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

Meet Lion Circle, the Supplier Family Business of the Year!

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Fun, Interviews, Travel

Hi Everyone!

Carollo FamilyIn my last blog post, I shared with you the full version of the article I wrote on Brown & Bigelow’s Cindy Jorgenson, this year’s Counselor Woman of Distinction. Well, this time around, I’m sharing the full article on this year’s Supplier Family Business, Lion Circle. The Chicago-based company is owned by the Carollo family, and Rich, of course, is the second-generation sibling you all know. Hands up: Is there anyone in the industry who doesn’t love hanging out with the gregarious Mr. Carollo? I tell him he’s like my brother from another mother (to which he retorts that I’m his “sister from another mister”), despite the fact that we only met two years ago at the SAAC Show. But oh, what a meeting it was. I had e-mailed him to ask if we could get together so I could interview him for a Counselor article… What followed was an impromptu mini bar tour bender, which was an epic meeting of the minds second only to when Janis Joplin encountered Jim Morrison for the first time. When those two Dionysian heathens met, Janis threw a bottle of bourbon at the Lizard King for being a degenerate disgrace. In our case, Rich ended the night by saying goodbye to me in his own special way — hurling a green wax apple at my head. I’ve adored him ever since…

The company that Rich and his family run is truly one of the best in the business, not the least of which is because every year for the last seven it’s dominated the “Fan” product category in the Counselor Distributor Choice Awards and its products are Made in the USA. Love that, and love the gracious Carollo clan even more.

Cheers to the Carollos for deservedly winning this year’s Counselor Supplier Family Business of the Year award, and read on for the unabridged article I wrote about them in August’s Counselor.

— M

It’s the classic tale of the American Dream, which is fitting, knowing that Lion Circle is one of the few suppliers in the industry whose products are manufactured in the U.S.

In 1963, straight from the U.S. Army, Phil Carollo started out in the shipping department of Lion Match Corporation of America. He understood early on in the job that it was more cost effective to ship to multiple drop points along the way, saving the company money and becoming more efficient for clients. This basic shipping philosophy would make him the top salesperson for the company in less than three years, even though he wasn’t in the sales department. When the owner was ready to sell the business and retire in 1975, Phil was reluctant to purchase the business. He had four small children all under the age of eight at home and no spare funds to buy into a business of this magnitude. But the owner loved Phil’s tenacity and assisted in finding a partner to help shoulder the debt.

Cut to 1984 when Phil – now the company’s sole owner – changed its name to Lion Circle, and saw he first of his four children, Philip Jr. (Jay) come aboard full time. Like his father, Jay also started in the shipping department, learning the business from the ground up. They were focused on becoming more efficient and decided to invest in some paper lamination equipment to provide a different type of matchbook to their customers. Jack was the next to join in the shipping department full time – an area he now oversees, with Jo-Ann and Rich coming to work during the school breaks over the summers, between high school and college.

But by 1988, the match business was declining, due to anti-smoking campaigns. Almost by divine intervention, Phil had gone to Mass and noticed the old church fans in the pews. At the end of the service, he had a new plan of what he could do with his existing equipment. In a stroke of perfect timing, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on the reintroduction of church fans as an advertising vehicle just a few weeks later.

Today, Rich – the gregarious Carollo sibling everyone knows in the industry and who was on Counselor’s Hot List in 2012 – leads the day to day operations within the organization with oversight from Phil. Jo-Ann now spearheads the company’s internal operations, human resources and financial responsibilities. Currently, all four of Phil Carollo’s adult children are working in the family business full time.

“The best part of the business is having all my children working with me,” says Phil, the patriarch. “I’ve watched them all grow in different directions, but each of them has something to contribute to the business that’s been such a significant part of my life.” And the toughest part? “Having all my children working with me,” he laughs. “Sometimes it’s hard to get us all focused on the same page. Also, we spend a lot of time together during work and after hours. Our spouses and kids became sick of hearing about all the work issues when we are all together, so have an unwritten rule not to talk about work during the weekends or dinners unless absolutely necessary.”

With the second generation fully engaged, Lion Circle continues to grow and thrive as a family business, experiencing 10% growth for the last four years, with YTD sales stronger than those in 2013. The company has won the Counselor Distributor Choice Award in the Fan category for the past five years, and its new growth is coming from acquisitions as well as new business development. The HaPi Line was integrated in 2007, adding more paper products and promotional head wear; Sam Line was purchased in 2012, adding magnets and plastic substrates.

The third generation of Carollos — seven grandchildren, ages 10 to 18 – is following their parents’ lead in the company. “Most of them have been in to help at one point or another,” says Jo-Ann. “When we were kids we used to glue matchbooks in catalogs for samples over summer and holidays – getting paid 5 cents per catalog – and sweep the floors and make buttons. Our kids do the same – cleaning, sweeping, paper shredding, gluing sticks to fans, adding tassels and light assembly work.”

Rich points out that as the second generation is “still relatively young,” they’ll continue the commitment to make Lion Circle a successful family business for generations to come. “My dad will continue to direct the business and tell us all the crazy new products we should be developing based on a TV show he saw or an idea he had while walking on the beach in Florida. And because our kids will be graduating college in 10 years, I would think a few of them might choose to join us.”

Meet Cindy Jorgenson, Counselor’s 2014 Woman of Distinction

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Interviews, Personal, Travel

Hi Everyone!

I’m just back from Chicago, where I spent a week at the ASI Show, the Counselor Best Places to Work conference and squatting at my BFF Sharon Biernat’s house, an oasis of cool in the middle of the city that I never want to leave. Sharon, a distributor sales rep with Skokie-based Creative Promos, and her fabulous husband Bob (All Hail Bob!) open their home to me and the parade of industry crazies I invite over every year and they do it with grace, hospitality and style. Sharon’s house is the best unofficial B&B in Chicago and I thank her for letting me treat it as my home-base — with limitless gourmet snacks and never a pesky “last call” with which to contend.

One of the highlights for me last week was the privilege of presenting Brown & Bigelow’s Cindy Jorgenson with the 2014 Counselor Woman of Distinction Award. And hoo boy, does she deserve it. Read below for the full text of what I wrote about Cindy for the upcoming issue of Counselor. And I’d just like to add that in addition to being one of the most talented people in the industry, Cindy proves one thing: For those who say that nothing good ever happens at God-awful Shenanigans (yeah, it’s a hellhole, but it’s OUR hellhole…), know that Cindy and I first met there 13 years ago have been each other’s industry girl crush ever since.

And now, without further delay, the many reasons why Miss Cindy Jorgenson is this year’s Woman of Distinction…

— M

Cindy JorgensonYou would think — considering that she’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, swam with whales, cage-dived with great white sharks and repelled through cavernous waterfalls – Cindy Jorgenson, what with her penchant for putting herself in precarious positions, is a charter member of the Justice League. In fact, as an 18-year industry vet and the current vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Brown & Bigelow, she’s intent on tackling a Herculean challenge closer to home – completely upending the industry’s reputation as one of an old boy’s club.

“If you look at the management teams and boards of directors across the industry they’re still very male dominated,” Jorgenson says. “But on the sales side it’s very female dominated. In general, women don’t take as many risks and can lack assertiveness … We tend to play it safe. However, our attention to detail, ability to multitask and to emotionally connect with people give us an edge that can’t be ignored. My goal is to continue to motivate women into this industry and once here, help them move beyond support positions into sales and management.”

Bill Smith Jr., president of Brown & Bigelow and Jorgenson’s boss, concurs. “Cindy has been a role model for many people at Brown & Bigelow, especially women. She has mentored sales assistants in their transition into sales, new sales people learning our industry as well as experienced sales people making the transition to selling national accounts. Credibility is her greatest strength. Sales people respect her because she’s actually done what she recommends.”

And it’s this kind of commitment to mentorship that Jorgenson, who’s a past president of UPMAPP, is quite familiar. “I worked for a small distributor prior to joining B&B,” she recalls. “I started, at age 21, as an assistant to the owner who was also the largest producing salesperson. I held this position for 18 months before moving into sales, and I now know – without question – that first 18 months is why I’m in management today. Not only could I see the sales process, but I had the opportunity to view and come to respect the management side of the business as well. The owner/salesperson I worked for in the beginning told me that when I become successful, I must reach back and take someone’s hand, just as he took mine. Serving on the UMAPP board allowed me to do that; my position at Brown & Bigelow now allows me to do that every day by coaching sales partners on prospecting, time management, generating leads and proving a return on investment.”

“Talk about a go-getter – if you can keep up with Cindy, good luck,” says Rena Ashfeld, national sales manager for MN-based supplier Advance Corporation. “I’ve had the privilege of being on UMAPP Board with her, being one of her suppliers and her best friend … to see her at work is amazing. She mentors and cares deeply about this industry. This girl can multitask during the day for her clients, spin around like Wonder Woman and network at night like a rock star. She’s truly a force to be reckoned with.”

