May 6, 2016
A guest blog from ASI CTO Armughan Rafat:
Imagine the business value in obtaining instant access to 50,000 people who understand exactly what you do day in and day out – like-minded people who can answer questions, provide resources and even help you advance in your chosen field.
That’s the potential of ASI’s latest resource – ESP Chat, an online community a click away in ESP Web®. I’m proud to say ASI is the first in the industry to offer supplier-hosted chat rooms.
ESP Chat represents a terrific opportunity for distributors to get quick answers from suppliers and for suppliers to build stronger business relationships with customers. As an added bonus, it’s also a place for anyone in the promotional products industry to get to know each other.
In the meantime, I urge you to learn from each other, share your experiences, suggest hot products and alert others to new industry trends. Spread the buzz throughout the community – the world-wide community. Like Facebook, ESP Chat is a powerful social networking tool.
Let’s say you’re a distributor searching for a product in ESP and have a question. Instead of stopping to make a phone call or shoot off an email, click on “Chat with supplier” and go right into the supplier’s chat room.
And suppliers can click here to watch a short video overview of the benefits of hosting. Suppliers savvy enough to host their own chat room will have a leg up on the competition, as numerous studies show most customers prefer chat over email and phone.
What I love most about ESP Chat is its direct integration into ESP. You enter with a single click and can reply, post an ESP product, pic or even an emoji. The first day ESP Chat was available, I scrolled through numerous conversations, watching live as distributors queried suppliers on product availability, color, size and deadline.
But when you want a private chat, simply select that option.
Think about the last time you called a company needing support or answers. How many times have you spent 15 minutes or more on hold only to get cut off? It’s frustrating.
With chat, you shoot off a question and either wait for an immediate response or check back later when you have time.
Maybe it’s because I’m in IT and generally wedded to my computer and device, but I find chatting on the phone more time consuming. With chat, I feel like I’m in my element. Getting quick answers feeds my instant-gratification side.
Right now, we have 24 distributor-only rooms available, plus a general ESP discussion room that’s open to everyone.
Like any online communication tool, there are limitations. Suppliers might not be online when a question is sent, but it’s in their best interest to answer as soon as possible.
Chat is not the communication method of the future – it’s the communication method of now.
March 4, 2016
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.
November 5, 2015
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!
October 13, 2015
Until recently, very few companies gave much thought to their “corporate culture.” How times have changed. Now, smart companies go out of their way to ensure employees maintain a proper life-work balance and that they’re as happy as they are productive.
As studies have shown, unhappy workers goof off more and are less motivated. But if you reward them with decent pay, good benefits, meaningful work, flexible schedules and occasional breaks from the daily grind, your reward is often higher profits.
How different companies meet and often exceed employee needs and expectations is at the heart of our Counselor Best Places to Work issue, now in print and online. The annual issue lists the 75 best places to work (as voted on by employees) in the promotional products industry, along with profiles of several winning companies and info on creating a great workplace, from motivating employees and retaining top talent to creating unique jobs and celebrating staff accomplishments.
Florida-based supplier The Book Company (asi/41010) scored the number-one spot. The 16-employee company, of Delray Beach, was founded by Doug Greenhut and supplies blank and customized books.
I expected to see a passion for books and extraordinary service and support encouraged in a list of corporate beliefs, but was delighted to also find celebrating success, taking a break and walking a dog earn merit. No wonder surveyed employees cited the company’s refreshing flexibility and fun, laid-back atmosphere as key ingredients of a winning corporate formula.
As Counselor editors and writers discovered during their research, which included a summer road tour to personally visit some of the top companies, “great places to work aren’t built by accident. They are the product of conscious and thoughtful planning.”
I encourage you to read the entire issue and consider what practices might fly at your own workplace. Here are just a few examples to get you thinking:
Stran Promotional Solutions (asi/337725), of Quincy, MA:
Mercury Promotions & Fulfillment (asi/267770), of Sterling Heights, MI:
Tangerine Promotions (asi/341609), of Northbrook, IL:
To see the complete list of 75 companies and to read the Best Places to Work issue, click here.
Have an idea or perk that’s paid off at your company? Share it by leaving a comment.
July 23, 2015
ASI ended its last major show of the 2015 season with fireworks and fanfare in Chicago, with attendance up nearly 3% over 2014, tons of fun at our new networking clubs and a fast-paced keynote by Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning.
