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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.


Steal This Study

Filed under: Community, Member Benefits, News About ASI, Research

It’s here: ASI’s groundbreaking global research report packed with stats and graphics to help you convince customers to spend more of their marketing moolah on promo products.

Click here for a quick, catchy YouTube video on the study and here to ASI’s 2014 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study in its entirety.You’ll also find easy-to-understand graphics to save and share. I encourage you to post the video and the study link (www.asicentral.com/study) on your own business website to further spread the word about the incredible power of promo products.

The strongest number to tout is promo products’ commanding advertiser recall among 85% of consumers surveyed. People really remember the advertiser on logoed items, largely because they see or use them nearly every day.  In fact, most people own about 10 items they generally keep for seven months.

Can you remember a single advertiser from the last time you watched TV? I’m betting you can’t. Perform this simple test on your next potential customer and you just might score a sale.

ASI conducted its first comprehensive research study in 2006. In a nod to our increasingly global marketplace, this year’s study contains far greater global reach, and features several differences worth noting. For the first time we:

  • Conducted all interviews face-to-face, versus a mix of in-person and online
  • Focused on Europe as a whole
  • Polled end-buyers in Mexico
  • Emphasized regional and country-by-country trends and differences.

This year’s data updates prior years’ reports by expanding interviews into two cities in Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City) and several additional mid-major markets: Tampa, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego.

Through conversations with real people who get, use and share ad specialties, we gauged the reach of products, consumer’s perceptions, their influence on buying decisions and their influence on the perception of the advertiser.

After thousands of interviews with businesspeople and students in key cities across North America, Canada, Europe and Australia we can say with certainty that ad specialties are one of the most high-impact, cost-effective advertising mediums around.

And, since knowing the likely recipient of products is paramount for an advertiser, we made sure to include demographic information broken down by political affiliation, ethnicity, gender, age and income.

What’s most impressive is that no matter where we polled consumers, we found end-buyers who feel good about the brands on promo products they use day in and day out. When’s the last time an annoying TV or radio commercial made you feel good? I rest my case!

Another conclusion that resonated with me: First and foremost, consumers want products that are useful, like pens and USB drives. In Canada, 82% of consumers polled said that’s why they kept branded items, the highest percentage of any country.

The study is a living document that’s meant to be used – not scanned once and forgotten. It’s powerful data you can, and should, refer to again and again. Cherry-pick graphics that work best for your business and post them, share them and pass them out on sales calls.

Let me know how you plan to use this study in your business by posting a comment, emailing me here or posting to ASI’s Facebook page. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Into the Future

Filed under: Community, Member Benefits, Members, News About ASI, Research, Using Ad Specialties

A major theme of this year’s U.S. Power Summit was helping prepare the promotional products industry for the future. The keynote speaker, Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard, advised business leaders committed to growth to hire more people who can deliver different solutions to the organization, while futurist John Smart encouraged companies to invest in e-commerce and mobile platforms.

And since suppliers and distributors must be prepared to meet the ever-growing demand for faster service and order processing, we also invited industry experts to discuss the “need for speed” during a session highlighted by an actual drone demo. While flying drones (pictured, right) are really cool, our bigger point in bringing them to the power summit was to get industry people to start thinking about ways they can be utilized in in areas like warehouse inventory and Amazon-like delivery.

This year, the 2014 ASI® Power Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, attracted about 200 of the most influential distributors, suppliers and decorators in the industry. From the early feedback I’ve gotten, everyone enjoyed the superior content and business discussions, which were helped along during fun activities like golf and a visit to a nearby ranch for lassoing and skeet shooting. The fine scotch helped too, I’m sure.

Click here for Facebook photos of the action.

We packed a lot into three days. During my Q&A with alphabroder CEO Norman Hullinger, we even broke some news about his plans to double the size of the company in the next five years – and for sales to hit $1.6 billion. In 2013, the number-one supplier on the Counselor® Top 40 list posted sales of $697 million.

Future growth for alphabroder will come from acquisitions and organic growth, especially growth in ad specialty distributorships. But the really big news from alphabroder concerned expanding beyond apparel to a line of hard goods – an expansion that will likely come about through acquisitions as well as internally.

Throughout the power summit, ASI’s editorial staffers provided full coverage of happenings along with video interviews from all major presentations. To read more:

When I say we packed a lot into this year’s U.S. Power Summit, I mean we packed a lot into this gathering. We also released the names of the industry’s most powerful people with the 2014 Counselor Power 50 list. Click here to read our press release with more detail and click here for the full list, topped by Marty Lott and Jeremy Lott of SanMar.

Finally, we also released the 2014 Global Advertising Impressions Study, a cost analysis of promotional products versus other advertising media. For the study, our research team conducted thousands of in-person interviews with businesspeople and students in key cities across North America, Canada, Europe and Australia. This year’s data updates prior years’ reports by expanding interviews into two cities in Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City) and several additional mid-major markets: Tampa, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego.

Ultimately, the comprehensive study provides buyers and sellers of promo products with powerful data to convince clients worldwide that ad specialties can increase sales and brand exposure.

Click here to watch an awesome YouTube video on the study results and here to read the study in its entirety.

If you were at the Power Summit, thanks for joining us! I’d love to know what you thought – and any suggestions you may have for next year’s event, which we’re already planning at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, CA in November 2015 (www.asicentral.com/psreg).

Please feel free to post a comment or email me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Power Summit 2014: Meet, Share, Solve, Succeed

Filed under: Community, Member Benefits, News About ASI

One of the best aspects of any ASI Power Summit is up-close access to some of the greatest media and marketing minds in the world. At this week’s event in Scottsdale, AZ, we’re privileged to have Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard as our keynote speaker.

A North Dakota native, Karlgaard is an author and entrepreneur who went from security guard to head of one of the hottest legacy media companies in the Google Age – and I can’t wait to hear his thoughts on the five factors that will dramatically affect business growth in 2015 and beyond.

For a recent ASI Radio interview with Rich, click here.

There’s more. The 2014 Power Summit – our 8th U.S. event! – at the Four Seasons Scottsdale includes a packed slate of industry insiders who will share their strategies on everything from customization, mobile marketing and demographic shifts to doing business in Mexico and making the best hires.

We’ve gathered an intimate group for three days in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, Crescent Butte Mountain, Pinnacle Peak and the Valley of the Sun. We’ll pack a lot of learning into the sessions, but will leave plenty of time for a first-class, quintessential desert golf experience and celebrations.

In addition, members of Counselor magazine’s prestigious Power 50 list will also be on-hand to share their plans for seizing the future and making even greater inroads to industry success.

If you’re a returning Power Summit veteran, we are shaking things up a bit this year and I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the changes.

The Power Summit experience is one of the best events ASI offers, and here’s why: Instead of the rush of a trade show, we get to spend real time getting to know one another in a relaxed setting that’s conducive to late-night talks and early morning runs. While we kick it up a notch during our panel sessions – which include group brainstorming to hammer out solutions to common industry problems and even a creative marketing smackdown – we incorporate time for genuine relationship building. And isn’t that what doing business together is really all about?

If you have any questions at all about this year’s Power Summit, let me know by posting a comment or emailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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.


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