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

PPPC’s Show is Bang On!

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Travel

Well, hey there, Everyone!

Lest you think I’m way too sassy and salacious for a Monday morning with that headline, understand that my Canadian friends tell me the phrase “Bang On” means “spot on” or, in the case of this year’s PPPC National Convention, just perfect.

With events like its first-ever industry hockey game and networking event that raised nearly over $9,000 for Operation Santa Claus, which supports Canadian troops deployed overseas, a packed awards ceremony and steady show floor traffic throughout its three days, PPPC’s 58th annual national trade show and convention – the eighth largest trade show in Canada – lived up to its reputation as the premier event for the Canadian promotional products industry.

“PPPC’s 2014 Annual Convention and Trade Show was an outstanding success from Day 1 on January 27 right through to the well-attended ‘Client Day’ on Friday, January 31,” said Ed Ahad, PPPC’s president & CEO. “Members came in from across the country to play in the inaugural NPPHL Charity hockey tournament and networking event, to celebrate success and creativity in the Awards Show, and to showcase new products and effective marketing solutions on the show floor to distributors and their clients. It was great to see the activity on the show floor with members working together throughout the three days of PPPC’s flagship event. We were especially proud to introduce the new PPPC-owned IT solution and state-of-the-art search engine, ‘Promocan, Powered by PPPC,’ to the membership. It will prove to be an invaluable tool for members for many years to come.”

Held at the Metro Toronto Convention Center, the show draws exhibitors and attendees from areas throughout Canada, in addition to some participants from the U.S., who continue to eye Canada’s $3+ billion promotional market as one full of opportunity, particularly in the areas of finance and energy.

“I have never been a ‘product’ person at this show,” said Michelle Merrifield, vice president of operations at McCabe Promotional Products. “It’s more about connecting face to face with supplier partners and distributors. This year’s PPPC national show was filled with optimism — what a great venue to connect and build stronger relationships with old and new colleagues alike.”

Danny Braunstein, vice president of sales & marketing for Talbot Marketing, agreed. “The PPPC National Convention and Tradeshow is a week I look forward to every year,” he said “The event is more than just an opportunity to catch up on the latest and greatest product offerings, it is a time to celebrate camaraderie, creative achievement and our unique Canadian industry. This year was particularly special for our organization as our President Steve Levschuk was inducted into the PPPC Hall of Fame.”

At the association’s 34th annual Image Awards ceremony, hosted by Spector & Co.’s vice president of sales & marketing, Marc Giroux, Levschuk was welcomed on stage by a congratulatory video from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, a friend of Levschuk’s — one of the evening’s many highlights. During the ceremony, Leed’s received the Gold Award for Supplier of the Year and Shippam & Associates were named the National Distributor of the year. Click here for a full list of Image Award winners.

Founded in 1956, Promotional Product Professionals of Canada is the national grouping of suppliers and distributors of promotional products for business gifts, rewards, incentives, premiums and specialty advertising products. Its mission is to lead, inspire and advance the $3.5 billion industry through the strength of more than 7,222 companies involved in the business and their 24,000 people across Canada. PPPC’s 2015 national convention and trade show will be held from January 26-30. For more information go to www.pppc.ca.

Finally, a personal thanks to Carol Phillips, PPPC’s editor & director of publications, for being such a warm, gracious and hospitable host. Fred Oesen may be the Canadian promo industry’s Prime Minister, but you are the Ambassador. ; )

And now, a (rogue’s) gallery of some of my favorite industry legends, characters, tipsy gypsies and hurricane-force hell raisers. Love. Them. All.



