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

Asia’s Spring Shows: Can a Quarter Million People Be Wrong?

Filed under: Asia, Editorial, Travel

Well, hey there friends, cohorts, revelers and raconteurs!

Am I the only one beside myself with giddiness that summer is almost here after a dark, dismal, Game of Thrones-esque (all hail the Kingslayer!) long winter?

One marker I always use for the start of summer is my return from Asia’s premier spring shows – the Canton Fair and the Hong Kong Gifts & Premium Show – which are the largest promo showcases in the world.

In the past, I have – and I don’t think this is too strong a word – eviscerated the Canton Show as The. Worst. Show. EVER. (in case I was vague) and the city in which it’s held, Guangzhou, as the 10th Circle of Hell. Except Hell isn’t as hot, smells better and has nicer architecture. Well, I’m here to say that in the two years since I’ve been, the show and the city have gotten noticeably better. Let’s call it hell-ish. In China – unencumbered by construction permits, pesky public protests and journalistic oversight – buildings and transportation infrastructure are created at a rapid pace – what would take 10 years to build in the States is done in six months in China. Consequently, the landscape of Guangzhou, for example, is constantly undergoing growth and upgrade. And yes, it’s better – prettier, more hopeful and optimistic; not so gray and oppressive.

The Canton Show, now in its 115th session, is still an awful show from an organizational standpoint (should you need help from a member of the show staff, don’t hold your breath – they are sparse and barely speak English) but it, too, is getting better. Consider that at this session alone, held from April 23rd-27th, 188,119 buyers from 214 countries and regions attended; at the immeasurably better and more enjoyable Hong Kong Gift & Premium Fair, 65,000 buyers from 151 countries and regions attended from April 27th-May 1st. If you want to experience truly international events, these are the places to be. Suppliers from our North American promo industry flock to these events each year to purchase the latest and greatest items from Asian vendors, many of which distributors will see in their lines within the next six months. Is it worth the torturous 16-hour-each-way flights, the circadian-rhythm shocking jetlag and the skeezy food (read: pigeon hot dogs and fish-eye soup)? Yes. Because if you want the opportunity to witness, first-hand, product trends being born and to build a robust web of global business contacts, this is where you want to be. Even if I did throw a toddler-like temper tantrum during the exhausting and laborious process of crossing the border from China into Hong Kong. (Customs officer: “Do you have anything to declare?” Me: “Yeah. Guangzhou sucks.” As Rich Fairfield, ASI’s chief revenue officer and publisher, rolled his eyes and attempted to pull me along.)

Read on for some fun photos and a glimpse into what ASI’s Powers That Be – President/CEO Tim Andrews and Rich Fairfield – really talk about when they’re together. Hint: It made me COL (Cackle Out Loud).

