May 2, 2013
I’m writing this at noon from Pennsylvania. But although it’s bright and sunny outside, to my travel-weary self, it’s actually midnight in Hong Kong – and I’m more than ready for bed. I’m topsy-turvy because I’ve just returned from a week-long business trip to attend the Hong Kong Gifts & Premiums Show, 8,000 miles away and 12 hours ahead of the East Coast where I live.
The show is one of the largest in the world for promotional products, attracting over 4,000 exhibitors from 37 countries. Lucky for me, I got to attend alongside veterans like Supplier Global Resource™ editor Michele Bell, publisher Rich Fairfield and Ed Koehler, VP and associate publisher of magazines and catalogs. We were joined during part of the trip by ASI’s China-based SGR sales team (pictured with us at right: Melar Wang, Tony Tian, Alan Lee and Tammy Jing), who travel throughout Shanghai, Ningbo, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong selling our new SGR memberships.
The new, strictly exclusive membership connects non-North American manufacturers and agents with ASI’s North American suppliers. During the show, we celebrated at a cocktail party for ASI® suppliers that was sponsored and attended by SGR members who are Hong Kong and Chinese manufacturers. And, as much as we love our distributors, ASI believes they are most successful by sourcing from trusted ASI suppliers, so we may as well have hung a “No Distributors Allowed” sign outside the reception. (I wish I had a photo of Rich shooing two distributors away who wanted to crash our event!)
As reported on our website, the show’s traffic was noticeably slower than in previous years, despite growth in the Hong Kong gift market of 6% in 2012. Still, the show floor was huge, crowded and packed with a ton of Bluetooth-capable items, tech gadgets, smartphone accessories and eco-friendly products.
In the photos, you can see one of the many colorful displays from the show, along with Hong Kong Harbor.
I’ve traveled to Asia a number of times, and it’s always equally strange and thrilling. While I decided against trying the still-wiggling shrimp served up at one of our dinners, I gladly seized the chance to visit a local friend of an ASI member at his art-filled home, situated on Hong Kong island with a spectacular view of the South China Sea. He’s 72 – and recently became a new father! (Maybe it’s the shrimp?)
Hong Kong, which is a “special administrative region” of the People’s Republic of China, is on China’s south coast, bordered by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea. The city is 426 square miles and home to about 7 million people. To put that into perspective, New York City (including all the boroughs) is 469 square miles and has 8.2 million residents.
And, while I’m always happy to explore the far corners of the Earth, there really is no place like home and garden. (I’m throwing a pic from my garden up in this blog for fun.) Happily, my next trip is less than 100 miles away – to our New York show, taking place Wednesday and Thursday at the Javits Convention Center, and featuring a special keynote by TLC’s “Cake Boss,” Buddy Valastro Jr., who’s dishing up business advice and handing out cake samples from Carlo’s famous Hoboken bakery.
P.S. If you’re wondering about the blog title, it’s a play on the 1969 film, “If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium,” about a 9-country, 18-day bus trip.
April 18, 2013
We all know how important it is to get your voice heard in Washington. Given the state of the economy and numerous legislative initiatives concerning taxes and expenditures, that importance cannot be overstated.
That’s why for the last four years, the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) has sent a contingent of “volunteer lobbyists” to our nation’s capital to speak on behalf of the industry as part of its Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.).
On April 10 and 11, as a member of PPAI’s Government Relations Action Council (GRAC), I joined over 70 volunteers who invaded Washington, D.C. on a mission to educate members of Congress about the value of advertising specialties and the legislative issues most important to suppliers and distributors. The group represented all 50 states and made over 300 Congressional office visits during the two-day period.
Prior to arrival, we contacted our respective senators and representatives to schedule 30-minute visits. In preparation, volunteers also attended a webinar on key issues we later discussed with our representatives and/or their staff. Everyone became well-versed on the promotional products economic engine and its impact on the national economy, e.g., a $19.4 billion industry that employs over 430,000 people.
Here’s a tip: If you want to get a representative’s or senator’s ear, just tell them what your industry does for the economy!
To help prep the “lobbyists,” everyone was given a handbook with each Congressional member’s bio and broken into smaller teams to cover the aggressive meeting schedule. The volunteers gave each Congressional office position papers on the effectiveness and value of promotional products and the role they’ve played in particular in safety recognition programs. We also discussed the importance of maintaining the current independent contractor tax rules under IRS Section 530 and of considering small businesses in any proposed tax changes.
Of course, we also handed out advertising specialties: a notebook imprinted with the PPAI logo and hand sanitizer. Everyone loved the products, which provided the perfect testament to the effectiveness of our industry.
