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Rising From the Rubble

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

The views from the top of the world – the top at One World Trade Center, that is – are striking. Although still under construction, I was lucky enough to get a recent tour of the $3 billion (and counting) tower being built on the WTC site. To the New Yorker I’ll always be, no matter where I live, it was unbelievably exciting.

Sporting the required hard hat, I zoomed up, up, up with ASI® Vice Chairman Matthew Cohn, who had arranged for me to be his guest as part of Matthew’s active involvement in the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), a networking organization of over 20,000 business leaders in more than 120 countries. There were only about a dozen of us, and we spent more than two hours on the site.  It was a total thrill!

We traveled to the 90th floor in an outside construction elevator, which wasn’t as scary as you might imagine. Although wind gusts could conceivably reach 100 mph, and most tall buildings are designed to sway in strong wind as much as three feet, I didn’t feel any movement – well, no more than I had anticipated.

A few weeks ago, the building reached an important milestone when a crowning, 408-foot spire was raised, bringing the high-rise to 1,776 feet, a symbolic reference to American independence. (Click here to watch a very cool New York Times time-lapse video of the spire, a broadcast antenna, going up.) I wish my iPhone photos could do the scene justice. On a clear day from the “top of the house,” as the hard hats say, you can see all the way into Connecticut, New Jersey and the Atlantic Ocean.

As you can imagine, those of us on the tour had a lot of questions about security. The 104-story building – currently the tallest in the U.S., with 3 million square feet of office space – was built on bedrock atop a 185-foot windowless concrete base, designed to withstand ground-level truck bombs. In addition, there’s a concrete core, six feet thick in some places, that’s been likened to that in a nuclear power plant, with rebar “big as tree limbs,” housing elevators, communications, stairs and sprinklers. There are even biological and chemical filters throughout the ventilation system.

Interestingly, a lot of the mostly steam-powered building’s structure is constructed from post-industrial recycled materials, and recycling is also a big part of its operation, from rainwater collection for cooling to 80% waste product recycling.

Eventually, the entire World Trade Center complex will feature a total of five high-rises along with a nearly $4 billion underground PATH transportation hub, below – on track to be the world’s most expensive train station.

Although suitably wowed by the complex’s wonder, to me the most moving sight was of the two iconic steel tridents, at right,  that once supported the south tower. Amazingly, though scarred and burned, they withstood the building’s fall and now grace the National September 11 Memorial & Museum opening next year.

This visit carried a lot of personal meaning, and brought back a lot of memories.

I worked in Manhattan for 15 years, and most of that time I lived in Hoboken or Jersey City, across the Hudson River. Every day, I took the PATH train into WTC, rode an escalator to the shopping concourse, walked onto the Plaza and then crossed the street to my office in the World Financial Center.

I hadn’t worked regularly in New York City for a couple of years, but the day before 9/11 I had an appointment and decided to go in early and have breakfast at a favorite spot in the WTC. It wasn’t the famous Windows on the World restaurant at the top of WTC – it was around the 42nd or 43rd floor, with incredible views and good omelets. The next day, I would have been a casualty of the attack.

Until last week, I had only visited the site once. It was absolutely perfect to see a soaring new structure, rising from the rubble, zoom to the 90th floor, tour the new PATH complex several stories into the ground, and come out with dust and dirt all over my pants and shoes.

Thanks, Matthew. A wonderful gift, a wonderful new memory.

NYC 2014: New Dates, New Days

Filed under: ASI Shows

ASI® ended its recent New York show with an announcement we hope pleases tri-state members as well as the out-of-towners looking for new product ideas and contacts while sampling all the city has to offer. Next year, we’re pushing the dates from midweek to Thursday and Friday, April 3 and 4.

Our aim is to make it easier for people to end a long work week with a fun weekend in the city – or to get home knowing they’re heading right into two work-free days.

