Counselor

Counselor's Hot 25

Who’s shaking up the industry today and making it a unique, successful, challenging and innovative sector? The members of the 2015 Counselor Hot 25. Check out their stories

Standing out in a crowded market. Achieving hyper success when others are stagnating. Creating marketing plans that quickly catch people’s attention. Networking like crazy at all hours of the day, all in the name of building your business. Utilizing strategies that go against the grain but bring in big results.

These are the traits of successful entrepreneurs and industry trailblazers. And they’re the collective characteristics of the 2015 Hot 25 – Counselor’s exclusive list of ad specialty industry professionals who are getting noticed, taking the market by storm and most definitely not looking back. These people are sparking creativity and innovation in the industry by approaching the business in highly unique ways. As a whole, it’s a group –ranked one to 25 – that stands out for its energy, vision and inspiration.

Click below for the The Hot 25...


Kathy Cheng, Redwood Classics Apparel

Kathy Cheng: If there’s any question as to why Kathy Cheng, president and owner of Toronto-based Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627), took the top spot on this year’s Hot List, consider that she only started her business five years ago, and in short order made it one of the hottest apparel brands in North America and grew the business a wow-worthy 87% from 2012-2014. And, last year, her company was named as Counselor’s Fastest-Growing ad specialty company in Canada.

“Our factory specializes in producing for premium retailer and designer brands, which has given us an inside look at the fashion industry and allowed us to becoming experts in the field,” says Cheng.

Rather than being trained with a traditional fashion design degree background, Cheng grew up watching her father, who started an apparel company, WS& Co., and with whom she started in business. “I’ve been blessed with years of exposure to fashion, leading me to develop an appreciation of apparel craftsmanship,” she says. “My parents were fortunate to have employers who allowed them to bring me to their workplaces during breaks from school. When our family started our own apparel business, I would help out during weekends and school vacations.”

Cheng says she’s is proud to be able to give back to Canada, the country that has given her so much, by creating jobs and helping to sustain apparel production, as all her garments are made in Canada. “I’m also very thankful that this business allows me to make a difference in our ‘New Economy,’ which includes People, Planet and Profit,” Cheng maintains. “We place a tremendous amount of focus on our people and planet through a strong framework of human rights and social and environmental initiatives. Profit comes after.”


John Infantino, BrandVessel

John Infantino: When people lament the dearth of young people in the industry, meet John Infantino of the Bay Area-based distributor BrandVessel (asi/145158), and take heart. He started in the industry nine years ago right out of college as an intern while bartending at night. Now, at the age of 34, he’s president of the company and crafts creative promos for such game-changing brands as Netflix and GoPro.

“My first big client was the San Francisco Giants, and our first large order with them was for their Italian Heritage Night in ‘07,” recalls Infantino. “We made custom ivy league-style caps to give out at the game, and each one had the ‘SF’ logo embroidered in red/white/green for the Italian flag. Being this was our first large order with them, we wanted to save them money. However, I didn’t realize ocean freight is NOT a smart idea when working with tight deadlines. The caps ended up getting delayed on the ship, then stuck at the port in Long Beach on the day of the Giants game. After exhausting all available options with our supplier, I realized I had to do this on my own.”

As he’s originally from LA, Infantino rallied his family to help unload 20+ boxes off of a container at the Long Beach port, load them on a flight bound for San Francisco and deliver them to AT&T Park in time for the game.

With a goal to hire six more reps over the next two years, Infantino’s all in when it comes to the industry. “We have the space, we have the bandwidth and infrastructure in place; we just need to find the talent,” he says. “In five years, our sales have grown over 2,000%, so we’re hoping to keep that trend moving upward.”


Jeff Scult, Golden Goods

Jeff Scult: As the founder of apparel supplier Golden Goods (asi/57695), Jeff Scult believes in working closely with distributors to create unique and memorable promotions. His belief: The shirt is a blank canvas for creating lasting impressions.

