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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!


Build a Better Company

Filed under: Members, News About ASI

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:

  • Hire self-motivated employees who are independent thinkers and allow them to make their own decisions.
  • Adopt a laid-back culture with a casual dress code.
  • Eat lunch together every day en masse and work together to get the job done.

Mercury Promotions & Fulfillment (asi/267770), of Sterling Heights, MI:

  • Adopt a transparent and communicative culture. Hold meetings where employees can ask any question they want and share financials.
  • Build camaraderie by creating regular outings for all employees and encouraging an open-door policy.

Tangerine Promotions (asi/341609), of Northbrook, IL:

  • Encourage employee referrals to bring in qualified candidates.
  • Offer a wealth of perks to engender loyalty and reduce turnover, like rewarding top salespeople with a trip, offering work-from-home options and every other Friday off during the summer.

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.

Triumphs, Tears and Tips in Chicago

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Members, News About ASI

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.

Click here for video interviews with the winners, here for videos shown during the event and here for an album of gorgeous photos (right-click to save any pic you wish).

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:

  • “Your personal, professional journey rarely follows a straight line.”
  • “Don’t be stymied by change, be stimulated by it.”
  • “Be a master observer and look for things that aren’t evident to your competitors.”
  • “Invest in a coach that can help you continue to grow…When you stop wanting to be mentored, I think you’re in big trouble.”
  • “The truth is, many NFL football players retire not because of injuries, but because of monotony.”

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.


Big Fun in the Big Apple

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Members, News About ASI

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.”

Personality and spirit she has in spades, along with incredible talent. No wonder she’s a success story.

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.

And, for complete coverage of the show, including stories on education, visit www.asicentral.com and www.asishow.com.

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 kditomasso@asicentral.com, about sponsorships or exhibiting.

Inspiration and Motivation at ASI Long Beach

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Education, Members, News About ASI

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.

For more on the show, recaps of education classes and to see pics, visit our Facebook page and www.asicentral.com.

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.”

To me, that’s what it’s all about: making connections.

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 FacebookTwitter, Instagram and on ASI’s website, www.asicentral.com. The car already has 190,000 miles on it, so wish us luck!

Give Big or Go Home

Filed under: Members, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

The results of ASI’s just-released corporate gift-giving survey show six in 10 companies plan on thanking clients and employees with holiday gifts this year. What’s most surprising to me is that the number isn’t 10 in 10. Smart business owners know the best way to keep clients coming back – or to court new business – is to show appreciation.

Gifts don’t have to be extravagant, but according to Advantages magazine annual “Gift Guide,” gifts that are thoughtful, cool, unique or useful will provide the greatest ROI.

While I admit I lingered over the celebrity robotic avatar offered in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog (asi/59444) for a mere $345,000, a more reasonable choice for clients might be titanium luggage tags from Eddystone Designs (asi/51666). They’re terrific – indestructible, color laser-printed and shimmery to boot. I expect to own mine forever.

According to our survey, the main goal of giving gifts to customers is to express appreciation and develop relationships, as well as to generate good will and increase company awareness. I know whether I receive a Swiss chocolate tower, etched bottle of wine or a bacon-scented iPhone alarm clock this year, I’ll remember the giver for months, if not years – especially if it’s logoed. After all, phenomenal advertiser recall is what promotional products are all about.

For 2014, survey respondents told us that when choosing a gift, they consider an item’s attractiveness, durability and usefulness above all else. This year, nothing says “useful” like an imprinted power charger – a high-tech item that’s riding the rage wave. Give it to clients and they’ll carry it everywhere they go, from home to office to airport lounge.

Sure, you might consider giving a few top clients a case of lobsters or a branded (and memorable) Adirondack chair from AAA Innovations (asi/30023). But our survey results show most companies plan to spend an average of $43 per customer or prospective customer, with food/beverages, desk accessories, writing instruments and calendars topping the list.

When it comes to rewarding employees, most companies are spending about $50 per worker, with gift cards, food/beverages, apparel and cash bonuses as the most popular choices. Here at ASI, we thank each of our full-time employees with a check at our annual holiday party. You might consider a high-quality optical crystal slanted block clocks from Best Deal Awards (asi/47791).

