Gloria Lafont: Three Mistakes Distributors Make
... and how to fix them. Kirby Hasseman, Delivering Marketing Joy
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sponsored by VisionUSA

Kirby Hasseman is the owner of Hasseman Marketing and the author of Delivering Marketing Joy (a book about better promo!). He is dedicated to personal development and building the integrity of the promotional industry.

4 Critical Lessons for Every Aspiring Entrepreneur
Do you have the guts, passion and resolve? Bill Green, From the Business World
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It doesn’t cost anything not to believe in something. It costs everything to believe in an idea so much that you’re willing to spend your life doing it and doing it until it becomes a reality.

American culture loves to celebrate the entrepreneurial breed – those daring men and women willing to take calculated risks to create new enterprises that will grab the nation’s imagination along with its pocketbooks.

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Those who reach the pinnacle of entrepreneurial excellence – such as Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos – are viewed with a mixture of awe and envy.

But what separates those who experience wild success from those left picking up the pieces of a failed enterprise? Part of it comes down to good old work ethic.

If you don’t want to work harder than everyone and you don’t have your passion, you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur.

But that’s far from the whole story. There are plenty of other lessons that budding entrepreneurs need to learn. Just a few include:

• Become a tactical and strategic CEO.

Tactical leadership is doing things right. Strategic leadership is doing the right things. You probably did a lot of things right tactically to get your business off the ground. But now it’s time to think about your long-term strategy. The greatest CEOs are visionaries, always plotting their company’s next big move. If you see a way to improve your business, you’d better have the vision and the guts to pull the trigger, even if the naysayers say it can’t be done.

• Let your employees complete you.

Most of us can’t do it all or know everything, so it’s important to hire a team that can compensate for your shortcomings. The best way to do that, he says, is to think like an NBA owner who builds a championship team by drafting a well-balanced roster of players whose abilities complement each other.

• Good customers complain, bad customers go away.

No one enjoys hearing complaints, but those angry customers should be viewed as a gift. They care about your product or service and they want you to fix whatever problem they’re experiencing so they can continue to have that product or service. Many unhappy customers just walk away never to return, so you don’t know why you lost their business.

• The best deals are the ones you don’t make.

There are good business deals out there, but there are many more bad deals. It’s important that any deal you make is the right one for your company, and not something you do just because making a new acquisition or introducing a new product or service is exciting. People will always try to seduce you with the “next great deal,” but stay focused on what’s best for your business. Don’t let anyone influence you into making a deal you don’t want to make.

Ultimately, though, entrepreneurial success comes down to your own passion and tenacity.

It doesn’t cost anything not to believe in something. It costs everything to believe in an idea so much that you’re willing to spend your life doing it and doing it until it becomes a reality. That’s guts. That’s passion. That’s the resolve you need to succeed.

Bill Green is founder and CEO of The Crestar Group of Companies and author of “ALL IN: 101 Real Life Business Lessons for Aspiring Entrepreneurs” ( Prior to forming Crestar, he was with Interline Brands, founding the company in 1977. For 25 years he led Interline as its CEO from a small retail outlet to one of the largest industrial distribution companies in the country. Today, Interline Brands is owned by The Home Depot.

Getting Your Class On
The ABCs of back to school today. Lisa Schofield, Product Feature
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sponsored by Warwick

Kids don’t want to hear this, but as summer wears on, parents get a bit excited – because back-to-school season is right around the corner. And there’s a whole constituency of adults who are looking forward to it too – it’s back to work in school for teachers and related faculty who all look forward to making a huge positive difference in the lives of their students.

There’s no doubt that the classroom experience is much different than it ever was, the advent of computer and digital technology has dramatically altered the way kids are taught and how they learn, much of it for the better, as children adapt so easily to increased sophistication, including skills, imagination as well as critical and practical thinking.

It’s exciting – this atmosphere, from kindergarten through university level learning, and teaching. The world of “back to school,” for promotional products distributors, is much more encompassing than tools for students. Many local businesses support their local school systems both academically, sports and entertainment (class plays, etc.).


The back-to-school (BTS) promotional realm, wide as it is, also tends to generate questions from clients about fads (also called a “craze,” which is shorter in duration and more intensely hyped and in demand than a trend). Fads tend to be toys. It’s a good bet, for example, that the fidget spinner fad is on life support. According to Fortune 500, the term “fidget spinner” reached its apex as a Google term search in mid-May, after first appearing only in late January. According to data, fidget spinner sales peaked on May 5. Another sign a fad is losing steam? They pop up all over secondary-sales sites such as eBay and LetGo.

Fads are mentioned here because customers who may want to create a local BTS promotion may ask about logoed fidget spinners; it’s never a good idea to use a promotion that is rapidly declining in use and popularity as the client will inadvertently be delivering the message that it is way out of touch and behind the times.

There are, however, some lucrative trends that may be on point for pitching to clients. Laura High of BIC Graphic pinpoints five of them, noting that she and her team researched trends to see what students are going to carry with them when autumn comes and have identified a few items beyond the usual back-to-school shopping list:

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• Rucksack styling in backpacks is hot – both in retail and high-end luggage, the drawstring closure with flap is everywhere.

• Backpacks with extra functionality like earbud holes, side pockets for water bottles, extra handles for easy clip-on storage, are highly sought after.

• Similarly, organizers help secure tech gadgets as well as make-up and other school supplies. “These are a great idea for students who have a lot of small odds and ends to keep up with,” High says.

• Carabiners are also very useful for today’s students. Water bottles with drink-through lids and attached carabiners for clip-on storage options are valuable for student athletes and coaching staff.

• For home-brought lunches, she says, bento boxes “are all the rage,” but students need to pack them in a horizontal tote with an external water bottle pocket. The KOOZIE® brand offers several solutions to help keep food fresh and ready to eat.

When students need to hit the “books” (computers), they often like to listen to their favorite music, as well, all of which require power. Therefore, observes Josette Bosse of Bay State Specialty Co., “Any of the power banks are great for back-to-school. You can never have too many power banks. And of course, these make great gifts for teachers as well, especially when engraved/imprinted with the school logo. Bay State offers 10 new power bank styles, including round plastic, square metal, large capacity, and even a slim line wrist strap style.

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Another idea, Bosse comments, is ear buds. “Online apps and audio books are the new way to learn, teach and organize. Students are using tablets in the classroom and online testing. The ear buds are a must!” Bay State has two new options (of eight total): Listen Up Bluetooth Headphones (D354), and Listen Up Earbud Kit (D530).

In the viewpoint of Bill Mahre of ADG Promo, items that promote practicality are always on trend. For example, he offers, practical items such as safety items (key ring flashlights); informational pieces (custom calendars and planners) that provide key school year dates and activities; and everyday accessories (carabiner key rings and writing instruments) that have broad appeal to a wide-ranging audience, make perennial great sellers for the BTS market. “Driving these trends are tight fiscal budgets and an attempt by decision makers to identify items that can be used by numerous students and parents in their school year efforts.”

High emphasizes that opportunities abound for promotional products distributors in the education/collegiate market. Schools rank number-one for volume spent on promotional products, and collegiate brands spend more than $1 billion on marketing. Keep in mind too that the prospects go beyond simply just students, faculty and BOE members. “This market also includes textbook companies, school supplies distributors, tutoring programs and more. Innovative promo campaigns can stretch beyond pencils and lunchboxes to include items such as full-color logoed headbands and the latest tech accessories, and truly so much more,” she says.

And, advises Mahre, remember that logoed/customized and personalized items are very much appreciated by decision makers. Further, think about engendering school spirit in high school, starting with the freshman class. “When the entire freshman class gets a laser-engraved stylus pen with the school logo on one side and each student’s name on the other it is a memorable first impression. Especially when the distributor can offer this opportunity for less than $2,” he says.