“Jeff helps me be an order maker, not an order taker,” says Annie Morf of distributor firm Emoro Inc. “He is passionate, smart as hell, strategic, highly creative, and a brand messaging ninja. He starts with asking questions on brand strategy, target audience, what the brand believes, delving into their ethos. Who does that? Frankly his approach reminds me to be more strategic, and ensure that the solutions I am providing my client are on-brand and on-trend. I’ve even brought Jeff to end-user meetings and watched him spin his magic to transform rigid buyers into trending believers.”

When you can be described as a “brand-messaging ninja,” really, what other place is there for you than on a list of industry trendsetters?


Jennifer Powell, InkHead

Jennifer Powell: Nearly 20 years ago, Jennifer Powell’s first concert was the boy group, Hanson. MMMBop your way to 2015 and that same group is one of her top clients.

“When I got the account, my seventh grade self was very excited,”she says. A rock star in her own right, Powell is a salesperson for InkHead Promotional Products (asi/231159) who has year-over-year sales increases of more than 41% with $1.8 million in sales and over 2,500 orders processed. In fact, she averages over 200 orders per month, and her average gross margin exceeds all industry averages. Her competitive nature is definitely a driving force.

“I am a naturally competitive person,” she says. “I am the oldest of five children and I have been involved in sports most of my life. To be completely honest, I do not like losing and so the friendly competition here at InkHead keeps me on my toes to make sure my sales numbers are on point each day.”

The seven-year veteran of the company has been a million-dollar-plus producer for three consecutive years. “Success,” she says, “is about being able to go home at the end of the day and believing that you have accomplished everything you need to get done. If I leave work and feel that I have given 100% of myself to the job, then I can leave feeling successful for that day.”


Grace Hiles, Booker Promotions

Grace Hiles: With her charming Southern accent and quick wit, Grace Hiles might be able to sell the Brooklyn Bridge. For the moment, though, she’s focused on selling promotional products – and lots of them. In her first year on the job at distributor Booker Promotions (asi/142800), she did $330,000 in sales. Her 2014 total was more than four times that. “I think I’m really good at figuring out what a client wants, imagining the best ideas and making it all work,” she says.

A recent University of Georgia grad, Hiles also takes advantage of her generation’s savvy. To her, the Web is an especially powerful tool: it’s a research engine, a communications gateway and an unharvested field of leads. Her online and social skills have allowed her to ink deals with several of Atlanta’s noted tech firms.

But prodigious sales are only a part of what makes Hiles special. She’s also helped form a board of young professionals to support the Eric R. Beverly Foundation – a charity that supports families affected by breast cancer. And, in whatever free time she has left, Hiles spends it restoring her 1920s bungalow – which speaks to her stylish taste in houses and her desire to always be improving.


Todd Schneiderman, Something Inked

Todd Schneiderman: Dressed in a Memphis Grizzlies’ warmup jersey, a pair of shorts and a headband, Todd Schneiderman doesn’t look the part of a multi-million dollar salesperson. Think he cares? Nope. And neither do his clients. “To them, I’m a fresh face,” he says.

The vice president of sales at Nashville-based Something Inked (asi/466856), Schneiderman routinely wins orders from the largest franchises in the NBA and NHL. If you’re watching a playoff game or a big-time concert, chances are good Schneiderman had a role in decorating the logoed T-shirts everyone’s wearing. “We do a lot of live events,” he says. “Our average turn for an order is one to two days.”

Understandably, Schneiderman’s schedule can be grueling – when he’s not on the road, he’s on the phone at 5:00 a.m. or in the shop until midnight. But, since he’s been selling T-shirts as far back as his college days, a frenetic pace is what he knows. Plus, he’s married with three kids, including a one-year-old daughter, meaning sleep is optional anyway. “Family is everything to me,” he says. “When I’m in town, I don’t miss any of my kid’ events.”