If you’re still unsure what to give, or what to suggest to clients planning their holiday orders, here are a few tips culled from the pages of ASI’s magazines:

  • Don’t overlook packaging. There are all kinds of custom options available from suppliers, from playful to sophisticated. Plus, even though food and beverages go quick, if they’re packaged in a nice basket, bowl or imprinted wine carrier, it’ll be front and center all year along.
  • Remember the branding. This year, according to our survey, 68% of corporate gifts will sport a company logo.
  • Give the gift some real thought. One client raved to Advantages about receiving a custom pink superhero cape imprinted with her company logo, which made her feel like Wonder Woman. Another company gave employees a custom skateboard designed by the agency’s own creative team to symbolize their company’s “ride into the future.”
  • If it’s a client who loves quality, consider artisan items made with glass, fabric or leather, which can all be personalized.
  • Consider reliable standards like calendars. Triumph by BIC Graphic say that while some may consider calendars “old fashioned,” 74% of recipients remember the name of the advertiser who gave them a calendar and a whopping 75% of all households still rely on colorful kitchen calendars.

The bottom line is that people love gifts. When we asked survey respondents about the best corporate gift they ever received, answers ranged from days off, gift cards and a donation made to the recipient’s favorite charity all the way to fishing rods, Cincinnati Reds tickets in the corporate suite, blown glass insulated beer glasses and a weekend stay at a resort – with babysitting included.

Finally, even though December is the biggest gift-giving month of the year, you could set yourself apart from the crowd by sending your gifts out on, say, Penguin Awareness Day on January 20.

Let me know your gift-giving plans by posting a comment or emailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Into the Future

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

A major theme of this year’s U.S. Power Summit was helping prepare the promotional products industry for the future. The keynote speaker, Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard, advised business leaders committed to growth to hire more people who can deliver different solutions to the organization, while futurist John Smart encouraged companies to invest in e-commerce and mobile platforms.

And since suppliers and distributors must be prepared to meet the ever-growing demand for faster service and order processing, we also invited industry experts to discuss the “need for speed” during a session highlighted by an actual drone demo. While flying drones (pictured, right) are really cool, our bigger point in bringing them to the power summit was to get industry people to start thinking about ways they can be utilized in in areas like warehouse inventory and Amazon-like delivery.

This year, the 2014 ASI® Power Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, attracted about 200 of the most influential distributors, suppliers and decorators in the industry. From the early feedback I’ve gotten, everyone enjoyed the superior content and business discussions, which were helped along during fun activities like golf and a visit to a nearby ranch for lassoing and skeet shooting. The fine scotch helped too, I’m sure.

Click here for Facebook photos of the action.

We packed a lot into three days. During my Q&A with alphabroder CEO Norman Hullinger, we even broke some news about his plans to double the size of the company in the next five years – and for sales to hit $1.6 billion. In 2013, the number-one supplier on the Counselor® Top 40 list posted sales of $697 million.

Future growth for alphabroder will come from acquisitions and organic growth, especially growth in ad specialty distributorships. But the really big news from alphabroder concerned expanding beyond apparel to a line of hard goods – an expansion that will likely come about through acquisitions as well as internally.

Throughout the power summit, ASI’s editorial staffers provided full coverage of happenings along with video interviews from all major presentations. To read more:

When I say we packed a lot into this year’s U.S. Power Summit, I mean we packed a lot into this gathering. We also released the names of the industry’s most powerful people with the 2014 Counselor Power 50 list. Click here to read our press release with more detail and click here for the full list, topped by Marty Lott and Jeremy Lott of SanMar.

Finally, we also released the 2014 Global Advertising Impressions Study, a cost analysis of promotional products versus other advertising media. For the study, our research team conducted thousands of in-person interviews with businesspeople and students in key cities across North America, Canada, Europe and Australia. This year’s data updates prior years’ reports by expanding interviews into two cities in Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City) and several additional mid-major markets: Tampa, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego.

Ultimately, the comprehensive study provides buyers and sellers of promo products with powerful data to convince clients worldwide that ad specialties can increase sales and brand exposure.

Click here to watch an awesome YouTube video on the study results and here to read the study in its entirety.

If you were at the Power Summit, thanks for joining us! I’d love to know what you thought – and any suggestions you may have for next year’s event, which we’re already planning at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, CA in November 2015 (www.asicentral.com/psreg).

Please feel free to post a comment or email me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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