Entrepreneurial Training in School; Out of Control Recruiting
Challenges in the New Year and more. Kirby Hasseman, Bill Petrie, UnScripted
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sponsored by Bay State

In this weekly “talk show” column, industry educators Kirby Hasseman of Hasseman Marketing and Bill Petrie of brandivate discuss a variety of hot­-button industry topics. Click on the graphic to hear their “UnScripted” conversation.

New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff, New Products
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sponsored by J. Charles

Fully dye sublimated 4' Seamless Table Throw from Visual Textile Resource is made from 100 percent polyester poplin and features 4-color process dye sublimation imagery. Print the entire surface of the throw in thousands of colors, photographic images and spot color elements, as long as the graphic is not metallic.

The Apple Magnetic Clip from Bay State features a powerful clip combined with a strong, chrome-plated magnet and a non-slip, black grip. It is available in red or green.

Zenith Promotions is now offering bone-shaped reflective dog tags. The tags are complete with a clip for attachment to a collar and are available in red, light blue, silver, neon green, neon orange, or assorted.

The ST-3 auto tumbler from GaryLine features a stainless steel inside and bright acrylic shell outside. The insulated tumbler keeps drinks hot or cold for hours. It has a spill-resistant slide lid and is FDA compliant for food contact. It is offered in red, blue and clear.

Top 10 Year End Checklist for Promo Products Professionals
Rosalie Marcus, Promo Biz Coach
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sponsored by American Apparel

It’s the end of the year. The time for parties, networking and year end celebrations, it’s also a great time to review what went well in your promotional products business in 2016, and what you can change to make 2017 an even better, more profitable year!

Use the handy review and checklist below to get started.

1. Review your current client list. Who were your top clients this year? Rank your clients by sales volume and profitability. Think about ways you can bring in even more sales from those clients in 2017. Although it’s always important to prospect for new clients, it’s much easier and less costly to sell more to existing clients.

2. Review your top suppliers. Which suppliers got the bulk of your business? Which suppliers did you love working with? Check to see if you are eligible for rebates from those suppliers. See if you qualify to get set up for EQP for 2017.

3. Review your referral strategies. Do you have a system in place to ask for referrals? What about creating a client loyalty program and rewarding referrers with a promotional gift. Model what you’d like your clients to do and watch you sales grow!

4. Review your top product categories. Which product categories did you sell the most in 2016? Is it possible to create a niche around that product category? Why do you think you sold more of that product category? Which product category do you enjoy selling most?

5. Review and update your website. Has your website looked the same for the past few years? What can you do to enhance it and make it stand out from the competition? Is your website mobile friendly? Do you have an FAQ page? Do you have free report or giveaway that will help you capture your website visitor’s names and stay connected to them? While you’re at it, check all the links and contact information on your site to make sure they’re working correctly.

6. Review your tax obligations. Now is the time to connect with your tax preparer to review year-end tax savings strategies. It’s also a great the time to compile and organize your financial records. You’ll be surprised how much you can save when you plan in advance.

sponsored by Galactic Fun Time Line

7. Review your marketing strategies. Which marketing strategies worked the best for you this year? Which marketing strategies can you let go? Which marketing strategies did you enjoy the most? Now is a great time to create your marketing plan for 2017 and any new strategies you will try.

8. Review the people you should be thanking. If you’re like most promotional products professionals you’ve got a list of top clients you’ll be thanking with a gift or a note, but here are some people you may not have thought about thanking, but I’m sure would appreciate hearing from you: your favorite suppliers, your mail carrier and UPS driver, the bookkeeper responsible for writing the checks at your top client’s office, your colleagues and family who give you support and guidance to help your business grow.

9. Review your technology. Are you taking advantage of all the latest apps to work smarter, not harder? Do you need to upgrade your computer or smart phone? Are there search tools and automated marketing solutions that will save you time and effort? End-of-year sales may be the perfect incentive to update your technology.


10. Review your office systems and strategies. Year end is a great time to organize your office and set up systems. What can you do to work more efficiently? What tasks can you delegate to someone who can do them better or more efficiently? What clutter can you eliminate to make your office more conducive to getting more done?

Spend the time now to ensure smooth sailing for the coming year. Here’s wishing you a very happy holiday and all the best for 2017!

Rosalie Marcus, The Promo Biz Coach, is a promotional products business expert, coach and speaker. Combining her skills and years of experience in promotional sales, she helps her clients sell more at higher profit margins and dramatically increase their incomes. Get a free special report: 10 Proven Ways to Thrive in Promotional Products Sales… in Any Economy at www.promobizcoach.com. Reach her at Rosalie@promobizcoach.com or (215) 572-6766.

Stay LinkedIn for Better Business
Melissa Carey, A Woman's View
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Removing the middleman saves time; time is money, and money is glorious.
sponsored by PromoCorner - Suppliers

Social media is arguably the most effective marketing platform available to businesses these days. But LinkedIn tends to take a backseat to the social behemoths Facebook and Twitter. It’s a shame too, because LinkedIn is the largest professional online network we have at our disposal. Figuring out how to actually use the site to generate a profit though, may look like a daunting, near impossible task. Thankfully, Marki Lemons-Ryhal, an award-winning social media speaker and author with over 25 years of marketing experience, broke it down “Sesame Street”-style for the rest of us.

Because of LinkedIn, gone are the days when you’re forced to approach a rigid secretary and wait for hours in a musty office with only a faint glimmer of hope of gaining access to a buyer, all the while being stared down from behind a pair of comically thick glasses. Well no more! This site “gives you the ability to bypass the gatekeepers,” Ryhal described, and connect with your end-user directly. That’s why this is so important to your business. Removing the middleman saves time; time is money, and money is glorious.

When you first log in to LinkedIn, you’ll be prompted to create a profile for the world to view. Similar to other social sites, your photograph will be one of the first impressions you give people, so don’t screw it up. Smile, be professional and you’ll be fine.

Next up is your headline, which is basically where you sell yourself in 120 characters or fewer. When writing your truncated ad, Ryhal suggested that “you maximize every character in this space and think of making it keyword rich. We don’t want to use filler words.”

