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

“Up Close & Promotional” at Shumsky’s Client Show

Filed under: Fun, Personal, Travel

Hi Everyone!

I know, I know. One week I’m in New Orleans, the next in London, the next Dayton, OH. For sure, my travel schedule can get crazy but one of my favorite things as an editor in the industry is getting out to meet new people and spending time with old friends. (Aside: My colleague Joe Haley, ASI’s managing editor and star of The Joe Show, doesn’t think I travel enough. “It’s so blissfully quiet when you’re not here,” he says.) I got to do both at the “Up Close and Promotional” client event hosted by the distributor Shumsky, held last week in Dayton.

Believe it or not, after 15+ years covering the industry for ASI’s magazines, I had never been to a distributor event before. Supplier events? Tons of them. But this is the one of the few invitations one of our editors has received to cover an event like this, so I jumped at the chance. My take? It was phenomenal, on a multitude of levels. From the top-notch supplier participation, to the level of engagement from the clients, to the Shumsky team’s attention to detail, creativity and organizational skills, I loved it. And to take a page from the event’s theme, “Add Some Color to Your Brand,” color me wowed.

“I am so impressed with our team with the execution of this very unique event — the amount of work involved and the detail around it is immense,” says Mike Emoff, owner of Shumsky. “Over the past three years, this event format has been fine-tuned and will continue to be so. Proudly, our supplier partners overwhelmingly feel this is the premier client-facing event in the country today. Our format could not be effective without the trust that we’ve built with our preferred partner suppliers. They were truly superstars and an extra heartfelt thank you goes out to them for their hard work and dedication to our organization.”

Scroll below for lots of great photos from the event, and descriptions of the cast of characters and bon vivants.

Finally, a big thanks to the fine folks at Shumsky for making me feel so welcome, and to all the great people I met in Dayton. Some may think “Cleveland Rocks,” but my money’s on you guys.


— M

So on the ball is the Shumsky team that a gift basket, filled with gourmet candy and wine from Ohio-based manufacturers, was in my room waiting for me and other out-of-town guests. Love the colored ribbon that tied in with their event theme, and the fact that each key staffer personally signed the card in colored ink.  
Lorie Woods (left), Shumsky’s off-the-charts talented director of marketing, shown here at the Dublin Pub in the trendy Oregon District of Dayton with Jill Albers, Shumsky’s business development executive. Jilly Albers and Cory Schroepfer, president of Bridge Marketing Services (the St. Louis-based multiline rep firm that handles Mid-Nite Snax, Gordon Sinclair, Spector and Co., ProTowels, Visions/Awardcraft, Jetline and Pioneer Balloon), outside one bar in Dayton’s Oregon District,where they had fire pits for smoked barbecue snacks. Consequently, my hair and fur coat smelled like a pulled pork sandwich for the next eight hours.
One of the stops on our bar crawl featured a band with one of the best lead singers — the charming chanteuseshown here with Jilly and Cory — I’ve heard in quite some time. Unfortunately, because it was a Tuesday night, there were only three people in the bar to hear her. She was sensational and belted out a version of Guns N Roses “Paradise City” that would have shamed Axl Rose himself. Here’s Cory and Jilly doing shots of Cherry Bombs from plastic syringes at a place called the Tumbleweed Connection. A word about Cory: Sometimes, when Jilly, me and our pals (sadly MIA on this trip) Sharon Biernat and Natalie Townes tear up the town like the wrecking crew we are, we have a habit of kidnapping an unsuspecting victim to join our mayhem (I know… Try to suppress your shock). At the ASI Chicago Show last July, it was Boundless’s Brad White; this time around, Cory’s number was up. Let me state unequivocally: He was a trooper.
Let me ‘fess up: My name is Michele and I’m a dive bar-aholic. Love, love, LOVE them. In this particular one in Dayton, which had all the cosmopolitan panache of your great-grandpop’s VFW Hall, Cory took it upon himself to prevent the low-hanging fiberglass insulation from collapsing on our heads. And, more critically, in our drinks. Jilly and I, out on the town in Dayton. Jilly and I have been friends now for over eight years, having first met at a piano bar in Dallas during an industry show. We’ve been besties ever since. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t have a sister, but if I did, it’d be Jilly.
Our promotional souvenir from the Tumbleweed (or, as one friendly local shared with me, the “Stumbleweed”) Connection bar in the trendy Oregon District of downtown Dayton, OH. The next morning, I checked my BlackBerry and saw I had sent myself a message — no doubt to remind me of the festivities — that simply said, “Cherry Bombs at the Tumbleweed.” All together now: “Oy.” Jilly, ever the Dancing Queen.
Bright and early next morning, the first day of Shumsky’s “Up Close & Promotional” client event, Jilly took me to the Shumsky offices in Dayton. Here she is with the lovely and talented Anita Emoff, president of Shumsky and a member of the 2011 Counselor Hot List. Anita is a huge supporter of the Pay It Forward movement (www.shumsky.com/pay-it-forward/), and told me a story of a random act of kindness she felt compelled to do that made my eyes fill up. She is really something special. (Side note: Though it appears otherwise, Jilly and Anita did not plan to dress alike that day!) Shumsky held its third annual client event at the Dayton Dragons’ stadium, which is the home of the local Triple A team that often sends players to the Cincinnati Reds. It’s a fantastic facility and an awesome place to have an industry event because, as you all know, sports teams totally get the power of promotional products. Here, attendees were greeted by a table of prizes — donated by the generous suppliers who participated — offered to those clients who filled out surveys of the event.
Welcome gifts for attendees, all bearing the logos and playing off the “Add Some Color to Your Brand” theme of the event: brightly-hued pens, neon Post-Its and imprinted paint mixing sticks. (I’m tellin’ ya — when it comes to creative promos expertly tied to a theme, these Shumsky folks do not miss a trick!) You know how every well-run event has one person, running around behind the scenes who obsesses over every detail and totally sweats the small stuff to make sure everything turns out just right? Well, that’s Lorie Woods, Shumsky’s director of marketing. So adroitly does she juggle tasks and so many hats does she wear, she should be on the main stage at Ringling Brothers.
Meet Sue Smith (left) and Angie Gibbons, two clients of Jilly’s. Each supplier who participated in the event, all PeerNet preferred vendors as Shumsky is a founding member of that distributor group, set up their displays in VIP rooms overlooking the baseball field at the Dragons’ stadium. Jilly, Sue, Angie and I were grouped together all day (so fun!) and went from room to room so the suppliers could present directly to Angie and Sue, who then explained their company’s promo needs as Jill took notes on which samples they were interested in getting, marketing ideas and campaign planning. I’ve seen, of course, suppliers present to distributors before, but it was fascinating to watch them act as creative promotional consultants for end buyers. I was so proud of them, as they were all really awesome. A great shot of the Dayton Dragons’ stadium, complete with Shumsky signage on the Jumbotron touting its event.
Shumsky reps and their clients at the lunch Shumsky hosted prior to the start of the supplier presentations. Another reason I was such a fan of having the event at a baseball stadium? The food choices were fabulous: burgers, mac & cheese, pretzels with melted cheese, popcorn, chips and salsa, cookies… Wowza, was it decadent. Geoff Vejsicky from Sweda/Cutter & Buck, shown here presenting to some Shumsky clients.
The hosts with the most. Here’s Anita and Mike Emoff, who’s at the helm of Shumsky, this third-generation Dayton-based distributorship started in 1953 by his grandparents. So gracious and welcoming are they that they invited suppliers who participated in the event to their home for a thank you cocktail party and reception. So classy. And socreative — as Halloween is right around the corner, the Emoffs’ party had a spooky theme, complete with catered food like “Terrifying Tuna Sliders” and “Booberry Salad.” I love that they went all out for their suppliers, which was clearly appreciated by those in attendance. One of the catering staff, in full Halloween regalia, at Mike & Anita’s house party. Far from being as menacing as he looks in costume, this guy was hysterical!
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s SuperAdam! This is Mike & Anita’s adorable and precociously gregarious six-year-old son. Not only did Adam greet every guest at the door in costume, but he took time to strike Avenger-style poses and do some dance moves. Clearly, he inherited his parents’ extroverted personalities! Some of the stellar suppliers in attendance at Chez Emoff for the party. Clockwise from left: ETS Express’ Mike Williams, Cap America’s Rich Corvalan; Ash City’s Tom Spoltman; ETS’ Derek Hansen; and the adorable and delightful Brittany David from SnugZ.
(Clockwise): Magnet’s David Glasner; BIC/Norwood’s Harold Wood; Apollo’s Joseph Lee; Logomark’s Skip O’Kelly and my good friend Dan Jellinek, vice president of sales for Magnet. Geoff Vejsicky from Sweda/Cutter & Buck, shown here with Gemline’s Kim Brockschmidt.
Here’s Mike Emoff and Jilly, celebrating at the Emoff’s Halloween-themed supplier appreciation party in their home. Little known fact about Mike: An avid bike rider, he was an extra in the movie Breaking Away, which just happens to be one of my favorites. The lovely ladies of Shumsky — they look like they could be in the Rockettes! (From left): Jill Albers; Vendor Relations Manager Barb Hazen; Business Development Account Manager Kim Sawyer; Anita Emoff; and Lorie Woods. A word about Barb Hazen: As any savvy distributor knows, having someone with the skill set to deftly and effectively interact with many differently personalities is critical in a vendor relations liaison. Barb has that talent in spades as she’s key to continually developing and growing Shumsky’s supplier relationships.
After leaving Mike & Anita’s fabulous fete, Jilly and I met up with one of her favorite people, Eric Deutsch (right), one of Dayton’s wittiest characters. Here he is with his pal, Paul, as they entertained Jilly and I at a sports bar for the next few hours. Hil-arious.  

