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Counselor’s Second Annual Halloween Contest Winner

Filed under: contest

Congratulations to Nashville, TN-based supplier The Imagery Group for winning this year’s second annual Office Halloween Contest! With a video that truly blew away the judges, “Your Brains” is a hilarious and creative take on the enormously popular zombie horror genre, complete with great special effects and performances all within an office setting! Check out the video here, or just click the video below. (See their extensive photo gallery too!)

Also receiving honorable mentions this year, Proforma Albrecht & Company for their incredibly creative office decorating contest, and Bag Makers for a their awesome interactive Halloween party.

Thanks for all the submissions this year! You guys really raised the bar and made our decisions difficult. For all this year’s submissions, check out the Best Places to Work Facebook page.

Have holiday parties planned in the coming weeks? Keep the fun, office-based submissions coming, and make our www.facebook.com/bestplacestowork page the place to go for an industry workplace community.

Tip of the Day – How to Apologize for a Mistake

Filed under: Tip of the Day

MistakeWhoops. Uh-oh. Sorry. My bad.

Everyone makes mistakes, it’s part of who we are. But it’s how you deal with mistakes that can ultimately leave a lasting impression to a client. This month’s Counselor Blueprint newsletter not only has some great advice on how to ramp up repeat business, but some good tips on how to apologize for an error:

The key to keeping a customer happy and expanding a relationship can sometimes be determined by how your company acts when something goes wrong. Indeed, an apology can even be used as a way to grow your business with current clients.

So, when an error happens, the first thing you want to do is own up to the mistake. “You don’t want to place blame and try to immediately find the root of the problem,” says Kyle Traylor, principal with consulting firm Klay Consulting, in New York City. “Call the client, explain what happened and, most importantly, explain your plan to fix it.”

Traylor says too many distributors try to blame a supplier or the shipping company or the embroiderer, when really what they should be doing is figuring out a plan. “The time for blame is later,” he says. “All your client wants to hear is that the right items are going to arrive in time for their event. The key is to make that happen, and then you’ll look like a star.”

Clients end up remembering the vendors who always act on their behalf. If a mistake is made, it’s your time to show them the lengths you’ll go to make it right. “Once the error was made, you can’t go back and change it,” Traylor says. “What you can do is apologize and explain how the situation is going to be made right – immediately. Timeliness counts. A vendor needs to repair a bad situation very quickly or the client will only remember the error.”

A Visit To Bluegrass Country

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Melinda Ligos, as she hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Melinda and Andy at BluegrassThree hours of road time later, we are welcomed to Bluegrass Promotional Marketing, in Charlotte, where it becomes clear immediately that this place is full of, shall we say, “characters.” One guy, Jim Grainger, a seasoned account executive, proclaims he can hum fight songs from all major universities. Indeed, he begins following me around humming (or, more accurately, imitating a trumpet while buzzing his lips together in an unnatural way) the Maryland Terrapins fight song. (He’s at a loss, however, when Andy and Joe tell him they attended Vassar and Lockhaven, respectively. Apparently he hasn’t mastered any schools beyond the ACC.)

Bluegrass DinerAccount executive Gentry Harrington, a sales superstar who is a past winner of Advantages magazine’s Sales Rep of the Year award, is engaged in a contentious game of cornhole with an IT staffer. And Mark Hansen, sales support manager, is in the company’s kitchen, designed like a diner, whipping up Toasted Almonds for Andy and Joe. As other staffers hear him fire up the blender, they come running in, cups in hand. Bluegrass’ CEO, Fred Parker, is out spending the day with board members, but he is even represented at this little party: His photo is blown up on his chair, and a message to Andy promises more advertising dollars for Counselor magazine.

To be fair, antics like this aren’t always part of a Bluegrass afternoon: The group is letting off some steam after a pretty intensive board meeting this morning, according to Sharon Dailey, who heads up HR, among other things. That, and the fact that they just witnessed the exciting U.S.-France women’s World Cup game in the kitchen, which ended in victory for the U.S. women.

Bluegrass DrinksHey, those are two rather exciting events for one day. Whatever makes these guys and gals roll, the mix of personalities and the injection of fun has resulted in some serious growth at the company over the past several years. Parker’s motto is “Bite off more than you can chew, then chew it, plan more than you can do, then do it,” and it’s clear that this culture is full of creative, can-do people.

