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

Danke Schoen, Dusseldorf!

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, PSI Shows, Travel

Happy New Year, Everyone!

As we’re deep into show season, I just returned from the fabulous PSI Show in Dusseldorf, Germany, held from January 8-10. Now in its 52nd year, attendance at the PSI Show grew 18% from last year’s event, due primarily to the event staff giving distributors free access to attend. With a total of 16,228 trade visitors (up from 13,772 in 2013), the largest ad specialty show in Europe was both re-energized and revitalized. Yes, some of the largest European suppliers (PFConcept, MidOcean, Senator) have stopped exhibiting at the event, but with a total of 852 exhibitors (down from 962 in 2013) from 33 countries, the latest global trends and innovations in promotional products were fully on display.

“Yes, the show is smaller from an exhibitor standpoint, but I’ve been exhibiting at this show for many years and this is one of the most successful,” said Rene Adda, owner of the Paris-based supplier Lexon. “Because some of my larger competitors aren’t here, I’m getting much greater traffic.”

Albert van der Veen, CEO of Xindao, one of PSI’s largest exhibitors, noted that the number of catalogs sold (in Europe it’s common for suppliers to charge for their catalogs and samples at trade shows) to attendees on the first day of the show doubled over last year.

“After two challenging years in the international markets, characterized by sometimes severe drops particularly in Western Europe, this year’s trade fair was buoyed by a renewed, forward-looking sense of optimism. That was the basic tenor heard at PSI 2014,” said Michael Freter, PSI’s managing director.

Interestingly, more than half of PSI’s visitors came from outside of Germany, with a tenth of those from outside Europe. “This partially results from the enhanced international marketing activities we engaged in collaboratively with our partners ASI and Sourcing City in the PromoAlliance,” Freter said.

The 53rd annual PSI Show will be held from January 7-9, 2015. For more information, go to www.psi-network.de or e-mail me directly – it’s an AWESOME show, and I’ll be there next year for sure!

Now, enjoy the gallery of photos from the event and my escapades abroad!

