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Windy City Wow

Filed under: ASI Shows, ASICentral, Community, Member Benefits, Members, News About ASI

ASI celebrated its 15th anniversary of hosting a national trade show in Chicago in a very big way. This show had it all: art, commerce, education, networking and, above all, fun and flair.

The show featured 50 education sessions, leading suppliers, 22 team-building distributor sales meetings and a multimedia keynote by graffiti artist, entrepreneur and motivational speaker Erik Wahl on using creativity to supercharge your potential.

Go to www.asicentral.com for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos from ASI’s ace on-site editorial team.

To me, innovation was the word of the day on a bustling show floor. I saw tons of new packaging ideas, along with some traditional decorating techniques applied to new products. And, everyone seemed to really benefit from the new Signage + Decoration pavilion and the two days of demos inside. After seeing the techniques, I’m sure distributors will gain a new appreciation for the decorating suppliers do for them.

The feedback from the Erik Wahl keynote was also tremendous. He actually painted right on the stage and spoke about the importance of creativity to business – which are not two words most of us use together in the same sentence. But it makes sense to think outside the box for inspiring ideas.

I think my favorite part of the show was the heartfelt speeches made by winners at Wednesday night’s 2014 Counselor® Awards. I especially loved the speech by Gary Hellinger, of Gary Plastic Packaging Corp. (asi/55990), who won the Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award. ASI Chicago was the very first trade show he’s ever been to. And I almost choked up as he described his operation in the South Bronx, where he has 600 employees working three shifts. What a sweet guy.

At the ceremony in the very cool Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago we also announced the Top 40 Distributor and Top 40 Supplier rankings – the largest companies in the industry based upon 2013 revenue. For more info, go to www.asicentral.com. For the complete list, click here.

Our Counselor Person of the Year, Norman Hullinger, CEO of alphabroder (asi/34063) (pictured with me, right), was loudly applauded by his team members for expertly guiding the company through an unprecedented period of change, acquisitions and re-branding. As I said during my speech, talk about daring!

Throughout the show, it’s been great to talk to people and to hear how bullish they are on the second half of the year. Suppliers and distributors alike are very positive on our industry and are looking forward to a stronger finish than ever.

ASI Chicago took place Tuesday, July 15, through Thursday, July 17, at McCormick Place and featured 750 exhibiting companies – including numerous Counselor Top 40 suppliers and 105 exhibitors new to Chicago this year. Total distributor attendance was more than 4,300, from distributor firms based in 42 states and eight countries. The show is the largest ad specialty trade show of the summer.

The reviews were excellent:

  • “We have about 30 salespeople here,” said Michael Giachetti, of Standard Register (asi/333647). “We attend all The ASI Shows® because it’s the perfect way for our local and regional teams to take advantage of ASI Education, spend time with our diamond partner sponsors and visit with a wide variety of suppliers. ASI is a wonderful partner.”
  • Jason Christianson, of JC Imaginations (asi/234328), said, “ASI Chicago has been great. I came looking for new, innovative items for schools and colleges and I found tons.”
  • “Being at ASI Chicago is the perfect way to show our technology to ASI members,” said Randy Paar, of Canon Solutions America (asi/14976). “A lot of other industries that are using traditional printing methods, like screen printing, are moving in this direction. This technology really opens up the types of applications that the promotional products industry can supply the end user. We’re impressed with the show and are glad to be part of the Signage + Decoration Pavilion.”

One of many special benefits ASI members could take advantage of included free education, which featured strategic sessions on scoring sales as well as a new Screen-Printing Success Track, part of ASI’s new relationship with ST Media, sponsored by Workhorse Products. We also unveiled the new Signage + Decoration Pavilion, produced in partnership with ST Media, featuring well-known equipment companies and live education allowing attendees to explore niche sales ops and speak to experts in potential new markets.

Exhibitors were delighted with the show because it gave them a terrific opportunity to display their latest, greatest products, talk to numerous distributors and discuss creative ad campaigns. Jennifer Grigorian from Hit Promotional Products (asi/61125), said, “The ASI Shows deliver very good traffic. We always leave with new relationships and really benefit from spending one-on-one time with our customers.”

The show also featured the debut of the #ASIpromocar, an “Art Car” decorated with a variety of promotional products donated by ASI suppliers and driven 750 miles from ASI headquarters in Philadelphia to the show, where it was on display and available for people to sign and get their photo taken.