Jorgenson advises that the best course of action for younger sales professionals is to start on the inside. “The learning curve is enormous in this industry,” she cautions. “My advice would be to learn on the company’s dime. Collect a salary, learn the business, make mistakes and get some product knowledge under your belt. When you have that, then transition into sales. You’ll go with more confidence and less costly mistakes.”

Speaking of those, Jorgenson points to a doozy of a faux pas she made early on in her career: “I took too long to realize the importance of the supplier-distributor relationship,” she admits. “That first distributor I worked for had the mentality of ‘we are the suppliers’ customer and they must do what we say.’ That couldn’t be more wrong. Our suppliers are just as important, if not more so, than our clients. Without them, we have nothing to sell, and without their processes, procedures and quality control measures nothing would ever get delivered. If you’re still beating up your suppliers stop and start partnering with them – I promise your business will grow.”

For Jorgenson, the woman who never met a goal or challenge she didn’t like – all while wearing heels as high as carjacks – her love of the industry remains constant. “It’s the products, the people, the independence, the fact that salespeople define their own lives and income, the creativeness, the constant change you must make in yourself to stay competitive, the crazy, chaotic deadlines, the pull-your-hair-out, must-have-a-freaking-cocktail-right-now pressure,” she says. “I love it all.”

ASI Chicago After Dark: Putting the “She” in Shennanigans…

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hello, Everyone!

Hope you’re all having a sizzling summer and finding time to enjoy some joie de vivre!

I’m just back from the ASI Chicago Show, where, as I’ve done for the past few years, I went in early to spend the weekend at my pal Sharon Biernat’s house in the city, along with my girls Jilly Albers from Shumsky and PPAI board member Natalie Townes. To say we have a time is putting it mildly, and we always seem drawn — no matter which swanky bars at which we start our evening — to the dual divey wonders that are The Lodge and Shennanigans. It’s like being pulled by some unseen magnetic force into ribald mayhem.

As always with this blog, I’m focusing on what happened after show hours, which is evidenced in the photo array below.

More next week and hope to see you all soon! (ASI’s Power Summit in Park City? I’ll be there! www.asicentral.com/powersummit).



(From left to right): Oh good God, it’s Mitch Mounger (all hail Mitch!), one of my favorite people ever, with my girls Jilly Albers from Shumsky and Natalie Townes. Hand to God: Mitch has the same affect on me as nitrous: the minute I’m in his presence, I start giggling. The lovely Natalie Townes with the 2013 Counselor Person of the Year, my friend and yours, David Nicholson, president of Polyconcept North America. For those of you who know me, you’re aware that I bestow my nearest and dearest with nicknames… David’s is Don Draper, after the suave, charming — yet utterly mysterious and enigmatic — creative director on Mad Men.
At the Counselor Awards banquet, held at the Art Institute of Chicago, here are some key ASI staffers involved in the event’s planning and execution. The hot color of the evening at the Counselor Awards banquet — as evidenced on the most stylish dresses, was tomato red — as shown here on ASI editor-in-chief/SVP Melinda Ligos (left) and Natalie Townes.
There are dive bars, and then there are Dive Bars… This one, found by my pal Joe Haley, ASI’s managing editor and star of The Joe Show, is called The Billy Goat Tavern and is located under (like catacombs!) Michigan Ave. Curiously missing from the Zagat’s Guide of Chicago’s five-star establishments, this gem serves Schlitz on tap in a bar that resembles a row home basement from the 50s. Some of my favorite ASI characters felt right at home. Here’s me and my pal Tim O’Boyle — who runs the PCNA company JournalBooks — with David Nicholson and Melinda Ligos photobombing us.
You know how fan-freaking-tastic when two of your favorite people — who’ve heard so much about each other — finally meet? That’s a little what it was like when ASI’s creative director, Jake Krolick (“Jakey” to you and I) met my beloved Michael Bernstein, CEO of Polyconcept. The two of them have such a deep adoration of music that it was like watching Lester Bangs converse with David Fricke. Have you met the Fabulous Biernats, Sharon and Bob? One of the best couples I know, Sharon and Bob (All Hail Bob!) live right in downtown Chicago and graciously open their home to myself, Natalie Townes and Jilly Albers, the weekend before the ASI Chicago Show every year — which is akin to opening the doors of your home to three hyperactive ferrets who run around in circles and have a taste for vodka.
Oh Holy Hell, it’s the effin’ Lodge. Yes, I know it’s a hole in the wall, and yes, I know it smells like old Schaffer (“the beer to have when you’re having more than one!”) and that peanut shells stick to your shoes and the clientele is hardly the beautiful people, but I’m here to tell ya: I always — and I do mean always — have an epic time at the Lodge… Right down to the “Sweet Caroline” singalongs with the guys who look like they belong to my Pop-Pop’s VFW hall. My girls Natalie Townes and Sharon Biernat, at the Chicago landmark that is The Lodge.
Two of my favorites at ASI — Jakey Krolick (far right), our creative director, and Andy Cohen, editor of Counselor — with their two BFFs, BrandFuel’s co-owner Danny Rosin — this year’s winner of the Bess Cohn Award winner for humanitarian and charitable works — and Mitch Mounger, owner of Sunrise Identity. Sharon Biernat, sales rep extraordinaire with the Skokie-based distributor Creative Promos (left), shown here with PPAI board member Natalie Townes, at the rooftop bar of the Ritz in downtown Chicago. Along with Shumsky’s Jilly Albers, these ladies make my world a much more fun place to be.
One of the many things I love about Sharon Biernat is that at the townhouse in downtown Chicago that she and her husband, Bob (All Hail Bob!), own, she keeps a box of musical instruments so her party guests can indulge in all their rhythmic impulses. Here’s Joe Haley playing a tambourine in the courtyard of Sharon’s house, though from the expression on his face, you’d think he’d just been stung by 1,000 bees. Here’s ASI’s creative director Jake (“Jakey” to you and I) Krolick (right), with Yann Perrin, who oversees ASICentral.com, expertly hiding from my camera like a celebrity shunning the paparazzi.
I would put Sharon Biernat’s skills as a hostess right up there with Martha Stewart’s any day of the week — though Sharon’s even better because she makes treats like “Booze Pops” (frozen Sangria on a stick) for her lucky house guests. Here’s ASI’s Joe Haley (left) and Jakey Krolick enjoying a taste test. ASI’s Jake Krolick (left) with BrandFuel’s Danny Rosin. Everyone in our industry has that one person who they Can Not WAIT to see at events, and to whom they feel a special connection and bond. Well, Jakey and Danny — drawn together by their rabid love of music — are like two teenagers when they’re together, eagerly sharing bands and songs they want the other to know about.
Me with BrandFuel’s Danny Rosin (left) and Jakey Krolick. A word now, about Mr. Rosin: I’ve long adored him for his prolific ability to party, but he won my heart with the acceptance speech he gave at this year’s Counselor banquet in Chicago when he was presented with the Bess Cohn Award for charitable and humanitarian efforts. “The two most important days in your life,” he said to the guests in attendance, “are the day you’re born and the day you realize why you were born.” For Danny, who received a standing ovation and is simply beloved by the industry, that day came when he founded Band Together, his Raleigh-based charity which stages a huge music festival every year and donates the proceeds — $3 million to date — to local causes. Click here to read my Counselor article about him and click here to read more about Band Together. (From left): Jonathan Irvin, a super, super guy who — along with Roger Burnett — is spearheading iClick’s initiative for decorators; the lovely Natalie Townes and Danny Rosin at the Zebra Lounge in Chicago. The bar was fabulous, but way too small for the likes of our loud and loony ever-growing merry band of misfits and libertines.
ASI’s Yann Perrin (left) and RightSleeve’s Mark Graham, at the Zebra Lounge in Chicago. As Yann (who’s French… J’adore!) oversees the team who handles ASICentral and Mark, a founding member of PromoKitchen, chatted incessantly about all things social media, I nearly gave myself a brain injury from all the eye-rolls. “You are my favorite Luddite, Michele,” Mr. Graham often tells me, laughing. He’s not wrong… Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of the UK-based company Sourcing City — a member of PromoAlliance along with ASI and PSI — and Shumsky’s Jill Albers at the Zebra Lounge. We are always so thrilled when Alistair makes the trip across the pond to one of ASI’s events because he’s enthusiasm, knowledge of the European promo marketplace and sheer sense of fun add so much. And truly, without question, he wears the Best. Shirts. Ever.
Here’s me and the stunning Cindy Jorgenson, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Brown & Bigelow. This show was an anniversary of sorts for Cindy and I, as it was about eight years ago when she cornered me outside of Shenanigans, introduced herself and pointed her finger in my face, saying, “You’re Michele Bell… I love your shoes and we’ve got lots of mutual friends, so let’s go drink!” And with that, we’ve been dear friends ever since… She is as whip-smart and talented as she is hilarious and gorgeous. Let’s call these three lovely ladies, all ASI staffers, “Michele’s Angels” because without their help, the seating and prep for the Counselor banquet wouldn’t have gone nearly as smoothly and I would have been hiding under a table rocking in the fetal position. (From left): Kim McCunney, Erica Matus and Tricia Walter.
Polyconcept chairman Michael Bernstein, shown here with PCNA COO Sharon Willochell, who was named the 2012 Counselor Woman of Distinction. The more time I spend with Sharon (code name “Wonder Woman” for her ability to do it all with grace and equanimity) the more I like and respect her. Young girls should be required to meet Sharon as an example of how they can “lean in” and be anything they want to be. Michael Bernstein (left) and Patrick Tornqvist, the president of OSML. I’ve met Patrick a few times over the years at international shows like PSI Dusseldorf and the Hong Kong Gift Fair, and he delighted me by accepting my offer to come visit ASI’s Chicago show and attend the Counselor banquet. He is just awesome, and his other company, Xindao, has some of the most beautifully-designed promo products I’ve ever seen. Check them out here.
(From left): JournalBooks’ Tim O’Boyle (am I the only one who misses the longer, Ringo-esque hair?), left, and Will Andrew, CEO of PCNA’s apparel company, Trimark. (From left to right): PCNA is known for its stellar sales team and here are two reasons why that is: Rick French (left) and Scott Anderson (who does a killer impersonation of Gateway/CDI’s Conrad Franey, BTW… Go ahead, ask him the next time you see him…), with their colleague Kim Daugherty, a partner development representative at Leed’s.
Do you know Larry Cohen, owner of Counselor Top 40 distributor Axis Promotions, based in New York? Of course you do. There is precisely nothing that I don’t find endearing and charming about Larry, and his trademark smirks (and there’s quite a menu of them — snarky, mischievous, exasperated, ponderous) amuse me to no end. Here he is with Amanda Novelline, one of his Chicago-based reps, at the Wit Hotel’s rooftop bar in Chicago. Sigh… I just love, love, love these two… Sweda’s president/CEO Jim Hagan (left) and his consigliere, Scott Pearson, Sweda’s vice president of marketing, sourcing and being fan-freaking-tastic.
There’s a reason I look so gloriously happy in this photo with the ever-elusive, semi-reclusive Mr. Michael Bernstein. When I do get to see him throughout the year, I’m reminded of why he truly is like the brother I never had. Unequivocally, Favorite. Person. Ever. Here’s me and ASI’s president/CEO Tim Andrews at the Wit Hotel’s trendy rooftop bar in Chicago after the Counselor awards. Love, love, love this photo as my utter delight to be with him is so genuine… And not just because he bought me a margarita maker for my office.