London Calling: New Friends (& a Cringe-Worthy Faux Pas) at the Sourcing City Show!

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hi Everyone!

I’m back in the country after a phenomenal and memorable trip to the U.K. for the Sourcing City Marketplace event. WOWZA, do those people know how to put on a show!

For those who don’t know, Sourcing City is a top service provider serving the U.K. promotional market and last week held its second annual Marketplace event at the FIVE (Farnborough International Venue & Events) in Farnborough, England, increasing the number of suppliers in attendance by 50%, and scheduling nearly 1,700 appointments with top distributors in the U.K. — a 132% jump from last year’s event.

The premise of Sourcing City’s Marketplace is that select U.K. distributors with sales in excess of 500,000 pounds are invited to the event and are required to set appointments, lasting 30 minutes, with suppliers. This year, the sales of the distributors in attendance made up 43% of the overall ad specialties sales in the U.K. market — 769 million pounds so far in 2012 (about $1.2 billion USD), up 2% from last year, according to a survey of 200 distributors by Sourcing City.

Phil Morgan, CEO of the supplier SPS (EU) Ltd., a U.K. manufacturer of diaries, mouse pads, drinkware, among other items, and the company with the exclusive rights to sell Rubik’s Cube items for the UK promotional market, attended Sourcing City’s Marketplace event last year and was so impressed, he doubled his exhibit area this year. “I think there’s a place for a traditional trade show, but clearly there is for this one as well,” said Morgan, who noted that 60 distributors had booked appointments with the company over the course of the two-day Marketplace event. “What I really like is the quality of customers we’re getting to see, and the amount of one-on-one time we’re spending with them – it’s much more conducive to conducting business and building relationships than at a trade show where there are so many people in your booth, you can’t possibly talk to them all in depth. Here, because distributors pre-schedule their appointments with us online, we’re able to pull their reports and look at the business they’ve done with us so far this year. We can address any problems that may have come up through the year and debut new products so we’re not waiting until January to do so, like most suppliers.”

Sourcing City’s LIVE! event will be held on January 16-17, 2013. For more information go to www.sourcingcity.co.uk.

Finally, some observations on the British: 1) I love how they add Earl Grey to everything — cocktails, shampoo, lotion and cookies. They are obsessed with their tea!; 2) The language barrier is amusing. For example, in the U.S. the word “jaded” means bored or cynical — in the UK it means “hungover,” as in “last night I was in the pub til 4:00 a.m. and now I’m bloody jaded!”; 3) Without question, Brits — and especially those I met at the Sourcing City event — are the nicest, most gracious and fun-loving group of people. And they are hearty drinkers!; 4) And finally, take a lesson from my colossal faux pas: While wearing my stilettos made from pony hair at the Sourcing City dinner, I kept telling admirers of them that they could feel free to “pet the pony.” Yeah. In the U.K., that means something totally different… Oy.

Now, without further delay, see below for tons of photos from the Sourcing City Marketplace event and after-hours fun!

More next week when I’ll be attending OH-based distributor Shumsky’s “Up Close and Promotional” event in Dayton.