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Other ideas Mahre offers include customized calendars and planners with key days and events for the school year designed and provided strictly for this academic community. Another popular item is a pen and pencil gift set for Teacher Appreciation Week, these can be personalized with each faculty member’s name.

Local businesses are often eager to tie-in to back-to-school campaigns, High says. “Pizza franchises, frozen yogurt shops and hair salons are just a few examples of local businesses that have had success offering promotional items as gifts-with-purchase to attract the back-to-school audience.

Mahre agrees, explaining that he sees a large number of local businesses like restaurants, banks and drug stores, among others that partner with schools/universities to help defray some of the cost associated with a promotional product. Such examples include coupons good for a discount attached to the item or a part of a calendar back page.

Additionally, he points out, many school districts remain in tight financial times, bringing up the necessity for fundraising activities. This area is ripe with promotional opportunities for the schools. Distributors can work with the local educational foundations to create imaginative fundraising activities that are simple to execute. ADG Promo’s HDI drinkware items “are great examples where schools have created keepsakes for bands, sports teams, sororities/fraternities and many other clubs by leveraging full-color capability along with personalization down to one,” he says. “For example, a winning football team raises money for the program and each player’s grandparents, parents and siblings get a memorable item that will be kept for years to come.”

And, for years to come, most Americans remember their school years, teachers, coaches, and principals, sports games and other after-school activities. And you can help keep those memories sharp.

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Choosing Investments
Are you looking for an "involved" partner or an "invested" partner? Bill Petrie, Petrie's Perspective
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As a distributor, the question you should ask is simple: do you want to work with suppliers who are involved, or do you want to create relationships with suppliers who are invested?
sponsored by Next Level Apparel

In the world of promotional products, many throw around terms that sound great, but rarely have any real substance to back them up. Some of the words and phrases that come to mind are:

• Partner

• Engagement

• Strategy

• Tactical

• Implementation

• Turn-key solution (my personal favorite)

Unfortunately, through experiences, we learn that these words are meaningless marketing terms designed to do little more than create a false sense of ownership. It’s time to stop using words and phrases that are worthless to evaluate partners. Instead, make your assessment much easier by realizing there are two types of partners in the world: those that are involved, and those that are invested.

Involved Partners:

• Pass the buck – either internally or externally – when something goes wrong

• Speak in vague generalities

• Respond to communications and inquiries

• Create a wildly inconsistent experience for their clients

• Express happiness for an order

Invested Partners:

• Display ownership of the entire process – from inventory to decoration to on-time delivery to customer service

• Are both direct and candid

• Drive communication

• Deliver a dependable experience for clients

• Seek to eliminate problems (art, decoration, meeting in-hands date, etc.) before they happen

• Express gratitude and seek to build a mutually beneficial relationship

There are a large number of truly excellent suppliers in our shared industry. As a distributor, the question you should ask is simple: do you want to work with suppliers who are involved, or do you want to create relationships with suppliers who are invested?

Suppliers need to ask the same question and always choose to partner with distributors who are invested in forming relationships – both with their clients and suppliers themselves. Answering in this manner leads to a dramatically more positive experience across for all parties involved: the supplier, the distributor, and, most importantly, the end-user.

When it comes to involvement or investment, there really is no choice.

Bill is president of PromoCorner, the leading digital marketing service provider to the promotional products industry, and has over 17 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. In 2014, he launched brandivate – the first executive outsourcing company solely focused on helping small and medium sized-promotional products enterprises responsibly grow their business. A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, president of the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients. He can be reached at

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Finding Time for Content Creation; Industry Price Fixing
Dealing with Burnout; Meditation and Unwinding; KFC's Crazy Merchandise; Superhuman, the TV Show; Favorite Prince Song Kirby Hasseman, Bill Petrie, UnScripted
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sponsored by Express-A-Button

Industry educators Kirby Hasseman of Hasseman Marketing and Bill Petrie of PromoCorner, the leading digital marketing services provider to the promotional products industry, discuss a variety of hot­-button industry topics in this weekly “talk show” column brought to you by BamBams. Click on the graphic to hear their “UnScripted” conversation.

New from Industry Suppliers
Sunglasses, headphones, tumbler, calendar. Identity Marketing Staff, New Products
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sponsored by VisionUSA

The new vineyards calendar from BIC Graphic showcases beautiful vineyards from around the world. It is available in stapled or spiral bound. The 13-month calendar with Dec 2018 printed on backmount has gloss paper stock with UV coated cover.

New from Garyline is this 18-oz. stainless steel tumbler with polypropylene liner and spill-resistant acrylic slide lid. The splash-resistant clear acrylic lid has a gasket seal. FDA compliant, safe for food contact, BPA free, the tumbler is available in matte black, metallic red, metallic blue and silver.

Padded earphones and head band make for comfortable wearing of the new Bluetooth headphones from Beacon Promotions. Get double ad exposure with the four color digital imprint on both ear pieces, which is included in the price. The imprint can be different on each side at no extra charge. It comes with a built-in microphone, auxiliary cable, USB charging cable and instructions. It is Bluetooth compatible 2.1 + EDR with working distance of 11 yards with 300 mAh battery. The audio cable allows you to play music on non-Bluetooth devices.

New adult-sized sunglasses from Jetline feature two-tone glossy polypropylene plastic frames and PC lenses. The lenses provide ultraviolet protection level UV400 (100% UV).

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New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff
New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff
New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff

To Niche or Not to Niche
It helps to be an expert in a particular market but don't let it limit your universe. Danette Gossett, From Good to Great
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Luckily, even though I was naïve, I had taken my accountant’s advice and had started to introduce myself to some other key industries.
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We all have our strengths when it comes to business development and sales. Some companies I reach out to recognize that my expertise is extensive and can apply to just about any industry or project (at least I think so).

However, I’ve also reached out to companies that think my experience doesn’t translate to their business unless you have worked within their industry. Of course, I don’t necessarily agree.

So do you concentrate on a niche or not?

To be perfectly honest, I am torn. I was very niche oriented years ago with Travel and Tourism. It was my background and so many of my referrals came from within the travel and tourism industry. In July 2011 though, my accountant and I had our mid-year review and he expressed concern that I was too heavily concentrated in one industry. I was naïve at that time and stated, “It’s not just one company it’s 10!” what could possibly happen to affect an entire industry?

Diversification within a Niche is Not Enough

And then 9/11/01 happened. Travel and tourism came to a standstill. I lost 80 percent of my business overnight, with several very large contracts cancelling (writing a check to return a large deposit was extremely painful). Granted, much of it came back, but some not nearly at the levels that they had been previously and it took years for that market segment to recover.

Luckily, even though I was naïve, I had taken my accountant’s advice and had started to introduce myself to some other key industries, like Education and Healthcare, that summer of 2001. And slowly over the next couple of years I was able to diversify nicely outside of travel and tourism.

Now, though, I am once again feeling the pull of concentrating on a few niches. While I have a wide variety of clients in industries and size, my bread and butter is in those three industries: travel and tourism, healthcare and education (universities). When I meet new prospects in those industries they seem excited that I have extensive experience in their fields. They have even stated that they are relying on me for best practices as well as sharing what others might be doing (these are not competing companies – we obviously won’t share strategies and tactics of competing brands).

Experience and Education Count

I actually just landed some new business with a company in travel and tourism. They were excited about my cruise industry experience because they support that industry. They indicated that they felt I would be up to speed faster because they didn’t have to “educate” me. And I was just asked to participate in two separate RFPs, one in healthcare, one in Education. Hence, my question, do I stay so focused on my niches?

