Suppliers are from Mars, Distributors are from Venus

I started out as a distributor in this industry in 1997. Back then, the communication challenges between suppliers and distributors were largely a function of technology (or lack thereof). There was no mainstream internet in use to help keep communication flowing in real time so we had to rely on meetings, faxes, and phone calls.

This quickly changed with the advent of the internet and, ultimately, the social web in the mid 2000s. Information went from a trickle to an open fire hose of real time information. I’ve always been fascinated with how this industry comes together to design, manufacture and ultimately deliver products to the end user. Continue reading


Rev Up Your Sales Team

Rev Up Your Sales with Contests

Competition is baked into the sales process.

Sales folks run into a variety of obstacles on a daily basis:

  • Limited attention from their customer
  • Approval of an order’s ultimate decision maker
  • Prices and services of competitors
  • Restrictions on RFPs
  • Procrastination from key people

A dose of competitive spirit in your sales team is a good thing because it keeps them pushing against all of the things that are getting in their way.  It also helps combat complacency.  Unfortunately, however, competition can also bubble up around the office in unappealing ways.  It can come across as arrogance, sucking up, or even undermining.

In the end that means you need to channel the competition for the greater good of your company and one of the most popular ways to do that is through contests. Continue reading


4 Things Your Promotional Products Software Should Do

piles of paperwork

Hello, my name is Jen, and I’m a software fiend.

Every week I sign-up and demo at least one new software to see what it has to offer.  Part of it is professional curiosity to see how other applications look and feel. But, the bigger reason is that I love to learn how other people think.  How they do things.  What their workflows look like. If I can pick up on any efficiencies, tips and tricks, or new ideas along the way, I’m all over it.  Demoing new software is a great way to discover new ideas.

With my software assessment hat on, I sat down and pounded out 4 things to look for in a business management software for promotional products distributors. Continue reading


5 Steps to Creating Your Personal Brand

Personal branding is a process where individuals differentiate and position themselves in a specific way to become better known for certain traits, knowledge, or skills.  Personal branding is becoming increasingly common in a modern, online, workforce.

Developing a personal brand is a great tool to guide your actions and decisions at work. A strong personal brand will help you discover projects that you want to be involved in or areas of the business where you can step up and assume a leadership position. It can also be used to judge opportunities and  inform your career decisions.

For example, if you’re trying to develop a personal brand as a creative thinker, it would be better to offer to help marketing with an upcoming campaign than it would be to help drive the logisitcs of a company event. But, if you want to define yourself as an amazing project manager, that company event is probably right up your alley. So, having your brand statement for reference can really help you focus in on things that will be relevant to your personal growth.

With a strong idea of your personal brand, rather than just joining every initiative that comes your way (or worse, joining none), you can be more strategic and pick projects that will be a better fit for your ideas and passions.

This post will show you how to develop and maintain your personal brand.

Continue reading


AAkron Line is on commonsku

AAkron Line
Not long ago, we asked a question on our Facebook page:

“What’s your favorite thing about working in the promotional products industry?”

The most popular answer: The people.

Totally agree.

And, I love that commonsku takes such a massive industry and makes it feel smaller by brining those people together.  Through the platform I’ve gotten to know suppliers and distributors that I never would have met before.
Continue reading


Tips to Spark Your Employee Recognition Program

Recognition AwardsIt’s no surprise that most promo business owners spend a lot of time thinking about their employees. Frankly, you can’t survive without your people.

So, you spend time looking for the best people to hire. You try to keep them engaged and motivated. You work to foster their development. And, you hope those great employees stick around and help make your business successful.

You do try to do all of those things, right?
Continue reading


Social Media in 30-Minutes a Day [free download]

It’s no surprise that social media is becoming more important for business engagement. Established social media channels are developing new ways to engage people and new areas of social networking are constantly expanding.

But, with so many options, many small businesses are hit with social media paralysis.

We hear two big concerns from businesses when it comes to participation in social media. Continue reading


adopt your tribe

communitySeth Godin calls them Tribes. Google+ has circles. Athletes have teams. My mom has her peeps.

Whatever you want to call it, human nature is such that we seek out communities. In primitive times it was necessary for survival. In more modern times, studies have shown time and time again that being part of a community is good for our health.

A Sense of Belonging

Before the Pittsburgh Steelers football season starts every year, most of the over 6,000 parking spaces in the Heinz Field parking lots are pre-sold to fans who wish to tailgate. Many of these fans start arriving five hours prior to the game to cook, play games, and chat. A lot of them don’t even have tickets to the game. Before kickoff, they file into local bars and restaurants to watch the on-field action.

An out-of-towner wishing to connect with other Steelers’ fans need only don some Steelers gear and walk up to any number of groups tailgating and strike up a conversation to be included with the group. The fans will readily fold you into their tribe, offering drinks, food, and camaraderie over the shared love of a favorite team.

In short, you belong.

By being a fan, you are automatically a member of the community and embraced as such.

Help when you need it

A sense of belonging is only one of the positive benefits of belonging to a group. The expansiveness of products available in our industry is mind-blowing. If something isn’t available as a stock piece, you’re certain to identify at least a handful of vendors (maybe more!) willing and able to create a custom piece from scratch off-shore.

The product offering is so vast that one person cannot possibly keep on top of it all. In my life at RIGHTSLEEVE we would have a minimum of one vendor PK session a week. Sure, the constant exposure to a wide array of products helps keep us on top of our game and fill up our knowledge banks, but unfortunately the product from one vendor can easily blend into the products from another and after a while you don’t remember them all.

But, what sticks in my mind won’t necessarily be what sticks in someone else’s mind, so I can easily tap into the knowledge of each person until I find someone who remembers the product or vendor that I’m looking for.

Now, multiply that by the entire industry.

What used to be a walk around the office has turned into a simple post on commonsku.

And, requests for help that used to go out to only a few select individuals now goes out to the entire industry. And the industry responds.

Our collective wisdom and helpfulness cascades across the industry lifting us all up in the process.

There are other benefits to group belonging and participation. Motivation, influence, learning and access to information, and less likelihood of a heart attack among them.

This is all well and good, but let’s talk about things you can do right now. I’m a fan of action items.

  1. Join a community. I suggest commonsku or PromoKitchen as friendly and open communities for the promotional products industry.
  2. Help someone else. Throw out a sourcing answer, or put two people in touch so they can assist each other.
  3. Contribute. Post information, questions, or even frustrations to engage your community.

For more steps on community building or involvement on commonsku, you can access our how-to presentations on our website by clicking here.

Tell me in the comments what you think the biggest step in building a community is.

commonsku helps you strengthen relationships and grow your business. We marry a social network with powerful crm and order management to connect the supply chain. You can read more information at or stop by to say hi on twitter, facebook, or pinterest.