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  • November 18, 2021 11:02 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    Over the years, as I navigated the waters of the promotional products industry, I have discovered that if I want to survive, stay relevant and top-of-mind, I have to do things differently from my competition. 

    In looking at my deliverables, the products and services I sold to my clients, I realized something was missing. I had to change my thought process. I needed to churn the waters. I needed to become a disrupter. That term often causes a negative response, bringing to mind someone who is contrary and difficult, but not in this case. Becoming a disrupter was an internal process. I learned to disrupt my mindset, flip what I did on its head and differentiate it by taking it to the next level. One of the things I identified was that many of my competitors were doing the same thing and most of the things they were doing lacked creativity. So, I became a disrupter.

    Over the ensuing years, I noticed the more I marketed myself in a creative and unique way, the more clients began to take notice. As I built certain campaigns that identified a challenge I was facing and created measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure my success, clients began to ask questions. Who created this campaign for you? What made you decide to have this created? Are they successful? What type of success rate have you had? Can I get the name of the company that created this?

    With every question, the answer was the same: “My company created this and, yes, we have great statistics and measurable KPIs.” When they recognized that my team and I created these marketing tools, the next question was usually, “Can you create marketing tools like this for us?” or “Can we use this same campaign?” I answered in the affirmative and a whole new segment of my company was launched. Let me share a few examples of how creative marketing campaigns, introduced as self-promotions, can potentially translate into campaigns your customers will want you to run for them.

    With a former client, I was responsible for designing creative marketing door-openers, such as one called “The Jury Is Out … Now You Be The Judge” (see image at top left). As you can expect just by the name, this piece was specifically targeted to law firms and legal-related companies and it garnered some amazing responses. One of the companies using the piece sent it to a large law firm and, on the follow-up call, my client was immediately put through to the marketing director who proceeded to smother him with accolades about this promotion. He said, “… I have never seen anything like this from your competition. Is it possible for our company to use it?” With some modifications to the verbiage, etc., the obvious answer was “Yes!” The craziest part of this whole story, as it related to me, is that the prospect told my client that the law firm had a $500,000 budget for this type of marketing. The main takeaway to remember is that clients and prospects want a promotion that sets them apart from others. 





    When I was working as a distributor salesperson, one of my first campaigns came from reading a book by the brilliant writer Roger VonOech, titled A Whack on the Side of the Head. It’s focused on helping the reader understand, more granularly, the creative process. One of the chapters speaks about unlocking mental blocks by comparing two unlike objects, such as a cat and a refrigerator. If you have ever been to one of my creative workshops, I discuss this in detail. 

    Armed with this idea, I created a self-promotion that compared me to a Swiss Army Knife. It explained the functions of the knife compared to the functions I performed as a salesperson. Here are two examples (see image at left):

    • The Key Ring: Always “accessible” when you need me.
    • File: We help “shape” your ideas for a well-groomed image.

    This promotion produced an 84-percent successful engagement rate and was written about in an end-user marketing magazine where a marketer with a large national construction company saw it and called me to ask if I would design a similar campaign for his company. He had a $1 million marketing budget and it turned out to be an amazing case history.

    As mentioned previously, one of the initial steps in building a successful campaign is to identify the challenge to be addressed. While working with one of my existing clients, we identified a large group of inactive clients whose business they wanted to rekindle. We created a box containing a puzzle with copy that read, “It’s Amazing How Time Flies … Let’s Reconnect.” The colorful graphics (see image below) and great copy that encouraged the recipient to put the puzzle together, created an engaging call to action with stellar results. With only 30 percent of the program initiated, the client had garnered a nearly 35-percent engagement rate with past clients to reactivate their business. These are the kind of metrics that get the attention of sales managers.

    Again, being a disruptor, I always analyze my internal systems to determine what I can do differently that will set me apart. Over the years, one change I’ve made is to thank clients on their annual business anniversary instead of giving year-end holiday gifts. This spreads my program throughout the year instead of trying to fit it into the busiest time of the year, and it keeps me from competing with others who are giving year-end gifts. For these reasons, this program proved to be a homerun. Here’s how we did it.

    We’ve always segmented our client lists, and for this promotion we further classified them as A-E, with A’s designating the best top-tier clients and E’s being profitable clients, but not ones that would generate significant sales. Every client gets something in this promotion, but the gift is predicated on the sales volume and profitability of the client. We also ran a report to find out the month and year we had first done business with each client and that was the catalyst for this promotion.

    We implemented the program, and I sent the CEO at my best client company a day golf bag with his company logo embroidered on the bag and a luggage tag which read: “Happy Anniversary from your friends at PROmotivations.” When he received the gift, he immediately called me and said this must be a mistake. “Cliff, my anniversary is not for another three months.” I chuckled and said, “No, this is our anniversary. Four years ago, this month, you started working with us and we wanted to say, ‘happy anniversary’ and thank you for your loyalty to our relationship.” 

    As you can imagine, he was floored and asked me more about how I produced the idea. He was so impressed with the success and overall feel of the program that he decided to initiate it for his company as well, and we got all that business. Running this monthly self-promotion also gave us time to be proactive and to provide a meaningful, personalized gift that was valued and appreciated by our clients.

    Doing things differently in ways that set you apart from your competition can be scary. Forget it, let go of the fear, plan a course of action and work through the details before you implement any program, but do it. Done is better than perfect.

    I always recommend starting a new promotion by trying it out on your company first. If you try something new, if you become a positive disruptor, you may be surprised at what new doors may open and what new channels you may find for more profitable sales. And in this way, you will be leading by example, not just talking about it.  


