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Into the Future with SmartLink

Filed under: News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

Remember the days when you actually had to drive to a store during regular hours to buy stuff? Now we routinely traffic in e-commerce, a business reality first made possible in 1991, when the Internet opened to unrestricted commercial use.

Today – unless you’re operating a lemonade stand – it’s nearly impossible to consider running a business without an online presence.

But planning, designing, building and maintaining a website isn’t necessarily easy, especially when you consider the myriad of data you need in an industry like ours, with more than 700,000 products. To smooth the way, ASI® first introduced ESP Websites, an A-to-Z guide to creating your own site.

Now, ASI is taking e-commerce one important step further with the launch of ASI SmartLink, a quick and easy business solution that supersizes any e-commerce site using ESP®, the industry’s leading product data and search engine.

Searches are powered via the Internet’s leading e-commerce shopping engine – the same searching engine used by major retailers Walmart.com, Barnes & Noble and Crate and Barrel.

And whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer or have a website developer, ASI provides the support you need to get the job done, along with detailed and easy-to-follow documentation.

For more information on ASI SmartLink, click here.

And let me know what you think: Are we better off now, or do you wish you could hop in a time machine and return to the days when apple was just a fruit and the web was for spiders? Personally, I think it’s funny how some people long for the pre-computer “good old days,” as if there’s something wrong with a faster, easier way to do business. To me, it’s like longing for using an outhouse instead of a bathroom (I didn’t have a flush toilet until the 5th grade).

Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Mastering Star Power

Filed under: Community

I recently enjoyed dinner with Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” contestant Angelo Sosa, who served up great food along with some interesting lessons in the fine art of self-promotion.

I say “fine art” because anyone in the public eye, whether they’re running a company or appearing on reality TV, walks a fine line between skillfully honing a persona – and shameless hawking.

I’m impressed with Sosa, who’s worked alongside some of the best chefs and restaurateurs in the world, because he’s a skilled businessman with two restaurants, a cookbook memoir and even a consulting group. He never misses an opportunity to promote himself or his many activities – but always does it with real panache and charm.

I earned dinner for two and a chance to meet the chef at Sosa’s Manhattan restaurant, Social Eatz, in a silent auction to benefit Alliance for a Healthier Generation. By aligning himself and his restaurant with a charity fighting to reduce childhood obesity, Sosa helps spread the word while earning goodwill with customers like me. Once I arrived, I was happy to find the restaurant, billed as an “Asian gastropub,” was casual and reasonably priced. It even featured lots of promotional items!

Sosa is Dominican-Italian but initially made a name for himself with his flair for unique, Asian-influenced recipes. We had a chance to chat during a very casual staff dinner that took place after the restaurant closed for the night. I ended up holding one waiter’s baby on my lap pretty much the entire time and left really impressed with the restaurant’s friendly atmosphere.

Anyone who succeeds in business must take chances and sometimes put themselves “on the line” – skills savvy promoters like Sosa have clearly mastered.

That ability to build a brand and skillfully sell yourself and your company is an asset I’m willing to bet is also shared by any number of the suppliers who responded to ASI’s most recent sales report on Q2 2012. The report shows a year-over-year increase in sales among ASI® supplier members of 4.6% and is the 10th consecutive quarterly year-over-year increase in sales.

My own shameless self-promotion alert: I was recently featured in a regional magazine called Bucks Life in its “Essentials 2012” issue devoted to the best local landmarks in three counties: Bucks, PA; Hunterdon, N.J. and Mercer, N.J.

The editors asked a few locals to share things like our favorite brunch place, nature spot and even charity. I decided to participate because it gave me a chance to plug two things I love promoting: the nonprofit Arts Council of Princeton, where I just ended my third term as president of the board of trustees, and ASI.

Click here to read the story. I’m not crazy about the photo of me, but the article itself offers up some great places to check out, whether you live in the PA-NJ area or are coming for a visit.

