Power 50: No. 26 Matt Gresge, AIA Corporation

Welcome to the 2017 Power 50 list, which ranks the most influential people in the industry.

#26: Matt Gresge, AIA Corporation (asi/109480)

2016 Rank: N/A
Title: President/CEO
Industry Experience: 1 year
Birthplace: Chicago

Gresge took the reins at AIA just over a year ago, and he’s already making his mark. Gresge is leading the charge to improve AIA’s digital presence through both campaigns and owner tools, including the Experience AIA platform, which is designed to be a fully integrated order management system. In this Q&A, Gresge gives his impressions of the promo market and explains his tech-driven vision for AIA going forward.

Q: Since you’re newer to the industry, what do you want people in the market to know about you?
A: First, I love the industry and, more specifically, the people. The AIA owners are the most hardworking, high character and enjoyable people I’ve had the pleasure to work with at any time in my career. Second, the creativity and support of the industry’s suppliers is phenomenal. We’re amazed by and grateful for all they do to support AIA. Third, since joining the industry I’ve discovered I have a serious quarter-zip fetish that I must get under control. Last, but certainly not least, I’m the proud husband of Mary, my wife of 25 years, and the proud father of Gabbie, Dani, Livvie and Griffin.

Q: What were your first impressions of the industry?
A: My first and lasting impression is that the opportunities in the promo products industry are seemingly endless. We’re in a hurry to help AIA owners grow sales and profits, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to tackle everything we’d like to get done for them. The hard part has been figuring out how to prioritize the projects and opportunities we see.

Q: What’s one thing you’d change about the industry?
A: We see great efficiencies available to the distributors and suppliers through the more effective use of technology and data, but see slower-than-expected adoption of these labor-saving and profit improving tools and applications.

Q: What will be different in the promo market five years from now?
A: We’ll see greater consolidation among both suppliers and distributors. We’ll see the gap between distributors and suppliers that understand how to do business in a digital world and those that do not continue to widen at an accelerated rate.

Q: Did anything in your past jobs help prepare you to work at AIA?
A: Absolutely. I started my career as a commissioned sales rep, so know what it’s like to have to make a sale to put bread on the table. Eventually I progressed into management and learned that one person is no match for a team that’s in sync, trusts one another and is committed to success. I also had a two-year run as an entrepreneur and was humbled by this experience. It’s one thing to be successful in a corporate environment, but it’s altogether different when you own every single decision and have others depending on you to help them take care of their families. I never forget that when we’re working with the entrepreneurs at AIA.

Q: What specific things are you and AIA doing to innovate?
A: My team and I believe we have an obligation to help AIA owners learn how to compete and win in a digital world that’s increasingly driven by younger digital ‘natives’ who buy promo products differently than their predecessors and who also use them differently. Meeting this obligation means delivering relevant and effective digital marketing, providing a best-in-class digital platform that makes the owner’s work more efficient, providing great sales coaching and support, creating closer collaboration with key suppliers, and enabling easier access to AIA’s peer network.

Q: What’s the greatest challenge distributors are facing right now?
A: It’s the ease with which end consumers can shop online for the ‘basic’ transactional promotional products. This puts pressure on the salesperson who’s a classic order taker and challenges them to become more consultative. This is a difficult transition, but one that AIA is committed to helping our owners navigate.

Q: What’s your #1 professional goal for the next year?
A: To complete the work that’s underway to dramatically upgrade the AIA owners’ digital marketing presence, implement effective digital marketing campaigns, and to deliver the Experience AIA platform that equips AIA owners with a fully integrated, cloud-based, mobile-enabled order entry and order management system. It’s a mouthful, but I think it’s also a game changer for distributors. It gives them time back and equips them to compete and win in a digital world.