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1,000+ Certifications, and Counting

Filed under: Community, Members, News About ASI

Whenever you think you’ve got it tough, consider what Michael Ryba recently accomplished. Michael, an account exec with Brown & Bigelow Inc. (asi/148500), earned his Bachelor of Advertising Specialty Information (BASI) from ASI® – while undergoing cancer treatment and recovering from surgery.

“I’m so proud of my achievement,” says Michael, who pursued his BASI to become proficient in selling other types of ad specialties beyond his niche of decorated apparel. “Clients and prospects ask me what the BASI in my e-mail signature line is – and when I tell them what it means, they say, ‘Wow, none of my other distributor reps have that designation and knowledge.’ ” Even better, his sales are up.

It really makes my day when I talk to people like Michael who are excited about continuing their professional education – and growing their businesses as a result. Today, I’m proud to say ASI’s Education Certification Program (launched in November 2010) has hit a big – and excellent –milestone: We’ve certified more than 1,000 industry professionals, who’ve earned their BASI or Master (MASI) of Advertising Specialty Information certifications.

As ASI’s Executive Director of Professional Development, I’m passionate about offering such a breadth of live and online professional development opportunities to our members because of how much it benefits individual careers – and the industry as a whole. And, lots of you have the right idea. More than 27,000 industry pros are enrolled in ASI’s Education Certification Program, and to date 5,040 have attended live education classes during the 2013 ASI Show® season, making ASI the largest educator in the industry.

Here are three quick reasons from my desk to yours why you should join us:

1. You – and your industry knowledge – stay current and relevant. By being up-to-the-minute on new products, decorating trends, the latest social media and mobile technology, and more, you’re part of the super-fast-paced, new “normal” we work in. You’ll make yourself indispensable to your clients.

2. You’re engaged in the industry – and engaging to clients. Don’t be content to conduct business the way you always have. The more you expand your professional knowledge and skill areas, the more excited you’ll be about your career and where it’s headed.

3. You’re a vital part of your company’s team, and the industry. The more knowledge you have, the more meaningful your contributions to your firm, and the marketplace as a whole.

To those ends, ASI’s Education Team is dedicated to creating the best educational experience possible for you. For example, every year we create a 100%, brand-new slate of 60+ educational courses that you can take live at our five ASI Shows and our traveling Advantages Roadshow – we’re working on our 2014 lineup now.

In addition, our Online Learning Center currently houses more than 400 on-demand courses that you can take 24/7 – so if you want to brush up on how to cold call or what the top five apparel-decorating methods are at 2 a.m., be our guest. Our goal is to offer you up-to-the-minute seminars in lots of subject areas, including sales, marketing, social media marketing and hands-on technology. (Sneak peek: Instagram is gaining steam, so I’m developing a course that will teach distributors how to leverage this cool site – and gain super sales from it.)

Participation is free and user-friendly, with all courses automatically tracked electronically. Click here for a complete overview.

I welcome your feedback, so drop me a line anytime at nrollender@asicentral.com. Happy learning!

Nicole Rollender is editor of Stitches® magazine and ASI’s Executive Director of Professional Development


ASI Delivers Biggest, Best Industry Event of Summer

Filed under: ASI Shows, Members, News About ASI

ASI® ended its 2013 ASI Show® season with a great show in a wonderful town, attracting more than 4,200 distributors from firms in 47 states and 12 countries. Over three days at McCormick Place, our Chicago show – the largest ad specialty show of the summer – really delivered.

To me, the Chicago show is more than a trade show – it’s an opportunity. Whether you came for the 78 education sessions, the black-tie Counselor® Awards or the non-stop networking, the best the industry offers is right at your fingertips.

Plus, you get to work hard and play hard in one of my favorite cities. To a Midwestern boy like me, Chicago is the center of the universe, filled with terrific museums, stunning architecture, the best deep-dish pizza on earth and some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. No wonder a record 17 distributor companies, including Allegra Network (asi/372000), EmbroidMe (asi/384000), iPROMOTEu (asi/232119), WorkflowOne (asi/333647) and HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000) chose the Windy City to hold major sales meetings.