Before we met for dinner that night, we were surprised by an unannounced visit from John Boehner, the House Majority Leader, who commended everyone for their efforts. Clearly, the L.E.A.D. visits were noticed by the powers that be. The next morning, PPAI recognized Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen as its Legislator of the Year. The award recognizes members of Congress who have shown a commitment to small businesses, a willingness to meet with industry professionals and support of issues critical to our industry.
“Congressman Paulsen has championed the cause of small business and met face-to-face with industry leaders,” said Paul Bellantone, PPAI’s president and CEO. “He has established a history of being available and listening to the concerns of promotional products businesses and supporting or opposing legislation that impacts the industry.”
The diligence and enthusiasm of the PPAI L.E.A.D. volunteers was evident from the planning stages through the Congressional visits. I’m sure Congressional leaders left the 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 and also serves his community as a Newtown, PA borough councilman
In photo above, from left: Art Bustard, president of Cedars Advertising, Inc. (asi/159500); Larry Whitney, compliance manager for Polyconcept North America (asi/66887); Barbara Bustard, of Cedars Advertising, Inc.; Chuck Machion; PA Rep. Tim Murphy; George Jackson, owner of George Jackson Promotions; Bruce Korn, president of Zakback Inc. (asi/365556 )
April 10, 2013
ASI® recently welcomed about 35 members of the Philadelphia Area Promotional Products Association to our headquarters in Pennsylvania for a social media seminar.
PAPPA members (who used to be called Specialty Advertising Counselors of the Delaware Valley) got an eyeful from Jake Krolick, ASI’s rock star creative director, in a fast-moving presentation offering practical, tactical tips for businesses to “go social.” He was joined by special speakers (and former ASI-ers) Jay Ostrow and Dale Denham.
During the seminar, everyone was encouraged to branch out. Share product info with clients through the information corkboard site Pinterest and add more video to your marketing mix. It’s also quick and easy to liven up your company’s YouTube site with something fresh, like a behind-the-scenes tour of your company. Remember to make it fun – and keep it short.
So next time you’re pitching a potential new client, send an infographic on the ROI or CPI of promotional products along with your presentation. Spread the news about a new product by uploading a captioned pic through Quickmeme. And don’t forget about good old blogs, which can help bump up your company’s search engine results while allowing you to better engage with customers and potential customers.
I hope PAPPA members enjoyed their morning at ASI. Several members later told me how much they enjoyed it and thanked ASI for hosting. In return, I’d like to sincerely thank PAPPA for the recent award the organization presented to ESP®, the PAPPA 2013 Liberty Award in the technology category.
The tech award recognized, among other things, proclivity, user friendliness and mobile marketing efforts. ESP, of course, uses world-class search technology to give members and their customers a superior searching experience, and we are delighted to see that recognized. In the photo at left, Heather DiPrato, ASI’s senior VP of distributor services, proudly displays our award.
Let me know what new technology or social media site has made a difference at your company lately by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube – and exploring new possibilities like blogging site Medium (founded by ASI keynoter Biz Stone and his partner Ev Williams), the new iPhone app Whisper (which is taking off like gangbusters on college campuses) and Sina Weibo, billed as China’s Twitter – with twice the number of users.
February 8, 2013
The Dallas show that closed Friday attracted over 500 top suppliers and 16 team-building distributor sales meetings, including Counselor® Top 40 distributor American Solutions for Business’ winter conference.
All of us at the show got incredible feedback, which is always great to hear. It’s clear a ton of deals took place on the show floor and during numerous networking opportunities. Here’s a small sampling of reactions:
Larry Zavadil, CEO of American Solutions for Business (asi/120075): “ASI Education has been great, and we found tons of ideas on the show floor. Every vendor we’ve come across has a unique solution to offer.”
Gabe McGraw, from Gold Bond (asi/57653): “Distributors are coming in with a list, which makes it easy because that translates into orders and everybody benefits. We’ve been so happy with ASI Dallas – in fact, with all of The ASI Shows – because they’re really big producers for us.”
The show was such a hit it even attracted the local news. Fox featured ASI Dallas on its Wednesday broadcast, showing off many of the hottest products at the show (despite the unfortunate use of the word “swag”).
On Friday, we kicked off the final day with a wonderful keynote by three-time Super Bowl champion and 2006 “Dancing with the Stars” winner Emmitt Smith, who advised a packed house on successful small business strategies (see pic).
He was such a nice guy he even posted a photo of the two of us on his Facebook page. It’s amazing to me how many of our keynote speakers turn out to be so gracious. Maybe they know how lucky they are – and how lucky we are to have them share their fascinating experiences and secrets of success!