ASI NYC: Up All Night in the City That Never Sleeps…

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Travel

Well Hey There, Sailors!

I’m just back from — in short order — Hong Kong, Omaha and New York City, where I attended ASI’s show. For those of you who know me, you’re quite aware that mornings are not my strong suit as nighttime is when I shine. I’ll let those more disciplined and diligent than I post photos from the actual trade show and am content to highlight what goes down when the sun does… So, without further delay, enjoy some photos from Counselor’s Hot Party, celebrating the 49 people on this year’s list, as well as the dive bar where I, and some select industry libertines, reveled pre-party. The place — the Double Down Saloon — bore more than a passing resemblance to the Cantina bar in Star Wars, where all the three-eyed, lizard-skinned weirdo aliens took up residence in its dank interiors. Of course, we loved it. 

Cheers, and more next week from Expo East in Atlantic City, where I’m excited to see all my pals in town for the event (I’m looking at you, Mr. Bellantone! ; )).

— M

Because I seem to be medically incapable of being in a city and not making my beloved colleague Jake (“Jakey” to his nearest and dearest) Krolick, ASI’s creative director, find me the skeeziest of dive bars to drag my favorite industry celebs, I give you Jetline Joe Hoffman (left) and Michael Legel — someone who’s just awesome to the 10th power — with the five-star, FL-based supplier Continental Plastic Card Co. These two were kind enough to meet Jake and I at the oh-so-swanky (she says sarcastically) Double Down Saloon in New York’s East Village. They are troopers, I tell ya! Here’s my girl Megan Erber (left) and a new friend, Julie Fritsch, both of Jetline, with Jake. As Megan noted when she introduced me to Julie, “she is the wizard behind the scenes who keeps it all together!” And who the hell doesn’t need one of those? Great meeting you, Julie!
Michael Legel with another new friend, Andrew Janosick, the vice president/partner of PROforma Executive Business Services in New York. Some people, when they hang out with me and my merry band of misfits for the first time, get a glazed look of utter (mi)shell shock on their faces. Not Andrew. He fit right in (God help him). Dana Zezzo in the house!!! I shared with the peripatetic Mr. Zezzo that he is the one person I think of when I’m traveling and on the verge of having an epic meltdown in an airport due to some travel SNAFU. I literally take deep breaths, channel everyone’s favorite industry road warrior and think, “WWDD”? Here he is with the lovely and talented Megan Erber and Jetline Joe. Quick note about Joe: His impersonations of people in the industry are spot-on, so next time you’re at a party with him, ask him to break some out. HIL-ARIOUS.
Truly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sales rep more beloved in the industry than Bodek and Rhodes’ Marc Held (right), shown here with Jetline’s Dana Zezzo. Marc just got married last month, so it was great to see him back on the show circuit. If this industry was high school (and trust me, on a multitude of levels, it really is…) Mr. Held would win “Mr. Congeniality.” Oh Holy Hell. It’s the “Zoint,” Dana Zezzo’s now-famous point. I’m fairly certain that this is the first time so many people dressed so well graced the door of the Double Down Saloon.
Based right in mid-town, Counselor Top 40 distributor Axis Promotions is one of my favorites for many reasons: They produce jaw-dropping self-promo pieces; the company is routinely named one of Counselor‘s Best Places to Work (as voted on by employees); and, oh yes, Miss Katie Smart (left) works there. Katie, a member of this year’s Counselor Hot List, is young, whip-smart talented (the Trend Reports she crafts for the company are on the level of Vogue and W magazines) and just a delight. Here she is with the company’s founder and president, Larry Cohen, and Axis staffer Dana Cappabianca, who I look forward to spending more time with in the future. Dana, you in? ; ) A word, now, about these two — Axis’ Larry Cohen and Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger. Between them, they dominate their respective cities of New York and Seattle, and to say I love and adore them is putting it mildly. They both run successful, smart, innovative companies that value and nurture talent and hard work, and encourage a creative work environment that welcomes canines and cocktails in equal measure. They are as funny as they are charming, but what’s really won me over has been their consistently hilarious late-night performances in whatever dive-bar we find ourselves. They embrace the concept of letting their freak flags fly, and I’m here to tell ya: I pledge allegiance.
Here’s me, Mitch and the stunning Miss Brittany David, national sales manager for SnugZ. Mitch and Brittany are both on this year’s Counselor Hot List and hoo boy, did we choose well. In the relatively short time I’ve known Brittany, she continues to impress me with her professionalism, grace and knowledge of the industry. So much so, that I’ve asked her to be a panelist at this year’s ASI Power Summit in Park City, UT in September, so stay tuned for that! (From left to right): Bodek’s Marc Held, ETS Express’ Jeff Hinds and Axis’ Larry Cohen. “Jersey Jeff” (as I call him) and I have been friends for years, and I’m thrilled that he’s now on the sales team for Counselor Top 40 supplier ETS Express. A member of last year’s Counselor Hot List, Jeff just became a first-time dad, so he’s got lots of awesome things happening, all of which he deserves (slumming it with me in the Double Down Saloon notwithstanding…).
Just. Wowza. Where to start with this one… Well, I’ll repeat what I told Larry Cohen: Perhaps one day, I will invite everyone to join me for a high-brow evening of insightful, introspective discourse and chilled martinis at a respectable establishment like The Palm. Until then, we have Ass Juice shots at the skeezy Double Down Saloon, with cheesy 70s porn on a constant loop for background ambiance. Good Lord.  
Continental Plastic Card’s Michael Legel and Axis Promotions’ Katie Smart. Axis’ Larry Cohen and the vivacious Megan Erber. My girl has a black-belt in multitasking! A mom to five children (and a puppy!), sales rep extraordinaire, MMA fighter (seriously … she could drop you like 5th period French) and bon vivant on the social circuit, she does it all!
Wonder Twin powers activate, in the form of Beautiful Blondes! Say hi to Brittany David (left) and Katie Smart. In what is arguably the Best. Photobomb. Ever., ASI’s director of distributor marketing, Colin Graf (“El Diablo” to his pals here at ASI) pops into the photo with ASI’s Hot Mama (literally… she just had her first child, an adorable little boy … HOLLA, Kyan!), Krista Taylor (left), and Circulation Diva, Deb Brill.
Here’s my colleague Andy Cohen (center), editor of Counselor magazine, at the Counselor Hot Party. Now usually, Andy is the voice of reason among us. But precisely one night a year, at the Hot Party, Degenerate Andy makes an appearance and puts in a performance that would make Keith Richards proud. For the record: I Heart Degenerate Andy. Here he is, with two of his favorites in the industry, Axis’ Larry Cohen (left) and Mitch Mounger. Click below to see a previously-unreleased outtake video from the Hot Party of Andy interviewing the fabulous Marc Giroux, a member of this year’s Hot List and the vice president of sales for Spector & Co., this year’s Supplier of the Year in Canada. At 40 seconds in, Andy gets quite the surprise… ASI managing editor and star of The Joe Show, Joe Haley, shown here with our friend Harry Fotopoulous, sales exec with Ad-N-Art, and one of the coolest guys in the industry.
Michael Legel and his gorgeous gal pal Raina Vangeloff. I love, love, love this photo if for no other reason than the guest appearance of Joe Haley’s big Muppet Mouth. (From left): ASI’s Joe Haley, Harry Fotopoulous, me, Michael Legel and ASI’s senior vice president and editor-in-chief, Melinda Ligos.
ASI’s president and CEO, Tim Andrews — the gracious Hot Party Host With the Most — and Mitch Mounger, CEO of Sunrise Identity. True story, and it involves me, Mitch and a farm animal (for the love of God): As we were literally the last people to leave the Hot Party at 1:30 a.m. but not wanting to call it a night — heaven forefend — Mitch and I jumped into a cab and found ourselves in a bar sporting an “animal” theme — stuffed heads on the walls, pelts on the leather couches, etc. At one point, Mitch graciously went to the bar to get me a Grey Goose when, HAND TO GOD, a goat in a coat trotted by our table. Mitch came back and I looked at him, slack-jawed, and said, “Um… a goat in a tartan coat just walked past us.” And Mitch, ever the master of the deadpan wit, paused and quizzically responded: “What’s ‘tartan’?” Yes, because that was the weirdest part of my statement.  

