff on my show, you won’t read about it in interviews I do, but this is who I am,” he told our audience, who were on the edge of their seats. “I was fat as a kid. I was bullied. I had an eating disorder. I was molested by a relative. I’m telling you all this because my number-one asset is vulnerability. It is the key to success.”
Wow. When’s the last time you heard a wildly successful businessman admit his deepest, most innermost thoughts? I tell you, that message – and Marcus’s kindness to so many people who sought his advice and attention – will stick with me forever.
Not only did he run over his presentation by about 20 minutes, Lemonis took a ton of time from a crazy-busy day to speak with just about everyone he met, starting with every single person in very long line at our meet-and-greet after the keynote (which was one of only 4-5 corporate appearances he makes a year).
All morning, the multi-millionaire, who runs the $3 billion Camping World RV empire, collected business cards, gifts and even cellphone numbers from his many fans. And during a tour of the trade show floor, he seemed genuinely interested in everything – including the famous Cohn family hotdogs, which we still serve at every ASI show.
(For more on Marcus, read our story by clicking here).
The keynote was just one of many highlights from Orlando, which drew 715 exhibitors and nearly 6,000 attendees from 49 states and 18 countries – plus, an all-time record of 27 distributor companies holding big meetings at the show.
In the end, the biggest take-away from Orlando – the kick-off to ASI’s entire show season – was summed up nicely by Rita Ugianskis-Fishman, vice president and general manager of ASI Show, who said: “I was delighted that Marcus emphasized the importance of authentic personal relationships to business success. At a time when so many of us are devoted to our devices, it’s more critical than ever to take full advantage of the face-to-face relationships you can really only build at trade shows like Orlando, Dallas and Chicago.
Here’s to more openness, greater connectivity and stronger relationships in 2016 – and on to ASI Show Dallas, February 9-11 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and ASI Show Chicago, July 12-14 at McCormick Place.
January 4, 2016
Filed under: ASI Shows
Happy New Year!
ASI® is thrilled to usher in a new year with its first major show of 2016 at ASI Show® Orlando, followed in a few weeks by our Dallas show, which is Tuesday, February 9 through Thursday, February 11. In July, we return to the great city of Chicago.
In a digital world, where it feels like everything is available at our fingertips, it’s more important than ever to form a strong personal bond that comes from a handshake and an in-person conversation.
Our three largest shows feature everything you’ve come to expect from an ASI event, like great education, industry awards, gala celebrations and inspiring keynotes by the likes of J.R. Martinez in Dallas. Martinez is an Iraq war veteran who suffered severe burns while serving his country. After enduring numerous surgeries, he went on to win Dancing with the Stars and launch a career as a bestselling author and motivational speaker. I’m honored he’s joining us.
When you hit the show floor in Orlando, Dallas and Chicago, you’ll find dozens of new suppliers and all the latest products, along with demos of the newest ASI technology and special features to help you jump-start your business. We’ll have staff on hand to answer your every question (and if they don’t know, look for me).
We also revitalized the keynote that starts off the first exhibit day. This year, “Sell to Win – Hot Markets, Hot Products” features ASI hosts Dave Vagnoni and Joe Haley, with Joe going head-to-head with audience members to see who can deliver the best product pitch – for a $50 prize. It’s a fun way to see what’s new and should give you great tips on fine-tuning your presentation skills.
And, at the close of every big show, we’re hosting a new Passport Plus drawing. Members who complete the passport that comes with their show badge can compete for thousands in prizes – and qualify for free shipping.
I also encourage everyone, whether you’re at the shows or not, to search Twitter for our hashtags (#asiorlando, #asidallas, #asichicago) to see your friends and coworkers in action.
That’s not all.
To keep pace with changes in our industry – and in direct response to your suggestions – we shook things up for 2016 and are introducing a brand-new trade show format called Engage to best serve the West Coast and Northeast – two of the strongest regions in the country for promotional product sales.
Engage cherry-picks the best features from our national trade shows, hosted-buyer events and regional Roadshow tour to provide a smaller, more focused business-building event for 75 suppliers and 200 invited distributors who each sell a minimum of $300,000 worth of promotional products annually.
