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Evolve To Succeed

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, News About ASI

ASI enjoyed a history-making 2016 Counselor® Awards at the amazing Field Museum during our recent show in Chicago. We broke attendance records by hosting over 500 members at the black-tie event – and in another first, posted a ton of the speeches via live feeds on ASI’s Facebook page.

Here’s why I know livestreams will be huge: The family of Dave Saracino, the VP of field sales for BIC Graphic (asi/40480), who was honored with the 2016 Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award, discovered video of his acceptance speech online that night, and by morning, it had already gotten 1,200 views and 12 shares. A few days later, it had earned over 2,000 livestream views.

We’re using this latest social media innovation more and more, including during our coverage of the Republican and Democrat national conventions.

(Visit our Facebook page to view archived videos of many of the speeches as well as our interviews with vendors at the convention. I also urge you to read Counselor’s stories on the winning leaders and companies – they offer some great advice on making it big in this always-changing industry. And click here for an album of photos from the Counselor Awards).

The night’s biggest winners included Brand Addition U.S. CEO Chuck Fandos as Person of the Year and BDA (asi/137616) Senior Director of Sourcing LeeAnn Schumacher as International Person of the Year.

The awards, chosen by the editors of ASI’s award­-winning Counselor magazine, recognize outstanding individuals and companies in seven categories. The winners represent the best and brightest entrepreneurs, small­-business leaders and CEOs in the $22 billion promotional products industry.

In addition, Counselor announced the Top 40 Distributor and Top 40 Supplier rankings – the largest companies in the industry based upon 2015 revenue.

Among suppliers, alphabroder was No. 1, setting a record in the industry with $1 billion in North American ad specialty sales. Yup, that’s not a typo: $1 billion.

For distributors, Staples Promotional Products (asi/120601) remains the largest firm in the industry, with 4imprint (asi/197045) and Proforma (asi/300094) rounding out the top three spots on the list.

Our 2016 Person of the Year, Chuck Fandos, is founder of multimillion-dollar distributor firm Gateway CDI. In January, Brand Addition, the largest distributor firm in Europe, acquired Gateway CDI. The St. Louis-based distributor now operates under the Brand Addition name while maintaining its operations and management structure, including Fandos as U.S. CEO.

Below is part of what I said when introducing Chuck:

“Chuck Fandos shuns complacency and refuses to stand still while the world around him evolves…As a result, his career continues to be nothing short of phenomenal. And when it came time to make the tough decision to sell the company he built from the ground up – along with his loyal wife and long-time business partner – he negotiated the smartest possible deal, giving him license to succeed internationally.

I really stand by those words: We must evolve to succeed.

The 2016 Counselor Awards took place during ASI Show® Chicago July 12-14 at McCormick Place. Below are the rest of the year’s winners. My hearty congrats to each and every one of them. Remember these names – and please read all about them in the special State of the Industry issue of ASI’s Counselor magazine.

  • Supplier Entrepreneur of the Year: Eddie Blau, CEO of Innovation Line (asi/62660).
  • Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year: Brian Abrams, founder of Corporate Imaging Concepts (asi/168962).
  • Supplier Family Business of the Year: Fey Promotional Products Group (asi/54040).
  • Distributor Family Business of the Year: Williams & Associates (asi/360450).
  • Distributor Woman of Distinction: Vicki Clayman, president of Partners N Promotion (asi/350153).
  • Supplier Woman of Distinction: Kathy Cheng, president of Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627).
  • Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award: Dave Saracino, vice president of field sales for BIC Graphic (asi/40480).
  • Bess Cohn Memorial Humanitarian Award: Art Livingston, president of Marlo Plastic Products (asi/68873).


Windy City Wrap-Up

Filed under: ASI Shows, Members, News About ASI

ASI® recently finished an incredibly positive, powerful week in Chicago, including our last large show of 2016.

At ASI Show® Chicago, distributors enjoyed a ton of great events and we got very positive feedback from exhibiting suppliers pleased with the quality and quantity of the attendance.

We’re already planning for 2017, so keep an eye out for registration notices and info on great keynote speakers like former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino in Orlando, Shark Tank judge Daymond John in Chicago and John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods in Dallas.

Chicago highlights included the keynote appearance by husband-and-wife political dynamos Mary Matalin and James Carville, who gave us a real insider’s view of this zany presidential election – including Carville’s prediction for Hillary Clinton’s VP: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as VP.