— M

The charming and charismatic David Long (left), founder of Sourcing City, shown here with ASI’s president/CEO, Tim Andrews, who — by the way — is a hilariously entertaining travel companion. We shared a cab ride in Farnborough with a driver that was right out of a Monty Python skit. Carmine Rauso (left), executive director of major distributor accounts at ASI, shown here with Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of Sourcing City. Alistair is like the Mick Jagger of the British promo industry — everyone knows him and wants to be part of his party!
The lovely Liz Young, supplier services manager for Sourcing City, shown here with Carmine Rauso. The Global Triumvirate! (From left): PSI’s managing director, Michael Freter; Alistair Mylchreest; and Tim Andrews, the heads of the three companies that comprise PromoAlliance, the worldwide marketing, networking and education group: http://www.promoalliance.com/.
(From left): Michael Freter, Tim Andrews and Ritchie Wilson, owner of the U.K. supplier Dunelm. An overview shot of Sourcing City’s Marketplace show. Now in its second year, the event was an unqualified success.
After the first night of the show, the awesome folks at Sourcing City held a dinner for its supplier and distributor members and attendees. Tim Andrews, ASI’s president/CEO, was the guest speaker. ASI’s Carmine Rauso and Susanne Langley from Juniper Trading Ltd., at the Sourcing City dinner. Seriously, we had the Best. Table. Ever.
Why did we have the Best. Table. Ever., you may ask? Meet Gavin Page (left), managing director for Encore Catalogue Group. You know how there’s one person who’s the ringleader, who keeps the table lively and the drinks flowing? That was Gavin at our table who, much to my delight, went to the bar and got us a bottle of Veuve when our table ran out of its allotment of champagne. Love, love, LOVE him! Here he is with Toby Pache (center) from Sharon Lee and David Reid from Promobox. Tim Andrews and Britain’s brightest bon vivant, Gavin Page.
After Tim Andrews gave the keynote address to the guests in attendance at Sourcing City’s dinner, Richard Hope-Jones from High Profile, who was sitting next to me, commented what a great speaker Tim was and jokingly mused about how much his fee was. Here, Richard “pays” Tim for his speaking services. My girls! Here’s Liz Young — so much like me in so many ways I say we’re like the kooky Bronte sisters — and the effervescent Nikki Williams, Sourcing City’s customer support executive. I couldn’t have asked for two more fun ladies to hang out with in Farnborough!
Hands down, the funniest person we met at the Sourcing City Marketplace event was Chris Smith from Dunelm, shown here with his BFF, ASI’s Carmine Rauso. The progression of these photos is priceless, as Chris and Carmine became great pals over some after-dinner cocktails.  
Here she is, the U.S. industry’s favorite globetrotting celeb, the one and only Jo-an Lantz, executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor, Geiger. When I first started in the industry 15+ years ago, Jo-an was kind enough to act as my first female mentor and we’ve been great friends ever since. We laugh now about how we see each other more overseas than in our own country. Awwww, here’s one of my all-time favorites — Steve Levschuk (left), owner of Toronto-based Talbot Marketing, shown here with Jo-an Lantz and Derek Rohde of the French distributor Jordenen S.A. Steve’s, Jo-an’s and Derek’s companies all belong to the World Advertising Gift Exchange (WAGE), a group of premier distributors — one from each country — that get voted into the group after an extensive vetting process. Jo-an is the current president of WAGE (how does this woman do it all???), and the group meets a few times each year around the globe to discuss market and economic trends in their respective countries. Check out their site here: www.wage-organisation.com/
On our last night in Farnborough, Sourcing City’s Alistair Mylchreest and Liz Young — who I just know were so exhausted after a whole week of their show and events — were the most amazing hosts and took Carmine and me to historic Guildford. For those of you who’ve never been, picture in your mind what a quintessential, quaint little British town looks like — that’s Guildford. (Click here to check it out: www.guildford.org.uk/). We had pre-dinner drinks at a classic British pub called The King’s Head, and a to-die-for dinner at the French restaurant Cote, followed by a visit to a local pub called Pews — all “brilliant,” as the Brits would say. Alistair, aside from being wicked smart and supremely gracious, has one of the most rapier wits ever. When Alistair came to visit the U.S. in July for the ASI Chicago Show and brought some Sourcing City clients with him, they loved the show, loved the people and loved the town. The one area where we fell short? The quality of our beer, or lack thereof. (LOL moment: The look of sheer horror on Alistair’s face as the bartender at Kitty O’Sheas put an orange slice in his pint of Blue Moon beer…Fact: Brits do not do fruit in their beer.) Here are some classic British ales that have Alistair’s seal of approval.
Here’s Alistair and ASI’s Carmine Rauso, drinking “Baby Guinesses” at the Pews Pub in Guildford. Upon leaving Farnborough, I headed back to London and had lunch with my new friend Kiran Somaiya, owner of the U.K. supplier Sunray Import Ltd. (Click here to see his amazing crystal 3D USB drives: www.sunrayusb.com/). Kiran was one of the suppliers that made the trek across the pond in July with Alistair to attend the ASI Chicago Show and we’ve kept in touch since then. With him is the vivacious Nicola Grant, sales & marketing star extraordinaire at the U.K. distributor company Premier Promotional Products. Have you ever met people you just click with immediately? That’s how I felt being with Kiran and Nicola.
And last but certainly not least… For my final night in the U.K., I was lucky enough to be in London at the same time as the most beloved of all my industry friends, Polyconcept’s Michael Bernstein, who was in town for a meeting. How giddy with delight was I to spend some fun time with my brother from another mother, with whom I’ve been friends for 15 years? Consider this: Friday nights in London are crazy — vibrant, electrifying and packed with people everywhere; but there are definitely no cabs to be found. If you know me, you know I loathe to walk, especially in my stilettos (I famously hired a rickshaw to take me a block and a half at the ASI San Diego Show last year). When Michael pointed out that the club we wanted to go to was “eight blocks up and four over” and asked me if I minded walking, I smiled and said, “No problem,” knowing that for him, I’d walk to the ends of the earth. No bitching, hissy fits or hiring of limos. Why? Because he’s like my own, personal medicinal panacea — he calms me down, chills me out and makes me infinitely happier than I was before.  

Retreat to Move Forward

Filed under: Editorial, Travel

Hey there Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well and enjoying the fabulous fall weather. Me? I’m still grasping on to the last remnants of summer, my favorite season, which is why it was so awesome that 100+ ASI staffers from the Editorial and Distributor Sales departments went on a two-day retreat last week to historic, Victorian Cape May, NJ.

Each year, The Powers That Be at ASI (read: Tim Andrews, the president/CEO and Rich Fairfield, the Chief Revenue Office who oversees the Editorial, Marketing, Supplier and Distributor Sales departments) encourage each team to spend a day or two off-site to brainstorm new ideas and participate in team-building and bonding activities. Through these events, each department comes up with creative, innovative concepts to implement during the next 12 months. (One idea from a marketing colleague that didn’t fly, thank God? A Web cam hooked up to my computer so viewers could watch — and listen  to — what goes on in Editorial every day. Trust me. NO ONE deserves that…)

My favorite part of ASI’s retreats is the get-to-know-your-colleagues networking activities. For example, the editors work very closely with the marketing team and supplier sales on a daily basis. The distributor sales folks? No so much. So it was fantastic this time around that Editorial got to spend some quality time with the Distributor Sales & Services teams, who up until this point had never gone on a departmental retreat before.

“It was refreshing to get out of the office and spend a couple days in the beautiful town of Cape May, New Jersey,” says Rachel Bartol, an account executive with ASI’s distributor services team. “Since the retreat was in a relaxed setting, I was able to connect on a more personal level with co-workers and managers through various team-building events, which we don’t always get to do in the hectic workplace. The sessions were interactive, informative, and helpful to better myself and I can’t wait until next year!”

Ironically, I was just having a conversation last month at an industry event with the head of marketing and the head of sales for two Counselor Top 40 suppliers. They were each lamenting that the owners of their companies don’t believe in company retreats. “Listen,” I said. “For sure, they’re not cheap to do and you’re missing two days of work, which can be frustrating, especially when you’re on deadline or trying to close sales. But — make no mistake — the payoff down the road is huge, on a multitude of levels.”

Tim and Rich get that, which is why they rock. (Addendum: Tim also rocks because as the last five of us who closed Cabanas beach bar in Cape May squinted when the dreaded “last call” lights came on, it was Mr. Andrews, I’ll have you know, who cajoled the bartender to give us one last round of shots for the walk back to the hotel. And that, my friends, is why he’s the cat’s meow. ; )) Scroll down for some fun photos from ASI’s retreat!

More next week from the U.K., where I’ll be covering Sourcing City’s Marketplace Event (www.sourcingcityevents.co.uk) in Farnborough, England!


— M

(From left): ASI Awards Editor Karen Akers; Managing Editor Joan Chaykin and Editorial Proofreader Patty Cangelosi. (From left): ASI Vice President of Distributor Services Dan Dienna; ASI Vice President of Distributor Services Rob Spike; and ASI President/CEO Tim Andrews.
Dawn Shurmaitis, ASI’s public relations manager, and Larry Basinait, ASI’s executive director of research services. (From left): Advantages’ magazine staff writer Jenn Vishnevsky; Patty Cangelosi, Stitches Editor & Executive Director of Professional Development Nicole Rollender and Karen Akers.
If you’ve ever wondered why we call Andy Cohen, editor of Counselor magazine, “Captain Killjoy,” just take a look at his expression. No one does misanthropy like Andy… Jenn Vishnevsky and Jack Flohr, director of membership services in ASI’s marketing department.
ASICentral content editor Vinnie Driscoll and senior designer of ASI’s magazines, Hillary Haught. (From left): Pierre Schnog, senior designer of ASI’s magazines; Diane Pizzuto, graphic designer for ASI’s magazines; Mark Pricskett, ASI’s editorial photographer; and Carole Seymour, ASI’s editorial office manager.
(From left): Chuck Zak, ASI’s editorial copywriter and Joan Chaykin. Deb Curtis (left), ASI’s executive director of audience development and analysis, and Jenn Vishnevsky.
(From left): Simone Dorsey, an account executive on ASI’s distributor membership sales team; Tim Cripps, an account executive in ASI’s distributor marketing services team; and Arianna Rigney, an account executive on ASI’s membership sales team. (From left): Pablo Pizzichini, executive director of ASI’s distributor services; Rafael Dosman, manager of ASI’s membership sales team, and my favorite new person I met at the retreat!; and Melissa Dillon, manager of ASI’s membership sales team.
(From left): Andy Cohen; ASI’s marketing director of supplier membership and digital advertising, Colin Graf; Larry Basinait; and ASI senior vice president of professional development & editor-in-chief, Melinda Ligos. Wearables editor C.J. Mittica (“Chaz” to you and I…) and Chuck Zak.
(Clockwise from bottom left): JJ Nese, director of distributor services; Ryan Law, director of distributor services; Dan “The Man” Brown, executive director of distributor services; Matt Beeman, an account executive in ASI’s distributor membership sales department and the lovely Rachel Bartol, an account executive with ASI’s distributor services team. (From left): Anthony Carroll, an account executive in ASI’s distributor services department; Rachel Bartol; Steve Cattau, director of ASI’s distributor services; Pablo Pizzichini; and the woman with one of the most awesome names ever, Joan Miracle, director of ASI’s distributor services.
ASI’s Chief Revenue Officer and publisher of its magazines (and my “handler”), Rich Fairfield (left), and Tim Andrews, ASI’s president/CEO. ASI managing editor and star of The Joe Show, Joe Haley (left), with his ASI BFF Dan Dienna.
Colin Graf (who we call “El Diablo” here in the Editorial Department due to his notable talent of being the euphemistic straw that stirs the cocktail at parties and events) with the fabulous Meghan Bogarde, a director in ASI’s distributor services department.