The car is intended to drive attention to the creativity and ingenuity in the promotional products industry, and it was a big hit. I sure hope everyone got the chance to see it – and to sign it! (See ASI’s Matthew Cohn signing at top). Now, all we have to do is drive it safely back to ASI headquarters outside Philly. I’m very happy to report we only lost a single pen during the drive out. I’m now taking bets on how many we’ll lose on the trek back.

Although this was the last big national show of the year, ASI is already preparing for 2015. Registration for the 2015 ASI Shows opens July 19 at www.asishow.com. The line-up is:

  • ASI Orlando, January 4-6, Orange County Convention Center
  • ASI Dallas, February 3-5, Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center
  • ASI Long Beach, March 24-26, Long Beach Convention Center
  • ASI New York, May 6-7, Javits Center, North Pavilion
  • ASI Chicago, July 14-16, McCormick Place.

An unprecedented roster of business and leadership trailblazers includes Steve Wozniak and Peyton Manning. For information on exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities, contact Karen DiTomasso, vice president of sales, at kditomasso@asicentral.com.


Celebrating with Fun and Flair

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

ASI is celebrating its 15th anniversary of hosting a national trade show in the great city of Chicago with a ton of fun and flair. The show features info-packed education sessions, top-flight suppliers, team-building distributor sales meetings and awesome presentations.

ASI Chicago takes place through Thursday, July 17, at McCormick Place and features numerous Counselor® Top 40 suppliers and over 100 exhibitors new to Chicago this year. The show is a big draw to entrepreneurs, CEOs and small business owners located throughout the Midwest, and beyond.

At the traditional ASI Show dinner attended by show employees ASI’s chairman, Norman Cohn, shared some wonderful stories about our 15 years in Chicago, which is one of my all-time favorite cities to visit. We all love coming here and hope everyone is enjoying everything the city has to offer (including those amazing restaurants).

At the show, Thursday’s highlight is sure to be Erik Wahl, a best-selling business author who believes creativity is the new corporate capital, who will actually paint right on stage during his keynote.

ASI’s education featured a special half-day session with business guru Stephen M.R. Covey titled “Selling at the Speed of Trust.” Education also included a new Screen-Printing Success Track, part of ASI’s new relationship with ST Media, sponsored by Workhorse Products.

As part of this new relationship, we also unveiled the news Signage + Decoration Pavilion, featuring well-known equipment companies and live education (both days). I hope you take the time to stop by and check it out.

Chicago is a city that loves its art – both public street art and on display in wonderful museums. In a nod to that creativity, ASI did something really fun: glued a variety of promotional products donated by ASI suppliers to a used Mazda we then drove 750 miles from ASI headquarters in Philadelphia to the show, where it’s on display and available for people to sign and get their photo taken.

The car is intended to drive attention to the industry’s ingenuity and to the products themselves. Nothing says durable like surviving a trip through four states on a high-speed interstate! During the drive we only lost a single product. If you took pics of the car please post to your social media using hashtag #ASIpromocar.

The show excitement continued at the prestigious 2014 Counselor® Awards, held this year at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications. At the black-tie ceremony, Counselor announced the Top 40 Distributors and Top 40 Suppliers rankings – the largest companies in the $20.5 billion promotional products industry, based upon 2013 revenue. We also named Norman Hullinger, CEO of alphabroder (asi/34063), as Person of the Year and Suzanne Worwood, merchandising VP of 4imprint Inc. (asi/197045), as International Person of the Year.

Go to www.asicentral.com for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos from ASI’s on-site editorial team. For more photos, be sure to visit the ASI Show Facebook page and ASI’s Facebook page.


Driving Serious Fun

Filed under: ASI Shows, ASICentral, Community, Industry Initiatives, Members, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

There’s no better time than summer to tackle an offbeat project, all in the name of fun. In that spirit, ASI   created an “ArtCar” that we’re driving over 750 miles from our headquarters outside Philadelphia to display at ASI Chicago. Think of it as our “moving billboard” advertising the promo industry.

The campaign is called “Driving Serious Fun” – a nod to the industry’s creativity and to the wacky idea of gluing dozens of logoed items to a used Mazda in the hopes of attracting attention via social media. The hashtag is #ASIPromocar and we’d love it if you’d follow/share/like us on ASI’s Facebook page and on Pinterest here and here.

To see how we did it, watch our video on YouTube.