Keywords will be sprinkled throughout your profile to ensure that your profile is Grade A searchable. Your goal here is to have your LinkedIn profile pop up on the first page of a Google search; that’s how you know you’ve really made it in life. When rewriting your history and resume to include these hot-button words, make sure you write in the way that people search. In Ryhal’s example, she suggested that not many people will search “award winning,” but they will type “social media speaker” and bam! There she is.

You have the option to link three outside websites to your profile. And, because I can’t emphasize enough the need for keywords, please do not name your website link, “my website.” If someone searches “my website” on Google, guess what comes up? Not you, I can tell you that.

sponsored by American Apparel

Moving on to your skill sets. LinkedIn has a plethora of skills you can choose from and you can actually have up to 50 listed, but I advise you to refrain from using all 50 spots. While you may be wildly talented, you want people to endorse your more prominent skills, which they’re more likely to do when there are fewer of them.

And just who are these people endorsing your mad skills? They’re your connections. You can search for people you know, titles, company; the possibilities are endless. But not all connections are created equal. You will inevitably receive invitations to connect with people you don’t know. Whether or not you accept is completely up to you, but Ryhal suggested avoiding people without a photo, who haven’t built out their profile as well as those who have absolutely nothing in common with you. If the connection isn’t going to be mutually beneficial, why bother? It’s like a much less creepy version of online dating.

Like everything in life, people want proof and your acclaimed skills are no exception. You have the option to include videos, pictures and documents of what you’ve done (provided you’re not bound by a confidentiality agreement) to really showcase your talents. You can even upload entire PowerPoint presentations through SlideShare, a program that’s owned by LinkedIn. Ryhal explained that “SlideShare is to PowerPoint and PDF what YouTube is to video.”

Finally, share relevant content two or three times a week to keep your feed active. If you need help finding articles related to your business, check out buzzsumo.com, or sign up for email alerts. Using your Gmail account, you can set up alerts for any new content on promotional products, so that as soon as that information hits the internet, you’re in the know.

Yes, the initial development of your profile will be time consuming, and even the upkeep of it will seem unbearable at times, but just remember, it’s still all about who you know in the professional world. With LinkedIn, you can expand your network and make numerous new connections to benefit your business.

Melissa Carey is the digital content manager for iPROMOTEu – A Woman’s View, a program specifically designed to support women distributors in the promotional products industry. Contact Melissa at mcarey@ipromoteu.com.

A Free Problem
Bill Petrie, Petrie's Perspective
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Why do they seem to treat the things we have purchased for them with relative indifference while they treat the things they have bought for themselves with such reverence?
sponsored by Warwick

Over the past few years, my wife and I have been trying to instill the value of money in our 14-year-old twin boys by having them save and pay for some of the things that they want: high-end headphones, PlayStation games, and even clothes (they are currently partial to the insanely expensive Vineyard Vines). It is truly amazing how differently they treat the products that they have paid for as opposed to things we have purchased for them. The headphones are carefully tucked away in their protective cases, the games are cherished, and the Vineyard Vines shirts are hung in their closets with care. Meanwhile many of the things we have purchased have been misplaced, treated carelessly or, in some cases, outright lost.

Why do they seem to treat the things we have purchased for them with relative indifference while they treat the things they have bought for themselves with such reverence?

The answer is value and emotion. The vast majority of people simply do not have an emotional attachment to products or services they receive at no charge. It’s just human nature. Think about it: when you get a product for free, do you take care of it the same way as if you paid for it?

In the promotional products industry, I see many companies eager to give costly products and important resources away in an effort to protect their current client relationships or establish new ones. When you freely give services away, clients will neither value nor have an emotional attachment to the relationship and they will continue to expect more from you while insisting on paying less. As Seth Godin would say, it’s a race to the bottom and that’s a race you don’t want to win.

However, if you are going to give away something for free, it is critical that you show value. For example, if you are giving a client an eCommerce site for free – even though you will incur real costs in terms of dollars and resource allocation – have them sign a statement of work that details the following:

• The work to be done

• The cost (value) of that work

• The charge ($0.00) to the client

The client still gets a website at no charge, but now you have an opportunity to build value into the conversation. Not only they will treat the website as if they paid for it themselves, they will be far less likely to ask for countless time-killing changes because you have shown them the value of the “free” service.

When you ensure the client sees real value in everything do you – especially “freebies” – they will begin to form that emotional attachment which will lead to long-term relationships.

Bill has over 15 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. In 2014, he launched brandivate – the first executive outsourcing company solely focused on helping small and medium sized-promotional products enterprises responsibly grow their business. A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, vice president of the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients. He can be reached at bill@brandivatemarketing.com

Weekly Poll Results
What percentage of your work force is aged 30 or below? Identity Marketing Staff, Identity Research
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sponsored by Next Level Apparel

In the News
Charles D. Sanford, 70, Bag Makers President Identity Marketing Staff, Business News
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sponsored by Bay State

Charles Sandford, 70, President of Bag Makers

Charles “Chuck” Dennis Sandford, 70, president of supplier Bagmakers, died on December 2 after a year-long battle with cancer.

“I am joined by the entire Bag Makers family in grieving the loss of a great man who was beloved and respected by employees, customers and friends throughout the promotional products industry,” Maribeth Sandford, Charles’ wife and CEO of Bag Makers, said in a press release. “For 25 years, Chuck helped guide our company with his strong business acumen, principled integrity and compassion. He was enormously proud of Bag Makers and our employees. Those of us who had the honor of working with Chuck will remember his leadership, generosity and fairness. He will be greatly missed.”

In 1991, he married his wife, Maribeth (Kapilla) and joined Maribeth’s company, Bag Makers, Inc. He was named the company’s president shortly after and partnered with Maribeth to guide the company through three decades of rapid growth and success.

Spartan Racing
Featuring industry veteran and Spartan participant Christopher Duffy. Jeff Solomon, SuccessFit4Life!
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sponsored by J. Charles

Many of you have seen Christopher Duffy at industry events and you you would never know under that professional business look, lies a disciplined, amazing athlete. Learn more in this SuccessFit4Life! video.
Staying active is good for our personal and professional life. SuccessFit4Life! was created to share, inspire and motivate others in their wellness journey… wherever they want to go. This community is open to everyone regardless of their age and fitness level. Join the “industry only FreePromoTips SuccessFit Facebook Group and share what you do to stay active. Don’t be shy! Posting is not about you, it’s about encouraging others.
SuccessFit4Life! WELLNESS PROGRAMS are a turnkey health program that offers many benefits for businesses and organizations of all sizes.
SuccessFit4Life! EVENTS can be a “mixer” type event with a fund raising component benefitting worthy causes.
Both of these SuccessFit4Life! components are driven by branded product sales.

