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Vulnerability is the Key to Success

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, News About ASI

I admit, I didn’t know who reality TV star and businessman Marcus Lemonis was when we secured him last year as the keynote speaker at the 2016 ASI Show® Orlando.

But since then, I’ve binge-watched The Profit and become a huge fan. His message to our overflowing audience of 1,000 on the closing day of our three-day trade show: be vulnerable, sharing with people deeply meaningful things they don’t know about you to build true personal and business relationships.

Overall, his speech was about the most open, honest and, yes, vulnerable one I’ve ever heard.

“You don’t hear this stuff on my show, you won’t read about it in interviews I do, but this is who I am,” he told our audience, who were on the edge of their seats. “I was fat as a kid. I was bullied. I had an eating disorder. I was molested by a relative. I’m telling you all this because my number-one asset is vulnerability. It is the key to success.”

Wow. When’s the last time you heard a wildly successful businessman admit his deepest, most innermost thoughts? I tell you, that message – and Marcus’s kindness to so many people who sought his advice and attention – will stick with me forever.

Not only did he run over his presentation by about 20 minutes, Lemonis took a ton of time from a crazy-busy day to speak with just about everyone he met, starting with every single person in  very long line at our meet-and-greet after the keynote (which was one of only 4-5 corporate appearances he makes a year).

All morning, the multi-millionaire, who runs the $3 billion Camping World RV empire, collected business cards, gifts and even cellphone numbers from his many fans. And during a tour of the trade show floor, he seemed genuinely interested in everything – including the famous Cohn family hotdogs, which we still serve at every ASI show.

(For more on Marcus, read our story by clicking here).

The keynote was just one of many highlights from Orlando, which drew 715 exhibitors and nearly 6,000 attendees from 49 states and 18 countries – plus, an all-time record of 27 distributor companies holding big meetings at the show.

In the end, the biggest take-away from Orlando – the kick-off to ASI’s entire show season – was summed up nicely by Rita Ugianskis-Fishman, vice president and general manager of ASI Show, who said: “I was delighted that Marcus emphasized the importance of authentic personal relationships to business success. At a time when so many of us are devoted to our devices, it’s more critical than ever to take full advantage of the face-to-face relationships you can really only build at trade shows like Orlando, Dallas and Chicago.

Here’s to more openness, greater connectivity and stronger relationships in 2016 – and on to ASI Show Dallas, February 9-11 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and ASI Show Chicago, July 12-14 at McCormick Place.

 


Giving What We Can

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

Growing up, I benefited from charitable people and agencies.

I remember when my disabled mom caught a ride with a neighbor into Columbus, Indiana, to file for welfare. (I recently found our original welfare card. Photo attached). Her pride was less important than her son. She let me open the first check: $12.  Next was my first visit to a dentist. We shopped with food stamps and ate better than ever.

Holiday gifts for me were often carried into our home by volunteer firemen, who were delivering presents wrapped by neighbors helping neighbors.

Happily, I now work at a company that makes “We care” an integral part of our corporate values. Throughout 2015, our employees also thought of others, making generous donations of time, goods and nearly $30,000 in cash to nearly a dozen community nonprofit organizations.

The United States is the most charitable country in the world. This year, individuals will give $260 billion to charities, more than 70% of total giving.

During the holiday season, such organizations often receive half their annual total contributions. So during the next few days, as you think about the gifts you’re swapping with friends and relatives, please take a moment to consider a contribution to an organization of your choice.

Don’t worry about the amount. Remember, $12 gave me hope, food and a positive outlook for my future.

Happy holidays, everyone!

 

 


My 100-Year-Old Promotional Memory

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

Every Fall, ASI conducts a corporate gift-giving survey to find out how much companies across the country are spending on client and employee gifts this holiday season. And every year the results confirm that a quality gift is the best way to express appreciation and build relationships.