    Cliff Quicksell, Jr., MAS+, president of Cliff Quicksell Associates, has been an active industry volunteer serving on various PPAI committees, as a speaker and facilitator at PPAI and ASI shows, and as a member of PPAI’s Ambassadors Speakers Bureau for more than 15 years. He has also served five terms as the education chairperson for Chesapeake Promotional Products Association and is currently board president.

    Quicksell has also been a speaker, trainer and international consultant to companies, associations and international business groups for more than 34 years and is the recipient of numerous awards including 30 PPAI Pyramid Awards, and is a five-time winner of the Printing Industry PSDA’s Peak Award for creativity and the CPPA Creativity PEAKE Award. He was PPAI’s Ambassador Speaker of the Year for six consecutive years and, in 1997, was the inaugural recipient of PPAI’s Distinguished Service Award. Counselor magazine named Quicksell one of the Top 50 Most Influential People in the promotional products Industry. 

    He writes two weekly blogs, “Jumpstart Monday” and “30 Seconds to Greatness.” Reach him at cliff@quicksellspeaks.com and www.quicksellspeaks.com.

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • November 18, 2021 11:01 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    Fifth in a series

    In this series, distributor owner and sales coach Josh Frey answers frequently asked questions on a wide range of sales topics.

    My background is in corporate gifts, and let’s just say I know a few things when it comes to selling holiday gifts. Back in the day, 60 percent of our business was dependent on Q4 sales and the overwhelming majority of the orders we sold and processed were holiday gifts.

    For some of us, holiday gift-selling is an “icing on the cake” sale if you have a stable client base ordering year around. For others, this is a huge part of your overall sales and take-home commissions. Regardless of where you and your promo business fit in, there are several things you can do to end your 2021 strong with a bump in profitable sales.

    Whether your clients’ offices are open, or their employees (and their clients) are working from home, now more than ever companies are trying to find ways to connect with their employees and clients. You can be that bridge, and there are a lot of products and services to offer. 

    Want to know how to get started? Don’t sweat it. I have got you covered with some sales strategies you can deploy to proactively and successfully sell and deliver on holiday gift orders in Q4.

    Here are my top five ways to crush holiday sales:


    Ideally, choose suppliers that offer a wide selection of gift categories (food/wine, brand name, personalization) and have deep levels of inventory and production capacity to process your orders on time.


    If a client asks for a specific product that is outside the offering you have built from these suppliers, redirect them to something you know is available. Be transparent with your buyers, let them know why you are recommending these products as alternatives and encourage quick decisions in return for guaranteed stock and delivery.


    Many distributors start the holiday gift conversations with clients in September (or over the summer) but if you’ve waited, you may still be able to deliver. However, with supply chain shortages and production backups, the earlier you can get your clients’ orders placed, the more confidently you can assure them of on-time delivery and avoid stock/back order issues. Leverage the current supply chain challenges to get your clients to order earlier than ever before. It may not seem like it, but it’s an opportunity to close more deals, faster.


    Now more than ever, clients want products that are unique, personalized and shipped directly to their employees’ or clients’ homes. There are numerous suppliers that offer custom kitting services for clients who request a compilation of products. Ask your outside sales rep at your preferred suppliers to see what services they offer and relay these opportunities to your clients. 


    To make money in this business, you have to sell volume profitably. In my experience, I make this happen by spending the majority of my time on revenue-generating activities. Are you wasting your time calling factories and sitting on hold to find out if there’s stock or to learn the status of your orders? Most of the big suppliers have real-time inventory and order status updates at the click of a button. They have built out fantastic tools to keep you informed so you can sell more volume, efficiently. Take advantage of these resources that are available to you and free yourself up so you can focus on sales.

    With these tips you will be well equipped to now go out and crush your holiday and Q4 sales. Good luck!  


    Josh Frey is founder of Falls Church, Virginia-based distributor On Sale Promos and the Swag Coach Program. He is a 25-year industry veteran and front-line sales coach. Josh@swagcoach.com. Visit TheSwagCoach.com to register for his next Distributors Helping Distributors show and learn more about his promo coaching programs offered.  

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • October 22, 2021 11:28 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    Seasoned promotional products professionals will remember the fidget spinner craze of 2017: seemingly overnight, the world became obsessed with those little plastic spinners. Industry message boards filled with requests for help locating suppliers that carried fidget spinners, and discussion ranged from jokes and talk about how silly spinners were to more serious chats on supply chains, inventory updates, and more. For what seemed like months, the industry was a-buzz with fidget spinners.

    Just a small handful of the fidget spinner posts that infiltrated the Promotional Products Professionals industry group on Facebook in mid-2017.

    There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of articles written about the rise and fall of the fidget spinner empire since 2017. People were perplexed by the runaway popularity of fidget spinners, and kids nationwide were absolutely enthralled by the toys. Claims were made that fidget spinners and other fidget toys had health benefits such as easing stress and increasing focus. Child development experts debated the veracity of those claims, and teachers everywhere were overrun by classrooms filled with the faint whirring noise of dozens of kids fidget spinning away.

    Google search trends results for “fidget spinner” from January 2017 through now.

    Then, one day, the fidget spinner phenomenon fizzled out. But fidget toys didn’t disappear from the shelves – they just diversified.

    A SAGE search for “fidget” brings up all kinds of different fidget toys.

    Search in SAGE Total Access for the keyword “fidget” in 2021 and you’ll be met with page after page of different types of fidget toys. The infamous spinner is still there, but now there are also fidget cubes, ropes, buttons, puzzles, slime, putty, and so much more. You’ll also notice there’s a new top dog in the fidget toy game: fidget poppers.