Over two full days, suppliers and distributors meet in private settings especially conducive to serious deal-making. The third day features a half day of exhibits and the kind of solid educational workshops you’ve come to expect from ASI. The exhibit hall will include all of the distributors, and buyers will be escorted while on the floor.
Engage West is March 14-16 at the Anaheim Marriott and Engage East is May 9-11 at the Marriott Marquis in New York City.
In addition, we’re celebrating the 10th year of the ASI Roadshow, which starts January 25 with a round of tabletop shows in the Southeast and crisscrosses the U.S. and parts of Canada before ending September 29.
Let me know what you think of the new features, and if you have any suggestions at all, I’d love to hear them, so please email me at email@example.com.
December 22, 2015
Growing up, I benefited from charitable people and agencies.
I remember when my disabled mom caught a ride with a neighbor into Columbus, Indiana, to file for welfare. (I recently found our original welfare card. Photo attached). Her pride was less important than her son. She let me open the first check: $12. Next was my first visit to a dentist. We shopped with food stamps and ate better than ever.
Holiday gifts for me were often carried into our home by volunteer firemen, who were delivering presents wrapped by neighbors helping neighbors.
Happily, I now work at a company that makes “We care” an integral part of our corporate values. Throughout 2015, our employees also thought of others, making generous donations of time, goods and nearly $30,000 in cash to nearly a dozen community nonprofit organizations.
The United States is the most charitable country in the world. This year, individuals will give $260 billion to charities, more than 70% of total giving.
During the holiday season, such organizations often receive half their annual total contributions. So during the next few days, as you think about the gifts you’re swapping with friends and relatives, please take a moment to consider a contribution to an organization of your choice.
Don’t worry about the amount. Remember, $12 gave me hope, food and a positive outlook for my future.
Happy holidays, everyone!
December 7, 2015
Every Fall, ASI conducts a corporate gift-giving survey to find out how much companies across the country are spending on client and employee gifts this holiday season. And every year the results confirm that a quality gift is the best way to express appreciation and build relationships.
People from all kinds of industries told us that when they get a corporate thank-you gift it makes them feel appreciated, grateful and valued. And, when we asked about their most memorable gift, they responded with great enthusiasm for everything from a branded umbrella, laptop sleeve and reciprocating saw (yes, really!) to steaks, bourbon truffles and activity trackers – a list that goes to prove that you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot to get a big return.
I’m living proof of that concept, which really is the central tenet of our entire industry. I still have one of the gifts my grandmother received probably 100 years ago from Rose’s Store in St. Louis Crossing, Indiana, the tiny village where I grew up. When she passed away, she left it to me. To this day, I have it displayed in my house as a reminder of grandma, that simple little store, and growing up in Indiana farmland.
More recently, I gave 10 of my closest friends a fleece with a logo designed for a special trip I took with them all to Argentina to celebrate my 50th birthday. The trip and the logoed items I gave everyone were my way of thanking them for the big part they play in my life, each and every day.
Occasionally, three years later, three or four of us will show up at a party wearing that same fleece. Like the best promo products, a fleece – or a plate or a USB, or any one of thousands of branded products – is practical, useful and attractive. It’s why people keep such items around for years – or even decades.
Our annual gift-giving study turned up a ton of useful stats I encourage you to take on sales calls as further proof of the enduring effectiveness of this low-cost, high-ROI advertising medium. Whether you’re thanking loyal clients for their business, courting potential ones or showing your own employees how much they mean to you, you really can’t beat a branded item.
Nate Kucsma, ASI’s marketing research director, said that what struck him the most about the 2015 results is that companies are spending more overall on employee gifts this year than on client gifts. That makes sense in an increasingly tight job market when companies have to work that much harder to retain top talent.
How did you thank your employees this year? At ASI, our employees seemed to really appreciate the turkey or a pie we gave out before Thanksgiving the most.
Click here for our press release on the gift-giving report and look below for some highlights:
Leave a comment to let me know the best gift you’ve ever gotten – or given. Hands down, I vote for my irreplaceable plate. Every time I look at it, I see love. I can’t imagine anything more valuable.
November 5, 2015
Remember Borders, the once-giant bookstore chain? At its peak, Borders and its chief competitor, Barnes and Noble, controlled a combined 40% of the bookselling market. While numerous factors led to Borders’ eventual demise, failing to jump quickly enough on the e-commerce bandwagon probably hurt the most.