Hands up: Who doesn’t think Steve Levschuk, owner and president of London, Ontario-based Talbot Promotions, is the classiest, nicest guy EVER? Here he is with his wife, Teresa, and children Stephanie and Adam being inducted into PPPC’s Hall of Fame by Susan Heslop (far left), chair of PPPC’s Hall of Fame Committee. It is such a well-deserved honor for Steve, someone who is respected as a consummate gentleman and industry pro not only in Canada and the U.S., but because of his work with WAGE (the World Advertising Gift Exchange), on a global level as well. Our own Freddy Oesen (or, as I call him, “The Prime Minister”) nominated Steve for the honor, and we couldn’t agree more. Good Lord, is there anything Alex Morin can’t do? From being a shining example of Debco’s phenomenal customer service and sales skill, to killing it in the NPPHL charity hockey tournament, to singing – quite well, I might add – Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” song at the start of the Image Awards, he is the definition of a Renaissance Man.
During its first-ever National Promotional Products Hockey League & Party at South Fletcher’s Arena in Brampton, industry pros gathered on the ice to play rapid-fire games to raise money for Operation Santa Claus. And raise money they did, collecting an impressive $9,100 for members of the Canadian Armed Forces stationed overseas. For those who didn’t play hockey, the sports bar was the perfect place to network and enjoy cocktails and snacks while watching the games. Here’s Will Andrew, president of Polyconcept apparel company Trimark, holding one of its 10 (that’s not a typo) Image Awards.
Here’s my pal Jonathan Isaacson, owner and president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Gemline, during one of our great “catch-up” conversations. On a scale of one to 10, his sarcasm – as Nigel Tufnel said in Spinal Tap – “goes to 11.” A true example of someone who’s a prolific entrepreneur, Craig Morantz – who founded Aware Marketing at an absurdly young age and then sold it to Leed’s, where he became a vice president of Polyconcept North America – is now a marketing and branding consultant with pointed, enlightening insights and a weekly blog worth your time: www.gotomarketguy.com. Craig and I have been friends for years and is one of the few people I know who don’t get offended when I call him a “solipsistic smartass.”
Oh Lord, here he is – the straw that stirs the industry cocktail, BIC/Norwood’s Dave Saracino (left), the Frank Sinatra of our ring-a-ding-ding business. Shown here with his kinder, gentler colleague, Rob Babb, to say that Dave is a legend in certain circles (read: bars) is putting it mildly. Hand to God: Bartenders far and wide throughout the U.S. – and now Canada – know how to make a “Saracino” (for the uninitiated: vodka, club soda and a splash – “a small one,” the man himself says – of cranberry juice). Cheers to you, Mr. Saracino! Here’s me with three of the best guys ever: (from left) Pioneer Balloons’ Mark Jenkins, the current PPAI chairman of the board; Bob McLean, PPAI’s executive vice president; and Paul Bellantone, PPAI’s president/CEO. One of the best chats I had while at PPPC was with Mr. Bellantone, as we hung out at the bar at the Prestige party.
Here’s Paul Bellantone, whose raffle ticket was randomly chosen at PPPC’s hockey mixer, gamely trying to get his puck into the net during a winner-gets-a-prize shoot out. He didn’t win, which he attributed to being from balmy Dallas, TX. “What do I know about hockey,?” he laughed. My boys!!! Do you know Greg Livings and Brian Starke, the owners of Bravo Awards? Of course you do. The coolest of the cool, with the hippest on-the-down-low, speakeasy-esque party at the PPAI Vegas Show, these guys have the distinction of being the first two people I ever met, nearly 15 years ago, from the Canadian promo market. Why do I have such an affinity for Canada and the PPPC Show? They’re why. Love them to the depths of my soul, and have even vacationed with them. So much fun it should be illegal…
The show floor on Day One of PPPC’s national convention.
Kippie Helzel – or, as I call her, Frau Fussy (my girl is Type A!) — from Keystone/CPS. Kippie is a huge supporter of the Canadian industry and she and I once, famously, took a little jaunt to Amsterdam together. Because we have an appreciation for fine and varied tulips… Here’s (from left) Jack Julius, Steve Levschuk and Danny Braunstein from Talbot Marketing, one of the companies on Counselor Magazine’s Best Places to Work list.