    Though fidget poppers have yet to see the same level of crazed searching in our industry, they’re insanely popular with children right now. Walk into any gas station, grocery store, or major retailers like Target or Walmart, and you’ll find a display of brightly colored silicone pop-its. TikTok and YouTube are filled with videos about the poppers: unboxing, reviews, ASMR pop videos – the list goes on.

    Some of the top YouTube videos for fidget poppers – look at those view counts!

    So, what is it that makes fidget toys so insanely popular?

    Well, it’s actually pretty simple. People love to fidget! Even as I’m writing this blog, I’m fiddling with a bag clip from yesterday’s lunch left on my desk. Often, we just use whatever is at hand to fidget and fiddle with: paperclips, a USB drive, bobby pins. But fidget toys give children and adults alike a dedicated outlet for that extra energy, and though there’s not a ton of verified and peer-reviewed evidence out there yet, these toys seem to help us maintain focus and regulate our emotional states.

    Just one of the thousands of YouTube videos showing off different fidget poppers.

    These new-fangled fidget toys aren’t that new of a phenomenon, either. In 12th century Ming dynasty China, there were Baoding balls: two small balls that could fit in one hand and repeatedly rotate to reduce stress, were used to help soothe the user and put them in a more meditative mindset, according to AtlasObscura’s article titled “Quit Worrying, Fidget Toys Have Been Around Forever.” Similarly, Greek “worry beads” have been around for over 800 years.

    The takeaway? Though fidget toys might wane and wax in popularity and the number one fidget-du-jour changes regularly, fidget toys aren’t going anywhere. From stress balls to foam putty and fidget spinners to tangle puzzles, the market for these toys seems to be sticking around.

    Used with permission from SAGE

  • October 22, 2021 11:27 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    If you’ve spent any time in fashion circles this year, you know that sustainability is the hot topic of the moment. With discussions swirling about fast fashion, ethical production, and everything in between, consumers are more concerned than ever about how sustainable their fashion choices are. That concern extends to promotional apparel as well.

    As with anything else, there are degrees to sustainability. Some manufacturers only produce clothing made with renewable materials or are incredibly transparent about their labor practices. Others make an effort to use recycled components where possible. Whatever they choose to do, sustainability, like other eco-conscious measures such as low-waste living and recycling, doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing game.

    Meme posted on Instagram from The Sustainable Fashion Forum.

    Like other earth-friendly initiatives, “sustainability” has become a bit of a greenwashing term. Greenwashing is a marketing spin used to persuade customers that a product or company is environmentally friendly through recycling imagery or eco-friendly buzz words – think oil and gas company putting out an ad touting their environmental dedication. The aim of greenwashing is to capture customers who prefer to purchase from environmentally-conscious brands.

    Just because clothing is advertised as sustainable does not necessarily make it so. With that in mind, how are consumers supposed to determine if their clothing selections are genuinely sustainable or just a bunch of PR hooey?

    Sustainability has two main legs: ecological responsibility and social responsibility. On the ecological side, clothing is made from renewable materials or manufactured in conditions that preserve natural resources. On the social side, sustainable clothing is manufactured under fair labor conditions, including paying workers living wages and not employing sweatshops or slavery practices.

    Few brands manage to satisfy all sides of sustainability, so it’s helpful to look at sustainability as a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, you have fast fashion brands that don’t concern themselves with sustainability at all. On the other, you have slow fashion brands that practice sustainability in all elements of their business, and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

    Video from supplier BELLA+CANVAS (SAGE #67759) outlining their sustainability practices.

    When it comes to promotional apparel, the majority of available options fall into the middle part of the sustainability spectrum. When helping your customers choose sustainable uniform or promotional clothing items, look for the following things:

    • What materials are the items made of? Synthetic fibers like polyester can take over 200 years to break down naturally. Look for fibers like linen, hemp, or Tencel. Organic cotton is another good option; however, keep in mind that cotton is very water-intensive, making it less sustainable than some other options.
    • Where are the items manufactured? Different countries have different labor laws, so locating where your items were made is a reliable way to determine how socially responsible their manufacturing processes are. Look for countries of origin that have stricter labor laws and higher wages where possible.
    • Does the company have any green certifications? Look for documentation such as Fair Trade, Global Recycled Standard, GoodWeave, or Certified B Corporation certificates that indicate a third party has reviewed the company for its sustainability practices.
    • How easy is locating the above information? Transparency is essential to sustainability. If you’re having trouble finding information about a brand’s labor or environmental practices, consider why that might be.

    Determining what products are and aren’t sustainable can seem overwhelming, but know that every step in the right direction is just that – a step in the right direction. No one brand is perfectly sustainable, and it’s not realistic or reasonable to expect perfection. However, choosing items that satisfy some sustainability qualities is better than choosing products that have none, and every effort made to strive for sustainability makes a difference.

    To learn more about sustainable business practices, check out our blogs on cotton and forced labor, and corporate social responsibility.

    Used with permission from SAGE

  • October 22, 2021 11:26 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    While some people, businesses and organizations loath competition, competition is in fact healthy for business. I learned this several years ago when I was in the restaurant business. I was speaking to a colleague and mentioned how frustrated I was that other restaurants were popping up like weeds all around us – I thought it was bad for business, I thought it diluted our offering, but to the contrary, it was healthy. Having competition does a few things: 

    • keeps you on your toes

    • makes you stay in a mode of continual betterment 

    • and it draws more people potentially interested in what you have to offer to the foreground 

    Our industry is no different; there are many service providers who have incredible offerings. It is your job, like it is for your client, to weed through those offerings and connect with those companies who are best for YOUR business. So, when looking at your business on the competitive landscape, keep these points in mind. 