I’m not alone in my praise. Here’s what attendees had to say about the show:

  • “ASI Chicago has so much to offer,” said Brian Hiner, of HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000). “It’s so important to get out on the show floor and meet face-to-face with suppliers. As many shows as there are – I believe ASI Chicago is the one that makes the difference. It’s one of the industry’s best events.”
  • Troy Lewis, of J.H. Specialty (asi/232445), said he enjoyed the diverse array of exhibitors along with the hot products. “There are so many items debuting here,” he said. “I’m leaving with many new items to show my clients. I absolutely recommend attending ASI Chicago. Nothing compares to seeing products up close and personal.”

The show was also deemed worthy enough to attract the attention of the prestigious Chicago Tribune newspaper, which ran a story in its business section, along with nine online photos and interviews with a slew of companies, including Vernon Hills, PromoPet, St. Regis Crystal, Helping Hand, American Greenwood, Dunbar Foods and Lion Circle.

Exhibitors (including 83 new to Chicago this year) were just as pleased. Scott Anderson from Leed’s (asi/66887) told us his booth was busy from the get-go, thanks to a great mix of quality distributors. And despite the heat wave, there’s no better time than July or place than the three-day Chicago show to kick off the second half of the year and to prepare for the all-important fourth-quarter selling season.

And if you weren’t inspired by the networking and the deal-making, you had to be motivated by Thursday’s keynote by Christopher Gardner, the inspiration for the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” (pictured here with ASI’s chairman, Norman Cohn, in a borrowed ASI Show hat).

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something,” Gardner told our audience about the time he lived on the streets with his 18-month-old son before his smarts and his moxie helped him break into the financial industry and become a self-made millionaire. “You want something – go get it. Period.”

Here are some other gems he shared with us:

  • “The greatest honor you’ll ever have in your life is someone you love knowing you’re going to be there when they need you.”
  • “When you get your toys, you got no time. You can make money, but you can’t make time. How much time do you have in your life? Not enough.”
  • “What you do does not define who you are.”
  • “Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do before you can do what you want to do.”

Gardner’s is an unbelievable story, but if he doesn’t make you believe you can do anything as long as you set your mind to it, I don’t know who can. But you need to get a plan, stick to the plan and, above all, be passionate.

If you missed this year’s show, don’t worry. We’re coming back next year – and registration is now open for the 2014 ASI Shows (Orlando, Jan. 5-7; Dallas, Feb. 4-6; Long Beach, March 25-27; New York, April 3-4; and Chicago next July) at www.asishow.com. Special 2014 presentations include keynotes by former President George W. Bush and the stars of the hit ABC reality show, “Shark Tank.”

For complete coverage of ASI Show Chicago, visit www.asicentral.com for a wealth of information, including blogs and videos from ASI’s on-site editorial team.


A Special Family Affair

Filed under: ASI Shows, Members, News About ASI

If the 2013 Counselor® Awards had a theme, it was family, from the recognition given to family businesses of the year to the three generations of Cohns on stage handing out the awards during a glittering ceremony at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The women were stunning, the men distinguished and the food delicious. Beyond the finery, what struck me most was the camaraderie. Everywhere I looked I saw people talking to each other, laughing and really connecting, whether it was during cocktails, the behind-the-scenes tour of the Impressionists galleries or over dinner. In the end, networking really is what this industry and the art of business is all about.

In addition to recognizing outstanding individuals and companies in seven categories, we announced the Top 40 Distributors and Top 40 Suppliers rankings – the largest companies in our $19.4 billion industry based upon 2012 revenue. Click here for complete coverage of all our winners, and be sure to check www.asicentral.com and our Facebook pages for show info and photos.

I was really touched by the first award handed out, in honor of Cohn family matriarch, Bess Cohn, and her long-standing commitment to philanthropy. In his acceptance speech, Danny Rosin, co-owner of Brand Fuel (asi/145025), spoke about the importance of giving back and, as the messages displayed on screen during our live tweet stream acknowledged, Danny “exemplifies volunteerism.”