Emulating a sparkly winter wonderland, here’s the booth of an LED light exhibitor at this year’s Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China. The best thing about being in Guangzhou this year? Getting to have dinner with one of my favorite people ever, Polyconcept board member Philippe Varnier. His charm and wit are only exceeded by his tres Francaise ability to pick fabulous wine.
The welcome display at the entrance of this year’s Hong Kong Gifts & Premium Show. Chinese manufacturers often give their companies names that are unintentionally funny or “D’uh” in their obviousness. For example, this company — which makes bongs and hookah pipes — is named “Inhale International.” One exhibitor at the Canton Show was named, “Newish Products.” Nothing like managing expectations.
Interested in seeing exhibitors from specific countries? The Hong Kong Show conveniently separates them into areas throughout the show floor. While in Hong Kong, ASI held a cocktail reception for North American suppliers in attendance, sponsored by its SGR (Supplier Global Resource) magazine.
ASI’s president/CEO, Tim Andrews, welcoming guests to ASI’s second annual cocktail reception in Hong Kong for North American supplier members. (From left): My pal Dan Jellinek and Bob Martin, both with Magnet, and Chris Hodge, president of CleggPromo.
Rich Fairfield (left), ASI’s Chief Revenue Officer, and Tim Andrews, at the SGR cocktail reception. If you ever see these two deep in conversation and wondered what kinds of industry strategies they’re cooking up, let me end the suspense — their level of discourse may be less elevated than you think. Case in point: One morning at breakfast, Rich invited us to contemplate that a Neanderthal man — what with his active, fight-or-flight lifestyle, low-carb/high-protein diet and piston-like heart function — could annihilate a male from today’s society in hand-to-hand combat. “They spent their lives running from predatory animals and huge primates … Neanderthals were fierce,” Rich reasoned. Tim, however, had a counter argument: “Today’s man, though, has evolved to where we’re able to reason, innovate and create defenses. That said, I have no problem believing that a monkey could beat me up.” [Me: Laugh-snort oolong tea through my nose.] “How do you think we’d fare against space aliens?,” Rich then asked… See what I mean? Less elevated (and way more funny) than you’d expect. Here’s me and one of the most HIL-ARIOUS people EVER: TekWeld’s Taylor Tadmor, or, as I call him, “The Crazy Israeli.” Taylor, a prototypical New Yorker in speech and attitude (think DiCaprio’s fast-talking Jordon Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, without the rampant degenerate behavior) commandeered a cab — yes, you read that right — in mainland China because he thought the very young driver, clearly new to the art of aggressive, defensive driving — was “too timid.” Those words will never be used to describe Taylor.
Here’s Rich, Tim and me, with our good friends Bert Prevoo and Bryan Peach, the awesome guys who run South Africa’s promotional products association, PPPSA (Promotional Product Professionals of South Africa). Click here for more info: www.pppsa.co.za. So gracious are these guys that they brought me a STUNNING hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind, artisanal necklace from South Africa. Every time I wear it, I’ll think of my fun friends Bert & Bryan.
My good friends Conor O’Donovan (left) and Allon Todres from ODM Asia Ltd., shown here with Tim Andrews. Interested in importing the coolest new products from Asia? Start with these guys: www.theodmgroup.com. The vibrant, electrifying and mesmerizing Hong Kong skyline at dusk.
At an exhibitor’s booth at the Canton Show, a very talented female sax player serenades attendees. While I’m pretty liberal and libertine in most areas of my life, food isn’t one of them — I’m a very conservative eater, and not the least bit adventurous. Consequently, for the duration of my stay at the Canton Show, I ate — much to Rich Fairfield’s amusement — these kooky, cake-like white-cheese-on-white-bread sandwiches served at the Guangzhou convention center. I nicknamed them “jailhouse sandwiches.” My other options? Year-old eggs (considered delicacies in China), fish-based dumplings or pigeon hotdogs. Um, NO.
The view of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour from my hotel room. A sign in one exhibitor’s booth at the Hong Kong Show, a sentiment I took to heart that evening.
Melar Wang, Tim Andrews and Tammy Jing, basking in the Hong Kong skyline at dusk, on the rooftop of the Tamarind Pan-Asian Restaurant & Bar, one of the best Indian restaurants at which I’ve ever eaten. Here’s me with the lovely Melar Wang (left) and Tammy Jing, who sell ads in Asia for SGR, with me at our last group dinner in Hong Kong before I left the next day. Truly, you can’t beat that view.

The Asian Gift Shows: The Good, The Bad & The Skeezy

Filed under: Asia, Fun, Travel

Hi Everyone!

I'm back from Asia, slightly jet-lagged but no worse for wear. For those of you who follow me on Twitter (@ASI_MBell), you probably have a sense of my feelings on the shows I attended (read: Canton Fair = Awful; Hong Kong Gift Show = Awesome). But there are a few thoughts I'd like to convey, lest anyone accuse me of being vague.

First, the Canton Show. This event is held in Guangzhou, China, which is about 2.5 hours outside of Hong Kong. The show is divided into three phases and attracts well over 100,000 attendees from around the globe, with exhibitors showing items like electronics and household goods, hardware and tools, consumer goods, gifts and home decorations, textiles, office supplies and bags, among others. Many of the ad specialty suppliers here in North America attend the show to find new items for their lines; I attended in my capacity as editor of ASI's supplier magazine, Supplier Global Resource, looking for product trends for our upcoming show report.

While I will concede that there were massive amounts of products on display, here are some other tidbits about the show: You know how in movies and literature, hell is portrayed as a sulfurous slog of mind-melting heat and unrelenting torment? That's the Canton Fair, only with a crappier floor plan and a nastier smell. If you've ever had a doubt that we (ASI, PPAI, etc.) do a stellar job at organizing trade shows, I defy you to visit this dystopian mess just once. With a staggering lack of show staff, directional signage, printed materials like booth listings or basic services (the "Press Room" was a metal chair and a Xerox machine),  I had a meltdown of epic proportions -- complete with Homeric yelling -- on Day Two, as I tried to find the area where the shuttle buses were parked. Literally no one could tell me. I finally found the buses on the last day of the show, parked somewhere near Beijing.