    Never Become Complacent, Content (or arrogant)

    This posture is the kiss of death. The companies who feel they are owed allegiance and loyalty are delusional, loyalty is earned and earned daily – with every touchpoint. With the magnitude of choices, it is so imperative to never become content with what you are delivering to your clients. A great way to determine this is to ask the client. In the book, “Made to Stick” by Dan and Chip Heath the CMO’s (Chief Marketing Officers) while at a conference, asked the authors how they were able to get the information they were discussing in their book, the response was brilliant, ‘…we asked…’. Take time to query your clients through direct questioning or via a survey and ask if you are “exceeding” their expectations, if not, you have work to do. Additionally, never assume that you know what they want; nine times out of ten you’re wrong.

    Create a Difference

    What are you doing differently, what makes you stand out? Ask yourself this question, ‘What about me and my company, would compel someone to write me a check? Our clients and prospects are constantly looking for a way to position themselves above their competition, unfortunately, many do this by requesting the cheapest product available, and that is yet another nail in the coffin. Salespeople have this tendency to take the easy road, which generally equates to lowering the price – that becomes a very slippery slope. Look at your current systems and methodologies, are they up to date, is your operation streamlined, do you invest in ongoing training and education for you and your staff. As an international speaker, people are often surprised to see me sitting in an audience listening to a presentation; I find so much valuable information by listening to others speak, whether it’s information, or a delivery style, or the way they interact with the audience. I try and take the best from the best, massage it and make it my own.  I gain so much from listening to other professionals. If I walk away with one nugget, just one nugget of information, then I am better for it and my audience will ultimately benefit as well. One of the nicest compliments I ever received was from a friend who said, “Cliff it never ceases to amaze me that every year you seem to have reinvented yourself”. For me and my business, it’s critical, as it should be for you!

    Always Strive for Improvement - Practice “Kaizen” – Evaluate Constantly

    The Japanese have a practice called Kaizen, a description of the practice was found on Lifehacker.com – it states, “A Japanese management strategy called Kaizen roughly translates to "continuous slow improvement." In the corporate world, it's an efficiency and defect-proofing system often used on factory floors. But Kaizen emphasizes the well-being of the employee, working smarter, not harder and developing best practices so that workers don't have to think. As such, Kaizen is an ideal approach to improve one's personal workflow”. This practice of self-evaluation and more importantly, self-improvement will be a critical factor in growing your business and maintaining great client relationships. It is a practice continually, it becomes part of your culture.

    Understand Your Audience

    It was alluded to earlier in the article but certainly bears repeating; never assume you know what people want - ask and don’t be afraid of the answers you may get. Years ago, I was going through the motions of business and decided to survey my clients. My top client responded to my survey with my WORST review, understandably I was shocked and dismayed but after careful consideration of his comments - he was right, I was failing him. While it was tough to swallow, it allowed me to correct the situation and reconnect in a way that satisfied his needs. Another method is to research the client and their competition. In an article a few years back in B2B Magazine, they listed the Top Ten Things Clients Want from a Strategic Partner and near the top of that list was ‘…an understanding of my business’. I had a chat with my dad who was a former purchasing officer for McGraw-Hill, he made it clear to me that he wanted nothing to do with a company or sales rep that didn’t understand his business. Take heed to this council, it will do you well.

    Be Open to Possibilities

    Some of the things you hear may not sit well; however, I encourage you to be open to the possibilities, be open to new ways of doing things and methodologies. Here is an example. Technology is moving at breakneck speed; in fact, in my research, I found that the technological advancements that we’re experienced in our country from 1900 to 1950 were condensed to three months in 2010; that’s fifty years condensed to three months…what does the future hold. 

    As you move forward how will you be perceived? My suggestion is never to become stale and complacent, always look to create a difference for yourself and your clients, evaluate your business constantly, take the time to truly understand your clients, and remain open to all possibilities.

    Individuals, companies, and organizations that feel some sort of entitlement for business need to get a grip. Now more than ever we need to realize that “earning business” happens every day – it’s not a given. It is through this ever-diligent process of self-evaluation and self-improvement that we maintain market share that we’ve come to gain. The trick is keeping it. 

    Question! What are you going to do about yours?

    Continue Making A Difference ~ CQ

    For nearly 40 years, Cliff Quicksell, MAS+, MASI, with his company, Cliff Quicksell Associates, has been speaking, coaching, training, and consulting both nationally and internationally to associations and small business groups, on more effective ways to market themselves, their products, and services; as well as motivating their personnel. Recognized by PPAI for his creativity, he has won the prestigious PPAI Pyramid Award over 30 times, the Printing Industry's PSDA’s Peak Award for creativity 5 times, and Regional Association CPPA’s Peak Award 3 consecutive years. Cliff has coached countless others with the same result. Cliff received PPAI's Ambassador Speaker of the Year Award six consecutive years; and was the inaugural recipient of PPAI's Distinguished Service Award. Named one of top six industry speakers and trainers, he was recognized by PPAI in the book, "PPAI at 100", as having a significant influence in education in our industry. He was recognized by Counselor Magazine as one of the Top 50 Most Influential People in the Promotional Products Industry. Cliff’s BLOG 30 Seconds to Greatness won the Award for Most Passed Around Content. Cliff’s most recent book, 30 Seconds to Greatness, is available on his website www.QuicksellSpeaks.com  Connect with him on LinkedIn or via email at cliff@QuicksellSpeaks.com 

    Used with permission from PromoCorner

  • October 22, 2021 11:25 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    You don’t earn your profit until you get paid for your product. Although from an accrual accounting perspective you show a profit at the time of sale, the actual profit to you is after payment. So please be very careful in extending credit to your customers.