Before handing out the Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Awards, ASI® Chairman Norman Cohn (pictured with me and his family) gave a truly heartfelt tribute to his dear friend, former ASI president Marvin Spike, who passed away in December. And hearing Bill Vernon, who accepted on behalf of the 100+-year-old Vernon Company (asi/351700), tell stories about his old pal Marvin and his early days with Norman back in Iowa was like a living history lesson of the entire industry.

Maribeth Sandford, CEO of Bag Makers (asi/37940), shared her lifetime achievement award with four generations of her family, including her adorable 6-month-old great-granddaughter, Josie. “This is what it’s all about – family,” she said during her acceptance speech. “And what a wonderful opportunity I’ve had with the ASI family.”

Chris Lee, our International Person of the Year, might have said it best when he summed up the industry as “amazing people, amazing stories.”

The final award of the night, for Counselor’s 2013 Person of the Year, meant a lot to me, personally, since it went to one of the very first people I met when I joined ASI over 10 years ago: David Nicholson, president of Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America, a $443 million company. I really meant it when I described David, pictured left, in my introduction as one of the warmest, most welcoming people I’ve ever known.

Good friends and family, amazing food, inspiring stories and a lotta laughs. Now, that’s my definition of a special night for a very special industry.

Additional winners of the 2013 Counselor Awards are:

  • Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year: Scott Alterman and Jordy Gamson, CEO and CEO/owner, The Icebox (asi/229395)
  • Supplier Entrepreneur of the Year: Richard Firkser, owner, St. Regis Crystal (asi/84595)
  • Supplier Woman of Distinction: Lori Kates, Vitronic Promotional Group (asi/93990)
  • Distributor Woman of Distinction: Barb Wells, Staples Promotional Products (asi/120601)
  • Distributor Family Business of the Year: Bergman Incentives (asi/137955)
  • Supplier Family Business of the Year: WOV-IN (asi/92980)/Promo Pet (asi/79698)

Windy City Wow

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community

I’m in Chicago for the last major ASI Show® of the season, meeting with members, listening to the constant rumble of the famous “El” train and marveling at the stately architecture. No wonder a record 16 distributor sales meetings are taking place during the show at McCormick Place – it’s a great show in an amazing city.

Along with two exhibit days and a full day of ASI education, we’ll also celebrate the 2013 Counselor® Award winners at a special ceremony on Wednesday at the Art Institute of Chicago, following cocktails  among the Impressionists. Which companies hit the Top 40 lists? Who is 2013’s Person of the Year? Check out www.asicentral.com (and this blog) for complete coverage on Thursday.

If you’re here with us, make sure to check out a few features special to this show, the industry’s premier summer event:

  • Three specialized pavilions – New to Chicago, Incentives and ASI Decorating – showcasing unique items.
  • The debut of the Stitches® Hopeful Hearts Quilt, created by decorators from around the nation who each made a quilt square in honor of a cause close to their heart. Their experiences with public service will be documented in Stitches magazine in August. Check out this beautiful display at the Advantages New Product Pavilion. At right, here I am with the quilt.
  • Wednesday tech workshops with ASI’s Chief Technology Officer, Armughan Rafat, in Room N139, 10-11 a.m. and 12-1 p.m. (includes lunch). Click here to register. Throughout the show, be sure to visit the ASI® booth for demos of our newest ESP Mobileapps.
  • Thursday morning’s keynote by Christopher Gardner, the rags-to-riches stockbroker whose story inspired the Will Smith movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness.” He’s advising us on the importance of giving back along with sales-generating strategies any business can apply.

If you’re here in Chicago, let me know what you’re looking forward to the most by posting a comment or e-mailing me here – and keep those tweets coming! And be sure to visit www.asicentral.com for show blogs and videos.


A New Era for ESP

Filed under: ASI Shows, Member Benefits, News About ASI

It’s all things tech at ASI®, with upcoming technology workshops led by our CTO in Chicago and over 10 new features in the latest ESP Web® upgrade (our 6th, if you’re counting).

