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Love Thy Neighbor

Filed under: Community

One of my earliest memories is from a shopping trip to a G.C. Murphy store in downtown Columbus, Indiana. This dime store, as discount stores were called then, had bikes and fun toys, but the most exciting part was the wooden escalator, which went up from the basement level (You walked down the adjacent stairs).

One day, as I held my mother’s hand and stepped onto the clanging escalator to ride up, I heard another mother explain to her crying son that, no, they couldn’t ride the escalator, because it was for whites only.

When we arrived at the top, we waited for the mother and son to climb the stairs. Mom released my hand and told me not to move. She picked up the little boy, walked him down the stairs, turned and walked onto the escalator, carrying him. He was thrilled. His mother cried.

I was totally confused, but asked mom about it later. She quoted scripture: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Here we are, probably 48 years after that escalator ride, and we still don’t seem to have learned that simple lesson. May God forgive us but teach us. Time is short.

When mom was in her early 80s, I asked about a lot of things. One was her view on race. I had never seen her treat anyone differently on any basis, including the color of their skin. She told me her mother was her role model.

Grandma and grandpa were sharecroppers, living in a farmhouse with their 12 children and managing a farm for another family. The farm hands were white and black. One day, in the late 1920s, my very young mom was helping serve food to workers sitting on picnic tables in the front yard. One of the white farm hands told grandma that he didn’t want to eat next to non-whites (he used a different word).

Grandma, my mom told me, had a quick reply: “Great. He doesn’t want to eat next to you, either. But he won’t have to, because you’re getting off this property and heading down the road!”

Mom never saw him again, and those tables were always integrated, with no questions asked, from that moment forward.


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!


Thanks to the Promo Products Community

Filed under: Community, News About ASI, Research

I love nothing better than hearing “thank you,” especially from a business that’s acknowledging how much I mean to them as a customer or client. So I’d like to take this opportunity to send out a great big “thanks” of my own to everyone in the industry who’s completed a survey, participated in a focus group or sent me an email. I’d also like to express my appreciation for the over 2,000 ASI members who joined the ASI Marketing Research panel.

I literally could not do my job as ASI’s director of marketing research without help from every one of you.

With the information you so generously provide, ASI is able to prepare and share a ton of important data with the industry. The most important, perhaps, is the input you send us as we prepare for our annual Counselor State of the Industry (SOI) report, a mega-effort we’re kicking off this week.

The SOI study helps shape our understanding of the advertising specialties industry as a whole and provides a forward-looking view into what’s ahead. The results are always widely shared, in Counselor magazine’s special State of the Industry issue, which is dedicated to the study, as well as through numerous citations in newspapers and magazines all year long. In 2013, the issue even won a prestigious Jesse H. Neal Award, considered the Pulitzer Prize of business press – and the 2014 issue (see cover at right) recently was named a finalist for another one.

In addition to loads of stats and graphics, the SOI issue contains info designed to help any sized company plan strategically for the future, grow their business, streamline operations and tap new and emerging markets. Along with winning tips and tactics and growth strategies, the SOI issue also profiles that year’s Counselor Award winners – including the Person of the Year – and publishes the revenue and ranking of Top 40 distributor and supplier companies.

Here’s how you can contribute (and earn my sincere thanks once again!):

Counselor is currently polling professionals in the industry – both distributors and suppliers – to find out how the market did in 2014 and to get their impressions on where the industry is headed in 2015. Your input is invaluable. Please take 10 minutes to click the appropriate link below and complete the State of the Industry survey.

  • To complete this year’s Distributor State of the Industry, please click here.
  • To complete this year’s Supplier State of the Industry, please click here.

If you haven’t read the 2014 issue yet (available in print and online at www.asicentral.com/soi), please check it out. ASI editorial staffers spend months gathering and analyzing key sales, marketing and operational metrics used by most of you to provide useable info tailor-made for our industry. The accompanying graphics also provide valuable snapshots of what’s up, down and trending.

I’d also love to know if there’s a topic, trend or strategy we might have missed or not given enough attention to, so please either post a comment or email me at nkucsma@asicentral.com.

Hear that? It’s me, thanking you in advance for participating.

– Nathaniel Kucsma, ASI’s director of marketing research


Sharing Our Story

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

Earlier this week, I sat down with a group of distributors to discuss an informative 30-minute program ASI has aired on a few cable stations that we hope captures the excitement of this business, the power of promotional products and its importance to marketers. The distributors’ concerns and questions over the program echo some online discussions making the rounds, and I appreciated the opportunity to share my own feelings and answer some questions.