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Understanding your clients’ or prospects’ industry is definitely a benefit that you can tout – and I do and will. And of course, I am going to go all out to win all the new business in those niches that comes my way. However, I am also thinking I need to expand my diversification further, yet again.

So, is it possible to become an expert without actual experience in a particular field?

Research is Crucial for Industry Expertise

Of course, my answer is yes. However, I do realize that it will take some education and research to gain that expertise. I’ve decided that before I even think about approaching a new industry that I’m going to spend a good amount of time researching the market and understanding the trends, best practices, competitors, types of programs they currently promote and how my broad experience can be their solution.

Then, I will research what their key annual events, programs and celebrations are for that industry and how we may be able to utilize them in our pitch. I’ll then focus on the top companies in that field to determine where I want to start my campaign (Do I know anyone there already? Do I have LinkedIn connections – who knows who that I may know, so to speak?). And of course, I’ll start following the companies on social media so I can gain a better understanding of their focus and style.

Then I’ll dive deeper into one or two companies to determine if they are getting ready to celebrate a milestone anniversary or are introducing a new product or service, or if they opening a new division or office.

After all the research, I’ll be better equipped to develop a few unique concepts to demonstrate that I understand their business and can help them stand apart from their competitors or with their prospects and customers.

Recognize It as a Long-Term Plan

In my research I will also look for a few smaller prospects that I can pursue to gain more experience before I introduce myself to the larger companies. Yes, this is a long term plan. However, I am not looking for just a project or two but the longevity that I’ve experienced in my bread and butter niches. Most of which have been with me for more than 15 years, now that makes the effort that’s worth my time.

Danette Gossett is the founder of Gossett Marketing, co-founder of Promotions Rescource LLC and co-author of the best-selling book "Transform" with Brian Tracy. Danette utilizes her more than 30 years of advertising agency and corporate marketing experience to develop effective promotional campaigns and products for her clients. Visit or and follow us on twitter @MarketngTidbits.

Brett Shaffer: Going from Operations to Sales...
and what it's like to be a "PromoBrat." Kirby Hasseman, Delivering Marketing Joy
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Kirby Hasseman is the owner of Hasseman Marketing and the author of Delivering Marketing Joy (a book about better promo!). He is dedicated to personal development and building the integrity of the promotional industry.

Women in Leadership Roles Can Change the Workplace
Andi Simon, Ph.D., From the Business World
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Women who know how to create success aren't just building better businesses; they are changing the way people work.
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As women have taken on greater leadership roles in the business world, it’s paid off for both them and business. A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that firms with women in the C-suite were more profitable. Meanwhile, the number of women-owned businesses grew 45 percent from 2007 to 2016 compared to just a 9 percent growth in the number of businesses overall.

But will all those women in leadership roles change the workplace culture to make it more female friendly – and does it matter?

As a corporate anthropologist, I’m aware of the recent shift in thinking surrounding how cultures should be restructured in order for women to thrive in the workplace. This has caused me to ask: What type of culture do women really want and is it that different from what men want, too?

The results of my research were surprising. It turns out, in many ways men and women want similar things in the workplace. Both prefer a strong clan culture that emphasizes collaboration, teamwork and a focus on people.

So what lessons does that hold for women who start their own businesses or are hired or promoted into leadership positions in existing businesses?

Based on my personal experiences, and what I've learned from female business leaders I have interviewed, some of the ways women can succeed when leading an organization and make the workplace more attentive to the needs of both men and women include:

• Create a culture that blends work and home. I talked with the founder of one company that intentionally took a whole-life approach and didn’t force employees to choose between work and family. That company won all sorts of local awards for being one of the best places to work in the area,.

• Encourage staff to be innovators. Often even the employees who think outside the box are reluctant to act outside the box for fear of repercussions if things don’t work out quite the way they hoped. But for innovation to happen, a good leader needs to empower employees to try new ideas.

• Be an adventurer, stay curious. If you expect your employees to try new ideas, you need to be willing to do so as well. Don't worry about failing. Keep tinkering and trying stuff and sooner or later you'll hit upon your a-ha moment. Through my research, I am finding that the women who know how to create success are not just building better businesses; they are changing the way people work.

The corporate cultures in women-run businesses reflect the personal beliefs and values of the women leading them. And those businesses tend to be highly successful.

Andi Simon, author of On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, is a corporate anthropologist and award-winning author ( She is the founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants, designed over a decade ago to help companies use the tools of anthropology to better adapt to changing times. Simon also is a public speaker and an Innovation Games facilitator and trainer. She served as a tenured professor of anthropology and American studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and was a visiting professor teaching entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis. Simon has appeared on “Good Morning America” and has been featured in the Washington Post, Business Week and Forbes, and on Bloomberg Radio.

Sales Psych 101: The Fear of Buying
Joel Schaffer, MAS, The Take Away
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For now, we need you to be a para-psychologist. A person who probes, a person who builds a relationship by knowing the buyer, their fears, their anxieties and needs.
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I visited the home of Dixie Cups with my salesman. The goal was to do a premium program or on pack offer. At that time, I was the associate publisher and VP of sales & marketing for the second largest map company in the U.S.A. (Whatever happened to maps and atlases?) We had some great ideas for Dixie. We had the capability of doing custom cookbooks, or we could draw from our huge library including Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living, Pillsbury, etc.

Once we let the buyer know our thoughts, he said, “Come with me.” So we did, walking into a warehouse where my client stopped and pointed to numerous skids filled with books. “This is what I have from my last book promotion,” he said. His tone said... There is no way I am going to do a book promotion. We walked back to his office and our work began. The issue was, in no uncertain terms, “fear of buying.” The fear was based upon his personal experience and his real fear of failing. Like any buyer, the company wants results and, if they are not produced, he could be made redundant (trust the Brits to make getting fired more gentle). To get anywhere with this prospect, we had to dig deep and get to the core of his psychological “issue.” It is done with friendly probative questions. It really is similar to telling him to “lay down on the couch and tell me your problems.” When people get to “talk it out,” they understand the cause and effect of their “fear” and can often overcome it.

We asked him to tell us the story and he we discovered that he moved tens of thousands of premiums. In total, he moved about 85 percent of what he bought. Okay, I admit it now, 45 years later, I took over the conversation and stepped over my salesman… sorry, David (RIP). The prospect’s fear of failure was based upon his overbuy – his not knowing how many units to buy. It was a matter of forecasting and that is very difficult with premiums.

“So,” I said, “the program itself was successful, but because you had so many left over, the numbers did not work well for you and your budget.” He agreed. I went on a bit more and he began to nod more and more in agreement with my observations. Once I believed I had his confidence, I laid the cornerstone for our relationship. I was going to minimize the risk involved in his making a deal, making a purchase. Risk produces fear and anxiety. Two emotions nobody enjoys, particularly if it can cost you your job. We proposed a “non-commit” self-liquidator – a program he could run by printing the offer on his packaging and buy nothing until he had them “sold.” It was enough to conclude our first visit, making him comfortable with us as his promotional partner, and he agreed to a return visit where we could present the framework of our ideas for “The Dixie Summer Barbecue Cookbook.” A few weeks later the proposal was done and David returned to continue the process.

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Buying is not without risk. When internet auctions began, I bought pad printers only to get junk in return. I never went back to auctions and I am even skeptical about eBay, although they rate the sellers. Buying certain things are “no brainers.” Generally, they are visible and not intangible. Generally, they are low cost. Obviously, if you have return privileges it takes away risk. When the price is higher the financial risk is higher. When the goods or services are intangible, the inability to touch and feel builds a certain degree of anxiety, which is a cornerstone of fear. Buying a pair of shoes, assuming you can try them on, does not cause much fear or anxiety. Perhaps spending $600 on shoes is more concerning, but still relatively safe. Buying a car, a boat, a house or any truly expensive item does cause everyone to have some anxiety, right? It is the same for business buyers.

