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Cool, Charismatic and Paying it Forward

Filed under: Community, Industry Initiatives, Members, News About ASI

If you read nothing else this week, I urge you to peruse the stories of the innovators and game changers who made the 2016 Counselor Hot 25 list.

You’ll find entrepreneurs like Bayo Simmonds, the rock-star owner and founder of the apparel company Assertive Creativity (asi/37166), who was born in Brooklyn to a Nigerian father and a mother from St. Thomas. He’s passionate about this industry and determined to succeed.

You’ll also find Dat Dang, president and founder of supplier firm Chao (asi/48102), which brings a truly unique product to the industry: artful, customized pop-up greeting cards. Dat immigrated to the U.S. as a seven-year-old following the Vietnam War, and Chao is now one of Inc.’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies.

Although I could have highlighted any one of the creative business leaders on this year’s Hot 25 list (#CounselorHot25), I’m singling out Bayo and Dat because they represent the future of our industry. They’re young – and they don’t look like everyone else I see on the trade show floor.

Back in 2012, I challenged the audience at the ASI Power Summit to hire one minority sometime in the next year. “Don’t hire someone like me,” I said. “We don’t need more 50-year-old white males!” If every top distributor heeded my call for greater diversification and hired and trained a minority, in five years we’d have 25,000 experienced representatives courting new business.

We may not be there yet, but I was heartened by the people on our 2016 list, which is a mix of industry veterans and newcomers, children of industry legends and heads of overseas companies. Also of note: our list also includes 13 female business leaders. Considering that women overall currently hold a paltry 4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies the number on the Hot 25 list is truly impressive.

Will hiring more minorities and women automatically boost your bottom line? Of course not. But as study after study tells us, people tend to trust and buy from people who look like them, culturally and ethnically. So it’s good economic sense for every company in this industry to take an aggressive stance on shaking things up.

It may not make a huge difference this year, but it will as soon as the next generation comes of age. More than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group by 2020 – four short years from now – the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

Who will relate to – and sell to – them? Happily, many people on Counselor’s 2016 Hot 25 list. I’m proud of that, and you should be too.

The results and more info on all our winners are in the March issue of ASI’s award-winning Counselor magazine, and profiles and photos of all winners are available online.

Check out their stories. They’re inspiring – and they also contain a ton of smart business advice, like this nugget from industry veteran Jill Stirnkorb, BIC Graphic’s vice president of inside sales: “Email, social media and all the technology in the world does not replace a good phone call or face-to-face meeting.”

When she started at BIC, Jill was only the third female in the sales force. It’s a big part of the reason why she mentors younger women today. She’s paying it forward. And you should too.

 

 


United States of Diversity

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

ASI’s Mickee Chai was a 20-year-old student living in her native Malaysia when she took her very first plane ride halfway around the world – a trip that changed the course of her life forever. The night before she left her family behind, she went outside and looked up to the night sky.

“And I realized at that moment that the only thing that would be the same after tomorrow was that I’d be looking up at the same moon,” Mickee, VP of our project management office, told a spellbound crowd of nearly 100 employees gathered for a TED-like talk during ASI’s recent Diversity Week. “It was exciting to think that I could be anything I wanted to be.”

Like many others then and now, Mickee came to the U.S. to pursue higher education, coincidentally at Indiana University in my home state, making her a fellow Hoosier! It’s also where she met her husband, who’s from Japan, and started a family with two daughters.

I’ve known Mickee for over 10 years and learned more about her in that hour-long talk than I did in a decade, which was exactly the point of Diversity Week, organized by the ASI Diversity Council chaired by HR’s Miranda Doane. In addition to Mickee (pictured with ASI’s Matthew Cohn, left, and event MC Joe Haley), we also heard from our offshore tech team in Pakistan about life in a Muslim country and read telling intranet posts from employees who journeyed here from countries as diverse as Argentina, Bulgaria and France.

Whenever I think I had it tough, I consider what so many immigrants experience – leaving behind the only friends, families and communities they’ve ever known, landing sight unseen in a foreign country, confounded daily by different languages, customs, etiquette and protocols.

Here’s a small sampling of insights from my colleagues:

  • Osama Rifat, a wife and mother who works for us from Pakistan (at right): “People think we’re all terrorists or extremists,” she said. “We are normal and mild people with families and kids. The other misconception is that women are oppressed and illiterate…We had the first female head of state in the whole Muslim world and most likely far before most other urbanized countries. We have female fighter pilots in the Air Force; women are doctors, teachers, engineers, doing jobs actively in different fields.”
  • Giorgi Stoynev, an ASI development team leader in information services, who came to the U.S. from Bulgaria after college: “Despite differences in language, religion, wealth, education, despite the hundreds of years spent on different continents, behind each person’s face there was somebody just like my father, my sister, me. I was stunned at how undistinguishable everybody’s pursuit of happiness was from what I already knew.”
  • Jara de la Poza, advertising and ESP coordinator, who moved to the U.S. from Spain: “Living here has changed the way I see the world in many ways. I don’t see distance as a barrier anymore and I encourage people to travel, visit foreign places and meet new people because it really opens your eyes to what other cultures consider normal. I realized that home is what you make it and that you need to try things before you judge them (like fried Oreos).  Knowing where people come from before you do business with them can also make you a better professional. What might feel rude to you, might seem well-intended for someone from another culture, and vice versa.”
  • Rafael Dosman, distributor account manager for ASI Show, whose parents came to the U.S. from Panama in 1979: “The biggest challenges when I first came here were the language barrier and my accent. In my experience, I have found that people are very quick to judge you or think you may be less than smart because English is not your first language or you may have an accent. The most surprising thing to me in this country is how sensitive people are about race. It fascinates me. My country is a melting pot of people but we do not have the sensitivity that Americans do regarding race.”
  • Pablo Pizzichini, executive director of distributor services, who was born and raised in Argentina before moving to Philadelphia at age 17: “For the entire week from Christmas Eve through New Year’s, all of Argentina stops and everyone goes to the beach or mountains with their families. The weather is perfect and it is quite important. They do the same thing during Holy Week through Easter Sunday. Nobody works and it is very solemn and special time with family and friends.”
  • Yann Perrin, ASI’s Web development manager, who was born in France: “As far as work-life balance, the French have a lot more time off from work but they are still quite productive and creative. It’s very easy to overwork in the U.S. Trying to find the right work-life balance is always a challenge for a work addict like me. I make sure to take all my vacation days.”

The same week, in conjunction with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service initiative, the Diversity Council organized volunteer activities at area nonprofits like the Philabundance food distribution center (pictured, at right), Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Libertae, Impact Thrift and Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Employees worked together in small groups, packing up boxes of food for seniors, re-stocking shelves, painting a kitchen for a group that helps women battling addiction and serving lunch to the hungry. While lending muscle to well-deserving community groups, people from different departments also got to know each other better – another benefit of the diversity initiative.

Most of our employees participated in several of the events, and the reviews were incredibly positive. We learned a lot about each other, and ourselves, and we gave back to the community in the true spirit of Dr. King.

 

 

 

 

 


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


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