And let me know what you think: Is all publicity good publicity? Post a comment or e-mail me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Missing Gene Cesario in Long Beach

Filed under: News About ASI

Last night, walking down the street here in Long Beach, where I’m attending the SAAC Show, I looked ahead and remembered a couple of years ago, in the very spot, seeing two people walking hand in hand.

Theirs was a slow pace, a pace practiced through many years of walking together.

As I approached them that night, I saw it was my friend Gene Cesario and his lovely and dear wife Maria. We exchanged some friendly comments about their dinner plans, how much he liked being at shows, and then, practically on cue, Gene launched into three or four ideas about ways ASI should do such-and-such to help suppliers and protect the distributor-supplier relationship he was so passionate about.

Last night, Gene and Maria weren’t on that sidewalk, and I missed them.

Last week, after complications from heart surgery, Gene passed away.

In an industry as large as ours, with probably 400,000 people or so, it’s impossible to know everyone and impossible to comment or acknowledge every life event.

But Gene Cesario really was special, and I think the nearly 50 years he devoted to helping build this industry deserves particular mention.

I met Gene eight or nine years ago, just after I joined ASI, when he called to find out who was now “running that big machine up in Philadelphia.” He had lots of ideas and observations, even on the introductory call, and wasn’t hesitant to share them with the force years of authority bring but with a manner that was instructional, not preachy.
It was around that time, in 2003, that Gene decided retirement wasn’t busy enough and he launched APS (Advertising Product Suppliers), an organization designed to give a louder voice to suppliers in their dealings with PPAI, ASI and others.

He gave APS his all during the next years, calling me often to quiz me, advise me, find out how I was doing after the passing of my parents, see if I would speak at an event, tell me of his latest dustup with someone he didn’t think was doing the right thing for the industry.

Gene wasn’t about himself in starting and nurturing APS, by the way. This wasn’t an ego play for a retiree with too much time on his hands. This was about real work, real goals, real accomplishment.

He was an insightful, driven industry executive. Gene told me about the past, but he didn’t dwell in it. He was looking to the future, and trying to help people understand how the past could inform that vision.

Gene was a true professional. I only once really heard him dress someone down in a public setting. He told them they were “full of —-.”  He was right, and even the person Gene was describing agreed.

He also made sure everyone’s views were heard, and didn’t hold back when he thought someone should think a little differently about an issue. We didn’t always agree, to be sure, but I never once felt he held a grudge or didn’t appreciate my viewpoint and didn’t try to at least see things through my eyes.

Gene was the kind of guy who would say: “We’ll just have to disagree on this. Now, let’s get to the ballpark before the Rangers game is over! I’ll buy you a beer.”

In his official 47 years in the industry, Gene received more than a dozen awards in acknowledgement of his dedication, experience – and especially his volunteer work. In honor of that service, his family suggests contributions to the Promotional Products Education Foundation (c/o Foundation Manager Sara Besley, sarab@ppai.org).

Maria, whose hand Gene held for 53 years, and his three children are joined by all of us in missing a wonderful guy.

Take care, Gene. Thanks for all you’ve done.

Remember Snow?

Filed under: News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

Personally, I’m not one for Christmas in July. And it bugs me that even though summer doesn’t officially end for more than a month, we’re saturated with back-to-school commercials on TV.

But while I’ll stubbornly cling to my shorts and sandals, I know that in our business it pays to think ahead, making this a great time to pitch clients with holiday and thank-you items from our Gift Book® catalog.

We’ve already sold over 40,000 copies of our upscale 2012-13 Gift Book, featuring an all-new digital version and three special sections. And distributors who order The Gift Book® by August 31 receive a free personalized digital version and free color imprinting.  The catalog comes with a guaranteed circulation of 75,000.

You know how there’s always one friend or family member who’s impossible to buy for? It’s the same way with certain clients. They’re discriminating and hard to please. Luckily, The Gift Book – ASI’s most upscale, elegant catalog – boasts an impressive collection of gifts designed to appeal to even the most sophisticated buyers.

