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Thanks to the Promo Products Community

Filed under: Community, News About ASI, Research

I love nothing better than hearing “thank you,” especially from a business that’s acknowledging how much I mean to them as a customer or client. So I’d like to take this opportunity to send out a great big “thanks” of my own to everyone in the industry who’s completed a survey, participated in a focus group or sent me an email. I’d also like to express my appreciation for the over 2,000 ASI members who joined the ASI Marketing Research panel.

I literally could not do my job as ASI’s director of marketing research without help from every one of you.

With the information you so generously provide, ASI is able to prepare and share a ton of important data with the industry. The most important, perhaps, is the input you send us as we prepare for our annual Counselor State of the Industry (SOI) report, a mega-effort we’re kicking off this week.

The SOI study helps shape our understanding of the advertising specialties industry as a whole and provides a forward-looking view into what’s ahead. The results are always widely shared, in Counselor magazine’s special State of the Industry issue, which is dedicated to the study, as well as through numerous citations in newspapers and magazines all year long. In 2013, the issue even won a prestigious Jesse H. Neal Award, considered the Pulitzer Prize of business press – and the 2014 issue (see cover at right) recently was named a finalist for another one.

In addition to loads of stats and graphics, the SOI issue contains info designed to help any sized company plan strategically for the future, grow their business, streamline operations and tap new and emerging markets. Along with winning tips and tactics and growth strategies, the SOI issue also profiles that year’s Counselor Award winners – including the Person of the Year – and publishes the revenue and ranking of Top 40 distributor and supplier companies.

Here’s how you can contribute (and earn my sincere thanks once again!):

Counselor is currently polling professionals in the industry – both distributors and suppliers – to find out how the market did in 2014 and to get their impressions on where the industry is headed in 2015. Your input is invaluable. Please take 10 minutes to click the appropriate link below and complete the State of the Industry survey.

  • To complete this year’s Distributor State of the Industry, please click here.
  • To complete this year’s Supplier State of the Industry, please click here.

If you haven’t read the 2014 issue yet (available in print and online at www.asicentral.com/soi), please check it out. ASI editorial staffers spend months gathering and analyzing key sales, marketing and operational metrics used by most of you to provide useable info tailor-made for our industry. The accompanying graphics also provide valuable snapshots of what’s up, down and trending.

I’d also love to know if there’s a topic, trend or strategy we might have missed or not given enough attention to, so please either post a comment or email me at nkucsma@asicentral.com.

Hear that? It’s me, thanking you in advance for participating.

– Nathaniel Kucsma, ASI’s director of marketing research

Playing To Win In Dallas

Filed under: ASI Shows, News About ASI

Troy Aikman, ASI’s keynote speaker in Dallas, had a great excuse for running a couple minutes later than I expected to our show on Thursday: He was dropping his two young daughters off at school, something the 48-year-old dad does every day, no matter what.

It says a lot when a guy worth an estimated $25 million drives his own car, runs his own errands and makes family a priority. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback even told us his favorite pastime when he’s not working as a FOX sportscaster is spending time with his daughters, aged 12 and 13.

“I don’t want to be corny, but I hang out with my girls,” he told the 600 people at the keynote at the ASI Show Dallas, which ended Thursday after three days at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, attracting 485 exhibitors and 3,435 attendees from 49 states and 19 countries, with distributor attendance up about 4% over 2014.

All told, a record 20 companies chose Dallas to host their sales meetings, an increase of 15% over the previous year. The show also attracted 270 female-owned and 230 minority-owned businesses, which I was very happy to see.

Aikman was not what I expected. When we first met backstage in the green room he seemed low key and almost subdued. But once he got on stage, he really came to life, telling fascinating and often funny stories about growing up in California and Oklahoma, where his family raised cows, horses and chickens on 240 acres.

I always find that when you ask someone about their upbringing, you learn fascinating things. In Aikman’s case, even though he took one of the most successful teams in the history of the game to the Super Bowl three times, he came off confident without being arrogant. That’s an admirable trait a lot of successful people can’t manage to pull off.