Cheers, and more in two weeks from the PPPC Show in Toronto,


The night before the opening day of the 52nd annual PSI Show in Dusseldorf, Michael Freter – the show’s managing director – graciously invited me and some clients, colleagues and strategic partners to a fabulous steakhouse called Gehry’s, in honor of the architect Frank Gehry, who designed the buildings in and around it. From left to right: The lovely Petra Kolvenbach; PSI’s Michael Freter; Reed Exhibitions’ director Hans-Joachim Erbel (he goes by “Hi-Jo” to his friends, and he once, to my endless amusement, drank champagne out of my high heels… Love, love, LOVE him!); Ismail Sezen, a new fun friend who oversees PSI’s interests in the Turkish promotional market; Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of Sourcing City – one of the three companies, along with PSI and ASI — that make up PromoAlliance, a group formed to promote, on a global stage, the effectiveness of promotional products; Liz Young, Sourcing City’s supplier services manager; and Charlie Taublieb, decorator (and character) extraordinaire. Great food, excellent wine and fabulous company! Hi-Jo Erbel, one of my favorite people ever, and PSI’s Ismail Sezen. Want to learn more about the promo market in Turkey? Ismail is your guy!
Part of the PromoAlliance family, Alistair Mylchreest and Liz Young are two people that, upon meeting them, I immediately felt like I’d known for years. Both single and the owners of cats, if you see Liz and I together, feel free to call us “The Bronte Sisters.”
I so enjoy catching up with PPAI’s Paul Bellantone (center) and SAGE’s David Natinsky (right) each year at the PSI Show, which is amusing to me because I often see them more often outside of the U.S. than in our own country. Such great guys, it’s always a pleasure to see them. And brace yourselves: With them is Pioneer Balloons’ Mark Jenkins (left), the incoming chairman of PPAI and someone for whom the Hunter S. Thompson descriptor “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” was meant. I don’t know Mark well, but as I have an affinity for unconventional, off-kilter personalities I find him to be an utter delight. Fact: In our first-ever e-mail exchange, never having been formally introduced, he signed his note “BD.” When I asked him what that meant, his reply made me do a spit-take and COL (Cackle Out Loud): “Big Daddy.” Can. Not. Wait. for his reign to begin. Have I mentioned that no one does design like the Europeans? Seriously – the way Americans mastered the art of fast turnaround, European suppliers have this preternatural talent for clean lines, sublime textures and a sense of aesthetics that brings me to my knees. Leading the list of the best of the best is Paris (of course)-based Lexon, my first stop at every PSI Show, where I worship at the altar of owner Rene Adda’s jaw-droppingly beautifully designed products and his coffee table book-quality catalog. Doubt me? It’s not every supplier who’s had a product (in this case, Lexon’s rubber “Tyko” radio) on the cover of Time magazine’s “Design” issue and inducted into the Louvre’s Fine Design exhibition.
Quick poll: Who doesn’t adore Steve Levschuck, CEO of Toronto-based Talbot Marketing??? As the Canadian member of WAGE (the World Advertising Gift Exchange), Steve is another industry friend I’m accustomed to seeing on the international trade show circuit (Sourcing City’s show in the UK, the Hong Kong Show, PSI in Dusseldorf), but I’m most excited to see him inducted into PPPC’s Hall of Fame at its national convention at the end of this month (www.promocan.com). SUCH a well-deserved honor for Steve, one of the most respected – and sweetest – people in the industry. ASI’s president and CEO, Tim Andrews, greeting guests at the PromoAlliance reception at the PSI Dusseldorf Show. A partnership between ASI, PSI and Sourcing City, PromoAlliance promotes the global ad specialty industry and offers networking opportunities, and reciprocal trade show and education initiatives for its members. For more information go to www.promoalliance.com.
Here’s me and the international aficionado for apparel decoration, Charlie Taublieb. Charlie showed me how to silkscreen my own shirt, and then put foil embellishments on it… Sooo cool!
(From left): Tim Andrews; Marcus Sperber, the owner of Bavarian-based Elasto-Form, one of the larger suppliers in Europe; Reed Exhibitions’ Hi-Jo Erber; and Matthew Cohn, vice chairman of The ASI Show!. I’ve written often about the elaborate and wildly impressive booths at the PSI Show, many of which serve food and drinks all day. Well, there is nothing at the PSI Show quite like the Elasto-Form booth, which is created to look like a Bavarian brauhaus, complete with a traditional Bavarian band and the executive team donning lederhosen (for men) and dresses like the St. Pauli Girl for women. Marcus told me that during the show, 500 gallons of hearty Bavarian beer are served to booth visitors. Yes, you read that right… 500 GALLONS of beer. Oh my, here he is, one of my Favorite. People. Ever. Meet John Lynch, the CEO/owner of Krakow-based Lynka Promotional Solutions. John (nicknamed “Lech”) and I have been friends for 15 years, as he’s a Jersey boy who moved to Poland 20 years ago when the remnants of Communism were still very much prevalent. He opened a promo business there, and in short order grew it to become the largest in Poland and one of the largest in Eastern Europe, in addition to being named Entrepreneur of the Year in Poland a few years back. And did I mention that he’s met the Dali Lama? John sits on my Editorial Advisory Board for Supplier Global Resource magazine, and there is not one thing I don’t love about him. Also, he’s one of the few people to give me a nickname: Tinker Bell. Having graduated high school with Jon Bon Jovi, the charismatic Mr. Lynch’s motto is, “Keep the Faith.”
A traditional Bavarian band is called a “Blaskapelle” and the one that performed in the always-packed Elasto-Form booth were rollicking. In addition, Marcus Sperber, Elasto-Form’s owner and uber-gracious host, brought in two suckling pigs to be roasted on the spit right in the booth, complete with Bavarian side salads and pretzels bigger than my head.
