January 14, 2015
Earlier this week, I sat down with a group of distributors to discuss an informative 30-minute program ASI has aired on a few cable stations that we hope captures the excitement of this business, the power of promotional products and its importance to marketers. The distributors’ concerns and questions over the program echo some online discussions making the rounds, and I appreciated the opportunity to share my own feelings and answer some questions.
Our main goal in airing the program was to communicate why we’re all in this industry and what it can do for others looking for an interesting career and a new way to be successful. Through initiatives like this program and ASI’s long-running education and PR outreach, we’re hopeful business-minded people and entrepreneurs – and especially more women, young people and minorities – will get interested enough in our industry to learn more. Maybe they’ll join as distributors, become account execs for a current distributor, or even start buying promo products to get the word out about their own business.
The very closely focused test with the program is nearly complete, and we won’t be able to judge for several months if it was worth the investment – measured by people who respond for information, attend some follow-up online educational sessions and other metrics for these types of programs. In terms of the test, it’s been run in a few markets, airing weekends or late at night to a few thousand viewers, similar to a direct-mail campaign that any distributor, supplier or decorator might conduct.
To put this test into perspective, we haven’t been airing the program during the Super Bowl to 100 million people. We deliberately chose to air it over specialized cable networks like CNBC and Fox News with visibility only to entrepreneurs and people looking for a career switch or a second career – people likely with business acumen that would add to our industry. We worked with outside experts to identify the couple of channels that would include entrepreneurial business types and specifically exclude general consumers.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, more than one person at the table of distributors in Vegas told me they got into this industry after learning about it through word of mouth, from a friend or through a distributor they met at places like church. Today, social media and video are the new word of mouth and the ways friends keep in touch and share new ideas.
For over 60 years, ASI has worked hard to communicate the excitement we all feel about this business, scoring numerous positive stories in major national outlets like the Wall Street Journal and on networks like MSNBC. Equally as important, we’ve worked to protect the integrity of the industry by championing a strong business model that supports the success of both suppliers and distributors. We’re not about to change now.
But everyone doing business in today’s world is facing new challenges and with them new opportunities. Now more than ever, we need to work together to keep the industry healthy and viable – and growing. Worries about possible competition should be outweighed by the need for a strong, diverse, growing work force. And more and more people understanding our $20.5 billion industry provides great ROI for invested marketing dollars.
At the same time, it’s as important to us as it is to you that anyone joining the industry is interested in sourcing products for resale to prospects and customers. From time to time I hear from a current distributor that someone who isn’t qualified has joined ASI. Often, this is a bit of a story passed down the lane, with no direct information. But in other cases we’ve been provided hard contact information and always fully investigated the situation. Sometimes the rumor isn’t true. But in the few cases when it has been, we’ve kicked them out for misrepresentation. If you ever have any questions about someone’s true intentions, please let me know. We’ll investigate to make sure they meet ASI’s qualifications, which remain the same for new distributors no matter how or when they join – without exception. And we’ll let you know the outcome.
During my chat in Vegas, the distributors also suggested ASI reach out to colleges and college students and introduce budding entrepreneurs and marketers to an industry they might not even know exists. Business students 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.
We’re already on this, but are looking to do even more.
For two years, ASI has worked with Babson College to help business students and budding entrepreneurs gain work experience in the promotional products industry. (For more info on that program, click here). We’re now expanding that outreach to other schools, hoping to encourage other business colleges to join us in helping teach tomorrow’s entrepreneurs about this exciting, creative industry.
If you have any ideas about other partnerships we can pursue, or schools we might contact, please let me know. Personal connections make these types of trials and introductions much more effective.
As always, I do want to know what you think. So please email me here to further discuss these or any other issues. And certainly feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment to this blog.
November 17, 2014
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:
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.
October 16, 2014
It’s here: ASI’s groundbreaking global research report packed with stats and graphics to help you convince customers to spend more of their marketing moolah on promo products.
Click here for a quick, catchy YouTube video on the study and here to ASI’s 2014 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study in its entirety.You’ll also find easy-to-understand graphics to save and share. I encourage you to post the video and the study link (www.asicentral.com/study) on your own business website to further spread the word about the incredible power of promo products.
The strongest number to tout is promo products’ commanding advertiser recall among 85% of consumers surveyed. People really remember the advertiser on logoed items, largely because they see or use them nearly every day. In fact, most people own about 10 items they generally keep for seven months.
Can you remember a single advertiser from the last time you watched TV? I’m betting you can’t. Perform this simple test on your next potential customer and you just might score a sale.
ASI conducted its first comprehensive research study in 2006. In a nod to our increasingly global marketplace, this year’s study contains far greater global reach, and features several differences worth noting. For the first time we:
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.
Through conversations with real people who get, use and share ad specialties, we gauged the reach of products, consumer’s perceptions, their influence on buying decisions and their influence on the perception of the advertiser.
After thousands of interviews with businesspeople and students in key cities across North America, Canada, Europe and Australia we can say with certainty that ad specialties are one of the most high-impact, cost-effective advertising mediums around.
And, since knowing the likely recipient of products is paramount for an advertiser, we made sure to include demographic information broken down by political affiliation, ethnicity, gender, age and income.