Faride Jarufe, Martin Lopez, Grupo Fama

Faride Jarufe and Martin Lopez: Call them the international influencers. The dynamic duo of Faride Jarufe and Martin Lopez, head the highly successful Honduras-based Grupo Fama distributorship, an influential and important firm in the Latin American market. Success, for Jarufe, is something that has intrinsic values. “We always think of success as the accomplishment of one’s goals,” she says. “But to me, the foundation stones of a successful person are honesty, integrity, character, faith and loyalty. Just do what you love and believe in it, and success will come naturally.” Of course, along the way, there are challenges and obstacles to overcome in business, and Jarufe and Lopez embrace those as tightly as they do the successes. “Every day we find career goals yet to attain,” she says. “That is the beauty of loving what you do.”


Joseph Sommer, Whitestone Works

Joseph Sommer: Joseph Sommer of Whitestone Works (asi/359741) is the veritable new kid in town that everyone’s talking about. Considering that 2014 was the company’s first full year in business, it’s already working with some big name clients – Harvard University, Time Warner, Discovery Communications, Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg. For Sommer, that success can be attributed to just being happy.

“Success to me is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it,” he says. “And, I’m doing what I love and having my enthusiasm for life and work rub off on the ones around me.”

And being so new, there are things that Sommer is still looking to accomplish. “As a young entrepreneur, I am faced with a challenge,” he says. “I believe I am an outstanding salesperson, but I am in the pursuit of becoming a great entrepreneur. The career goal is to have a successful company with 10-plus employees doing $20 million in revenue.”

In addition to sales, the company also does a great deal of charity work. But, what else would you expect from a guy built on happiness?


Nicole Parker, Dri Duck

Nicole Parker: Nicole Parker, the director of sales & marketing of Dri Duck Traders Inc. (asi/50835) has done a lot of work to get the company’s name out into the promotional products stratosphere. She’s increased the company’s Web and social media presence, embracing those methods to expand the brand. A Doors fan, the fashion-forward executive describes success as something personal. “For me,” she says, “it’s best defined as a series of accomplishments and creations that, one, bring balance and contentment in all areas of my life and, two, have a positive impact on others.”She learned resiliency at an early age which has been part of her success. “In life, there will be failures, and the key to success is the ability to bounce and recover,” she says. “My parents never let me win. Losing builds character. It forces us to reflect on what led to the loss and makes us hungry for the win.”


Steven Flaughers, Proforma 3rd,Degree Marketing

Steven Flaughers: Call him the Renaissance Man. When Steve Flaughers isn’t rapidly growing his business, completing acquisitions and networking on social media, he’s the lead singer for Coalie’s Run, a country music group. While he’s been with the band since 2001, it was in 2002 that he began his business, Proforma 3rd Degree Marketing (asi/300094).

Today, Flaughers is one of the fastest-growing stars in the Proforma network of owners. He has completed three major acquisitions over the past six months and is on pace to be entering Proforma’s Million Dollar Club in 2015. He is also growing his business by adding new sales reps and going the extra mile to meet client needs.

Flaughers is also fully dedicated to embracing social media and digital marketing to grow his business. He uses Facebook, Twitter and LindedIn to make contact with prospects, gain valuable referrals and also nurture current accounts. He  actively shares new and unique products, which he says helps to position him as a knowledgeable and credible partner for marketing and brand management.

Savvy businessman wrapped up along with a talented country music singer? No doubt, Flaughers stands out from the pack.


Damien Vieille, A-1 Vitabri Canopies

Damien Vieille: The American Dream is alive and well for Damien Vieille. When he moved from France to California five years ago, he brought with him a passion for outdoor design. Plastic frames and cheap fabrics are not his thing. But would Americans buy high-end promotional tents? Apparently so, as today Vieille leads the fastest-growing tent manufacturer in the U.S. “I arrived here with almost nothing,” he says. “The first year was tough, but the adventure of being in the U.S. is pretty cool.”

The CEO of Ins’TenT Industries, Vieille is the face of industry supplier A-1 Vitabri Canopies (asi/94101). He believes every distributor can find clients that need tents – for roadshows, street fairs, corporate parties, sports events – the list is endless.