    If you are losing opportunities because you refuse to extend credit, read on. If however, you are in the enviable position of not extending credit and maintaining your volume, kudos to you. But you might want to consider accepting some new sales by extending credit, so read on.

    There is no substitute for knowing your customer. If they are not of good character in terms of their business dealings, you should probably steer clear of credit extension (and possibly credit cards, too). If they are not ethical, they can and may find a way to cheat you.

    As an aside, those of you who sell to big box stores, you may have seen some collection challenges. Their accounts payable teams spend way too much time trying to beat you on payments. Skipping invoices, claiming damages, and charging back for incorrect shipping procedures are just a few of their tricks/efforts. They just try to wear you down and get credits from you.

    If you choose to provide credit to your customer, you need to set a limit or high credit. Never give more than you are willing to lose. In case you forgot, think about Worldcom and Enron as two huge bankruptcies. Ask your local colleagues if they thought there was a risk of loss beforehand.

    Also consider industry segment and geographical risk for your exposure. If all of your clients are in one industry, that industry can incur financial pressures without individual losses. Same with geography. Think oil and gas in the southwest some years ago.

    There are credit services which can assist in your decision making. Most of us have heard of D&B, and there are other services available to you. Our industry works with NACM, and you can learn more from them.

    You can also pay for credit insurance, or you can factor your accounts receivable. We have a factor in our industry who has worked with some of us.

    And don’t forget the selling terms you offer to your clients. Whether you discount for fast payments, accept credit cards (charging the fee is your business decision), and offer extended terms, understand how it impacts your cash flow.

    For single large transactions, you can work with your vendor for creative ways to finance the sale and get some cash flow relief.

    Regardless of your approach, never lose sight of your cash flow needs. Accounts receivable without appropriate planning cannot pay your expenses. Only the collection of your receivables will do that.

    A 1975 graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvey enjoyed a 20+ year career in commercial banking, exercising his “golden parachute” in 1996. In his volunteer life, he is a past chair of the Small Business Banking Unit of the American Bankers Association, Easter Seal Society of New Jersey, the SAAGNY Foundation, PPAF EXPO, and Supplier Committee of PPAI. He is also a past President of PPAF. PPAI awarded him the H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award in 2013.

    Used with permission from PromoCorner

  • October 22, 2021 11:24 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    "What if, like Superman, everyone is born with powers to discover and grow into?” Jolene Stockman, award winning writer & speaker.

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if, like a Super Hero, we could fly, spin webs, become invisible, or change our shapes in an instant? I’ve always found it fascinating almost all Super Heroes are regular people who also happen to have a certain power that makes them special. Spiderman is Peter Parker, Batman is Bruce Wayne, Iron Man is Tony Stark, Wonder Woman is Diana Prince… and on it goes.  

    Well, I’m here to tell you each of us does have a superpower, something that sets us apart and makes us special. While we may not be able to fly, spin webs, use mind control, or become invisible, we each have a unique skill we were born with that can help us do good in the world in which we live.  

    A superpower is nothing more than an inherent dominate strength we each possess, whether we know it or not. The question then is how do we go about finding the force within us that makes each of us unique and marvelous? For some it might be very obvious, and for others, a bit harder to determine. Below are four ways I’ve found to help determine what sets you apart:

    What’s easy for you? I’ve always been bad at math and can say with certainty math is not my superpower. The question is, what puts you “in the zone”? For some, it might be when you’re writing or giving a speech. For others it might involve science, engineering or playing a sport. If you’re doing something you enjoy and lose track of time, that’s a good indicator you’ve found a strength. Something that seems effortless to you may be completely daunting to someone else. Sometimes though, when something is easy for us, we discount it as a strength when in reality we should be nurturing it and learning how we can use it to be of service to others.

    “Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” Marilyn vos Savant

    What do others say is your most outstanding ability? It’s important to listen to those around us to help determine our superpower. What do your friends and co-workers say you do well? Do people come to you for advice on a particular subject, ask you to look over their work to make it better, or to help them figure out what’s wrong with something mechanical? If you receive performance reviews at work, what are you always getting stellar reviews on? Don’t be afraid to ask others what they see as your strengths to help you find a common thread in their opinions. Sometimes we need an objective opinion to see what it is we’re good at and to better understand how we can best use our superpower. 

    “I really believe everyone has a talent, ability, or skill that he can mine to support himself and to succeed in life.” Dean Koontz

    What are you passionate about? Our youngest son has become passionate about skydiving with over 125 jumps. Does that mean he should pursue jumping out of perfectly good airplanes as a full-time career? Probably not, but our hobbies can give us insight as to what our passions might be. For Max, sky diving involves risk taking (important for entrepreneurs like him), seeing the bigger picture cause he’s 15,000 feet in the air (leadership) and being detail-oriented to ensure each jump is as safe as possible. What is it that makes you feel alive? Answer the question, when you (fill-in the blank) time just seems to fly by. Your passionate hobby may not be your superpower, but if you can break down the elements of what it is you love about that hobby, you might uncover some clues that will lead you to discover your superpower. 

    “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” Oprah Winfrey

    When do you feel the most confident? I love to write and when someone tells me something I wrote really touched them, I’m on Cloud 9. For you, maybe it’s when you’ve built something from scratch, when you’ve aced a test, built a beautiful website, made a big sale, reached a goal, made someone smile, or solved a customer’s problem. Whatever it is, that’s most likely a big hint as to what your superpower is. Confidence is derived when we do a thing that makes us feel good and that good feeling is usually tied to  something we’re really good at a.k.a. our superpower.

    Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Don’t feel bad if you’ve not yet discovered your superpower. Keep searching and you will uncover it, as there are so many possibilities where your power may lie. Are you musically or mechanically inclined? Are you a whiz at science, are you curious, are you service oriented, or perhaps you love to crochet? Do you like to teach, to build, to take pictures, or write grants? Without exception, all of us, each and every one of us, has a superpower. And while very few of us will change the world, we can each work to change our sphere of influence. 

    One translation of Luke 12:48 says, "To whomever much is given, of him will much be required” which mirrors the more modern, “With Great power comes great responsibility” from Spiderman’s Uncle Ben. Knowing what your superpower is and using it wisely will give you a sense of satisfaction and in turn will lead to more opportunities to use it. Just as each of us has a unique fingerprint, unlike anyone who has ever lived, we also have an extraordinary superpower that can touch the hearts of those around us. 

    Use it wisely, use it often, and may the force be with you always. 

    After several decades on-the-radio as a DJ, news anchor and traffic reporter, Steve Woodburn MAS, stumbled, as most do, into the world of promotional products. He spent 29 years on the distributor side and five as a supplier, which gives him a unique perspective on this crazy business and life in general. He currently creates and writes content for industry websites, is writing and hosting a new podcast for PromoCorner called ProFiles and is the Chief Adventurer of Marvelous Moosey Adventures LLC.

    Used with permission from PromoCorner

  • October 22, 2021 11:22 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    On Wednesday, the industry turned out for Promotional Products Work! Day (PPW! Day). October 20 was an opportunity to celebrate and publicize the value of promotional products to companies, customers and communities.

    PPW! Day has, in the past, filled a week with celebrations, but this year it returned for a single day to concentrate the industry’s efforts and reinforce its impact. The annual event serves as a cornerstone for recognizing the importance of working with promotional products professionals, while creating awareness for promotional products as a powerful and effective marketing and communications tool.

    Throughout the day, industry companies and professionals took to social media under the hashtag #PPWDay to share their work with clients and their community, highlight facts and statistics about promotional products’ use and effectiveness as an advertising medium, and share some of their favorite products and ideas.

    Reflecting the community spirit of PPW! Day, members of Promotional Professionals Association of Chicago (PPAChicago) took two carloads of donations to DuPage Pads in Wheaton, Illinois, and Hesed House in Aurora, both charities that provide support and services to end homelessness.

    PPW! Day was also the Promotional Product Professionals of Canada’s (PPPC) return to in-person events with its Holiday Showcase Toronto, a trade show held at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. The day-long event brought 215 distributors to visit with the 39 exhibitors on site.

    PPPC also hosted a visit from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Toronto City Councilor Michael Ford, Ontario Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction Nina Tangri, and a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario representing Mississauga-Malton, Deepak Anand. The guests, invited by PPPC, spent 90 minutes touring the show and stopping to meet with many of the distributors and suppliers in attendance.

    “We were thrilled to bring the industry together, in person, for the first time in too long,” says Jonathan N. Strauss, president and CEO of PPPC. “It is truly our mission to be the group that brings the Canadian industry together. The feedback from all participants was very strong.”

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • October 22, 2021 11:22 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    Fourth in a series
    In this series, distributor owner and sales coach Josh Frey answers frequently asked questions on a wide range of sales topics. 

    Let me start off by saying I am a sales guy, not a tech guy nor a social media guy. That said, I assumed both could help me build my promo business, but had no clue how to go about implementing them or, for that matter, even figuring out which technologies and social media outlets were the best to use.

    And I had one other huge problem—I was deathly afraid to have to learn something new and possibly add to my already overloaded plate of things to do.

    So, I figured I would find someone who could do the work for me. I remember meeting with an entrepreneur friend of mine who has a successful tech startup and asked him, “Mike, do you know anyone I can hire to help me implement some ways to get my clients to buy online and generate internet leads for my business?”

    You see, while I was afraid of technology and social media, I was even more afraid of being left behind. In the Washington, D.C. area, where I am based, I have watched all these businesses around me growing much faster online, and I was stuck doing business offline, in an “old school” way. I knew if I wanted to position my swag biz for the 21st century, I needed to incorporate technology into my strategy.

    So back to my friend Mike. Here’s what he said, “Josh, I know a ton of people who can help but I wouldn’t hire anyone until you learn the technology yourself. How can you hire and manage someone else when you don’t know how to use it yourself?”

    Wow! Did that get me thinking! You see, my approach is all about finding best-in-class people to help me grow my business and then outsourcing to them. Ultimately, I don’t want to do anything I don’t want to do. But to get to that stage I, like a true entrepreneur and small-business owner, need to know how to do everything.

    So, I dug my heels in deep—real deep—and started learning the very basics of social media sites like LinkedIn, as well as incorporating technologies into my own business like HubSpot, MailChimp and a CRM system. Albeit timely, and sometimes painful, I began to build an online presence that I could use to drive my own buyers and prospects back to my own distributor website and generate leads for me and my sales team.

    I am sure you already use technology and social media to make your job easier and promote your business to your clients and on the web, right? But the question is: how do you utilize it to make your client’s job that much easier and get them to buy from you again and again? Here are five simple best practices for doing just that.

    1. My clients and prospects can easily order through our ecommerce website with an Amazon.com–like experience. These orders automatically integrate with our order processing systems.

    2. We leverage company store technology to help my clients who have lots of employees (and locations) centralize the purchasing of their marketing supplies (which leads to numerous repeat orders).