Despite the rain, this year’s event at the Javits Center was everything we hoped, attracting over 2,000 distributors from 10 countries and 275 suppliers showcasing the latest ad specialty products. Since we’re all about making each show as productive and enjoyable as possible, we made a few changes, including moving the show to the brighter, more accessible North Pavilion and cutting back from three to two days, while offering ASI Education throughout the entire show, so members could easily earn more credits toward ASI Certification.

I spoke to one new member who said she attended nearly every class and got a lot out of the informed instructors and valuable content. Early feedback shows the Ad Specialty Crash Course: Sell Successfully Now workshop and the Distributor Success Lunch: Use Social Media for Sales Success (both part of the Distributor Success Track sponsored by Fields Mfg., asi/54100) proved especially popular.

Your comments are critical. If you like something, please let us know. Equally important, if you think an area needs improvement or could be done differently, your ideas are welcome. Staffers working the booths and meeting with members gathered a ton of positive reactions to ASI New York, including:

  • Wendy Cohen, from Avant Guard Printing and Promotions (asi/127845): “I found so many new products to bring back to my clients. I’m finding items I didn’t even know existed. I would recommend ASI New York to everyone.”
  • Steve Bloom, from Tattoo Factory (asi/90650): “ASI New York has been a really good show from the moment it opened. Traffic has been nonstop. We’ve scanned a lot of people, handed out tons of catalogs and gotten some great leads.”
  • Bill Holmes, from Blue Generation (asi/40653): “ASI New York is one of the best shows we’ve done. We’ve been very busy. And, the distributors are really high quality – asking good questions.”
  • Carey Seekell, from Culver Company (asi/172223): “It’s the first time in quite some time that I’ve attended an industry event that’s been worth my time. I’m so glad I came.”

I saw a lot of people at Counselor® magazine’s annual Hot Party, which was in a jaw-dropping setting – the nightclub 230 Fifth on 27th Street, in sight of the always-glorious Empire State Building (whose image was captured in a six-foot ice sculpture that doubled as a drink luge, pictured below). In addition to a cool lounge, we could head up to a second rooftop bar, where anyone feeling the chill could snuggle in luxurious red robes supplied by the club.

For a complete listing of the 49 Hot List winners we celebrated, click here. And to see photos from the party on ASI’s Facebook page, click here (and if you haven’t already “liked” our Facebook page, please do). The Hot Party was sponsored by AlightPromos (asi/34194), AIA Corporation (asi/109480), Delta Apparel (asi/49172), Castelli North America (asi/44305) and Chulani (asi/45100).

If you were at the show, I hope you heard the keynote by Buddy Valastro Jr., aka “The Cake Boss” from TLC’s hit reality show, which is watched by an astonishing billion people worldwide. If you missed it, check out my blog from Thursday, www.asicentral.com or this week’s Promogram® for some of the business tips he shared – or just to read about his fascinating trajectory from small business owner to brandmaster. In addition to the speech, Buddy brought a specially-made cake to share during an afternoon presentation in the Exhibit Hall.

The cake went fast, but luckily for the ASI staffers who stayed put in our Trevose office helping other members, we brought back another “Cake Boss” creation for them to sample, too. I think the general consensus was “yum.”

While I’m looking forward to kicking back in the garden this weekend, I’m also gearing up for our next show in Chicago (Tues., July 16 through Thurs., July 18) at McCormick Place, which features a keynote by Christopher Gardner, the inspiration behind the award-winning movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith.

And on August 12, ASI hosts a brand-new show in Dallas called Promotions Southwest. The Advantages Roadshow, the industry’s No. 1 traveling roadshow, is in Canada May 14-16 before taking a break until starting again in early August. To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities, contact Karen DiTomasso, vice president of sales, at kditomasso@asicentral.com or register today at www.asishow.com.

You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

Filed under: ASI Shows

I lived in Hoboken, N.J., back in the early ’80s and must have passed Carlo’s Bakery a thousand times when headed across the river to my Dow Jones internship in Manhattan. I was finally on my way to achieving the dreams I had as a kid, back home in Indiana – but I still had a long way to go.