PPAI’s NALC in NOLA: Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Travel

Well, hey there!

I’m just back from PPAI’s fantastic North American Leadership Conference, held from August 12-14 at the OmniHotel in New Orleans and wowza, was it a time!

With the tagline, “Innovative. Inspirational. Insightful.,” PPAI’s event — panel discussions, keynotes and networking events — scored on all three counts, starting with Bridgeworks’ Seth Mattison, the keynote speaker who opened the event and discussed how to market and sell to four different generations: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials. I thought he was just spectacular, with truly eye-opening insights into each group. (Fact: Gen Xers are difficult to control as employees. Who knew? Well, probably everyone who works with me…).

Another favorite was Great Place to Work’s Sarah Cooke, who offered practical tips about how any company can attract and keep great employees and motivate them to perform at their peak. She then led a panel discussion with Sunrise Identity owner Mitch Mounger, BrandFuel co-owner Robert Fiveash and 4Imprint president Kevin Lyons-Tarr. Most interesting moment? When Mitch Mounger noted that his business got better when he decided to start sharing the company’s financial information with his employees. The transparency, he maintains, makes all the difference.

Unfortunately I had to miss the keynote from economist Loren Scott — who I hear was hilarious — and ending presentation from John Foley because I had to dash off to my room write/edit ASI’s supplier magazine that I handle. As my managing editor, Joe Haley, constantly reminds me when I travel, “deadlines stop for no one, not even you, Michele.”

So, in closing and before we get to the array of photos (aka “the evidence”) taken each night on Bourbon Street, four thoughts:

1. If you’ve never seen my pal Sharon Willochell, COO of Leed’s, speak on operational metrics, do so the next time you have the chance. She kills it.

2. Sitting through just one session on product safety during the NALC, my head was spinning and my brain started to cramp. Distributors, you might consider sending suppliers — who are on the front lines of the product safety issues — flowers and Godivas every week. They deserve it.

3. I’d like to give a special nod to BrandFuel’s Robert Fiveash, who wins the award for person I had The Best conversation with. Just the two of us, at the bar in the Omni Hotel. I could have sat there for hours, basking in his wit and wisdom. He is the cat’s meow.

4. I’d be remiss if didn’t thank PPAI’s president/CEO Paul Bellantone, executive vice president Bob McLean and their fantastic staff at PPAI for not only making Rich and me feel so welcome, but for inviting me to speak at the event. Your hospitality was much appreciated!

And now, without further ado, tons of photos from the event. You know, there’s a famous film called Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa that posits how a group of people who experience the same event together can have a completely different memory of it. That’s a little what a night on Bourbon Street is like … Just sayin’.