    3. We set up custom landing pages for industry niches to educate those buyers on how others in their industry use promo vendors as partners to make their lives easier.

    4. We offer free samples (as a lead capture) on our website.

    5. We have an automated “thank you” and “referral request” email campaign that launches after each order delivers. It asks our clients for referrals in return for free gifts, discounts, etc.

    There are quite a few promo industry technologies and platforms that you, too, can utilize for your promo business to generate leads and scale your promo sales. If you want to discuss a few, please reach out to me.   

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • October 22, 2021 11:20 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    A sales manager at a mid-sized distributor let out a long sigh as she ended her phone call. She had just finished a lengthy discussion with her customer service rep at a supplier company she uses regularly. It was a conversation she was having all too often with her suppliers: the company lacked inventory for the products she wanted, or they were experiencing significant delays in being able to fill her order on time. What was going on? Weren’t companies ramped up and ready to get back to business this year after a lackluster 2020? 

    The above scenario is fictional, but unfortunately, the problem is all too real. Distributors agree it’s frustrating and all too common, but this is a problem that is equally maddening for suppliers. How did the industry get to this point? Simply put, the shortages and delays experienced on both sides are the residual business effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    The situation started with a shortage of factory workers in China and in factories around the world that produce raw materials, components and finished products, coupled with an increase in shipping costs for imported materials and products. The transportation issue was exacerbated due to the scarcity and cost of shipping containers, available space on ships and a shortage of dock workers to unload the ships once they got to the U.S. ports. The unavailability of raw materials along with higher prices that had to be passed on to suppliers, rising labor costs and the weakening of the U.S. dollar against the Chinese yuan, combined with an increased demand for products as businesses restarted and venues reopened, created the perfect storm. The trickle-down effect of these scenarios has rocked most industries—including the promo industry— for months.

    “The pandemic disruption caused a ripple effect from materials, components and labor to production shortages that are now felt all over the globe,” says Nadira Bakar, East Coast region manager for Houston, Texas-based KTI Promo, a supplier that manufacturers and imports tech-related promo products. “This has especially impacted promo with longer production times, fragmented ocean shipment imports/exports and longer transit times over air freight. In addition, since air freight is overwhelmed, there is an added layer of delay for items to leave China.” 

    Dan Strickland, owner of Panama City, Florida-based supplier Garment Gear, a screenprint and direct-to-garment print company, explains the issue from a slightly different perspective. “With t-shirts, so many mills shifted production to masks and then, like so many other industries, they were forced to close or only run at partial capacity for weeks on end. Since everything has become “just-in-time” production, these ripples in the supply chain have become full-blown tsunamis of problems stacked upon each other.”

    Mark Jenkins, MAS+, managing director of promotional markets at supplier Pioneer Balloon Company, says shipping delays via ocean have always been complicated and slow to respond and correct. “The epic interruption in the chain of supply (decreased demand and supply) exacerbated the inherent problems in shipping by sea. It will take time to stabilize this very slow system,” he says. But how long?

    Most suppliers interviewed say it will take at least a year and likely up to three years for the system to unwind and reset. “I’d like to believe that when COVID cases decrease and the world at large is back to some sense of normalcy, these issues will resolve themselves,” says Amie Hoff, CEO of supplier FitKit Wellness in Grasonville, Maryland. “It’s hard to tell, but I hope by the end of 2022 we will see things subside.” KTI’s Bakar says because the ripple effect is bigger than anticipated and because of the global scale, the timing is hard to gauge, but her educated guess is that it will take 18-26 months to be resolved. “This guess is contingent upon vaccinations, more people entering the workforce globally and freight channels opening up,” she adds.

    The labor shortage, specifically, has been a huge contributing factor to this situation. Without skilled workers, the entire system breaks down. “The decrease in labor has minimized the capability of the supply chain—it starts from manufacturing and trickles all the way down to distributors,” says Bakar. “Without workers, capacity has to be capped and decreased; the volume as we knew it ceases to exist.” 

    Garment Gear’s Strickland says he’s heard most wholesalers are only about 75-percent staffed as of early summer, a figure that mirrors his own facility, and with a lean team even when 100-percent staffed, his company is forced to run at a slower pace. As a result, he says apparel warehouses are only holding about a third of their normal inventory now, as well.

    Tom Clouser, MAS, national account manager for Bel Promo in Medley, Florida, says rather than having a person who unpacks, a printer and a packer on each machine, suppliers are facing having only one person do all three tasks, which is causing production delays. “Not having enough people to run multiple shifts is also delaying orders,” he adds.

    However, not all supplier companies are dealing with the effects of a labor shortage. Isaac Presburger, CAS, sales director at Houston, Texas-based supplier Preslow, which manufactures apparel in Mexico, says labor is not an issue and because he has a lot of fabric in inventory, his lead times are not being affected.

    For another company at the beginning of the supply chain, Redwood Classics Apparel in Toronto, inventory wasn’t an issue until just recently. President Kathy Cheng says the company began to see a slow-down in inventory in August. “We bring in yarn by the container and 70 percent of raw material at the factory level is knitted within a 100-mile radius of us,” she says, adding that the company has always maintained a deep inventory of raw materials and stocks certain styles—t-shirts, for example—made up and ready to be pulled for garment dying. 

    The fallout from this spiraling situation has also caused price increases, particularly for raw materials. Cheng says her raw materials costs have gone up about 70 percent to date and every few weeks she gets notifications of price increases. Then there’s the cost of shipping a container of goods (which skyrocketed from $5,000 in March 2021 to $18,500 in August 2021, according to The Freightos Baltic Index), but wages are also on the rise, so suppliers are forced to increase their prices to distributors. “We use a fairly large yarn supplier—they have five plants in the U.S. and, on average, they are 100 people short on labor per plant,” says Cheng. “That’s just one component per supplier in one product category.”

