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An Inspiring Story, From Hospital to Hollywood

Filed under: ASI Shows, Media Coverage

Imagine this: You’re the 19-year-old son of a single mother. Low on money, and unsure of your direction in life, you join the U.S. Army in the hope it’ll help pay for college. While on a routine mission driving a Humvee in war-torn Iraq, you hit a roadside bomb and suffer disfiguring third-degree burns.

In a flash of fire, your entire life changes. Do you drown in self pity? Put your scarred face down and hide? If it was me, boy, I’m not sure if I’d have the strength to carry on. Not J.R. Martinez. He not only carried on – he soared to new heights, inspiring other vets and carving out a stellar career as a motivational speaker, daytime TV star and winner of TV’s Dancing with the Stars competition.

This week, J.R. shared his awe-inspiring journey from hospital bed to Hollywood with a rapt audience at ASI Show® Dallas, in a one-hour speech that moved people to tears – and earned him two standing ovations.

After hearing him speak, I swore I’d never complain about my middling problems again.

“You can control your attitude, your willingness to learn, your willingness to grow,” said J.R., who refused to let his injuries define or defy him, choosing instead to forge an entirely new path, spurred on by simple mantras like “Get through the day. Be positive. Have faith.”

While waiting backstage before his speech, J.R. quizzed us on the industry, promotional products and even Norman Cohn’s signature red hat. He has an insatiable curiosity about anything and everything. After the initial shock of meeting him, I stopped seeing his burns and saw only a smart, friendly guy with a sweet smile – and a driving ambition to be the best he can at whatever he tackles.

Now 32 and the father of a 3 ½-year-old daughter (as well as a best-selling author), J.R. (@iamjrmartinez) is just getting started – he’s finally starting college and says he might study psychology. I’m betting he’ll succeed no matter what he does. For more, click here for J.R’s interview with Counselor’s Andy Cohen and click here to read Chris Ruvo’s PromoGram story.

The keynote was a great way to kick off the final day of the three-day ASI Show Dallas (#asidallas) at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

The show attracted over 3,000 distributors and 466 suppliers (including 75 new this year). All told, 22 distributor companies chose Dallas to host meetings, a 10% increase over 2015. I was delighted ASI also partnered with three large regional associations at Dallas – the Promotional Products Association of the Southwest, Houston Promotional Products Association and the Sunbelt Promotional Products Association.

The show – and the latest, greatest promotional products in our industry – was such a hit it even drew the attention of Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter Steve Noviello, from the Fox 4 TV news station in Dallas, which aired a 4-minute segment on its morning show. Kudos to Steve for smartly reporting on the low cost and high value of cool, unique promo products that go far beyond the usual T-shirt or pen (although he featured them, too!). If you haven’t already, take a look at his report.

As always, we enjoyed a fun night out at the Gala Celebration at Eddie Deen’s ranch (see pics at right) among many other networking opportunities.

For complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos, visit www.asicentral.com and www.asishow.com. And, for more on the most sought-after promotional products for 2016, check out ASI Product Editor Joe Haley’s “The Joe Show” videos.

I hope to see all of you at our next large-scale trade show, ASI Show Chicago, Tuesday, July 12 through Thursday, July 14 at McCormick Place. And, don’t forget about the brand-new Engage, a new hybrid event that combines the best of traditional trade shows, intimate hosted buyer events and roadshows. Engage West takes place Monday, March 14 through Wednesday, March 16 at the Anaheim Marriott, in Anaheim, CA and Engage East is Monday, May 9 through Wednesday, May 11, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City.

If you see me on the show floor, be sure to say hello.


Vulnerability is the Key to Success

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, News About ASI

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.

 


New Year, New Connections

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 tim.andrews@asicentral.com.

Happy selling!


Update from ASI’s CTO

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

There are few things more productive than getting together with your peers to brainstorm pressing issues everyone can relate to and learn from, especially when the topics concern new and emerging technology.

