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Horns Up for Dallas

Filed under: ASI Shows, Members, News About ASI

I’m very excited our nation’s 43rd president is sharing his insights and experiences at this week’s ASI Show in Dallas during what is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After all, Bush served two terms during the most tumultuous times in recent history, from 9/11 to the Iraq war and global financial crisis. Love him or leave him, an opportunity to see a president in person is not to be missed, so I hope you’ve signed up for Thursday’s presentation.

Understandably, security will be tight, so if you’re coming be certain to bring your official show-issued badge and photo ID. Otherwise, you won’t get in.

I hope everyone traveling from the snow-packed East Coast, like so many of us from ASI, arrive safely and without too much delay. The president’s talk is just one of the many highlights at the Dallas show, at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Hall F, Tuesday, February, 4 through Thursday, February. 6.

We’re expecting 515 exhibitors (including 65 suppliers new to Dallas) and over 3,000 attendees. The 18 distributor sales meetings on tap include Counselor Top 40 distributor Staples Promotional Products (asi/120601), which is bringing 125 of their top account executives.

Tuesday’s Education Day features 8 tracks and 51 sessions, with all sessions qualifying for points toward the ASI Certification Program. That day’s free lunch is “Meet the Expects,” which resembles a speed networking session, with designated experts leading discussions among rotating sets of attendees. I’ll be there, and would love to see you. First come, first served.

Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ASI’s own Joe Haley conducts a live version of his popular “Joe Show,” featuring dozens of cool, new products from suppliers. That night, you can kick up your heels at the Gala Celebration at Gilley’s, the honky tonk made famous by the movie “Urban Cowboy.”

And if you haven’t already downloaded it, please stop by an ASI booth for a demo of the visual search feature now available in ESP Web and ESP Mobile. Distributors can upload images to ESP® for an instant scan for similar items in the industry’s largest and most comprehensive product database. As always, the app for Android, iPhone and iPad is available free to authorized distributors who are ESP subscribers.

For complete coverage of the Dallas show, including blogs and videos, visit www.asicentral.com

and the ASI Show Facebook page. And, put the free mobile app on your phone for up-to-the-minute info. Search “ASI Dallas” in your app store.

Upcoming 2014 ASI Shows are Long Beach (March 25-27), New York (April 3-4) and Chicago (July 15-17). To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2013, contact sales VP Karen DiTomasso at kditomasso@asicentral.com.

Distributor Sales Hit Record High

Filed under: Members, News About ASI

The U.S. economy is on track to enjoy its best performance since the dark days of the 2008 recession and, I’m happy to report, the promotional products industry is doing even better. ASI just released its latest distributor sales report showing 2013 is going down in the books as the biggest sales year ever, surpassing $20 billion for the first time.

Coming off 16 straight quarters of growth, this news is cause for celebration. It also presents a prime opportunity. Take advantage of the latest technology to save time and boost efficiency. Hire more sales reps (especially those who reflect our increasingly diverse country). Attend conferences to learn the latest sales strategies.

And, if you’re moving into new global markets, learn the lingo – or hire someone who does – and check out PromoAlliance, an international alliance between ASI, Sourcing City and PSI that identifies and introduce best practices and market development concepts benefiting the U.S., U.K. and European markets. Click here for more info.

The best entrepreneurs are like sharks – they need to keep moving ever forward, or their businesses will shrivel and die.

The U.S. GDP expanded 3.1% in 2013’s fourth quarter. ASI’s data shows distributors grew sales by nearly twice that rate, or 5.7%. Meanwhile, the Counselor Confidence Index – a tool that measures distributor health and optimism – improved to 113.2 in the fourth quarter, reaching its highest point since being introduced a year ago.

Other highlights from ASI’s latest sales report include:

  • In 2013, 86% of larger distributors (more than $5 million in annual revenues) reported an increase in sales.
  • 68% of all firms – regardless of size – reported gains.
  • In Q4, 54% of surveyed distributors improved revenues over the same period in 2012, with larger firms again making the biggest sales jump.
  • The 5.7% Q4 increase is the best quarterly sales gain since Q1 of 2013 as firms closed the year strong.

Economists are betting the momentum from the second half of 2013 will continue through 2014. According to a recent Counselor Promogram report, distributors also have high expectations. ASI data shows 74% of distributors anticipate an increase in sales this year, while only 4.5% of distributor firms are expecting a drop in revenues.

“Our overall experience is that we saw growth greater than the industry average,” Jo-an Lantz, executive vice president of Top 40 distributor Geiger (asi/202900), told Counselor. “We anticipate another great sales year in 2014. The industry will have another growth year, and we are expecting the same.”