ASI NYC: Getting Our Gotham On…

Filed under: ASI Shows, Fun, Travel

Hi Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well and getting ready for a spectacular Memorial Day weekend. Me? I’ll be in my Happy Place — Avalon, NJ (the sunny place for shady people!) — acting like a libertine heathen with the rest of my beach-going pals. Can. Not. Wait.

With the ASI NYC Show in our rear view, I’ve compiled some of my favorite pics from the festivities surrounding the three-day event. And oh my, were there festivities…  Special shout-outs to: Boundless’ Brad White, who taught me the plausible deniability involved with the use of just one word, “allegedly”; Jetline’s Megan Erber, whose lust for life is infectious; my ASI colleague Jake Krolick, who has all the virtues and vices I admire; and my beloved BFF, Polyconcept’s Michael Bernstein, who just happened to be in town and left an interesting event to come have drinks with me at 11:00 one evening. When he shines the bat light in the sky, I drop what I’m doing and go.

Read on for scads of fun photos, and see you next at Promotions East in Atlantic City from June 4-6.

— M

Here’s me and my pal, Craig Nadel, president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel Int’l. Craig was in town to visit JNI’s New York office and nicely invited me to dinner with him and his team. Craig is one of my oldest and closest friends in the industry. Know the “if you were stuck on a desert island, who are the three people you’d want with you” game? Craig is #2 on my list, after Polyconcept’s Michael Bernstein. Why? He’s whip-smart, hilariously funny and delightfully eccentric. First, he once bought a gorilla suit, “because everyone should have one”; Second, he is obsessed with Roombas, those battery-operated floor cleaners; Third, one year in Vegas, he taught me how to play blackjack and insisted upon using his own money to do so; and lastly, he tells me he likes being my friend because we can talk about “all the fun stuff” — the industry, politics and sex. “If you knew anything at all about sports, Michele, you’d be perfect,” he says.
My BFF, Craig Nadel, account executive David Frank and Jeff Jacobs, vice president and partner at Jack Nadel International.
The lovely Lauren Goldrich and Dan Aronesty, account execs with JNI. There was nothing about the company’s New York team that didn’t impress me. They are fan-tastic!
Lisa Danzinger (sitting), Stephanie Kraut and the fabulous John Batista, who – the next time I’m in NYC – is on my list to spend more time with. He is a hoot!
Ron Ball, ASI’s vice president of sales and my Work Husband, famously takes groups of friends and clients to dinners when he’s at a show. We call these his “Bar-Mitzvah Dinners” because they’re big, raucous and tons of fun. In New York, he took his group to Del Frisco’s. Here he is with Kathryn Cumming, with the innovative Canadian distributor Top of the Line Sportswear.
My pal Scottie Nussinow from Points of Light with Samantha Gotlieb, marketing director for iPROMOTEu.
Larry Abels, chairman of the board for Selco Watch Co.
The guests at Ron Ball’s NYC dinner at Del Frisco’s.
Kathryn Cumming and my pal Melissa Cantor, with Poly-Pak. If you don’t know Melissa, you should. She’s always smiling, always happy and always a delight. Love her!
All in One’s Shantel Strong and the always-awesome Pat Caccamo, iPROMOTEu’s senior director of business development and, as I call him, Ross Silverstein’s consigliere.
(From left): Liqui-Mark’s Josh Goodelman (“Joshy,” to his nearest and dearest) and The Fabulous Tadmor Boys – Taylor and Roee – from Tekweld.
Mary Bostwick from Delta Apparel and the illustrious Ross Silverstein, president/CEO of Counselor Top 40 distributor iPROMOTEu.
Here’s my old friend Eric Johnson, owner of Halls & Co./IDLine, or “E,” as I call him. E is my reality check at trade shows, as he always gets a chair for his booth so I can slink over and we can catch up on industry craziness.
How cool is this? Activate! Promotions & Marketing (formerly Bluegrass Promotions) held a Supplier Appreciation Party at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square, complete with open bar and hors d’oeuvres. I love this, because it’s so rare that suppliers get their due; however, I’m not surprised that the Activate folks held this event – they are class personified.
Jeff Lederer (left), president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Prime Line, with the one and only Billy Booe, vice president of business development at Activate! Billy (who puts the “Boo” in “booze”!) is like a human disco ball – add him to any party and it becomes that much more fun.
Social media guru Dana Zezzo and the perpetually-sardonic Joe Hoffman, with Jetline. Dana recently joined the company, which is lucky to have him – he is a marketing phenom!
ETS Express’ president, Sharon Eyal (left) and Fred Parker, president of Activate! At the Counselor Awards banquet, held at the famed Cipriani Midtown, Sharon was presented with the Supplier Family Business of the Year award for ETS’s phenomenal growth and stellar reputation with distributors (see his award presentation and acceptance speech here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njlKCzIH30w), and my old friend Fred Parker was lauded with the prestigious Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year award. Fred was one of the very first people I ever profiled for Counselor magazine some 15 years ago, and since we’ve met, he has always been hyper-prolific in the areas of innovation and creativity. I just adore him, his lovely wife, Amy, and his whole team at Activate! Click here to see Fred’s award presentation and acceptance speech at the Distributor Entreprenuer of the Year at this year’s Counselor banquet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sj1vBA4GInc.
Look at this group! Industry bon vivant, BIC/Norwood’s Dave Saracino, with his colleagues: the beautiful Lori Bauer (center) and respected industry veteran Eileen Lynch (what a nice surprise to see her!) at the Activate! party.
Industry legend and vice president of sales at J. Charles Crystal, Fran Ford (left), and the incredibly charming Alfred Brand, the Wizard of Oz behind the curtains at Activate! At the Counselor Awards, Fran was presented with this year’s Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award. Upon the award’s announcement, Fran was greeted with a standing ovation from everyone in the place. Why? I maintain that Fran single-handedly mentored half the people in the room full of heavy-hitters. Click here to see his award presentation and acceptance speech at the Counselor banquet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCF4Y46Cgxs.
Fran Ford and CJ Schmidt, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Hit Promotional Products. Equal parts smart and crazy fun, CJ is one of my favorites.
CJ Schmidt and the gorgeous Jennifer Grigorian, vice president of marketing for Hit. Jenn and I marvel that we have known each other for 15 years and maintain that we were about 16 when we started in the industry. ; )
Ash City’s vice president of sales, Chris Clark (left), and Logomark’s vice president of sales, Brian Padian. I have the utmost respect for these two, because their respective bosses – Garry Hurvitz and Trevor Gnesin – are as wicked brilliant as they are characters.
Photographer extraordinaire Lyall Ashton (left), and one of my favorite ASI colleagues, Jake (“Jakey” to his pals) Krolick, creative director of our marketing department. Jake herded me out of the Activate! party and took me to a dive bar in Brooklyn, to see an awesome live band with some select industry pals (photos ahead). Spoiler Alert: There Will Be Booze.
(From left): Jetline’s Dana Zezzo and Joe Hoffman, shown here with ASI’s managing editor Joe Haley and editor-in-chief and senior vice president of professional development, Melinda Ligos.
ASI’s Joe Haley (left) and Activate’s Billy Booe. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone more extroverted than these two…
Joe Haley and Prime Line’s beloved Paula Shulman, vice president of sales.
The gregarious Fran Ford (left) and Billy Booe.
ASI’s Melinda Ligos and Counselor editor Andy Cohen. I love Andy because his sarcastic smirks and snarky comments may even exceed my own.
Activate! president Fred Parker, shown here with ASI’s Melinda Ligos and Andy Cohen.
No sleep til Brooklyn! Here’s the group Jakey Krolick put together for his foray into Brooklyn to see some live music at dive bars. Our merry little band of revelers (clockwise): Raffi Najarian with Bey-Berk International, Boundless Network’s Brad White, ASI’s Jake Krolick, Jetline’s Megan Erber, ASI’s Barry Melito and World Wide Line’s Steve Rone.
Bey-Berk’s Raffi Najarian with the effervescent Megan Erber from Jetline.
Here’s me and my girl, Megan. Backstory: We met for the first time last year at ASI’s Dallas Show, holding court at the bar at The Palm. We became fast friends, as there is nothing about this chica I don’t adore.
The night we were in Brooklyn, it was pouring rain. Did Megan care? Nope. This girl’s joie de vivre knows no bounds. She merely danced in the rain and exclaimed, “I love the taste of rain in my mouth!” Love, love, love her!
Here’s my friend Jeff Hinds from Rainkist. Isn’t he the cat’s meow?
ASI’s Joe Haley, star of The Joe Show, models a blinking fedora he found in an exhibitor’s booth – an item destined to make an appearance on The Joe Show.
Brad White (left), vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Boundless Network, shown here with Kris Robinson, chief sustainability officer and executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor PromoShop.
K-Rob & C-Rob! Kris Robinson and his stunning and charming wife, Carolyn.
Chuckles in the house!!! Here’s my pal Chuck Fandos, CEO of Gateway/CDI (left), shown here with BIC/Norwood’s Lori Bauer and my new favorite person, Tom Savio, president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Caliendo-Savio Enterprises (CSE). What. A. Pistol. At the Counselor Awards banquet held at the jaw-droppingly beautiful Cipriani Midtown, I hosted the Best Table Ever with these three, Brad White, Kris & Caroline Robinson and John & Sara Papa with John Michael Associates. Too much fun…
Dave Saracino (left) and Chuck (“Chuckles”) Fandos. If the industry has a Rat Pack, these two are Frank and Dean.
The delightful John & Sara Papa, two new friends I met at the banquet. Seated next to me at dinner, I couldn’t have asked for nicer and more interesting conversationalists.
CSE’s president Tom Savio, who accepted my offer to be a panelist at this year’s ASI Power Summit in Naples, FL (www.asicentral.com/powersummit). Can Not Wait to spend more time with him!
The Meeting of the Loudmouths (says the female loudmouth): Boundless’ Brad White (left) and ASI’s Joe Haley. These two could talk the ears off corn, as my mother would say…
(From left): CSE’s Tom Savio, Boundless’ Brad White and PromoShop’s Kris Robinson, all with their Counselor Top 40 Distributor awards.
One of my all-time favorites, Jim Hagan (left), president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Sweda, here with Gateway/CDI’s Chuck Fandos. Did you ever know someone who, by just seeing them, induces miles of smile? That’s my reaction when I’m with Jim Hagan…
(From left): BIC/Norwood’s Dave Saracino, Hit’s CJ Schmidt and Gateway/CDI’s Chuckles Fandos.
The awesome Mike Riddle, sales director at Counselor Top 40 distributor WorkflowOne, shown here with my colleague Joe Haley.
(From left): Three of the best guys in the industry, PromoShop’s Kris Robinson, Sweda’s Jim Hagan and BDA’s Jay Deutsch. A word, now, about Jay: Every time I see him, he just cracks me up and, while I’m normally the one bestowing nicknames on people, he’s got one for me: Rona Barrett. Love, love, love ya, Captain Invisible. ; )
Have you ever met the Honorable Prime Minister of Canada? Well, here’s the industry’s version, Fred Oesen, with another beloved industry veteran, Mary Sells.
The amazing and famous Cipriani on 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan, decorated for this year’s Counselor Awards banquet.
One of the coolest and most fun chicas at ASI, Supplier Internet Sales rep Krista Taylor.
My BFF Jakey Krolick, who always looks like a rock star in his photos.
The expression on my colleague Colin Graf’s face just slays me. Colin is the director of supplier marketing at ASI, and more importantly, someone I’ve given the nickname El Diablo.
Activate!’s Fred Parker, this year’s Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year – in the best photo ever – with ASI editor-in-chief Melinda Ligos and Activate!’s Alfred Brand.
ASI’s president/CEO, Tim Andrews, sporting his jaunty ASI hat during the last hour of the show. I recently celebrated my 15th anniversary as an editor with the company and Tim sent a hand-written note to my house that was so touching, it nearly brought me to tears. Seriously.