The axiom... the higher the cost, the greater the risk, the greater the fear of buying. This is also applicable to complicated purchases. Putting together a motivation, safety, service award, wellness program, etc. has so many complications and variables the probability of “issues” is great. Questioning of the odds of success causes anxiety and fear.

“Trust me” does not work. The success of others (case histories) is no real comfort. The buyer does not need a sales bull, but rather an understanding, helpful and sincere partner in the transaction. I will forever wonder why the car dealers let the bull (sales manager) out of the stockade. I recently leased a car and told the salesman that “I did not want to see the manager.” I needed a level of comfort that this was the right car at the right price and we would be happy. That’s not done under pressure. It is done by probing the concerns of the buyer and identifying any core issues that affect decision making. Oh yes, he did ask my wife “what color?” When are they going to realize SHE controls the budget. By the way, the probing uncovered my fear that going to a sedan from an SUV would be a mistake. I would not be comfortable and the older you get, the harder it is to get in and out of a vehicle. Once he said it had memory foam seats, he hit a sore spot. Safety and comfort turned out to be my core issues and the anxiety of not knowing if I would get it with the vehicles I was considering.

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So, you’re a consultant… I’ll tackle that in a future column. For now, we need you to be a para-psychologist. A person who probes, a person who builds a relationship by knowing the buyer, their fears, their anxieties and needs. A person who modifies their approach based upon the buyer. A person who takes the time in the initial meeting to get the prospect to talk about themselves and their history as opposed to hearing a “pitch” that may not be relevant. What has been your greatest success? Have any programs failed? What did you learn from the failure? Dig in. Once you have them talking, turn to an interactive process and try to get them involved it the creativity of whatever you are trying to do. A true partnership means all parties get an opportunity to build the project.

Joel D. Schaffer, MAS is CEO and Founder of Soundline, LLC, the pioneering supplier to the promotional products industry of audio products. Joel has 48 years of promotional product industry experience and proudly heralds "I was a distributor." He has been on the advisory panel of the business and marketing department of St. John’s University in New York and is frequent speaker at Rutgers Graduate School of Business. He is an industry Advocate and has appeared before the American Bankers Association, American Marketing Association, National Premium Sales Executives, American Booksellers Association and several other major groups. He has been a management consultant to organizations such as The College Board and helped many suppliers enter this industry. He is a frequent contributor to PPB and Counselor Magazines. He has facilitated over 200 classes sharing his industry knowledge nationwide. He is known for his cutting humor and enthusiasm in presenting provocative and motivating programs. He is the only person to have received both the Marvin Spike Industry Lifetime Achievement Award (2002) and PPAI’s Distinguished Service Award (2011). He is a past director of PPAI and has chaired several PPAI committees and task forces. He is a past Chair of the SAAGNY Foundation, Past President of SAAGNY and a SAAGNY Hall of Fame member. He was cited by ASI as one of the 50 most influential people in the industry.

The Privilege of Work
Bill Petrie, Petrie's Perspective
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The word “work” tends to get a bad rap. For those of us who have children attending the drudgery that is middle school, we know how homework can impact the family dynamic. At that age, it’s difficult to see the value in anything difficult as it relates to work – especially homework. I certainly know that I had that perspective during my formative educational years.

However, as I have grown older – and hopefully, wiser – I now realize that work is a privilege. Too often we allow ourselves to get sidetracked by meetings, conference calls, and handling the crisis of the moment to really understand that the work we do can impact others in a positive way. From where I sit, the real privilege of work is achieving individual success by helping others reach their goals and dreams.

Many will tell you that if you “love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” To me, it goes beyond this because that adage doesn’t take into account other words relating to work like pride, satisfaction, accomplishment, and service. Sure, loving what you do has a tremendous impact, but there are aspects of any job (or life) that require “work” we don’t enjoy. It’s the privilege of work that allows you to power through the drudgery and focus on the positive results your efforts have on others.

Have you ever met anyone you consider to be successful who continually grumbles and groans about their work? I haven’t and I doubt I ever will. To work – to produce – is truly a privilege. People who can revel in the process and deliver exceptional results in service to others will always achieve the highest levels of happiness and prosperity.

Bill is president of PromoCorner, the leading digital marketing service provider to the promotional products industry, and has over 17 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. In 2014, he launched brandivate – the first executive outsourcing company solely focused on helping small and medium sized-promotional products enterprises responsibly grow their business. A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, president of the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients. He can be reached at

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Gift Guide: Toothpick Crossbow
It's never too early to give the gift that keeps on giving... injuries. Jeff Jacobs, The Brand Protector
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Powerful enough to break paper cartons, cans and even fight cockroaches...
sponsored by Webb Company

It’s just a matter of time until the current fad in Chinese school classrooms makes it over here, so get your order form ready. This is going to be HUUUUUUGEEEE for holiday gift-giving. Toothpick crossbows are just what you would expect, small plastic launchers with a metal grooved track ready to unleash toothpicks, nails, and needles on unsuspecting targets. What client wouldn’t want their brand on this, and in the hands of young children?! This makes fidget spinners look like a great idea – and I can’t make this stuff up.

“These tiny crossbows can launch sharp projectiles that can cause bodily harm to others, especially injury to the eye. These are not appropriate to be marketed as toys for children and should be banned,” Dr. Gary Smith, president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance, told Live Science.

Being banned is like a badge of courage for the folks at “Powerful enough to break paper cartons, cans and even fight cockroaches” claims the manufacturer. Capable of traveling 30-40 feet, “those wussies in China have already banned it.” A site update claims the product has been banned in New Zealand, too. Best reason of all to buy one? You can load it with cotton buds for a “softer playtime.” What? The manufacturer claims that putting cotton buds on your toothpick crossbow is safer than putting them in your ear. “It's a projectile. Any type of projectile can cause a problem,” said Dr. Mike Gittelman, a professor of pediatrics at the Division of Emergency Medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

I would hope that our industry would turn away from something so obviously dangerous. But, as I’m sure you’ve seen, we have colleagues in the industry who still will take basically about any order they can get. Let’s decide together to not do this!

Being interested in product safety shouldn’t turn you into a spam target. But, that’s exactly what happened to Kashmir Hill, a contributor to Gizmodo Media Group, when she returned what she thought was a stroller safety postcard to Mattel. The postcard was supposed to provide contact information should a recall on the stroller she bought become necessary later. Hill also began receiving marketing emails from Fisher-Price shortly after returning another product safety card marked “product registration for safety alert or recall only” that was packaged with a swing purchase.

Have you had your email address spammed by a manufacturer after you provided information for “product safety info only?” Hill says there’s a trick to keep track of what a company does with your address. If you use Gmail, you can add an identifying word or phrase to your usual Gmail address, with a “+” sign in front of it. So if your address is “,” and you’re sending it off to BabyCorp, Inc., give them the address “” Messages will get to you as usual, but if you check the “to” line on them, you’ll see “+BabyCorp” in there and know they used that address.

So, how about you? Do you think you can stay away from crossbows, but take aim using this email hack against spam? That just seems like a much better target to us.