The ESP upgrade was designed with ease of operation in mind, allowing distributors to quickly create and manage their preferred supplier lists and for new suppliers to introduce themselves and their products to the industry.

My favorite new feature might be the “Joe Show” hot products videos you can now access from ESP’s home page, along with clickable product links. Joe, one of ASI’s most experienced editors, dishes out clever campaign ideas and tips with each new show. And thanks to Joe’s turbo-charged personality, you get a big dose of entertainment along with useful tidbits you can mimic on sales calls.

Other smart new features include one-click virtual sample editing (just click the wand to open the editor) and top sellers in the page footer, along with larger images of the most popular products. If you’re like me, you want intuitive features, a clean design and, above all, simplicity. If you’ve checked out ESP’s latest and greatest, please let me know what you think by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.

And if you’re joining us at ASI Chicago, taking place Tues., July 16 (education day), Wed., July 17 and Thurs., July 18 (exhibit days) at McCormick Place, stop by the ASI booths for a demo. (Show registration is still open at www.asishow.com or by clicking here).

That Wednesday, we’re also offering one-hour workshops led by our chief technology officer, Armughan Rafat, who will make sure you’re up to date on ASI’s latest technological advances and help you map out your business strategy to include all the updates coming down the pike.

We’ve scheduled two sessions to choose from: 10-11 a.m. (includes refreshments) and 12-1 p.m. (includes lunch on ASI). Armughan will leave time at the end to answer any questions – and to hear your ideas and suggestions for future improvements. The workshops count toward your BASI/MASI, too.

Click here to register for either session.


Tuesdays with Melinda, Michele, Andy, Kathy and Joe

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

Here’s the beauty of Internet radio shows like ASI Radio: it’s interactive, it’s mobile and, since there’s no transmitter, anyone anywhere can listen in. Now, you can log on and listen in from the Far East as easily as you can from the East Coast.  Hopefully, no matter where you are Tuesday, you’ll listen to our special 5-year anniversary show.

ASI Radio debuted in 2008 with the same five co-hosts still livening up the airwaves Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. ET. Since then, they’ve done an incredible 275 shows. In an era when the same old, same old is repackaged and sold as new, ASI Radio consistently delivers original business insight, breaking news and the most authoritative research and resources available – along with a fun, weekly dose of awesome.

Tuesday, July 2, we’re celebrating with cake, champagne and a trivia contest, so be sure to join us – and to compete to win prizes for correct answers. Call in at (215) 953-4979 or email us at radio@asicentral.com.

I’ll be a special guest, offering up congratulations along with a sneak peek at Counselor magazine’s  upcoming “State of the Industry” report and some info on ASI®’s next Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study.

Every week, ASI Radio offers something for everyone along with the latest sales and marketing trends and tips. Each show also features an industry news recap by Counselor® Editor Andy Cohen, a product safety minute and a list of each host’s favorite promo product, also available online, complete with images and descriptions.

Above all, ASI Radio is a true reflection of this industry’s sometimes zany, always creative personality. The five hosts know more about this business than just about anyone (except me!). Joe Haley, the host of “The Joe Show,” covers new products; Advantages® Editor Kathy Huston tackles distributor sales; Cohen provides business analysis, SGR Editor Michele Bell reports on the supplier side while ringleader and Editor-in-Chief Melinda Ligos keeps the show moving and the topics flying.

But collective knowledge aside, they’re also true entertainers. Log on for the laughs; log off armed with plenty of news you can use.

And where else in the industry can you get business insight from the likes of economist Steve Forbes and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, who were both interviewed on the show prior to appearing as ASI Show® keynote speakers? Short answer: nowhere. ASI Radio is the first and still the only industry radio show around.

If you miss Tuesday’s live show, don’t worry. You can check archives of previous shows and featured interviews anytime at www.asicentral.com/radio. And, you get credit toward your ASI BASI or MASI certification for listening to the recording of each show later on, when you listen to it as a class in the Online Learning Center.

But try and join the gang on Tuesdays – because you never know what Joe, Andy, Melinda, Michele and Kathy will say!