We accomplished so much in Chicago it’s hard to re-cap. In the middle of it all, we celebrated winners like The Magnet Group CEO Bill Korowitz (at right) as Person of the Year and Senator’s Michael Nick as International Person of the Year during the glittering black-tie 2015 Counselor Awards, which featured spectacular fireworks.
Although I loved all the speeches (hands down, Bill’s was the funniest and, as he warned us, also the longest), I was really touched by Fran Ford, president of Castelli North America, who presented one of the Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Awards to ASI’s own Ron Ball (below).
“For the past 30+ years, this man has been there for so many of us, helping us grow our businesses, but somehow the light never shined his way,” Fran said. “We grew and somewhere behind it all, he stood, never wanting to shine his star! I am so honored to introduce my dear friend… one who has always been there for me and so many others.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Ron went on to thank Fran, the Norman Cohn family and even me. “Thank you for all the support and confidence in me throughout my years of service to ASI and this industry,” Ron said. “This is a great way to end the wonderful career I’ve had at ASI for over 40 years.”
Thank you, Ron.
For more on the awards and for our editorial coverage, visit www.asicentral.com. And, click here to read a positive story on the show in the Chicago Tribune (circulation 455,000), featuring ASI’s Joe Haley and a number of industry products.
A few more words about Manning: He flew to our show, incredibly, just hours after being honored in Los Angeles with another ESPY Award for Best Record-breaking Performance of the past year.
It was a real thrill to meet him, and not just because I’m a Hoosier who remembers when the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 after 31 seasons in Maryland (the secret, 600-mile dead-of-night trek is among the most famous sporting moves ever). After struggling for years, the Colts enjoyed their greatest success to date under Manning, the team’s starting quarterback from 1998 to 2011.
So, yes, as an Indiana native, I’m a fan.
Luckily, Manning was a nice guy to boot – unpretentious and way funnier (and taller!) than I expected, going so far as to crack a joke in his best New Orleans drawl about buying a bunch of Papa John franchises just before his home state legalized marijuana: “As a guy who sells pizza in Colorado, I can tell you the business is really good there right now.”
Anyone who might have wondered what a football player could tell a business audience didn’t have to wonder for long. The tips and insight Manning shared during his 30-minute presentation and follow-up Q&A with me (below) were relevant to anyone, whether you own a promo products business or earn millions tossing footballs:
Traditionally, Chicago is the biggest ad specialty show of the summer – and ASI’s very last big show of the season – neither of which will change. ASI remains committed to putting on a great big show in the city of big shoulders in 2016.
We are, however, introducing major improvements for California and New York with our new Engage hybrid format. Engage combines the best of traditional trade shows, intimate hosted buyer events and roadshows. We’re very excited about its debut.
Don’t forget: Registration for ASI’s 2016 ASI shows (Orlando, January 4-6; Dallas, February 9-11; and Chicago, July 12-14) and all our high-profile keynote presentations will be available in early August at www.asishow.com.
May 11, 2015
Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran is a pip. I just love her, and so did our audience at the ASI Show® New York. Corcoran, ASI’s keynote speaker, shared a ton of unlikely insider business tips, while dishing out fascinating personal tidbits about her life.
She was raised by incredibly loving, supportive parents in a small New Jersey town, in a house with one bathroom and 10 kids. Growing up, Manhattan loomed right across the Hudson River, as foreign and unattainable as Oz. But by the time she was in her 20s, she was taking the town by storm, eventually building a $5 billion real-estate empire. What a story!
She attributed her success, in part, to her imagination. When she was a kid, “I found I could put a ribbon on a rock and that kids would pay you for that rock.”
Although she’s almost 70, you wouldn’t know it from the way she raced around the show floor after the keynote, taking pictures and checking out the products. She stopped by Showdown Displays (asi/87188), our keynote sponsor, and took a photo with the entire team. And when she was told Showdown didn’t sell direct, always choosing to work with a distributor, one savvy distributor stepped right up and handed her his business card, which she tucked into her purse.
As you can see from the photos, she had a lot of fun at our show, goofing around at the hotdog stand and getting her pic taken at the ASI Promocar. As she says, “Fun is good for business.”
To me, the best part of any show is learning similar stories about our members, finding out how they built their business, who mentored and supported them, and how they handle adversity. In her speech, Corcoran said she always watches new hires to see how soon they recover from failure and whether they indulge in pity parties. To her, “failing well” is a sign of strength.