The lesson? Adapt or die. It’s a lesson many members of this year’s Counselor Power 50 – the most influential business leaders in the ad specialty industry – clearly learned.
As Counselor Editor Andy Cohen says of the growing influence of e-commerce on our industry, “Many of the newcomers on this year’s list are e-commerce players, and even the person at the top of the rankings heads a distributor firm that is the biggest pure digital and mobile player in the market today.”
One of the best case studies to learn from involves the man at the top of the 2015 list: Kevin Lyons-Tarr, who rose to No. 1 in large part because of the explosive growth of the North American division of the company he heads, online seller 4imprint.
As Andy so rightly concludes: “Lyons-Tarr is espousing the business model of the future in the promotional products industry. He’s leading the way in the market for e-commerce, social network marketing and a digital-first approach that others are trying to emulate.”
ASI unveiled the latest Power 50 list at our just-concluded 2015 U.S. Power Summit, held over three days at a gorgeous resort about an hour south of Los Angeles (see pic at right for this year’s “class” of attendees). The agenda was our most future-forward ever, with topics like “Lessons from a Hacker,” “Marketing to Millennials” and “Go Mobile or Die.”
This was also one of our most controversial Power Summits.
By bringing in speakers we dubbed “the disrupters” for the way they’re changing the game, our aim was to provide as many lessons as possible in adapting to shifts in the marketplace. Alibaba’s Michael Lee, with me at right, provided a lot of insight into how the world’s biggest online retailer continues to rake in billions.
And, since keeping pace with new technology is critical to any business as new ideas, we also included demos of 3D printers, holograms, wearable technology and drones.
If you missed the Power Summit, you’ll find coverage of many of the topics in Counselor PromoGram and on ASI’s website and social media pages (hashtag #asipowersummit). Click here for recaps, pics and videos.
And, we’ll continue to report on ways the Internet is changing how distributors in the promo products market operate in the pages of our magazines. For more guidance, you can also revisit the 2015 Counselor State of the Industry report and listen to the Counselor Podcast: Power 50 Series, featuring in-depth interviews with 10 industry insiders on topics of importance to us all.
As always, the information is yours for the taking.
Finally, it’s never too early to register for the 2016 Power Summit, taking place November 3-5, at the Trump National Doral Resort in Miami, Florida (or maybe the White House — we’ll see). Hope to see you there!
October 13, 2015
Until recently, very few companies gave much thought to their “corporate culture.” How times have changed. Now, smart companies go out of their way to ensure employees maintain a proper life-work balance and that they’re as happy as they are productive.
As studies have shown, unhappy workers goof off more and are less motivated. But if you reward them with decent pay, good benefits, meaningful work, flexible schedules and occasional breaks from the daily grind, your reward is often higher profits.
How different companies meet and often exceed employee needs and expectations is at the heart of our Counselor Best Places to Work issue, now in print and online. The annual issue lists the 75 best places to work (as voted on by employees) in the promotional products industry, along with profiles of several winning companies and info on creating a great workplace, from motivating employees and retaining top talent to creating unique jobs and celebrating staff accomplishments.
Florida-based supplier The Book Company (asi/41010) scored the number-one spot. The 16-employee company, of Delray Beach, was founded by Doug Greenhut and supplies blank and customized books.
I expected to see a passion for books and extraordinary service and support encouraged in a list of corporate beliefs, but was delighted to also find celebrating success, taking a break and walking a dog earn merit. No wonder surveyed employees cited the company’s refreshing flexibility and fun, laid-back atmosphere as key ingredients of a winning corporate formula.
As Counselor editors and writers discovered during their research, which included a summer road tour to personally visit some of the top companies, “great places to work aren’t built by accident. They are the product of conscious and thoughtful planning.”
I encourage you to read the entire issue and consider what practices might fly at your own workplace. Here are just a few examples to get you thinking:
Stran Promotional Solutions (asi/337725), of Quincy, MA:
Mercury Promotions & Fulfillment (asi/267770), of Sterling Heights, MI:
Tangerine Promotions (asi/341609), of Northbrook, IL:
To see the complete list of 75 companies and to read the Best Places to Work issue, click here.
Have an idea or perk that’s paid off at your company? Share it by leaving a comment.