2007’s Top Distributors
Should there be any reservations about the topic, the promotional products business is a thriving one. This assertion would be hard to dispute, given the impressive numbers the industry reported for 2006. According to an annual survey conducted for Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), total promotional product sales revenue in 2006 amounted to $18.8 billion, up 4.25 percent from 2005. This figure translates to an increase of $766 million in sales from the previous year. That’s a lot of promotional products!
To put $18.8 billion into perspective, Promotional Marketing’s Top 50 Distributors brought in a total of $2.35 billion in promotional product sales in 2006. By themselves, the Top 10 reported $1.56 billion in promotional product sales in 2006, more than 60 percent of the total promotional product sales for the Top 50 distributors for the year.
Life at the top is good. No. 1-ranked Corporate Express Promotional Marketing attributes “speed, quality and innovation” to its successful run over the last year. And, according to just about all those that placed in the coveted Top 10 category, a keen focus on customer service and technology is a proven formula for success.
In an effort to recognize diverse levels of distributor sales, for the first time ever, Promotional Marketing’s Top Distributors’ list highlights promotional product sales at Gold, Silver and Bronze levels. Gold ranges from $6 million to $3.2 million; Silver ranges from $3.09 million to $1.3 million; and Bronze ranges from $1.2 million to $1 million.
In the end, all of our distributors are winners in their own right, as they continue to service an industry that outpaces popular forms of advertising, including Internet, cable, outdoor and yellow pages. Long live promotional products!
1. Corporate Express Promotional Marketing (www.cepromotionalmarketing.com), St. Louis, MO
Speed, quality and innovation can be attributed to the success of Corporate Express Promotional Marketing, which reported $235 million in promotional product sales in 2006—a figure that garnered the company the No. 1 spot on Promotional Marketing’s Top 50 Distributors list. According to company president, Dennis Multack, Corporate Express defines success with “each client and use of objective metrics to demonstrate our performance and delivery of solutions to our clients.”
With the company’s promotional product sales up 2.6 percent from 2005, Multack said he rests comfortably at night because he has “a great team.” Furthermore, he noted Corporate Express’ quest to “continually look for ways to increase productivity and enhance our systems and operations” has caused it to invest “heavily in capital expenditures and training.” In addition, Multack said the company has in place several initiatives “designed to improve performance, reduce cost, speed delivery and streamline processes internally, as well as with our suppliers.”
So what makes Corporate Express stand out from other distributors? Consider its comprehensive service offering, Fortune 1,000 client list, as well as management and financial stability, to name a few.
“A successful 21st century distributor will have learned to become more than just a distributor, but a strategic partner who helps meet the client’s organizational objectives while adding demonstrable value to their supply chain,” said Multack. “Our goal is to deliver solutions that drive client performance.”
2. Proforma (www.proforma.com), Cleveland, OH
Proforma seems to know a thing (or two) about the popular adage: “There is strength in numbers.” With a savvy husband and wife team at the helm, the company earned the No. 2 position on this year’s Top 50 Distributors list. Greg Muzzillo, Co-CEO with wife Vera, attributes Proforma’s ongoing success to the efforts of “great people” and a “great business model.” Said Muzzillo, “We are proud of our great franchise owner members. We are proud that we have more million dollar producers and multi-million dollar producers than any other organization in our industry.”
And Muzzillo’s statements can be backed up by the numbers his company reported in 2006: a total of $227.5 million in annual promotional product sales, which amounts to a phenomenal 45.8 percent increase from the previous year.
When asked what makes the 31-year-old company stand out from other distributorships, Muzzillo said Proforma’s franchising business model sets it apart. “First, we are a sales and marketing cooperative. Collectively, we have more than $2 million per year in sales and marketing tools and support,” he noted. “Second, we are a purchasing cooperative. Our members enjoy the pricing and service advantage of being part of a $300 million dollar organization. Third, we are a back-office support system. We help process our members’ back-office tasks to help free our members up to grow their business and have more fun in their life.”
And the Muzzillos are all about having fun. To ensure franchise owners enjoy some play time, Proforma offers a significant incentive for its top performers: Million Dollar and Multi-Million Dollar Clubs. “This year, we took about 200 people to Palm Springs, California to celebrate the success of these performers,” noted Muzzillo.
Heading up a multi-million-dollar enterprise such as Proforma, one would think Muzzillo would find it hard to sleep at night. Hardly. “I sleep like a baby. Ask Vera,” he said. However, Muzzillo said his single largest ambition is to “tell our story to great distributor owners and great industry sales people that would be far better off as members of the Proforma network.” He continued, “I believe that most distributors and their sales people are so busy with the tyranny of the urgent that it is hard for them to hear the important messages and opportunities in their lives.”