And while this may be a cultural thing, I take issue with exhibitors sitting and eating their lunch while attendees are in their booth. I don't know one supplier in North America who would be okay with their booth staff slurping down noodles in front of clients and prospects. There's right, there's wrong and there's just plain rude.

Now, my boss, Rich Fairfield, ASI's executive vice president and publisher who accompanied me to the show and became my de facto "handler," pointed out that many people love this show. Maybe, but I don't know any of them. The people from our North American industry in attendance were hardly avid fans. I think Rich is afraid the Canton show organizers will read this blog and ban me from future shows. I should be so lucky.

By contrast, the Shenzhen Gift Fair was a delight. Run by the fine folks at Reed Exhibitions (the same group who does the fabulous PSI Show in Dusseldorf), this event was cohesive, air-conditioned, easy to follow and had beautiful booths with higher-end products. Next year, when the Canton Fair shuns me, this is where I'll be.

Lastly, the Hong Kong Gifts & Premiums Show is really quite fabulous. It's at this event where I found a ton of cool, new products -- especially in its expansive Hall of Fine Designs -- that knocked my Manolos off. You'll be seeing many of them, I'm sure, coming to a supplier's line near you.

And now, without further ado, scores of fun and weird photos from the shows, starring my favorite industry celebs and new friends too!

More next week from the ASI New York Show, where the saltiness, sassiness and snarkiness I accumulated in China will have dissipated, and I'll be my usual perky, rah-rah, chipper self (she says sarcastically). ; )