Jeff Jacobs has been an expert in building brands and brand stewardship for 40 years, working in commercial television, Hollywood film and home video, publishing, and promotional brand merchandise. He’s a staunch advocate of consumer product safety and has a deep passion and belief regarding the issues surrounding compliance and corporate social responsibility. He retired as executive director of Quality Certification Alliance, the only non-profit dedicated to helping suppliers provide safe and compliant promotional products. Before that, he was director of brand merchandise for Michelin. You can find him still advising Global 500 Brands on promo product initiatives, working as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, traveling the world with his lovely wife, or enjoying a cigar at his favorite local cigar shop. Follow Jeff on Twitter, or reach out to him at

Buying Groups and Value; Facebook Hoaxes
Internal Friction Points and Making Things Simple; Evolving Social Media and more. Kirby Hasseman, Bill Petrie, UnScripted
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sponsored by Warwick

Industry educators Kirby Hasseman of Hasseman Marketing and Bill Petrie of PromoCorner, the leading digital marketing services provider to the promotional products industry, discuss a variety of hot­-button industry topics in this weekly “talk show” column brought to you by BamBams. Click on the graphic to hear their “UnScripted” conversation.

New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff, New Products
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sponsored by HandStands

Prime Line® has released its 2017 Awareness Collection featuring a new Breast Cancer Awareness bundle and other causes. The new Awareness bundle includes a bag, Flexi-Bottle, visor, sunglasses, sunscreen and an Awareness MopTopper™ pen. It is one of five Bundlez™ recently introduced by the company.

This new dust pan and brush from WOW Line is made out of plastic and available in three colors. The brush fits conveniently inside the pan for easy storage. The dust pan and brush set is perfect for home, dorm rooms, schools, offices and can even double as a quick keyboard cleaner. Its compact size means it will fit in a desk drawer or glove compartment and makes a great giveaway for trade shows and conventions.

New performance cap from KC Caps features 100% polyester performance fabric, constructed six-panel styling with buckram, pre-curved bill, deluxe four-needle sweatband and self fabric velcro closure. Colors: white, dark gray, black.

Keep your advertising on the green with the Adventurer's Special Kit from Clothpromotions Plus. This sports accessory contains an 18" x 12" golf towel and a Flex Fiber™ headscarf, both with a bold full-color/full-bleed imprint. Both are poly-bagged together. Great for sporting events, golf tournaments, corporate events and more.

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New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff
New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff
New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff

“Creating Opportunities: How Observant Are You?”
Cliff Quicksell, MAS+, Cliff's Notes
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sponsored by Bay State

Opportunities – major opportunities – are all around us but it’s sad to see that most salespeople are primarily reactive and their selling focus is solely on product, therefore missing those great opportunities.

The opportunities I’m speaking about are more creative sales – different types of sales all with significantly greater profit potential. I can only imagine that’s what most of you want. The biggest disconnect as I see it is in the process. We are all busy; our clients and prospects are busy, so when we do get that opportunity we become so focused on the close that we often leave massive opportunities behind. Those opportunities, for that particular project, once gone, are gone for good.

The veterans reading this would probably attest that the way we were taught years ago (at least the way I was) that there are a certain top questions that you need to ask: “When you need a quote? How many do you need? When do you need them, and what your budget?”

These shallow questions often pigeonhole us into the realm of being product driven only and when that's the case, there’s no true differentiator between you and everyone else. Case in point: if the client or prospect is looking for a white “C” handled coffee mug and five distributors are all bidding on the same job, the low bidder generally gets the deal. Make no mistake, there was a study some year’s back that found when you can make a 20 percent difference in price, loyalty goes out the window. Unfortunately we know there are a lot of folks in this industry who are willing to sell at cost +3 percent or cost +5 percent just to get the deal. That erosion of profitability affects everyone down the line.

The question is: how do you elevate your game so that you’re not put in that position?

Listening for Opportunities

What does listening for opportunities mean? It means being intuitive and focused on who you are listening to and what he or she is really saying.

Along with intentional listening comes truly deep questions. I’m not talking about philosophical questions like where did the universe begin but deeper level questions that will really peel back the layers of the onion to see if there are opportunities.

If you meet with the client and the client says to you, “I need to order 1,000 T-shirts, get me a price,” most of us would run off, get the quote, send it off, cross your fingers and pray that you get the deal. But what if you were to stop for a moment and asked that client a few deeper questions like:

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• What made you decide on that particular product?

• What is the product being used for?

• Who’s the target audience?

• How will this product be distributed?

• How would you like that packaged?

Let’s break down these questions for a moment.

What made you decide on that particular product? Our clients don’t know the magnitude, the width and depth of what we can provide. They don’t know the amount of decorating techniques that we have or the way things can be printed. It’s not their job to know. That’s the whole point – it’s your job to know and your job to consult with them and give them the right solution! Now, a T-shirt may very well be the right product, but unless we ask, we really don’t know. Through your questioning you may find out that there may be a better solution for the client and therefore you could give them a few suggestions. What’s the worst they could say – no?

What is the product being used for? Perhaps the product is just being randomly handed out, or it’s to identify a new product launch, but once again it’s important to have this information.

Who is the target audience? We need to understand the demographics of the audience to ensure that the solution that’s being provided is the correct one. I often joke in some of my presentations that if your client is going to an Avon convention, Buck knives may not be the right choice in terms of product selection for that audience. Understanding age, gender and various other demographics play greatly determine the right selection or solution for your customer.

How will the product be distributed? Once again, our clients don’t know the depth of what we can do. The client may be handing these out of the trade show or mailing them out. There could be any number of ways that it’s being distributed but determining how you be a part of that process can provide added to the client and, at the same time, create additional sales and profits. You see, it’s all about taking away the pain making easier for the clients to do business with you by making it easier for them.

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How would you like that packaged? I actually love this question most of all because it really gets your clients thinking. You should be asking your clients this open-ended question every opportunity that you have. Yes, packaging is one of the most missed opportunities in our industry as it is done easily and we have multiple suppliers that can assist us with this. It’s highly profitable yet it’s often overlooked.

To bring this full circle I use this scenario because this happened to me several years ago during one of my sales calls. My client called me and asked me if I could get him a quote for 3,500 T-shirts, printed two color on the front and four-color on the back. I asked him why he selected a T-shirt and he explained it was for a new product launch. “Who is the recipient?” He said, “Young techie people, both male and female between 20 and 25 years old that were their clients.” I then asked him ‘how do you plan on distributing the product”, and he stated they were going to mail them. I then asked, “So, how do you want them packaged? “Put those in a Tyvek envelope and mail them out on our own.”

Now most salespeople would say, “…he has it all taken care of” and just do the T-shirt order. But why couldn’t you create the packaging, handle the distribution make some money to do all the services for him?

Now just making that offer is not good enough, you actually do have to sell the value of why that would be important to them.

• We have a clean room facility so that you don’t have to worry about the product getting damaged.

• We have the staff, you don’t have to hire additional staff, temporary help, or pull anyone of your current staff off to do this project.

• We can do it quickly just give us an additional day and we can have a completed.

• You don’t have to worry about theft. We are insured and have the staff that can do this in a timely manner so that you know that everything’s done accurately and you’re not missing any product.

By taking the pain away and showing the value of what we can do, we make it easier for the customer to make that decision. But what if the customer said "no, we just cannot put them in a Tyvek envelope? Can’t you provide the Tyvek envelope?" Can’t you bring more value to the Tyvek envelope I perhaps printing the envelope for them with the same messaging? Of course you can. And at the end of the day was the worst they could say no? You see, most of us are averse to hearing the answer “no”, but if you don’t ask the question, I promise you are never going to see these opportunities.