ASI Orlando: Big Crowds, Balmy Weather & Beaucoup Bon Temps!

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hey Everybody!

Try not to drop your jaws like Nutcracker dolls, as I’m actually posting two blogs in one week! 

The last one regaled you with all the delicious details of the fabulous PSI Dusseldorf Show; this one is way closer to home — ASI’s Orlando Show, which was off-the-charts crazy busy and tons of fun, with the weather sunshine-filled and in the mid-70s (which those of us on the East Coast just covet at this time of year…).  My favorite part? The optimistic, forward-thinking, sunny mood everyone was in — drastically different (and much better) than shows three years ago.

So, without further delay, take a moment to scroll down and peruse my fairly extensive Rogues Gallery of industry raconteurs, luminaries, superstars and hurricane force hell-raisers (aka, All My Favorite People). Sometimes, as is the case here, the photos tell the story far better than I could. ; )

Cheers, and more soon from my upcoming trip to France on February 5th, for the CTCO promo products show (www.salon-ctco.com/en ) in Lyon.

Can. Not. Wait.

— M

A word about the BrandFuel boys: Robert Fiveash and Danny Rosin (shown here, doing their signature move, the “Tebow Plank”), co-owners of the NC- and VA-based distributorship, have been friends since they were kids — which makes them similar both in origin story and capacity for cocktail-fueled fun to The Stones’ own Glimmer Twins, Keith and Mick. As stunningly talented (I worship at the altar of their self-promo campaigns) as they are humble and gracious, I just think the world of them. Click here to see a mini-profile on Robert and his workspace from ASI’s supplier magazine that I edit, Supplier Global Resource.


(From left): I don’t use the word “beloved” often, but truly, that’s how her clients and industry friends feel about Kellie Claudio, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Sweda, shown here with Paige Millard (fact: if you’re really a show road warrior, who doesn’t know and love Paige???), Sweda’s trade show manager, and the lovely Lauren Anselmo, Sweda’s sales operations coordinator. 
(From left): Here’s my colleague (hence, much-beleaguered) Joe Haley, managing editor of our magazines and star of ASI’s The Joe Show, with the always-delightful Kathleen Milbier, who heads up the sales efforts for the CA-based supplier Skinit (check out their awesome items here: www.promo.skinit.com) and one of my industry faves, Brad White, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Boundless Network. I’ve branded the extroverted Brad with the moniker “Captain Loudmouth,” which is ironic, of course, since the level of audio coming out of my trap at any given time is a fearsome thing that could make one’s ears bleed.


(From left): The vivacious Candace Hershey, shown here with my pal Vicky Tirpack, Midwest regional manager for Promo Marketing magazine, and her hilarious and awesome colleague, Meredith Edelman, Northeast regional manager for Promo Marketing. Is it me, or do they — a redhead, a blonde and a brunette — look like the industry’s own Charlie’s Angels?


I’d like to tell you that this photo of my editorial colleagues (from left) C.J. Mittica (Wearables‘ editor), Larry Basinait (ASI’s research director), Melinda Ligos (senior vice president/editor-in-chief) and Joe Haley was taken in this blurred fashion to be aesthetically edgy. In fact, I think I still had the shakes from all the Riesling I drank at the PSI Düsseldorf Show.


Why do I love this photo? Not only because it features one of the nicest guys in the industry — Mark Graham (center), owner of the Canada-based distributorship Right Sleeve Marketing (winner of last year’s Counselor Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year award!) — but it just cracks me up that Dana Zezzo (left), ProTowels’ marketing guru and industry gadabout, and ASI’s Joe Haley (right) were clearly Separated at Birth!


Here’s Scott Anderson (left), national sales manager for Counselor Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America, with One of My Favorite People Ever, PCNA’s Steve Gelernter, known the world over as “Stevie G.”


PromoKitchen, a group of whip-smart and very marketing/social media-savvy suppliers and distributors (the “Chefs”), held a slammin’ soiree at a Greek restaurant in Orlando called “Taverna Opa,” which was fabulous! This is one of the sultry sirens who greeted guests at the door. Learn more about PromoKitchen at www.promokitchen.com.


