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Top 25 Cities For Ad Specialties Sales
By Andy Cohen, Betsy Cummings, Joe Haley, Melinda Ligos & Dave Vagnoni
Research by Larry Basinait
June 2010

An exclusive Counselor study unveils the best cities to do business in right now. Plus, we even visited five of them across the USA to see the fertile business environments firsthand.

Florida – the East Coast’s ground zero for foreclosures and unemployment over the past few years – is making a comeback, with three hot markets in the state (Jacksonville, Miami and Orlando).

North Carolina, South Carolina and Oklahoma are all breeding grounds of business activity. Each has two top cities for ad specialties sales. And if you wanted to open up shop in any metro market right now, the place to be is Bridgeport/Stamford, CT.

Yes, the hotbed of financial and banking activity in Connecticut, the place just miles from New York City that’s home to many Fortune 500 companies, is the number-one market for ad specialty distributors to do business in.

Welcome to Counselor’s first-ever ranking of the Top 25 Markets For Ad Specialties Sales. In this exclusive report, we reveal the metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) that have the most potential for distributors to find business. The markets are all over the U.S. – from Boston down to Miami, Orlando all the way west to Portland, and Baton Rouge straight up to Minneapolis – and cover cities both large and small. While New York City, with its 19-million-strong MSA, is on the list, so is Des Moines, IA, with only 560,000 people.

To arrive at the list, we first looked at population and business growth numbers for each of the more than 350 MSAs in the U.S. Then, we created a first-of-its kind index, the Ad Specialties Vitality Index (ASV), to rank the markets specifically on the promotional products revenues generated in each individual MSA. The ASV relates the percentage
of ad specialties sales in a market to the percentage of U.S. population in the same market. In other words, it’s a ratio of the MSA’s industry revenues to its total population (see chart at left).
Plus, we sent reporters to five of the top 25 markets spread across the country – Bridgeport/Stamford, CT; Dallas; Boise, ID; Omaha, NE; and Baton Rouge, LA. With notepads, cameras and video recorders in hand, each reporter filed an article and a video report (go now to to view all of the videos) that captures the vitality of each market.

Read below to check out the articles.

 1. Bridgeport/Stamford, CT
Where High Finance & Manufacturing Meet

To survive and thrive in a changing local marketplace, a company has to be flexible. It can’t blindly stick to a product line that’s not growing. "We get the orders we get because people know us and we do complicated work, but that’s not going to grow," says Kathy Saint, president of Schwerdtle Stamp Co. (asi/321343) in Bridgeport, CT, explaining her company’s steel and silicone stamp and dye business as of late.
Saint says so while standing amid a collection of sturdy, if dated, machines, all eerily silent on a recent spring morning, a seeming cast of relics paying tribute to a former era of manufacturing. But looks can be deceiving.

Make no mistake, Saint’s company, which her great-grandfather founded 131 years ago and today employs 25, still relies on these machines to cast dies for various companies, such as cosmetics giant Clinique. And business is still good. But recent market shifts have pushed the company to develop new lines of business, one of them being a place in the ad specialty industry. The company has been able to make that shift, in part, thanks to the consistently solid business opportunities and economic development that exists in the Bridgeport/Stamford area in which they operate – an area that has a rich tradition of business development and growth.

When Saint’s great-grandfather turned out his first rubber stamp in 1879, he did so in good company. Circus founder and showman P.T. Barnum had just been mayor of this historic area. Elias Howe had recently created the sewing machine and set up shop in Bridgeport. And an explosive industrialization was well under way.

One industry begets another and, "When you start to get a nucleus of companies, other things come," explains Jeff Bishop, who runs the Center for Business Growth, a part of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council. "Bridgeport is a historical who’s who of manufacturing." And its earliest entrepreneurs created a robust foundation that’s helped the area build for years.

That said, there are plenty of other factors that make this area a hotbed of activity in today’s market, and these days the town, the largest in Connecticut, and dead center between New York and Boston on the I-95 corridor, is still a powerful business center. The area is also home to many Fortune 500 companies – among them: GE Capital, UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland in the financial sector alone.

For Schwerdtle that’s meant being able to tap into an expanding ad specialty market, which has involved building product websites and handling the orders and processing of uniforms for three schools (with more on the way) in addition to orders for other general promotional products, including for upcoming area festivals and camps.