Back then, a 6-year-old Buddy Valastro Jr. was hanging around that same bakery, absorbing his very first lessons in running a successful family business. We might even have crossed paths on Washington Street, where the original bakery is still based.  Earlier today – the final day of the ASI New York Show – Buddy shared some of those lessons during a fascinating keynote.

Under Buddy’s guidance, the small family business has blossomed into a household name. “The Cake Boss,” the TLC reality show that helped send Buddy into the stratosphere, is now broadcast in 180 countries – and seen by more than a billion people – all while remaining true to his family heritage.

Coming up, more bakeries, more products and an even bigger brand.

“It’s a dream come true,” he told a standing room only crowd of entrepreneurs who are just like him. “I own a family business. I can relate. I’m like you guys. I’m on TV, but at the end of the day I’ve got to make my payroll every week.”

Buddy started working at the bakery at 11 and, at 17, when his father died of cancer, he was thrust into sudden responsibility for 40 employees, with his entire family looking to him to keep the business afloat.

College set aside, his business school became an old-fashioned Italian bakery.

“I decided to go outside the box and make cakes that didn’t look like anything else,” said the self-described “sugar artist.”

He got his first big break when an editor at “Modern Bride” magazine saw his cakes in the window. For the next three years, Buddy’s cakes appeared in every issue of the magazine. Within 10 years, they’d appeared in over 200 other publications.

But like many small business owners, he had his share of disappointments, like being passed over by the Food Network, which turned out to be a lucky break, since TLC soon gave him a shot. “I told my agent, ‘I’m Buddy Valastro, I don’t fail.’ I’m a quick learner and I don’t have all my eggs in one basket.”

Building relationships and building his brand was the key, he said. “There’s a lot of celebrity chefs, but no celebrity bakers. I want to stay America’s baker. My show is seen in the Middle East, in Africa, Australia. What’s the connection? At its essence, my show is about family and the whole world can agree about family.”

He dished up a lot of advice (along with delicious cake served later at the booth of keynote sponsor Showdown Displays):

  • Be honest with who you are.
  • Never forget where you came from.
  • Always be humble and respectful.

“I’m my brand,” he said. “I do things the old-fashioned way. When kids come up to me and hug me, they look at me like I’m Superman – so I’m Superman for them.”

In closing, Buddy told us he was honored to be with us, and then ended with a dose of reality we can all relate to: “I’m a businessman. If I’m not making money, why be in business? We’re not a charity.”

In the photos, here’s Buddy on stage with ASI vice-chairman Matthew Cohn and here I am with “Howard Stern,” (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) at the ASI Hot Party Wednesday night.

New York, New York: A Heckuva Town

Filed under: ASI Shows

The buzz on the show floor here in New York is all about the Counselor Hot Party and the cool new features in the latest ESP Web® release. One distributor was so excited by the Daily Deals she let out a whoop when she saw it. Now that’s what I call enthusiasm.

Daily Deals let you view up to four deals from today, yesterday and tomorrow all at once, along with a quick view of the product and supplier. The other must-have ESP® feature people are talking about is Search Leading Text, which offers near-instant delivery of the most relevant terms and topics being searched for, along with hot product recommendations.

Users are really excited by the search suggestions, which can show product ideas you might not immediately consider. If you’re like me, you love anything that can do your thinking for you. I can’t wait to see what our tech gurus think of next.

New York is a destination city, a great place to grow your business and forge new relationships – and a can’t-miss place to have some fun. Tonight, we’re heading to the 230 Fifth nightclub for the Hot Party to celebrate the 49 innovators on the 2013 Counselor® Hot List, which you can check out in advance by clicking here.