But there’s time to get back to business tomorrow. Right now, it’s time for another Toasted Almond and a round of cornhole.  

The King Lives—in North Carolina

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Melinda Ligos, as she hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Elvis LivesThere was no need for cups of coffee at our early-morning stop to Brand Fuel, situated in a suburban corporate park just outside of Raleigh, NC. As soon as we walked in the front doors, we were surprised by a three-piece live band. Andy immediately jumped into place, playing the air guitar next to a guy who was strumming an electric banjo. We shouldn’t have been too surprised by the early-morning concert. Music is a passion of co-owners Robert Fiveash and Danny Rosin, childhood friends who launched the 25-employee firm together. A musical theme is carried through the entire office: A statue of the King is at the front entrance. A piece of artwork made front trombone slides adorns the conference room. And a 1965 eight-track tape player that only plays Elvis music serves as a dispute resolution device for Rosin and Fiveash. “When we’re just not seeing eye to eye, we put Elvis on and we seem to be able to work everything out,” Rosin tells us.

Melinda and the KingAs we nosh on animal-shaped waffles and fresh fruit with employees during a “Kick Summer in the Face breakfast” (Rosin and Fiveash want to motivate employees to push through the summer slump), Brand Fuel’s staffers regale us with stories of last Halloween, where employees were encouraged to pull pranks on one another the week leading up to the big day, which is celebrated with a rousing costume contest at the local waffle house. Each year, the antics get bigger. Last year, a vegetarian’s office was filled with chicken legs; an environmentalist entered his space to find trees with daggers in them; and one unfortunate woman found her office filled with balloons—and nail clippings from multiple staffers.

Lest you think that all of this activity is frivolous (and working at Brand Fuel is lots of fun, the employees tell us), it’s clear that Rosin and Fiveash carefully plan every event, and attach a purpose to it. “We really try to re-invent ourselves with every event that we do,” Fiveash says. “It’s all about getting the creative juices flowing.”

And that’s clearly what the duo has pulled off at this morning’s event. As the band members start unplugging their equipment and employees rush around cleaning up the morning feast, there’s excitement in the air. One group is readying the conference room for a marathon brainstorming session, in which they’ll need to come up with a program to help Citizen’s Bank (one of the company’s many large accounts) come up with a plan to acquire high-wealth customers from a Fortune 500 competitor.

Rosin and Fiveash already have some great ideas as to how to help Citizens get the job done. But if the duo happens to hit a snag during today’s session—well, they’ve always got The King to help them out.

Why Does The GPS Have Such An Attitude?

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Joe Haley, as he hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Miss Bossy Pants (With Apologizes To Tina Fey)

Our GPS has an attitude. And we think it’s because of Andy. It all started yesterday when she decided that Andy was going the wrong way and told him to make a u-turn. We were cruising south on a highway in Virginia and there was just no way he was crossing that grassy median to go … in the wrong direction.

Well that was the end of it and since then she’s been real bossy. Veer off course slightly or pull off for gas or a bathroom break and she’s all over us. With attitude she starts with her “recalculating” BS. OK, we get it.

So just this afternoon in Charlotte she was guiding us through the city and we were sure she had it in for Andy. And he wasn’t making the situation any better, missing turns, waiting until the last minute to veer right, etc. But, queeny had a little flaw that we discovered about this time … her pronunciation is less than stellar at times. “Charlottestontown road” was pronounced “Charlottalotta.” Foolishly we mocked her and it was all over. When heading out to Nashville later that afternoon, she insisted on sending us left onto 485 south but the left entrance was for 485 north. So not sure what to do we looped about a bit until we finally got our bearings. She had her laugh at our expense, and we finally got on our way.

Things are calm now and we can only hope that she drops the attitude and Andy behaves himself, not to incur her wrath again. If it gets any more testy, who knows where we’ll end up; Des Moines anyone?

Food Tales From The Best Places To Work Road Tour

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Andy Cohen, as he hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Road Eats: A Banner Day

Eating on the road is really a hit-or-miss proposition. For every roadside stop that you’d like to forget about the moment you leave the establishment, there’s also those stops that make you want to turn around and ask for more as you walk out. Well, consider today a home run when it comes to food on the road.

