True North

Highlights From The First-Ever ASI Power Summit Canada

True NorthHeld at the mountainous and scenic Fairmont Banff Springs hotel in Banff, Canada, ASI hosted its inaugural Power Summit Canada in mid-June. With two-and-a-half days of networking, brainstorming, and sharing of ideas and success stories, the first-ever event brought together the leaders of the Canadian ad specialty industry. And the business forecasts of people attending and speaking at the conference were bright.

The outlook for the ad specialty market in Canada – and the Canadian economy as a whole – is "semi-rosy" and will be buoyed in part by the strengthening U.S. housing sector, Dr. Jack Mintz said in his opening keynote speech during the ASI Power Summit Canada.

Mintz, a nationally-renowned economist and the Palmer Chair of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, said a resurgence in the mining and forestry industries in Canada is giving the country's economy a big boost.

"The Canadian economy is still very much a commodity-based economy," Mintz told the audience, forecasting a continuing rise in the country's oil and gas industry as well.

Although the last few years have been a "dreadful" period for Canada's forestry industry, he said, the recovery of the housing market in the United States is sparking "great growth" now. And as the U.S. economy gains strength, particularly in the private sector, he said that can "only have positive side effects" for the Canadian market. Still, other economic factors – such as labor costs in China, the value of the dollar, and rising interest rates – across the world could slow the rate of growth in the Canadian economy, Mintz cautioned.

Building a High-Growth Culture
Another session at the ASI Power Summit Canada featured two of the industry's most well-known and respected veterans: Rob Spector, president and owner of Montreal-based Spector & Co. (asi/88660), and Steve Levschuk, president and owner of London, Ontario-based Talbot Marketing (asi/341500). "Transforming into a High-Growth Culture" tackled such topics as how to find, retain and motivate top employees, how to implement programs to build company morale and loyalty, and how to manage employees from different generations.

Acknowledging that studies show that businesses with high employee satisfaction are, on average, 20% more profitable than those with low employee satisfaction, Levschuk said at Talbot – one of Counselor's Best Places to Work companies and a Fastest-Growing Distributor, with 63% growth between 2010-2012 – because his team of nearly 50 is spread through Canada, one of the most important things he and his management team do is on-site visits and events to make everyone feel included.

"It can get very lonely when you're working so far from the main office, so we make a real effort – which is why we have such low turnover – to make everyone feel included and part of the team," he said.

Spector, whose company is this year's Canadian Supplier of the Year, points to a hard-bound book given to every new employee, The Spector Way, which focuses on seven rules of engagement, such as "Customer Service is a State of Mind (Not a Department)" and "No is Never an Option."

With over 400 employees working at the company, Spector stressed the importance of keeping daily contact with managers to make sure that not only are departments running efficiently, but that employees feel supported and valued. "I really do believe," Spector said, "that the reason for our consistent growth has been the strength of our team and how we treat our employees. We want them to always know how much they're appreciated and how important their role is to the success of the business."

New Marketing Tactics
Another hot topic among attendees at the ASI Power Summit Canada focused on how industry companies can capitalize on new marketing opportunities. In one morning session during the conference, Debco's (asi/48885) Alex Morin listed several new and unique ways – some simple, others sophisticated – that companies can engage clients and prospects.

One basic approach that Morin recommends is to back off e-mailing customers and to start texting them. "There's technology that's been around for a long time, but it's not being used effectively," he said. "Texting is a lot more personal. You're bombarded with e-mails – you might get 200 a day – but you get fewer texts. Now we just take our marketing message and insert it into a text."

Morin, Debco's executive vice president of sales and marketing, also spoke about the benefits of identifying trends and translating them into products and services. "I like to look at financial news and technological news and make connections between that news and the voids I see in the marketplace," he said. "You can come up with a unique idea based on what's trending in the world."

Another opportunity in front of industry companies, according to one Power Summit Canada panelist, is licensing. Becoming a licensee for a retail brand, a university or for a major event isn't just an opportunity for suppliers, but it presents a real chance for distributors to add to their sales as well. That was a key point made by Will Andrew, president of Trimark Sportswear (asi/92122), in one of the conference's sessions.

"Most of those products have some royalties built in, so you're probably also getting your customer to go up in price," said Andrew. "While your gross margin might be the same percentage, your true profit dollars could be bigger on the sale."

In a one-on-one Q&A with Counselor senior editor Dave Vagnoni, Andrew also explained how Trimark was able to secure an apparel license for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. "We figured out that what the Olympics wanted to do was build their brand," Andrew said. "We had a great time doing it. It also resonated back to what we're doing as a company, which is to make other brands predominant and not necessarily promote our own."

For video coverage of the whole ASI Power Summit Canada, go to