People from all kinds of industries told us that when they get a corporate thank-you gift it makes them feel appreciated, grateful and valued. And, when we asked about their most memorable gift, they responded with great enthusiasm for everything from a branded umbrella, laptop sleeve and reciprocating saw (yes, really!) to steaks, bourbon truffles and activity trackers – a list that goes to prove that you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot to get a big return.

I’m living proof of that concept, which really is the central tenet of our entire industry. I still have one of the gifts my grandmother received probably 100 years ago from Rose’s Store in St. Louis Crossing, Indiana, the tiny village where I grew up. When she passed away, she left it to me. To this day, I have it displayed in my house as a reminder of grandma, that simple little store, and growing up in Indiana farmland.

More recently, I gave 10 of my closest friends a fleece with a logo designed for a special trip I took with them all to Argentina to celebrate my 50th birthday. The trip and the logoed items I gave everyone were my way of thanking them for the big part they play in my life, each and every day.

Occasionally, three years later, three or four of us will show up at a party wearing that same fleece. Like the best promo products, a fleece – or a plate or a USB, or any one of thousands of branded products – is practical, useful and attractive. It’s why people keep such items around for years – or even decades.

Our annual gift-giving study turned up a ton of useful stats I encourage you to take on sales calls as further proof of the enduring effectiveness of this low-cost, high-ROI advertising medium. Whether you’re thanking loyal clients for their business, courting potential ones or showing your own employees how much they mean to you, you really can’t beat a branded item.

Nate Kucsma, ASI’s marketing research director, said that what struck him the most about the 2015 results is that companies are spending more overall on employee gifts this year than on client gifts. That makes sense in an increasingly tight job market when companies have to work that much harder to retain top talent.

How did you thank your employees this year? At ASI, our employees seemed to really appreciate the turkey or a pie we gave out before Thanksgiving the most.

Click here for our press release on the gift-giving report and look below for some highlights:

  • Companies thanking clients plan to give gifts averaging $48, up 9% from 2014.
  • Companies rewarding employees with cash or gifts are spending an average of $44, up nearly 16% from 2014.
  • Companies thanking clients plan to give gifts averaging $48, up 9% from 2014.
  • Food or beverages like the ubiquitous fruit basket are the most popular items for customers and prospects, followed by useful office items like pens, calendars and power banks.
  • The leading employee gifts are gift cards and cash bonuses, followed by food and beverages, and apparel.
  • Nearly one-quarter of all companies giving gifts to employees will spend over $100 on each employee gift this year, versus 18% in 2014.
  • Nearly half (46%) of all responding companies report that 100% of the gifts they give out this season, to both employees and customers and prospects, will have their company’s logo on them.

Leave a comment to let me know the best gift you’ve ever gotten – or given. Hands down, I vote for my irreplaceable plate. Every time I look at it, I see love. I can’t imagine anything more valuable.


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.


Fall Fashion: Can You Dig It?

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Our annual Style Issue and high-fashion shoot for Wearables is an exercise in ambition. Instead of everyday polos and T-shirts, we challenged preconceived notions of promotional apparel. It’s Fashion with a capital ‘F.’

The bar was high, but I think we surpassed expectations. Last year, we created a life-sized background, plastered it to the ground and wired a camera to the ceiling, 14 feet high. Designer Conrad Booker conceived an original line of clothing for industry decorators to bring to life and the 15-hour shoot culminated in a gravity-defying (and award-winning!) fashion spread.

The question this year, obviously, was “How can we top that?”

The answer: Be dramatically different.

Echoing leading fashion pubs like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, the 2015 fall fashion shoot featured a minimalist set design that showcased the amazing 1970s-era clothes (the year’s biggest runway trend) and floral multimedia decoration. We combined the shoot for Wearables and Stitches for the first time in anticipation of the upcoming integration of the magazines, and in response to our many readers’ interest in varied decoration techniques.