Eating CherriesIt began with a breakfast provided by the fine folks at distributor firm Brand Fuel in Morrisville, NC. Not only was the coffee extremely welcome and needed after a late night of driving, but the waffles in various shapes (pigs, cows, and some sort of barn-like-looking thing that I partook in) stole the show. A nice barn-shaped waffle with some bananas and real maple syrup…a perfect start to a day that would cover about 600 miles on the road.

The next stop, though, was a genuine find. Price’s Chicken Coop in Charlotte, NC, has the hands-down best fried chicken you will ever eat. This isn’t fancy cuisine by any means, but trust me: It’s the juiciest and most-perfectly-cooked fried chicken you can imagine. Yes, we had to eat it in the rental GMC Acadia (sorry, Hertz), because Price’s doesn’t even have any seats in it. But the extra effort was most definitely worth it. If you’re ever in Charlotte, don’t walk, run to what we’re now affectionately referring to as “the coop.”

BiscuitsOf course, no road trip is complete without car snacks. Today’s were limited – I’d say that waffles in the morning and fried chicken, tater tots and hush puppies for lunch are probably enough food, but well, you know, snacks are still important. I wasn’t expecting to eat nearly a whole bag of Sour Patch Kids, but hey, what happens on the road stays on the road. And, while I didn’t eat the fresh cherries that Melinda and Joe scarfed down in the middle of the day, the effort that went into this could only be pulled off by a road trip pro. As I was speeding along the highway toward Charlotte, Melinda opened the front passenger’s seat window, grabbed the box of cherries in one hand and a bottle of water in the other, and she, yes, cleaned the cherries outside the window of a car going let’s just say more than 65 miles per hour. Very admirable—check out the accompanying pic. 

Today’s dinner didn’t take the same amount of road tour ingenuity, but the Sagebrush Steakhouse in Newport, Tennessee certainly didn’t disappoint. A 10-ounce ribeye (medium-rare, thank you), wedge salad, side of mac-and-cheese, and an ice cold Bud Light topped off a perfect day of road eats. Oh, and the fresh-baked cheddar cheese biscuits were awesome. See me eating one in the pic. Let’s hope tomorrow brings similar results.


Standing In The Clouds

Filed under: Uncategorized

From Counselor Senior Writer Dave Vagnoni, our guest blogger who’s reporting from the land of China …

Just got back a little while ago from a VERY late dinner where I visited with distributors from four different continents. The table conversation was direct and engaging. It’s true that a salesperson in Brazil faces different challenges than a salesperson in Japan, but the bottom line is they’re both still trying to do one thing – convince clients and prospects that promotional products are a great way to advertise.

Certainly, selling direct was a topic of heated discussion at dinner. Here’s my simple take on a complex subject. Hey, we know some distributors bypass suppliers. We also know some suppliers cut out the distributor and sell to end-users. This is reality. It’s not going to change. The companies that display the most integrity are the ones that have the most staying power in the industry. Margins might be trimmed sometimes, but there is money to be made through ad specialties. If you’re not making it, your competitor will.    

Now, onto the rest of my day. It started with a breakfast meeting with Gene Geiger and Jo-an Lantz. I interviewed Jo-an on camera to get a domestic distributor’s take on the role of China in the industry. You’ll be able to hear Jo-an’s thoughts in a video to be posted in a few months. Gene, as always, also had some sharp insight, too. His comments will be included in my Counselor feature later this year.

I also had the chance to spend time today with Philippe Varnier of Polyconcept and Trevor Gnesin of Logomark. I asked them what country could eventually emerge as the next China. Philippe said it could be India. Trevor said it could be North Korea. After our respective interviews, as a parting gift, Philippe gave me a pen. Trevor, meanwhile, offered me gifts – as only he can – that can’t be written about in a blog. If you know Trevor, you can understand what I’m talking about. If you don’t, he’ll be at the ASI Show in San Diego. Be sure to say Hi.

Also today, on the advice of ASI’s Ron Ball, I journeyed to one of the top tourist spots in all of Hong Kong – Victoria Peak. The site attracts seven million visitors every year and is home to private residences and four signature restaurants. The view itself today was incredible, although much different than the scene you often see on postcards. Today was rainy, dreary and foggy here. Being up so high (nearly 2,000 ft. above the harbor), it’s as if I were standing in the clouds. Literally, it was like being surrounded by blankness.