Race to The Bottom
If you’re selling just products and price, there’s nowhere to go but down. Jeff Jacobs, The Brand Protector
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Product quality and product safety – these are two ways to differentiate yourself from the commodity crowd.
sponsored by American Apparel

The promotional products industry is driven, unfortunately, by price. While many suppliers fiercely protect their intellectual property, the fact is that it’s still likely somebody is selling something perceived by end-users as the exact same thing – for less. A recent conversation with a supplier complaining about not being able to differentiate from other commoditized products was particularly difficult to listen to. This supplier spends a lot of time and money advertising that the biggest product differentiator they offer is, wait for it, a better price.

There is only one competitor to lowest price, and that is value. If neither the distributor nor the end-user client can explain why they should pay more, then they shouldn’t. To justify a higher price, you need to be able to demonstrate there’s a difference in what you offer. It’s that difference that creates the value. For example, everybody claims to have better customer service, but do you? Do you really believe that? Because if you don’t, then how do you expect to sell that value to a client?

How about offering a difference that is more objective and measurable – like how long something will actually last? If your client has a disposable expectation, then it will be hard to talk about cost of ownership. But, if they expect something to represent their brand by lasting and working properly over time, then the conversation can move away from purchase cost, and on to cost of ownership. For example, let’s look at tires for the family car. If you’re selling the car tomorrow, then the least expensive may work just fine. But, if you plan to keep it, the premium-priced tire may well have a higher initial purchase cost, but if it lasts 20,000 miles longer than the competitor, then the overall cost of ownership is actually less. You just need to be able to help with the calculation, and that’s hard to do if the conversation is just about unit cost and discount.

The same supplier offering commodities and selling on price is also overlooking the differentiator of product safety. This supplier “couldn’t afford it selling on so little margin.” But, what if the rest of the supply chain – distributor, end-user client, and consumers – thought they couldn’t afford NOT to? Potential product failure is a pay now, or pay later proposition. You can either choose to invest initially in products that have been manufactured responsibly, or put yourself and your organization at risk for costs of recalls, fines, lawsuits for product liability, and the intangible value of brand affinity loss. Product quality and product safety – these are two ways to differentiate yourself from the commodity crowd.

sponsored by Galactic Fun Time Line

A couple of recent developments involving the Consumer Product Safety Commission caught my eye. First, you may remember all the safety issues the last two years with the rare earth magnets once popular as executive gifts in our industry. Companies like Buckyballs and Zen magnets were in a fierce battle with the CPSC to avoid recalls stemming from children being injured when the magnets were ingested. The arguments involving proper packaging, warning labels, and intended user group raged on. While it may be too little and too late to breathe life back into the company, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed this month with Zen Magnets in a divided opinion, saying the commission didn’t follow regulatory guidelines regarding the magnet ban and ruled in favor of Zen to allow the re-importation of the magnets.

At nearly the same time, the CPSC was sued by the Philadelphia Inquirer claiming the agency withheld records concerning the IKEA recall of 29 million dressers with tip-over risk. From the complaint filed in Federal Court, “plaintiffs hoped that CPSC would be more forthcoming than it had been previously, given the enormity of the recall and the fact that public scrutiny regarding what happened with the Ikea dressers could help the agency better address similar situations in the future.”

The newspaper has consistently reported on deaths of toddlers from Ikea dressers involved in tip-overs and seeks CPSC records under the Freedom of Information Act regarding its investigations and talks with Ikea. CPSC spokesperson Scott Wolfson told the Inquirer, “We are an agency that strives to work in the sunshine, so we are reviewing the suit at this time and certainly will be responsive to it.”

With all this CPSC news, there is also the new administration, and a likely change away from current chair Elliot Kaye. After Donald Trump takes office, Kaye is expected to step down as chairman to become a commissioner. Last month, Kaye introduced a new initiative to help the agency get a broader understanding of the battery industry and move from the “recall agency” to prevention, rather than resolving hazards after the fact. Kaye told NPR, “My hope is now with the election and potential leadership change here, that that work is not scuttled.” We’ll just have to wait and see on that one.

Jeff Jacobs has been an expert in building brands and brand stewardship for more than 35 years, working in commercial television, Hollywood film and home video, publishing, and promotional brand merchandise. He’s a staunch advocate of consumer product safety and has a deep passion and belief regarding the issues surrounding compliance and corporate social responsibility. He recently retired as executive director of Quality Certification Alliance, the only non-profit dedicated to helping suppliers provide safe and compliant promotional products. Before that, he was director of brand merchandise for Michelin. As a recovering end-user client, he can’t help but continue to consult Fortune 500 consumer brands on promo product safety when asked. You can also find him working as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, traveling the world with his lovely wife, or enjoying a cigar at his favorite local cigar shop. Follow Jeff on Twitter, or reach out to him at jacobs.jeffreyp@gmail.com.

Protection With a Purpose
Sherry L. Baranek, Product Feature
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sponsored by PromoCorner - Suppliers

Safety products can be a lucrative promotional products category for distributors to offer their clients. In the workplace, safety is paramount to prevent injuries, death, and financial losses — and increases worker productivity. On a personal level, safety products protect people from harm and injury while they perform their jobs and pursue their hobbies and interests. Reflective vests, bags, earbuds, and other clothing; safety glasses; lip balms; insect repellants; armbands; pedometers; and safety whistles all fit the bill when it comes to promoting safety and well-being.

Chris Flynn of Fields Manufacturing sees more companies going the extra mile to protect their employees through safety programs and items for everyday use. “Some of this is brought on by government regulations, but from what we are hearing much of this is being done on their own accord,” he comments. “Not only is it keeping the workplace a safe environment, it is keeping it a positive environment as well.” Product demand ranges from informational pocket slide guides and safety attire to safety glasses.

At Evans Manufacturing, Jason Schmidt notes there has been an increase in reflective requirements on products including bags and fitness products. “There have been increased requests in brighter safety products for workers and event staff,” he states. “LED lighting is seen on many new products.” He adds that demand has also increased over the past year for these fitness-related products with reflectivity and LEDs.