Vieille isn’t satisfied with niche success, so he’s expanding his offerings to include entire promotional outdoor packages. “The next big thing for us is customizable furniture like couches, tables and chairs that brands can put their names on,”he says. “This is the trend and we have big expectations for the future.”


Jamie McCabe, & Michelle Merrifield, McCabe Promotional Products

Jamie McCabe & Michelle Merrifield: She’s so respected and beloved in the business that her nickname is “Mama Bear”; he, with his rock-star cool, has reached celeb-level status in the Canadian marketplace, recognized – like Mick, Keith and JayZ before him – by a single name only: Jamie. Together, Merrifield and McCabe helm one of Canada’s fastest-growing distributorships, as loved by their clients as they are by their employees, who voted to name them a Counselor “Best Places to Work”company in 2014. And when you consider that at a recent PPPC national show they hosted a cocktail-fueled ax-throwing contest (seriously), there’s no doubt these two are where the good times start rolling.

Working at the company his parents founded in 1981, McCabe, along with Merrifield – his managing partner – are industry vets with decades in the business between them and a can-do attitude when it comes to their clients. “Early in my career, we were working with an Agra client participating in the International Plowing Match,”recalls Merrifield. “When the client came in to pick up products, they learned the volunteer who was supposed to wear the corn cob costume was ill and needed someone to step in … Yeah, I rocked the tights.”As for McCabe, he’s the epitome of work hard and play hard, pointing out that he learned a valuable lesson in the importance of delegating work when he tried – on his honeymoon – to finish a particularly tricky order. “Neither worked out well,”he says wryly.

Both talented raconteurs who hold court in McCabe’s hotel suite during the PPPC show for late nights filled with colorful stories of the industry’s good, bad and wacky, start angling for an invite now to the best speakeasy party of the week. “It’s a little like Hotel California,”McCabe once said, accurately. “You can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave.”


Billie, Whitehouse, Wearable Experiments

Billie Whitehouse: A brainy Australian beauty, Billie Whitehouse has been called the female Elon Musk. Why? As the head of fashion startup Wearable Experiments, she plans to revolutionize a so-far geeky segment. “We’re head-down at the moment in product development,”she says.

What makes Whitehouse’s designs so innovative is the use of reactive technology. The results are impressive, yielding products like the Alert Shirt. The jersey is made to mimic whatever sensations on-field athletes might be feeling. If, for example, a basketball player gets fouled going to the rim, the Alert Shirt might rumble in response. Whitehouse can only hope her recent creations generate the same buzz as one of her first big projects – lingerie named Fundawear. A YouTube demo of the vibrating product – a promotion for Durex – generated nearly 8 million views and 50,000 purchase requests.


MikeWolfe, Zorch

Mike Wolfe: Mike Wolfe is leading that rare kind of distributor firm that can only be described as an ad agency in the form of a branded merchandise company. Wordy? Sure, but accurate too. Wolfe’s company, Zorch (asi/366078), is on the cutting edge of go-to marketing approaches in the industry today. The firm creates custom electronic stores for clients such as American Airlines, AT&T and the American Red Cross, Citi, Hillshire Farms, and Waste Management.

And it’s Wolfe who’s setting the course. A relative newcomer to the ad specialty market, Wolfe began as CEO of Zorch in 2013 and has quickly created a following in the market among his company’s supplier partners. In fact, the company relies heavily on a trusted proprietary technology that links its customers directly to its suppliers in an effort to streamline the buying process. For Wolfe, a CPA, it’s a new market that he’s already taking by storm.


Yousuf Razzak, Chicago Printing & Embroidery

Yousuf Razzak: Graphic design, IT, marketing – you name it and Yousuf Razzak can do it. But what the 38-year-old entrepreneur does best of all is run the largest full-service decorator business in the country, Chicago Printing & Embroidery. “We’re the go-to, last-minute specialists,”he says. “If it’s one piece or 100,000 pieces, we give the customer the same great experience.”

