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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!


Get Pumped for ASI Long Beach

Filed under: ASI Shows, News About ASI

At first, I didn’t think I had much in common with Jillian Michaels, an LA-based entrepreneur who built a successful business around fitness and motivation. Then I learned that she, too, was an overweight child. Now, I can’t wait to share the stage with her at ASI’s Long Beach show and to ask her about her incredible journey from unhappy childhood to creator of her own fitness franchise.

Our Q&A takes place Thursday, March 26, 9:30-10:15 a.m. And if you’d like to meet her afterward, there are still tickets available for a meet and greet before the show floor opens. I’m sure any entrepreneur or small-business owner who attends will come away inspired to put down the potato chips and grow their business (instead of their waistline).

The show is once again at the Long Beach Convention Center, in Halls A and B, starting with Education Day from 12-4 on Tuesday. Exhibit days are Wednesday and Thursday.

I’m delighted we’re also welcoming 10 distributor meeting groups that chose to hold their big gathering at an ASI event. I hope to see as many of you as possible in Long Beach, so if you see me dashing down the hall, please say hello. And don’t forget to tweet using hashtag #ASIlongbeach.

I know everyone will spend most of their time checking out the many classes and browsing the show floor for 2015’s newest products. For a refresher course on all that ASI’s ESP® has to offer, I suggest a brand-new Power Session called “Getting the Most Out of ESP: 20 Tips in 20 Minutes,” 4-4:30 p.m. Wednesday and 11-2 p.m. Thursday on the show floor with ASI’s Joan Miracle.

We introduced a number of new events at our 2015 shows, and Long Beach is no exception. Here’s a recap of some fun networking activities you can join to meet one-on-one with other distributors and suppliers:

Tues., March 24

  • Explorers Club: 2-4 p.m. $35. Stand-up paddle boarding: Meet at Hyatt Regency Long Beach lobby entrance at 1:30 pm. Host: Editorial’s C.J. Mittica.
  • Good Spirits Club: 7 p.m. $20. Light apps and a flight of six craft brew samples at The Yard House. Hosts: Editorial’s Melinda Ligos, Joe Haley and Nate Kucsma. Meet at the Yard House.

Wed., March 25

  • Yoga Club: 6:30 a.m. $10. Room 104C at the Convention Center. Host: Kaushika Kansara of ASI Show®.
  • Runners Club: 6:30 a.m. $10. Run starts at Hyatt. Host: Hilary Dolphin of ASI Show.

Thurs., March 26

  • Pizza Party: 12-1 p.m. in Booth 236. Come by for a free slice.

When you need a break, stop by our new Social Lounge in Booth 459, where you can kick back in easy chairs and view a big screen with all show-related social media posts and pics.

It’s also where you can check out the ASI Promocar, a Mazda we covered inside and out with hundreds of promo products in a nod to the industry’s creativity. You’re welcome to sit inside, take pics – and post the hashtag #ASIpromocar. Wish us luck: After Long Beach, ASI’s PR manager, Dawn Marie, is driving the car about 2,700 miles cross country as a far-out example of our industry’s ingenuity. You can follow the Promocar’s progress on www.asicentral.com and ASI’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

All in all, Long Beach is shaping up to be an exciting show. And after the winter we’ve experienced here in the East, I know I’m looking forward to sunny skies and warmer temps. See you there!


Playing To Win In Dallas

Filed under: ASI Shows, News About ASI

Troy Aikman, ASI’s keynote speaker in Dallas, had a great excuse for running a couple minutes later than I expected to our show on Thursday: He was dropping his two young daughters off at school, something the 48-year-old dad does every day, no matter what.

It says a lot when a guy worth an estimated $25 million drives his own car, runs his own errands and makes family a priority. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback even told us his favorite pastime when he’s not working as a FOX sportscaster is spending time with his daughters, aged 12 and 13.