A significant new trend in safety has emerged due to the rapidly spreading Zika virus. Paul Christensen of Natural Trends reports that the company has supplied mosquito repellent to the promotional products market for years for use at outdoor corporate events and community “fight the bite” campaigns. “But, demand escalated this year after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the Zika virus can cause serious life altering birth defects,” Christensen elaborates. “Dr. Tom Frieden of the CDC called it ‘unprecedented’ since, ‘Never before in history has there been a situation when a bite from a mosquito can result in such a devastating scenario.’”

sponsored by American Apparel

As a result, requests for repellent soared in 2016 and are expected to remain high in 2017 as the virus isn’t going away anytime soon, Christensen continues. “The challenge for distributors is that the most commonly used repellents contain DEET, or other synthetic chemicals, which cannot be custom branded for promo due to EPA laws.” Customers wanting a repellent container carrying their logo then turned to the natural repellent category, according to Christensen.

There are numerous new and best-selling promotional safety products on the market. At BIC Graphic, its safety pedometer not only counts steps, but has safety features like a flashlight, siren, and emergency flasher. An adjustable, safety light armband has two light settings—standard and flashing—which is suitable for early morning and/or late evening runners and walkers.

GAME Sportswear has an X-Back 5-point breakaway vest with two-inch silver/grey reflective tape with a one-inch contrasting yellow stripe as well as striping around body and over shoulders to form an “X” on the center back. Its FIRE 5-point breakaway vest also has two-inch silver/gray reflective tape with a one-half inch contrasting orange stripe and “FIRE” printed on the center back.

In addition to its safety vests, LutzCo offers a line of High Vis sweatshirts, jackets, pants, long- and short-sleeve Ts. They are available in "brite lime" and "brite orange".

Fey/Reflectix has a wide array of reflective stickers, zipper-pulls, clip-ons, bicycle safety items, pet reflectors, wristbands, armbands, reflective belts, auto safety items and more. The reflective trend is also prevalent at Evans Manufacturing with its new products. The company has introduced new reflective items including a mobile phone armband and reflective earbuds.

sponsored by Warwick

Fields Manufacturing has introduced an enhanced version of its safety glasses, and added six new styles of Pyramex glasses and three new styles of Carhartt glasses. All of the glasses come in a variety of colors like clear, gray, black, and blue. Fields notes that the company’s safety glasses are very stylish and resemble retail sunglasses, and are not the same glasses that make someone look as if he or she has just walked out of a high school science lab.

Zenith Promotions also has several products designed for personal safety and care. A safety whistle key chain is available in red, blue, orange, or clear. A new line of paraben-free lip balms—made from natural beeswax with aloe and vitamin E—are available in 41 flavors. They also are offered with a clip-on lanyard option.

Personal care and safety is the prime reason behind Natural Trends’ Herbal Armor insect repellant. It is DEET-free, lab tested and proven highly effective in repelling the Aedes aegypti mosquito, Christensen maintains. “Demand for the product soared due to this distinction, and the fact that the product is sweat resistant for active lifestyles, and non-irritating for those with sensitive skin has been an added bonus,” he states. “We will be gearing up for high demand of our Herbal Armor Repellent Wipes and one- and two-ounce spray bottles for 2017.”

When selling safety products to your clients, promotional product suppliers recommend showing the broad range of products that are available. Schmidt at Evans Manufacturing believes in emphasizing the health aspects of personal safety products. “Busy people are out exercising when they can often this is during the morning or evening when there is little daylight,” he says. “Products that reflect or emit light will quickly be used. Show your customers you care about their well being as much as their business.”

Field Manufacturing’s Fields expands on these sentiments, concluding, “It is one thing to provide an individual with information, but when you also give them the tools to put it into action, this is when you see your desired results.”

Sidebar

Daughter Drives Dad-Designed Safety Gadget

Josette Bosse of Bay State Specialty Company shares the story behind one of its new safety products—an outlet cover. “The D412 was designed by a dad who experienced a need for this item,” she explains. “He was vacuuming and he took a smaller safety cap out of the outlet and plugged in the vacuum. His daughter had grabbed and swallowed the small cap, and it got lodged in her throat. He was able to resuscitate her—and managed to get the small object out of her—but was scared to death by it. He then invented a larger piece and drilled holes to allow for air passage if ingested.” The D412 meets pacifier standards for children. It also protects outlets from objects being accidentally inserted into them, provides safety from unintended electrical shocks; reduces air flow for increased energy efficiency, and reduces risk of insect infestation.

Setting, Achieving and Adjusting Goals; New Overtime Law.
Favorite outside the industry influencers; First and best concert? Kirby Hasseman, Bill Petrie, UnScripted
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sponsored by Next Level Apparel

In this weekly “talk show” column, industry educators Kirby Hasseman of Hasseman Marketing and Bill Petrie of brandivate discuss a variety of hot­-button industry topics. Click on the graphic to hear their “UnScripted” conversation.

New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff, New Products
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sponsored by Bay State

New from Hot Sauce Harry’s are a variety of delicious seasoning blends for your favorite foods. Available in half-pint sizes, flavors include pizza, hot dog, hamburger, french fries, fajita, popcorn and potato.

New Full Color Unisex Crew Socks from Beacon Promotions feature a full color imprint on both sides. The design can be different on each side at no additional charge. With the heelless sock design, one size fits most. Pricing is per pair. Machine washable in cold water.

Adhesive Weekly Calendar Notes from Bebco are an adhesive note and calendar all in one. Four stock designs are available or create your own. They have 50 sheets for 50 work weeks.

New 32-oz. Pro Travel Tumbler from Leprechaun Promotions keeps ice cold for more than 24 hours, and even keeps beverages hot for more than 6 hours. Forged from food grade stainless steel with an anti-skid rubber pad on the bottom. This item is great for golf events, company giveaways, or just a day out and about! It is double walled and vacuum insulated with a copper lining.

Turn and Face the Strange
Mike Schenker, MAS, Uncommon Threads
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sponsored by J. Charles

I recently sat in on a Facebook Live discussion spearheaded by John-Erik Moseler, who is a friend of my son and daughter-in-law. I’ve met him once, in a manner of speaking, when he crashed the kids’ wedding last year. We didn’t exactly have quality time that day, but I’ve made it a point of following his work (and not just his party-crashing efforts).