At the Chicago show, the Promocar will be on display in registration. If you’re there, please stop by and check it out. I’m betting you’ll be amazed at how long-familiar items like stress balls can be transformed into something wholly unique.

The goals are pretty simple. The Promocar is intended to:

  • Generate buzz through a social media campaign
  • Show off the industry’s creativity in Chicago – a city known for its art
  • Attract media attention
  • Open discussions about the industry and promotional products
  • Make people smile

When we started this project over a month ago, I didn’t know much about ArtCars. Turns out, the ASI Promocar is part of a long, strange tradition, ranging from VW buses decorated by artistic hippies in the ’60s all the way to mutant vehicles on the Playa at the annual Burning Man festival.

As long as sight lines are maintained and vitals like headlights, gas tank and doors remain accessible, there’s no law against painting and decorating your car with pretty much anything you’d like. Who knew?

For our part, we didn’t want to just glue a bunch of stuff to a car. We wanted to maintain the “art” in ArtCar through patterns, color and design.

All told, painting the hood and roof to resemble a road took the better part of a weekend, with the main gluing requiring three days work in our warehouse. The project took nine willing employees, 10 tubes of silicone glue, six rolls of painter’s tape, 50 pairs of gloves, two cases of bottled water, three cans of Rustoleum paint mixed with playground sand to resemble asphalt, a lot of very loud rock and roll, six fans for ventilation, a drill, a sander, a sense of humor and a ton of patience (imagine how long it would take to adhere a pen to the side of your car – then multiply it ten-fold).

To get us started, we put out a call for logoed items to suppliers and the following companies jumped in and donated products like mousepads, key chains, pinwheels, flip-flops and pens:

  • Prime Line, asi/79530
  • Digispec, asi/49716
  • All-In-One, asi/34256
  • Footprints USA, asi/55030
  • PromoMatting, asi/35750
  • IDProductsource, asi/62088
  • Zenith Promotions, asi/98980
  • Nationwide Promotions LLC, asi/73464
  • Chulani Promotional Products Inc., asi/45100

Having never done anything like this before, we had a lot to learn. Although thoroughly researched, every car and every object is different, and there are a ton of variables – not to mention moving parts, high speeds and weather. We road tested the Promocar at 60 mph on I-95 when we finished and so far, so good.

P.S. You’ll have to look close, inside and out, to see how we used the various products. Hint: Inside, look up and in the back seat. You might even see a few familiar “faces.”


On the Road with C.J., Melinda and Andy

Filed under: Community, Members, News About ASI

When you think it’s Friday though it’s really Tuesday … when you’ve judged a dessert bake-off and participated in a wine tasting … when you’ve stopped in your third time zone in a day … when you’ve talked to more enthusiastic employees than you can count … then you’re officially indoctrinated into the Counselor Best Places to Work Road Tour.

This is the fourth year Counselor has embarked on its cross-country tour, but it was my first time along for the ride. My Road Tour companions, Counselor Editor Andy Cohen and Editor-in-Chief Melinda Ligos, told me it would be fun but tiring – which is exactly true. Logging roughly 5,400 miles by car and plane in the span of five days isn’t easy.

But it’s also a lot of fun. The qualities that make these companies such great places to work – fun, creative, engaging – also makes them excellent hosts. We played soccer with the team from SnugZ USA (asi/88060), celebrated the 20th anniversary of Pinnacle Promotions (asi/295986) and even competed in a Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament at Specialty Incentives (asi/331870). (Should have gone with paper, Andy!) You can read all of our adventures by visiting Counselormag.com/Roadtour.

We’ve featured these companies often in the pages of Counselor and Wearables, but you can’t truly grasp their amazing cultures without visiting them in person. I was struck by many of the things they shared. Their attention to office design, particularly open, airy spaces with inviting meeting areas that foster collaboration. The measured approach they take to hiring the best people instead of rushing to fill a position. Their adherence to a core set of guiding principles – which, in the case of eCompanyStore (asi/185782) and PromoShop (asi/300446), was printed right on the back of their branded shirts.

My Road Tour experience reaffirmed my belief that great places to work aren’t built by accident. They are the product of conscious and thoughtful planning. To learn some of the best practices that make an inviting work environment, you should attend ASI’s second Counselor Best Places to Work Conference Friday, July 18 at the Hotel Chicago Downtown.

Speakers from top industry companies will touch on hot-button issues like health care along with excellent motivation strategies (happy hours, to start). ASI will also recognize the companies on Counselor’s Best Places to Work list that will be present at the conference.