-- M

At each entrance to the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China, a very somber, perfectly postured Chinese soldier stood in full regalia. By the end of the first day of this hellish show, I was ready to throw myself at his feet and beg to be put out of my misery.
The main entrance to the Canton Show, which draws over 100,000 international attendees during its three phases at the end of each April.
Here’s my boss, Rich Fairfield, ASI’s publisher and executive vice president, with Rob Spector, owner of Spector & Co., one of the largest and most respected suppliers in Canada, at the Canton Show. Poor Rob… Every time he saw me on the show floor, I wailed at him like a crazy woman about how much I loathe that show. He exhibited the patience of Job with me.
The best, and prettiest, booth I saw at the Canton Show, for a supplier of housewares. By decorating their exhibit area with foliage and white lights, it looked like an enchanted forest.
Rich Fairfield, of whom I’m so fond, could eat Chinese noodles and dumplings (from questionable origins, mind you) every day of his life. Me, not so much.
Brace yourselves: While at the aforementioned Canton Show in Guangzhou, I, Rich and Alan Lee, our wonderful colleague based in Hong Kong, had lunch. I am not an adventurous eater at all, and shied away from anything but the basics while in Asia, sticking to white rice. Alan, however, embraces his culture and eats all sorts of exotic fare. When he cracked open this one-year-old (yep) egg, I happened to have a mouthful of rice — which I then promptly spit all over Rich, gagging in the process. I don’t know about your boss, but I thank God that mine is so laid back that he actually laughed til he cried, despite the fact that I hurled on him.
While in Guangzhou, I received a delightful e-mail from PCNA’s enigmatic president, David Nicholson, asking me to join him and his team, who would be going out that evening to celebrate his birthday. Of course, I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t know at the time was that a river of tequila and sombreros would be involved. Here’s the whole group — members of PCNA, PFConcept (the company’s European arm) and its World Source sourcing team. They were such wonderful, fun people I even thought well of them the next morning, when — in the cold, hard light of day — my eyelashes were stuck together and I was begging for a quick and painless death.
Here’s me with PCNA’s president, David Nicholson. I have no idea what we’re looking at off camera, but would hazard a guess that it’s my dignity and restraint.
PCNA’s David Nicholson (left) with Rodolph Garnier, director of sourcing for Polyconcept GBS, based in Shanghai.
(From left): Peter Healy, PCNA’s vice president of product development and sourcing; AJ Dickson, category manager; Diane Gerken, assistant category manager; and Mindy Hoffman, category manager for PCNA. I had never met any of these people before that night, and they were just awesome. Special props to Diane, who was the youngest of the group yet acted infinitely more mature than those of us in an older demographic, and Peter, who had the singular distinction of making me laugh so hard that I snorted vodka through my nose. Good times.
A moment now, about Jeff Brown, PCNA’s senior vice president of sales & marketing: Every time I get to spend time with Jeff, I enjoy him even more — he’s one of the most entertaining conversationalists I’ve come across in the industry. He’s shown here with the lovely and talented Heather Smartt, product category manager for Bullet. While Heather’s last name is perfect for her, Heather Sassy would be equally apropos. ; )
In addition to the multitude of talents David possesses in the business arena, he has one of the steadiest pours I’ve ever seen and kept the tequila flowing during his birthday celebration. That tequila looks innocent enough, doesn’t it? The next morning, though… Hoo Boy. You just want to heave yourself into a coffin and shut the lid.
Here’s the whole group, celebrating David Nicholson’s 42nd birthday at a fun bar in Guangzhou, China. Truly, being with this amazing team was the highlight of this leg of the trip. (Where’s my sombrero, you may ask? Stuffed under my chair, with my willpower…)
Here’s one to make my Mom proud, with a sombrero around my neck, kissing a bottle of Jose Quervo.
Do you know my Joshy Goodelman (left)? Well, you should. He’s the vice president of sales for the NY-based supplier Liqui-Mark Corp., and is the cat’s meow. Here, he’s with his BFF Taylor Tadmor, owner of Tekweld and one of my new favorites (I call him the “Crazy Israeli” — he rocks) and Jacky Chan, who runs Taylor’s China office. “Jacky has a team of four people that go out to the factories that we use to do quality control,” Taylor says.
This is the view of the harbour in Hong Kong, from my room at the W Hotel. Once I got to Hong Kong, my mood improved dramatically.
The welcome display at the main entrance of the Hong Kong Gifts & Premiums Show.
When I asked Rich Fairfield to go stand next to this plush QR code mascot for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, he looked at me with such disdain it was as though I asked to drain his marrow. “I don’t like fuzzy walking mascots… they freak me out.” This from the man who’ll eat skeezy dumplings from vendors in the streets of China.
My boys!!! [Insert teenybopper squeal here] Oh, let me count the ways that I adore Polyconcept’s Yann Leca (left) and Michael Bernstein. A large part of the reason why I made the trek (a 16-hour flight each way) to Asia was to spend time with them. So gleefully giddy was I to be with them, that Rich is considering paying them just to travel with us to keep my bitchiness at bay.
I just love who you randomly run into when traveling overseas. While at an Italian restaurant with my Polyconcept pals, I spotted Bill and Sharon Miller, distributors from BCG Creations in Canada, who I had met at a dinner last year at the ASI Dallas Show. They are quite the fun characters…
Here’s PCNA’s Jeff Brown (left) and Rodolphe Normandin, director of marketing and product development for PFConcept, Polyconcept’s European arm.
Meet Rob Brandegee (left) of too-cool-for-school company, Littlearth, and Patrick Tornqvist, president of OneSource IML (learn more about them here: www.osiml.com). These two are at the top of my “get to know better and party with more” list, as the look on Patrick’s face leads me to believe he’s got quite a few fabulous stories to tell.
Polyconcept CEO Michael Bernstein (left), Steve Kaufman, the president of Creative Design & Marketing Inc., (is it me, or does he look like a young Albert Brooks?) and Rob Brandegee, who’s been friends with Michael for years. The CEO of Littlearth, Rob’s company is a licensee for the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA and collegiate teams (check out his site here: www.littlearth.com). Rob was rocking a hoop earring, lots of Keith Richards-esque bracelets and a Jim Morrison slithery-come-hithery vibe, so I anointed him with the nickname “The Sexy Pirate,” which is how I shall refer to him henceforth.
Me, with my brother-from-another-mother, Michael Bernstein. One of the first people I met in the industry nearly 15 years ago, my affection for him knows no bounds. So comfortable am I with him, that he has the distinction of being one of three people in the industry who’s seen me barefoot (no stilettos!) and without makeup. Eeesh.
Here’s me and my beloved Yann Leca, or “Shakira,” as I call him. Why? If you ever saw him dance, you’d know. His hips don’t lie.
One of my favorite couples ever, Philippe and Martine Varnier. So gracious and charming are they, that they had me to their home in Paris for dinner a few months back, and it was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had in quite some time. Monsieur Varnier, who recently stepped down as Polyconcept’s CEO, has a special place in my heart and is so charismatic, his aura has an aura.
Meet my friend Allon Todres (right), shown here with his business partner, Conor O’ Donovan, who run a sourcing company and they are awesome! Click here for more information: www.theODMGroup.com.
One of my great regrets at this year’s Hong Kong Show is that everyone’s schedule was so busy, I didn’t have a chance to cocktail with the fabulous and hilarious Bryan Peach (left) and Bert Prevoo, who run the Corporate Gifts Association of South Africa (www.cgasa.com). They are men after my own liver, and I look forward to hanging out with them and embracing our inner-libertines together the next time we’re all in the same city. Cheers, Guys!
Michael Freter, managing director of the PSI Show, which is held every January in Düsseldorf, Germany.
If you’ve never met the Tangle Man (aka Richie Zawitz), you’re really missing out. Here he is (right) with his son, Nick, in their fun and phantasmagorical booth at the Hong Kong Show. Richie is the creator of the famous Tangle toy (www.tangletoys.com) and is one of the most unique characters I’ve ever come across. A true San Francisco-based hippie, he also says “groovy” more than anyone I know.
A view of Hong Kong from the ferry to Kowloon.
Two of my favorites! Gene Geiger and Jo-an Lantz, who were in Hong Kong for their annual WAGE (World Advertising Gift Exchange) meeting, graciously made some time to have drinks with Rich and me. The WAGE group is really cool because there’s one distributor who gets voted into the group from more than 15 countries across the globe. Geiger has been the designated US member for years, and this year, Jo-an is president of the group. You go, Girl!
Here’s the always-awesome Steve Levschuk, president of Toronto-based Talbot Marketing and WAGE’s Canadian member, and Tatiana Zaragoza, whose company is the WAGE member from Spain.
Oh my Lord, it’s Randy Chen, who — at 6’2″, 220 lbs — is the other Great Wall of China! The loquacious Mr. Chen, the straw that stirs the industry cocktail, acted as tour guide and translator for Brett Hersh, who visited the Asian shows for the first time. Truly, he couldn’t have been in better hands and Randy knows everyone in China through his importing company, Impex, which does product sourcing, warehousing and safety testing for suppliers. Love, love, love these boys.
Liqui-Mark’s Joshy Goodelman (left) and ASI’s Rich Fairfield, relaxing at the Grand Hyatt after the Hong Kong Show.
Rich Fairfield and Brad Gnesin, who handles sourcing for Counselor Top 40 supplier Logomark, at dinner at Tango!, an Argentinean steakhouse in Hong Kong.
Here’s Maggie Wheeler, vice president of new product development for Logomark, with the one and only Trevor Gnesin, owner/president of Logomark, and me. Never one to suppress his opinions, the only thing in rarer form than him that evening was my filet. If the industry were a movie and we were casting “crazy CEO with a big heart and bigger mouth,” Trev-ah would get a callback.