How did your company fare in 2013 – and what’s your outlook for 2014? Let me know by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Red Hot Orlando Beats Arctic Cold

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, News About ASI

Despite near-record cold and the lingering effects of a horrific snowstorm that caused numerous flight delays, nearly everyone arrived at ASI Orlando in fine spirits, energized and raring to hit the show floor. Along with the stars of the ABC hit reality TV show competition Shark Tank, the first show of the 2014 show season attracted over 5,600 distributors from 27 countries and nearly every state in the union.

The suppliers, distributors and decorators I spoke to are very bullish on 2014 and heartened by preliminary ASI research showing record industry sales of over $20 billion for 2013.

The crowd included 805 suppliers (with 130 brand new to Orlando!) and numerous Counselor® Top 40, along with 20 distributor sales meetings. Lee Feinstein, from Bodek & Rhodes (asi/40788), described his booth as a “mob scene,” which is the ultimate compliment.

The event, which took place Sunday through Tuesday at the Orange County Convention Center, showcased thousands of the hottest products in the industry and featured a full slate of networking events, all-day education and a jam-packed show floor.

The highlight for me was Tuesday’s live Shark Tank-style “pitch slam” between four innovative entrepreneurs vying for a $5,000 cash prize for the industry’s top new promotional product, with our own vice-chairman Matthew Cohn as co-host. I was impressed by the professionalism of self-made tycoons Barbara Corcoran and Kevin O’Leary, who judged the competition.

Supplier Card Ninja (asi/95026) took home the big check after dazzling the judges with an innovative card-holder that sticks to the back of cell phones. “You have a phenomenal product,” Corcoran said. “I’ll offer you $10,000 right now for 30% of your company.” The winners, pictured at right with Barbara, are company co-founder Sunder Jambunathan (at far right), Rupa Mohan (center) and Christopher Page.

Later, the judges – who bicker onstage like an old married couple – told me they were thrilled to appear before a cheering crowd of genuine entrepreneurs instead of the boring executives they normally speak to during similar corporate events.  Best yet, they loved our industry.

“It definitely works,” Kevin told a reporter from the Orlando Business Journal who interviewed him after the event. “This industry has grown every year. And as a business model, it works.”

The greatest advice he could offer entrepreneurs is to watch cash flow. “The lifeblood of a business is cash,” Kevin said. “People run out of it too quickly and that’s the reason most small businesses fail.”

Judging by the line that started outside the keynote at 7:30 a.m. and the standing-room-only audience of nearly 1,200, the hyper-interactive event was a huge hit for everyone involved. And I’d like to especially thank our other competitors: SSAM Sports, who showed off their “Putterwheel” golf product; BamBams, with “WeLuvABanner”; and Semco/Americraft, with the “Gap Stick.”

I knew this crowd was party hardy when I saw the attendance numbers for our gala celebration at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 1,900 people braved near-record cold to enjoy thrill rides, a DJ dance party and tons of meeting and greeting. In the pic at right, ASI Show’s new VP and general manager, Rita Ugianskis-Fishman, wards off the chill at a heat lamp with exhibitor and screen printer Jeff Nieball, of N Designs in Fayetteville, TN. Rita really hit the ground running – she started her ASI career this week in Orlando and I’m sure you’ll see her at our upcoming shows so please say hello.

The celebrations continued during the annual Counselor Distributor Choice Awards, which applauded winners in 60 different product categories. Seattle-based iClick (asi/62124) was named 2014 Supplier of the Year. As I said in my congratulatory speech, “I think the real reason iClick is tonight’s winner has a lot to do with founder Lon McGowan’s mantra: ‘Do whatever makes the distributor look good.’”

To see the complete list of Counselor Distributor Choice Awards winners, click here. And for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos, visit www.asicentral.com.

The year is off to a great start. Upcoming 2014 ASI Shows are Dallas (February 4-6), Long Beach (March 25-27), New York (April 3-4) and Chicago (July 15-17).

As always, I’m interested in what you think of our shows, so feel free to post a comment or e-mail me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

New Year, Big Show

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, News About ASI

We’re kicking off the New Year with a great big three-day show in Orlando, the first of the 2014 show season. In addition to thousands of the hottest products in the industry, we’re showcasing creativity, entrepreneurship and good old-fashioned competitiveness during a very special keynote presentation on Tuesday by the stars of the ABC hit reality TV show, Shark Tank.

The show, taking place at the massive Orange County Convention Center, got off to a great start Sunday, with a full day of classes offering something for everyone – whether you’re already a million-dollar superstar or an industry newbie. And classes continue both Monday and Tuesday, so it’s not too late to attend one.

This show features a ton of “firsts.” Monday morning, ASI’s products expert Joe Haley hosted a live Joe Show on stage with suppliers showing of their coolest items. Monday night, we celebrate suppliers during the annual Counselor Distributor Choice Awards. I love these awards because distributors across North America choose which companies we’ll honor by voting for their most-valued ad specialty suppliers. Winners are selected based on real votes and data from ASI’s Supplier Performance Ratings.