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Now in this situation my customer decided that it made sense. We charged the client $1.60 for each package and the labor to put it all together. Now what’s interesting in this scenario is the mailing tubes and the labor cost totaled around $.43, so if you do the math, which means that the profit on this packaging aspect of this was a $1.17 each. So, $1.17 times 3,500 packages equals $4,095, just for asking a few questions. When we start looking at the average gross profit in our industry as being between 32 and 35 percent this dramatically increases the profit margin the result being higher profits happy customer happy salesperson.

Going Deeper Yet…

This is where your intuition must step in. There are many times when speaking with the client the challenge of the client faces are much deeper. They’re going to a trade show, and they desperately need to get the best buyers into their show to see their new product so they can do a demonstration. What do you suggest? The $.59 pen handed out at the booth is not going to draw in that traffic.

· How do you then help them analyze the entire picture?

· What type of advertising have they done up to this point?

· Do they have the ability to do a preshow mailer?

· Who is their ideal client?

· What type of marketing are they allowed to do at the show, during the show, after the show?

· What would success look like to them at the end of the show?

In this scenario there may be an opportunity to do a creative pre-mailer that will include a promotional product, packaging, a creative theme that ties into their product, a call to action, all of which can be measured. And believe me marketers today are being challenged on how to measure every dollar that their spending. If you can bring this level of sophistication to your customers to your prospects and get them to see that what you bring to the table is more than just product you will build an amazingly loyal client base. Now the reality is not every scenario is going to be a creative piece, I understand, but you can see from the previous example that you could take a normal product sale and turn that into something much bigger.

As you move forward in your career and you're speaking with customers I encourage you not to be so quick to take the order and run, but take the time to ask good questions, “intentionally listen” to your customers, listen for key phrases like “rolling out a new product”, and how can you tie that back into a scene, a creative package, or a unique way of distribution that brings more value to the customer.

I believe we can all be more to our clients, more to our companies, more to our families, and more to ourselves.

Until next month continued good selling!

For more than 30 years, Cliff has been speaking, training and consulting internationally to associations and national 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 25 times, and the Printing Industry's PSDA’s Peak Award for creativity five times in three years. He has also 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 also was recognized by PPAI in the book, "PPAI at 100," as having a significant influence in education. He has also been recognized by Counselor Magazine as one of the Top 50 Most Influential People in the Promotional Products Industry. You can engage with Cliff at

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Why Won’t They Call Me Back?
Cliff Quicksell, MAS+

How 6 Rock-Climbing Techniques Can Be Your Secret Weapon
Manley Feinberg II, From the Business World
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There are times when desire and commitment drive us out of any comfort zone we could possibly imagine.

I thought about that fact one day as I stared at a wall of rock in front of him in the Aksu Valley, one of the last frontiers of big-wall rock climbing, located in the country of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. I was about to take on one of the greatest challenges in this adventure sport. But before I could do it, I had to put faith in a Russian colleague named Dima who suffered a seizure only hours before the climb. Dima served as my belayer, the one who uses a small metal device known as a belay to control the friction of a climber’s rope and save him if he begins to fall.

The belay allows climbers to safely accomplish what seems impossible. The same belay principle can be your secret weapon in life where someone can help you stretch your own comfort zone and reach toward higher summits while encouraging you and saving you from the falls you will inevitably encounter.

Business leaders I often advise and anyone else looking to accomplish lofty goals can use their own belay system and reach beyond their comfort zone. He offers these six tips for doing just that:

• Get a safety system in place. Climbers, like anyone looking to accomplish big things, expect to fall on the way to reaching their summit and that’s why they use a belayer. Before beginning the climb to your new goal, you should have processes in place to allow for your inevitable mistakes – your own personal belayer that provides a safety system for when you fall.

Be sure to have just enough rope. A belayer must feed a climber just enough rope to allow him to move in a desired direction. You’ll want partners in business, and in life, who give you enough rope to climb and room to grow.

Avoid too much rope. A partner also shouldn’t give you too much slack because when you fall, the impact is going to be even greater for both of you.

• Don’t let your belayer hold you back. A belayer must feed you just enough rope as you move along. However, they can hold you up if they aren’t giving you enough slack to move. Identifying a belayer who is holding you back in life and disconnecting from him or her can be one of the most courageous and productive actions you will ever take.

Find a partner whose actions are immediate. When you fall, which you will if you try to accomplish goals beyond your comfort zone, your partners must be fully present for you, just as a belayer must lock off the rope right away when a climber begins to fall.

Focus on reassurance after the fall. A good partner will help you recover and get back at your endeavor as soon as possible.

When executed consistently, the belay lesson will have a dramatic impact on your life. For those looking to accomplish bigger goals, I recommend starting your day with two questions:

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“Who do I need on belay today?” In other words, who can support me to help me accomplish my goals? And, “Who will I belay today?” What individual needs my support the most today?

Manley Feinberg II ( is an award-winning international keynote speaker, business leader and author. During his career, he helped Build-a-Bear Workshop grow from 40 stores to more than 400 stores worldwide, while growing sales to more than $474 million, and landing the company on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® List four years in a row. In his book, “Reaching Your Next Summit,” Feinberg applies leadership lessons learned in business and adventures to life’s daily challenges.

Roger Burnett: Back At It
Kirby Hasseman, Delivering Marketing Joy
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sponsored by Webb Company

Kirby Hasseman is the owner of Hasseman Marketing and the author of Delivering Marketing Joy (a book about better promo!). He is dedicated to personal development and building the integrity of the promotional industry.

How I’m Developing My Personal Brand...
And It's Working! Sam Kabert, Success with Swag(ger)
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For whatever reason a young professional who put himself through law school and started his own practice in Silicon Valley does not get the respect of someone who starts a company that is even remotely technology based. Crazy, right?
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I was just Sam before I decided to become “SwagSam.”

Hi, my name’s Sam Kabert and I’m with ValueBP Marketing Group. We put logos on things; we’re also a woman-owned business and certified through the organization WBENC. I sit on the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce board of directors, co-host a podcast, and co-chair the Silicon Valley Young Professionals… bored yet?

Let’s try this again.

I’m SwagSam, but before I was SwagSam I created a company called CHICO FEET that sold Neet Feet sandals to build brand awareness for my company that sold B2B promotional products and created enough buzz for the founder of Sierra Nevada to know exactly who I am.

Is that better?

Here’s a bit more on how I started and the plan for the SwagSam brand...

Chico Feet

In the town of Chico, CA the phrase “Chico Feet” is known by all – whether it's a Chico local or a college student. Chico Feet essentially means the bottom of your foot is dirty from walking around barefoot. Chico is very much a party school and a college town but the term doesn't just mean it's from drunk college kids playing around on a slip and slide while day drinking. It extends so much further than that. There are so many great outdoor adventures in and around Chico including floating on the river, exploring various water holes, the rope swing and so much more. You can totally get Chico Feet without drinking at all. So, it extends to the whole town of 80,000+ people.

In 2011, as a college intern, I created my first business “CHICO FEET.” We sold CHICO FEET branded sandals (from Neet Feet) to build brand awareness and I called on companies leveraging that brand awareness to sell promotional products to businesses. The sandals were just a tool, really.

For the complete, CHICO FEET story click here.

Value Business Products

I grew up in Gilroy, CA (just south of Silicon Valley), a small farm town known as “The Garlic Capital of the World.” (Yes, I’ve had garlic ice cream and it’s quite good — if you’re at the annual Garlic Festival on a hot 100-degree day. Otherwise…

Back in 1980, my dad started an office supply company, going door to door selling and repairing typewriters. Over time, Value Business Products became a brick and mortar office supply store, transitioned to e-commerce office supply store, turned woman-owned when my mom took ownership and most recently added ValueBP, our promotional products division that I oversee. We’ve seen a lot over the years and have adjusted accordingly but the main constant is that we are still a small, family-owned company that will have anywhere from one to four golden retrievers in the office at any given time.