And last but certainly not least is my girl Bonni Sandy, president of Dard Design. Bonni has been attending the Asian shows for years and knows her stuff down cold. She is simply one of the smartest — and sweetest — people I know. Great seeing you, Sista!

Six Reasons Why I Love the Industry (& Three Reasons I Don’t)

Filed under: ASI Shows, Asia, Editorial, Fun, Personal, PSI Shows

Hi Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well and enjoying the summer so far!

I’ve been reading about how McDonald’s yanked the Shrek glasses (thanks to the sharp, stinging crack of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s whip) because of the minute amounts of cadmium, and found myself getting increasingly aggravated and ranty (never a good combination). Granted, I’ve always had what can be charitably described as “authority issues,” but doesn’t the CPSC  have anything better to do with its time than bring the hammer of the Gods down on McDonald’s? The amount of cadmium in the glasses was negligible — certainly less than in the glasses we all drank from as children. How, for the love of God, did we all survive (she asks sarcastically)? Really, have the CPSC, FDA, etc. ever taken a good, hard look at Circus Peanuts and maraschino cherries? Forget about cadmium: If anything’s going to be the demise of our species, I turn a suspicious, gimlet eye in their direction. No faux food like Circus Peanuts — with the consistency of a Serta memory foam mattress — or maraschino cherries, steeped in jars of radioactive-red sticky goo, can be good for you. 