“I don’t want to be corny, but I hang out with my girls,” he told the 600 people at the keynote at the ASI Show Dallas, which ended Thursday after three days at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, attracting 485 exhibitors and 3,435 attendees from 49 states and 19 countries, with distributor attendance up about 4% over 2014.

All told, a record 20 companies chose Dallas to host their sales meetings, an increase of 15% over the previous year. The show also attracted 270 female-owned and 230 minority-owned businesses, which I was very happy to see.

Aikman was not what I expected. When we first met backstage in the green room he seemed low key and almost subdued. But once he got on stage, he really came to life, telling fascinating and often funny stories about growing up in California and Oklahoma, where his family raised cows, horses and chickens on 240 acres.

I always find that when you ask someone about their upbringing, you learn fascinating things. In Aikman’s case, even though he took one of the most successful teams in the history of the game to the Super Bowl three times, he came off confident without being arrogant. That’s an admirable trait a lot of successful people can’t manage to pull off.

He also offered some insight into the Cowboys as an organization, and the tough but fair leadership of former Dallas Coach Jimmy Johnson, who told him, “You don’t coach a player to what he is, you coach him to what you want him to be.”

Aikman expected his teammates to know their roles and treat professional football like the job it is. “People get fired for not knowing their assignments in the real world,” he said. “My job as quarterback was to do whatever it takes to win.”

Surprisingly, football wasn’t Aikman’s first choice. In high school, he also played baseball and basketball and only signed up for high school football so he wouldn’t disappoint his father. Even as he racked up success on the playing field in college and with the Cowboys he never stopped working hard.

Even his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys, when the team won only a single game, taught him a valuable lesson. “It served me well later in life,” said Aikman. “I never forgot how hard it is to win. I never forgot what it was like to lose a game.”

Not surprisingly, he said, “My career surpassed my wildest dreams. I can’t complain at all.” How many among us can say that – and mean it?

For complete coverage of the show, including blogs, photo and videos, visit www.asicentral.com and www.asishow.com. And, search for our hashtag, #ASIDallas.

Upcoming 2015 ASI Shows are Long Beach (March 24-26), New York (May 5-6) and Chicago (July 14-16). To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2015, contact Karen DiTomasso, vice president of sales, at kditomasso@asicentral.com.


Game On in Dallas

Filed under: ASI Shows, News About ASI

Since I live and work so close to Philadelphia, I’ve become a big fan of the Eagles football team. In 2005, I was even lucky enough to watch them play in Super Bowl XXXIX against the New England Patriots in Jacksonville, Florida – a very big deal for someone whose high school was too small to support its own football team.

Now I’m gearing up for a Q&A with one of the greatest players of our time, three-time Super Bowl champ and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who graciously agreed to step in as a last-minute keynote speaker at the ASI Show® in Dallas. I’ll interview Aikman, an Emmy-nominated FOX sportscaster, Thursday, February 5, at 8:30 a.m. at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, on the final day of our three-day show.

If you have any questions for Troy, please post a comment or email me at tim.andrews@asicentral.com.

Most recently, Aikman jumped into the fray over the “deflategate” controversy, going so far as to call for severe punishments for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick for those deflated footballs. I like a guy who speaks his mind and can’t wait to see what else he has to say about life on and off the field.

Aikman is sure to have some great stories about working for one of the most recognizable brands in the world and how he transitioned from one successful career to another without missing a beat.

In addition to the Q&A, Dallas offers a ton of other highlights:

  • Concurrent Education Programs, with 45 courses on Tuesday’s education day, 9 a.m.-4:25 p.m., with all sessions qualifying for points toward the ASI Certification Program.
  • The Joe Show Live Tuesday morning, hosted by Joe Haley.
  • The new Explorers Club, featuring rock climbing at Summit Gym, and the Diner’s Club at Bolsa Dallas on Tuesday.
  • The new Yoga Club and Runner’s Club on Wednesday.
  • Gala celebration at Eddie Deen’s Ranch Wednesday night.

Click here for the complete schedule with times, etc.

If you see me in Texas, please be sure to stop me and say hello.


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