Surviving Silicon Valley as a Non-Techie

This title is something I could write a whole book on. Over the past year I’ve been drawn to the whole concept of the “Glitz and Glamour of Silicon Valley” vs. the “Hustle and Grind of Silicon Valley.”

In a nutshell, Silicon Valley is the tech version of Hollywood. People look at Silicon Valley and see the #1 tech city in the world; they see the the HBO hit show “Silicon Valley” portraying this region to be a massive hub for techies and start-ups and the overall vibe one thinks when thinking of Silicon Valley is progressive as it relates to technology.

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While this is true, it is not everything we are. I’ve been networking in Silicon Valley since 2012 and when I say “networking” this is what I mean: I’ve been on the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce board of directors for four years, chaired the Silicon Valley Young Professionals for three years, and graduated from Leadership Santa Clara just to name a few examples. I don’t believe in just attending networking events. The real business gets done by being on committees or, even better, a board level.

However, I have met very few execs who are in the technology space from my time networking. Sure, it’s to be expected that when attending a networking event you’ll meet realtors, insurance agents, and even MLM practitioners. But at a board level in Silicon Valley, shouldn’t I be meeting tech execs left and right? Not from my experience. I live in what I call the “Hustle and Grind of Silicon Valley.” We are very much just like any other part of the U.S. We represent the small business entrepreneurial spirit and mindset. We still have some tech companies and larger corporations on the boards and in networking but it’s not like “Silicon Valley” the show.

For whatever reason a young professional who put himself through law school and started his own practice in Silicon Valley does not get the respect of someone who starts a company that is even remotely technology based. Crazy, right? It’s impressive for anyone to be an entrepreneur but in Silicon Valley you don’t really get noticed if you’re not in tech.

So without planning on becoming “SwagSam” to get noticed, I am slowly becoming my “SwagSam” persona to… get noticed.

The Podcast

The WhatUp Silicon Valley Podcast is a weekly podcast a friend and I began in January of 2017 that focuses on business news, networking events and sports. We do cover some of the glitz and glamour of Silicon Valley but our real focus is on the daily hustle and grind. Identity Marketing’s UnScripted, with Bill Petrie and Kirby Hasseman, along with PromoKitchen and skucast were major inspirations for our podcast. But that was only part of it.

I am obsessed with Fantasy Football and this past season I went a bit overboard with my obsession, listening to Sirius XM radio to no end to get the latest NFL news. Once the season was over I had to find something to fill the void and that “something” became podcasts. The first time I listened to any of the three podcasts mentioned above was only after football season was over. I was so impressed by the quality of the shows and how much closer I felt to knowing these people that I knew I had to do something similar to have a similar connection with others similarly. I enlisted the help of my good friend Sergio Oliveri.

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Sergio is not in the promotional products industry. He is an entrepreneur (freelance graphic designer), in tech sales by day, worked at the Convention Visitors Bureau for eight years, and my co-chair of the Silicon Valley Young Professionals. Fast forward six months later we have the feature image on the cover story of the Silicon Valley Business Journal. This is HUGE.

Two years ago our company, Value Business Products, was celebrating its 35th anniversary. Despite our growth from a one-person typewriter repair business to what it is today, press releases I sent and walked into the Silicon Valley Business Journal were ignored. (Can you tell I have a chip on my shoulder?)

Well, I’m beyond proud and appreciative now to have a story in the Business Journal and I credit it to my personal brand… “SwagSam.”

I’ll soon be launching a new website that will support a weekly blog and podcast for the SwagSam brand, focused on the “Silicon Valley Hustle” with tips relating to health/wellness, balancing networking/biz and a personal life and of course, “SWAG.” But not just swag as in promo items — how to have success with swagger… thus “Success with Swag(ger). This is my plan moving forward to get noticed and survive in Silicon Valley as a non-techie.

Here are three actionable tips you can apply to your personal brand regardless of where you might live and where you are in your career:

Passions: What are you passionate about? I didn’t talk about it too much in this specific post, but it’s obvious to those around you what you are passionate about. For me at an office supply convention my peers could tell I didn’t have passion for office supplies, but they saw the passion I have for “SWAG” thus nick-naming me “SwagSam.”.

Expertise: What do you know? Who do others perceive you as? What knowledge can you share with the world? Ask yourself these questions and your friends for that matter and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised with the answers.

Your Secret Sauce: If you know what you are passionate about and you identify what areas you have expertise in you are bound to find your secret sauce. There’s a middle ground where your passions meet your expertise… that is your secret sauce.

Now, “Begin at Once”...

Sam Kabert is the creative director of ValueBP Marketing Group and the creator and co-host of the podcast “WhatUp Silicon Valley!” A risk taker who embraces permanent beta, Sam is leading the transformation of his family-run office supplies business into a promotional products powerhouse. Sam can be reached at

Thinking of Selling Your Business?
Harvey Mackler, Banking on Harvey
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sponsored by ProRose

Toes up. Is this your exit strategy? It is for some but even if it is, you need to consider maximizing the value of your business for retirement and/or heirs.

What is your business worth? Do you know how to calculate a value? Some buyers consider profits, others free cash flow (maybe you have heard the term EBITDA – earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization), others revenue, others intangibles (such as patents). You need to have an idea of what the business is realistically worth, not unlike selling your personal residence. Comparing your perceived value to other comparable business sales is very helpful but it involves more than that.

To establish the potential sale price and to navigate through the process, think in terms of competent professional advice. Your accountant, your attorney, a consultant, or a reputable business broker can play an integral part in this endeavor.

Some think that they have a business to sell, but in reality all they have is a job. Please keep that in mind when analyzing the worth of your business.

Each company has its strengths and weaknesses which contribute towards the ultimate value. Are there any unique patents or business relationships that can enhance future profitability? How about other intangibles? What about customer concentrations which may be a detriment to the value? Supply chain strengths and weaknesses? Accounts receivable performance? Inventory data, if applicable. Stability of your workforce?

If you are contemplating a sale, it's likely some house cleaning is in order.

Regardless of the buyer, you need to show maximum profitability to maximize the sale price. Keeping accurate records of personal expenses that you pay through the business should be noted.Watch incidental expenses that may not be necessary. (It is not uncommon for companies getting ready for a sale to delay fixed asset expenditures or repairs.Document your company’s standard operating procedures. A buyer should be able to step into your shoes almost immediately. Make it easy for him or her. You would hope that post the closing of the sale the company operates as well as it did under your tutelage. Can the company function in your absence? Do not downplay (in your mind) the significance of your business involvement. There can be a fall off, whether it is with customers, suppliers or employees.

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Take a look at your website. Do you need to freshen it up? Do so before you allow potential buyers to examine your company.

Give some thought to potential suitors. Are there any industry “buyers?” It is worth it to explore these options early. With regard to the industry, what about current employees? Is anyone in house currently capable of running the business? An ESOP can be a rewarding way to proceed, but the transactional costs are much higher than a third party sale, and most likely it will yield a smaller financial price to the seller. Are there family members who may be able to belly up to the bar? If not, be prepared for a lot of people to do their analysis. If your professional team (accountant, attorney, consultant and/or business broker) are doing their jobs, you should see plenty of buyers.

Keep your employees in the loop. At some point the cat will get out of the bag. You should determine how and when the team is advised of your plans. It is always better for them to hear it from you; the rumor mill has a way of hurting you. What will happen to them after a sale? As loyal as they may be, ultimately they are interested in their personal welfare.