So, I’d like to give a shout-out to the industry and show it some love, as I’m tired of it getting bitch-slapped by the CPSC, the FDA, PhRMA and all the other alphabet bullies. Forthwith, the top six things I love about this industry.

1. Suppliers. I’m probably a little biased because I’m the editor of ASI’s magazine, Supplier Global Resource (www.supplierglobalresource.com), which is just for them. But knowing as many suppliers as I do, I’m acutely aware of the burdens and responsibilities that rest on their shoulders. From having to be safety experts, marketing geniuses, DaVinci-esque product inventors and financial lenders to their clients, the success of this industry — in my opinion — begins with suppliers. If I could get them all together in one room and buy them drinks, I’d happily do it. In lieu of that, I’m inviting them to a free luncheon and panel discussion I’m moderating at the ASI Chicago Show on Tuesday, 7/13 (set-up day), from noon-1:30 p.m. On my panel will be four suppliers — MediaTree’s Rob Watson, iClick’s Niko Pamboukas, Custom HBC’s Larry Wilhelm and Build NY Inc.’s David Frank — all of whom had at least double-digit growth in the past two years. Suppliers, come join us, take a break from setting up and listen to your colleagues share their secrets for success. Additionally, there’s a complimentary happy hour just for suppliers at the ASI Chicago Show on Wednesday, July 14, from 5 p.m.-6 p.m. after the show closes in the Exhibitors’ Lounge. I’ll be there, so come have a cocktail with me! ; )

2. Distributors. Much as the suppliers are my beloved ones, many of my closest friends in the industry are distributors, and I stand in awe of their jaw-dropping creativity. Want to know the way to this girl’s heart? Send me a sample of a well-done, clever, funny, effective self-promo piece and I’m in. For those of you who may be attending ASI’s Chicago Show, I’m moderating a panel discussion on Tuesday, 7/13, from 4 p.m.-5 p.m. on the most effective ways to do self-promotion campaigns. And while the sum total of what I don’t know could stop a herd of buffalo in its tracks, what I do know is that people who do self-promotion campaigns make more sales. Period.  

3. Trade shows. Yes, yes — I know the sheer number of them are the bane of some people’s existence. However — even after 13 years in the industry — I still get excited exiting the plane at certain show destinations and giggly with anticipation over seeing all my industry BFFs and meeting new ones. There are many shows I love (and one I don’t… see below), but if you’ve ever been to the SAAC Show in Long Beach and engaged in “Pool Day” (set-up day) at the Hyatt with Awesome Havier the Waiter serving Greyhounds (Grey Goose and grapefruit juice) to the industry’s best characters, social butterflies, rock stars and raconteurs, you know what it is to love being with your peeps at a show.

“Pool Day” at the Hyatt in Long Beach during the SAAC Show. Anyone who’s anyone (and craves a chilled cocktail) is there!

4. The products. Oh, let me count the times I’ve been WOWED by a product so clever/creative/funny, it slays me. If you love Sexy water, pens that smell like cupcakes (thanks Harris & Karen at All in One!), light-up bunny ears and leopard-print slankets, this is the industry for you. Joe Haley, star of ASI’s The Joe Show, and I still love discovering the next Coolest Product Ever. Admittedly, we’re dorks, but we get why this industry’s product offerings rock.

5. The PSI Show. What? You’ve never been? Please come with me the next time I attend and you will see the genesis of genius design — where trends are exfoliated by other markets, booths that will leave you slack-jawed and exhibitor hospitality that will explain why attendees show up as soon as the event opens each day and stay until the very last second it closes. Offering snacks, beverages (both alcoholic and the other, less fun kind) and comfy seating, each booth is like a mini bistro. No wonder attendees often stay with an exhibitor for upwards of 45 minutes and place orders on the spot. The PSI Dusseldorf Show, held each January (next year’s show is from January 12-14), is the largest ad specialty show in the world and definitely worth a visit. In addition, this year, PSI is partnering for the first time with a competitor show organization, Pro8, to form the Pro10 Show, which will be held in Amsterdam from August 25-27. Yeah. Amsterdam. I’m assuming I don’t need to tell you that I’ll be there. (For more information on the PSI Shows, go to www.psionline.de).

PSI Show
Despite the presence of a waiters, a fully-stocked bar and chandeliers, I swear to you this was an actual booth (Macma) at the PSI Show in Düsseldorf this past January.