The Facebook discussion in question, “Embrace your Plot Twist!” was about not being afraid to make changes in your life and your career.

As I some of you know, I’ve been going through a personal re-branding of late, focusing more on educational training opportunities, and my writing (not that most of you can tell from what I’ve written). This has been a bold move for me, stepping away from my comfort zone – the sale and marketing of promotional products – my home for more than 30 years… re-creating (or more appropriately “re-calculating”) the direction in which I’m heading.

Perhaps it was the timing, but the discussion spoke to me on several levels. I asked the kids to see if John-Erik would share the text of that discussion with me, but they told me that such a thing didn’t exist. It seems that John-Erik pretty much made it up as he went, which is par for the course for him. That he was also medicated from a recent surgery made it that much more entertaining… at least to me (look up the definition of the word “schadenfreude” if you don’t already know it).

Nevertheless, what he had to say was worth sharing, so I saved his discussion and have transcribed bits and pieces for you. I will not say that these are exact quotes, as I am a professional writer and editor, but not a professional transcriber. Here are several of his pearls of wisdom, combined with some of my own random (and hopefully relevant) thoughts and comments:

1) Every great story has a plot twist. You wouldn’t want to read a story without a plot twist. You cheer and cry at the end of a great story because you know how hard it was because you know that the protagonist was against all odds and, despite wanting to give up s/he kept on going. All hope was lost and yet… success!

2) Not enough people embrace their plot twists. Our dream is nothing but plot points along our own story. When plot twists come along and we think “it’s a failure,” our nature is to let it stop us. The opposite of success is not failure. The opposite of success is inaction and indecision… giving up… never trying. John-Erik’s point? Don’t do nothing.

3) In the words of Albert Einstein, success is failure in progress. That’s ironic, as per a popular internet meme (as such, take this at face value), Einstein’s parents felt that he was “sub-normal” as he did not speak until he was four years old. Teachers also believed that he was “mentally slow.”

4) Many so-called “overnight successes” were actually the results of 10 years of failure.

5) Website crashed? Plot twist.

6) That didn’t work? Plot twist.

7) Someone gave up on you? Plot twist.

8) I love this one: If someone were to make a movie about the story of your life… if you succeeded at everything you set out to do, that would be the most boring story ever. No one would want to see that.

9) The stories where someone should have given up – but didn’t – that’s what people want to see. This makes you relatable.

10) Big failures: Look up Laugh-o-Gram Films, this was an early failure of Walt Disney. He was also fired from a newspaper job because he “lacked imagination.” We’ve all seen the memes about Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team. Steve Jobs was unceremoniously dumped by Apple, only to be brought back as its savior.

11) Pushing through the plot twists makes for the best stories.

12) Scars and failures don’t tell the story of who you are and what you’ve been through… that’s not you. You have to move past that. They’re part of you, but not you overall.

13) Keep writing your stories. Don’t throw that manuscript in the trash. The world needs your dreams. And your plot twists.

John-Erik is an interesting and weird motor-scooter. I say that as a compliment. I’d suggest following him on Twitter (@johnerikthinks) and embrace and share in his and your own plot twists. Don’t become complacent… you never know what the next chapter has to offer!

Mike Schenker, MAS, is a promotional industry veteran and member of the Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (SAAGNY) Hall of Fame. He can be reached at mike@mikeschenker.com.

Key to Retaining Customers and Attracting New Ones
5 steps to ignite change in the customer experience. Amy Fox, From the Business World
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sponsored by American Apparel

Between 2014 and 2015, only five industries improved and 14 declined in customer experience, according to the 2015 Temkin Experience Rating. “As we look to the future, we need to be anticipating what a new and better customer experience looks like and implementing strategies to put it in place,” asserts Amy Fox is president, CEO and founder of Accelerated Business Results. “Employee and management training is key in this effort.”

Fox suggests 5 Steps to Ignite Change in Customer Experience:

• Get employee buy-in. Up front there should be an awareness component describing what, why, and how. What do you need to change and why is it important? How am I expecting you, the associate or drive-thru attendant, to change?
Skills and behavior training. What does it look like if employees are asked to be authentic and to demonstrate empathy and ownership? Training should focus on what that means in their everyday interactions, going beyond definitions to include heavy application and practice.
Content that's relevant, rich, and easy to access, such as training that provides short, just-in-time bursts of learning that's easy for employees to access in real-life situations.
Empower supervisors to coach, reinforce, and redirect staff.
Reinforce staff training over time with multiple touch points and a plan to make it to stick.

“Helping employees to discover these lessons through situations they encounter every day makes those light bulbs really light up,” she says. “It's all about igniting change by giving them an opportunity to truly connect with the people they are trying to help.”

Amy Fox is President, CEO and founder of Accelerated Business Results, a leader in innovative business learning solutions, and a consultant to Fortune 500 companies on training and sales performance strategies. Amy and her team are driven to meet the diverse training needs of today's organizations, from increased sales performance and product knowledge to leadership, communication and coaching skills.

Be the Person You Wish You Could Buy From
The power of raising customer service standards. Aubrey Collins, Creative Challenges
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sponsored by Galactic Fun Time Line

It doesn’t matter if I’m at a restaurant, a big box store, a mom and pop shop, or even — as of this weekend— a Christmas tree lot. I’ve noticed that lately, with few exceptions, no matter what I’m doing, buying, or whom I’m calling, the customer service I receive is pretty bad. Like embarrassingly has-this-person-ever-interacted-with-another-human-being-before terrible.

Even worse, in almost every scenario, I’ve accurately anticipated said abysmal customer service. While I may have been slightly off on the exact flavor of dreadful the interaction took, in most instances my pessimistic expectation of how the experience was going to go was usually spot on that something annoying, irritating, or exasperating was going to occur.

Each time I walk up to a store associate, I expect that the person I interact with won’t have a clue how to help me. I foresee that a representative will make up an answer just to get rid of me. When I approach two associates at a checkout counter, I know that nine times out of 10, that the pair will appear endlessly inconvenienced that I’ve happened upon a stimulating conversation that they “can’t even.”

