2008 Winners

2008 Bess Cohn Memorial Humanitarian Award

This award is presented to an individual who embraces the giving, loving and selfless nature that embodied Bess Cohn's many acts of kindness.


Neil TatarNeil Tatar, Adirondack Ad Specialties, asi/105035

Neil Tatar, president of Adirondack Ad Specialties, created the Rolling for Autism event - a cause he started last year as a part of his Adirondack Charities nonprofit organization.

Rolling for Autism was a 2,000-mile journey up the East Coast on roller skates last summer, stopping at universities and other spots from Florida to Maine.

Tatar created it to help unite the country in autism awareness and it was all possible through his own gifts of money and time.  He even donated 10 months’ worth of funds from his own pockets and from those of his family members and friends to get the marathon event up and running. 

His son, Dan, 24, spearheaded the tour effort and joined Neil and a group of friends.  Together, they made it happen.

They skated from state-to-state through hills and valleys for 54 days – sometimes in 90-degree temperatures – and the fervor they drew from fans as they stopped along the way was tremendous. 

One sorority at a university they stopped at proclaimed Rolling for Autism its charity of the year.  Another student group bought 300 T-shirts and set up a tie-dying booth.  All proceeds went to the cause.

Tatar also encouraged industry suppliers, distributors and end-buyers to join them supporting their mission to foster understanding of the brain development disorder.

And for Tatar, this last point hit home.  His oldest son, Ben, 26, has never been formally diagnosed, but has exhibited some of the behaviors consistent with the milder end of the autism spectrum.

To date, Rolling for Autism has raised over $100,000 and plans call for coordinating future fundraising events at universities nationwide and elsewhere.

2008 Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award

The Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award is presented each year to a person who characteristically shares a passion for the promotional products industry and who has been an ongoing source of ideas, concepts, energy and encouragement for others.  Much of Marvin's career in this industry has been devoted to helping tens of thousands of ASI members, large and small, to flourish and to believe in themselves.

Dick Kaeser

Dick Kaeser, Kaeser & Blair, asi/238600

Dick, 79, has introduced more people to the ad specialty arena over his 50-plus years in the industry than his son, Kurt, president, can count.   

Kurt recalls a time when they would place ads in business opportunity magazines to recruit potential new dealers.  When they responded to the ads, Dick would speak to them on the phone in a straight-forward manner and he would say that “this is an honest-to-good business.” 

He wouldn’t say that they could make a million dollars overnight, but he told them that they could make a good income from it if they had a hard work ethic.  He would explain that every business is a prospect for promotional products and, essentially, he encouraged their entrepreneurial spirit by listening patiently and being honest.

In addition to being an industry recruiter, Dick was very dedicated to his staff.  Kurt remembers a time in his childhood when Dick would get in his truck on Saturdays and drive to the office, just so he could get the mail and sort it for his employees to have on Monday.  He wanted to speed up the efficiency for his staff.

He also penned many of the articles in the company’s newsletter, the Windjammer, which Kurt’s grandfather started.  It’s been published every month for over 70 years and contains factory specials, sales tips and ideas.  Kurt remembers back to when Dick didn’t know how to type on a computer, so he would get a pencil and meticulously write up each word exactly how he wanted it to look.  He wanted his sales reps to have the best information and to be successful.  Today, of course, it goes to the graphics department.

Dedication to the success of others -- it’s what Dick Kaeser knows best.

2008 Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year

This award recognizes individuals from our distributor firm members, who reflect the true entrepreneurial nature of our industry.

Lewis Amicone

Lewis Amicone and Monte Baumgartner, Promopeddler.com, asi/300367

This year's Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year is the team of Lewis Amicone and Monte Baumgartner, founders of Promopeddler.com. 

The two men — one a former Intel manufacturing technician, the other a tire installer - founded a distributorship with only $800 that finished 2007 with $9.6 million in revenues.

Monte BaumgartnerTheir partnership dates back to 1997, when Lewis and Monte worked together on their first joint venture - investing in real estate tax liens.

Two years later, Bagpeddler.com was born, the precursor to Promopeddler.com.  It started exclusively as bags, but they bought overruns and misprints from a few factories and started selling them on eBay.

The real turning point was when a California school placed an order for 3,000 bags.  At that stage they learned that it was a much better business model to sell 3,000 bags to one person than 3,000 bags to 3,000 individuals.
Since 2001, the distributorship has been a true testament to the power of Internet sales.  In 2006, the company pulled in $7.4 million and this year expects to reach the $12 million mark.  The most impressive thing about these two men is the fact that they’re both self-taught. Neither had a promotional or marketing background and, in fact, Lewis remembers building their original Web site from scratch using Microsoft’s FrontPage.

