August 3, 2015
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 firstname.lastname@example.org:
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
July 23, 2015
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.
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:
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.
June 20, 2015
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.
May 11, 2015
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.”
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.
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 email@example.com, about sponsorships or exhibiting.
March 26, 2015
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.
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.”
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 Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on ASI’s website, www.asicentral.com. The car already has 190,000 miles on it, so wish us luck!
March 4, 2015
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hear that? It’s me, thanking you in advance for participating.
– Nathaniel Kucsma, ASI’s director of marketing research
January 14, 2015
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.