PCNA’s celebutante, Stevie G, with one of the hostesses at Taverna Opa.


A crowd shot from the rollicking PromoKitchen party at Taverna Opa in Orlando.  


So at one point at Taverna Opa, the exotic Greek hostesses roused the crowd at the PromoKitchen party to join them for some on-the-bar dancing. The first two to leap at the offer? ProTowel’s gregarious Dana Zezzo (right) and ASI’s Jake Krolick. Hands up: Is anyone shocked by that? Anyone? (Crickets… Crickets…). And that’s why I love them!


Two words that describe the looks on the faces of BrandFuel’s Robert Fiveash (left) and ASI’s creative director of our marketing department, Jake (or “Jakey,” as we call him back at the home office) Krolick: Mayhem. Imminent.


Two of my favorite ASI colleagues, Jakey Krolick (left) and Colin Graf, marketing director of supplier services. Love, love, love them! 
Meet Alex McKenzie (left), a distributor salesperson with Masterwork Custom Wholesale Signs — who used to play for the Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons — here with The Funniest Person in the Industry, Glen Colton, owner of the GA-based distributorship Seville Marketing. Glen and I have known each other for 14 years, and he has the distinction of making me laugh so hard that I cry every time I talk with him. He is a HOWL…


Aakron Rule owner Devin Piscitelli, who was also at the PSI Show in Düsseldorf I attended earlier this month, is someone I’ve only recently gotten to know — we always moved in different circles throughout the industry, though I’d always heard how great he is. And truly, he lives up to the hype. Smart, inquisitive, engaging and slyly sardonic, I enjoy him more every time I see him and look forward to getting to know him better.


Here’s my colleague (and designated “handler”) Joe Haley, modeling two creepy masks: one of Spiderman’s nemesis, the Green Goblin (shout-out to Nerdville!) and one of Gary Busey (see photo to the right), as he poses with ASI’s IT saviors, Jason Cissorsky (left) and Jim Talone. We all agreed, hands down, that Busey is way more shudderingly frightening.


Holla! to Mary Ellen Nichols, one of the most effervescent and bubbly personalities in the industry, shown here with ASI chairman Matthew Cohn (center) and the salesperson everyone loves to love, Bodek and Rhodes’ Marc Held.
Counselor Top 40 supplier SanMar won the Best Booth award for an apparel company, and here’s my friend John Lindgren, marketing manager for SanMar, who was integral in the booth’s snazzy, retail-inspired design.


For the first time, ASI presented Best Booth awards to exhibitors, based on attendee text voting. Spirit Awards’ self-created, stadium-style booth took the prize for Best Booth over 10′ x 10′. A fairly new supplier, Babble Text, won among the booths that were 10′ x 10′.
Hollywood may have Brangelina, but in our industry, we have “Mardine,” the impossibly-attractive industry celebs that are Pacific Coast Golf’s Mark Hobbs and PromoBiz’s Nadine Panetti, two of my favorite pals.
Having dinner with Jamie Raynor, my dear friend from JournalBooks, is like being able to relax with someone you can feel supremely comfortable with — she is the definition of grace and equanimity.


My pal Jason Emery, vice president of sales at Counselor Top 40 supplier Logomark and someone who was on Wearables magazine’s “Best Dressed” list in 2011 — a title he lives up to in spades every time I see him.
I just had to snap this photo of CJ Schmidt, someone I adore, right before his company Hit Promotional Products won the Distributor Choice award for Best Keytags & Luggage Tags.


Rarely do I take a photo of someone that captures their personality as much as this one does, of my BFF Tim O’Boyle (“Ringo,” to his nearest and dearest…) from JournalBooks. Something about the glint in his eye and smirk on his face just makes me giggle.
Ah, my dear friends Pete Gleason (left) and Christopher Duffy, with Counselor Top 40 supplier BagMakers, who won a Distributor Choice award for Best Shopping Bags. I’ve known these gentlemen since my wild heyday in the industry (Yep… I used to be worse. Swear. To. God.), and remember with perfect clarity how Christopher, at a party during the PPAI Show in Dallas one year, carried me around on his back — like an organ grinder with his yappy little pet monkey. Good stuff.


Do you know the awesome folks at Counselor Top 40 supplier, Broder? You really should, and I’d recommend starting with Ken Seidl (left) and the ever-charming Chris Blakeslee, who are as super-nice as they are whip-smart about industry apparel. Here they are with my editorial colleague C.J. Mittica, editor of Wearables magazine.
Every year at the Orlando Show, two colleagues of mine at ASI on the Supplier Sales team — the very gracious Phyllis Mutnick and Suzanne Rozick — hold a celebratory dinner-to-die-for at The Palm, for their clients who’ve won and were finalists in the Counselor Distributor Choice Awards. They’re kind enough to invite me along to host a table of guests, and each year, I’m lucky enough to have David Byrne (left) and Jason Grindall from Graphco Line sit with me. The antics ensue soon after… ; )


You know you’ve “arrived” when your visage has been drawn on the famed walls of The Palm, alongside legends and luminaries. Here’s ASI’s president/CEO signing his image at The Palm in Orlando.

Love, love, love these two: Vantage’s Ira Neaman and Bodek and Rhodes’ Mary Ellen Nichols.
Back story: At the aforementioned annual dinner at the Palm, I met Michael Moore, whose family owns Bay State Specialties, last year for the first time. Thirty minutes and four martinis between the two of us later, I was in shock and awe. Oh, Holy Hell: He’s the male me. I only get to hang with him once a year, at this dinner in Florida, and when we do, our cocktailing and subsequent antics have been described as “When Godzilla Parties With Mothra.”


Take a good look at this photo: This is your face on Patron shots. Michael Moore and I, cavorting at The Palm (after which, we may or may not have jumped in a hypothetical fountain and then taken a theoretical golf cart for a joyride…).
Here’s the fabulous Dan Jellinek, vice president of Counselor Top 40 supplier (and 2012 Distributor Choice award-winner!) Magnet LLC, with the most fun couple in the industry, this side of Dan & Natalie Townes: Janet & Bill Korowitz, who run Magnet. So awesome are they, that I actually flew to a show once just to hang out with them. They’re like F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, without the darkness. “Hilarity was right up their alley, with pandemonium just around the bend…”


ASI’s creative marketing director, Jake Krolick, posing with the models he hired to tout ASI’s new SmartSales service.
How fitting to end this blog with a photo of my illustrious “work husband,” Ron Ball. Our boss, Rich Fairfield, claims that though he loves us, we are his “two most unmanageable employees.” Really? I just don’t get why… ; )



My Kinda Town, Chicago Is…

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Travel

Hi Everyone!

Hope you’re enjoying your summer and staying cool in this Serengeti-esque heat!

Next week (from 7/19-21) is the ASI Chicago Show at the McCormick Place Convention Center. I’ll be there with bells on, as Chi-Town is one of my favorite cities in the U.S. (filled with some of my favorite industry people — I’m looking at you, Sharon Biernat!).

If you’re an exhibiting supplier at the show, please join me for two free panel discussions I’ll be moderating on Education Day.

The first, on Tuesday, 7/19, from noon-1:15 in the dining room behind the Registration Area is titled, “What Distributors Want.” Take a break from setting up your booth, enjoy a free lunch on ASI and learn from four top distributors — all from Counselor Top 40 companies — what they’re looking for from their suppliers. Covering issues like pricing, product safety, building trust and relationships between suppliers and distributors and what types of marketing get their attention, my panelists — Brown and Bigelow’s Cindy Jorgenson, American Solutions for Business’s Sadie Schlief, HALO Branded Solutions’ Julie Harms and WorkflowOne’s Mike Riddle — will address it all! For sure, it’s a panel discussion not to be missed by suppliers. And did I mention there’s a free lunch served? ; )

The second Suppliers-Only panel discussion I’ll be moderating is on the topic of pricing, held from 4-5 p.m. in Power Session Room 1, on the show floor. For sure, one of the trickiest, most time-consuming and critical business responsibilities facing suppliers today is setting pricing for products. A little like Goldilocks, you don’t want your prices too low — which will adversely affect your profits — or too high, which will give your competitors an advantage. So how do you find that sweet spot where you have the ability to make money for your company and keep your clients happy? Our panelists — all respected industry veterans on the supplier side of the business — will share their expertise on the topic: Bonni Shevin-Sandy, president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Dard Design, which imports all of its items from overseas; Eric Johnson, co-owner of Halls & Co./ID Line, which imports items while handling some manufacturing in the U.S.; Mel Ellis, president of HumphreyLine, which manufactures 100% of its items in the U.S.; and Ira Neaman, president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Vantage Apparel, who has expertise and insights on handling pricing in a volatile economy and dealing with cotton fluctuations.