What is going on? We live in a world where it’s never been more important to have remarkably good customer service, where our world has shrunk beyond recognition, where everything customers want is a click away. And yet, when I go into a store, I’m surprised if I speak with someone who can point me in the general direction of what I need, let alone know what to do with it if I ask a question about it.

On the rare occasion that I come across someone who cares, someone who is helpful, someone who is an expert, I want to hug her/him (and ask if there is any way possible to get his/her schedule sent to me via a weekly push notification. And the funny thing is that usually the person I’m swooning over is simply doing their job well, doing what should be expected. But the bar is so low these days that it feels exceptional.

So if crappy service is the new standard and what once was standard service is the new exceptional, think about how much actual extraordinary customer service and customer care can elevate you.

Do you want to stand out (and who doesn’t)? Be the expert that is missing in so many areas of business today. Understand the products you offer; bring unexpected ideas, and stay on top of trends. Learn all you can about your customers, their difficulties, their expectations. Care about them and how you can help them.

They’ll notice the difference, and they’ll remember it. They will look for ways to work with you. With you, they’ll know you will have their best interest in mind. They won’t want to take the chance of rolling the dice and trying their luck with someone else when they know they have a good thing with you.

Amazon and Zappos and Target aren’t where they are today because of price and convenience. While those certainly get them bonus points, they wouldn’t have same clout if their customer service didn’t live up to their reputation. Good customer service is deeply rooted in everything they do — from user experience to delivery of goods to complaint resolution.

As our industry continues to shift, caring about our clients’ reputations and being attentive, helpful, empathetic, and considerate is going to be what sets people and brands apart.

Be the person you wish you could buy from and be a force in continuing to raise the standards of customer service — in our industry and beyond.

Aubrey Collins is the director of marketing and communications at MediaTree, a supplier of branded digital entertainment cards. She fell in love with the promotional products industry in 2011 at her first PPAI Expo. She shares her perspective on everything from the industry, what parenting continues to teach her about business, to what marketing campaigns make her cry on her blog. Connect with her on Twitter or email her atacollins@mediatreegroup.com.

Unlikely Wins
How team efforts can produce amazing results. Jeff Solomon, Deep Thoughts
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sponsored by PromoCorner - Suppliers

In this Deep Thoughts commentary, Jeff talks about unlikely wins that have shocked our country. These wins happen with a Team effort. The written commentary on Unlikely Wins can be found here: http://bit.ly/2ds6PrJ.

Jeff Solomon, MAS, is the voice behind FreePromoTips.com is a PPAI award winning business resource. With over 20 years of industry experience, he has a passion for networking and helping others. Based on his own personal journey, Jeff created SuccessFit4Life! an innovative program that drives product sales through SuccessFit4Life! WELLNESS PROGRAMS and EVENTS. Contact Jeff to learn how you can benefit from SuccessFit4Life!. His YourPromotionSolution.com video website enables distributors to share short product videos with one click. Jeff is also the president of All American Marketing Group that is affiliated with a large national distributor.

Prime Line Sponsors Rescue Mission's Thanksgiving Project
Identity Marketing Staff, Business News
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sponsored by American Apparel

Prime Line Sponsors Rescue Mission's Thanksgiving Project

Prime Line® sponsored Bridgeport Rescue Mission’s Great Thanksgiving Project last week, providing turkeys, bags of Thanksgiving fixings and winter coats to more than 3000 low income and families in need in Fairfield County, CT.

Distribution for the Thanksgiving project took place over six days, November 16-22, at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, where Prime is headquartered. Prime donated 5,000 bags and several Prime employees were on-site helping with distribution. “This was the largest charitable event of its kind in Connecticut and it was really special for Prime and its employees to be part of it,” said Prime Line CEO Jeff Lederer.

Prime Line has supported the Bridgeport Rescue Mission since 2014 with ongoing donations of blankets, bags, hats and hot cocoa. “We are grateful for caring companies like Prime Line® who are committed to serving our community and ensuring that no need goes unmet this Thanksgiving,” said Bridgeport Rescue Mission executive director, Terry Wilcox.

Prime and the Lederer family have established a rich tradition of supporting both industry and community causes such as the Promotional Products Education Foundation, the Breast Cancer Alliance, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Susan’s Rock – Stand Strong Against Domestic Violence and others.

Bridgeport Rescue Mission is a faith-based organization that serves homeless and addicted people throughout coastal Fairfield County, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Mission is funded by compassionate individuals, churches, businesses and organizations.

Fruit of the Loom CEO Rick Medlin, 68

Fruit of the Loom CEO Rick Medlin, 68, died Sunday morning of a heart attack.

Fruit of the Loom released the following statement:

"Rick Medlin, President and CEO of Fruit of the Loom, Inc. passed away of natural causes on November 27, 2016. The entire Fruit of the Loom Inc. team worldwide, with more than 30,000 employees, is incredibly saddened by the loss of their sincere and principled leader. Rick was a special leader and a special person. He was extremely proud of the progress and success we have shared in the last 6 years. We owe it to his legacy and honor to continue taking this company forward in accordance with his vision. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Medlin family at this time of loss. The company will name an interim CEO in the coming days who will continue to lead the organization with the same core values and integrity established by Mr. Medlin. The company will share updates as they are available."

Multi-Line Reps for Chocolate Inn/Taylor & Grant Win PPPC Awards

Chocolate Inn/Taylor & Grant announced that the Promotional Product Professionals of Canada has recognized Line Chaumont of Promocom as multi-line sales agency of the year for Eastern Canada, and Karen Spencer of Creative Solutions and Ideas as the multi-line agency of the year for Central Canada. These awards of distinction are voted upon by distributor customers within three specific regions across the country, recognizing multi-line sales agencies for their professionalism and service.

Creation vs. Evolution and How It Affects Your Business
Gregg Emmer, Marketing Matters
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Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire. You will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. –  George Bernard Shaw
sponsored by Warwick

Unless you are the owner of a franchise, your business is most likely the product of evolution. In the promotional marketing/specialty advertising industry this is almost universally true. Both distributors and suppliers, large and small tend to have evolved to the point they are today. That process which works well in nature when coupled with the survival of the fittest, is not necessarily the best idea for your business.

We all know the story of evolution – started in the garage doing everything yourself, needed to hire someone to help out, needed a bigger space, added more equipment, found more customers, started to advertise, added some marketing, more employees, more space, can’t find the order, do we have the inventory, who was supposed to take care of that, they want it when?