He also offered some insight into the Cowboys as an organization, and the tough but fair leadership of former Dallas Coach Jimmy Johnson, who told him, “You don’t coach a player to what he is, you coach him to what you want him to be.”

Aikman expected his teammates to know their roles and treat professional football like the job it is. “People get fired for not knowing their assignments in the real world,” he said. “My job as quarterback was to do whatever it takes to win.”

Surprisingly, football wasn’t Aikman’s first choice. In high school, he also played baseball and basketball and only signed up for high school football so he wouldn’t disappoint his father. Even as he racked up success on the playing field in college and with the Cowboys he never stopped working hard.

Even his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys, when the team won only a single game, taught him a valuable lesson. “It served me well later in life,” said Aikman. “I never forgot how hard it is to win. I never forgot what it was like to lose a game.”

Not surprisingly, he said, “My career surpassed my wildest dreams. I can’t complain at all.” How many among us can say that – and mean it?

For complete coverage of the show, including blogs, photo and videos, visit www.asicentral.com and www.asishow.com. And, search for our hashtag, #ASIDallas.

Upcoming 2015 ASI Shows are Long Beach (March 24-26), New York (May 5-6) and Chicago (July 14-16). To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2015, contact Karen DiTomasso, vice president of sales, at kditomasso@asicentral.com.

Game On in Dallas

Filed under: ASI Shows, News About ASI

Since I live and work so close to Philadelphia, I’ve become a big fan of the Eagles football team. In 2005, I was even lucky enough to watch them play in Super Bowl XXXIX against the New England Patriots in Jacksonville, Florida – a very big deal for someone whose high school was too small to support its own football team.

Now I’m gearing up for a Q&A with one of the greatest players of our time, three-time Super Bowl champ and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who graciously agreed to step in as a last-minute keynote speaker at the ASI Show® in Dallas. I’ll interview Aikman, an Emmy-nominated FOX sportscaster, Thursday, February 5, at 8:30 a.m. at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, on the final day of our three-day show.

If you have any questions for Troy, please post a comment or email me at tim.andrews@asicentral.com.

Most recently, Aikman jumped into the fray over the “deflategate” controversy, going so far as to call for severe punishments for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick for those deflated footballs. I like a guy who speaks his mind and can’t wait to see what else he has to say about life on and off the field.

Aikman is sure to have some great stories about working for one of the most recognizable brands in the world and how he transitioned from one successful career to another without missing a beat.

In addition to the Q&A, Dallas offers a ton of other highlights:

  • Concurrent Education Programs, with 45 courses on Tuesday’s education day, 9 a.m.-4:25 p.m., with all sessions qualifying for points toward the ASI Certification Program.
  • The Joe Show Live Tuesday morning, hosted by Joe Haley.
  • The new Explorers Club, featuring rock climbing at Summit Gym, and the Diner’s Club at Bolsa Dallas on Tuesday.
  • The new Yoga Club and Runner’s Club on Wednesday.
  • Gala celebration at Eddie Deen’s Ranch Wednesday night.

Click here for the complete schedule with times, etc.

If you see me in Texas, please be sure to stop me and say hello.

Sharing Our Story

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

Earlier this week, I sat down with a group of distributors to discuss an informative 30-minute program ASI has aired on a few cable stations that we hope captures the excitement of this business, the power of promotional products and its importance to marketers. The distributors’ concerns and questions over the program echo some online discussions making the rounds, and I appreciated the opportunity to share my own feelings and answer some questions.

Our main goal in airing the program was to communicate why we’re all in this industry and what it can do for others looking for an interesting career and a new way to be successful. Through initiatives like this program and ASI’s long-running education and PR outreach, we’re hopeful business-minded people and entrepreneurs – and especially more women, young people and minorities – will get interested enough in our industry to learn more.  Maybe they’ll join as distributors, become account execs for a current distributor, or even start buying promo products to get the word out about their own business.

The very closely focused test with the program is nearly complete, and we won’t be able to judge for several months if it was worth the investment – measured by people who respond for information, attend some follow-up online educational sessions and other metrics for these types of programs. In terms of the test, it’s been run in a few markets, airing weekends or late at night to a few thousand viewers, similar to a direct-mail campaign that any distributor, supplier or decorator might conduct.