It helps that Saint’s company is located "within a 500 mile radius of 35% of the U.S. population and purchasing power and 64% of the Canadian population," Bishop says.

That’s not to say that Bridgeport hasn’t suffered its share of manufacturing flight to overseas locations or felt the burden of the recent recession. "Bridgeport is the poorest city but is part of the richest county in the country," is how Saint describes it, emphasizing the city’s non-taxable universities, hospitals, municipal buildings and nonprofit centers as an economic burden.

Add to that a flurry of manufacturers moving abroad in recent years, and Bridgeport’s manufacturing has lagged. "Five years ago this area just emptied out," says Grant Beeney, Saint’s husband and the company’s director of ad specialty sales. Then things started to change. In the past few years some manufacturers – unhappy, perhaps, with the quality of overseas production or, ironically, priced out of working abroad – have started to bring manufacturing home, accounting for a small but steady resurgence, Saint says.

It’s a resurgence she and Beeney are feeling, as well. Five years ago the company joined ASI and since then its promotional product sales have jumped to $500,000 a year. Today, "busting at the seams" in Schwerdtle’s downtown headquarters, Saint says she and her husband expect to move to a new location later this year to better handle their core business and an expanding distributorship.

This is despite the fact that much of their core business has flattened out, with some areas dipping – in automotive, for example, by 4% – as certain customers and industry segments have slumped recently. Their promotional products business, however, some 20% of the company’s revenue stream, has grown by 25% this year alone, says Beeney, who quit his previous job in April to join Saint and work on ad specialty sales fulltime.

In addition to the city’s ideal location to major urban centers, it offers several business incentives in the form of tax breaks for businesses operating within designated business empowerment zones. The city’s empowerment zones give tax incentives to manufacturers, while hub zones encompass a federal program that gives businesses located in those zones preferential treatment on government bids. About the local economy’s favorability to businesses, Bishop says, "We have a lot of programs and incentives."

It also helps that Bridgeport is located amid some of the country’s largest corporations. GE, for example, is in Fairfield, just up the road, while Pitney Bowes is 25 minutes away in Stamford.

The fact that Schwerdtle’s owners have remained in Bridgeport throughout the area’s market shifts says as much about the city as it does about the company’s stability. "I’m emotionally attached to the city," Saint says, "and have put a lot of my heart and soul into it." – Betsy Cummings

6. Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
Ingredients For Hot Market: Low Unemployment, No Income Tax

Dallas is a big-city anomaly. You roll into town through bumper-to-bumper traffic, craning your neck to get a look at the top of the highest skyscrapers. Buildings have huge corporate names – Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, AT&T – affixed to the side, signaling that there are people inside, lots of people employed within. But, out on the streets? There’s practically nobody around. A mid-day snapshot of the city tends to reveal no people.
Perhaps it has something to do with Dallas’ intricate underground walkway system, but one would think, at least for lunch, people would venture outside. So, where is everyone?

People in Dallas hate to walk anywhere, says Jeff Henderson, principle partner of Pony Xpress Printing Inc. (asi/297068). "They’ll get in a car even if they only have to go three blocks," he says. Henderson, who makes his living selling retail-worthy apparel and promotional products to businesses in the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) area, is headquartered in Garland, TX, just a hop, skip and a jump from downtown Dallas. 

Despite the lack of humanity cramming city streets, the DFW area is actually a teeming, bustling beehive of business opportunity. "In terms of business it’s been a really good market for us because there’s a lot of corporate headquarters here," Henderson says.

In fact, 25 Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in the area, including two top 10 companies – Exxon Mobile (#2) and AT&T (#7).

And with those big names comes a low unemployment rate that hovers at 5%, about half the national average. And Forbes magazine named Dallas the number-one city to earn a living, while Inc. magazine says it’s one of the best places for entrepreneurs. "That’s what makes it a good town and it allows us distributors to be successful," says Bruce Jolesch, Pony Xpress senior vice president.

"There are a lot of distributors in the area but not a lack of clients to call on," Henderson says. "There are just thousands and thousands of businesses to work with."

Another appealing thing about Dallas is that there is no state income tax. That includes both personal and corporate taxes, making the state not only a good place to live and work, but also a good place to own a business. And its central location within the country means distributors can reach 85% of the country with two-day ground shipping.