Our main goal in airing the program was to communicate why we’re all in this industry and what it can do for others looking for an interesting career and a new way to be successful. Through initiatives like this program and ASI’s long-running education and PR outreach, we’re hopeful business-minded people and entrepreneurs – and especially more women, young people and minorities – will get interested enough in our industry to learn more.  Maybe they’ll join as distributors, become account execs for a current distributor, or even start buying promo products to get the word out about their own business.

The very closely focused test with the program is nearly complete, and we won’t be able to judge for several months if it was worth the investment – measured by people who respond for information, attend some follow-up online educational sessions and other metrics for these types of programs. In terms of the test, it’s been run in a few markets, airing weekends or late at night to a few thousand viewers, similar to a direct-mail campaign that any distributor, supplier or decorator might conduct.

To put this test into perspective, we haven’t been airing the program during the Super Bowl to 100 million people. We deliberately chose to air it over specialized cable networks like CNBC and Fox News with visibility only to entrepreneurs and people looking for a career switch or a second career – people likely with business acumen that would add to our industry.  We worked with outside experts to identify the couple of channels that would include entrepreneurial business types and specifically exclude general consumers.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, more than one person at the table of distributors in Vegas told me they got into this industry after learning about it through word of mouth, from a friend or through a distributor they met at places like church.  Today, social media and video are the new word of mouth and the ways friends keep in touch and share new ideas.

For over 60 years, ASI has worked hard to communicate the excitement we all feel about this business, scoring numerous positive stories in major national outlets like the Wall Street Journal and on networks like MSNBC.  Equally as important, we’ve worked to protect the integrity of the industry by championing a strong business model that supports the success of both suppliers and distributors. We’re not about to change now.

But everyone doing business in today’s world is facing new challenges and with them new opportunities. Now more than ever, we need to work together to keep the industry healthy and viable – and growing.  Worries about possible competition should be outweighed by the need for a strong, diverse, growing work force.  And more and more people understanding our $20.5 billion industry provides great ROI for invested marketing dollars.

At the same time, it’s as important to us as it is to you that anyone joining the industry is interested in sourcing products for resale to prospects and customers.  From time to time I hear from a current distributor that someone who isn’t qualified has joined ASI. Often, this is a bit of a story passed down the lane, with no direct information.  But in other cases we’ve been provided hard contact information and always fully investigated the situation.  Sometimes the rumor isn’t true.  But in the few cases when it has been, we’ve kicked them out for misrepresentation.  If you ever have any questions about someone’s true intentions, please let me know.  We’ll investigate to make sure they meet ASI’s qualifications, which remain the same for new distributors no matter how or when they join – without exception.  And we’ll let you know the outcome.

During my chat in Vegas, the distributors also suggested ASI reach out to colleges and college students and introduce budding entrepreneurs and marketers to an industry they might not even know exists.  Business students 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.

We’re already on this, but are looking to do even more.

For two years, ASI has worked with Babson College to help business students and budding entrepreneurs gain work experience in the promotional products industry. (For more info on that program, click here). We’re now expanding that outreach to other schools, hoping to encourage other business colleges to join us in helping teach tomorrow’s entrepreneurs about this exciting, creative industry.

If you have any ideas about other partnerships we can pursue, or schools we might contact, please let me know.  Personal connections make these types of trials and introductions much more effective.

As always, I do want to know what you think.  So please email me here to further discuss these or any other issues.  And certainly feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment to this blog.


“The Woz” Wows Orlando Show

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community

Here’s another great example of the strange new times we live in: I’m walking with Apple co-founder and ASI keynoter Steve Wozniak soon after he blew away 1,000 people at our Orlando show, when we pass a table of five convention center employees – all buried in their phones. They never once looked up from their devices, missing a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet face-to-face with the man who invented the industry that made those cell phones possible. Incredible!

I loved Wozniak, an engineer who single-handedly kick-started the personal computer industry in the 1970s by inventing the Apple I and II computers. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who speaks not in complete sentences or even complete paragraphs – but in book chapters. To actually sit on stage with the inventor of an entire industry and ask him questions was unbelievable.

And I’m happy to report he couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious, posing for photos with everyone who crossed his path (if they bothered to look up from their phones, that is). He even gave out his email and signed show badges, books – and dozens of iPhones and iPad, including mine (pictured, in the #ASIPromocar).  He made a thousand new friends on Tuesday, the closing day of ASI Show® , which started Sunday at the Orange County Convention Center.

He was energetic, likeable and low key, riveting everyone with insider stories about founding Apple with Steve Jobs in 1976. “I never wanted any fanfare,” said this lifelong engineer, who’s always preferred inventing to marketing. “The builders are the important people in my mind.”