As we reported in a special show edition of Counselor® Promogram®, Smith’s main message was: “Be bold with your goals.”
“Your attitude determines your altitude,” he told attendees. “You have to believe in yourself and your own abilities to be able to reach new heights. But, the only way to get there is to write those goals down. It’s only a dream until you write it down. That’s when it becomes a real goal.”
Counselor Editor Andy Cohen interviewed Smith after his keynote session to get more motivational advice. Click here to watch the video.
In addition to a lot of work, we had a ton of big Texas fun at the show, too. As you can see from the picture of our happy bull-rider, the industry came together at a boisterous Gala Celebration on Thursday night at the world-famous Gilley’s, the inspiration for the John Travolta/Debra Winger blockbuster “Urban Cowboy.”
I’m always on the lookout for Hoosiers and was thrilled to spot John Burr at the show (pictured in the Indiana tee shirt with me). John’s an account executive with American Solutions for Business. I first met him 6-7 years ago at an ASI show in Philadelphia and he’s now working in Pleasantville, NY. In many ways, that’s the best part of any show: making – and renewing – connections.
Fortunately, many of the people who attended the show are from the Southwest, so they didn’t have any trouble getting home. But many of us who planned to head back to the Philadelphia-NJ area are being delayed by the “Nemo” blizzard. I hope everyone Back East stays warm, dry and safe and that everyone traveling gets home OK. Make sure to check www.asicentral.com for notices of any industry companies affected by the storm.
February 6, 2013
ASI® kicked off its latest show in Dallas Wednesday – the same day we announced the availability of thelatest version of our ESP Mobile™ app.
The Texas show continues through Friday at the Dallas Convention Center, where thousands of distributors and suppliers will conduct business at a faster, more efficient pace than ever before, thanks to tech innovations like the ESP Mobile™ apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.
ESP Mobile downloads have already topped 9,000 since launch – and we’re expecting a new surge now that we’ve unveiled over 40 innovative new features, which we’ll demo in Dallas as well as at upcoming shows in Long Beach (March 22-24), New York (May 8-9) and Chicago (July 16-18).
If you haven’t already, give the new mobile app a test drive. Now users can:
-Tap to create virtual samples and generate dynamic on-site sales demos
I’m really looking forward to reactions from users at Dallas, which features some Texas-sized action. Just check out the big way the Omni hotel greeted show participants this week. It’s a great “sign” of the enthusiasm and professionalism we’re encountering everywhere.
In addition to demos, networking and a brand-new Gala Celebration at the world-famous Gilley’s, we’ve got 16 distributor sales meetings taking place here in Dallas.
First thing Wednesday morning I welcomed Counselor Top 40 distributor American Solutions for Business (asi/120075), which brought together upwards of 250 sales reps for their winter conference. As I often do, I asked the audience if anyone was from my home state of Indiana – and found a single Hoosier, as well as someone from N.J., where I now live.
After all-day education (which includes new classes for owners), the show floor is open for business Thursday and Friday. We’ll start off the last day with a free keynote by former Dallas Cowboy and three-time Super Bowl champion Emmitt Smith, who might be better known in some circles as the 2006 “Dancing with the Stars” winner.
Keep checking www.asicentral.com and our Twitter feed for the latest show news, blogs and videos. And if you’re with us in Dallas, let me know what you’re looking forward to the most by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
And don’t forget – on August 12, ASI returns to Dallas for the inaugural Promotions Southwest show at the state-of-the-art Irving Convention Center. Click here for more info and to register for the new show, timed to help distributors prepare for all-important fourth-quarter sales.
January 7, 2013
We’ve enjoyed one incredible event after another here at ASI Orlando, including a truly fabulous 80th birthday party for ASI® Chairman Norman Cohn, a super-energized crowd at the 2013 Counselor® Distributor Choice Awards and a standing-room-only keynote by expert economist and political commentator Steve Forbes.
Turns out, Forbes – a very thoughtful guy who provided us with tons of solid business advice – is also very funny. “It’s great to see so much energy,” he said after being greeted by thunderous applause. “I wish we had such energy in Washington.”
A conservative Republican who once ran for president, Forbes was optimistic about the future, despite “headwinds” like an antiquated tax code and a weakened American dollar.
“Many amazing things are about to happen,” the Forbes Media chairman told a crowd of about 900 people (so many we had to keep bringing in extra chairs). “We’ll have major advances in health care, and America will become a manufacturing giant again thanks to our brainpower and technology.”