3. Bensussen Deutsch & Associates (BD&A), (www.bdainc.com), Woodinville, WA
For a company looking forward to broader penetration into Fortune 500 enterprises, major sports leagues and global entertainment companies, BD&A has already charted a winning course. In 2006, the company reported total promotional product sales of $200 million, up an impressive 37.9 percent (a dollar amount of $55 million) from the previous year’s figures.
When asked what keeps him up at night, CEO Jay Deutsch said: “Maintaining a BD&A workforce that is motivated and excited to come to work each day.” He said the company has been able to do that “successfully” for the last 23 years. In fact, so important is employee satisfaction to Deutsch, the company employs a budget for external training as well as 45 hours of internal management training, technology/software application classes, sales university and a three-part, six-hour series on the company’s culture, corporate history and “how each individual and team can set and achieve goals.”
Over the past year, BD&A installed a next-generation upgrade to its order management system. Deutsch said the primary upper hand the company has on its peers is “our people, our suppliers and our collective can-do spirit.” In that same spirit, he said it is important for today’s distributors to master the three ‘Ps’ that comprise business—people, process and products—if they want to thrive. “[It is important to have] an ability to look critically at one’s own company operations and make ongoing improvements,” he concluded.
4. American Identity (www.americanidentity.com), Overland Park, KS
“In any business-to-business environment, you must understand each customer’s contribution to profitability. Not doing so will surely cause demise.”
These poignant words come from a man who knows customer service all too well. David Krumbholz, president/COO of American Identity said it is his company’s commitment to building strong relationships with customers of every size that brings about its success. “We succeed by our ability to service small, mid-tier and large corporations while understanding the economics of all three,” he said.
Under the leadership of Roger Henry, CEO, this year, American Identity reported $191 million in promotional product sales, a 6.1 increase from last year, or a dollar amount of $11 million. As part of its success story, Krumbholz said American Identity employs “quality back-end support that allows our sales force to stay in front of the customer and build strong, intimate relationships.”
The thing that makes American Identity stand out from other distributorships is the fact that the company “services all sizes of companies and large corporations with quality products and an understanding of how to be profitable along the customer continuum,” said Krumbholz. To that end, Krumbholz said he foresees the company being “a strong, global supplier to many of the Fortune 500 companies, as well as the premier service provider to the small and mid-tier companies” in the near future.
5. Geiger (www.geiger.com), Lewiston, ME
As it did last year, Geiger once again emerged as the No. 5 seller on this year’s Top 50 list. Reporting an impressive growth in promotional product sales of 27.8 percent from the previous year, an increased dollar amount of $37.5 million, Geiger’s annual promotional product sales for 2006 totaled $172.5 million.
According to Jo-an Lantz, executive vice president of promotional products, in 2006, Geiger grew more than 25 percent, following a more than 10 percent growth in 2005. Lantz said it is the company’s growth from its existing sales force, its supplier relationships and acquisitions that played major roles in its success.
Like all progressive distributorships, Geiger, under the watchful eye of Gene Geiger, president and CEO, has beefed up its technology. “Our technology investments have exceeded $2 million for several years,” noted Lantz. Some of its most notable investments include: Geiger Studio, an online art storage system that allows sales partners to catalog and store their artwork for prospects; integrated Web sites that introduced the company’s proprietary Decorate on Demand apparel programs; and Geiger Help Desk, which provides computer technical support services to the company’s sales representatives and associates.
Touted as being the largest privately held, family-owned and managed distributorship in the industry, Lantz predicted Geiger’s future. “The Geiger brand will be the best brand in the industry, respected by suppliers, proudly worn by [our sales representatives] and employee associates, and well-respected by customers and prospects in our markets,” she said.
When asked what is required for today’s distributors to be successful, Lantz added, “We need to have a culture of discipline and a culture of ongoing education to improve and invest in the right technologies to support our businesses.” It is precisely Geiger’s discipline, ongoing education and commitment to new technology that puts it in the top ranks among distributors year after year.
6. Adventures in Advertising Corporation (AIA) (www.exploreaia.com), Neenah, WI
If its name is any indication, Adventures in Advertising takes its job seriously—well, maybe not too seriously. It’s no wonder the company made this year’s Top 50 list, coming in at No. 6 for the second year in a row.
“I’m pleased to see the team we’ve been building the past four years has come together, with 2006 being the best year in our company’s history,” noted David Woods, president/CEO.
In 2006, AIA reported $135 million in promotional product sales, an increase of 5.5 from 2005. That same year, the company began selling new franchises for the first time in several years, as well as moved to a different location and outfitted a new support center “to best serve the needs of our franchise owners and sales affiliates,” said Woods.
What differentiate’s AIA from other distributors? “A phenomenal team and [a] terrific network,” offered Woods. “We believe, with our franchise and sales affiliate programs that we have solutions for the professional promotional consultants in our industry.”
To maintain and ultimately improve upon the level of success the company has enjoyed thus far, Woods said attracting the “highest caliber of promotional product professionals” is the primary challenge AIA faces. “AIA’s network is comprised of business owners with high integrity and focus on success,” he said. “Finding other individuals with like values is key.”