Another first – the ASI CTO Summit, hosted by our Chief Technology Officer Armughan Rafat. We decided to bring together tech leaders from some of the largest distributors and suppliers in the industry to discuss ways a technology culture can influence an organization’s bottom line. I’m sure we’ll enjoy heady discussions of a front-burner topic of keen interest to us all.

In another first, we’re hosting a pitch slam called “Swimming with the Sharks” on Tuesday – with four top suppliers competing for $5,000 to help them launch a cool, new product. The judges are none other than self-made tycoons Barbara Corcoran and Kevin O’Leary, who know just what it takes to run with a million-dollar idea. This presentation should be a lot of fun – and it’s free, so be sure to come and cheer on your favorite supplier.

Before the presentation ASI Chairman of the Board Norman Cohn and Matthew Cohn, the founder of The ASI Show, join me on stage to “pin” the latest recipients of certifications from ASI’s education program. I’m proud to say ASI recently hit a major milestone – awarding over 1,000 industry certifications through our free Online Learning Center since November 2010 alone.

This year’s gala celebration takes place at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, complete with rides, a DJ, dance party and plenty of food and drink. It’s the perfect opportunity to meet new people, have fun with old friends and relax a little in the midst of a very busy show.

I’m also happy ASI Orlando has attracted 20 distributor sales meetings, including American Solutions for Business, which brought 300 of their top sales reps. It’s always a pleasure to attend their events and to say hello to their CEO, Larry Zavadil, who’s celebrating both a birthday and the arrival of a new grand-daughter. Congrats, Larry!

If you see me at the show (I’m the one walking the fastest, though it’s hard to beat the guys on those segways zipping around), please say hello. As always, I’m interested in what you think of the show, so feel free to post a comment or e-mail me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

And be sure to check out our website for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos, at www.asicentral.com. And if you haven’t already, register for our upcoming shows in Dallas, Long Beach, New York City and Chicago.

Promo Products 101

Filed under: Community, Education, Industry Initiatives, News About ASI

When college students tell you you’ve done something right, you want to share it with the world. That’s how we felt when we heard from Babson College students who recently dipped a toe into the promotional products industry through a unique initiative spear-headed by ASI’s education department.

ASI and Babson College worked together to help instructor-led student groups spend about $3,000 in seed money to buy, imprint and sell promotional products. As part of their immersion into the business world, these budding entrepreneurs were granted access to ASI’s ESP®, where they could source and order products from our suppliers. By using ESP and reputable ASI member companies, students told us they felt confident they were selling quality products.

After the program ended, the college surveyed participating students. Here are a few of their comments:

  • “It was great because it allowed us to have a reputable way to contact a trusted supplier.”
  • “Definitely continue to provide ASI as a resource… ASI helps legitimize the business immediately and gives a group of college kids credibility.”
  • “Without the strong relationship with our supplier that our COO worked on throughout the semester, we would not have been so successful.”
  • “ASI was incredibly valuable in determining a good supplier within the U.S.”

The inaugural program was so successful, during the 2013-2014 school year ASI and Babson will expand it to enable up to 40 student businesses to show and sell their products through an ESP Websites e-commerce company store.

Our long-term hope is that these future business leaders look to their positive experiences with our suppliers and our industry when embarking on their careers. We plan to continue outreach to other colleges and universities 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.

After announcing the program’s results, we received a number of accolades, along with feedback worth sharing.

The owner of an Illinois company that’s sold promotional products since 1975 applauded the program and shared his own story about a paid internship program he offers for marketing and advertising students. He started the program to mentor students and help them gain valuable, real-world business experience – and to help spread the word about our industry.

As he points out, “Wherever they pursue their career, they will have a very strong background in the power of promotional products as well as how to integrate promotional products into a given target market to help build brand awareness, new product intros, etc.”

He added, “The younger generation will become the backbone of our industry in the near future.”

I couldn’t agree more. As I explained to a distributor who is concerned programs like this one could hurt our industry, any worries about possible student competition should be outweighed by the need for greater exposure.

As it stands now, the industry is too invisible to business students who are learning how to make smart marketing decisions once they’re business professionals.  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 the incredible return on the investment of marketing dollars.  We need to change that.

In terms of the next generation of leadership in the industry, we need people to understand and be excited about promotional products as a potential career or the industry will wither and die.  As I walk around trade shows and other events, I am very concerned about the aging of our distributor sales population, the invisibility of the profession to anyone who didn’t grow up in the industry or stumble into it by accident, and equally concerned that we have little or no racial diversity.  We are 90% white in a world that isn’t. Exposing our industry to entrepreneurial students from every walk of life has the opportunity to inject new enthusiasm among those who decide to join.