— M

Two of my favorites in the industry, Sweda president Jim Hagan (left) and Activate Promotions + Marketing president – and this year’s Counselor Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year — Fred Parker. From left: The lovely Nikki Stella, editor of Promo Marketing magazine; Rich Fairfield, ASI’s Chief Revenue Officer, publisher and — most importantly — my handler; and the one and only Mary Ellen Nichols, director of marketing at Bodek and Rhodes. Seriously, who’s more vivacious than Mary Ellen???
Trade Only executive vice president Bob Hechler (left), who delightfully calls me his favorite “strumpet,” and Logomark’s Nicholas Rubin. I just met Nicholas for the first time earlier this month at the SAAC Show, and he literally burst into verse upon being introduced to me, serenading me with a song from Grease. Kid. You. Not. (His voice, incidentally, is strikingly good.) (From left): Grapevine Designs’ Janie Gaunce; PPAI president/CEO Paul Bellantone; and Shepenco’s Natalie Townes, who’s also a PPAI board member and one of my BFFs. A word about Mr. Bellantone: We’ve both been in the industry for 15+ years and have always been friendly. But when my Mom was sick two summers ago and I had to take a leave of absence from work for two months to be in Tampa to take care of her, Paul, who follows me on Twitter, would periodically check in with me just to make sure I was okay. And for that simple, classy gesture, he will always have a special place in my heart.
(From left): Activate’s Fred Parker; Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger (more on him later…) and BDA’s Rick Rayl at dinner the first night of PPAI’s NALC. (From left): BDA’s Rick Rayl; Bag Makers’ Christopher Duffy and HALO Branded Solutions’ Jamon Heller.
Oh, my. Look at these three amigos. Where they go, fun and wackiness follow. (From left): Gateway/CDI’s CONRAD FRANEY (in all caps because he is such a larger-than-life presence who’s as loud as I am!), PromoShop’s Memo Kahan (love, love, LOVE him!) and Norwood/BIC’s Dave Saracino, the only man I know who has a drink named for him. Have you ever had a “Saracino”? Trust me: It’s delightfully refreshing yet surprisingly potent…. A lot like its namesake. WorkflowOne’s suave Roger Burnett (left), a member of this year’s Counselor Hot List, with everyone’s favorite frequent flier and social media guru, Jetline’s Dana Zezzo.
The fabulous Natalie Townes and David Nicholson, president of Polyconcept North America, who she refers to as “The Rock Star.” Good Lord, it’s Randy Chen (left), owner of Impex and, as he calls himself – being 6’2” — “the Great Wall of China,” here with PromoShop’s Memo Kahan.
Let me say this with all seriousness and my hand to God: I have never taken a photo as freakin’ funny as the one you’ll see below. Some people, in our wonderful land of freedom and liberty, utilize picket signs to show their support for crucial societal issues affecting us all. So, in the grand tradition of those who choose to exert their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble, BIC’s Dave Saracino and Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger fight for an inherent need we all have, regardless of political party…
Sweda’s Scott Pearson (left) and Logomark’s Nicholas Rubin. I call Scott “Giggles” because he has the Best. Laugh. Ever. It’s downright infectious, I tell ya!
WorkflowOne’s Roger Burnett (left) and Russ Mogell, owner of Seven Sourcing. Russ and I, in our wild, youthful heyday, both used to frequent the beach town of Avalon, NJ, with our friends and would regularly see each other late night out at the bars. One of us now acts like a grown-up and no longer engages in such behavior, while the other is still a weekend libertine in Avalon. Would you like to place bets on which one’s which? Shepenco’s Natalie Townes and the fabulously fun Tiffany Tarr from Distributor Central. After dinner on the first night of PPAI’s NALC, a bunch of us found this awesome bar on Bourbon Street with a rockin’ cover band and – wait for it – a mechanical bull. Of course someone from our group of crazies rode the bull… Any guesses?
Bodek and Rhodes’ Marc Held and the omnipresent Mitch Mounger. Earlier in the evening, Marc was named as one of PPB’s Rising Stars – an honor he truly deserves. Who doesn’t adore Marc Held??? Natalie Townes and Randy Chen… It was at this point in the evening, about four hurricanes in, that Natalie’s and Randy’s shirts started to make me dizzy.
Oy. This may be the least attractive photo of me ever taken– I look swollen and sweaty… like a pasty Snookie. However, I’m posting it because it also contains Mr. Martin Varley, owner of Trade Only, who was delightfully charismatic and made me LOL that evening. My boys!!! (From left): Dave Saracino, Memo Kahan and Gateway/CDI’s Chuck Fandos. A word now, about my pal Chuckles: As the industry volunteer who was the point person behind this year’s PPAI NALC, he had a Herculean and time-consuming task – I know, because I’m very involved in the planning of ASI’s Power Summit. Events like this do not come together overnight and require a lot of organization and hard work. Chuck did it all, including handling speakers who were a pain in the ass and a nervous wreck (read: Me), deftly and with aplomb. To him, I raise a glass on behalf of everyone in attendance and say, thank you for a job so well done. You rock, Chuckles.
I did tell you that someone in our group would have the cojones to ride the bull in the bar in which we all converged on Bourbon Street after dinner the first night of the event, right? Well, meet CJ Schmidt, vice president of sales for Hit Promotional Products and our very own rhinestone cowboy. Not only did CJ manage to stay on the bull for a respectable amount of time, but when he did fall, he landed with the grace of a gymnast dismounting. It was beyond impressive (especially because it was 1:00 a.m.). On day two of the NALC, we were all on our own for dinner, and Rich Fairfield – my boss at ASI – and I were graciously invited to join Natalie Townes, Mary Ellen Nichols and some others. It was fantastic, and Mary Ellen, as only she can, acted as host, asking each dinner guest questions like, “What would your ultimate last meal be?” and “What would you do if you had $10 million?” Here’s Rich with Prime Line’s phenomenal Paula Shulman, who just celebrated 30 years with the company.
Here’s my pal Lauren Fox (left), with the EME Event, posing with Natalie Townes. (From left): SAGE president David Natinsky, Natalie Townes, and Danny Sirmon, president of Zebra Marketing Corp. What do I love about this photo? That David is holding Natalie’s coconut-shaped purse so she can pose pretty. You’re a trooper, David!
Mary Ellen and Rich, and Paula and Natalie, at our dinner at SoBou, a hot, new restaurant Mary Ellen found for us. Full disclosure: During dinner, I chose not to drink because I knew I had some “homework” to do for my NALC presentation on the history and future of the industry with Chuck Fandos the following day. At one point, Natalie, so flummoxed that I was only drinking Coke, declared it “unnerving … like one of the signs of the apocalypse.” Indeed. Fear not, as Natalie can attest, I made up for it the next night…  
Roger Burnett (left) and my beloved Craig Nadel, president of Jack Nadel Int’l. I wrote about Craig in my previous blog from the SAAC Show, and was just thrilled to see him twice in two weeks. For him — one of my quirky, eccentric favorites — I’d walk through fire. Gemline president Jonathan Isaacson (left) and Craig Nadel.
PPAI’s Paul Bellantone, the host with the most, and JNI’s Craig Nadel. Prime Line president Jeff Lederer and Freestyle Marketing’s stunning Caryn Stoll.
Here’s me, with Prime’s Jeff (or “Jeffy,” as I call him) Lederer (left) and Gemline’s Jonathan Isaacson. A moment, now, about Jeff Lederer: Jeff and I are friendly enough, but by no means would I say we know each other well. However, in the span of 30 seconds, Jeff Lederer dissected my personality with such laser-precision that my jaw literally flung open like a nutcracker doll. What did I learn? That still waters do indeed run deep, and Jeff Lederer is one of the most insightful people I’ve ever met. Also, I’m not nearly as mysterious and enigmatic as I’d like to think I am. Kudos to you, Jeffy. At one point, as a bunch of us were standing on a balcony on Bourbon Street throwing beads to passersby, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, at first flying lazy circles and then making a beeline directly for us. It was a bug the size of a pterodactyl, which landed on the leg of CJ Schmidt’s shorts and stayed there for about 45 minutes, just, ya know, hangin’ out. Jeff Lederer tried to flick it off with his card, but CJ admonished him. “Let him stay. He can be our mascot.”
Not convinced I looked appropriately “festive” for Bourbon Street, Gemline’s Jonathan Isaacson cajoled a guy to lend me this boa and then snapped this photo of me. I look possessed by the spirit of Dionysus, and it’s one of my favorites… (From left): PCNA’s David Nicholson, Gemline’s Jonathan Isaacson, Freestyle Marketing’s Caryn Stoll and Hit Promotional Products’ CJ Schmidt, cavorting on a bar’s balcony on Bourbon Street.
(From left): The delightful Caryn Stoll, Jonathan Isaacson and Jessica Hutwelker from Match-Up Promotions. Big congrats to the usually-staid Mr. Isaacson, who managed to get more beads than anyone in our group! ; ) Jeff Lederer and the adorable Jessica Hutwelker.
Freestyle Marketing’s Caryn Stoll and Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger. Hit’s CJ Schmidt and PCNA’s David Nicholson. The last time David and I cocktailed together it was at the end of April for his birthday, and we were drinking tequila while wearing sombreros in godforsaken Guangzhou, China. Note to David: If we’re going to keep drinking together in venues outside our home state of PA, I vote for Key West next!
SAGE’s Jarod Thorndike, shown here with SnugZ’s Brittany David. Jarod and I had never really spent much time together until this night in a bar on Bourbon Street, but I’d always heard awesome things about him. Having met him, I totally get it and concur wholeheartedly. Here’s me and the divine Miss David. So awesome is she that she insisted, upon noting that I didn’t look so great in the first photo taken of the two of us, that we pose for a do-over. Thanks for getting my back, Chickie! ; )
Do you know Michael, from Continental Plastic Card? You should. He is just a howl !  
And now, as we get to the end of this slide show of NOLA-infused craziness, I’d like to propose an award, given to the one person whose performance was so off-the-charts fantastic that he or she embodies both the professional – and partying – best of the industry. The award, perhaps a golden martini glass, could travel from ASI, PPAI, SAGE, EME shows, whatever – and be passed on to each event’s winner, like the Stanley Cup. And so, for the PPAI NALC, I nominate Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger as the MVP. Not only did he have the best response to a question while on a panel during the day (Moderator: “What’s your secret for running a successful company?” Mitch: “Don’t be a dick.”), but I submit to you the photo of Mitch to the right, shown with Shepenco’s Dan Townes (a Hall of Fame MVP) and me. PRICELESS. All Hail Mitch Mounger!
The perfect ending, courtesy of a photo from PCNA’s David Nicholson. After a hugely-successful and wildly-fun three days, Gateway/CDI’s Chuck Fandos (right), who was so integral in the planning and execution of PPAI’s NALC, and CONRAD FRANEY leave Bourbon Street one last time. “Thank you, and good night!”

The SAAC Show: Sunny Days, Wild Nights in Long Beach, CA…

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hi Everyone,

I’m just back from the 33rd annual SAAC Show in Long Beach, CA, and it showed, yet again, why it’s one of my favorite shows of the year. I haven’t been able to attend for the past three years due to the schedule of my magazine deadlines, but decided, to hell with it — this year I was going, not only because I love the overall vibe so much, but to support my pal Craig Reese, this year’s SAAC president and a partner at Counselor Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel Int’l. I had the good fortune of celebrating my birthday during the show, and I couldn’t have picked a better place, surrounded by my wild, wacky, loony, libertine friends in the industy. Next I’m off to New Orleans (Wow. Za.) for the PPAI North American Leadership Conference. More next week from there… For now, enjoy these photos below and a big congratulations to Nancy Phillips, SAAC’s excutive director, and the entire SAAC team for an amazing job. Next year’s SAAC Show will be held from August 7-8 (www.thesaacshow.org).