And Thursday morning, we’re kicking off the final day of the show with a keynote by local entrepreneur Buddy Valastro Jr. Valastro will tell us how he went from an 11-year-old kid working at his family’s Hoboken bakery to “The Cake Boss” millions know today. It’s sure to be a terrific study in brand development.

The forecast for Thursday – with temps near 70 and only intermittent showers – is a big improvement on Wednesday’s rain, which meant a slower start than usual to the day. And don’t forget – in a new twist, ASI Education is offering classes on both exhibit days, to help members earn even more credits toward their ASI Certification.

The show is happening in the North Pavilion of the Javits Center, a new area of the convention center without those pesky columns, which is really helping traffic flow. If you’re at the show, let me know what you think by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Make sure to check out www.asicentral.com for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos.

In a New York State of Mind

Filed under: ASI Shows

Everything moves a little faster in New York City. Even when you have no place special to go – you still feel an urgent need to get there. This week, ASI® employees are moving at warp speed, setting up the two-day ASI Show at the Javits Center kicking off Wednesday.

In a new twist, ASI Education is offering classes on both days, to help members earn even more credits toward their ASI Certification. You’ve got plenty of options to choose from, whether you’re interested in boosting sales or increasing your social media presence or are a new owner looking for a class geared specifically to your business.

The ASI Show® takes place Wednesday and Thursday in the North Pavilion of the Javits Center, a few blocks from Penn Station on the city’s west side, which is packed with plenty of new restaurants and easy access to subways you can take uptown, downtown or to Times Square and beyond.

Be sure to stop by the ASI booths while you’re there for the latest product demos — and for answers to any question you might have on ESP, catalogs, mobile, education — you name it and we’ll tell you all about it.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Manhattan without a hot party to attend, and ASI is hosting its latest one yet – starting off at 11 p.m. Wednesday at the rooftop nightclub 230 Fifth, featuring an incredible view (see pic at right) of the iconic Empire State Building. If it rains, we’ll move the party inside to the 20th floor lounge, which is just as stunning. At the party we’ll celebrate the 49 innovators on the 2013 Counselor® Hot List, who you can check out in advance by clicking here.

A dedicated “foodie,” I’m also really looking forward to our keynote Thursday morning by local entrepreneur Buddy Valastro Jr., known to millions as “The Cake Boss” from TLC’s hit reality show. Valastro began working alongside his father at the family’s business, Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, N.J., at age 11. After his father died, when Buddy was 17, he became the new “Cake Boss,” eventually launching the Italian bakery into the reality TV stratosphere.

While I’m interested in what business tips Buddy can offer us during the keynote, I’m also dying to see the cake he’ll present to ASI in the Exhibit Hall at 1:30 Thursday (sponsored by Showdown Displays, asi/87188). Be sure to stop by both events, which are free (napkin included!).

If you’re with us in New York, let me know what you’re looking forward to most by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Make sure to check out www.asicentral.com for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos.

And don’t forget to check out the next ASI Show in Chicago (Tues., July 16 through Thurs., July 18) at McCormick Place, which features a keynote by Christopher Gardner, the inspiration behind the award-winning movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith.

On August 12, we’re hosting a brand new show in Dallas called Promotions Southwest, sure to be the place to prepare for those all-important fourth-quarter sales. The Advantages Roadshow, the industry’s No. 1 traveling roadshow,  is in Canada May 14-16 before taking a break until starting again in early August.

To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2013, contact Karen DiTomasso, vice president of sales, at kditomasso@asicentral.com or register today at www.asishow.com.

If it’s Tuesday, This Must be … Philadelphia?

Filed under: Community, Members, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

I’m writing this at noon from Pennsylvania. But although it’s bright and sunny outside, to my travel-weary self, it’s actually midnight in Hong Kong – and I’m more than ready for bed. I’m topsy-turvy because I’ve just returned from a week-long business trip to attend the Hong Kong Gifts & Premiums Show, 8,000 miles away and 12 hours ahead of the East Coast where I live.

