July 7, 2014
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.
June 19, 2014
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…
Suppliers talked about…
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!).
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.
May 7, 2014
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.
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.
April 28, 2014
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.
April 22, 2014
Perseverantia Vintia is a Latin motto that translates into “Perseverance Conquers.” This sentiment is a perfect description of the fifth annual Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.) hosted by the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) in our nation’s capital April 9 and 10. Throughout the trip to Washington D.C., the 70 industry volunteers who participated shared a common refrain: “They remember who we are and what we are here for.” To me, this refrain sums up our mission, which was to educate members of Congress about the value of advertising specialties and the legislative issues most important to suppliers and distributors.
This year, the L.E.A.D volunteers came from all 50 states, including my home state of Pennsylvania, where ASI is based. Over two days, our group made over 200 Congressional office visits, the culmination of months of preparation that included contacting Congressional staff to arrange meetings and participating in numerous conference calls and webinars to coordinate activities and hone our “lobbying” skills.
As in the past, one of the primary message points is that low-cost, high-impact ad specialties, which still cost as little as half a penny per impression, work. We also wanted to remind our lawmakers of the important part a $20.5 billion industry that employs over 400,000 people plays in the national economy.
Invariably, every Congressional office we visited had numerous advertising specialties, which helped us make our case while providing tangible proof of the importance of using ad specialties for public awareness programs such as organ donation and health-care awareness. Naturally, we always bring promotional products with us to reinforce our message. This year, Jim Socci of Artistic Toy (asi/37122) designed a really clever and effective product to use during our pitch – an elephant-shaped hand puppet that turned inside out to become a donkey (pictured). Needless to say, the message was not lost on our audience and, whether they were Republican or Democrat, the puppet never failed to make them smile.
In addition to industry awareness, we also focused on preserving the ability of suppliers and distributors to hire independent contractors in lieu of employees, maintaining the full deductibility of advertising costs and the need to be mindful of small businesses in any proposed tax reform. Each team was prepared with position papers on each topic that concisely set forth the issues at hand, which we left behind as a resource for future reference.
Throughout our trip, the group met over meals to compare notes and share success stories. At the breakfast meeting on the final day, PPAI recognized Congresswoman Renee Ellmers of North Carolina as its Legislator of the Year in recognition of her commitment to small business interests and success, willingness to meet with industry professionals and support of issues critical to the promotional products industry.
Kudos must go to the folks at PPAI who worked so hard on the event, especially Paul Bellantone, president and CEO; Anne Lardner-Stone, director of public affairs; and Seth Barnett, government relations manager. Their diligence and enthusiasm was evident from the start and I’m confident Congressional leaders left our meetings with a greater appreciation of our industry and the important role it plays in providing businesses with creative, cost-effective ways to reach their target audiences.
– Chuck Machion is ASI’s senior VP and senior counsel
In the photo at top, Chuck, at far left, is pictured with PA Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, center, and Jim Socci.
April 14, 2014
ASI scored some major PR for the industry recently, thanks to a national story that aired on the MSNBC Sunday morning program, Your Business, which exclusively covers small businesses and entrepreneurs. Host J.J. Ramberg and her crew spent hours at ASI’s New York show interviewing exhibitors and the end result is a serious look at a fun industry and the proven power of promotional products.
You can check out the fact-packed MSNBC segment on ASI’s press page by clicking here. You can also access it at on the show’s webpage by clicking here. Don’t forget to share the link on your social media pages – like Facebook and LinkedIn – and also internally among your own teams.
Overall, I think the MSNBC segment really captured some key points about advertising specialties while also relaying the energy and fun of what we all do every day. In the “Business War Chest” part of the program, host J.J. described the cool items she saw as “promos with a purpose” (which I love!) and said ad specialties “can’t be beat.”
Producer Dawn Stackhouse spent a total of about seven hours on the show floor over two days, interviewing exhibitors and learning all about the industry. Even though it looks easy once it makes it to air, it’s unbelievable how much work goes into reporting a single 4-minute segment – and appearing on TV. I bet every exhibitor featured on the show has a newfound respect for on-air talent now that they’ve experienced the “bright lights” themselves.