— Michele

Look at my pretty girls! On Monday night, Missy Kilpatrick (left), Candace Hershey and I went to dinner at the fabulous Italian restaurant L’Opera. Good food, great wine, fantastic friends and a waiter with a personality large enough to stop traffic. What more could you ask for in a night? Missy, who has traveled many, many times to Italy, brought home these little ampules of Grappa, packaged in a compact, cigarette-like case. Trust me: What they lacked in size they made up for in punch. I happily threw one back, and then another. Soon after, my eyes began to water and I swear that my frontal lobe collapsed. Lesson? If anyone offers you Grappa in tubes that look like amyl nitrates, politely decline with a “No, grazie.”
Following PPAI’s insightful and informative Supplier Forum, held during the SAAC Show, SAAC president Craig Reese (left) joined suppliers Murray Siegel (center) from Towel Specialties and Rich Carollo from Lion Circle at a cocktail reception. Murray has a special place in my heart because we both share an almost obsessive love of the Barry Levinson movie, Diner. Rich Carollo and I had just met for the first time, but proceeded to go on a bender of epic proportions later that evening (scroll down for that tale …). And Craig Reese? Well, he and I go way back. True story: One time many years ago at a show overseas, Craig and I were having drinks with some other people from the U.S. industry when I noticed that a woman – let’s call her Sparrow – was eyeing Mr. Reese up and down in a, shall we say, lascivious way. I leaned over to Craig and imparted this insight to him: “Sweetie, that lady is looking at you like she’s just come off a hunger strike and you’re a goddamn porkchop!” From that day on, Mr. Reese’s nickname became, and remains to this day, “The Porkchop.” Two of my favorites, the always-connected Dana Zezzo from Jetline (left) and Harris Cohen, owner of the just-certified “Made in the US” supplier All in One. When I’m close to throwing a hissy fit in an airport due to some snafu, I think of Dana’s tweets about his traveling travails and take a deep breath. He gives “road warriors” a good name.
(From left): Matt Malone and Fred Antonini with Flexible Innovations, shown here with The Fabulous Natinsky Boys, SAGE’s David and Eric. You’d be hard-pressed to find two nicer guys … Here he is, the Godzilla to my Mothra. Bay State Specialties’ Michael Moore is, hands down, one of my favorite industry characters. Though we see each other at many shows over the course of the year, we limit our revelry together to precisely one night annually, at the ASI Orlando Show. Why? Because our consumption is so copious, our antics so Rolling Stones-esque, we’re convinced we’d have to check ourselves into a Betty Ford-like facility if we made it a regular occurrence. Want proof? At the Palm restaurant in Orlando this past January, we may or may not have stolen a golf cart, jumped into a fountain and drank $300 worth of tequila. Allegedly.
Me and my bevy of blondes! (Clockwise from bottom): 99centPromos’ Kim Horton; ASI’s Karen DiTomasso; me; Dard’s Stacey Horton and Dard Design’s Bonni Shevin-Sandy. At each show I attend, I try to meet three new people. At this year’s SAAC Show, I exceeded my goal – and how lucky am I that two of the people I met were these cuties, brothers Keven and Jason Azevedo, decorators extraordinaire who own Matteo Studios. Take my word for it: You’ll be hearing a lot more about these guys! (www.matteostudios.com).
The always-gracious and gregarious Stacey Horton (left), with my beloved friend, Bonni Sandy. I stand in awe of Bonni’s wit, wisdom and ability to be the voice of calm in a sea of industry kooks. And as if I didn’t need another reason to love her, we just discovered that we share a favorite song: “Winning,” by Carlos Santana. Every time I hear it now, I’ll think of her. My Bravo Boys!!! If you’re on the hip social circuit in the industry, then you’ve been lucky enough to be invited to my boys’ super swanky, ultra-elite party during the PPAI Show in Vegas. Or, you know them from their uncanny talent for being friends with all the best, most fun people in the business, or their presence by the pool at the Hyatt in Long Beach, for “Greyhounds by the Pool Day” (FYI: A Greyhound is a mix of Grey Goose and grapefruit juice – the perfectly refreshing summer cocktail!) or their jobs as de facto ambassadors at the PPPC Show in Toronto in January, welcoming all the U.S. out-of-towners. Either way, to know Brian Starke (left) and Greg Livings, owners of the Toronto-based awards supplier Bravo, is to love them, as I have for years. I’ve been lucky enough to stay at their cottages in Canada and to have had some of the best meals of my life with them. Perhaps more importantly, they taught about the sublime joy of visiting Tim Hortons. They are, quite simply, the best.
Lion Circle’s Rich Carollo (left) and “Jetline Joe” Hoffman. And now, without further ado, some words about Rich Carollo: I always knew who he was, but had never met him in person and was unfamiliar with his company. Not anymore. Anyone who can make me howl with laughter and go drink for drink with me has a special place on my roster of colorful industry crazies. There’s a famous story about the first time Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison – two legendary Dionysian hellraisers – met. After consuming enough cocktails together to drop a horse, Janis hit Jim over the head with a bottle of her beloved Southern Comfort. The Lizard King’s response? “God, I love that girl!” Similarly, as we made our way back to the hotel from the Auld Dubliner, Rich Carollo picked up a green apple and hurled it past me, just missing my head. “You’re the best!,” he giggled as we parted, like boozy ships in the night. And that, my friends, is how Rich Carollo became one of my favorite people ever.  
As my birthday fell during the SAAC Show, some friends got together and threw me the best celebratory dinner ever, spearheaded by Dard’s Stacey Horton and Bonni Sandy. Words can’t express my appreciation for their gracious gesture. The night, filled with excess on a multitude of levels, had a cavalcade of wacky characters in attendance – some old, beloved friends and some new ones – the perfect mix for a birthday soiree. (From left): Matteo Studios’ Jason Azevedo; me; Taylor’s Tommy Donlin (all hail the Donlin Brothers!); ASI’s Meghan Bogarde; Matteo Studios’ Keven Azevedo; Dard Design’s Bonni Shevin-Sandy; 99centPromos’ Kim Horton; awesome multiline rep Daniel Sacks; Bravo’s Brian Starke and Dard’s Stacey Horton. “Jetline Joe” Hoffman (left) and multiline rep Daniel Sacks, from West Coast Branded Solutions, who accompanied me to the Auld Dubliner. A word about Daniel: As two musicians serenaded the bar’s patrons with awesome songs, Daniel danced with a girl and – hand to God – flipped her completely upside down and in the air with such dexterity, someone should give that boy a Mirror Ball trophy. Seriously, ladies: If you see Daniel at a show and feel the overwhelming urge to emulate the scene in Dirty Dancing where Johnny pulls Baby out of the corner and lifts her over his head, Daniel’s your guy.
The Hyatt hotel in Long Beach that’s connected to the convention center was recently renovated, and all the rooms now have this surrealist art and these Dali-esque hands jutting out from the walls, each enticingly holding a green apple, as if to tempt guests – a la Adam, Eve and the Biblical garden of good and evil. It’s a fine idea in theory … The problem is that when you have people from our gimlet-soaked industry wobbling back to their rooms, glass hands get ripped from the walls, and broken and wax apples get hurled at people’s heads — hypothetically. The moral of the story? People in the industry who are out after 2:00 a.m. should roll themselves in bubble wrap as a preventative measure. Just sayin’. Awww. It’s my beloved Craigs! I already gave a shout-out to The Porkchop (Craig Reese, right, this year’s SAAC president and a partner at Jack Nadel Int’l.), but allow me to wax poetic about Craig Nadel, JNI’s president. The second person I met in the industry 15 years ago, Craig and I became friends right away and have stayed so over the years. I always say that if I had to pick three industry people with whom to be stuck on a desert island, Craig would be one of them. But here’s something maybe a lot of people don’t realize: He is, without question, one of the smartest and wittiest people I’ve ever met, and – more importantly – one of the few people I know who literally doesn’t have it in his DNA to bullshit. What you see with Craig is, delightfully, what you get.
The SAAC team did a fantastic job with their cocktail reception and wine-tasting event, held on the lawn outside the Hyatt. The weather in Long Beach is so mild and beautiful it was delightful to be outside.  
The lovely Kim Swanson, an account coordinator with JNI, and Bob Kritzler, the company’s CFO. Think all CFOs are boring numbers wonks? Then you haven’t met Bob … What a howl! Meet Sara Scott (left) and Libby Dubay, two super-cute account execs with JNI.
I love this photo (thanks, Allison!) of me and my BFF Craig Nadel. What do we talk about when we’re together? The validity of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s stance on being a strict Constitutional constructionist, the pros and cons of EBITDA and – lest you think we’re really, really nerdy — which characters on Battlestar Galactica we think are hot. Ross Silverstein (right), president/CEO of Counselor Top 40 distributor iPROMOTEu, and his omnipresent consigliere, Pat Caccamo (love him!). Of Ross’s many talents, “throwing parties that end all parties” may be at the top of the list.
The one and only Stanley Appleman of Get Smart Promotions in Sherman Oaks, with the lovely Melanie Schneider of the distributorship Creative Concepts in Menifee, CA. A new friend, Melanie clued me in to the medicinal secret for never having a hangover again. And for that piece of shared wisdom, she has my undying gratitude. My old friend Michael Bistocchi, who runs Clegg Promos – one of the companies on this year’s Counselor Best Places to Work list – graciously invited me to a party he threw to celebrate the company’s 25-year anniversary. Here he is on the right with company owner, Tim Clegg, who – on the evening I took this photo – was simultaneously celebrating his 50th birthday and waiting for his wife to give birth!
Do you know my pals Dave Leskusky, publisher of Promo Marketing magazine, and his colleague, Meghan Defrancesco? You should – they are too, too fun and just awesome to hang out with. Here’s Michael Amar, Clegg’s senior vice president of finance, and his beautiful wife, Lydia.
Tim Clegg, Michael Bistocchi and Bob Levitt, with BrandSavvy. Michael Bistocchi, with the woman at Clegg who has the dual daunting tasks of keeping him focused and in line, Malia Anderson. She is formidable!
The awesome folks at Jack Nadel Int’l. had a spectacular party on the rooftop of the Hyatt Pike Hotel (awesome job, Debbie Abergel!), and hosted their local employees and top suppliers. My Craigs (Nadel and Reese) each gave speeches that were as sincere as they were heartfelt, thanking everyone for their support.  
iPROMOTEu held its annual Supplier Palooza at the Auld Dubliner bar, which has turned into the party to see and be seen. The reason why half the people in attendance or exhibiting at the SAAC Show on Thursday were hung over was due to their presence at this event the previous night. Here are the lovely Missy Kilpatrick and Dard Design’s Bonni Sandy making an appearance.  
Craig Nadel and Missy Kilpatrick, whom he calls “one of his favorites.”  