Orlando really has been one great celebration after another. Sunday night, we celebrated suppliers at the 2013Counselor Distributor Choice Awards (sponsored by AIA Corporation, Crystal Sensations, Dunbrooke, and Moderne Glass Company). Taking home the top prize was Top 40 supplier The Magnet Group (asi/68507), which was named Supplier of the Year.
In accepting the award, Magnet CEO Bill Korowitz graciously thanked his employees in a heartfelt speech. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Bill, personally and as a member of the ASI Advisory Board, and have come to really appreciate his calm, thoughtful and reasoned side. If I had to sum him up, I’d say he’s just the kind of guy you’d like to have as your neighbor. In business, he’s always willing to try new approaches and on those rare occasions when he’s wrong, he’s always willing to admit it.
In addition, over many whoops and hollers from a very enthusiastic crowd, we announced supplier winners in 59 different product categories – including three new categories of blankets, coolers and hospitality items. In all, 42 suppliers won awards at the ceremony, which honor suppliers for their service and dedication to their distributor customers.
For more info and a list of all the winners, click here.
Before the ceremony started, ASI’s chairman of the board, Norman Cohn, took a few moments to share his thoughts on another industry icon – former ASI president Marvin Spike, who recently passed away.
“Marvin was an extremely passionate supporter of the advertising specialty industry,” Norman said. “He will have forever left his mark not only on ASI, but on the entire industry. Marvin cared about each ASI member as if they were his own family. He was a loyal friend, leader and contributor to the entire industry. I am proud to have called Marvin a close friend. His life defined integrity and he will be missed.”
Unbelievably, Norman – a very familiar presence at all ASI Shows – just turned 80. On Saturday, we celebrated with a lovely party at the Walt Disney World Resort. While it’s hard to keep anything a secret in this industry, somehow we managed to keep the ultimate destination a secret for weeks.
After a champagne toast, the invited guests (who still didn’t have a clue where we were headed) were loaded onto three buses and whisked away to a private backstage-access area at the park. After riding in giant clamshells through an amazing 3-D attraction based on the “Finding Nemo” movie, we were treated to four different buffets of Norman’s favorite foods (including ’50s diner food and his very favorite, pigs in a blanket), 12-foot-tall calypso dancers, dueling pianos and even an enormous dolphin viewing tank, complete with an actual deep-sea diver.
As the birthday cake was wheeled out, ASI Vice Chairman Matthew Cohn called the celebration “an intimate evening of things my dad loves. He loves this industry and he loves his family.” As I said in my toast, many of us wouldn’t even be in this industry without Norman Cohn – who really is the sun in our ASI universe.
In my favorite moment of the night, Norman thanked all his guests, making special mention of his “trophy wife of 48 years,” calling Suzanne Cohn “the reason I’m so lucky in life.”
In true Norman fashion, he was wise, funny – and very, very grateful. “I’ve been active in this industry for 60-plus years and I’ve seen a lot of change and growth,” he told us. “But one thing never changes – my family loves this industry and this business … Hug your family, God bless America and thank you all for being here.”
After a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday,” we got all decked out in light-up hats, lanyards, glasses and rings for a final treat: dessert, coffee and front-row seats to a mesmerizing fireworks, laser and water show.
All in all, it was a really special occasion.
January 5, 2013
ASI kicked off the first show of 2013 with something familiar – an opening seminar detailing how to get the most of your trade show experience – and something new: me at the helm. I stood in for ASI Vice-Chairman Matthew Cohn after his plane was delayed and had a terrific time greeting the 230+ gathered for a quick intro to ASI Orlando.
My best advice is to make the most out of your time on the show floor. One way is to spend as much quality time as possible in each supplier’s booth, talking to them about your sales challenges and getting some new ideas on the best ways to sell their products. In short, don’t just scan and go. Look, learn and listen.
And if you see a really terrific booth, with innovative signage, an interesting design, etc., vote for it by texting the booth number to 22333 – it’s free.
Please also make sure you fill out the feedback forms after each class as we really want to know what worked and what didn’t so we can further improve your trade show experience. And always take home or download your show directory (mobile app: www.asishow.com/orlando) as it’s an information-packed resource you can refer to throughout the year.
I’ve already said hello to a ton of people and I encourage all of you to do the same, whether it’s at one of our receptions or events, walking the show floor or stopping by one of three Happy Hours sponsored by Broder, Logomark and Impact Advertising in booths #1501, #801 and #525. When I opened the floor to questions after my talk, the first question was “What are those booth numbers again?” I guess there’s no better way to draw a crowd than free beer!
Here’s to a great new year – and an amazing show.