She also applauded everyone in the audience of nearly 300 for being small-business owners. “It’s a fabulous act of the universe to actually be in business for yourself, having nobody tell you what to do,” Corcoran (@barbaracorcoran) said. “Congratulations for having the guts to run your own business.”
I think everyone enjoyed the keynote – and the two-day New York Show, which attracted 175 exhibitors and nearly 1,600 distributors from 32 states and seven countries. I’m happy to report the show also drew 141 female-owned and 120 minority-owned companies, along with 97 businesses based in New York City. And, 11 companies also chose ASI’s show to host their sales meetings.
We got great feedback from the likes of distributor Brian Dawson, of EmbroidMe.com (asi/384000), who said his company loves holding its regional meeting at the New York show. “It’s a valuable way for us to expose our franchises to the promotional products world,” he said. “We speak with our vendors, look at different opportunities, what’s new and what’s awesome in the market. It’s just a great time to meet and learn more about the business.”
In addition to working hard, we played hard in Manhattan, too, staying out way too late at the Counselor® Hot 25 party, held this year at Dream Downtown, with jaw-dropping views of the city. We celebrated 2015’s hottest product design and best ad awards, products and 10 fastest-growing suppliers and distributors.
Kathy Cheng, president and owner of Toronto-based Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627), took the top spot on this year’s Hot List. Click here for Counselor’s 2015 list of the industry’s hottest, most innovative game-changers.
Hard to believe, but the last show of the season – Chicago – is just around the corner, July 14-16, featuring a keynote by Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. If you haven’t already, contact Karen DiTomasso, ASI’s VP of sales, at email@example.com, about sponsorships or exhibiting.
March 26, 2015
ASI’s Long Beach keynote speaker Jillian Michaels – an internationally known fitness expert who single-handedly built a healthy-living empire – was as down-to-earth as a friendly neighbor. While waiting backstage, she kicked off her high heels and showed our crew pictures of monarch butterfly caterpillars from her Malibu backyard.
She’s only 5-foot-2, but she radiates presence. And, she was so beautiful up close I was nearly mesmerized. Can you tell how much I enjoyed our on stage conversation? Right from the start, she enraptured our audience with her personal story of being an unhappy, overweight teenager who was bullied in school and yet managed to overcome it all, thanks in great part to her family’s support.
“As a kid, I was lucky enough to have two people who really believed in me,” she said. “Having people who support you and who believe in you is really critical.”
Through hard work and determination, along with a strong mentor and helpful clients, Michaels established a huge personal brand and starred in a hit reality TV show. I bet everyone who heard her positive, inspiring message left motivated to make changes in their life and in their business. I know I did.
Our conversation was a highlight of the ASI Show® Long Beach, held Tuesday, March 24, through Thursday, March 26, at the Long Beach Convention Center. Our show attracted 203 exhibitors and 1,643 distributors from 925 companies from 31 states and three countries. I was very happy to hear that the show also attracted 126 women-owned companies and 114 minority-owned companies.
We got great feedback from attendees like Rob Cunningham, of Uniflex (asi/92480), who said he really enjoyed the show. “We’ve had a lot of good traffic and great sales conversations with distributors.”
Distributor Bob Lewellen, of Kaeser & Blair (asi/238600), told us his company likes holding meetings in conjunction with ASI shows because they present good opportunities to meet face-to-face. “Our dealers like to come to the show so they can get product ideas and find new suppliers to do business with,” he said. “Plus, all of our dealers attend education – there is always something to be learned. The seminar choices give you a chance to focus on what’s important to you.”
There were lots of opportunities for fun, too, from networking events like dinner at Gladstone’s restaurant, to paddle boarding and beer tasting at our new networking clubs.
Hundreds of people also visited the ASI Promocar, a Mazda Protégé we covered inside and out with hundreds of promotional products donated by ASI suppliers. The Promocar (hashtag #ASIpromocar) is part of an ASI PR campaign called “Driving Serious Fun,” designed to drive attention to $21.5 billion promotional products industry and to spread the word about the industry’s creativity and ingenuity.
After Long Beach, the Promocar sets off on a 2,700-mile journey across 12 states. Make sure to follow the car along the way through pics and blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on ASI’s website, www.asicentral.com. The car already has 190,000 miles on it, so wish us luck!