The show is one of the largest in the world for promotional products, attracting over 4,000 exhibitors from 37 countries. Lucky for me, I got to attend alongside veterans like Supplier Global Resource editor Michele Bell, publisher Rich Fairfield and Ed Koehler, VP and associate publisher of magazines and catalogs. We were joined during part of the trip by ASI’s China-based SGR sales team (pictured with us at right: Melar Wang, Tony Tian, Alan Lee and Tammy Jing), who travel throughout Shanghai, Ningbo, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong selling our new SGR memberships.

The new, strictly exclusive membership connects non-North American manufacturers and agents with ASI’s North American suppliers. During the show, we celebrated at a cocktail party for ASI® suppliers that was sponsored and attended by SGR members who are Hong Kong and Chinese manufacturers. And, as much as we love our distributors, ASI believes they are most successful by sourcing from trusted ASI suppliers, so we may as well have hung a “No Distributors Allowed” sign outside the reception. (I wish I had a photo of Rich shooing two distributors away who wanted to crash our event!)

As reported on our website, the show’s traffic was noticeably slower than in previous years, despite growth in the Hong Kong gift market of 6% in 2012. Still, the show floor was huge, crowded and packed with a ton of Bluetooth-capable items, tech gadgets, smartphone accessories and eco-friendly products.

In the photos, you can see one of the many colorful displays from the show, along with Hong Kong Harbor.

I’ve traveled to Asia a number of times, and it’s always equally strange and thrilling. While I decided against trying the still-wiggling shrimp served up at one of our dinners, I gladly seized the chance to visit a local friend of an ASI member at his art-filled home, situated on Hong Kong island with a spectacular view of the South China Sea. He’s 72 – and recently became a new father! (Maybe it’s the shrimp?)

Hong Kong, which is a “special administrative region” of the People’s Republic of China, is on China’s south coast, bordered by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea. The city is 426 square miles and home to about 7 million people. To put that into perspective, New York City (including all the boroughs) is 469 square miles and has 8.2 million residents.

And, while I’m always happy to explore the far corners of the Earth, there really is no place like home and garden. (I’m throwing a pic from my garden up in this blog for fun.) Happily, my next trip is less than 100 miles away – to our New York show, taking place Wednesday and Thursday at the Javits Convention Center, and featuring a special keynote by TLC’s “Cake Boss,” Buddy Valastro Jr., who’s dishing up business advice and handing out cake samples from Carlo’s famous Hoboken bakery.

If you’ve done business in Asia, or attended the Hong Kong show, please let me know what you experienced by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

P.S. If you’re wondering about the blog title, it’s a play on the 1969 film, “If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium,” about a 9-country, 18-day bus trip.

Doing Business Better

Filed under: News About ASI

If you’ve ever struggled to understand the nuances of your cable or phone bill, I can sympathize.  Which is why I’m happy to announce ASI has streamlined our billing and invoicing materials to make it easier for you to do business with us.

Starting this week, you’ll see new invoices and statements based on formats that are easy to understand and to reconcile to your own accounts payable systems.

We updated our system because, frankly, we got complaints from members about being held hostage to the old pen-and-paper era. Now, you can pay online and avoid writing that check or licking that stamp.

And, if you save your credit card as the card of record, customer service will check if you want to update an existing card already set on autopay or if you want to establish autopay.

As part of the process, we conducted focus groups to learn exactly what you wanted. During one session, a member told us, “ASI has thought of everything with the redesign.” That’s our goal.

Highlights of the new invoices and statements include:

  • New payment coupon
  • New layout for a more user-friendly experience
  • New format to make information easier to read

Members can log on to the Account Manager Tool at www.billpay.asicentral.com to:

  • Update billing info and all company info, like names, emails, phone numbers, addresses
  • Print new invoice copies
  • Make a payment

Once you’ve had a chance to review the new system, please let me know what you think by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. Hopefully, doing business with us will be easier than with your phone or cable company! I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.