That’s why I was so happy to host a CTO Summit in conjunction with ASI’s Chicago show in mid-July. All told, 14 distributors, partners and suppliers – including SanMar, Brighter Promotions, ASB, Facilis, HALO and Safeguard – spent the day discussing technology, operations and customer service. I was very impressed with the high-level professionals who took the time to attend (our group is pictured below).

Just about everyone at the summit shares a keen interest in moving this industry forward, especially when it comes to automating and connecting suppliers and distributors for order processing. At ASI, we know how important it is to everyone in our industry to have the latest, greatest real-time product information available at their fingertips.

For the past two years, we’ve devoted countless hours working directly with the industry’s top suppliers to link their databases directly to ESP. By making quick, vital data sharing and communication available across the entire industry, the end-to-end workflow – from product inputting to price quoting to order processing – will be as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible.

The summit’s agenda (outlined below) covered a wide range of topics. Hopefully we provided something for everyone. If you need more info on anything, don’t hesitate to email me at arafat@asicentral.com:

  • ASI’s State of the Industry
  • ASI Case Study: Benefits and Challenges of the Modern Platform Architecture
  • Right Brain/Left Brain: Keeping Creativity Alive Within User Experience
  • Technology Challenges from the Perspective of the Distributor
  • Big Data: How to Tame It and Harness Its Power for Profit
  • The Perilous and the Profitable: What You Should Know About Outsourcing

A personal highlight for me was hearing from ASI’s chairman, Norman Cohn, one of the chief architects responsible for introducing more advanced technology to our industry, starting with the remarkable ESP database – now over 950,000 products strong, and counting. It’s always fascinating to recall just how fast and far we’ve come since the days of CDs, microfiche and rolodexes – and to imagine the possibilities ahead.

This was our third CTO Summit and I’m sure it’ll continue as an annual event, so if you missed it this year, stay tuned for info on 2016. The goal is to establish a solid list of technologists we can rely on for input and feedback regarding the myriad of opportunities and challenges facing our ever-changing industry.

To that end, I’d like to especially thank the experts from Macrosoft for sharing their expertise with the group.

If you have any questions regarding any topic we covered – or suggestions for future topics or speakers –please let me know. I’m grateful to everyone who attended and hope to see all of you next year as well.

ASI CTO Armughan Rafat


Triumphs, Tears and Tips in Chicago

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Members, News About ASI

ASI ended its last major show of the 2015 season with fireworks and fanfare in Chicago, with attendance up nearly 3% over 2014, tons of fun at our new networking clubs and a fast-paced keynote by Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning.

We accomplished so much in Chicago it’s hard to re-cap. In the middle of it all, we celebrated winners like The Magnet Group CEO Bill Korowitz (at right) as Person of the Year and Senator’s Michael Nick as International Person of the Year during the glittering black-tie 2015 Counselor Awards, which featured spectacular fireworks.

Click here for video interviews with the winners, here for videos shown during the event and here for an album of gorgeous photos (right-click to save any pic you wish).

Although I loved all the speeches (hands down, Bill’s was the funniest and, as he warned us, also the longest), I was really touched by Fran Ford, president of Castelli North America, who presented one of the Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Awards to ASI’s own Ron Ball (below).

“For the past 30+ years, this man has been there for so many of us, helping us grow our businesses, but somehow the light never shined his way,” Fran said. “We grew and somewhere behind it all, he stood, never wanting to shine his star! I am so honored to introduce my dear friend… one who has always been there for me and so many others.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Ron went on to thank Fran, the Norman Cohn family and even me. “Thank you for all the support and confidence in me throughout my years of service to ASI and this industry,” Ron said. “This is a great way to end the wonderful career I’ve had at ASI for over 40 years.”

Thank you, Ron.

For more on the awards and for our editorial coverage, visit www.asicentral.com. And, click here to read a positive story on the show in the Chicago Tribune (circulation 455,000), featuring ASI’s Joe Haley and a number of industry products.

A few more words about Manning: He flew to our show, incredibly, just hours after being honored in Los Angeles with another ESPY Award for Best Record-breaking Performance of the past year.