6. Michael Bernstein. His family started Leed’s, and for a while, he ran Counselor Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America. And though he’s not in the industry on the level he once was (much of his time is devoted to a new business venture in the music industry — his first love), he remains on the board of Polyconcept as its vice chairman. I once flew across four states just to have pizza with him at a delightful dive in Pittsburgh called Mineo’s. To bask in his wit, wisdom and misanthropic snark (or have him talk me off the ledge), I’d fly a lot farther.  

And now, three things I could do without:

1. The cart draggers. Truly, I get why some people need carts — it can be exhausting hauling catalogs and samples around a trade show, especially if you have an injury or ailment. However, when scores of people show up (I’m looking at you, guy with the Dumbledore beard in Dallas last year dragging a wheeled trash can full of supplier offerings…) pulling various luggage contraptions in the aisles and suddenly stop, it can make one (read: Me) nearly pop a cranial vein. Mark my words: I am going to fall over one of those things sometime soon, and it will not be graceful (or quiet).

2. The bitching. Hands up: Who thinks that if people spent as much time selling, creating and marketing as they do bitching, gossiping and lamenting about inane industry nonsense that we’d be well on our way to making up the sales ground lost last year? Just sayin’… 

3. The Canton Fair. Distributors have probably never experienced this massive (120,000+ attendees; 10,000 exhibitors), unorganized, sweltering sourcing show, located in beautiful downtown Guangzhou (insert eye roll here) China, but I’m willing to bet many suppliers have. Let me just say this: For those of you who don’t believe in the existence of Hell, I challenge you to walk that show and then come talk to me.

Whew! I feel better now, and I hope you do too. Please remember, regardless of what the alphabet bullies would have you think: None of you are poisoning kids, sabotaging a doctor’s ability to offer patient care or single-handedly trashing the planet, so don’t let anyone make you feel like you are. Unless you manufacture maraschino cherries or Circus Peanuts — then you’re on your own. ; )

Cheers to all of you, and hope to see you at the ASI Chicago Show from July 13-15!

More soon,


The Good, the Bad & the Slimy: Memories of this year’s Asian shows

Filed under: Asia, Travel

Hi Everyone — 
Having just returned from a debaucherous Memorial Day weekend in Avalon, NJ, where I disgrace myself each summer, I’ve asked a colleague to guest blog on my behalf while I tend to my quivering liver.
In the past, Rich Fairfield, ASI’s senior vice president & publisher, and I have attended the Hong Kong and Canton shows held each year. This year, Rich took pity on me — and my crazy deadlines — and gave me a reprieve. Staff Writer Elaine Wong, who speaks fluent Mandarin and Cantonese and whose family hails from Guangzhou, attended the shows with Rich. (He made a wise choice in bringing Elaine, as the only language I speak fluently is Snark…). Not only was this Elaine’s first time at the shows, it was her first time ever in Asia. Read on for her recollections of and personal insights on the country and the shows, which are refreshingly less jaded than mine would be…

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Rising Product Prices: Big Trouble in Big China

Filed under: Asia

Hi Everyone —

For those of you who know me, despite my immense capacity for snark and sarcasm, I’m a pretty glass-half-full kind of girl when it comes to my outlook on life. That said, I certainly don’t revel in being the bearer of bad news — but here it is: The prices of promotional products imported from Asia (which is most of them) are going to rise, and soon (and by “soon,” I mean “in the next few weeks”).

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The China Syndrome

Filed under: Asia

Welcome to February!

Did you see the news last week? In China, hundreds of thousands of people were stranded at the Guangzhou train station on the way to visit their families for Chinese New Year due to a snow storm. Now, I’ve been to the Guangzhou train station quite a few times and I can tell you that under the best conditions, it’s no day at the beach.

Having seen the footage of throngs of Chinese citizens stuck there for days without ample food and water, it just about redefines what hell must be. Thankfully, the trains have resumed service and the Chinese people are slowly getting where they need to be for their holiday celebration. (The Guangzhou train station, incidentally, looks like Dresden after the bombings in the wake of all those people crammed in there for days…)

The sad part is that Chinese factory workers save their money to visit family during Chinese New Year. It is the high point of their year, and for people who make on average less than $200 per month, it was just soul-crushing to watch them wait helplessly while the Chinese government, clearly not used to this kind of weather-related catastrophe, grappled with how to alleviate the bottleneck of rail travel.

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