I’d like to offer my congrats to the companies selected for on-air interviews: Debco (asi/48885), Stuffed Tees (asi/79662), Personalized Gift Source (asi/50161) and Brighter Promotions (asi/42016). The MSNBC segment closed with host J.J. hanging out with the ASI Show mascot, Promo, and shooting off a tee shirt shot from a logoed air cannon supplied by Air Cannons Inc. (asi/33252).
My thanks go to everyone who helped during MSNBC’s visit to ASI New York, especially exhibitors like Easy-Doks (asi/51511), Bloomin’ Promotions (asi/40646), Interall Group (asi/63092), See-Sun (asi/88584), Eco-Centric Brands (asi/51443), S&K (asi/84325) and Idol Memory (asi/62222), who graciously gave their time to demo products for the camera, but who may not have made it to air or who appeared only briefly.
Considering that a 30-second commercial could cost a company upwards of $35,000 per spot, such free publicity is golden for any business, which is why we make it a priority at ASI. We’re continuously courting reporters across North America to gain media coverage showcasing entrepreneurs in our industry, explaining how to use promotional products in marketing campaigns and reinforcing the large return on investment that branded products provide.
The most recent “get” is just one of literally dozens of TV segments ASI has arranged in recent years, including two others that aired on Fox News during ASI New York. Although I’m not crazy about the term “wacky products” and found the Good Day New York anchors a little silly, ASI’s own Joe Haley did a great job representing the industry during a live television show (where anything can happen and it’s very hard to control the messaging).
Check out the segments and let me know what you think by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn. Hopefully, you’ll react as positively as Chris Seriale, of New World Group (asi/283161) who watched the filming in New York and told us: “I’ve been an ASI member for 20 years and this is so cool. It’s great for the industry.”
March 28, 2014
The ASI show in Long Beach, California was as provocative as it was successful. Artist Erik Wahl – one of the most unusual keynoters we’ve ever had – gave a presentation described by more than one person as “awesome.”
Linda Panksy, from PIP Printing (asi/398508) told us Wahl, a best-belling author who uses art as a means of communicating business advice, actually inspired her to think differently: “He made me realize that I need to get out of the box.”
According to Wahl, “You have to find ways to differentiate yourself from the competition, and creativity can do that. The companies that are successful right now are the ones that create unique experiences for their customers.”
If you missed the keynote, check out an interview Counselor Editor Andy Cohen conducted afterward with Wahl, on ways ad specialty companies can become more creative and innovative. Click here to watch.
The two-day California show was attended by more than 1,800 distributors, including sales stars from Million-Dollar Roundtable companies such as Geiger, Brown & Bigelow, Jack Nadel and iPROMOTEu. The show floor attracted 280 exhibitors, including 93 new to Long Beach.
The best part for me were the reviews from attendees like Paul Herzbrum, from BND Corporation (asi/129474), who said: “We’re leaving with many new initiatives that will help us build our business, and that’s what attending a trade show is all about.”
Katharina Pieper of BamBams (asi/38228) told us she most enjoyed the quality of attendees. “We’ve been able to talk in detail with distributors and are being asked for quotes and are getting valuable leads. We are already committed to all The ASI Shows next year, and we will be in New York next week.”
What I liked best about our week in California was all we accomplished, starting with the unique combination of our invitation-only fASIlitate event with an ASI show. Everyone I spoke to who attended both events found the experience worthwhile. Tonia Allen Gould, from TagSource, described fASIlitate as “Absolutely fabulous. It’s a great use of time. I’m sitting down with vendors one-on-one and it’s a very rewarding experience. I would definitely recommend it.”
I hope you’ve been able to catch another new initiative: the live, on-stage version of our ever-popular “Joe Show,” featuring dozens of cool, new products from leading suppliers. Host Joe Haley is earning high praise for the live format. One distributor even told us it was his favorite part of the show.
Seems like we’re barely taking a breath before heading to ASI New York, taking place next Wednesday and Thursday at the Javits Center. After that, it’s on to the ASI show in Chicago July 15-17. (To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2014, contact sales VP Karen DiTomasso at email@example.com).