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Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

Checking Out of Hotel California

Filed under: ASI Shows, Travel


My last day in sunny L.A. was bittersweet. I was excited to get home to the family, but I had such a nice time chatting with the exhibitors and attendees, that it was hard to pull myself away and make the short trip to LAX. (I actually cut it pretty close, not realizing how they herd hapless travelers outside before even reaching security.)

I find the Roadshows present a special way for suppliers and distributors to make connections. The small, intimate setting is ideal for one-on-one communication. Many of the distributors mentioned that the suppliers are extremely forthcoming in giving ideas for programs. Steve Meyer, VP of sales for Molenaar, says his expectations for the Roadshows is more about education than writing up a bunch of sales. Right on cue, as Steve and I were speaking, Charles Benson of Charles Benson & Associates strolled up to the booth. He said he was looking for general ideas for a local newspaper that he is working with. I was able to watch Steve work his magic and offer suggestions while Charles attentively listened.

During the education session that took place earlier, the distributors were treated to more in-depth training. ASI’s Ryan Law gave a demo on the many fabulous features of ESP. It really is an invaluable tool, and the attendees were impressed, especially with the program’s virtual sample option and the way it stores all quotes, items and other vital information. Three suppliers also made presentation. Stacie Livingston from Fields reminded the audience that October is breast cancer awareness month, and Fields has pink lanyards and other products to fit the bill. It’s also dental hygiene month, and she presented numerous ideas for that market as well. She told the group to stop by her booth for ideas on creating “some new and funky programs.”

The buzz of the morning was the collapse of Washington Mutual (WaMu), one of the largest banks in the country. Like so many others, the failure was the result of poor investing in the real estate/mortgage market. Two suppliers I spoke with, who also happened to be exhibiting next to each other, had accounts at the bank, which was acquired by JPMorgan Chase & Co. One of the two said he hadn’t yet learned how much he may have lost, but felt secure that his savings would be okay. Reaction was mixed on the government bailout. One supplier said he didn’t feel it fair that all taxpayers will have to foot the bill for some people’s bad investments. All agreed that something had to be done – though the choices seem to be between a bad plan and a really bad plan.

Stephen Hall of American Mobile Engraving blames high gas and oil prices for most of the industry’s woes. “Shipping costs are high, the truckers have to pay more, the companies have to pass it on to the customers – plus, so many of the products are oil or petroleum based,” he says. Hall says he does a lot of business with veterans’ groups and legion halls, and always buys American. When I asked who he favors for president, he wouldn’t say, but then he proceeded to show me a picture of John McCain that he had taken on his cell phone, “He came to visit my VFW hall,” he beamed.

With all this dismay and uncertainty on the economic and political front, I felt the need to talk about something a bit more lighthearted – baseball. My husband said the Phillies had lost since I left (it’s all my fault), but the Mets had lost as well, so the Phils were still in first place. I asked my son if he’d like a Dodgers or Angels shirt, since they’re both doing well. I was told to get Angels, since the Phillies may play the Dodgers in the playoffs. I ended up getting a UCLA shirt (Chase Utley went there.) Brian Johnson, director of sales for Lanco and a resident of San Diego, sees good things for the Phillies. “I think they’re going to do it this year, they have a great team.” That’s a prediction that sure sits well with me.

Follow-up: Back in PA and happy to report the Fightin’ Phils have won the National League East Championship for the second year in a row. My daughter, who was at the Penn State/Illinois football game, reminded us to get the T-shirts, which were available the same evening – promo products at work – gotta love this industry.

Correction: On the first blog, I indicated that Jason Grindall of Graphco Line played football for the University of Iowa. He actually played for the University of Idaho. Sorry for the confusion Jason.

Thanks much to Michele Bell for letting me guest blog these past few days. I’d also like to congratulate Michele for winning two Folio awards for her writing in Counselor magazine. Michele is fast becoming the Michael Phelps of our department – way to go Michele!


At first glance, I thought I actually spotted a celebrity. Is that Treat Williams? Close, but no, it’s actually Scotty Gray, regional account executive for Fersten Worldwide, sneaking in a bite to eat.


Scotty Gray of Fersten (aka Treat Williams) hams it up with Kathy Vichakchon, national sales manager for Leashables.


Harry Fotopoulos, regional sales manager for Custom HBC, explains the variety of ways distributors can use hand sanitizers, sunscreen and insect repellent. Harry wowed our dinner table with his knowledge of Greek history the previous evening.


Charles Benson, of Charles Benson & Associates (left) shakes the hand of Steve Meyer, VP of sales for Molenaar. Steve was able to give some valuable insight to Charles in his quest for products for a program he’s working on for a local newspaper.


Kathy Vichakchon of Oralabs helps out distributor Stephen Hall of American Mobile Engraving. Stephen was looking to boost sales for a program he runs for VFWs and other veteran’s groups.


Jim Janowski (right), sales manager for Alpi Int’l, educates a distributor on his fun and funky stress toys. We came up with some interesting ideas the prior evening at dinner for applications for the squeezable liver.


Melissa Hoffman of Huffermen Inc. was a fountain of information on the whole BPA issue. We chatted a bit on the subject, and her view is stay updated – new information is available at www.bisphenol-a.org.


MB Works also highlighted the fact that their drinkware is BPA-free.


In addition to the BPA-free items, recycled products had a big showing. Ash City featured a unique way to demonstrate the making of their recycled apparel. This e.c.o demo kit shows the stages of recycled PET bottles into fabric.


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