Oh, Canada

Set in an idyllic location, ASI’s second annual Canadian Power Summit attracted the promo market’s top talent, brought together to discuss the health of their industry, issues facing them in the near future and hot markets throughout the great, white North primed for growth.

There are jaw-droppingly beautiful settings and then there’s Canada’s Niagara-on-the-Lake, with its quaint shops, waterfront views and nearly 30 vineyards within a 10-mile drive. This was the postcard-perfect locale chosen for ASI’s second annual Canadian Power Summit, which attracted Canada’s best and brightest in the promotional industry for two and a half days this past June.

Oh Canada

Covered in the event agenda were topics ranging from the current state of Canada’s economy, a preview of Counselor’s exclusive State of the Industry report for Canada, a fashion-focused trend report, ramped-up customer service expectations in an age of rapid-fire turnaround, strategies for winning business from the Fortune 500, emerging markets in Canada, and ways to use social media as a business strategy.

Canadian economist Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute think tank, kicked off the ASI Power Summit Canada at the Queen’s Landing resort on a bullish note. “Canada has this tremendous opportunity,” Crowley told the audience, explaining that the country is one of the few in the world “that has an abundance of natural resources and knows how to manage them.”

As a result of the continued boom in the natural resources sector, including oil, gas and agriculture, Crowley says “every part of the Canadian population has had income growth. Even the people at the bottom are doing quite well.”

Still, the country is not without its challenges. Crowley said personal tax rates in Canada “are still too high,” and that the relationship between the Canadian and U.S. governments has become strained, stifling business opportunities. “The current U.S. administration seems indifferent about Canada, and that’s hurting business,” he said. “I cannot remember the relationship between the two countries ever being this bad.”

Another highlight of the education schedule during the conference was the presentation of Counselor’s Canadian State of the Industry report. The session tabbed the manufacturing, financial and construction sectors as the strongest for ad specialty sales in Canada; revealed that 65% of Canadian distributors made sales gains last year; and identified e-commerce companies as the greatest threat to businesses going forward. Other key findings included: 83% of distributors identify referrals as their top source for new business; 25% of suppliers believe their most difficult challenge for 2014 will be remaining profitable under pressure to cut prices; and 53% of suppliers expect to increase their marketing spend in 2014.

During the “Secrets from Counselor’s Best Places to Work Companies in Canada” panel discussion, Danny Braunstein, Talbot Marketing’s (asi/341500) vice president of sales and business development and Laura Hansen, president/owner of The Image Group Inc. (asi/230059) – both of whom were named as Best Places to Work companies in 2013 – shared strategies for attracting and retaining top talent, and keeping employees engaged and performing at their peak.

Hansen said that four employees bring their dogs to the office every day, which helps de-stress staffers, and that she’ll periodically hire a masseuse to come to the company to provide neck and shoulder massages. “The fact of the matter is that oftentimes, we spend more time with the people we work with than our families, so it’s important to show them we care about them, we respect them and that they’re appreciated.”

Braunstein, whose company – helmed by Steve Levschuk, this year’s PPPC Hall of Fame inductee – treated more than 50 top staffers to a five-day Caribbean cruise as a thank-you for a job well done and sales goals achieved, revealed that Talbot’s management operates with full transparency, sharing 100% of the company’s financials with its team. “It’s made a huge difference,” Braunstein said. “They’re all completely aware of how we’re doing each month – the good, bad and ugly. It gives them a sense of involvement and they come together to do better because they all have skin in the game.”   

And in a session that analyzed the financial sector in Canada – which ranked as the second-largest market for ad specialty sales in Canada last year, generating 11% of total revenues – David Lewenberg, current chair of PPPC and the COO of Top 40 distributor Genumark Promotional Merchandise (asi/204588), noted that the financial sector continues to represent a prime opportunity for distributors.

The discussion touched on topics like sales and retention strategies, client metrics, awareness of product safety trends and the most common customer objections. Lewenberg believes key relationships still drive sector sales, even in an age of increasing e-commerce – but there remains price pressure. “The margins in the financial sector are tight,” Lewenberg said, “but the business is consistent.”

Attendee Brian Starke, co-owner of Peterborough, ON-based supplier Bravo Awards (asi/41638), was impressed with the event’s content and networking opportunities, which included cocktail receptions, golf, a team-building scavenger hunt, a wine tasting event and dinner at the famed Château des Charmes winery. “ASI’s Power Summit was an extremely well-organized event that gave us the opportunity to meet with industry leaders from both the supply and distribution sectors of the industry,” Starke said. “Having the occasion to hear many opinions and to discuss the current state of the industry and its future was invaluable.” Greg Livings, Starke’s partner, concurred. “It was the perfect blend of formal and informal activities that gave us the chance to get to know people on a personal level that doesn’t exist through any other industry event.”

Carol DeVille, president of The Branding Company and a past PPPC Chairperson of the Board, said the Canadian Power Summit was a fantastic opportunity to learn, spend time with industry leaders, exchange best business practices, explore impacts and trends that are transpiring and network with extremely powerful and bright people from our industry.  “It was very well-organized and an incredible blend of business, networking, culinary and social experiences,” DeVille added. “It was truly a valued forum and time well spent – hats off to ASI for executing a wonderful Power Summit.”