iPROMOTEu owner/CEO Ross Silverstein (right), a member of Counselor’s Power 50 list, and his stalwart consigliere, Pat Caccamo, at the PPPC Image Awards dinner. Trimark president Will Andrew, with Bill Horst, Trimark’s marketing manager who won a Gold Image Award for the company’s 2013 catalog design that he and his team oversee.
The Leed’s Canada team on stage, accepting their award for the PPPC Supplier of the Year and a shot of the crazy amount of awards (right) the Polyconcept group (Leed’s and Trimark) won throughout the evening. They’re just FABULOUS.
The multiline rep extraordinaire of the Canadian marketplace, Mr. Paul Omstead of West Point Marketing. Not only is he like the Mayor (and much, much less problematic than Rob Ford… ; )), but his sartorial style is in a league of its own. At the super-cool Prestige party, held after hours: The one and only Carol DeVille, owner of The Branding Company (Fact: she could melt glass, her charisma is so incendiary); BIC/Norwood’s Dave Saracino and Talbot’s Danny Braunstein.
Michelle Merrifield, vice president of operations for McCabe Promotional Products, shown here with the delightful Mark Wingrove, BIC/Norwood sales manager for the Canadian market. Holy Hell, do I adore Michelle. Known as “Mama Bear” to her nearest and dearest in the industry for her fiercely protective and loyal nature, she is one of the coolest, smartest chicas I’ve met in quite some time. Snap. Snap! SNAP!!! That’s me trying to get your attention away from Mark Trotzuk and his freakin’ hypnotizing eyes. The owner of Boardroom Custom Clothing, Mark is featured prominently in the new “conscientious capitalism” documentary Not Business As Usual, which showcases companies that prove you can be successful in business while showing a responsibility for the environment and the future of our society. He’s special, this one. Click here to watch the documentary: http://vimeo.com/83898645.
Chuckles in the House!!! Have I told you lately how much I heart Chuck Fandos (left), president of Gateway/CDI? With his permission, I’m relaying this story: At the PPAI Show, Chuck suffered an attack of Bell’s Palsy, a temporary (thank God) affliction that affects the face muscles in a stroke-like fashion. Be-YOND scary. Chuck is just fine today and is “80% of the way” being back to completely healthy, but he magnanimously and graciously allowed me to show these photos so – in his words – if you’re stricken suddenly with Bell’s Palsy as he was – you’ll know what the symptoms look like. There are no words for the credit I give him for not only being seen out and about, but giving me the OK to show his photos here. You are truly one in a million, Chuckles. Next to him is my sista, Jo-an Lantz, executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Geiger and PPAI’s Paul Bellantone, at the fantastic Facilis party. Chuck Fandos and Jamie McCabe, owner/president of McCabe Promotional Products. Take a good, long look at Mr. McCabe… His joie de vivre is infectious, as his capacity for fun is prodigious. For some reason, the sound of Jamie’s voice just makes me laugh and he’s got one of those personalities that fools ya because you think he’s all rock star fun and then you hear him talk about business and are like, “WOWZA, this guy is wicked, wicked smart.”
Jamie McCabe (right) with Keith Addis, sales manager at ESP Canada. Note that Jamie, is holding a famed “Saracino” in his hand.
Fact: Cocktailing with Mr. Saracino and Mr. McCabe is like shopping at IKEA – it pulls you in, looks deceptively easy and will eventually lead you to require the assistance of at least three friends to get you home.
Rule of thumb: One Michele is usually trouble, but two? Batten down the hatches! Here’s me with the ever-impressive Michelle Merrifield.
Know how you can tell the difference between US distributors and Canadian distributors? US distributors don’t get their drink on and then go – wait for it – AX THROWING. Made of hearty stock, Canadians are like Vikings! Love it! Witness my pal Jamie McCabe, owner of McCabe Promotional Products – and, from what I can tell, the Canadian industry’s reigning Keith Richards – hurling an ax as his team, suppliers and select friends look on. Ash City’s Chris Turner shot this video, and all I can say is that he is a brave, brave man. What a fitting final photo… Here’s me and my colleague Carmine Rauso, executive director of distributor sales at ASI with The Prime Minister of Canada, as I call the Honorable Mr. Oesen. So beloved and respected is our Freddy that walking with him through the PPPC show floor was like getting a lesson in the living history of the Canadian promo industry for the past 50 years. And I also have to confess: It Cracks Me UP that Canadians who’ve spent evenings cocktailing with Freddy have coined a term for what you have the next morning: A “Fredache.”