ASI Chicago: Hot Time, Summer in the City

Filed under: Travel

Hi Everyone!

I just got back from an epic trip to Chicago to spend time with my girls Sharon Biernat (Creative Promotions), Jill Albers (Shumsky) and Natalie Townes (Shepenco/Shelbyville Pencil and a PPAI board member) and attend the ASI Chicago Show, one of my favorites. The show was great but, as always, it’s what happens after hours that always piques my interest. Let’s start with the heat. The weather in Chicago was hot — like safari-on-the-Serengeti hot. But that didn’t stop the vikings in our industry from behaving like the raging rock stars they are.

What follows are tons of photos from my six-day stint in Chi-Town, filled with Valhalla decadence. For the next two weeks, until the SAAC Show, I’m putting myself in self-imposed lockdown to dry out, consuming nothing that’s been distilled, fermented, grown or harvested… Just sayin’.

Look forward to seeing you all in Long Beach early next month for SAAC (www.thesaacshow.org), where I’ll be attending to support my pal Craig Reese from Jack Nadel Int’l., the current president. SAAC has a place near and dear to my heart as “Greyhounds by the Pool Day” (set-up day) is one of my favorites of the show season. 

Enjoy the photos and see you all soon!



PS: Bonus game: Let’s see how well you know the girls! The first person who matches the correct quote with the sassy lass who said it wins a $100 gift card. Post your guesses below!