A Taste Of The City

Of course, Dallas may be best known for the Dealey Plaza area, the site of JFK’s assassination. On a recent April morning in the area, many tourists roamed the grounds amid a few entrepreneurs hawking the J.F.K. Assassination Historical Journal. There’s also a conspiracy theorist who set up shop atop the grassy knoll, "dispelling" the notion of a lone gunman and selling his various pictures, DVDs and eyewitness accounts. Many people stand at both gunshot-impact points looking back at the sixth floor, shooting video from the same spot Abraham Zapruder did, peering from behind "the" picket fence and coughing up money to tour the Sixth Floor Museum. And at tour’s end, what do they do? Many hit the gift shop grabbing up souvenirs – books, ties, mugs, shot glasses, totes – emblazoned with Kennedy or Dallas imagery.
On this day, professional golfer John Senden, an Australian who lives in Dallas, was in Dealey Plaza with a mate taking in the sights. Fresh off the Masters tournament – Senden missed the cut by one stroke – the two are interested in the significance of the area as well as its blending of traditional and modern architecture. 

The DFW area is certainly varied when it comes to what types of businesses
call it home. Industries in the area include music, technology, sports, collegiate, health care, financial, manufacturing and more. And these industries all seem to have appreciation for promotional products and what they can do. "Diversity is the word," Henderson says. "There is not really an industry that dominates the region."

While there are lots of industries to target, Pony Xpress has found a niche in sports. A former football player at Southern Methodist University, Henderson has taken his passion for sports and found business with the major Dallas sports teams – Cowboys (NFL), Stars (NHL), Rangers (MLB) and Mavericks (NBA). "We’ve done business with all four pro sports teams and they’ve been a big market for us," he says. Not only that, he also works with the American Airlines Center – home of the Stars and Mavericks – creating shirts for promotions as well as for sale in the retail stores within.

Business for Pony Xpress is very good, Henderson says. Revenues were up 42% in the first quarter of 2010 compared to last year and it even grew 30% in 2009. He attributes that to going in heavier with apparel items than with the promotional items.

"It continues to grow and grow, and the demand is pretty high for us," Henderson says. And even though there’s been a bit of a slowing of business with his smaller clients, he says that his bigger clients see the value of promotional products and have not backed off at all. "We have not seen any of our major customers with layoffs that have affected our business," he says.

Adds Jolesch: "We are well positioned, we are good at what we do, we are so creative and we are still a growing company."
In fact, one of the company’s major clients, Zales, was recently purchased and layoffs are looming. However, that has not affected business, which remains steady, according to Henderson.

And, that steady flow of business has required Pony Xpress to pack up its digs and move into a new home. The recent move took the company from a 16,000-square-foot facility to one that’s 26,000 square feet. And the growth will be felt in more than just the building. "Within the year, we will expand in every department," Henderson says. Currently Pony Xpress employs four full-time artists and seven full-time sales reps. The printing shop is well manned, and sometimes runs an additional shift if the work requires it.

With his nose to the grindstone, Henderson realized success without noticing it. "I didn’t expect us to be up 42% in the first quarter. I don’t see us slowing down any time soon," he says.

Pony Xpress creates T-shirt designs that rival those sold at retail. Because of that and the fact that that’s what local businesses want, Henderson believes his company is well positioned in the Dallas marketplace.

"T-shirts and apparel are a heavy part of the market, and I think the weather is a big part of that," Henderson says. "A lot of the promotional products we sell are for outdoor events." The moderate climate means that there is no need to stock or push other categories of wearables. For instance, Pony Xpress does not sell too much in the way of hoodies, fleece or long-sleeve T-shirts.

Another perk of being in the DFW area is its central location within the country, and that’s been a boon to Pony Xpress’s national reach. The company sells its creative T-shirt designs all over the U.S. "Companies find us," Henderson says. "We have a good Web presence for what we do."

With so much happening in terms of growth and exposure for Pony Xpress, is there a chance that it will set up shop in any other location? "I think this is definitely our headquarters," Henderson says. "I like doing business outside our area, but I think that this is a good mesh for us." – Joe Haley

 14. Boise, ID
Low Cost Of Living Fuels This "Hidden Gem"

Ask anybody in Boise, ID, about the benefits of living and working in the area and the answers are always remarkably similar: low cost of living, small city, big-city feel. "It’s a very inexpensive place to live and work," says DeWain Gaudet, who works in the gift shop at the Idaho State Capitol building in Boise and moved to Boise from Southern California 12 years ago. "A laid-back atmosphere and friendly people don’t hurt either."