When evolution builds your business to the point that complexity in management and production becomes an issue, it may be time to let creation take over! There are many ways to begin the creation process. I have seen that a good starting place is current job descriptions provided by the people doing the jobs. You might find out that you have duplication of effort, overlapping authorities, missing responsibilities, waste, inefficiencies and other aspects that do not add to your business success. This is even more damaging when your business has more than one division or area of work focus.

For example, many suppliers provide goods to the promotional industry as well as to retail channels. Custom imprinted water bottles for our industry might be identical to stock printed bottles on the retailer’s shelf. Some suppliers will have evolved with two completely separate businesses and others will “share” employees, equipment and other resources between the two channels. There is no right or wrong but there is usually a ‘better.’ Are employee loyalties to one part of the business having a negative effect on the other? Do you see power struggles between departments? Are priorities well defined and carried out as instructed? Honest appraisals can be very revealing.

sponsored by Next Level Apparel

Last year a supplier business with third generation ownership and management had differences between two family members. One who had been operating as the company president for several years knew that it was time to implement more creation to guarantee the continued success of the company. The other gentleman, the company VP, was in the “this is the way we always did it” corner! Their impasse was settled with a buyout. Time will certainly tell if doing the same things the same way will produce a different outcome!

They waited too long to evaluate the development of their business. If the hard look and analysis took place earlier, perhaps at the time of the last generational transfer of management, there may never have been the impasse.

The religious creation/evolution argument has creation taking only days with evolution taking millions of years. Unfortunately business creation doesn’t go that quickly, but it won’t take a millennium either. In reality you will be starting the “evolution of creation.” By identifying what works well and expanding on that, and applying resources in that direction while remediating or eliminating things that are not contributing to success, you will start your business evolving in an improved direction. It may also be the time to look forward and decide if the character, scope, client base and market position of the future is different then today. If there is a desire for any aspect of the business to change, put a plan in place – create the change – don’t expect that you will simply evolve.

Get your clients/customers involved. A very effective marketing exercise is developing a sense of involvement, importance and relevance in the mind of your customers. Ask them in a survey “What three products or services would you like us to consider offering in the near future?” The information certainly will be valuable but the opening of the discussion allows you to provide ongoing dialogue. You can thank the customer for participating and include an imprinted thank you gift. You will send periodic updates on what is changing based on the suggestions they and other customers provided. If applicable you can invite clients to an open house to view the new products, services or processes you now offer. Once you tell your customer that their opinion is important, the relationship with your business becomes stronger.

As Shaw suggested, creation is the final part of the process of evolution. Without a well organized future mapped out, evolution alone will begin to cause your business to meander just like an old river. Instead of a fast and free flowing channel you will have twists and turns to navigate, to slow you down. And if you let the turns get too tight, you may not be able to navigate them at all.

Gregg Emmer is chief marketing officer and vice president at Kaeser & Blair, Inc. He has more than 40 years experience in marketing and the promotional specialty advertising industry. His outside consultancy provides marketing, public relations and business planning consulting to a wide range of other businesses and has been a useful knowledge base for K&B Dealers. Contact Gregg at gemmer@kaeser-blair.com.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!
Lisa Schofield, Product Feature
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sponsored by Bay State

Most Americans must face the cold this winter and early spring, going to work, and performing myriad errands. Sure, one can don promotional thermals. But that’s not enough for Homo sapiens to brave frigid temps, wind, snow and sleet. A promotional jacket or coat can keep those icy fingers that generate chills at bay.

Of course, persuading any client to invest in such a purchase takes more work, and anyone will almost immediately recoil from a high price tag. But knowing what key factors are currently affecting potential outerwear purchases will go a long way in closing successful sales of this garment sector.

Danny Tsai of Tri-Mountain views one main factor is the slower economy, which generally means a smaller budget to spend on advertising and therefore, fewer promo products. “So we’ve developed jackets that are more affordable, without compromising quality,” he notes. Tri-Mountain also provides outerwear at higher price points, and there are differences in design and development between the two price points. But in this economy, Tsai says, the supplier and its distributors are catering to different audiences with different products. Tri-Mountain provides its distributors with resources like a GBB Guide that compares different price points side-by-side, so they and their customers can compare quickly and easily. “And usually, when using our GBB, distributors can upsell their customers,” he adds.

Doug Burkett of Burk’s Bay agrees that budgets do continue to be tighter and buyers are demanding value not just in the garment but in the experience you as a distributor can convey the outerwear can provide. For example, he says, Burk’s Bay leather apparel is a garment “that excites and motivates an audience. The opportunity to earn a leather jacket, a highly valued item, that for many represent the first leather jacket they will own, motivates. When given as a Sales, Service or Safety Award, it is the type of premium that generates value.”

Elyse Bonner of Simplex Apparel believes that availability can affect your promotional outerwear sale. Suppliers, she observes tend to go light on inventory for more expensive outerwear. She explains, “When demand increases during outerwear season, manufacturers often can’t keep up causing the distributor to lose out on a potential sale, causing the buyer to either cancel the purchase or go with a body that doesn't meet their original needs. This can either be a more expensive purchase, affecting their next outwear purchase, or a cheaper, less efficient purchase, that can affect the supplier/end-user experience.”

sponsored by J. Charles

This season, agrees Kara DiBiase of Trimark, your buyers are looking for quality and durability. Product information is at everyone’s fingertips, she points out, so your clients are likely more educated about what constitutes quality in outerwear than ever before. Stick with brands that have the retail reputation for manufacturing “well-built garments. Your clients want to ensure that the branded product they are supplying lives well beyond the standard lifecycle of a promotional item. Outerwear does that because consumers recognize the value of a reputable outerwear piece.”

From the client’s perspective and ultimately, the recipient’s, DiBiase believes that distributors should be persuading clients to put their spend toward nicer, better quality products, such as outerwear, instead of giving a handful of inexpensive items. The higher perceived value and the comfort provided will make the company stand out favorably in that recipient’s mind.