Structuring the Sale

Your professional team definitely assists here. Are you selling the company stock or assets? There are different tax and legal implications. Are you providing terms along with the sale? Rarely does a buyer pay 100 percent cash (even venture capitalists sometimes have you holding some stock, keeping you at risk). What is your appetite for the seller take-back? What is your recourse if the buyer defaults? If the sale has you thinking retirement, are you prepared to go back to work in the event of a default?

If you do take back paper, you have every right to make certain that the buyer has the financial ability and business savvy to pay you back. Make sure they have the available finances to operate successfully. Your vendors may be more cautious with a new owner, and you don’t need them upsetting the apple cart with more stringent requirements.

More than likely, you will be asked to enter into some sort of consulting agreement over a period of time. In some instances it is nothing more than a structuring of the purchase and in other situations it is a real consulting arrangement. Understand your role post closing role and options.

Did I mention the significance of professionals to guide you through this process?

Besides the valuation, selling terms, and evaluating buyers, there is a lengthy due diligence process. Be prepared for a lot of information requests and hand holding. The prospective buyer is entitled to a lot of information.

After graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvey Mackler enjoyed a 20-plus year career in commercial banking, exercising his “golden parachute” in 1996. He was executive vice president and COO of a commercial finance subsidiary in Manhattan and chairman of the Small Business Banking Unit of the American Banker’s Association. He has served on the board of the acclaimed George Street Playhouse in New Jersey and chair of the Easter Seal Society of New Jersey for two years, as well as a captain on his local emergency rescue squad. He acquired GWI Corp in February, 1997 and transformed it to focus on the supplier/distributor/end-user model, growing the company's sales by 500 percent. He is past chair of the SAAGNY Foundation, current Co-Chair of the PPAF EXPO and past Chair of the Supplier Committee of PPAI.

Towels/Blankets/Robes: Covering the Industry Brilliantly
Sherry L. Baranek, Product Feature
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sponsored by Express-A-Button

In the towels/robes/blankets market, it’s all about a high-end look that mirrors retail trends. Users of these items want the feel of an expensive fabric without the high cost. Promotional products suppliers in this market segment are reporting an exceptional demand and a great deal of excitement surrounding these products.

Murray Siegel of Towel Specialties speaks to the popularity and longevity of beach towels. “Ask clients how long they have had their favorite beach towels,” he comments. “Most of the time, the answer is ‘forever.’ Our extensive research shows that beach towels last an average of 15 years, which is far, far longer than most promotional products. Plus, they carry a strong emotional quality – meaning people associate strong memories to their oldest towels.”

Murray continues that distributors should share this information with clients to make a strong point about the ROI of beach towels. “But, it doesn't end there,” he emphasizes. “Beach towels have the largest imprint area of any promotional product. And, with new technology, there is no limit to the types of graphics that can go on a towel. And, they're both unisex and one size fits all.”

According to Brian Porter of Pro Towels, the biggest trend with these products has been toward a more stylish, retail look — across the board. “End-users are realizing they can have the look, style, and feel of high-end products, with the cost of traditional promotional products,” he comments. “Demand has been exceptional! If anything, I feel we might have underestimated how well these products would sell.”

Terry Town’s Aaron Bradley reports that sublimation is currently a huge force in towels and blankets. “The print quality is so much more superior when compared to screen printing or embroidery,” he explains. “We see more and more end-users utilizing color-complicated logos or full-color graphics to tell their story. This is really what’s driving the sublimation trend.

“Demand has been off the charts,” Bradley continues. “Everyone wants to show off their golf course, new skyscraper, or beach resort. They are looking for a billboard to show off their amazing full-color story, and nothing makes a better billboard than a beach towel, golf towel, or blanket.”

Southern Plus has been seeing a great deal of interest in combo sets. According to Grethe Adams, giving and receiving several items can be more interesting and exciting than just one higher value item, as well as often having a higher perceived value. “This also provides multiple brand exposure opportunities with added impressions,” Adams points out, “and removes the ‘all eggs in one basket’ dilemma where a diverse demographic makes it challenging to find any ONE item that suits all. A combo set can address this by including items that are appealing to various groups.”

Adams adds that demand for golf towels has been strong this spring, with beach towels obviously doing well right now. The company’s picnic blankets are also popular this time of year for outdoor summer concerts, family reunions, and picnics.

Suppliers have responded to industry demand with an array of new products as well as yearly best sellers. Bradley at Terry Town notes that the newest and hottest products right now are coming from the company’s full-color, “Subli-Plush” line, which is a new sublimated material that Terry Town introduced at the beginning of 2017. “It has the highest quality of fabric and clarity of imprint in this industry,” he enthuses. “People are simply amazed when they see it in meetings or at trade shows and can’t wait to show it to their clients.”

Porter of Pro Towels also raves about his company’s sand-repellant blanket from its Kanata line. “It has been best in show,” he says. “With the color, styling, and feel of something much higher end, it’s just been amazing. Our round beach towel, which lends itself to a different usage as well as the ability to truly capitalize on circular logos, has been another key to this year’s success. Combine those two with our new FOTO Vision™ line, which allows consumers to order and personalize at a one-piece minimum (a first in the textile market), and we’ve been very happy with our season to date.”

The two most popular beach towels at Towel Specialties are the ones with ColorFusion or tone-on-tone decorating, Siegel notes. “With ColorFusion, customers get unlimited colors and an edge-to-edge graphic,” he explains. “With tone-on-tone decorating, the logos have an ‘etched’ appearance that looks fantastic on our Turkish Signature Towels.” He adds that, in general, buyers are opting for either the lower-priced beach towels for budget reasons or the higher-end towels to reinforce their own brand.

Adams at Southern Plus reports the company’s tailgating sets—which include chairs, table, tailgate tub, and a picnic blanket, are among its summer best sellers.

Selling these products is a matter of emphasizing the products’ versatility and longevity. Adams at Southern Plus recommends distributors offer blankets to their clients. “Think of a thinner, lightweight blanket as great for travel,” she states. “Possible accounts are online travel sites, car rental, insurance agencies, and resorts. When school starts back, it's time to think ahead to cooler temperatures and fleece blankets again. Blankets are a great fundraising item.”

Terry Town’s Bradley also weighs in. “Distributors will have great success pitching our ‘Subli-Plush’ line as a graphical solution to any clients with impressive full color graphics,” he predicts. “When you can get them thinking about the fabric as being a story board and not just a towel, that’s when you will see the orders come through. Also, don’t forget to order a sample, they MUST touch it, feel it, and see the clarity.”

Porter of Pro Towels ties it all together. “Honestly, if distributors are proactive versus reactive, they sell themselves!” he proclaims. “The keys to remember are the ROI across the board on these products is five to 10 years minimum. That alone, to an end user, should be the key. So many products come and go, but these are lifestyle products that last a lifetime.”

Case Studies

Brian Porter, Pro Towels

Plush Robe

The Northwest Promotional Marketing Association (NWPMA) — a regional industry association that puts on industry trade shows, education, and training sessions — wanted to present its board members with a unique gift at a recent weekend retreat.

The NWPMA chose the Plush Lounge Robes — which are soft, lightweight, and luxurious — and perfect for both men and women. They provide warmth and comfort, and are an ideal gift that everyone will love. Board members participate in a weekend retreat to organize all plans, in which they donate their own time to coordinate everything. This year, Kanata send board members its Plush Lounge Robe, a practical product that can be used on the retreat and when board members return home.

The robes were well received and contributed to a little fun during a busy weekend of photo opportunities and became part of a marketing piece by the organization, “Expose yourself to NWPMA,” which aims to attract new members and volunteers. The robes are a perfect way to thank board members of any organization.

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