July 16, 2014
ASI is celebrating its 15th anniversary of hosting a national trade show in the great city of Chicago with a ton of fun and flair. The show features info-packed education sessions, top-flight suppliers, team-building distributor sales meetings and awesome presentations.
ASI Chicago takes place through Thursday, July 17, at McCormick Place and features numerous Counselor® Top 40 suppliers and over 100 exhibitors new to Chicago this year. The show is a big draw to entrepreneurs, CEOs and small business owners located throughout the Midwest, and beyond.
At the traditional ASI Show dinner attended by show employees ASI’s chairman, Norman Cohn, shared some wonderful stories about our 15 years in Chicago, which is one of my all-time favorite cities to visit. We all love coming here and hope everyone is enjoying everything the city has to offer (including those amazing restaurants).
At the show, Thursday’s highlight is sure to be Erik Wahl, a best-selling business author who believes creativity is the new corporate capital, who will actually paint right on stage during his keynote.
ASI’s education featured a special half-day session with business guru Stephen M.R. Covey titled “Selling at the Speed of Trust.” Education also included a new Screen-Printing Success Track, part of ASI’s new relationship with ST Media, sponsored by Workhorse Products.
As part of this new relationship, we also unveiled the news Signage + Decoration Pavilion, featuring well-known equipment companies and live education (both days). I hope you take the time to stop by and check it out.
Chicago is a city that loves its art – both public street art and on display in wonderful museums. In a nod to that creativity, ASI did something really fun: glued a variety of promotional products donated by ASI suppliers to a used Mazda we then drove 750 miles from ASI headquarters in Philadelphia to the show, where it’s on display and available for people to sign and get their photo taken.
The car is intended to drive attention to the industry’s ingenuity and to the products themselves. Nothing says durable like surviving a trip through four states on a high-speed interstate! During the drive we only lost a single product. If you took pics of the car please post to your social media using hashtag #ASIpromocar.
The show excitement continued at the prestigious 2014 Counselor® Awards, held this year at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications. At the black-tie ceremony, Counselor announced the Top 40 Distributors and Top 40 Suppliers rankings – the largest companies in the $20.5 billion promotional products industry, based upon 2013 revenue. We also named Norman Hullinger, CEO of alphabroder (asi/34063), as Person of the Year and Suzanne Worwood, merchandising VP of 4imprint Inc. (asi/197045), as International Person of the Year.
Go to www.asicentral.com for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos from ASI’s on-site editorial team. For more photos, be sure to visit the ASI Show Facebook page and ASI’s Facebook page.
July 8, 2014
There’s no better time than summer to tackle an offbeat project, all in the name of fun. In that spirit, ASI created an “ArtCar” that we’re driving over 750 miles from our headquarters outside Philadelphia to display at ASI Chicago. Think of it as our “moving billboard” advertising the promo industry.
The campaign is called “Driving Serious Fun” – a nod to the industry’s creativity and to the wacky idea of gluing dozens of logoed items to a used Mazda in the hopes of attracting attention via social media. The hashtag is #ASIPromocar and we’d love it if you’d follow/share/like us on ASI’s Facebook page and on Pinterest here and here.
To see how we did it, watch our video on YouTube.
At the Chicago show, the Promocar will be on display in registration. If you’re there, please stop by and check it out. I’m betting you’ll be amazed at how long-familiar items like stress balls can be transformed into something wholly unique.
When we started this project over a month ago, I didn’t know much about ArtCars. Turns out, the ASI Promocar is part of a long, strange tradition, ranging from VW buses decorated by artistic hippies in the ’60s all the way to mutant vehicles on the Playa at the annual Burning Man festival.
As long as sight lines are maintained and vitals like headlights, gas tank and doors remain accessible, there’s no law against painting and decorating your car with pretty much anything you’d like. Who knew?
For our part, we didn’t want to just glue a bunch of stuff to a car. We wanted to maintain the “art” in ArtCar through patterns, color and design.
All told, painting the hood and roof to resemble a road took the better part of a weekend, with the main gluing requiring three days work in our warehouse. The project took nine willing employees, 10 tubes of silicone glue, six rolls of painter’s tape, 50 pairs of gloves, two cases of bottled water, three cans of Rustoleum paint mixed with playground sand to resemble asphalt, a lot of very loud rock and roll, six fans for ventilation, a drill, a sander, a sense of humor and a ton of patience (imagine how long it would take to adhere a pen to the side of your car – then multiply it ten-fold).
To get us started, we put out a call for logoed items to suppliers and the following companies jumped in and donated products like mousepads, key chains, pinwheels, flip-flops and pens:
Having never done anything like this before, we had a lot to learn. Although thoroughly researched, every car and every object is different, and there are a ton of variables – not to mention moving parts, high speeds and weather. We road tested the Promocar at 60 mph on I-95 when we finished and so far, so good.
P.S. You’ll have to look close, inside and out, to see how we used the various products. Hint: Inside, look up and in the back seat. You might even see a few familiar “faces.”
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.