What truly sets Razzak’s shop apart, though, is its incredibly lengthy list of services. From screen-printing to custom dyeing to embossing to vinyl cutting – if you can dream it up, Chicago Printing will make it happen. Clients clearly see the value, as the decorator has increased its sales by at least 10% in each of the last six years.

Of course, you don’t achieve this kind of success without staying ahead of the curve. For example in 2014, when the NFL implemented a clear bag policy for stadiums, few suppliers had the right style of totes in stock. Razzak’s shop not only had them, but could decorate them in a rush. “Five colors on a clear bag,” he says. “We did bags for the Broncos, 49ers and Bears.”

But even when the big brands come calling, Razzak never forgets to put a premium on people. “By the time I get off the phone with a customer, I know their names, their kids’ names and their pets’ names,”he says. “I believe in building relationships.”


Jessica Hutwelker, Sunrise Identity

Jessica Hutwelker: It explains so much about how Jessica Hutwelker comes by her bubbly gregariousness when you realize that her first job was working, literally, as a kid in her parents’ candy store and, prior to joining the promo industry 10 years ago, she was – wait for it – a cruise director. Because if this industry has a Julie McCoy, who but Hutwelker?

“With every position I’ve had, relationship-building has been the cornerstone for success,”says Hutwelker. “Coupling that with passion, dedication, integrity, creativity, expertise and energy has brought me to where I am. Whether it’s the coworker, the supplier, the client or the end-user, it’s about elevating everyone I come in contact with. I enjoy being a connector, reminding others of their greatness, and building partnerships … rather than just selling ‘stuff.’”

Hutwelker, who recently relocated to Seattle to work as a Sunrise Identity (asi/339206) account manager, has, as she says, “some big visions for this industry … I am passionate about women’s empowerment and Millennial engagement, and am currently collaborating with others who share a vision of changing the landscape of the industry, and what it could look like five years from now. It’s so important to bring in fresh, new talent to adapt within an organization, and to construct new possibilities of how business can be done. Surrounding myself with amazing people and mentors and investing in a coach have been game-changers for me.”


Marcus Davis, Hanes Branded,Printwear

Marcus Davis: As the product development leader for Hanes Branded Printwear (asi/59528), Marcus Davis has his fingers on the pulse of fashion for the active lifestyle – an increasingly popular category not only in the promotional market but in the apparel sector overall. In fact, Davis is the key driver to bring Hanes’ product innovations to decorated-apparel market.

Most recently in the decorated-apparel segment, Davis led product development efforts to introduce new premium products for both the Hanes and Champion brands, including the highly successful Hanes X-Temp collection and Champion Vapor Tee line. “The Hanes X-Temp collection began in our underwear and sock categories, and our team then worked to bring this exceptional technology to the decorated-apparel segment,”said Davis. “We knew there was significant opportunity to introduce a cotton-rich line that also offered the wicking performance of polyester. The initial response from customers has been tremendous.”

Spoken like a true apparel expert. Davis has been with Hanesbrands for 20 years, and he is also a practicing artist with nearly 20 years of experience in embroidery digitizing. Preaching what he practices – smart move for an apparel trendsetter.


Adam Decker, Logo Mats

Adam Decker: Meet the one person in business who doesn’t mind if you walk all over his products. As the president of Logo Mats – the supplier that embeds buyers’ logos into its plush and durable floor mats to make a perfect initial impression when coming through a threshold – for the past three years, Adam Decker has grown both the company’s and his own brand awareness, so that both have become well-known and respected in the business.

With a sales background in the hospitality and construction industries, Decker’s favorite parts of the promo industry are the pace in which business is conducted and the overall creativity that each distributor brings. “Early on, I took things way too personal,”he says. “Distributors are under a ton of pressure to deliver goods to their customers under impossible deadlines and have to be familiar with a host of suppliers and product lines. Developing thick skin has helped, but honesty and transparency are what has propelled us to where we are today.”