The catalog includes classic gift, food and drink and sports sections, along with quality children’s toys, custom gift cards, high-performance electronics, holiday ornaments and much more. If you can’t find it here – it probably doesn’t exist.

We’ve got gifts for the home, office or playing field, including high-end products like wine sets, crystal vases, golf clubs, leather portfolios and an abundance of sweets and treats, easily divided by type, price range and product line.

The Gift Book features:

  • 400+ products from 60+ suppliers
  • Gifts starting at $9
  • 2 cover options, including a cool chameleon-like deluxe blue
  • Eye-catching picture pages highlighting chic products paired with iconic B&W photos

According to Counselor® magazine, more industry sales occur in the fourth quarter than any other period during the year; much of it is due to end-buyers’ needs for quality items for incentives and corporate gift-giving programs. In fact, according to a recent ASI study of end-buyers, 91% of recipients have taken action as a result of something they’ve noticed in a paper catalog, with nearly half (49%) purchasing a product.

To view sample pages of the 2012 The Gift Book catalog and to order online, click here. For more information, contact Dan Brown, executive director of distributor services, at dbrown@asicentral.com or at (800) 546-1350.

Let me know if you’re one of those people already done with your holiday shopping – and if I’m on your list! – by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

ASI Promotes Two Senior Execs

Filed under: News About ASI

I’m a big believer in rewarding employees who prove their value to our company and especially to our members, the kind of employees who provide intelligent solutions – and who, of course, think about members’ success every day.

To that end, I recently announced the promotions of two proven ASI® executives: Rich Fairfield and Armughan Rafat.

Rich, pictured at right, has been promoted to chief revenue officer, responsible for both the distributor and supplier segments of our business. He remains executive vice president and publisher.

Rich has been with ASI for eight years, and in his capacity as executive vice president and publisher of all of ASI’s award-winning magazines has handily navigated our transition from a print-dominated supplier segment to a well-balanced digital and print revenue mix. At the same time, he grew the market share and improved the quality of our magazines, catalogs and marketing. And if that weren’t enough, Rich also created and launched several new products and services to serve suppliers – while flying off on global missions on behalf of ASI to such far-off places as Germany, Hong Kong and China. (To read about Rich’s travel experiences, click here to check out his New York TimesFrequent Flyer” column).

Since late last year, Rich also has been involved in the successful creation of the User Experience group and the well-received design of ESP Websites™. His initial focus will be on simplifying the distributor member experience and testing ways to increase value to members.

Armughan, pictured at right, is relatively new to ASI, joining us nearly a year ago. But I’ve been continually impressed with his creative approach to technology and his ability to put together a forward-thinking team of top-notch tech leaders in a very short amount of time. He not only immediately improved our entire suite of products – he also introduced new innovations to help shift our member companies into technical overdrive.

Armughan is now executive vice president of ASI and chief technology officer of the ASI Family of Companies, responsible for all technology decisions throughout ASI, ASI Show and ASI Computer Systems®. By consolidating technology under one leader, we’re further streamlining development as part of an ongoing effort to respond more quickly than ever to member needs and requests.

Armughan, by the way, was quoted in the August 2 Wall Street Journal CIO Report, in a story about the ongoing patent dispute between tech giants Apple and Samsung. With his previous employers, Armughan has filed two patents, and teams he managed have several other patents pending. It’s great to know we have a world-class technology chief at the helm who is relied on by reporters in need of expert advice or viewpoints for the Journal’s global audience of 2 million. Click here to read the story.

I’m sure Rich and Armughan will contribute much in coming months and years to your experience with ASI, as we continue to help the industry be more productive, more efficient and more profitable.

Scoring Economic Gold

Filed under: News About ASI, Research

Watching the fanfare leading up to the Olympics, it’s clear the famously acerbic Brits love to complain. In fact, one cheekily admitted that if there were a competition for grousing, the U.K. would almost certainly take home the gold.

And, make no mistake, I love all of our British friends, including Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of Sourcing City and our new PromoAlliance partner.

