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Wrapping Up The ASI Show Chicago 2013

ASI Show Chicago 2013Education, awards and new products were all on full display at the largest trade show of the summer.

When times are tough and challenges around you seem to be insurmountable, Christopher Gardner suggests looking in the mirror and picking yourself up – quickly. "Don't ever let somebody tell you what you can't do," said Gardner, author of The Pursuit of Happyness, to a riveted audience on the final day of The ASI Show in Chicago in July. "If you want something, go get it."

Delivering an inspiring and entertaining speech to a standing-room-only audience at ASI Chicago, Gardner implored people to have a plan, not just for their business but for overcoming any challenges in their lives.

"Hope's a beautiful thing, but you need to have a plan," said Gardner, who overcame homelessness and being a single parent in his twenties to have a 30-year Wall Street career, including 25 years of running his own brokerage business. "A good plan has five Cs. It has to be clear, concise, compelling, consistent and you need to be committed to it. And, you shouldn't have a Plan B. Plan B sucks. If it was a good plan, it would be your Plan A.

Ultimately, though, Gardner suggested that people approach their business in a practical and passionate way. "What is that one thing that turns you on so much that you want to jump out of bed in the morning?" asked Gardner, who was the main subject for the 2006 movie Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith. "If you approach everything you do with that kind of passion and energy, and you have a plan, you'll be successful."

Distributor Success Lunch Serves Up Workplace Ideas
During Education Day at ASI Chicago, the Distributor Success Lunch provided attendees with ideas on how to create a highly-motivated and productive workplace culture. Led by Counselor Editor Andy Cohen, the panel session delved into how four industry companies (two suppliers and two distributors) ensure their employees simply love coming to work every day.

"For us it's about accountability and everyone enjoying the person they work next to," said Kevin Scharnek, president of 14 West LLC (asi/197092), a perennial member of Counselor's Best Places to Work list and one of the four panelists during the session. "If employees know what's expected of them and they know the people they work with will be held to a high standard, then they'll be invested in wanting to do great work for the company."

The other members of the panel, Rebecca Kollman from Top 40 distributor AIA Corporation (asi/109480), Dan Taylor from BamBams (asi/38228), and Steve Rone from World Wide Line (asi/98290), certainly agreed with that sentiment. "We try to make sure our employees all approach their customer relationships in their own way because we want them to take ownership of it," said Rone. "People will be happier at work when they feel like they own their work and are responsible for its success. So, each of our customer service reps has their own Facebook page for work that they can use to communicate with customers however they want. It's a small thing, but we want them to feel like they really own their work."

Kollman said AIA has created a collegial corporate culture for one simple reason: it's good for business. "Our culture is full of young people who enjoy being around each other," Kollman said. "That's good for them but also good for the company, because they'll go out of their way to ensure we're successful. That's more valuable than any sales or marketing strategy you can create for a company."

And BamBams' Taylor pointed out the importance of communication when motivating employees and creating a positive corporate culture. "We over-communicate our goals, so our people know what to expect and so they're as connected to the company's mission as possible," he said. "People just work harder when they know they're working toward something."

Top Distributors Share Their Wish Lists With Suppliers
Created for industry suppliers exhibiting at The ASI Chicago Show, the "What Distributors Want" panel discussion and luncheon featured five Top 40 distributors answering questions about what traits they look for in their supplier partners. David Falato, who runs Jack Nadel International's (asi/279600) Chicago office, noted – and the other panelists agreed – the importance of bringing suppliers with him on sales calls. "It makes all the difference," he said.

Johanna Decal Gottlieb, who runs the Chicago office of Axis Promotions (asi/128263), said that it would be more helpful if suppliers leaned more heavily on e-mail as a way to communicate. "I can't believe some suppliers still use faxes to send me things," she said. Stephanie Friedman, marketing director at WorkflowOne (asi/333647), emphasized the importance of quick exhibitor follow-up after a trade show. "One week is optimal," she said.

Forrest Fairley, head of promotional products sales for Safeguard Business Systems (asi/316203), pointed out how helpful it is when suppliers send samples of their products in direct, lumpy mail promotions. "I love to see packaging being used creatively," he said, noting that he's more likely to work with a supplier who sends self-promo pieces. And Mark Bernstein, who heads vendor relations at Safeguard, reiterated the need for distributors and suppliers alike to be mindful and educated on topics like product safety.

Award Winners Honored
At a black-tie ceremony during ASI Chicago, Counselor magazine named David Nicholson, president of Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America, as its Person of the Year for 2013. Honored for leading his company to recent success – including 61% revenue growth over the past four years – Counselor also cited Nicholson's management ability and his vision for putting together a strong supplier conglomerate (including adding apparel firm Trimark (asi/92122) to a traditionally hard-goods company) as reasons for naming him Person of the Year.

"At just 43 years old, David is one of the youngest executives ever named Counselor's Person of the Year," said Tim Andrews, ASI's president and CEO, in announcing Nicholson as the winner. "But thanks to his brilliant leadership over a staff of more than 1,500 people, Polyconcept North America has become an industry powerhouse. David did take a risk with the acquisition of Trimark, moving into apparel and creating a model for growth and category expansion that has put his competitors on watch ever since."

To view stories on all of the award winners, go to