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On the Road with C.J., Melinda and Andy

Filed under: Community, Members, News About ASI

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.


Happiness, Canada Style

Filed under: Community, Members, News About ASI

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…

  • Improving strategic relationships with suppliers and becoming more aware of where products are from, how they’re made etc.
  • Streamlining the order process by realizing most clients want to order and move on quickly.
  • Knowing more millennial consumers are increasingly conscientious and want to know if products are recyclable – and are sometimes willing to pay more for products if their purchase will promote the greater good.
  • Becoming aware of potential implications of Alibaba’s coming U.S. IPO later this summer.
  • More understanding of the value suppliers bring in regards to regulations, compliance, safety and social issues.
  • Keeping track of pending anti-spam laws. As of July 1, Canadian businesses will be required to obtain either express “opt-in” or implied consent to send emails to potential clients. Although it’s one of the most onerous anti-spam laws in the world, distributors are less concerned about existing clients but preparing for impact on future prospecting.

Suppliers talked about…

  • Implications of changing demographics of end-buyers increasingly comfortable with searching online via sites like Amazon.com and making sure their platform is robust enough.
  • More collaboration between suppliers and distributors to educate end-buyers on promo products’ high ROI.
  • Determining hot-button issues surrounding compliance and safety and making sure distributors ask clients for their concerns so suppliers have info on hand to satisfy their questions.

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!).

If you were in Canada with us, I’d love to hear your thoughts so please post a comment or e-mail me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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.


Kicking it in Canada

Filed under: News About ASI

Nearly every economic analysis I read is soon followed by one with seemingly contradictory information. Unemployment is down – but more people are chronically unemployed. Exports are up – but they’re weaker than expected. How do we figure it all out while determining the impact on our specific industry?

Listen to thoughtful, precise analysis from the likes of Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Canada’s only truly national public policy think tank. Lucky for us, Crowley is the keynote speaker at this week’s ASI®’s  second Canadian Power Summit at Queen’s Landing at Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Whether you already do business in Canada – or want to do business there – the power summit is the perfect place to learn the best ways to navigate U.S.-Canadian relations and to take advantage of everything Canada has to offer.

Over three days, we bring together top ad specialty professionals to share insider knowledge, network, brainstorm, kick back over cocktails – and do business together.

Sessions move fast and we pack a lot of info into every discussion. To help, a diverse slate of experts delve into topics as varied as the buying habits of American buyers, creative solutions to pressing problems and the latest industry tips and trends.

In addition, attendees are the first to preview the in-depth market data and forecasts for the Canadian promotional products market from the latest Counselor® State of the Industry report. We’ll also take some time out to recognize – and celebrate! – the fastest-growing suppliers and distributors in the country.

The Canadian Power Summit is a very efficient way to get face-to-face time with dozens of the most important movers and shakers in Canada. It’s also a great place to join me for a Sasquatch Stout (just named Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards) or my all-time favorite, Molson.

And don’t forget, you can also join us at the U.S. Power Summit, coming up September 14-16 in Scottsdale, AZ.


Promo Power 101

Filed under: Community, Education, Guest Blog, News About ASI

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.


PR for Promos

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

ASI scored some major PR for the industry recently, thanks to a national story that aired on the MSNBC Sunday morning program, Your Business, which exclusively covers small businesses and entrepreneurs. Host J.J. Ramberg and her crew spent hours at ASI’s New York show interviewing exhibitors and the end result is a serious look at a fun industry and the proven power of promotional products.

You can check out the fact-packed MSNBC segment on ASI’s press page by clicking here. You can also access it at on the show’s webpage by clicking here. Don’t forget to share the link on your social media pages – like Facebook and LinkedIn – and also internally among your own teams.

Overall, I think the MSNBC segment really captured some key points about advertising specialties while also relaying the energy and fun of what we all do every day. In the “Business War Chest” part of the program, host J.J. described the cool items she saw as “promos with a purpose” (which I love!) and said ad specialties “can’t be beat.”