Sherie Moody-St. Claire, creative sales director for the Idaho State Lottery, who was born and raised in Boise, also points to the cost of living – plus another benefit for companies in the area. "It’s a lot less expensive to do business in," she says. "And it’s kind of a hidden gem. There are a lot of talented workers – Web designers, graphics people, marketing minds – who can be hired at a low cost. It’s a great place to do business."

Indeed it is. In fact, Boise – the locals quickly let you know that it’s pronounced BOY-see, not boy-ZEE – is the fastest-growing city in the Northwest, with a population growth of 17.5% in the past six years. Blame the burgeoning big university – Boise State – in town for doubling its enrollment over the past 10 years. Or the many large companies in the area – Fortune 500 members like Boise Cascade and Micron. Or the rapidly expanding technology sector, which is home to satellite offices for Microsoft and Sybase.

"A lot of people don’t know about Boise, but they should," says Kris Robinson, the Boise-based executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor PromoShop (asi/300446). "It’s a growing market that’s cheap to live in. It’s friendly to business and people here who like to buy locally."
And, as the capital of Idaho, the Boise MSA is home to 65% of the state’s whole population – a group of entrepreneurs that are helping to rebuild the local economy. On a sun-splashed atypical late-April day for Boise (75 degrees instead of 55), the mayor of Boise – David Bieter – is speaking about the vibrancy and ingenuity of the people in the area.

"Like every other city, we’ve had our difficulties over the past couple years, but we’re seeing a lot of activity right now," Bieter says, following an outdoor press conference he hosted trumpeting the success of the city’s new recycling program. "We have people moving into the market in record numbers, and they’re taking risks, making invest came to Boise. From February 6 to 13, 2009, the market hosted more than 3,000 athletes (and their families) from 85 countries. And during the event, Robinson felt like every last one of the attendees purchased promotional products. He got a license with the logo and set up a tent in town to sell promotional items in every shape and size during the events.

"It was crazy," Robinson says. "I’ve never seen so many people in Boise and they all wanted merchandise. We sold out after a couple of days and had to put a one-day order on more stuff. It was a good problem to have. And Boise got to showcase itself to an international audience. Really a great event all around."

Robinson also finds that local businesses are very creative and receptive to promotional ideas. "These are mostly small businesses that have the creative leeway to do some fun things," says Robinson, who works in downtown Boise in a loft-type office fully equipped with a pinball machine, surf boards and an outdoor conference room with umbrella and sun chairs. "Just about every day I bring clients to our showroom to show new items and brainstorm promotional possibilities. It’s a unique audience, for sure. They’ll make time for the personal meeting, at our office, because they see the value in being creative."

Take, for example, Hotel 43, a downtown boutique hotel that works with Robinson on its promotional product purchases – its many promotional product purchases. You see, this is a business that truly believes in the value of ad specialties. There are logoed coasters, glasses, pens, notepads, bath robes, padfolios and more in every room. Everything is for sale – even a teddy bear with a logoed shirt that gets placed in every room.

"We want people to remember us," says Lisa Benjamin, the hotel’s general manager. "The more items we can get into people’s hands, the more repeat business we feel we’ll get. There’s a cute factor to the teddy bears, but there are so many people that buy them on check-out to bring back to their kids."

Hotel 43 – aptly named, as Idaho is the 43rd state and Boise is on the 43rd latitude line – also recently did a mailer to travel agencies in which it created a DVD promoting the property, pre-loaded a logoed USB drive with facts and information, and even included local candy from Idaho. It also contained a branded crossword puzzle that visitors to the hotel’s website could complete online.

"We had a great response, as more than 200 crossword puzzles were returned," Benjamin says. "We’re not a hotel with a big brand name, so we need to do some innovative and creative marketing for people to remember us. The buzz we get from the promo items is invaluable."

Just another savvy business approach in the burgeoning Boise market. – Andy Cohen

  16. Omaha, NE
Steady Growth In Buffett-Land

Omaha’s not a fancy city. There’s only one four-diamond hotel downtown. Some of the most expensive steak houses have huge, aging cow statues perched atop their roofs in lieu of more elaborate decor. And the city’s most famed billionaire, Warren Buffett, a.k.a. the Oracle of Omaha, lives in the same modest house in the city’s older Dundee neighborhood that he bought in 1958 for just over $30,000.