To put this test into perspective, we haven’t been airing the program during the Super Bowl to 100 million people. We deliberately chose to air it over specialized cable networks like CNBC and Fox News with visibility only to entrepreneurs and people looking for a career switch or a second career – people likely with business acumen that would add to our industry.  We worked with outside experts to identify the couple of channels that would include entrepreneurial business types and specifically exclude general consumers.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, more than one person at the table of distributors in Vegas told me they got into this industry after learning about it through word of mouth, from a friend or through a distributor they met at places like church.  Today, social media and video are the new word of mouth and the ways friends keep in touch and share new ideas.

For over 60 years, ASI has worked hard to communicate the excitement we all feel about this business, scoring numerous positive stories in major national outlets like the Wall Street Journal and on networks like MSNBC.  Equally as important, we’ve worked to protect the integrity of the industry by championing a strong business model that supports the success of both suppliers and distributors. We’re not about to change now.

But everyone doing business in today’s world is facing new challenges and with them new opportunities. Now more than ever, we need to work together to keep the industry healthy and viable – and growing.  Worries about possible competition should be outweighed by the need for a strong, diverse, growing work force.  And more and more people understanding our $20.5 billion industry provides great ROI for invested marketing dollars.

At the same time, it’s as important to us as it is to you that anyone joining the industry is interested in sourcing products for resale to prospects and customers.  From time to time I hear from a current distributor that someone who isn’t qualified has joined ASI. Often, this is a bit of a story passed down the lane, with no direct information.  But in other cases we’ve been provided hard contact information and always fully investigated the situation.  Sometimes the rumor isn’t true.  But in the few cases when it has been, we’ve kicked them out for misrepresentation.  If you ever have any questions about someone’s true intentions, please let me know.  We’ll investigate to make sure they meet ASI’s qualifications, which remain the same for new distributors no matter how or when they join – without exception.  And we’ll let you know the outcome.

During my chat in Vegas, the distributors also suggested ASI reach out to colleges and college students and introduce budding entrepreneurs and marketers to an industry they might not even know exists.  Business students learn about buying and using TV, radio and Internet advertising, direct mail and everything else under the sun, but marketing programs rarely mention the power of promotional products and their incredible ROI.

We’re already on this, but are looking to do even more.

For two years, ASI has worked with Babson College to help business students and budding entrepreneurs gain work experience in the promotional products industry. (For more info on that program, click here). We’re now expanding that outreach to other schools, hoping to encourage other business colleges to join us in helping teach tomorrow’s entrepreneurs about this exciting, creative industry.

If you have any ideas about other partnerships we can pursue, or schools we might contact, please let me know.  Personal connections make these types of trials and introductions much more effective.

As always, I do want to know what you think.  So please email me here to further discuss these or any other issues.  And certainly feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment to this blog.

“The Woz” Wows Orlando Show

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community

Here’s another great example of the strange new times we live in: I’m walking with Apple co-founder and ASI keynoter Steve Wozniak soon after he blew away 1,000 people at our Orlando show, when we pass a table of five convention center employees – all buried in their phones. They never once looked up from their devices, missing a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet face-to-face with the man who invented the industry that made those cell phones possible. Incredible!

I loved Wozniak, an engineer who single-handedly kick-started the personal computer industry in the 1970s by inventing the Apple I and II computers. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who speaks not in complete sentences or even complete paragraphs – but in book chapters. To actually sit on stage with the inventor of an entire industry and ask him questions was unbelievable.

And I’m happy to report he couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious, posing for photos with everyone who crossed his path (if they bothered to look up from their phones, that is). He even gave out his email and signed show badges, books – and dozens of iPhones and iPad, including mine (pictured, in the #ASIPromocar).  He made a thousand new friends on Tuesday, the closing day of ASI Show® , which started Sunday at the Orange County Convention Center.

He was energetic, likeable and low key, riveting everyone with insider stories about founding Apple with Steve Jobs in 1976. “I never wanted any fanfare,” said this lifelong engineer, who’s always preferred inventing to marketing. “The builders are the important people in my mind.”