While some clients will opt for classics, others want to be on point with current trends. According to Mark Seymour of Next Level Apparel, there is a noticeable trend towards mid- and lightweight outerwear. “Softness and texture along with printability and value are driving buying decisions,” he comments. Next Level Apparel offers three mid-weight French terry styles with a soft print face that is very suitable for decorating. The pullover and zip hoodies come with the option of a jersey-lined contrast hood and matching draw-cord for a pop of color. “The hood drapes well and isn’t bulky,” he describes. “Along with the raglan long-sleeve crew all three styles represent a great value and an option with an extended wearing season.”

sponsored by American Apparel

When it comes to outerwear, Bonner says, clients tend to favor classic basics. “A trendy body can age over just one year’s (season’s) time and wouldn't be the ideal choice for such large expense,” she asserts.

Ideal choices can be provided to clients at any time they venture outerwear, or a promotion where outerwear would be a most suitable fit (pun intended). There are some clients, though, who will leave all of that up to you, which can be either or both frustrating and intimidating. But even then, you have to start somewhere.

“Here’s some basic information for distributors to find out before they begin their search,” advises Tsai. “First, of course, what is the budget? What weight jacket are they looking for, e.g, lightweight, bonded, insulated, 3-in-1, etc. What attributes does the jacket need to have, e.g., hood, waterproof, etc. What color, size, and range/quantity do they want?”

Tsai refers once again to Tri-Mountain’s GBB, which helps take the guesswork out of this process for distributors by identifying the company’s three styles at varying price points for popular apparel categories.

Beyond attaining an understanding of the budget and outerwear details, says Burkett, find out the objectives – how is it going to be used? Is it for an event? An award? For men and women? What’s the age group? “With a better understanding of the audience, we (the supplier) can help identify product's that will excite and motivate,” he points out.

When asking what the outerwear garment will be used for, says DiBiase, this is a terrific way to narrow down your search. For example, she offers, “If it’s for an outdoor event taking place in winter, they will most likely want something insulated. If it’s to be used as a warm-up outfit for a basketball team, they will most likely want something more lightweight and breathable.”

She adds to also ensure to provide some decoration concepts too. “Be sure to get virtuals created so you can have some clear ideas for both product and decoration included in your follow-up email,” she advises.

Seymour recommends you try to find and show something new and unexpected at a great value. One example he provides is Next Level Apparel’s PCH Hooded Pullover Sweatshirt, featuring an open bottom and pocket detail in heather colors “for vintage vibe,” he describes. Another example is its Denim Fleece Zip Hoodie with a denim-inspired look and texture with an antique brass zipper.

sponsored by Galactic Fun Time Line

Meanwhile, he reveals, Next Level Apparel has been previewing its new 2017 line at trade shows where two styles seem to have created quite the buzz. The women’s and men’s denim fleece joggers marries the popular jogger style with the company’s new denim-inspired fleece. “It is an on-trend style matched with the great look and feel of our new denim fleece,” he says. Next Level Apparel’s new unisex mock twist raglan hoodie is a soft, printable 60/40 cotton/poly blend with a snowy textured look that is “perfect for athleisure and lifestyle markets. This garment has a super soft hand with great drape and flow,” he notes.

For 2017, Tri-Mountain launched 12 new outerwear styles, the most in its history, Tsai says. The collection includes two lightweight, value-priced jackets, the men’s and women’s (J1400/JL1400), as well as a couple companion soft-shell bonded jackets (J6350/JL6350), part of Tri-Mountain’s popular Vital Series of apparel.

“We also have some on-trend fleece jackets,” Tsai says. “Our companion styles (F7370 and FL7370), are designed in a very cool heathered pattern; we also have one in a static pattern (F7455). We have four heavyweight jackets as well. Our J8890 is a 3-in-1 system jacket with attractive color blocking and is temp rated down to -7 degrees Fahrenheit. There are also two companion heavyweight jackets (J8920 and JL8920) both with stylish color blocking.”

Simplex Apparel, said Bonner, launched its first outerwear piece earlier this year. Its unisex Tri-Blend Zipper Hoodie (style 3670), offers a soft, slightly heathered finish with a comfortable brushed fleece interior. Additional features include a flat draw cord, double-layered fleece hood and a quality YKK zipper. This style is available in five classic colors in sizes XS-2XL.

Lightweight warmth is a major trend for Trimark this winter, DiBiase reports. The company has a variety of such outerwear styles that can withstand harsh winter elements while remaining lightweight and comfortable. “The goal was to create styles that people could wear outside in below freezing temperatures but also wear into and around the grocery store or while running other errands without feeling too warm or bulky,” she describes.

Trimark also offers insulated and 3-in-1 jackets, that are also on-trend, she says. The Lexington Insulated Jacket provides lightweight warmth “with an urban executive flair.” This style was designed for wearing to the office then to a night on the town.

The Mantis Insulated Jacket is comfortably soft and is equipped with a water-repellent coating and ECHOHEAT technology that will reflect body heat right back to the wearer to ensure sustained warmth. The third lightweight warmth outerwear style Trimark launched is the lightweight Delamar 3-in-1 Jacket. This jacket includes a thin outershell that, when combined with the lightweight quilted inner jacket, gives the wearer solid protection from winter elements.

Burk’s Bay has two new lambskin jackets that, points out Burkett, “reflect today's fashion.” These include a ladies’ biker jacket and a men's designer lamb both in luxuriously supple lamb material. Also new is the MA-1 Flight Jacket, which is “as comfortable in the cockpit as on the rack at a department store,” he describes. The point is distributors need to be aware of what their audience is buying now. Not what they were buying two years ago so these three new items are reflecting what's hot right now at retail.”

When it comes to outerwear, there are countless styles, weights, colors, fabrications and added “bells and whistles,” for nearly any client. Think any business that has a delivery service, taxi and limo companies, corporate stores, universities/schools, construction, golf courses, and any service such as HVAC, municipal and road workers, plumbing, flooring, etc. that visits customers at home.

And remember – warm and comfy people are happy people.

Coke's Selfie-Stick: Madness or Genius? Thank-you Notes
Apple pie moonshine; The continuing Yeti saga; What are you thankful for, within the industry and outside of it? Kirby Hasseman, Bill Petrie, UnScripted
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sponsored by PromoCorner - Suppliers

In this weekly “talk show” column, industry educators Kirby Hasseman of Hasseman Marketing and Bill Petrie of brandivate discuss a variety of hot­-button industry topics. Click on the graphic to hear their “UnScripted” conversation.

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