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Vulnerability is the Key to Success

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, News About ASI

I admit, I didn’t know who reality TV star and businessman Marcus Lemonis was when we secured him last year as the keynote speaker at the 2016 ASI Show® Orlando.

But since then, I’ve binge-watched The Profit and become a huge fan. His message to our overflowing audience of 1,000 on the closing day of our three-day trade show: be vulnerable, sharing with people deeply meaningful things they don’t know about you to build true personal and business relationships.

Overall, his speech was about the most open, honest and, yes, vulnerable one I’ve ever heard.

“You don’t hear this stuff on my show, you won’t read about it in interviews I do, but this is who I am,” he told our audience, who were on the edge of their seats. “I was fat as a kid. I was bullied. I had an eating disorder. I was molested by a relative. I’m telling you all this because my number-one asset is vulnerability. It is the key to success.”

Wow. When’s the last time you heard a wildly successful businessman admit his deepest, most innermost thoughts? I tell you, that message – and Marcus’s kindness to so many people who sought his advice and attention – will stick with me forever.

Not only did he run over his presentation by about 20 minutes, Lemonis took a ton of time from a crazy-busy day to speak with just about everyone he met, starting with every single person in  very long line at our meet-and-greet after the keynote (which was one of only 4-5 corporate appearances he makes a year).

All morning, the multi-millionaire, who runs the $3 billion Camping World RV empire, collected business cards, gifts and even cellphone numbers from his many fans. And during a tour of the trade show floor, he seemed genuinely interested in everything – including the famous Cohn family hotdogs, which we still serve at every ASI show.

(For more on Marcus, read our story by clicking here).

The keynote was just one of many highlights from Orlando, which drew 715 exhibitors and nearly 6,000 attendees from 49 states and 18 countries – plus, an all-time record of 27 distributor companies holding big meetings at the show.

In the end, the biggest take-away from Orlando – the kick-off to ASI’s entire show season – was summed up nicely by Rita Ugianskis-Fishman, vice president and general manager of ASI Show, who said: “I was delighted that Marcus emphasized the importance of authentic personal relationships to business success. At a time when so many of us are devoted to our devices, it’s more critical than ever to take full advantage of the face-to-face relationships you can really only build at trade shows like Orlando, Dallas and Chicago.

Here’s to more openness, greater connectivity and stronger relationships in 2016 – and on to ASI Show Dallas, February 9-11 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and ASI Show Chicago, July 12-14 at McCormick Place.

 


Giving What We Can

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

Growing up, I benefited from charitable people and agencies.

I remember when my disabled mom caught a ride with a neighbor into Columbus, Indiana, to file for welfare. (I recently found our original welfare card. Photo attached). Her pride was less important than her son. She let me open the first check: $12.  Next was my first visit to a dentist. We shopped with food stamps and ate better than ever.

Holiday gifts for me were often carried into our home by volunteer firemen, who were delivering presents wrapped by neighbors helping neighbors.

Happily, I now work at a company that makes “We care” an integral part of our corporate values. Throughout 2015, our employees also thought of others, making generous donations of time, goods and nearly $30,000 in cash to nearly a dozen community nonprofit organizations.

The United States is the most charitable country in the world. This year, individuals will give $260 billion to charities, more than 70% of total giving.

During the holiday season, such organizations often receive half their annual total contributions. So during the next few days, as you think about the gifts you’re swapping with friends and relatives, please take a moment to consider a contribution to an organization of your choice.

Don’t worry about the amount. Remember, $12 gave me hope, food and a positive outlook for my future.

Happy holidays, everyone!

 

 


My 100-Year-Old Promotional Memory

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

Every Fall, ASI conducts a corporate gift-giving survey to find out how much companies across the country are spending on client and employee gifts this holiday season. And every year the results confirm that a quality gift is the best way to express appreciation and build relationships.

People from all kinds of industries told us that when they get a corporate thank-you gift it makes them feel appreciated, grateful and valued. And, when we asked about their most memorable gift, they responded with great enthusiasm for everything from a branded umbrella, laptop sleeve and reciprocating saw (yes, really!) to steaks, bourbon truffles and activity trackers – a list that goes to prove that you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot to get a big return.

I’m living proof of that concept, which really is the central tenet of our entire industry. I still have one of the gifts my grandmother received probably 100 years ago from Rose’s Store in St. Louis Crossing, Indiana, the tiny village where I grew up. When she passed away, she left it to me. To this day, I have it displayed in my house as a reminder of grandma, that simple little store, and growing up in Indiana farmland.

More recently, I gave 10 of my closest friends a fleece with a logo designed for a special trip I took with them all to Argentina to celebrate my 50th birthday. The trip and the logoed items I gave everyone were my way of thanking them for the big part they play in my life, each and every day.