Today, Promopeddler.com has outgrown its accounting, customer management and order tracking departments.  The company has plans to become more efficient by using a new business platform and by launching a new Web site with better navigation.

With such changes on the way, the business certainly has traveled far from its initial roots – roots that didn’t even include a business model or blueprint. 

2008 Supplier Entrepreneur of the Year

This award recognizes individuals from our supplier firm members, who reflect the true entrepreneurial nature of our industry.


Larry WilhelmLarry Wilhelm, Custom HBC Corp., asi/47934

Unlike some broader suppliers who try to cover multiple categories, Larry Wilhelm, president of Custom HBC Corp., decided early on to specialize in the health and beauty category and to be the best supplier in that sector.

He centered his company around innovation – the driving force behind Larry’s creativity and energy that today keeps everyone motivated when ideas turn old.

It should be no surprise, then, that Custom HBC Corp. is known for its highly creative products and somewhat unusual campaigns to fit the needs of clients. 

Products have included a barbecue-scented sanitizer that was a promotional giveaway for a beef producer’s council. 

Another was a bust of Millard Fillmore – the 13th president of the United States - in soap form that was used for an auto manufacturer’s Unknown President’s Day Sale advertising campaign.

There was even a honey-scented liquid hand soap that was placed in shopping mall bathrooms three weeks before the release of Bee Movie, where visitors could treat themselves to a soothing squirt of the soap while reading about the film’s debut and the date of the first showing.

Out-of-the-box advertising specialties and creative approaches like these have been highly successful for Larry.  In 2007, Custom HBC Corp finished the year with about $8 million in revenue, and this year’s projected figure is $11.5 million - a 40% increase.

2008 Counselor Woman of Distinction

Each year, we name a woman, or several, who have distinguished themselves through their impact in our industry, with their creative ideas, admirable leadership skills and remarkable ability to balance work and life.

Laura Holt

Distributor Woman of Distinction

Laura Holt, Geiger, asi/202900

We're proud to name Laura Holt, vice president of sales for the Central Region for Geiger, as this year’s Counselor Distributor Woman of Distinction.

How Laura entered the industry is interesting.  She was vice president at a regional bank and managing 31 branches when her husband, Glen, and stepson, Tim, bought a small distributorship in Arizona in 1984.  At the time, it consisted of a used adding machine, an outdated client list and a part-time salesperson.

After two years, it was clear that the distributorship, named Holt Marketing Group, needed more attention and Laura wanted to help.  She had two options:  either she was going to quit her bank job or they were going to have to close the doors of the distributorship.  She made the tough choice and shelved her banking career so she could help keep the doors open. 

Clearly it was the right decision.  By 2000, the company was pulling in $4.5 million in sales.  Then Geiger became interested in its success and made an offer to purchase the business and the family accepted. 

She now tends to cross-sections of the country for Geiger, where last year she took over responsibilities for 11 states in the central division - ranging from Minnesota to Missouri.  Before that, she ran Geiger’s Western region, where she had five divisions reporting to her.

Her success has a new set of challenges, namely keeping existing sales partners motivated, since many clients are cutting back on ad budgets she says. 

But, her focus and ability to keep a positive attitude have allowed her to enjoy the challenges, just as she did when she helped Holt Marketing Group grow into a multi-million-dollar company.

Supplier Woman of Distinction

Paula Shulman, Prime Line, asi/79530

Paula ShulmanPaula found her way into the industry after being a Bond girl – well sort of.  She had a successful modeling career and even appeared on the book cover of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die

However, that career was put on hold indefinitely once she found herself wanting to have more time to spend with her daughter following a divorce in the late 1970’s. 

At that time she joined now defunct distributor N. Donald Edwards and Company after responding to a newspaper ad and that’s when she discovered that she loved advertising specialties – a lot. 

After five years with Edwards, she went to work for Prime Line.

Paula sees herself as someone who isn’t working to make friends, but to do business. 

This attitude and her outspoken nature helped her rise from secretary to receptionist to customer service manager to director of marketing to national sales manager.  And, two years ago, she became the first woman vice president in the history of the company. 

Paula enjoys the fact that she works for a privately held company and feels like she’s been allowed to make decisions as if it they were solely her own – a scenario that compliments her work ethic and her driven personality well. 

She’s been advancing within the industry for 30 years, perhaps contributing to the success of other women along the way.  And, last year she celebrated her 25th anniversary with Prime Line.