Producer Dawn Stackhouse spent a total of about seven hours on the show floor over two days, interviewing exhibitors and learning all about the industry. Even though it looks easy once it makes it to air, it’s unbelievable how much work goes into reporting a single 4-minute segment – and appearing on TV. I bet every exhibitor featured on the show has a newfound respect for on-air talent now that they’ve experienced the “bright lights” themselves.

I’d like to offer my congrats to the companies selected for on-air interviews: Debco (asi/48885), Stuffed Tees (asi/79662), Personalized Gift Source (asi/50161) and Brighter Promotions (asi/42016). The MSNBC segment closed with host J.J. hanging out with the ASI Show mascot, Promo, and shooting off a tee shirt shot from a logoed air cannon supplied by Air Cannons Inc. (asi/33252).

My thanks go to everyone who helped during MSNBC’s visit to ASI New York, especially exhibitors like Easy-Doks (asi/51511), Bloomin’ Promotions (asi/40646), Interall Group (asi/63092), See-Sun (asi/88584), Eco-Centric Brands (asi/51443), S&K (asi/84325) and Idol Memory (asi/62222), who graciously gave their time to demo products for the camera, but who may not have made it to air or who appeared only briefly.

Considering that a 30-second commercial could cost a company upwards of $35,000 per spot, such free publicity is golden for any business, which is why we make it a priority at ASI.  We’re continuously courting reporters across North America to gain media coverage showcasing entrepreneurs in our industry, explaining how to use promotional products in marketing campaigns and reinforcing the large return on investment that branded products provide.

The most recent “get” is just one of literally dozens of TV segments ASI has arranged in recent years, including two others that aired on Fox News during ASI New York. Although I’m not crazy about the term “wacky products” and found the Good Day New York anchors a little silly, ASI’s own Joe Haley did a great job representing the industry during a live television show (where anything can happen and it’s very hard to control the messaging).

Click here to watch the Fox nightly news segment and click here to see Joe in action.

Check out the segments and let me know what you think by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn. Hopefully, you’ll react as positively as Chris Seriale, of New World Group (asi/283161) who watched the filming in New York and told us: “I’ve been an ASI member for 20 years and this is so cool. It’s great for the industry.”


Swimming with the Sharks

Filed under: ASI Shows, Media Coverage, Members, News About ASI

Shark Tank judge Daymond John blew the crowd away at ASI’s New York show. His rapid-fire presentation – chock full of personal stories, funny anecdotes and frank business advice – engrossed an overflow crowd of over 500. There were so many people that, for the first time ever, we had to set up chairs outside in the hallway.

Audience member Albert Galimidi, of Allegra Print & Imaging (asi/372155), put it best: “Daymond lit the stage on fire. He shared so many important points and inspirational stories. The best advice he gave was ‘just keep swimming. Times get hard for all of us, but if you keep swimming you’ll get there.’ ”

Unfortunately, I grew up in Indiana and never learned to swim, but so far so good! What I liked best about John (pictured at right) is how down to earth he is – just like so many people in our industry who also grew a successful business from nothing.

In a word, The ASI ShowNew York rocked.  The two-day show took place at the Javits Convention Center, Thursday, April 3 and Friday, April 4. The show was so hot, it attracted a ton of media attention, including MSNBC’s Your Business program and Fox 5 News, which interviewed ASI’s own Matthew Cohn.

Friday, ASI’s products expert, Joe “The Joe Show” Haley, took boxes of the industry’s coolest products to Fox TV’s Good Day New York morning show studios, where he held his own on camera alongside anchors Rosanna Scotto and Greg Kelly (pictured with Joe). Greg liked the tee shirt cannon Joe brought to demo so much he shot tee shirts all over the studio. ASI will post links to all TV coverage on its website next week so be sure to check back.

The “hot” theme continued through to Counselor magazine’s annual Hot 25 party, held this year at the very swanky, uber cool rooftop club at the Gansevoort Meatpacking hotel, featuring a jamming DJ along with stunning views of New York City landmarks like the Empire State Building. Click here for Counselor magazine’s list of the industry’s hottest, most innovative game-changers.