So I look forward to seeing you all at the ASI Chicago Show on Education Day, on the show floor and in the evenings at Kitty O’Sheas in the Hilton, where I’ll be planted like a lawn dart. ; )

Cheers, and more next week with tons of fun photos from the show!

— M

Direct from San Diego: Drinking With the Stars!

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Fun, Travel

Well, hey there everyone!

Hope you’re all getting ready for a raucous Memorial Day weekend, as I am!

Having just returned from the ASI San Diego Show, I wanted to share my slide show of fun and festivities from all the after-hours events (when I, and my degenerate ilk, really shine!). Did we have fun? You betcha! Did it take me days to recover? Hell to the Yeah! Some may leave their hearts in San Francisco, but I have no doubt my liver’s quivering somewhere in a gutter in San Diego.

Enjoy the photos of some of my favorite industry celebs, all of whom were in fine form at swanky soirees like the Counselor Top 40 banquet (and the subsequent after-party at the Hard Rock Cafe). Now, without further adieu, take a moment or two to gaze upon my prodigiously talented, profoundly insane, chronically eccentric, hurricane-force hell raisers. Love. Them. All.

Cheers and more soon!

— M

ASI San Diego 2011
At every show we attend, my editorial colleagues and I have a great dinner the night before Education Day, courtesy of our boss, Melinda Ligos, ASI’s senior vice president and the editor-in-chief. Here, we’re at The Strip Club in San Diego which — despite its name — did not have writhing women on display (though it did have lots of prints by famed artist Alberto Vargas of his WWII pinup “Varga Girls” on the wall…). Here’s ASI’s Editorial Crew (from left): Managing Editor Joan Chaykin; Managing Editor and star of “The Joe Show,” Joe Haley; Counselor Editor Andy Cohen; Senior Writer Dave Vagnoni; Advantages Editor Kathy Huston; Editor-in-Chief Melinda Ligos and Larry Basinait, the executive director of ASI’s research services.
ASI San Diego 2011
The concept behind The Strip Club restaurant? It’s a steakhouse where you pick out the cut of your meat and cook it yourself. Let me just stop you all right there. I’ve never cooked meat. Ever. Not because I’m ethically opposed to it, mind you; just ’cause I’m lazy. So, our editorial boys stepped up to the plate and cooked steaks for us chicas — and let me tell ya, they are masters behind the grill.
ASI San Diego 2011
Here’s ASI’s marketing manager extraordinaire and an industry favorite, Jake Krolick (left), shown here with his BFF Jeff Anderton, an industry consultant who owns VideoFarm.TV. Want to create the coolest videos ever for your company? Jeff is your guy (plus, he’s just the cat’s meow).
ASI San Diego 2011
Here’s Jakey (as we call him back in the Trevose home office) with The Best Event Planner Ever, Sat Mamuels (that’s his alias, as he hates to be searched out online). Sat does every special event for us here at ASI, including our yearly Power Summit and the Counselor Top 40 banquet, which was just held in San Diego. Triple-snaps and a huge “HOLLA” to him for always kicking it up a notch.
ASI San Diego 2011
While the location and venue of ASI’s annual Counselor banquet change each year, one thing that remains the same is that Damian Want, the senior vice president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Logomark, always brings me a wrist corsage, as we refer to the event as “the industry’s prom.” This year, he bought me orchids from farm that grows them specifically. This is our 2011 prom photo!
ASI San Diego 2011
Each year, I host a table at the Counselor banquet of those nearest and dearest to me. This year, I was lucky enough to have the lovely ladies from Counselor Top 40 supplier Dard Products and my pals from Counselor Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel Int’l (JNI). Here’s Michelle Michelsen, Dard’s director of sales and marketing with one of my all-time favorites, Craig Reese, senior vice president/partner, of JNI. For years I’ve called Craig “The Porkchop” because he’s so yummy. ; )
ASI San Diego 2011
One of my closest girlfriends in the industry, the lovely and talented Bonni Shevin-Sandy — who runs Dard and Dard Design — with one of my new favorite people, Anthans Zafiropoulos, the vice president of new business development and a partner at JNI. He may be one of the most gracious people I’ve met in quite some time.
ASI San Diego 2011
Industry veteran (and quite the hoot!) Stacy Horton shown here with my beloved Craig Nadel, president and scion of JNI.
ASI San Diego 2011
(From left): The always-entertaining Paul Kory, director of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Vantage; Ira Neaman (the Yoda of Wearables — uber-knowledgeable, he is), owner/president of Vantage; and Mark Johnson, the very charming president of Counselor Top 40 distributor EmbroidMe, at this year’s Counselor banquet, held at the Air & Space Museum in San Diego. In addition to it being a way-cool venue, guests were invited to test-pilot flight simulators and other attractions.
ASI San Diego 2011
(From left): One of my two “work husbands” at ASI (the other is Ron Ball, vice president of supplier sales and legendary industry character…), here’s Christian Brandt, executive director of ASI’s distributor services, with his pal Tipton Shonkwiler — brand director/vice president of Plan Ahead Events and vice president/director of United Franchise Group — and Rebecca Viani, the vice president of operations for Plan Ahead Events.
ASI San Diego 2011
What a fun pair! Jay Deutsch, CEO of Counselor Top 40 distributor BDA with Paula Shulman, the vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Prime Line.
ASI San Diego 2011
How much do I adore Craig Nadel, shown here with the Counselor Top 40 award for his company (JNI had double-digit growth in 2010!)? Oh, let me count the ways. Craig is the second person I met in the industry, over 14 years ago, and we’ve stayed close ever since due to the fact — as he’s fond of telling people — that we have spirited discussions on everyone’s top three favorite topics: Politics, sex and the state of our industry. “If you knew anything at all about sports, Michele, you’d be perfect.” There are 10 people I’d walk through fire for in the industry. Craig’s in the top five.
ASI San Diego 2011
(From left): JNI’s Craig Reese, Athans Zafiropoulos, Hit Promotional Products’ CJ Schmidt, Dard’s Bonni Shevin-Sandy, Stacy Horton and Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger, enjoying quality time at the Counselor Top 40 banquet.
ASI San Diego 2011
The one and only Trevor Gnesin, president of Logomark and Craig Nadel, president of Jack Nadel Int’l. — two of my favorite California-based industry celebs!
ASI San Diego 2011
CJ Schmidt, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Hit Promotional Products, and JNI’s Athans Zafiropoulos. A few words about CJ: I’ve just gotten to know him over the past year or so and jus think the world of him. As smart as he is fun, you have to love someone who dressed up for Halloween one year as Will Farrell’s Ron Burgundy character from Anchorman. He’s just fabulous!
ASI San Diego 2011
Have you met the guys from ETS Express? You should! They’re new to the Counselor Top 40 list of suppliers this year (their sales were up 58% from last year — way to go!) and couldn’t be happier! They do an awesome job — stop by their booth the next time you’re at a show with them and say hi! (From left): Sharon Eyal, CEO; Leeton Lee, vice president of compliance and general counsel (seriously, one of the smartest and most knowledgeable people I’ve met on the topic of product safety and compliance!); and the awesome Adam Kovar, ETS’s director of sales.
ASI San Diego 2011
(From left): Benn Chazen, sales manager for BamBams; Hit Promo’s CJ Schmidt; and JNI’s Craig Reese.
ASI San Diego 2011
Vantage Apparel’s Paul Kory and a fabulous new friend, Jerrel Bohac, operations manager of promotional marketing at Counselor Top 40 distributor WorkflowOne.
ASI San Diego 2011
(From left): Vantage’s Paul Kory; WorkflowOne’s Jerrel Bohac; Tekweld’s Roee Tadmor; and Josh (or Joshy, as those of us who love him call him!) Goodelman of Liqui-Mark.
ASI San Diego 2011
Dave Saracino, sales guru at Norwood & BIC Graphic USA, shown here with the lovely Tonia Allen Gould, owner of TAG! The Creative Source.
ASI San Diego 2011
WorkflowOne’s Jerrel Bohac, shown here with my colleague, the vivacious Candace Hershey, ASI’s executive director of supplier advocacy.
ASI San Diego 2011
Do you know Scott Pearson, vice president of product development and marketing for Counselor Top 40 supplier, Sweda? Of course you do. Everyone loves Scott, or as we call him, “Giggles,” due to his infectious laugh and gregariousness.
ASI San Diego 2011
Meet my new favorite person in the industry, Larry Cohen, president/owner of the NY-based Counselor Top 40 distributor Axis Promotions. Not only is Larry HIL-ARIOUS (I told him, with my trademark Kissinger-esque diplomacy, “I always thought you were kinda nerdy, but you’re really funny…”), but his company had 20% growth last year. Why? Due in no small part to the jaw-droppingly creative self-promotion campaigns he and his team consistently craft and send out to clients and prospects. Put Larry on your “get to know” list.