ASI Publisher Rich Fairfield (who came along) and I couldn’t even see the water from the highest overlook at the peak. We certainly couldn’t see the stunning city skyline. Hong Kong was basically invisible. Our enthusiastic cab driver kept urging us to come back on Sunday when the weather is predicted to be nicer, even though we mentioned at least four times that we’re leaving Hong Kong on Saturday. It’s all the more reason for me to make a return visit here someday.

Before I sign off for the week, I want to thank everyone that helped me along the way, especially Danielle and Randee from Dard. What great people! They’re down-to-earth, hard-working, sincere and very patient. I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog. I’m sure I’ll write a few entries again sometime in the future…from wherever I am. Please keep in touch. Zai Jian!


Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour
Danielle and Randee helped this group of children with a school project this morning.
Easter Eggs in Hong Kong China
Here I am with one of the supplier mascots at the Hong Kong Gift Fair.
Shower in Hong Kong
I enjoyed dinner with distributors from all over the world.
Shower in Hong Kong
My treat to myself after a busy week in Hong Kong.

The World’s Largest Gift Show

Filed under: Fun, General

From Counselor Senior Writer Dave Vagnoni, our guest blogger who’s reporting from the land of China …

Find in your mind an image of the busiest ASI Show you can remember. Now imagine a show at least five times bigger, held on three separate floors in giant halls and concourses, with more than 4,070 suppliers – that’s the Hong Kong Gifts & Premium Fair. The grandiose event is billed as the largest of its kind in the world, this year hosting exhibitors from 36 different countries.

Suppliers here are not only trying to sell products, they’re also looking for new and different items themselves. That means buyers include distributors AND suppliers alike. Promotional products are just a part of what’s on display at the Gift Fair. You can find everything from vacuums to electric-powered butterflies to ribbons. The booths, which are largely pre-built for suppliers, range from simple cubicle-like setups to ornate 20-foot high toy castles.

In contrast to an ASI Show, you don’t see much apparel at the Hong Kong Fair. I passed a few Gildan racks, but that was it. Electronics, though, are extremely popular here. While there weren’t any products that wowed me, some of the coolest items were in the tech category. Among a handful of things I hadn’t seen before were colorful 3D cell phone cases, waterproof cell phone pouches and crystal Bluetooth headsets (some pics are below). I also thought the “Push-A-Plant” product was unique for green marketing. With a push of a button, a plant starts growing out of Lego-looking base without needing water for an entire week.

Once again on Wednesday, I shadowed Danielle and Randee from Dard, filming them at their booth, on the show floor and at new product meetings. Buyers from all over the world (Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Nigeria and Mexico, to name a few places) visited Dard’s booth to see patented items. Throughout the day, the product hunt continued. Danielle (who is living on grill cheese sandwiches, Raman noodles and other just-add-water delicacies) brought along with her to the Fair a shopping list from customers. She clearly has a keen eye for design. I’ve noticed Randee on the other hand (who has a much more adventurous palette) seems more impressed by practical items. 

Their balance of opinions was evident during a late-day meeting with a China factory representative that showed off 50 or so products. Danielle and Randee made a series of snap judgments, deciding whether a particular item would play well in their product line and in the ad specialty industry. If there was a brand-new product they liked, they asked the factory for exclusivity. In other cases, they had to weigh whether taking on a product would make sense if a competitor has already started ordering large quantities. There were maybe three or four products Danielle and Randee really loved in the stationery line. I’m sworn to secrecy but I suspect they’ll be offered solely by Dard in the near future.

So, to recap, while I didn’t spend 18 hours in the air or get detained by customs agents, Wednesday was still an interesting and exhausting day. I can’t stress enough how massive the Gift Fair is…and how diligent suppliers must be to assure products manufactured in China are stylish, yet socially compliant.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back at the Fair interviewing industry suppliers. Plus, I’ll have an exclusive as I visit with Jeffrey Lam, the chairman of the organizing committee for the Hong Kong Gifts & Premium Fair.