I especially enjoyed it when he said he loved promotional products, recalling a branded insulated travel mug one of his companies gave to employees that miraculously kept beverages hot for two days. As he told us: “It’s a great way to get the word out.”

After the Q&A, Wozniak also toured the show floor (pictured, center of top pic, with ASI vice-chairman Matthew Cohn, at left), surprising attendees and happily posing for photos and gathering so many samples we had to get a bag to carry them in. Kristen Beck, of Alligator Events in Sebastian, FL, made a point of thanking Wozniak, a former teacher, for his inspiring words about the importance of education. “He was awesome,” she said. “It surpassed my expectations.”

What a guy. What a show! For more, click here for an interview with Counselor magazine editor Andy Cohen.

Wozniak was just one of many highlights of ASI Orlando, which kicked off the 2015 selling season with 745 exhibitors and 6,084 attendees from 49 states and 22 countries, with distributor attendance up 8% over 2014. All told, a record 27 companies chose Orlando to host their sales meetings, an increase of 35% from the previous show.

The show more than delivered quality attendance and top-performing salespeople, exceeding all of our expectations. And, there were a ton of new features, making the experience wholly unique.  In addition to the “Marketplace!” showcasing featured products from five of the most popular money-making industries, and the Social Lounge, with huge comfy recliners so people could settle in to watch a live feed of show photos tagged with #ASIOrlando, we hosted a “Minute to Win It” game show. People went crazy competing for prizes by playing outrageously fun games onstage.

Distributors and suppliers also came together at new Networking Clubs, where they ate together, downed martinis, did yoga and even wakeboarded.

To add to the fun, we also brought the #ASIPromocar to the show, putting it on display for people to take photos and sign the inside. No one could believe we’d driven a car covered in hundreds of promotional products over 2,000 miles so far – without losing more than a few pens. For proof of the resiliency of our industry, look no further than our “moving billboard.”

Monday night, ASI’s Counselor® magazine also announced the winners of its 2015 Distributor Choice Awards. I was very pleased to announce Ariel Premium Supply (asi/36730) as our Supplier of the Year. As I told the crowd, Ariel enjoys a 0.4% internal error rate – which means this $30 million company is near perfect when it comes to pricing, sourcing, personalizing, decorating, packing and shipping. No wonder they won the top prize. The enthusiastic group that accepted for Ariel is at right.

For complete coverage of the show,  visit www.asicentral.com.

And don’t forget to register now for our upcoming 2015 ASI Shows: Dallas (February 3-5), Long Beach (March 24-26), New York (May 5-6) and Chicago (July 14-16).

Onward to Texas!


The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Filed under: Community

Considering the whopping success of the ALS ice-bucket challenge, it’s clear online fundraising is here to stay. If you haven’t already, I urge you to also consider Kiva.org, an online community that helps people like you and I loan small amounts of money to entrepreneurs throughout the world.

So far, I’ve given out 199 loans, putting me in the 99th percentile of users. I’ve lent to people in 42 of 85 countries available, but mostly to business people in Pakistan, Nicaragua, Philippines, Bolivia and Peru. And 69% of my loans have been to women. You can also fund tuition and supplies for schoolchildren and people right here in the U.S.

Anyone can do this, including school kids. Most of my loans have been in the $25 range. The great thing is that all those small donations really add up. Since Kiva was founded in 2005, it’s facilitated loans of over $644 million from over a million lenders.

On Kiva’s website, you can choose a borrower by browsing their online profile, make a loan, watch as it’s repaid – and repeat as often as you like.

It’s easy to pick people whose business ideas, personal stories and photos resonate. My mom and her sister were both quilters. And for much of my young life, my mom was our family’s sole breadwinner. So when I see profiles of women like Gladys, a crafter from Colombia (where the average monthly salary is about $475) and Zainab, an embroiderer from Jordan, I happily click and lend (plus, my mom was named Gladys!).

I can only imagine how something like Kiva could have helped the women in my family had it existed way back when. And when I consider how much thread and how many needles $25 can buy, especially in an emerging economy, it really helps put what seems like a very small gesture into much larger perspective.

Here’s the most convincing part of the equation: Kiva (which means “unity” in Swahili) boasts an astonishing repayment rate of 98.8%.

So please consider making a microloan to people living on a few bucks a day, a goodwill gesture with real legs that will help improve the overall world economy. You can watch a clever little video that follows Pedro, a farmer whose Kiva loan transforms his business, to see exactly how it works.

If you do sign up – or are already using Kiva – let me know your experiences by posting a comment here, on ASI’s Facebook page or by emailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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