And for more coverage of ASI New York, visit www.asicentral.com and the ASI Show Facebook page.

All told, the NYC show attracted over 1,900 distributors from as far as Switzerland and Trinidad and Tobago, and 220 suppliers showcasing their newest ad specialty products for the second half of the year. The reviews were rock solid:  “ASI New York has been great,” said Cynthia Weaver, of Polished with Etiquette (asi/296807). “The products I found are going to not only grow my current business but allow me to break into new markets. The ASI Show gives business owners the unique opportunity to find fresh and new ideas to bring back to our clients.”

“The show has been very good,” said Louis Massaro, of Cooler Graphics (asi/80345). “We gathered many great leads and have been able to spend valuable time with our existing clients. The best thing about the show has been the quality of the attendees.” Pete Nutty, of Showdown Displays (asi/87188), added: “ASI New York has been fantastic. Everyone should be at this show.”

We kicked off the action Tuesday and Wednesday at the Javits Center with our invitation-only hosted buyer event, fASIlitate, featuring productive, one-on-one meetings between leading distributors and some of the industry’s most sought-after suppliers. Owen Zibrak, of Ecocentric Brands (asi/51443), said: “We met some great people and made valuable business connections. Each of the individual meetings we had today were a success. We will definitely be doing future fASIlitates!”

There’s still time to get in on the action: The next upcoming 2014 ASI Show is Chicago (July 15-17). To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2014, contact sales VP Karen DiTomasso at kditomasso@asicentral.com.

And if you were in New York, please let me know what you thought of the show by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Style and Substance in California

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

The ASI show in Long Beach, California was as provocative as it was successful. Artist Erik Wahl – one of the most unusual keynoters we’ve ever had – gave a presentation described by more than one person as “awesome.”

Linda Panksy, from PIP Printing (asi/398508) told us Wahl, a best-belling author who uses art as a means of communicating business advice, actually inspired her to think differently: “He made me realize that I need to get out of the box.”

According to Wahl, “You have to find ways to differentiate yourself from the competition, and creativity can do that. The companies that are successful right now are the ones that create unique experiences for their customers.”

If you missed the keynote, check out an interview Counselor Editor Andy Cohen conducted afterward with Wahl, on ways ad specialty companies can become more creative and innovative. Click here to watch.

The two-day California show was attended by more than 1,800 distributors, including sales stars from Million-Dollar Roundtable companies such as Geiger, Brown & Bigelow, Jack Nadel and iPROMOTEu. The show floor attracted 280 exhibitors, including 93 new to Long Beach.

The best part for me were the reviews from attendees like Paul Herzbrum, from BND Corporation (asi/129474), who said: “We’re leaving with many new initiatives that will help us build our business, and that’s what attending a trade show is all about.”

Katharina Pieper of BamBams (asi/38228) told us she most enjoyed the quality of attendees. “We’ve been able to talk in detail with distributors and are being asked for quotes and are getting valuable leads. We are already committed to all The ASI Shows next year, and we will be in New York next week.”

What I liked best about our week in California was all we accomplished, starting with the unique combination of our invitation-only fASIlitate event with an ASI show. Everyone I spoke to who attended both events found the experience worthwhile. Tonia Allen Gould, from TagSource, described fASIlitate as “Absolutely fabulous. It’s a great use of time. I’m sitting down with vendors one-on-one and it’s a very rewarding experience. I would definitely recommend it.”

I hope you’ve been able to catch another new initiative: the live, on-stage version of our ever-popular “Joe Show,” featuring dozens of cool, new products from leading suppliers. Host Joe Haley is earning high praise for the live format. One distributor even told us it was his favorite part of the show.

Seems like we’re barely taking a breath before heading to ASI New York, taking place next Wednesday and Thursday at the Javits Center. After that, it’s on to the ASI show in Chicago July 15-17. (To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2014, contact sales VP Karen DiTomasso at kditomasso@asicentral.com).

For photos and more coverage of ASI Long Beach, be sure to visit www.asicentral.com and the ASI Show Facebook page.


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