And at the age of 30, this Millennial – who’s been known to climb into trucks in a shipping yard to find a lost package and ensure on-time delivery – has goals that are appropriately lofty: “To continue to grow and establish Logo Mats as a staple of the industry,” Decker says.


Jim Martin, Numo

Jim Martin: What drives Jim Martin, vice president and day-to-day leader of Numo (asi/74710), a family-owned supplier company in Kaufman, TX? “Being a good teammate to the folks with whom I work; co-workers, vendors, distributors,”he says.“There’s no greater responsibility than being depended upon.”

And he takes the responsibility seriously. The company provides 100% fully paid health insurance to its employees. In addition, it brings in a nurse twice a week for free health screening and there are fitness classes three times a week. Employees even have time to squeeze in a rousing game of volley ball or basketball during breaks. Not only does all this help lower health-care premiums, it’s also created healthier, happier employees – and presented a model for other businesses in the industry with ways to lower health-care costs.

The program has been successful, but success is not something Martin sees in black and white. “It sounds very new age, but no, I don’t think success is an absolute; it’s a very relative term for everyone,” he says. “It’s not this binary yes or no thing.  I’d hope that if today was better than yesterday, then that’s success.”


Vicki Ostrom, SanMar

Vicki Ostrom: When you work at one of the largest apparel suppliers in the industry and you can accurately be described as that company’s “style watcher extraordinaire,”then you clearly have major fashion sway. That’s Vicki Ostrom, senior designer for SanMar (asi/84863).

Ostrom, who previously held designer roles for Estee Lauder, JC Penney, Tommy Bahama and Eddie Bauer, is tasked with creating styles for SanMar that are runway-ready and also perfect for the lasting needs of corporate clients. She considers herself a fashion futurist who analyzes trends (past, present and future) and then suggests items based on her research and foresight. If you see new items on the block from SanMar, guess who had a hand in creating them? Yep, Ostrom.

Of course, she also puts this research to good use for the market overall, as Ostrom is the manager of content for SanMar’s online Style Network, a page and blog on the company’s website (www.sanmar.com) that unveils new apparel trends and discusses what’s hot (and what’s not) in the world of apparel. Wondering what colors will be trending next year? How about which T-shirt fabrics and cuts will be most popular in the corporate world? The Style Network is the place to go, and Ostrom is leading the charge.


Lisa Smith, Republic Promos

Lisa Smith: Envy alert – Lisa Smith has got it all: A brilliant mind to match her dazzling smile, tons of business savvy, innate charm and a strong work ethic. The owner of distributor firm Republic Promos (asi/307316), Smith started the company in 2013 with $800,000 in sales and has doubled business to $1.6 million last year. She gives credit to original team members DeeDee Mann and Amber Friedeck, saying she couldn’t have started the business without them.

“The biggest key to our success is that we are, first and foremost, always here to serve our clients,”Smith says. “After that, the three things we try to remember are to work hard, stay humble and always remember where the blessings come from.”

Customer service and quick response time is a top priority for Smith. “We try to always get back to the clients within an hour, even if it’s just to let them know we’re working on getting their information,” Smith says.

With 20 years of industry experience, Smith says she started at the “very bottom in a warehouse job, and worked up from there so I know both the manufacturing and distribution side.”However, she’s quick to add that even after all her years in the industry, “I learn new things all of the time.”


Maria Cristina Rivera, Bistaruba Advertising

Maria Cristina Rivera: Aruba’s official website claims it is “One Happy Island”with its “white-sand beaches, cooling trade winds and friendly people.”The Caribbean island that’s 15 miles north of Venezuela is home of distributor firm Bistaruba Advertising (asi/140616), and it’s fitting that owner Maria Cristina Rivera based her company there, since she has been described as a fun and friendly executive.