I especially enjoyed it when he said he loved promotional products, recalling a branded insulated travel mug one of his companies gave to employees that miraculously kept beverages hot for two days. As he told us: “It’s a great way to get the word out.”

After the Q&A, Wozniak also toured the show floor (pictured, center of top pic, with ASI vice-chairman Matthew Cohn, at left), surprising attendees and happily posing for photos and gathering so many samples we had to get a bag to carry them in. Kristen Beck, of Alligator Events in Sebastian, FL, made a point of thanking Wozniak, a former teacher, for his inspiring words about the importance of education. “He was awesome,” she said. “It surpassed my expectations.”

What a guy. What a show! For more, click here for an interview with Counselor magazine editor Andy Cohen.

Wozniak was just one of many highlights of ASI Orlando, which kicked off the 2015 selling season with 745 exhibitors and 6,084 attendees from 49 states and 22 countries, with distributor attendance up 8% over 2014. All told, a record 27 companies chose Orlando to host their sales meetings, an increase of 35% from the previous show.

The show more than delivered quality attendance and top-performing salespeople, exceeding all of our expectations. And, there were a ton of new features, making the experience wholly unique.  In addition to the “Marketplace!” showcasing featured products from five of the most popular money-making industries, and the Social Lounge, with huge comfy recliners so people could settle in to watch a live feed of show photos tagged with #ASIOrlando, we hosted a “Minute to Win It” game show. People went crazy competing for prizes by playing outrageously fun games onstage.

Distributors and suppliers also came together at new Networking Clubs, where they ate together, downed martinis, did yoga and even wakeboarded.

To add to the fun, we also brought the #ASIPromocar to the show, putting it on display for people to take photos and sign the inside. No one could believe we’d driven a car covered in hundreds of promotional products over 2,000 miles so far – without losing more than a few pens. For proof of the resiliency of our industry, look no further than our “moving billboard.”

Monday night, ASI’s Counselor® magazine also announced the winners of its 2015 Distributor Choice Awards. I was very pleased to announce Ariel Premium Supply (asi/36730) as our Supplier of the Year. As I told the crowd, Ariel enjoys a 0.4% internal error rate – which means this $30 million company is near perfect when it comes to pricing, sourcing, personalizing, decorating, packing and shipping. No wonder they won the top prize. The enthusiastic group that accepted for Ariel is at right.

For complete coverage of the show,  visit www.asicentral.com.

And don’t forget to register now for our upcoming 2015 ASI Shows: Dallas (February 3-5), Long Beach (March 24-26), New York (May 5-6) and Chicago (July 14-16).

Onward to Texas!

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Filed under: Community

Considering the whopping success of the ALS ice-bucket challenge, it’s clear online fundraising is here to stay. If you haven’t already, I urge you to also consider Kiva.org, an online community that helps people like you and I loan small amounts of money to entrepreneurs throughout the world.

So far, I’ve given out 199 loans, putting me in the 99th percentile of users. I’ve lent to people in 42 of 85 countries available, but mostly to business people in Pakistan, Nicaragua, Philippines, Bolivia and Peru. And 69% of my loans have been to women. You can also fund tuition and supplies for schoolchildren and people right here in the U.S.

Anyone can do this, including school kids. Most of my loans have been in the $25 range. The great thing is that all those small donations really add up. Since Kiva was founded in 2005, it’s facilitated loans of over $644 million from over a million lenders.

On Kiva’s website, you can choose a borrower by browsing their online profile, make a loan, watch as it’s repaid – and repeat as often as you like.

It’s easy to pick people whose business ideas, personal stories and photos resonate. My mom and her sister were both quilters. And for much of my young life, my mom was our family’s sole breadwinner. So when I see profiles of women like Gladys, a crafter from Colombia (where the average monthly salary is about $475) and Zainab, an embroiderer from Jordan, I happily click and lend (plus, my mom was named Gladys!).

I can only imagine how something like Kiva could have helped the women in my family had it existed way back when. And when I consider how much thread and how many needles $25 can buy, especially in an emerging economy, it really helps put what seems like a very small gesture into much larger perspective.