And, be sure to check out Counselor’s annual Best Places to Work issue, which arrives in September. And get ready – next year, we might be visiting you.

In the top pic, I’m celebrating a victory over Danlyn Iantorno, the COO of Specialty Incentives, in Rock-Paper-Scissors. The bottom pic is Melinda and I at the wine tasting at A+ Wine Designs.


Happiness, Canada Style

Filed under: Community, Members, News About ASI

It’s no wonder polls officially rank Canada as among the happiest countries in the world. In general, Canadians seem like a very happy bunch, and it was a real pleasure to enjoy their company at this year’s ASI Power Summit Canada.

We packed a lot of info and a ton of serious socializing into the gathering in lovely Niagara-on-the-Lake and I want to thank everyone who attended and shared their knowledge with the group, which included entrepreneurs, CEOs and small-business owners from both sides of the border and throughout the promotional products industry.

The Q&A I conducted with Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of business and economic think tank Macdonald-Laurier Institute, tied for highest-rated panel with the social media discussion spearheaded by ASI’s creative director Jake Krolick and two of the savviest social media masters in the industry: Mark Graham, co-owner of distributor firm RIGHTSLEEVE, founding member of PromoKitchen and Counselor’s 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year; and Sarah White, COO and co-founder of distributor Fairware and one of Canada’s leading female entrepreneurs.

In addition to our panel discussions and breaks for golf and a trip to the famous falls, we also broke into smaller groups of suppliers and distributors so they could share their thoughts on the most substantive issues they face. Below is a brief recap, from the two points of view.

Distributors talked about…

  • Improving strategic relationships with suppliers and becoming more aware of where products are from, how they’re made etc.
  • Streamlining the order process by realizing most clients want to order and move on quickly.
  • Knowing more millennial consumers are increasingly conscientious and want to know if products are recyclable – and are sometimes willing to pay more for products if their purchase will promote the greater good.
  • Becoming aware of potential implications of Alibaba’s coming U.S. IPO later this summer.
  • More understanding of the value suppliers bring in regards to regulations, compliance, safety and social issues.
  • Keeping track of pending anti-spam laws. As of July 1, Canadian businesses will be required to obtain either express “opt-in” or implied consent to send emails to potential clients. Although it’s one of the most onerous anti-spam laws in the world, distributors are less concerned about existing clients but preparing for impact on future prospecting.

Suppliers talked about…

  • Implications of changing demographics of end-buyers increasingly comfortable with searching online via sites like Amazon.com and making sure their platform is robust enough.
  • More collaboration between suppliers and distributors to educate end-buyers on promo products’ high ROI.
  • Determining hot-button issues surrounding compliance and safety and making sure distributors ask clients for their concerns so suppliers have info on hand to satisfy their questions.

For more info on the Power Summit discussions, please click here for recent Counselor Promogram coverage, including video interviews with some of our speakers. Click here for a Facebook gallery of photos from the event.

You can also click here to read our press release on the 2014 list of top 10 fastest-growing ad specialty companies in Canada, released during the Power Summit. Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627), a Toronto, Ontario-based promotional apparel company headed by Kathy Cheng that specializes in goods made in North America, topped the list at No. 1, growing nearly 160% between 2011 and 2013.

If you missed the Power Summit in Canada, there’s plenty of time to plan for next year, when we’ll gather June 21-23 at the Four Seasons Resort in Whistler, British Columbia. (I knew we had a winner with this year’s event when I found out how many of this year’s attendees have already signed up for 2015!).

If you were in Canada with us, I’d love to hear your thoughts so please post a comment or e-mail me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.

P.S. The top pic is our group photo and the second pic is me with Dave Saracino, VP of field sales for BIC Graphic USA (asi/40480), left, and Carol de Ville, president of The Branding Company and a former PPPC chairperson.


Slow, Steady Growth

Filed under: Community, Research

With the U.S. reporting modest economic gains and a European recovery finally taking hold, the most recent ASI North American sales report on the promotional products industry also shows renewed reason for optimism. First quarter distributor sales were up 6.4% over Q1 2013 sales. And Q1 supplier sales grew 4.8% over Q1 2013, below the growth rate of the last two quarters, but similar to the first two quarters of 2013.

Equally as important, the Q1 2014 Counselor Confidence Index, which measures distributor health, hit 114, equaling a high last seen in 2006.