As one local puts it: "Nebraskans just don’t overspend – on anything," says restaurateur Ron Samuelson, who owns M’s Pub in Omaha’s popular downtown old market district.

That same level of fiscal conservativeness is what recently helped Omaha gain a spot on Forbes’ list of "America’s Fastest-Recovering Cities." With a healthy 1.3% gross metropolitan product (GMP) growth in 2009, a low foreclosure rate (only one in every 3,246 housing units is in foreclosure) and a 5.9% unemployment rate (far below the national average of nearly 10%), the words "What recession?" might have been a good motto for the bumper stickers on 800,000-plus residents’ cars last year.

"Omaha has a tendency to grow steadily so we don’t end up with all of the bubbles," says Samuelson. "We’re in slow growth mode all of the time."

On a recent spring morning, Samuelson’s observations seem to be playing out. Downtown, the sound of jackhammers can be heard for blocks as work hums along on the brand-new $120 million TD Ameritrade baseball stadium that will in 2011 play host to the city’s second-largest tourist event: The College World Series. Just down the street, Omaha’s $500 million Qwest Center is buzzing with activity, as hundreds of men wearing yellow reflective T-shirts and baseball caps wait to enter the trade show floor at the American Public Works Association’s annual Snow Removal Conference, an event where, incidentally, there is clearly no shortage of promotional products for sale.

As they wait to enter the show floor, many of the attendees gather around the association’s bookstore, where they can not only purchase safety manuals, but also have their choice of a variety of logoed merchandise. Today’s hot seller: A thick gray T-shirt that says, "Snowfighters know how to chill."

A few minutes later, the trade show floor opens, and the crowd rushes in to see the latest in snow-removal equipment, including a new, state-of-the art asphalt recycler and an eco-friendly ice-melting machine. A group of young men head over to one booth, North American Salt Company (one of the nation’s largest producers of salt for snow removal), where the booth’s pitchman, Sean Lierz, is standing out front welcoming passersby with free snow cones and stress balls shaped like tractors.

"I don’t care how tough you are, you need a tractor to squeeze," Lierz says, as he jokes with one attendee, who stands about 6 feet 5 inches and has tattoos running up and down both arms.

OK, so it may not be the sexiest event a convention center has ever hosted, but it’s one that’s bringing in hundreds of attendees throughout the country, all of whom have been trolling the Old Market area’s shops and restaurants each night during the four-day convention.

Tourism is only one of the industries Omaha benefits from. The city has a relatively diverse industry mix, including financial services, defense, transportation and manufacturing. Home to five Fortune 500 and four Fortune 1000 companies, Omaha is a leader in the telecommunications and information services industries, with 1,000 information, data processing and telecommunications companies employing more than 50,000 people. If you’re calling for a hotel reservation, chances are that you’re speaking to someone in Omaha, home to the Hyatt, Marriott, Radisson and Omni reservations centers.

Two of the city’s strengths – its fiscal conservatism and diverse economy – present both challenges and opportunities for one of Omaha’s most successful ad specialties distributors, Bergman Incentives (asi/137955). Its president, longtime Omahan David Gilinsky, joined Bergman in 1990 after leaving his hometown to attend The Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia, and working in the banking industry in Manhattan and California.

"My timing couldn’t have been better," says Gilinsky, of his return. The company was founded in 1888 as a watch parts supplier by Gilinsky’s great-great-grandfather. It slowly transformed into a jewelry company, and sales of promotional products took off in the late 1980s. Now, David and his brother Kevin, an account executive, run the promotional products side of the business while their father, Larry, runs the jewelry side. The Gilinskys pride themselves on being a one-stop shop for clients, and are adept at handling large programs, such as online company stores and multi-tier incentive programs.

While no one loves cold-calling, David says getting his first clients wasn’t as difficult as one may think. "Omaha is growing, but it still feels to me like a small horse town," he says, "which means that people open their doors for you."

Indeed, when David began looking for new business as a 27-year-old with relatively little experience in the industry, people did something they never did in Manhattan or Los Angeles: They answered his cold calls.

"The walls were higher in New York, and you had to be super-aggressive to get past the gatekeeper" David says. "There’s more openness here. If you call someone and tell them you want to meet with them, they’re likely going to call you back."