Finally for now, thanks everyone for your emails. Please keep them coming at dvagnoni@asicentral.com. Although I won’t be buying any designer suits per one person’s advice, (there are pretty big discounts here on clothes) I will be following a suggestion to visit Victoria Peak for a great view of Hong Kong.

Until tomorrow…


Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour
These new “Press-A-Plant” products have potential to be unique promotional items.
Easter Eggs in Hong Kong China
Expect to see much more of these 3-D cell phone cases.
Shower in Hong Kong
Even submerged in water, a cell phone will keep working in this pouch.
Shower in Hong Kong
No, this is not your ordinary flip-flop.
Shower in Hong Kong
One of the most intricate booths at the Hong Kong Fair in 2011.

Double Your “Joe Show” Pleasure

Filed under: Video

Lots of wonderful things come in pairs: Pop-Tarts, Tom & Jerry, spaghetti and meatballs, Snookie and J-Woww, R2-D2 and C-3PO, The Joe Show.

The Joe Show?!

That’s right, starting this week Counselor Managing Editor Joe Haley — the iconic and well-coiffed star of The Joe Show — will begin shooting not one, but two hot products videos a week. So instead of one opportunity to see the latest and greatest promotional products in the industry, you now have two. Call it a double dose of Joe, if you will, a second helping of hot products on a weekly basis.

Coinciding with the release of Counselor PromoGram newsletters, you can find a brand-new Joe Show every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. To see all the latest Joe Shows, click here.

And for the record, I was kidding about Snookie and J-Woww. (Well, maybe.)

Tip of the Day – Top 10 Ways to Lock Up Your Data

Filed under: Tip of the Day

TechnologyWhile technology can certainly enhance a company’s operations, it can also put an organization’s proprietary information at risk. Counselor Top 40 distributor Cintas recently released this top-10 list of ways to protect your data.

1. Implement a document-management program. Identify the types of documents considered confidential and train coworkers on responsible information-handling practices. Restrict co-worker access to these documents and discourage printing of confidential data unless essential.

2. Implement a document-retention schedule. Identify the amount of time to retain specific documents. Store these documents in a secure place until the retention period expires. A secure place restricts access to coworkers who don’t have a need to access such files. When the retention period is complete, have the documents shredded by a trusted and certified company.

3. Regularly shred sensitive documents. To protect sensitive information, consider a shredding service that destroys business documents onsite on a scheduled basis. These companies place secure storage containers in easily accessible and identifiable locations to make it convenient for employees to shred documents. This limits opportunities for employees to make judgment calls on which documents should be shredded. If in doubt, shred.

4. Keep documents securely offsite. In addition to outside hackers, valuable employee or customer data may also be compromised. To prevent an unauthorized coworker from accessing data, keep nonessential documents offsite, further limiting potential access.
5. Limit acquisition of confidential customer data. Review the type of customer data your business collects. Unless it is integral to the business transaction, avoid collection of information such as customers’ social security, bank accounts or driver’s license numbers. If the information needs to be gathered, restrict access to only those coworkers who need the information.

6. Use password protection. Protect files that contain sensitive data, including payroll, customer and financial information, with passwords. Make sure your coworkers change passwords on a quarterly basis at minimum with a combination of six to eight numbers and letters in upper and lower case to further the reduce the opportunity for passwords to be compromised.

7. Install and update virus-protection software. Virus-protection software is the first step in preventing a worm or virus from distributing files or other stored information from a computer over the network. Make sure employees regularly check for software updates so computers are protected against the latest virus threats.

8. Clear data before disposing of old computers. Even if a computer is no longer used, sensitive data is still available on the hard drive. Potential hackers or data thieves could prey on such data. Use software programs to wipe the data or identify a data-destruction vendor that will physically destroy the hard drive.

9. Review company credit-card statements. Company credit-card data can be compromised just as easily as consumer data. Before paying bills, make sure each employee has reviewed each item to prevent unauthorized charges. If unauthorized charges occur, be sure to notify your credit-card company and all three credit bureaus to protect your credit.

10. Limit use of file-sharing programs. While an effective way to collaborate and share documents, file-sharing programs can also expose a computer to hackers. If they must be used, make sure the system is protected by strong firewall and virus-protection software that is regularly updated.

From the Counselor article, Technology to the Rescue.

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