Occasionally, three years later, three or four of us will show up at a party wearing that same fleece. Like the best promo products, a fleece – or a plate or a USB, or any one of thousands of branded products – is practical, useful and attractive. It’s why people keep such items around for years – or even decades.

Our annual gift-giving study turned up a ton of useful stats I encourage you to take on sales calls as further proof of the enduring effectiveness of this low-cost, high-ROI advertising medium. Whether you’re thanking loyal clients for their business, courting potential ones or showing your own employees how much they mean to you, you really can’t beat a branded item.

Nate Kucsma, ASI’s marketing research director, said that what struck him the most about the 2015 results is that companies are spending more overall on employee gifts this year than on client gifts. That makes sense in an increasingly tight job market when companies have to work that much harder to retain top talent.

How did you thank your employees this year? At ASI, our employees seemed to really appreciate the turkey or a pie we gave out before Thanksgiving the most.

Click here for our press release on the gift-giving report and look below for some highlights:

  • Companies thanking clients plan to give gifts averaging $48, up 9% from 2014.
  • Companies rewarding employees with cash or gifts are spending an average of $44, up nearly 16% from 2014.
  • Companies thanking clients plan to give gifts averaging $48, up 9% from 2014.
  • Food or beverages like the ubiquitous fruit basket are the most popular items for customers and prospects, followed by useful office items like pens, calendars and power banks.
  • The leading employee gifts are gift cards and cash bonuses, followed by food and beverages, and apparel.
  • Nearly one-quarter of all companies giving gifts to employees will spend over $100 on each employee gift this year, versus 18% in 2014.
  • Nearly half (46%) of all responding companies report that 100% of the gifts they give out this season, to both employees and customers and prospects, will have their company’s logo on them.

Leave a comment to let me know the best gift you’ve ever gotten – or given. Hands down, I vote for my irreplaceable plate. Every time I look at it, I see love. I can’t imagine anything more valuable.


Powerful People, Powerful Lessons

Filed under: Community, Members, News About ASI

Remember Borders, the once-giant bookstore chain? At its peak, Borders and its chief competitor, Barnes and Noble, controlled a combined 40% of the bookselling market. While numerous factors led to Borders’ eventual demise, failing to jump quickly enough on the e-commerce bandwagon probably hurt the most.

The lesson? Adapt or die. It’s a lesson many members of this year’s Counselor Power 50 – the most influential business leaders in the ad specialty industry – clearly learned.

As Counselor Editor Andy Cohen says of the growing influence of e-commerce on our industry, “Many of the newcomers on this year’s list are e-commerce players, and even the person at the top of the rankings heads a distributor firm that is the biggest pure digital and mobile player in the market today.”

One of the best case studies to learn from involves the man at the top of the 2015 list: Kevin Lyons-Tarr, who rose to No. 1 in large part because of the explosive growth of the North American division of the company he heads, online seller 4imprint.

As Andy so rightly concludes: “Lyons-Tarr is espousing the business model of the future in the promotional products industry. He’s leading the way in the market for e-commerce, social network marketing and a digital-first approach that others are trying to emulate.”

ASI unveiled the latest Power 50 list at our just-concluded 2015 U.S. Power Summit, held over three days at a gorgeous resort about an hour south of Los Angeles (see pic at right for this year’s “class” of attendees). The agenda was our most future-forward ever, with topics like “Lessons from a Hacker,” “Marketing to Millennials” and “Go Mobile or Die.”

This was also one of our most controversial Power Summits.

By bringing in speakers we dubbed “the disrupters” for the way they’re changing the game, our aim was to provide as many lessons as possible in adapting to shifts in the marketplace. Alibaba’s Michael Lee, with me at right, provided a lot of insight into how the world’s biggest online retailer continues to rake in billions.

And, since keeping pace with new technology is critical to any business as new ideas, we also included demos of 3D printers, holograms, wearable technology and drones.

If you missed the Power Summit, you’ll find coverage of many of the topics in Counselor PromoGram and on ASI’s website and social media pages (hashtag #asipowersummit). Click here for recaps, pics and videos.

And, we’ll continue to report on ways the Internet is changing how distributors in the promo products market operate in the pages of our magazines. For more guidance, you can also revisit the 2015 Counselor State of the Industry report and listen to the Counselor Podcast: Power 50 Series, featuring in-depth interviews with 10 industry insiders on topics of importance to us all.

As always, the information is yours for the taking.

Finally, it’s never too early to register for the 2016 Power Summit, taking place November 3-5, at the Trump National Doral Resort in Miami, Florida (or maybe the White House — we’ll see). Hope to see you there!