While doors certainly opened for David and his business, which now has about $5 million in annual revenues and big clients like Kiewit Construction and Berkshire Hathaway, convincing frugal Nebraskans to open their wallets has been another story. "People are conservative with their money here, so you’ve got to really show value. That means we sell a lot more polos and mugs than expensive leather portfolios," David says.

Still, some buyers can be convinced to splurge. An example: Kevin Gilinsky recently brought a selection of umbrellas to a meeting with Berkshire Hathaway executives who were looking for a logoed item for the company’s annual shareholders meeting, which brings 35,000 people into the city every May. "At first, they were looking at cheap items, like decks of cards and Rubik’s cubes," he says. But when Kevin showed them a very high-quality umbrella, which cost significantly more than the other items, the executives showed the item to owner Warren Buffett.

"Of course, he chose the umbrella," Kevin says. "If you can show people here that something is worth the money, you’ll make the sale. But sometimes that can be a challenge to do."

One mistake David said some of his competitors have made is specializing in one niche market. "Omaha’s the kind of town where you can’t go vertical," he says. "While there’s lots of big business, the businesses are in all different industries."

The result is that one day, Bergman’s sales reps may be creating an online company store for Kiewit, a construction giant, and the next day, they’re pitching T-shirts to an insurance company.

"It doesn’t matter who you’re selling to here," David says. "If you can provide value, you’re going to rock the house." – Melinda Ligos

25. Baton Rouge, LA
26 Hours In Baton Rouge

A time-stamp tour of a fascinating southern town that’s a growing market for promotional products.

Wednesday, 12:38 p.m. – Arrival
First impression of Baton Rouge: a charming but sleepy town. The airport is quiet. Cars flow freely. People don’t rush. We learn the dialect is as distinct as it is disarming. Yet, while the pace here seems deliberate, the economy is clearly speeding up. "Petrochemical, industrial construction and higher education have all contributed greatly to our success," says Mike Odom, senior vice president of marketing for the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce. "Capital investment in the Baton Rouge area is a low-risk decision." With a packed itinerary in hand and ready to invest 26 hours of our time, we set out to see the best of Baton Rouge.

Wednesday, 1:55 p.m. – TJ Ribs
One of the most popular lunch spots in Baton Rouge, TJ Ribs is famous for its food, a certain bronze statue and a certain famous sneaker. A large lunch, featuring a rack of babybacks, fries, corn on the cob and a seasonal specialty called mojos, is promptly brought to our table by our waitress, Chastity. We’re also visited by Stuart Gaudin, TJ’s assistant general manager. "With promotional items, we sell T-shirts, hats and beer cups," Gaudin says. "We just charge an extra dollar for the cups when you get a drink at the bar."

While visitors enjoy a drink, many take a short walk to see another reason why TJ’s is so well-known. Rotating inside of a glass case near the entranceway is the 1959 Heisman Trophy won by LSU star Billy Cannon. As the story goes, in exchange for "donating" the statue, Cannon gets to eat at TJ’s any time he wants for free. Not far from the Heisman is a separate trophy case filled with memorabilia from another former LSU great, Shaquille O’Neal. The case includes one of O’Neal’s massive, nearly 2-foot-long sneakers.

Wednesday, 3:21 p.m. – Myrtles Plantation
Somewhere inside of a tall, antique, first-floor mirror at Myrtles Plantation, someone’s soul is trapped. So goes the legend at this historic and haunted mansion, frequented by a one-time slave turned ghost, named Chloe. "There are those who think those streaks in the mirror’s glass are tears," says our tour guide, Taryn. While we didn’t catch a glimpse of murderous roaming spirits at Myrtles, we did find a room of interesting promotional items. Magnets and organic T-shirts are popular among tourists here, plus there’s a row of friendly voodoo dolls that promote love, health, money and luck.

Wednesday, 6:05 p.m. – Alex Box Stadium
Anytime the lights go on at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge gets a special glow. Every game held at the new ballpark, home to the reigning national champion Tigers, is an event. Tonight, the stands are filled with thousands of vocal alums and colorful coeds showing off scores of promotional products, ranging from tiger-printed flip-flops to branded bracelets to adjustable fishing hats. On this April night, the Tigers win 8-6. We leave the ballpark with a purple and yellow foam "Geaux Tigers" claw and an imprinted change purse shaped like a baseball. 