2008 Counselor International Person of the Year

This award recognizes individuals who have shared contributions to the industry and their amazing talent in growing successful companies internationally.

Jonathan IsaacsonJonathan Isaacson, Gemline, asi/56070

Jonathan Isaacson, president and owner of Gemline, has become a trusted resource for many leading industry companies.  At the age of just 24, he moved to Hong Kong for almost two years so he could ensure that products coming out of Gemline’s overseas facility were being manufactured correctly.   

Of course at that time, the business landscape in China looked more like the Wild West and few Americans had a roadmap for how to navigate its landscape.   Even now, he travels overseas for business about 20% of each year.

Jonathan’s love of international business is evident in his belief and investment in China’s role in the supply chain, pointing to the company’s 55,000 square foot facility in Southern China, its 150 employees in China and the formation of its Global Solutions entity - which offers distributors direct import and custom product options.

And while many suppliers go over and above for their clients on a daily basis, the company has taken that to an international level, too.  Recently, two Gemline employees flew nearly 2,000 miles to Puerto Rico and personally walked an order through customs so the client would have it in-hand when needed, snafu-free.

Efforts like these and the ability to capitalize on international business has allowed Gemline to enjoy sustained annual growth, with a 6% jump in sales from $83 million in 2005 to $88.1 million in 2006.

Furthermore, Jonathan led the company to 7% growth from 2006 to 2007, to $94 million in sales.

Jonathan notes that the most important issues for distributors and suppliers to watch include world-wide inflation, which is due in part to the prices of raw materials that are sky-high, and the complicated issue of compliance, which he says will continue to evolve over the next 12 years. 

2008 Supplier Family Business of the Year

This award recognizes a supplier firm and the impressive abilities of its family-run staff to achieve success and creativity in the industry.


David MillerChocolate Inn, asi/44900

Chocolate Inn was founded in 1979 by George and Joyce Miller in Freeport, N.Y.  George’s fraternity brother was Prime Line’s Bob Lederer, who introduced George to the industry and the rest is history. 

Chocolate Inn has since taken the ability to mold quality chocolate into any shape to a level that appeals to end-users in a variety of industries. 

It has created trucks for trucking companies, an eye dropper for a pharmaceutical company and even a shark’s tooth covered in red to look like blood.
David Miller, CEO, who took over the reins of his parents’ company in 2005 after working for them for 15 years, says that it’s not just about having a highly desirable product, but it’s also the customer service that makes this family business thrive. 

Miller says that if a distributor feels that you not only have a good product, but that you’ll also ship on time, they will recommend you almost every time to end-buyers.  That’s why Chocolate Inn tries to bend over backwards.

And, in fact, most of the products within its 56-page catalog ship in five days and if the temperature rises above 75 degrees the product is sent in insulated packaging so it doesn’t melt.  Miller has even been known to jump in on the production line himself to help pack and ship orders around the holidays. 

The attention to service and providing innovative chocolate products have made Chocolate Inn the leading producer of chocolate premiums. 

Sales last year rose to $9.5 million, up from $7.7 million in 2005.  At any given time, the supplier is involved in 300 programs for blue-chip companies, ranging from the pharmaceutical to the financial realms.

2008 Person of the Year

Each year, we name an individual who serves as a role model for others, has contributed to the overall growth of the industry, and who we believe will continue to be a guiding force.


Jack TeagueJack Teague, BIC Graphic USA, asi/40480

Jack Teague, president of Top 40 Supplier BIC Graphic USA, manages a truly global supplier business responsible for all BIC Graphic divisions in the United States, Europe, Canada, Mexico, South America, Australia and New Zealand. 

Jack has advanced our industry’s thinking in safety, compliance and sustainability, has a long history of service as a supplier, and plays an important role in the emerging global marketplace.  And, he’s also managed to revolutionize product development at his company.
Jack established an internal safety group that oversees all stages of product development and production and BIC now employs an independent lab at the Duke University Medical Center for testing inks used for imprinting.

When BIC decided to expand into China five years ago, it partnered with Asian Sourcing Link.  This helped address high-level concerns of product safety and gave Jack the opportunity to ensure quality standards - even overseas. 

Since then, overseas production has grown to represent 25% of BIC’s line and there are now over 60 representatives all across Asia.

In 25 years, Jack has increased sales from $102 million to $191 million, partly by expanding product offerings and ensuring safety. 

Jack also spearheaded a new Ecolutions line, with products made from recycled materials.

Jack’s ability to spearhead development of safe new products and eco-friendly products on a global scale has been pivotal to BIC’s success and has served as a model for the rest of the industry. 


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