Xindao’s DJ van Styrum with Polyconcept’s Jim Epstein, at an EPPA (European Promotional Products Association) reception during the PSI Show. Xindao CEO Albert van der Veen with Jim Epstein, Polyconcept’s chief business development officer and my favorite industry finance wonk. I always tell Jim that for him, spreadsheets and M&A data is like porn. He is so numbers-nerdy, yet so freaking fantastic.
(From left): Lynka’s John Lynch and Joanna Kocab; MadetoOrder’s Rod Brown; and Lynka’s Global Accounts Manager, Matt Lynch, at ASI’s cocktail reception on the PSI show floor. Joanna, who just moved to Poland from the New York City and started with Lynka days before PSI, is a dynamo – smart, energetic and chock-full of innovative marketing concepts for the company. Love her! ASI president/CEO Tim Andrews gives a presentation to guests at ASI’s cocktail reception on the health of the North American ad specialties market and the results of the latest iteration of ASI’s Global Ad Impressions Study.
Two graduates of The Wharton School of Business, ASI’s Matthew Cohn and Lynka’s John Lynch refused to show me their alma mater’s secret handshake or school fight song, no matter how much I begged. Do you know Rod Brown, owner of the CA-based distributor MadetoOrder? Of course you do. He’s the gadfly who’s almost as well known in the international promo arena as he is in North America, and the man who’s built one of the smartest companies in our industry with the sharpest team (I’m looking at you, Sandy Gonzalzes and Tad Webster!). Rod is another industry celeb, like Talbot’s Steve Levschuk, who I often see at events overseas and it’s always such a pleasure.
The wonderful folks at Xindao invited the ASI team to join them for dinner at a traditional, centuries-old German brauhaus – Brauerei Schumachers — that served beer from wooden barrels and huge trays with heaping piles of ham, sausage, schnitzel and bratwurst. It was, in a word, amazing!
Meet Ryan McSorley (left), Xindao’s head product designer and Albert van der Veen, the company’s CEO. I’ve known of Albert for years, but only recently have I gotten to spend time with him on a social level at industry events. Wacky Fact: He has, hands down, the most piercing blue eyes I’ve ever seen – the kind that, when he’s looking at you, you swear he’s scanning your soul for every secret you’ve ever kept. The first time he introduced himself to me, it took a full 10 seconds for me to remember my own last name. Kid. You. Not. I was lucky enough to sit through a presentation of Albert’s at this year’s PSI Show, and it was as impressive as he is. If you’re looking for a company whose commitment to innovative product design, eco-responsibility and employee motivation is 100%, look no further than Xindao (www.xindao.com). I love, love, love the fact that the company pays for each employee to do two days of volunteer work – for a charity of their choice — each year, but they also allow their design team – truly, the best I’ve seen – one week per year to use their considerable creative talents to tackle one societal issue they think they can make better. See? Inspirational and innovative. They are the cat’s meow. Each year at the Xindao dinner at the PSI Show, Han Van Houten, the company’s marketing manager, acts as the de facto “Master of Ceremonies,” and hoo boy – does he do a fantastic job. His energy level is that of a pre-teen after 10 Red Bulls and he reinvigorates the team after a long day on the show floor by spotlighting the top catalog pack sellers, among other notable achievements. Watching him perform for his team has become a highlight of the show for me, as he may be one of the funniest people I’ve met so far in Europe. The really impressive part? He does it all extemporaneously – truly, a master of entertainment!
Xindao’s Bjorn Eriksson and DJ van Styrum, two of the hosts at the amazing annual dinner the company holds during the PSI Show. A moment now, about Mr. Ryan McSorley, who has the distinction of being my one of my Favorite. People. Ever. Ryan and I met at last year’s PSI Show briefly at the Xindao dinner, but it was at this year’s event where I really got to spend time with him (another, more accurate way to say that would be that I kidnapped him and made him drink with me for hours at the Irish Pub… Just sayin’). A nice Irish boy who’s the company’s head designer, I stand in awe of his talent. If you’re a rabid fan of design like I am, it is a rare pleasure to discuss with someone who shares your obsession the finer points of Alexander McQueen vs. Vivienne Westwood, the practicality of Mies van der Rohe furniture design, the lasting influence of Frank Gehry, whether designers who create capsule collections for mass retailers like Target are sell-outs (looking at you, Rodarte) and affects architecture and fashion have on product design. Ryan is based in Shanghai and will be at the Hong Kong Show in April, so if you’re there, take my word and search him out in the Xindao booth – he’s so talented and charismatic, his aura has an aura.
ASI’s Tim Andrews and Matthew Cohn get festive at the wild, beer-soaked Elasto-Form party. The Sourcing City Girls!!! As fun as they are smart, Tanya Cooper, Nikki Williams and Liz Young are the UK sisters I never had! They are truly my international partners in crime… A-DORE them!
Best surprise of the trip! My pals Michelle Armstrong (left) and Heather Smartt, Polyconcept’s Shanghai-based sourcing experts extraordinaire, came to the PSI Show and we were able to enjoy some quality time. Looking forward to a cocktail (or five) with them at the Hong Kong Show in April! Here’s me and Charlie Taublieb, a well-known apparel decorating consultant who’s based in Colorado but who travels all over the world giving demonstrations on the newest apparel decorating techniques. Quite the raconteur, Charlie has the best stories and has a character as colorful as he designs.
The perfect way to end the PSI Show blog, a fond farewell from Liz Young and Alistair Mylchreest, my BFFs from Sourcing City!