ASI San Diego 2011
Two of my absolute favorite rock stars in the industry, as graciously charming as they are take-your-breath-away fun! Memo Kahan (left), owner of Counselor Top 40 distributor PromoShop and Jim Hagan, president of Sweda. ADORE them!
ASI San Diego 2011
The first time I met Memo Kahan, owner of PromoShop, I was coming back from the beach at 6:00 a.m. in Long Beach, CA, during the SAAC Show, sandy and missing a stiletto. Four hours later, I was conducting a podcast interview with him on industry trends and he refrained from snickering at me. That was seven years ago and we’ve been friends ever since. He is, quite simply, the best.
ASI San Diego 2011
Here’s Memo, me and Chris Clark, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Ash City. Chris is a delight, and I am fascinated with his enigmatic boss, the apparel oracle, Garry Hurvitz. I haven’t met Garry yet, but he is on my list of “People I’m Dying to Meet.” Can. Not. Wait.
ASI San Diego 2011
Memo Kahan and CJ Schmidt, giving each other the “bromance” gaze. These boys crack me up!
ASI San Diego 2011
Vantage’s Paul Kory and industry bon vivant, Dan Townes, owner of Shepenco/Shelbyville Pencil.
ASI San Diego 2011
Shlomo Cohen, sales manager at ETS Express. Shlomo and I have known each other for years, having first met on the party circuit at the SAAC Show.
ASI San Diego 2011
(From left): The always-stunning and charming Lori Bauer, trade marketing manager with Counselor Top 40 supplier Norwood & BIC USA; Memo Kahan and Chuck (or “Chuckles,” as we call him) Fandos, CEO of Counselor Top 40 distributor Gateway/CDI — someone who always makes me giggle with delight when I see him. I’m at the bottom of the photo, looking like a little drunken Muppet.
ASI San Diego 2011
Norwood/BIC’s lovely Lori Bauer, PromoShop’s Memo Kahan and Gateway/CDI’s Chuck Fandos.
ASI San Diego 2011
Here’s me, with Lori Bauer and Memo Kahan. I look at this photo and think, “this is exactly the moment when I should have put myself to bed.” But, of course, no…
ASI San Diego 2011
Axis Promotions’ Larry Cohen (in the foreground), with Kris Robinson, vice president of PromoShop behind him. Note that something is amiss with K-Rob’s finger. If I was a betting girl (and I am) I would guess that he was doing his famed “Flaming Statue of Liberty” trick, where he dips his fingers in a shot of Sambuca, lights them on fire and raises his arm in a majestic fashion, as if to say, “Worship me, bitches.” And of course, we do. ; )
ASI San Diego 2011
(From left): Chuck Fandos, Memo Kahan and Dave Saracino. Seriously, if this industry had mayors, it would be these three. They might not make it past the confirmation hearings due to their legendary, Stones-esque reveling, but I’d vote for them.
ASI San Diego 2011
WorkflowOne’s Jerrel Bohac (left) and Hit Promo’s CJ Schmidt.
ASI San Diego 2011
My favorite publisher in the world is my boss, Rich Fairfield, ASI’s executive vice president (’cause he puts up with me like he has the patience of Job!). But my second favorite publisher is my pal, Matty Barnes (left), the publisher of Promo Marketing magazine. Matty and I talk once a week and have some laugh-out-loud conversations about the industry — he’s awesome. Here he is, with one of my oldest industry pals, Eric Johnson, owner of Halls & Co./IDLine. When I need someone to talk me off the ledge, E is a voice of reason amongst my chorus of crazy.
ASI San Diego 2011
Here’s my colleague and pal Joe Haley, ASI’s managing editor and star of The Joe Show. On this particular day, he was demonstrating a light-up glove he found on the show floor and was about to demo on The Joe Show. He moonwalked for me because I harangued him. And, after working together for 14+ years, he knows better than anyone that no one harangues like I do.
ASI San Diego 2011
Jeff Grippando, the awesome guy at the helm of Counselor Top 40 distributor WorkflowOne, shown here with my colleague Joan Chaykin, managing editor of Counselor and Advantages magazines.
ASI San Diego 2011
Some back story: After three days in stilettos, I whined like a toddler about walking anywhere. So, I made Counselor editor Andy Cohen take a rickshaw with me, from the Hilton Bayfront hotel to Petco Park (which is all of a 10 minute walk, if that), where we were seeing the Padres game with some supplier pals. As Andy correctly pointed out, as he sighed and rolled his eyes, people were walking faster than our rickshaw was moving. Meh. I loved it.
ASI San Diego 2011
My colleague Colin Graf, supplier marketing manager at ASI, put together an event in the Picnic Area at Petco Park for ASI clients. The venue was so awesome (and included barbeque and beer!) that we were literally this-close to the Padres’ pitchers in their bullpen. So nice were they that they even came over and signed autographs.
ASI San Diego 2011
Eric Johnson from Halls & Co./IDLine with Counselor editor Andy Cohen at the Padres game at Petco Park in San Diego.
ASI San Diego 2011
Andy Cohen with Jeff Sliva and Jeanna Abercrombie from Pepco Poms, who graciously sponsored the outing. It was an awesome event and big shout-out to Jeff, Jeanna and all the fine folks at Pepco!
ASI San Diego 2011
I’ve been told that when Dan Townes, owner of Shepenco, and I start drinking together, people run for cover. As I looked at this photo, taken by my friend Karen Cohen, owner of the awesome San Diego-based supplier All In One, I was reminded of that scene from Jaws where Quint and Hooper compare their aquatic injuries. If there were cartoon thought bubbles over our heads, the conversation would go something like this. Michele: “Remember that time I broke my ankle when we fell out the front door of Dick’s Last Resort in Dallas?” Dan: “Yes, m’am. Remember that time I woke up on the bathroom floor of my room in the Adam’s Mark and had tile marks on my face for half a day?” Good stuff.
ASI San Diego 2011
Here’s my other work husband (yes, I have two — what good is having one of anything?), Ron Ball, ASI’s vice president of supplier sales. He is a lunatic, and I mean that in the best possible way.
ASI San Diego 2011
This is Dan Taylor, owner of BamBams and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet, with Phyllis Mutnick, one of my favorite sales reps at ASI.
ASI San Diego 2011
Another industry fan favorite, Worldwide Line’s Steve Rone (left), with ASI’s Candace Hershey and Jake Krolick.
ASI San Diego 2011
Counselor editor Andy Cohen and ASI’s research superhero, Larry Basinait.
ASI San Diego 2011
(From left): Worldwide Line’s Steve Rone, Shepenco’s adorable Natalie Townes and ASI’s Jake Krolick.
ASI San Diego 2011
My Sweda BFFs! (From left): Jamie Berridy, marketing manager; a friend of Scott Pearson’s & Jim Hagan’s, who was so much fun to party with and so delightfully mischievous that he shall henceforth be known as “the Gremlin”; Scott and Jim. Love, love, love them.
ASI San Diego 2011
Graphcoline owner Jim Humphrey, me and my pal Jason Grindall from Graphco. Jason and I once spent a week traveling through the Midwest on a bus together, on an Advantages road show. I made sure the bus was stocked with beer and cocktails at the end of every show day, so we had quite the rollicking time.
ASI San Diego 2011
Here’s a new friend, Chris Barrett of ModernLine, with ASI’s associate publisher, Ed Koehler.
ASI San Diego 2011
Chris Lovell, ASI’s senior vice president, makes friends with The Padre.
ASI San Diego 2011
Dan “The Man” Townes, ASI’s Joan Chaykin and Andy Cohen.
ASI San Diego 2011
BamBams’ Ryan Person and my favorite Dans: Townes and Taylor.
ASI San Diego 2011
After the Padres game on Thursday night, my colleagues Jakey Krolick (left) and Colin Graf (a.k.a. “El Diablo”), both from ASI’s marketing department, took a bunch of suppliers and distributors with us “off the grid” to Pacific Beach. This is still fairly early in the evening…
ASI San Diego 2011
Every so often, you see a photo that absolutely captures the personality of its subject. This photo of Jakey, who — in addition to being one of ASI’s star marketers — is an awesome music critic for online publications, is him to a T… the latter-day version of Lester Bangs.
ASI San Diego 2011
My pal Colin is usually the calm and measured yin to Jake’s yang and the epitome of stoicism at work. Here, we see his alter-ego, Kyle, tearing it up on the dance floor as though he was a contestant for the Mirror Ball trophy.
ASI San Diego 2011
ASI’s sassy distributor sales rep, Meghan Bogarde, and our executive consultant for the Canadian marketplace, the legendary Freddie Oesen (or “The Prime Minister of Canada,” as I call him…).
ASI San Diego 2011
As with every good story, this one ends with someone in recovery mode on the plane ride home. Here’s one of ASI’s favorite staffers, Gene Rahill, our director of digital advertising, trying not to wince as my camera flash goes off. Gene, good boy that he is, waited until the end of the show to rage like a rock star. I tell you, he kept those sunglasses on for 10 hours straight to dull the pain. We love him here at ASI!

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