It’s great to report the year is off to a strong start, with more than half of North American distributors reporting a year-over-year increase in sales and only about one in five reporting a decline.  Historically, Q2 growth numbers have declined from Q1 numbers in each of the last three years, and it’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues.

On the supplier side, more than half told ASI they enjoyed a year-over-year increase (Q1 2014 vs. Q1 2013) in sales, with about 21% reporting a decline.

Nationwide, April was the best month for job growth in a while, and the unemployment rate fell to 6.3%. Wages, however, remained flat, and it doesn’t look like the hoped-for hike in the federal minimum wage is going anywhere anytime soon. A new report by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington offered some pretty dire predictions: it may take the economy nine years to recoup the jobs lost during the recession, plus those needed to employ new workers during the slow recovery.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects growth in Asia to remain steady at 5.4% this year. Last year, the region – home to 60% of the world’s population – grew 5.2%. I just returned from a long trip to China and Hong Kong, where ASI has a half dozen independent reps working to sell SGR memberships and marketing and to help manufacturers there connect with North American suppliers. In the spirit of the ongoing fusion of the global economy, ASI also has one rep working in India reporting contacts who are very interested in ASI suppliers and services.

While things are finally picking up in Europe, according to Reuters, numerous factors could still affect the economy, including ever-broiling tensions with Russia, a prolonged period of low inflation and an unwillingness by European member governments to continue reforms. On the good news front, deficits are down, investment is up and, although unemployment remains around 10%, more Europeans are finding jobs.

What’s happening in your neck of the woods? Let me know by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Promo Power 101

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

Tom Athan is a college student who produces and sells a clothing line called Dudz from his dorm room (imagine low-slung, custom-made M.C. Hammer-style lounge pants for guys and girls in a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns). Athan was unsure how to advertise his apparel cost-effectively – until he learned about the power of promotional products. Now, he plans to invest in a small run of screen-printed T-shirts, bumper stickers and magnets to spread the word about his quirky brand.

Athan was among 50 business students who attended a lecture Counselor Senior Editor Dave Vagnoni and I gave at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, N.J. Tammy Dietrich, assistant dean of TCNJ’s School of Business, invited us to discuss the $20.5 billion promotional products industry as part of the school’s Sophomore Colloquium spring seminars, which teach students about different industries to broaden their knowledge about potential internships, future careers and smart business ideas.

Dave and I presented key findings from ASI’s Global Advertising Impressions Study, surprising students who were unaware how much bang for the buck businesses can get from promo products. The most impressive stats? That 86% remember the advertiser on a promo product they receive and that the cost-per-impression is only about half a cent – cheaper and more effective than primetime TV ads, print ads and billboards.

Anthony Paun, a finance major who attended the session, said, “Today I learned that people keep a large quantity of the promotional products that they get, and the return on investment is way better in comparison to TV advertising.”

Our session was informative, fun and interactive – we gave away candy and logoed products to students who shouted out correct answers to our pop quiz questions – and we think our content was a big hit.

“There’s no substitute for students hearing directly from industry experts and realizing the many facets of a business they only knew a fraction about,” Dietrich said. “The School of Business is so grateful to ASI for participating in our spring 2014 series and providing students with global insight into the ad specialties world. Students love getting freebies as well as creating them for their clubs and organizations, but had no idea of the magnitude of this business.”

As it stands now, though, the advertising specialty industry is too invisible to business students. They learn about buying and using TV, radio and Internet advertising, direct mail and everything else under the sun, but marketing programs rarely mention the power of promotional products and their incredible ROI. That’s why ASI is focused on outreach to colleges and universities to teach students about our industry and the power of advertising specialties in marketing campaigns – as well as explaining how to become a distributor and build your own business.

ASI’s long-term hope is that these future business leaders will look to our industry when embarking on their careers. We plan to continue outreach to convince other business, marketing, advertising and new media students to join what we all know is an exciting, creative industry, which more people need to discover.

Dietrich thanked us with a wonderful compliment: “As a bonus, Nicole Rollender and Dave Vagnoni make an engaging team and we hope to have them back at TCNJ.”

We’d love to return!

– Nicole Rollender is ASI’s executive director of professional development

In top pic, TCNJ students Tom Athan, co-founder of Dudz, and Robert Garavente with ASI’s Executive Director of Professional Development Nicole Rollender, with their new ASI branded tumblers. In bottom pic, TCNJ students Anthony Paun and David Chao are all smiles after winning logoed promo products and candy.


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