Happily, despite all the worries over everything from sunshine to security, it’s pretty clear the London games are going, well, swimmingly. (Yes, I did indeed watch in awe as Michael Phelps swam into Olympic history with his 19th medal.)

It seems like optimism has fallen out of favor just about everywhere these days, which is why I am delighted to share more good news. ASI research shows a year-over-year increase in sales among ASI® distributor members of 4.8% for Q2 – making it the 10th consecutive quarterly year-over-year increase in sales.

Who can possibly grouse about that?

In addition, Forbes magazine recently reported hiring at U.S. businesses continued at a modest pace last month, with June’s gains indicating that the labor market is healthier than supposed. The U.S. added 163,000 new private jobs last month, with small and mid-size businesses (ones like many of ours) driving the growth, adding 86% of new jobs.

We may not be climbing up on the medal stand quite yet, but things are looking up.

ASI’s 2Q 2012 Sales Study Report, prepared by our executive director of research services, Larry Basinait, included the following highlights:

  • During the second quarter of 2012, there was a 4.8% year-over-year increase in sales among ASI distributor members. Over one-half (59.7%) of all distributors reported an increase in the second quarter, with the largest distributorships reporting an increase in sales of 7.8%.
  • The increase in sales reported results in industry growth of $213 million over the second quarter of 2011. Sales for the second quarter of 2012 were approximately $4.6 billion.
  • Distributors largely remain optimistic about sales for 2012, particularly the largest distributors. Seven in ten (70%) of all distributors and 76% of large distributors feel sales for 2012 will be higher than sales in 2011.

I’d love to know how your company is faring – and if you’re watching the Olympics – so post a comment or e-mail me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

So far, I’ve especially enjoyed the thrilling performances of men’s water polo, beach volleyball, the gold-medal-winning women’s gymnastics team and the amazing swimmers Allison Schmitt and Missy Franklin. Watching them, you can’t help breaking into smiles – and feeling good about the good ole USA.

P.S. If you haven’t already, check out the Olympics in 3D. I joined my friend Elvin Montero in endorsing the Xfinity 3D channel, and in the photo at right (credited to Elvin) you can see me enjoying the spectacle with friends – in our special 3D spectacles.

Invest in You

Filed under: Education, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Knowledge is power. Those are words I live by.

For as long as I can remember, my family has established three core values: education, education and education. My grandfather started the trend and highlighted the importance of education to our family by being the first person in his entire state of Gujarat, India, to get accepted into medical school with a full scholarship.

This came at a time when the British ruled over India. It was a major accomplishment in his life and a piece of family history that I will always treasure. His start in the medical field has created three generations of doctors in our family today. I’m actually the only person in my family to have pursued a business degree (dual major: advertising and marketing).

My passion for marketing started in high school. I was geeky back then and probably am still a little geeky today. I joined FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) and DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America). I took marketing classes, joined marketing competitions and eventually earned awards and accolades for my passion and even got some scholarships and grants to go to college.

I joined ASI® nearly seven months ago and quickly hit the ground looking to learn about this industry. I found pursuing my BASI was the best way to do it.

ASI’s education program is a great resource for newbies like me, but also for people looking to get a competitive edge. By giving you a highly specialized understanding of the promotional products marketplace, a BASI (Bachelor of Advertising Specialty Information) or MASI (Master of Advertising Specialty Information) can transform your career.

A BASI or MASI certification comes with these rewarding benefits:

  • Industry insights you can use to grow your business
  • Networking receptions at ASI Shows
  • Quarterly conference calls with ASI CEO Timothy Andrews
  • Recognition in ASI publications
  • Framed certificate to display your accomplishment (I’m looking forward to mine)
  • BASI or MASI designation as part of your professional title

It’s easy and free to work toward your certification. You’ll see the impact on your career instantly. I know I did!

Click here to visit the ASI Online Learning Center and get started today.

Fal Dieso

ASI brand marketing director