What’s most impressive is that no matter where we polled consumers, we found end-buyers who feel good about the brands on promo products they use day in and day out. When’s the last time an annoying TV or radio commercial made you feel good? I rest my case!
Another conclusion that resonated with me: First and foremost, consumers want products that are useful, like pens and USB drives. In Canada, 82% of consumers polled said that’s why they kept branded items, the highest percentage of any country.
The study is a living document that’s meant to be used – not scanned once and forgotten. It’s powerful data you can, and should, refer to again and again. Cherry-pick graphics that work best for your business and post them, share them and pass them out on sales calls.
September 17, 2014
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.
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).
September 8, 2014
One of the best aspects of any ASI Power Summit is up-close access to some of the greatest media and marketing minds in the world. At this week’s event in Scottsdale, AZ, we’re privileged to have Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard as our keynote speaker.
A North Dakota native, Karlgaard is an author and entrepreneur who went from security guard to head of one of the hottest legacy media companies in the Google Age – and I can’t wait to hear his thoughts on the five factors that will dramatically affect business growth in 2015 and beyond.
There’s more. The 2014 Power Summit – our 8th U.S. event! – at the Four Seasons Scottsdale includes a packed slate of industry insiders who will share their strategies on everything from customization, mobile marketing and demographic shifts to doing business in Mexico and making the best hires.
We’ve gathered an intimate group for three days in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, Crescent Butte Mountain, Pinnacle Peak and the Valley of the Sun. We’ll pack a lot of learning into the sessions, but will leave plenty of time for a first-class, quintessential desert golf experience and celebrations.
In addition, members of Counselor magazine’s prestigious Power 50 list will also be on-hand to share their plans for seizing the future and making even greater inroads to industry success.
The Power Summit experience is one of the best events ASI offers, and here’s why: Instead of the rush of a trade show, we get to spend real time getting to know one another in a relaxed setting that’s conducive to late-night talks and early morning runs. While we kick it up a notch during our panel sessions – which include group brainstorming to hammer out solutions to common industry problems and even a creative marketing smackdown – we incorporate time for genuine relationship building. And isn’t that what doing business together is really all about?
September 3, 2014
For the 18th consecutive quarter, suppliers in the $20.5 billion promotional products industry are reporting bigger sales, with revenues jumping an average of 5.1% in Q2.
Data shows more than half of suppliers (59%) improved Q2 sales, with 23% reporting revenues were unchanged and 18% with declining sales. At the same time, the U.S. is reporting a healthier job market, a recent surge in stocks and buoyed consumer confidence.
Such confidence is also being felt by six in 10 industry suppliers, who tell ASI they expect 2014 sales to be even better than 2013. More than three-quarters (78%) of supplier firms with $5 million or more in annual sales believe their revenues will improve in 2014. About 58% of smaller suppliers (less than $5 million in annual sales) anticipate their sales will increase this year.
Suppliers quoted in the latest Counselor PromoGram sound cautiously bullish:
The 5.1% quarterly growth among suppliers was a stronger showing than in Q1, when average sales increased by 4.8%. Last month, Counselor reported Q2 distributor sales rose by 6.1%.
August 6, 2014
To most people, summer means family road trips, zeppelin-sized zucchini, backyard barbecues and lightning bugs. Here at ASI, summer means all that and more, since summer is when we produce our annual State of the Industry report.
While it doesn’t yet come with a free umbrella drink, Counselor magazine’s industry MRI does pack a ton of info designed to help any sized company plan strategically for the future, grow their business, streamline operations and tap new and emerging markets.
If you haven’t read the issue yet (available in print and online at www.asicentral.com/soi), take a hard copy with you to the beach or check it out electronically on your device. ASI editorial staffers spent months gathering and analyzing key sales, marketing and operational metrics used by most of you to provide useable info tailor-made for our industry. The accompanying graphics also provide valuable snapshots of what’s up, down and trending.
Click here to read the report in its entirety.
As a whole, 2013 was a good year, with distributors growing sales by 5.7% to reach a record $20.5 billion. The 40 largest distributor companies in the market hit nearly $4.4 billion in sales, accounting for 21.5% of total industry revenues.
It seems that the top 40 suppliers and distributors are exerting growing influence over the marketplace. Counselor’s editor, Andy Cohen, goes so far as to predict apparel suppliers will continue to consolidate and large distributors will create unique partnerships the likes of which the industry hasn’t seen before. As Andy says, “If you can’t beat competitors, join ’em!”
But there’s still room for nimble and innovative distributors and suppliers of all sizes, and obviously our industry is an exciting place for everyone.
The data also shows the profit pressure distributors face and customer trends that include more price shopping, more interest in additional services and more safety and compliance inquiries.
Our predictions for the industry’s future? While product staples like T-shirts and pens will remain strong, sales of branded technology items like USB cards should increase dramatically in the near future as more millennials enter the workforce. The average order time for suppliers will significantly decrease in today’s “need it now” marketplace, and 90% of the top 40 apparel suppliers will offer in-house decoration in five years.
In addition to winning tips and tactics and growth strategies, the SOI issue profiles the 2014 Counselor Award winners – including Person of the Year Norman Hullinger – and includes revenue and ranking of Top 40 distributor and supplier companies.
I’d love to know what you thought of this year’s issue and if there’s a topic, trend or strategy we might have missed or not given enough attention to, so please either post a comment or email me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.