Matalin is a Chicago native whose mother managed beauty schools and whose father had a small business printing drapery fabrics. Matalin was 26 when her mother unexpectedly died, changing her life forever. “I was going to run her beauty schools,” she told us backstage. “Instead, I packed up my Chevy hatchback with everything I owned and drove to D.C. The car died on the Beltway.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The liberal Carville and conservative Matalin have been in the public eye since the early 1990s, helping get candidates elected or advising presidents. And though they’re well-versed in answering questions posed by the country’s toughest reporters, I believed it when they said they appreciated the “insightful, thoughtful” questions posed by our audience.

Two of my favorite quotes:

  • Carville: “You stay the same, you die. Everything in the world is changing around us and nobody in business says ‘We’re going to keep doing the same thing.’ Businesses adapt.”
  • Matalin: [GOP billionaire Donald Trump] “has the testicular fortitude that the Republican Party needs.”

After the keynote, they graciously spent another hour visiting booths on the show floor, quizzing exhibitors about their products and posing for selfies (see pics).

And in case you wondered about the snazzy shoes Matalin wore onstage (she smartly changed to comfy ones right after), she got them for $87 at www.theoutnet.com, discounted from $1,500. “My daughter is a fashionista who picks out my clothes,” she told us.

I didn’t ask Carville what he was wearing, but did appreciate the lapel pins he had on: a fleur-de-lis symbol of New Orleans, where the couple is raising their family, an American flag and a Marine Corps logo.

One final note on ASI’s political coverage: Please be assured that ASI doesn’t endorse any candidates for public office.

That said, ASI is committed to providing the promotional products industry with in-depth coverage of the entire political season, including live coverage of the action surrounding the national conventions as well as member polls and stories that provide unique insight into the role promotional products play in politics, along with ways ASI members can tap into the lucrative political marketplace.

As for our keynote speakers, our primary process for selecting speakers is through extensive surveying of distributors, suppliers and decorators to determine their interests and their level of interest in specific people who are available for speaking engagements. In terms of political speakers generally, we have had people of all viewpoints – Bill Clinton, Laura Bush, George W. Bush, Colin Powell and Rudy Giuliani all have spoken at past ASI Shows.

Our goal is to find people who are engaging, interesting, timely, topical and who can help people think about things in ways that might be different than the way they think today. There are many different viewpoints, and we try to provide a forum for ones that surveys tell us are of interest to ASI members.

All’s Fair in Love, War and Politics

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

No matter which candidate you support, ASI has you covered, starting with a special keynote Q&A at our Chicago show with political odd couple James Carville and Mary Matalin, and extending to presidential polls, convention coverage and stories on selling political promo products.

As Counselor reported, political swag is a multimillion-dollar business. In fact, investing millions in promotional products helped fuel the unexpected rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders – and reinforced promo’s essential role in the race for our nation’s highest office, according to a story by ASI editor C. J. Mittica.

(Tip: if you do sell political promo products on the local, state or federal level – yard signs, buttons and brochures etc. – make sure you get paid upon delivery, especially by losing candidates!)

This is an important election. We the people will be responsible for electing the next leader of the free world. I’m thrilled Carville and Matalin will provide some insight into how the outcome will impact small business and the U.S. economy as a whole.

Since I’m moderating the Q&A at ASI Show® Chicago, I’d love to know what you think I should ask, so please leave a comment with your question, or email them to me at tim.andrews@asicentral.com.

Interestingly, Matalin recently switched parties, from Republican to Libertarian. As it happens, the first presidential candidate I ever voted for was Libertarian, so we’ll definitely discuss the motives behind her switch. To listen to ASI’s podcast with Mary Matalin, click here.

I also want to know exactly how the husband-and-wife political strategists have maintained a very happy marriage in spite of being polar political opposites. Do they ban politics from the dinner table – or thrive on fiery discussions?

Matalin, a conservative, grew up in the Chicago suburb of Burnham, IL. James “The Ragin’ Cajun” Carville, a liberal Democrat, is from rural Carville, LA. The couple married in 1993. Together, they have over 30 years of experience in politics and have individually worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 2014, they co-wrote Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home.

For answers, attend the keynote at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 14, the last day of the three-day Chicago show – the largest promo products trade show of the summer. It’s free to any distributor or decorator registered for the show and all exhibiting suppliers, but it’s not open to the general public.

And, a limited number of tickets are still available for ASI members to gain early admission to the keynote or to attend a meet-and-greet with Carville and Matalin.

So please send me your questions! And if you haven’t already, to register for ASI Chicago call (800) 546-3300 or visit www.asishow.com/shows/2016/chicago.


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

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