It was a real thrill to meet him, and not just because I’m a Hoosier who remembers when the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 after 31 seasons in Maryland (the secret, 600-mile dead-of-night trek is among the most famous sporting moves ever). After struggling for years, the Colts enjoyed their greatest success to date under Manning, the team’s starting quarterback from 1998 to 2011.

So, yes, as an Indiana native, I’m a fan.

Luckily, Manning was a nice guy to boot – unpretentious and way funnier (and taller!) than I expected, going so far as to crack a joke in his best New Orleans drawl about buying a bunch of Papa John franchises just before his home state legalized marijuana: “As a guy who sells pizza in Colorado, I can tell you the business is really good there right now.”

Anyone who might have wondered what a football player could tell a business audience didn’t have to wonder for long. The tips and insight Manning shared during his 30-minute presentation and follow-up Q&A with me (below) were relevant to anyone, whether you own a promo products business or earn millions tossing footballs:

  • “Your personal, professional journey rarely follows a straight line.”
  • “Don’t be stymied by change, be stimulated by it.”
  • “Be a master observer and look for things that aren’t evident to your competitors.”
  • “Invest in a coach that can help you continue to grow…When you stop wanting to be mentored, I think you’re in big trouble.”
  • “The truth is, many NFL football players retire not because of injuries, but because of monotony.”

Traditionally, Chicago is the biggest ad specialty show of the summer – and ASI’s very last big show of the season – neither of which will change. ASI remains committed to putting on a great big show in the city of big shoulders in 2016.

We are, however, introducing major improvements for California and New York with our new Engage hybrid format. Engage combines the best of traditional trade shows, intimate hosted buyer events and roadshows. We’re very excited about its debut.

Don’t forget: Registration for ASI’s 2016 ASI shows (Orlando, January 4-6; Dallas, February 9-11; and Chicago, July 12-14) and all our high-profile keynote presentations will be available in early August at www.asishow.com.

 


Big Fun in the Big Apple

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Members, News About ASI

Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran is a pip. I just love her, and so did our audience at the ASI Show® New York. Corcoran, ASI’s keynote speaker, shared a ton of unlikely insider business tips, while dishing out fascinating personal tidbits about her life.

She was raised by incredibly loving, supportive parents in a small New Jersey town, in a house with one bathroom and 10 kids. Growing up, Manhattan loomed right across the Hudson River, as foreign and unattainable as Oz. But by the time she was in her 20s, she was taking the town by storm, eventually building a $5 billion real-estate empire. What a story!

She attributed her success, in part, to her imagination. When she was a kid, “I found I could put a ribbon on a rock and that kids would pay you for that rock.”

Although she’s almost 70, you wouldn’t know it from the way she raced around the show floor after the keynote, taking pictures and checking out the products. She stopped by Showdown Displays (asi/87188), our keynote sponsor, and took a photo with the entire team. And when she was told Showdown didn’t sell direct, always choosing to work with a distributor, one savvy distributor stepped right up and handed her his business card, which she tucked into her purse.

As you can see from the photos, she had a lot of fun at our show, goofing around at the hotdog stand and getting her pic taken at the ASI Promocar. As she says, “Fun is good for business.”

Personality and spirit she has in spades, along with incredible talent. No wonder she’s a success story.

To me, the best part of any show is learning similar stories about our members, finding out how they built their business, who mentored and supported them, and how they handle adversity. In her speech, Corcoran said she always watches new hires to see how soon they recover from failure and whether they indulge in pity parties. To her, “failing well” is a sign of strength.

She also applauded everyone in the audience of nearly 300 for being small-business owners. “It’s a fabulous act of the universe to actually be in business for yourself, having nobody tell you what to do,” Corcoran (@barbaracorcoran) said. “Congratulations for having the guts to run your own business.”

I think everyone enjoyed the keynote – and the two-day New York Show, which attracted 175 exhibitors and nearly 1,600 distributors from 32 states and seven countries. I’m happy to report the show also drew 141 female-owned and 120 minority-owned companies, along with 97 businesses based in New York City. And, 11 companies also chose ASI’s show to host their sales meetings.

