Supplier of the Year – Ariel Premium Supply

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Ariel Premium SupplyDriven by a steadfast commitment to its customers, Ariel earns this year’s top honor.

There’s one thing you just don’t do at Ariel Premium Supply (asi/36730) – use the p-word. “The word is banned,” says Kan Hsu, Ariel’s general manager. “Instead, we empower our employees to do whatever they can to resolve a customer issue.”

What is this mysterious, forbidden word? It’s policy. And at Ariel, there just isn’t one when it comes to distributor clients. “We really have no strict guidelines,” says Tasha Robertson, the firm’s distributor service supervisor. “We try to accommodate the customer based on whatever they need.”

Whether it’s delivering a rush order, immediately fixing a mistake or customizing the shape of one of its signature stress balls, Ariel just gets the job done. The company’s never-ever-ever-say-no approach sets its brand apart, helping to make Ariel the 2015 Counselor Supplier of the Year. It’s what led the company to stand out among all of the suppliers that won Counselor Distributor Choice Awards this year, and results in Ariel receiving five-star ratings across the nearly 1,000 transactions that distributors have reported on in the ESP search database within the past year.

Yep, over the course of more than 900 transactions, distributors said Ariel consistently provides the kind of service they can depend on. “Easy to work with. Great product. Quick turnaround time to meet customer’s event date,” wrote Imprint Solutions (asi/230645) about Ariel on ESP in December.

Past & Present
Ariel was founded in 1993 by Taiwan natives Tai Lin and Yuhling Lu – a husband and wife team that met in America at Washington University in St. Louis. Educated as scientists, Tai and Yuhling started Ariel hoping to make enough cash to fund a research project. Now, 20 years later, the couple has replaced their engineering and microbiology research with product development work, selective sourcing, compliance study and innovating their $30 million a year business.

“I like looking for trends, so I focus on finding the newest, best and safest products,” says Yuhling.

While the supplier produces nearly 2,000 promotional products, stress balls remain Ariel’s most popular item and it is the category in which Ariel won a Counselor Distributor Choice Award this year. From penguins to tennis balls to submarines, Ariel creates just about any stress reliever shape imaginable. The firm sold 15 million stress relievers in 2014 – which averages out to more than 41,000 per day. “We’re known for stress relievers, but we really do have a vast variety of other products like pedometers and bags,” says Robertson.

Ariel’s latest product success has been its Aqua Pearls gel packs. The reusable therapy packs can be stored in the freezer or heated up in the microwave. “It’s been a real strong category for us,” Robertson says. “We’re looking at technology products next – like speakers, power banks and iPad accessories.”

Striving for Perfection
While Ariel handled 57,000 orders last year, the company still boasted a 0.4% internal error rate. Put another way, the company was almost perfect in pricing, sourcing, personalizing, decorating, packing and shipping customer projects. What makes Ariel exceptional, though, is that 0.4% isn’t good enough. “At a recent meeting, I challenged our team to get that error rate down to 0.3%,” Hsu says.

When Ariel does occasionally make a mistake, its distributor customers know the issue won’t linger. In one recent case, Kelly Bird, an account executive at Illinois-based Quality Logo Products (asi/302967), placed a rush order for an upcoming event. By accident, Ariel sent the products by ground shipment, putting Bird’s order in jeopardy.

“I received my tracking notification and immediately contacted Ariel,” Bird says. “They promptly responded by letting me know they were going to reprint the order right away for overnight shipping that night at no charge.”

In the end, Quality Logo’s customer was able to keep both orders at no extra cost. “My customer was so grateful to have our team so on top of things,” Bird says. “Not only did Ariel save the day for my customer, but they made us look like heroes, too.”

In another case, Hsu herself showed how committed she is to coming through for Ariel’s clients. “A customer called and said an email didn’t get through and they needed an order tomorrow,” Hsu says. “We arranged for a special run, printed and packaged everything quickly and I ran the shipment to FedEx. The order was delivered on time the next day.”

Only the Best
How has Ariel managed to perform so well for its customers? Like all good companies, Ariel’s success begins with its employees. “We’re very selective in our recruiting,” Hsu says. “We only want people with a can-do attitude and lots of resolve.”

Selective, it turns out, is an understatement. As an example, the supplier’s HR department recently received 130 resumes for an open position, but only two candidates made the cut. “We only wound up interviewing one,” Hsu says. “We have a great culture here – it’s important to us that we trust each other and we all make contributions every day.”

Besides having strong sales and service groups, Ariel is also supported by a small inside IT team. The team has been instrumental in custom-building and developing business applications, including a new CRM system. “We’re able to pull up accounts, orders, quotes and other info from last month or last year,” says Robertson.

Of course, all the new technology in the world isn’t really helpful unless products are safe. Yuhling has placed special emphasis on product safety, traveling to China to make sure Ariel is sourcing from compliant vendors. “We don’t go to the cheapest factories and we will kick out items if they’re not of the highest quality,” she says.

Ariel’s executives believe their company has made strides of late in many areas, but they measure their real progress by what their customers think. Based on ratings from distributors, Ariel has clearly risen to be among the absolute best. “There’s no such thing as ‘no’ in Ariel’s vocabulary,” says Jay Shucart, president of Advertising Premium Sales (asi/111800). “They’ll do anything they can to get the job done. That’s why they’re a terrific go-to supplier.”

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