And it has worked for her too, as Bistaruba has been very successful in the Caribbean market. Rivera, an ASI member for 11 years, is also a mentor to many in the Latin American and Caribbean markets. “I started working in the promotional products industry when I moved to Aruba,”Rivera says. “At first I was hired by a small local company, until I founded Bistaruba Advertising in 2004.”

Rivera says her success in this business depends upon several factors: “First, the company is innovative and we are constantly striving to improve our products. Second, we understand in-depth our product offering. Third, we always keep our customers well-informed and finally, we are very disciplined. We constantly review our goals and strategy.”

In addition to her business success, Rivera says that one of the “most exciting things about this industry is how it helps companies attract and retain their customers during times of growth, as well as during economic downturns.”


Eva Schone,Trophyology

Eva Schone: Eva Schone, the founder of Trophyology (asi/92231), wears many hats: she’s a registered architect, a designer of a contemporary award line (made in the U.S.) and a mentor who’s passionate about hiring young people to give them new opportunities. She’s also a creative writer, as evidenced by her blog on trophyology.com, (check out her personal account of the fall of the Berlin Wall).

The German native who founded the Texas-based supplier firm in 2011, gives this account on why she’s successful: “I truly believe that the sky is the limit: if I can think it, I can do it. I know that success requires vision, hard work and perseverance – I consider these core strengths of mine. In the last few years, I’ve started to not overly identify myself with successful outcomes, but more with the process of getting there. If I’ve given it my best shot, I’m OK with setbacks too. I’m keen on doing things with love and joy – which not only shows in the outcome, but also makes  me happy in the process. And last but not least, I am deeply grateful to and appreciative of the people who help me and contribute to my success, which is really our collective success. Nobody becomes successful on their own – we all need support from others and it’s very important to me to acknowledge the kind and generous assistance I have received. One of my favorite quotes is by Theodore Roosevelt: ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.’”


Wesley Merson, Emperor

Wesley Merson: Stephen Peters, president & CEO of Emperor Marketing (asi/52371), is clearly glad to have Wesley Merson as his business partner. Merson helped Peters set up an office in China along with a partnership with a factory in the U.S. “He works long hours, and when he isn’t running around doing quality control or developing new products, he’s in the U.S. and Europe setting up new sales leads,”Peters says. “He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese and has a deep understanding of the processes and ways to save the client money by offering direct factory pricing with high quality control.”

Merson attributes his success to “showing up early, going home late and welcoming new challenges as opportunities to improve,”he says. “I could never be successful on my own. It takes teamwork, heart and a lot of passion about what you are doing in order to have a successful business.”

Merson says he and Peters went to China with“next to nothing in our pockets with aspirations of becoming a supplier to be reckoned with in the promotional product industry. By thinking outside of the box and by the sweat of our brows, we managed to become a five-star ASI supplier in just a year’s time, but our goals don’t end there. We are successful only when we help our customers be successful. So we commit to finding the coolest, most unique, and best quality tech products available, and making them as affordable as possible for the people who have to do all the hard work, our ASI distributors.”


Robin Crampton Steele, IDproductsource

Robin Crampton Steele: As vice president of marketing & client relations at IDproductsource (asi/62088), Robin Crampton Steele joined the company in 2012 after relocating from the corporate world in Boston. According to the supplier firm’s owners, John and Karole Aspinwall, she has created a “dynamic presence in the market and produces a myriad of quality marketing and advertising material every day with her team of graphic designers.”A few of her accomplishments include the development of the supplier’s print, Web and social media campaigns, and the successful introduction of its 82-page catalog and redesigned website.

“What makes me successful is staying true to what I think,”Crampton Steele says. “It’s easy in business for one to follow the majority’s opinions. I’ve just always stuck to what I believe. In life, and certainly in business, you have to be tenacious and trust your own judgment. I’m also never afraid to try something new. There have been many times in my career that I’ve been asked to do new things. You just have to go for it – not everything will lead to successes, but that’s OK, because it’s really the failures that teach you something for next time. ”