Here’s the most convincing part of the equation: Kiva (which means “unity” in Swahili) boasts an astonishing repayment rate of 98.8%.

So please consider making a microloan to people living on a few bucks a day, a goodwill gesture with real legs that will help improve the overall world economy. You can watch a clever little video that follows Pedro, a farmer whose Kiva loan transforms his business, to see exactly how it works.

If you do sign up – or are already using Kiva – let me know your experiences by posting a comment here, on ASI’s Facebook page or by emailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Give Big or Go Home

Filed under: Members, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

The results of ASI’s just-released corporate gift-giving survey show six in 10 companies plan on thanking clients and employees with holiday gifts this year. What’s most surprising to me is that the number isn’t 10 in 10. Smart business owners know the best way to keep clients coming back – or to court new business – is to show appreciation.

Gifts don’t have to be extravagant, but according to Advantages magazine annual “Gift Guide,” gifts that are thoughtful, cool, unique or useful will provide the greatest ROI.

While I admit I lingered over the celebrity robotic avatar offered in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog (asi/59444) for a mere $345,000, a more reasonable choice for clients might be titanium luggage tags from Eddystone Designs (asi/51666). They’re terrific – indestructible, color laser-printed and shimmery to boot. I expect to own mine forever.

According to our survey, the main goal of giving gifts to customers is to express appreciation and develop relationships, as well as to generate good will and increase company awareness. I know whether I receive a Swiss chocolate tower, etched bottle of wine or a bacon-scented iPhone alarm clock this year, I’ll remember the giver for months, if not years – especially if it’s logoed. After all, phenomenal advertiser recall is what promotional products are all about.

For 2014, survey respondents told us that when choosing a gift, they consider an item’s attractiveness, durability and usefulness above all else. This year, nothing says “useful” like an imprinted power charger – a high-tech item that’s riding the rage wave. Give it to clients and they’ll carry it everywhere they go, from home to office to airport lounge.

Sure, you might consider giving a few top clients a case of lobsters or a branded (and memorable) Adirondack chair from AAA Innovations (asi/30023). But our survey results show most companies plan to spend an average of $43 per customer or prospective customer, with food/beverages, desk accessories, writing instruments and calendars topping the list.

When it comes to rewarding employees, most companies are spending about $50 per worker, with gift cards, food/beverages, apparel and cash bonuses as the most popular choices. Here at ASI, we thank each of our full-time employees with a check at our annual holiday party. You might consider a high-quality optical crystal slanted block clocks from Best Deal Awards (asi/47791).

If you’re still unsure what to give, or what to suggest to clients planning their holiday orders, here are a few tips culled from the pages of ASI’s magazines:

  • Don’t overlook packaging. There are all kinds of custom options available from suppliers, from playful to sophisticated. Plus, even though food and beverages go quick, if they’re packaged in a nice basket, bowl or imprinted wine carrier, it’ll be front and center all year along.
  • Remember the branding. This year, according to our survey, 68% of corporate gifts will sport a company logo.
  • Give the gift some real thought. One client raved to Advantages about receiving a custom pink superhero cape imprinted with her company logo, which made her feel like Wonder Woman. Another company gave employees a custom skateboard designed by the agency’s own creative team to symbolize their company’s “ride into the future.”
  • If it’s a client who loves quality, consider artisan items made with glass, fabric or leather, which can all be personalized.
  • Consider reliable standards like calendars. Triumph by BIC Graphic say that while some may consider calendars “old fashioned,” 74% of recipients remember the name of the advertiser who gave them a calendar and a whopping 75% of all households still rely on colorful kitchen calendars.

The bottom line is that people love gifts. When we asked survey respondents about the best corporate gift they ever received, answers ranged from days off, gift cards and a donation made to the recipient’s favorite charity all the way to fishing rods, Cincinnati Reds tickets in the corporate suite, blown glass insulated beer glasses and a weekend stay at a resort – with babysitting included.

Finally, even though December is the biggest gift-giving month of the year, you could set yourself apart from the crowd by sending your gifts out on, say, Penguin Awareness Day on January 20.

Let me know your gift-giving plans by posting a comment or emailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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