    “Many suppliers are already running on pretty tight margins and labor is almost always the largest component of costs,” says Strickland. “So, with domestic labor increasing to produce stateside, along with the raw cost of goods increasing, plus the tremendous shipping cost increases, how can suppliers [prices] not go up?”

    “Now Hiring” signs have become a familiar site on small businesses from restaurants to retail, factories and warehouses as companies struggle to find enough workers to resume full shifts, regular hours and daily output. In August, CNBC reported more than 10 million open jobs in the U.S. and over a million more jobs than unemployed people; almost a third of small-business owners have positions that have been open for at least three months. 

    The short-term solution to relieve the promo industry’s woes is to get people back to work—which is easier said than done. Government paycheck assistance combined with COVID-19 infection concerns and changing quality of life priorities have made many people rethink the jobs they held prior to the pandemic. In addition, 2.5 million people retired during the pandemic compared to just about half that number in 2019. In China, factories are having difficulty filling jobs because migrant workers are staying home amid COVID-19 fears, and many young workers are rejecting factory jobs in favor of higher pay in the service industry, The Wall Street Journal reported in August. In general, these trends are indicative of a shrinking labor pool, and the trickle-down effect means fewer people to get products on warehouse shelves. 

    Suppliers are also warehousing stock in larger quantities as much as possible to accommodate the demand and learning to plan ahead. “Stock up on inventory to hold you over for a couple of months and give yourself plenty of time,” advises Jason Scaduto, executive vice president of Paterson, New Jersey-based LBU, Inc., a manufacturer of custom cut-and-sew products.

    Many industry practitioners see the current situation changing the industry in numerous and significant ways, particularly extending lead times industry-wide and requiring suppliers to stock more inventory and opening up opportunities for decorating facilities domestically. “I anticipate an increase in domestic decorators or increased traffic with existing decorators,” says KTI’s Bakar. The company has stocked items domestically, such as USBs, power banks and Bluetooth® ear buds at its Houston warehouse since the Dangerous Goods Act was implemented a few years ago. Recently though, the company has begun stocking popular products at its overseas facilities so that orders can be decorated there and shipped to Houston. “This removes the additional time of gathering material, assembly and quality control,” Bakar says. “So far, this has been successful for mid-level orders and quantities.” 

    Diversification of sources is another potential outcome of this crisis. “Distributors will have to look for alternative sourcing and not just rely on goods imported from Asia. Local and nearshore manufacturing will be looked at more closely,” says Preslow’s Presburger. Bakar says this ripple effect will force suppliers to pare down their selection of products, change their logistics to what they can warehouse locally and will likely mean growth for domestic decorators. 

    Garment Gear’s Strickland believes companies will seek out ways to become more efficient when it becomes absolutely prudent for them to do so. He says, “It does take some time for companies to navigate through these new waters, but the good ones will come out better—both for the company and their clients.”

    Like in many other industries, the long-term effect of the supply chain issue will mean higher prices, and suppliers predict marketers will be forced to increase their promo budgets or reduce the number of items they purchase. It’s also an opportunity for distributors to be creative and resourceful. “The promotional products industry is not immune to the same inventory and pricing issues they are experiencing in their everyday lives as consumers at the retail level,” says Pioneer Balloon’s Jenkins. “The good news, of course, is that distributor buyers are closer to the situation and origins of supply. They can help find and manage solutions for their customers and business and prove their immense value to their clients.”

    And there’s more good news. On August 27, the White House announced it would appoint John Porcari as port envoy to the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, which was created in June. He will be working with the Department of Transportation and the National Economic Council to address congestion at U.S. ports, a problem the White House admits has existed for years. 

    Honesty, transparency and timely communications are key strategies successful suppliers are using to manage distributors’ expectations and avoid frustration and disappointment. “I can only manufacture what we have on hand. We let our customers know—we are very transparent,” says Cheng at Redwood Classics. “We are also being proactive in providing solutions and recommendations. For example, ‘If you’d like solution A, your delivery might be longer, if you want solution B, your delivery might be shorter, but the cost may be higher.’” 

    At KTI, salespeople are staying in constant touch with clients on delays, but also promoting items that are in stock for quicker delivery in their Houston warehouse, to give them options.

    LBU’s Scaduto says his team is letting customers know upfront that they are dealing with delays and increased costs, so there are no surprises. “Our domestic production is filling up quickly and production times keep getting pushed out, so we are advising them to plan ahead and place orders early with plenty of time for delivery,” he says.

    If there’s one message distributors should take away, it’s “order early”—especially for holiday and year-end gift-giving. “We are trying to manage expectations as best we can,” says Hoff of FitKit Wellness. “The last thing we want to do is promise something we know we cannot meet. We are all about transparency and would rather not take an order than not meet an in-hands date. We check with each team from start to finish in our production process to ensure we meet the needs of our clients before committing to anything.”    


    Hear more about what suppliers are saying on this issue in the latest episode of PPAI PromoTalks. In this podcast, PPB presents The Supply Chain Crisis featuring Howard Cubberly, general manager of Goldstar Global, and David Berger, a partner with Global Promo. 

    During the 32-minute conversation, Cubberly and Berger share their insights and guidance on the issue. This podcast is free and sponsored by Kaeser & Blair. Find it and the full library of podcasts at pubs.ppai.org and click on PromoTalks; also available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. 

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

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