 


Fall Fashion: Can You Dig It?

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Our annual Style Issue and high-fashion shoot for Wearables is an exercise in ambition. Instead of everyday polos and T-shirts, we challenged preconceived notions of promotional apparel. It’s Fashion with a capital ‘F.’

The bar was high, but I think we surpassed expectations. Last year, we created a life-sized background, plastered it to the ground and wired a camera to the ceiling, 14 feet high. Designer Conrad Booker conceived an original line of clothing for industry decorators to bring to life and the 15-hour shoot culminated in a gravity-defying (and award-winning!) fashion spread.

The question this year, obviously, was “How can we top that?”

The answer: Be dramatically different.

Echoing leading fashion pubs like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, the 2015 fall fashion shoot featured a minimalist set design that showcased the amazing 1970s-era clothes (the year’s biggest runway trend) and floral multimedia decoration. We combined the shoot for Wearables and Stitches for the first time in anticipation of the upcoming integration of the magazines, and in response to our many readers’ interest in varied decoration techniques.

Each year, the day of the shoot is always exhilarating but stressful, but this year’s also was the most fun and relaxed. ASI’s photographer Mark Pricskett kept the mood light by cranking the grooviest disco tracks of the era (Saturday Night Fever, anyone?). ASI intern Alexandra Steel got some good-natured ribbing for an important-but-thankless task: raking the set’s shag carpet. And, I admit it, we all took turns modeling the amazing faux afro puff (made from dyed raffia) Conrad created for one of the outfits.

Check out the fun by watching our behind-the-scenes video.

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Thanks to incredible outfits provided by leading designers and industry decorators, the shoot was a joy instead of a job. But an all-day shoot with two models and nearly a dozen staffers and assistants hustling and bustling isn’t a simple matter of throwing on an outfit and snapping a few pics. Thought and effort go into everything: makeup and hair, lighting and even poses. It’s a mix of science and art, fueled by a hefty dose of professional intuition.

Take the laser-cut leather jacket from designer Byron Lars. Mark encouraged our model Roxanne to try some “cheesy smiles” and, boom! Smiling visions of Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs filled our heads (as they did countless boys from that era), and we knew we had our shot.

We’re unabashedly proud of the work we did, but our biggest hope is that it serves as inspiration for decorators across the industry so they’re encouraged to experiment and push the limits with their creations. While these decoration techniques were used for high fashion, they’re the very same tools that will allow promotional apparel to stand out from the crowd.

We’re already looking ahead to an even more far-out 2016 fashion shoot – and encourage you to aim for new heights as well.

Wearables Editor C.J. Mittica (pictured above), cmittica@asicentral.com


With You Every Step of the Way

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Imagine inviting a crew of co-workers into your home for two days from dawn to dusk to shoot a commercial for your company. It happened at my house and, as you can imagine, it was an insanely busy scene, with lights, cameras and action everywhere, from the kitchen and living room all the way to the bathroom and bedroom. It was also insanely fun. The end result is a new ASI video, “Every Step of the Way.” Click here to take a look.

The meaning behind the video is simple: Our tools, resources and information are designed for you, the members of the promotional products industry, but our support is really what makes the difference.

Behind world-class products and services, we have more than 400 dedicated people who want to help you reach your potential and exceed your goals. (No, all 400 of them did not come to my house to make the video, but there were times during the shoot when it felt like they did.)

As talented experts in their fields, each and every one of ASI’s employees is here to support you and your business, through ups, downs and really anything that comes your way. We are focused on making you successful.

Your business journey is unique to you. We can’t walk in your shoes, but we can walk with you and help you when you need it. Like the new video says, we’re here, every step of the way.

I hope you like the video. Either way, I’d welcome your feedback, at rwatson@asicentral.com. Who knows – maybe for our next commercial we’ll come to your house.

P.S. You may spot a few familiar faces in our video, including ASI’s Chairman of the Board, Norman Cohn (reading the bedtime story), President and CEO Tim Andrews (offering wine) and our products expert, Joe Haley (providing morning-drive commentary). The “star” – who is meant to represent each of you – is Rick Angeloni, ASI’s design principal in our marketing department.

– Rob Watson, ASI’s senior vice president of marketing and user experience

 

 


Update from ASI’s CTO

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

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 arafat@asicentral.com:

  • ASI’s State of the Industry
  • ASI Case Study: Benefits and Challenges of the Modern Platform Architecture
  • Right Brain/Left Brain: Keeping Creativity Alive Within User Experience
  • Technology Challenges from the Perspective of the Distributor
  • Big Data: How to Tame It and Harness Its Power for Profit
  • The Perilous and the Profitable: What You Should Know About Outsourcing

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


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