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It’s SOI Survey Time

Filed under: News About ASI, Research

Each year, ASI conducts the most comprehensive and important research about our industry to create the Counselor State of the Industry report. But we can’t do it without you.

All we ask is that you take 10 minutes to complete a survey, and you’ll be entered to win a sweepstakes for a $250 Visa gift card. The survey ends April 4. If you’re a distributor, click here to take the survey. Suppliers, please click here.

It’s important because your info leads to the in-depth reporting conducted each year by the Counselor team on key sales, marketing and operational metrics used every day by industry practitioners. Nowhere else do you get the scope of this detailed information about our industry. And it’s free to ASI members.

The SOI report, which comes out in print and online each summer, is considered the most influential in the industry – and for good reason. It’s a definitive analysis of this industry’s most recent past as well as a roadmap to the future.

With your responses, we’re able to help you grow your business by revealing critical information such as:

  • Most popular product categories
  • Highly targeted markets
  • Innovative marketing and advertising techniques

Once Counselor’s SOI issue comes out, read it cover-to-cover and cherry-pick the stats and info most useful to your business. And be sure to read the growth strategies that are working wonders for industry leaders – and put them to work for you.

Along with tons of sales-generating ideas, this year’s report analyzes 2013 sales to determine the biggest markets and most popular products.

Remember: The 10 minutes you invest in taking the survey today will pay off in dividends come summer. Thanks for your help – and great luck winning the gift card!


Rediscover Your Creative Genius

Filed under: ASI Shows, News About ASI

What’s the single most important thing CEOs need to successfully navigate in today’s increasingly complex world? If you guessed management discipline, integrity or even vision, you’d be wrong. According to a major IBM survey of top CEOS from throughout the world, the answer is creativity.

To illustrate this unusual business concept, live and on stage, we’re bringing the “Warhol of Wall Street” to the ASI Show in Long Beach during the very first ASI keynote to feature paint as a catalyst for brainstorming.

Our speaker, Erik Wahl, is a former suit who now believes creativity is the key to unlocking success. Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking: “What can a graffiti artist teach me about running my business?” Although I have a deep appreciation for art, about the only time I express myself in a creative fashion is in my garden or my writing. But when I read the results of the IBM study about creativity, I was convinced Wahl is on to something.

The survey found that less than half of global CEOs believe their enterprises are adequately prepared to handle a highly volatile, increasingly complex business environment. The best way to overcome massive shifts in everything from new government regulations, growing volumes of data and rapidly evolving customer preferences? Install “creativity” throughout an organization.

Think about the last time you put the best minds in your company together in a room and allowed them to brainstorm. Remember how many cool new ideas they came up with? Unfortunately, with business moving at the speed of light, these days we rarely have the time for much deep thinking – or creativity.

But in his free keynote on Thursday, March 27, 9:30-10:15 a.m., Wahl promises to help us all tap into our inner inventiveness, which is another way of describing how the best entrepreneurs think. Afterward, he’ll give away the paintings he’ll create during the “Erik Wahl Experience” to ASI show-goers on the show floor – and he’ll also meet a handful of people at a ticketed meet-and-greet (tickets still available).

For more info, click here to watch Wahl’s video, or read a Forbes magazine column about what makes his ideas so special. He’s given a prestigious TED Talk and his keynotes have earned standing ovations before such organizations as AT&T, Disney, London School of Business, Microsoft, FedEx, Exxon Mobil and Ernst & Young.

Wahl’s keynote is but one highlight of our California show, taking place Tuesday, March 25 to Thursday, March 27. We’re kicking things off in a big way with the Long Beach Invitational the Monday before the show starts. If you’re a golfer, don’t miss this private outing at the Trump National Golf Club. Tickets are still available for an event that earned rave reviews last year.

We’ve got a lot of action planned around the Long Beach show. In addition, ASI’s hosted buyer event, fASIilitate, is taking place March 24-25 at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach.

In the meantime, think about the last time you did anything creative (it’s ok if it dates to the third grade). Let me know by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Presidential Memories from ASI Dallas

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

I’m standing in the wings at the Dallas convention center with President George W. Bush, seconds before our interview in front of a packed house of 1,200. The president turns to me, leans in close and says, “This is important to remember. Have fun!”

With that, we were off and running. For over an hour, the president answered every question I had – including what he was thinking right after the planes struck the twin towers on 9/11, when he was in an elementary school classroom.

He got a lot of grief for not leaving immediately, but as he explained to our audience – which was so riveted you could have heard a pin drop – when he got the news, a little girl was reading out loud. He was angry, and his mind was racing, but he couldn’t show it because he knew it wouldn’t be helpful to the American people. As the little girl read on, he realized he was now a war-time president – that he had to protect her and protect America.

Of the many on-the-spot decisions he had to make in the harrowing days, weeks and months after 9/11, the president said, “History will ultimately judge whether I made the right decisions or not.”  Whether you support Bush’s politics or not, being in the same room with any president is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The presentation took place on the last day of the ASI Show in Dallas, which ended Thursday after attracting over 500 suppliers (including 65 new to Dallas) and over 3,300 distributors from 43 states and seven countries. Despite crazy 20-degree weather and snow on the ground, it was a great show and the Bush presentation was definitely the highlight. (For more coverage, including blogs and videos, visit www.asicentral.com and the ASI Show Facebook page. Click here to read the press release. And click here for Fox news coverage of the show.)

Over the years, ASI has hosted many A-list keynote speakers, including President Bill Clinton, First Lady Laura Bush and Gen. Colin Powell. President Bush impressed me and I’d rank him right up there with Clinton. Bush was very charming, incredibly smart and extremely gracious, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since Bush is one of a mere handful of men ever elected U.S. president.

We talked before we went on and he asked a lot of questions about ASI and our industry. Once on stage, Bush thanked ASI’s owners, the Cohn family, and said of Matthew Cohn, who followed his father Norman into ASI, “I love people who follow in their father’s footsteps.” And several times during the Q&A he looked right at me – and winked.

As you can see from the photos, President Bush still works out a lot and still carries himself like a president. He recognized our audience as great marketers and entrepreneurs and said he hopes the government supports small businesses like those represented in the promotional products industry.

President Bush also didn’t shy away from any topic. When I asked if he’d always known he’d seek public office, and always wanted to be president, he confided that, if he’d known earlier, he would have taken his college years more seriously!  (His GPA and a youthful drinking are well-documented. He hasn’t had alcohol for decades and told our audience he’s also stopping smoking cigars.)

He also talked about the hobby he took up after leaving office: painting. This was a surprising choice because, as he said, he wasn’t an art guy, he was a baseball guy. But he’d read a book by Winston Churchill that addressed taking up painting to smooth the transition from world leader to (almost) ordinary citizen. Today, Bush takes art lessons about once a week and paints nearly every day, largely because it’s relaxing.

One of my favorite moments took place at a meet and greet with industry people, where he spoke to every single person in the room. When Bush learned one man was on active duty with the U.S. military, he personally handed him a medallion

“Thank you for your service,” he said. I later learned he brings a bag of the medallions with him everywhere so they are always available as a way of thanking our military men and women for all they do to protect our nation.

To me, such gratitude is the true mark of a great leader – no matter the politics.


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.


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