Wednesday, 9:45 p.m. – Parrain’s Seafood Restaurant
Who could go to Baton Rouge and miss out on eating fried alligator and crawfish etouffee? Besides being entertained by the entrees at Parrain’s Restaurant, we’re entertained by our Proforma (asi/300094) hosts, Brooks Roy and Marti Skiba, who plan to marry in October. "We better have really different promotional products at the wedding," jokes Roy, owner of Proforma OneSource Corporate Solutions. "The printing we have taken care of."

After many plates of Cajun fare, Roy and Skiba describe why Baton Rouge is a great market for promotional products. "This area reminds me a lot of Charlotte from about 30 years ago," says Skiba, owner of Proforma PrintPros. "You have companies that are looking for us to be more like ad agencies and offer full services." Adds Roy, whose sales are up 30% this year: "The economy is great here and companies buy local. This area is big for the petrochemical industry and manufacturing, and you have large schools and hospitals. Companies are looking for more than just products. They want warehousing and e-commerce services, and we can provide that."

While he already maintains large clients like Shell and Georgia-Pacific, Roy is always looking for more sales. He uses dinner to pitch his services to Lane Duplechin, Parrain’s assistant manager. "We’ll definitely have to talk," Duplechin says. As we head out the door, we pick up a navy blue Parrain’s T-shirt.

Thursday, 12:12 a.m. – Belle of Baton Rouge
Late-night stroll along the Mississippi River and visit to the Belle of Baton Rouge to burn off dinner. Even at this hour, the hotel and three-deck riverboat casino is packed with patrons. Although there are 900 slots here and dozens of table games, there aren’t many promotional products in sight. That’s about to change, though, as the Belle’s new owners have recently signed on with a local distributor. If you visit the Belle this summer, you might find a new branded poker chip promotion. Heard it here first.

Thursday, 7:30 a.m. – Business Associates Breakfast
Invited by Mignon Fontenette, owner of MPrint Advertising (asi/258116), we start our morning at the Business Associates of Baton Rouge networking breakfast. While the grits are good, business is even better, as referrals are gladly accepted and often expected here. "I know a lot of these people and they do business with me and I do business with them," says Fontenette, who’s been part of the networking club for two decades. "This is my extended sales force."
Thursday, 9:07 a.m. – MPrint Advertising
The MPrint building features a showroom filled with hundreds of promotional items and a screen-printing shop with two presses. Generating about $500,000 in annual sales, Fontenette tells us she has dreams of doubling her intake. "I believe people buy if they trust you and like you," she says. "I have different kinds of clients, but I want to go big." Trying to capitalize on Baton Rouge’s booming education market, Fontenette is pursuing leads with local public schools. "I know some good people on the inside," she says. Already, MPrint works closely with Southern University. "I like to go on campus and make the rounds," Fontenette says. "There are so many departments – psychology, nursing, law, math, engineering – and people are always talking to each other. You get referrals that way." 

Thursday, 11:17 a.m. – Angelle Materials  
The construction industry is thriving in Baton Rouge and so is Angelle Materials, a provider of cement and ready-mix concrete. To advertise its brand, Angelle annually buys hundreds of promotional hats. "For us, it’s an opportunity to get our name out," says Layne McKinney, the company’s controller. "Hats are a very functional product in the Louisiana sun."

Thursday, 12:45 p.m. – Red Stick Farmer’s Market
Besides locally grown produce, shrimp, dairy, meats and flowers, Baton Rouge’s Red Stick Farmer’s Market also offers Copper. No, not the element, the person. "Everybody likes to have a Red Stick Farmer’s Market hat," says Copper Alvarez, the market’s director. "Our T-shirts say everything from ‘Buy Fresh, Buy Local’ to ‘Red Stick Farmer’s Market’ and we also have some for our Main Street market downtown." Because the market operates as a nonprofit organization, promotional products are used for both fundraising and advertising. As one of its trademark promotions, the market gives out recipe cards with its logos.

Thursday, 2:07 p.m. – Louisiana State Capitol
Can’t leave Baton Rouge without seeing its most famous building, the Louisiana State Capitol. Stretching 34 stories high, the building is taller than any other capitol in the country. Visitors have to take two separate elevators to get to the observation deck, but it’s worth the trip. Also on the observation deck is a gift shop, displaying promotional items like confederate money, fleur de lis-inspired jewelry and Cajun cookbooks. – Dave Vagnoni


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