__ “We were all born with two kidneys … why not two livers?”

__ “Why does Shenanigans always reek of regret and disgrace?”

__ “I’m a natural blond … in my soul.”

__ “We’re like the stoned Sex and the City.”

a) Natalie Townes

b) Sharon Biernat

c) Jilly Albers

d) Michele Bell

The weekend before the ASI Chicago Show, Shepenco’s Natalie Townes (left), Shumsky’s Jill Albers and I flew into the Windy City to spend a few days as guests of our pal Sharon Biernat of Creative Promotions. Sharon and her husband, Bob (All Hail, Bob!), own a fabulous townhouse on the block between the majestic Lake Michigan and the dueling dens of iniquity, The Lodge & Shenanigans. Did we have a time? Sharon, Jilly, Natalie and I — the Wrecking Crew — did some damage. And there may or may not have been a night cavorting with sailors. Yep. Sailors. Too. Much. Fun.  
Looking for a fantastic place for dinner in Chicago? Try “Q,” a swanky spot specializing in down-home barbeque. Having never had a “hushpuppy,” this chica is now a fan of deep-fried dough, not to mention fried green tomatoes and pickles steeped in seasonings. Word of caution: The mint juleps were to die for, though just below morphine on the “render you immobile” litmus stick. Here’s Sharon and Natalie (photo on left) and Sharon and her husband Bob — who has the most sublimely dry wit ever — at Q.  
Have you ever been to The Lodge, the bar on Division Street in Chicago? Let me end the suspense for you: It hasn’t won any James Beard awards and has exactly “zero” Michelin stars. With a dark, dank atmosphere akin to your grandparents’ wood-paneled basement, it has all the allure and charm of a VFW hall. However — and this can not be overstated — I adore this place! There’s something about its dive bar skeeziness that appeals to my more degenerate side. This is one of the many nights during our six-day stay in Chicago that Natalie, Jilly, Sharon and I planted ourselves at The Lodge like lawn darts. Here’s Natalie and Jilly (photo on left) and Jilly and Sharon enjoying the highbrow ambiance.  
Ever hear the one about the guy who walked into a bar with a bottle of booze stuck to his head? Yeah, well, on this night at The Lodge, it actually happened. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Can Head, apparently a worldwide phenom (he’s been on The Ellen DeGeneres Show!) whose claim to fame is that cans and bottles stick to his skin. Now, lest your first inclination be to mock, Can Head has a Facebook following, his own agent and an “ambassador.” If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it — a full bottle of liquor stuck precariously on the back of his shiny head, and cans and random patrons’ cellphones stuck to his body. Only at The Lodge could one see such top tier entertainment.  
Here’s Jilly and the famed Can Head. One day, Jilly’s children will look back at this photo and have so many, many questions for their Mom…  
There’s a naval training base in Chicago and on this particular night in the city, sailors blew through town like pollen. Tucker, a particularly accommodating seaman, let Natalie and Jilly wear his jaunty little cap.  
ASI’s Sean McGuigon (left), an account executive with the Supplier Internet Sales team, and Gene Rahill, aka, “The Strutter,” ASI’s director of Digital Advertising. If you’ve never seen Gene’s gait, it is something to behold — much like John Travolta’s iconic on-screen entrance in Saturday Night Fever. (From left): ASI’s president & CEO, Tim Andrews; ASI’s vice president of supplier sales (and my work husband), Ron Ball; and ASI’s Canadian emissary Fred Oesen (or, the Prime Minister, as I call him) after ASI’s supplier sales meeting at the Hilton, before the start of the ASI Show in Chicago.
(From left): ASI’s senior vice president of professional development & editor-in-chief, Melinda Ligos; ASI’s executive director of education and editor of Stitches magazine, Nicole Rollender; and Kathy Huston, editor of Advantages magazine, doing those weirdo fish-face trout pout poses ‘Tween girls do on Facebook. (From left): Colin Graf, ASI’s marketing director for supplier membership and digital advertising; me and Andy Cohen, editor of Counselor, at Kitty O’Sheas in the Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue — a place I spent way too much time while in Chicago. (How do I know? Multiple wait staff greeted me by name as the week wore on… Oy.)
Fred Oesen and Ryan David, ASI’s supplier sales rep extraordinaire for the Canadian market. My girl Jilly is 6′ tall barefoot and she loves to rock her high heels, which can bring her to the Glamazon height of 6’3″-6’4″. Here she is with Fred Oesen, who’s standing on a chair just to get the height advantage.
(From left): ASI’s Barbara Ambrose, executive assistant to Rich Fairfield; Lauren Marshall, team leader for ASI’s digital ad operations; Suzanne Izzo, ASI’s digital advertising manager; and Krista Taylor, ASI’s Supplier Internet Sales account exec. Love, love, love these ladies! Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of the UK-based Sourcing City, with whom ASI just announced a strategic alliance, along with PSI (http://www.promoalliance.com/); Counselor editor Andy Cohen and Advantages editor Kathy Huston. We all adore Alistair and he fits right in with our crazy crew.
A visitor from the UK with Alistair Mylchreest, meet Kiran Somaiya with Sunray Import based in England. Kiran was beyond sweet and charming. Two of the most well-known and hilarious celebs in the industry, Shepenco’s Dan Townes (left) and Newton Manufacturing’s Jay Donlin. Years ago, I was with Dan at dinner one night at the Palm restaurant in Dallas for the ASI Show when he picked up a 10-oz. side of beef from his plate and hurled it at the unsuspecting man next to us. Horrified, I shrieked, “Dan!!!” “Relax,” he replied with his slow Tennessee drawl and without missing a beat. “That’s my friend Jay Donlin, and that’s how we say hi to each other.” True story.
Jay Donlin’s lovely wife, Kathy, Sharon Biernat and Natalie Townes in Sharon’s kitchen at Chez Biernat. Fact: Kathy Donlin has the most breathtakingly blue eyes I’ve ever seen.  
My pal Eric Johnson (“E” to you and I), owner of Halls & Co./IDLine, with his daughter, Erin. Erin and her brother, Colin, used to appear in magazine ads for the company when they were little kids, so it’s so cool to have watched them grow up and now work in their Dad’s booth at trade shows.  
ASI managing editor, my editorial “handler” and star of The Joe Show, Joe Haley, sporting an item he found on the show floor. He looks like a Mexican wrestler, “Numero Zero.” Shumsky’s Jilly Albers and her “new favorite person,” Sourcing City’s Alistair Mylchreest.
Jilly Albers and the one and only Brian Hiner, a legend in the Chicago promo industry. Brian has always reminded me of Alec Baldwin — just as funny and equally as memorable. He rocks!!! My pals Devin Piscitelli (left), owner of Aakron Rule, and Brad White, vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Boundless Network, at the awesome PromoKitchen party. Are you familiar with the term duende? Brad has it in spades…
Roger Burnett, sales manager for Counselor Top 40 distributor WorkflowOne, shown here with his pal Jilly Albers. Roger was named as one of Counselor‘s “Hot People to Watch” in its just-released August issue. The always gracious Mark Godsey (left), owner of Counselor Top 40 supplier Gold Bond, and CJ Schmidt, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Hit Promotional Products, and one of the best guys in the industry.
One of my all-time favorites, the enigmatic Scott Siegel, owner of R.S. Owens, shown here at the PromoKitchen party with a pal. Scott is so cool in that hip, urbane kind of way it should come as a surprise to no one that he just returned from running with the bulls in Spain. Truly, in more ways than one I would describe him as “Hemingway-esque.” (From left): Jetline’s Dana Zezzo, Aakron Rule’s Devin Piscitelli and Gold Bond’s Mark Godsey at the PromoKitchen party held at the muy caliente Mexican bar Zapatista’s in Chicago.
My girl Sharon Biernat with ASI’s president & CEO, Tim Andrews, at one of Ron Ball’s famed client dinners, this time at the amazing Capital Grille. I call Ron’s dinners the “Bar Mitzvahs” because there are always a ton of people and they are too much fun. All that’s missing is people being hoisted up in chairs singing Hava Nagila. Two new friends who attended Ron’s dinner, Miro Turcaj with the distributor One Source Group in Canada and the lovely Ellen Star, with St. Regis Crystal. They were so delightful and excellent dinner companions.
Oh, holy hell: Look at this crew! (From left): Anico Int’l Plush’s Larry Sitten, Points of Lights’ Scottie Nussinow, Illini’s Sabrina Wilt and Chrissy Ocheltree, Logomark’s Damian Want and Points of Lights’ Reagan Holm. There’s a wildly entertaining book called Hellraisers about the legendary, libertine times of Richard Harris, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. Meet our industry’s version of the triumvirate of questionable behavior! ; ) (From left): Larry Sitten, Scottie Nussinow and ASI’s Ron Ball, the host with the most.
Jill Albers with Joshy Goodelman (left), vice president of sales for Liqui-Mark and a member of this year’s Counselor Hot List, and Points of Light’s Scottie Nussinow. Randy Seltzer (left) and Roee Tadmor of Tekweld. Hand to God, at the next show we both attend, Roee, you and I will cocktail like jetsetters!
Another new member of this year’s Counselor Hot List, Taylor Tadmor, owner of Tekweld, and My Sharona, Sharon Biernat, at “Uncle Ron’s Bar Mitzvah Dinner.” Awww. This photo makes me smile… Here are my friends Tim O’Boyle and Jamie Raynor from JournalBooks. We always try to have dinner together once during the Orlando Show to kick off the ASI show season and once during the Chicago Show to end it. Love them both to the depths of my soul…
Back story: Poor Brad White. He was inches from a clean getaway, leaving the Counselor Hot Party at the Crimson Lounge in Chicago, when Natalie Townes (left), Sharon Biernat (right), Jilly Albers and I literally kidnapped him, threw him into a cab and made him party with us at The Lodge. I think he had Stockholm Syndrome by the end of the evening… Good Lord. I look like Lady Mayhem from the House of Chaos. (From left): Sharon Biernat, Jilly Albers, Natalie Townes and me, on our last night together, hanging out at The Lodge. A few of our conversations were so surreal, hilarious and racy, I need some brain bleach just to think clearly. Cheers to the girls for the best weekend ever!
My pal Brett Hersh, owner of Admints/Zagabor, shown here with Cory Schroepfer, who owns the multiline rep group, Bridge Marketing. One of the hottest on this year’s Counselor Hot List, Jeff Hinds, sales manager at Rainkist, with Jilly Albers, late night at Shenanigans.
The illustrious Ross Silverstein, president/CEO of Counselor Top 40 distributor iPROMOTEu, with Shepenco’s Natalie Townes. At every show I attend, I try to meet three new, fun, cool people to add to my list of industry friends: These two made my list in Chicago! Meet Jeff Wheat (left), national salesperson for AlightPromos (http://www.alightpromos.com/), and Chris Camarella, owner of the company. Search these guys out at the next show you attend — they are fantastic!
Admints’ Brett Hersh and my gal pal Sharon Biernat.  

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.

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!

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