While I appreciate the feedback, my larger concern is about an invisible industry, lacking new youthful entrants and racial diversity. We plan to continue to pursue programs similar to Babson’s at other colleges and universities and hope to have several such programs next year.

We’ll keep everyone apprised moving forward. My hope is that after considering what more exposure, education and diversity can do for our industry in the long run, everyone will become more enthusiastic about our shared future.

Connect Your Business

Filed under: Guest Blog, News About ASI

The first time I saw ASI’s new Connect tool in action, I felt like a kid on Christmas Day! I’ve been dreaming about a game-changing online resource just like it since Day One at ASI and now it’s finally here.

For suppliers, it’s all about prospecting and analytics. They’re either scouring for new customers or trying to figure out if the ones they found will be reliable enough business partners. And that’s where the one-stop web-based Connect comes in.

To me, it’s the most intelligent prospecting and credit tool on the planet. It’s like having your marketing, sales and credit departments all rolled up into one.

Even better, Connect is easy to use. At a glance, suppliers can now see who’s searching for their products, making direct marketing a snap. The user-friendly dashboard and advanced search features means you’ll use up less of your valuable time trying to figure out which button to tap to get the info you need. And, Connect’s new reporting functionality allows suppliers to easily upload their own information and distributor reviews in a few simple steps and see that info updated faster than ever before.

Here’s a run-down on some of the new features:

  • Instant lead generation. Suppliers can run an advanced search to discover which distributors have searched for their product lines in ASI’s ESP® database in the past 30, 60 or 90 days.
  • Laser-focused marketing. Run targeted searches based on distributors’ total sales, paying habits, company size and more, or search using pre-built lists of distributors, including the Power 50, the Counselor Top 40 and past ASI Show attendees.
  • Superior risk assessment and monitoring. Get alerts on selected distributors to keep up-to-date on payments, collections, write-offs and bankruptcies.
  • Constantly updated info. Use the latest, most accurate info to help make the best business choice possible.
  • Better business intelligence. Research reviews written by other suppliers before signing new clients, and share your own experiences.

If you want to talk about what Connect can do for your business email me today at grahill@asicentral.com or contact a Connect rep at 800-546-1226.

–        Gene Rahill, ASI’s vice president of digital advertising

P.S. Tim Andrews here. I’d just like to add that I know from a reliable source (Gene) that he actually teared up when he saw the first demo of Connect, which says an awful lot about the new service.

I Spy…Happiness

Filed under: ASICentral, Community, News About ASI

Happy employees help a company’s bottom line. Unhappy employees hurt productivity. In the face of research studies proving engaged employees work harder and come up with better ideas, you’d figure companies everywhere would be scrambling to improve the workplace. You’d be wrong.

Even though creating a better work culture doesn’t cost very much, a lot of companies have yet to make the leap. Here’s where we come in: Starting this week, three ASI employees will visit 16 suppliers and distributors doing it right. The best part is that you can tag along – virtually – throughout the eight-day Counselor Best Places to Work Tour to learn what it takes to turn frowns upside down at your company.

But that’s not all.

On Thursday, November 21, you can take another short-cut to improved productivity by attending ASI’s very first Counselor Best Places to Work Conference in Santa Barbara, CA. Our 12 hot-shot speakers will teach you how to quickly and easily pump up your employees and create the kind of work culture that results in happier people – and higher performances.

The first thing you need to do is to start following Melinda Ligos (@ASI_melinda), Andy Cohen (@ASI_andycohen) and Joe Haley (@ASI_joehaley) at www.CounselorMag.com/roadtour or on Twitter (#counselortour). The road trip gang will post videos, pics and blogs every day – and you can help keep them going by posting comments and tweeting about the trip to your followers. As thanks, you’ll be entered to win a $100 gift card, along with cool road tour memorabilia.

This is the third time our Counselor editors have hit the road to visit Best Places to Work honorees and share the many unique ways these companies balance work and fun. Check out the website to browse previous blog posts for ideas from past visits you can implement at your company – and be sure you join Joe, Andy and Melinda on this year’s trip for even more tips and to meet some of the hippest, happiest people in our industry (and that’s saying a lot!).

If past road trips are any indication, there’s sure to be enough morning beer, late-night chili dogs, wacky costumes, cranked-up tunes, crazy car games and roadside attractions to put the antics described in “On the Road” to shame.

And, I’m happy to report, ASI knows all about Best Places to Work because we are one. In a contest sponsored by Greater Philadelphia Media our employees voted ASI “Best Places to Work-Large Company” (among companies with more than 100 employees), “Best Place for Working Moms” and “Best Employer for New Graduates” in 2013. ASI previously won “Best Places to Work” awards in 2012, 2011 and 2010, so I think it’s official: this is a great place to work.

How happy are your employees? What’s the best new morale-boosting idea implemented at your company? Let me know by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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