Each year, the day of the shoot is always exhilarating but stressful, but this year’s also was the most fun and relaxed. ASI’s photographer Mark Pricskett kept the mood light by cranking the grooviest disco tracks of the era (Saturday Night Fever, anyone?). ASI intern Alexandra Steel got some good-natured ribbing for an important-but-thankless task: raking the set’s shag carpet. And, I admit it, we all took turns modeling the amazing faux afro puff (made from dyed raffia) Conrad created for one of the outfits.

Check out the fun by watching our behind-the-scenes video.

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Thanks to incredible outfits provided by leading designers and industry decorators, the shoot was a joy instead of a job. But an all-day shoot with two models and nearly a dozen staffers and assistants hustling and bustling isn’t a simple matter of throwing on an outfit and snapping a few pics. Thought and effort go into everything: makeup and hair, lighting and even poses. It’s a mix of science and art, fueled by a hefty dose of professional intuition.

Take the laser-cut leather jacket from designer Byron Lars. Mark encouraged our model Roxanne to try some “cheesy smiles” and, boom! Smiling visions of Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs filled our heads (as they did countless boys from that era), and we knew we had our shot.

We’re unabashedly proud of the work we did, but our biggest hope is that it serves as inspiration for decorators across the industry so they’re encouraged to experiment and push the limits with their creations. While these decoration techniques were used for high fashion, they’re the very same tools that will allow promotional apparel to stand out from the crowd.

We’re already looking ahead to an even more far-out 2016 fashion shoot – and encourage you to aim for new heights as well.

Wearables Editor C.J. Mittica (pictured above), cmittica@asicentral.com


With Direct Link, the Future is Now

Filed under: News About ASI

In today’s business world, a positive customer review is as valuable as an ironclad sales contract. Whenever one hits my inbox, I’m tempted to post it on a billboard. The Internet – today’s version of an electronic billboard – will have to do.

Below is my latest favorite, sent to us by Magnet’s Chief Technology Officer Rene Whitcraft, testifying to the value of the direct connection that now exists between ASI’s ESP® and suppliers like The Magnet Group (asi/68507), Color FX Inc. (asi/55520) and Power Sales & Advertising (asi/79083):

“ASI’s new API allows us to bring new products to market and update pricing electronically and instantaneously – as compared to weeks of manual entry and review,” Rene told us. “In addition, the API is comprehensive and robust, which will allow us to take the next integration step – electronically receiving and processing orders received through ESP. By improving the accuracy of the product data found on ESP and shortening the order-to-delivery time through automated order processing, ASI’s API will make buying from The Magnet Group a painless and satisfying experience for our customers.”

In short, APIs (or application programming interfaces) means large suppliers can now be directly linked to ASI’s ESP – the industry’s No. 1 product sourcing tool – allowing suppliers to update time-sensitive product information like SKU level pricing and inventory in a blink.

With direct connect, updates that once took up to 24 hours now occur in under five minutes. And, suppliers with databases directly linked to ESP Updates no longer have to log in to ASI – as soon product updates are made in their system, they are automatically updated in ESP.

This is nothing less than the single most dramatic advancement the promotional products industry has seen in decades. I’m proud to say that our product data platform is moving this industry forward and transforming the way distributors search, find and quote products to their customers.

In today’s get-it-now marketplace, speed and efficiency are as critical as positive reviews.

For distributors, direct connect means more product, shipping and pricing information, when and how they want it, with faster, easier order management, making businesses more efficient and orders placed with more confidence and fewer questions.

For suppliers, it means a seamless, time-saving system that allows for updating the latest product info and pricing in minutes, and in bulk. Just by choosing the type of product they’re entering, ESP automatically defaults to values for easy inputting. Plus, suppliers can work from templates instead of manually entering every detail themselves.

So far, ASI has successfully migrated 3,200 suppliers’ data into ESP Updates, which hosts over 950,000 products and feeds directly into ESP, meaning distributors enjoy direct access to one terabyte of continuously updated product data with over 12 million price points, 2.5 million product images, 450,000 virtual sample-ready images and 29 million product attributes.

If that isn’t billboard-worthy, I don’t know what is.


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