We got great feedback from the likes of distributor Brian Dawson, of EmbroidMe.com (asi/384000), who said his company loves holding its regional meeting at the New York show. “It’s a valuable way for us to expose our franchises to the promotional products world,” he said. “We speak with our vendors, look at different opportunities, what’s new and what’s awesome in the market. It’s just a great time to meet and learn more about the business.”

In addition to working hard, we played hard in Manhattan, too, staying out way too late at the Counselor® Hot 25 party, held this year at Dream Downtown, with jaw-dropping views of the city. We celebrated 2015’s hottest product design and best ad awards, products and 10 fastest-growing suppliers and distributors.

Kathy Cheng, president and owner of Toronto-based Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627), took the top spot on this year’s Hot List. Click here for Counselor’s 2015 list of the industry’s hottest, most innovative game-changers.

And, for complete coverage of the show, including stories on education, visit www.asicentral.com and www.asishow.com.

Hard to believe, but the last show of the season – Chicago – is just around the corner, July 14-16, featuring a keynote by Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. If you haven’t already, contact Karen DiTomasso, ASI’s VP of sales, at kditomasso@asicentral.com, about sponsorships or exhibiting.


Inspiration and Motivation at ASI Long Beach

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Education, Members, News About ASI

ASI’s Long Beach keynote speaker Jillian Michaels – an internationally known fitness expert who single-handedly built a healthy-living empire – was as down-to-earth as a friendly neighbor. While waiting backstage, she kicked off her high heels and showed our crew pictures of monarch butterfly caterpillars from her Malibu backyard.

She’s only 5-foot-2, but she radiates presence. And, she was so beautiful up close I was nearly mesmerized. Can you tell how much I enjoyed our on stage conversation? Right from the start, she enraptured our audience with her personal story of being an unhappy, overweight teenager who was bullied in school and yet managed to overcome it all, thanks in great part to her family’s support.

“As a kid, I was lucky enough to have two people who really believed in me,” she said. “Having people who support you and who believe in you is really critical.”

Through hard work and determination, along with a strong mentor and helpful clients, Michaels established a huge personal brand and starred in a hit reality TV show. I bet everyone who heard her positive, inspiring message left motivated to make changes in their life and in their business. I know I did.

Our conversation was a highlight of the ASI Show® Long Beach, held Tuesday, March 24, through Thursday, March 26, at the Long Beach Convention Center. Our show attracted 203 exhibitors and 1,643 distributors from 925 companies from 31 states and three countries. I was very happy to hear that the show also attracted 126 women-owned companies and 114 minority-owned companies.

For more on the show, recaps of education classes and to see pics, visit our Facebook page and www.asicentral.com.

We got great feedback from attendees like Rob Cunningham, of Uniflex (asi/92480), who said he really enjoyed the show. “We’ve had a lot of good traffic and great sales conversations with distributors.”

To me, that’s what it’s all about: making connections.

Distributor Bob Lewellen, of Kaeser & Blair (asi/238600), told us his company likes holding meetings in conjunction with ASI shows because they present good opportunities to meet face-to-face. “Our dealers like to come to the show so they can get product ideas and find new suppliers to do business with,” he said. “Plus, all of our dealers attend education – there is always something to be learned. The seminar choices give you a chance to focus on what’s important to you.”

There were lots of opportunities for fun, too, from networking events like dinner at Gladstone’s restaurant, to paddle boarding and beer tasting at our new networking clubs.

Hundreds of people also visited the ASI Promocar, a Mazda Protégé we covered inside and out with hundreds of promotional products donated by ASI suppliers. The Promocar (hashtag #ASIpromocar) is part of an ASI PR campaign called “Driving Serious Fun,” designed to drive attention to $21.5 billion promotional products industry and to spread the word about the industry’s creativity and ingenuity.

After Long Beach, the Promocar sets off on a 2,700-mile journey across 12 states. Make sure to follow the car along the way through pics and blog posts on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and on ASI’s website, www.asicentral.com. The car already has 190,000 miles on it, so wish us luck!


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