With a strong commitment to personalized service and “staying current with various advertising trends,” Woods has positioned AIA for a bright, not to mention adventurous future in promotional product sales. “We’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years building a strong foundation for our future growth,” he said. “With a strong economy, AIA is in a wonderful place to capitalize on trends and growth in the ... industry.”
7. HALO/Lee Wayne (www.halo.com or www.leewayne.com), Sterling, IL
With total promotional product sales for the latest fiscal year recorded at $130 million, HALO/Lee Wayne has rightfully earned the No. 7 spot on Promotional Marketing’s Top 50 Distributors list. With a spike of 23.8 percent ($25 million more than last year), the company is poised for another record-setting year.
CEO Marc Simon’s method for success is an uncomplicated one: “Great people working very hard to delight our clients on every order,” he said. “It sounds simple, but it has worked very well for us since the company was started in 1952.”
Simon’s unwavering commitment to time-tested, client-approved business practices hardly diminishes his unparalleled commitment to technology. In fact, he said HALO/Lee Wayne “has the leading technology in the industry.”
“We continue to upgrade our proprietary order management tool, WebSTAR, which allows our account executives to enter orders and view order status ... 24-hours a day,” he explained.
Simon stands on the fact that technology can be effectively used to create more qualitative time with clients. “Clients ... require accurate information on products, pricing and billing, and they require it more quickly than ever,” he said. “Distributors must be able to provide this information quickly and accurately in order to free more time for qualitative sales pursuits, like prospecting via the phone, mail and e-mail.”
Simon said HALO/Lee Wayne’s corporate culture is “built on a genuine passion for our account executives and their business.” It is this passion that keeps him up at night. “It takes great focus to maintain such a caring culture while growing the number of people in it,” he said.
To keep its sales staff motivated, HALO/Lee Wayne hosts several regional and national short-term sales contests. Furthermore, the company has a full-time trainer that works one-on-one and via the Web to train account executives on company technology.
So where does HALO/Lee Wayne go from here? Up, suggested Simon. “In five years, we’ll still be the most efficient distributor with the nicest support staff servicing the most dynamic account executives in the industry,” he concluded.
8. 4imprint (www.4imprint.com), Oshkosh, WI
Ranking No. 8 on this year’s Top 50 list, 4imprint reported a significant upsurge in its promotional product sales from last year: 34.5 percent or a dollar amount of $28.6 million. Its total promotional product sales for 2006 was $111.6 million.
Kevin Lyons-Tarr, president, said his company’s direct marketing model, which eliminates the need for a traditional sales staff, is what makes his company stand out from other distributorships. He said it is his desire to “create a great customer experience” that keeps him up at night.
Lyons-Tarr possesses a rare humility found among promotional product heavy-weights. When asked what is required for today’s distributors to be successful, he said, “Above all, excellent and committed people.” It is his company’s “dedicated associates” and “reliable supplier partners” that propel 4imprint’s success. For the future, Lyons-Tarr said he looks forward to continuing to “provide innovative solutions and great value for our customers, generating further growth.”
9. American Solutions for Business (ASB) (www.americanbus.com), Glenwood, MN
American Solutions for Business snagged the No. 9 spot on this year’s Top 50 list, and with good reason. Reporting a 15.9 percent increase in promotional product sales in 2006, the company remains true to its roots. “While we have continued to grow and provide extensive resources to our associates, our culture has allowed associates to continue to run their businesses as independent business people,” noted Larry Zavadil, president.
Since July 2000, ASB has been a 100 percent employee-owned business, which provides sales associates with a financial incentive to help grow the company and empowers them to make virtually all business decisions, explained Zavadil. As a result of this unique business structure, the company operates with a “single-layer of corporate management that reduces overhead and enables our clients to enjoy greater value per purchasing dollar,” he added.
Last August, ASB launched new capabilities to its proprietary ACES online technology. “An entire new look was [introduced], along with key functionality, including easy-to-use menuing, color swatches, multi-level approval capability and real-time inventory,” explained Zavadil. Further enhancements were launched this past February, including online reporting and print-on-demand integrations.
Of his company’s future, Zavadil said the fact that ASB is an employee-owned company gives it the stability and employee dedication to continue to expand. “If we do this successfully, like we have been, everybody, including our vendors, truly shares in our results. That’s the best motivation available, and it’s unique in our industry,” he concluded.
10. Kaeser & Blair (www.kaeser-blair.com), Batavia, OH
In keeping with the tone set by the other distributors, No. 10 Kaeser & Blair attributes its steady growth to “the success of our family of independent dealers,” according to Kurt Kaeser, CEO. Over the past year, the company has implemented many technological advances, including upgrades to its order management system, in an effort to better serve its dealers.
However, the company is not only dedicated to the satisfaction of its dealers, it is equally committed to the well-being of its sales representatives. To bring out the best in its sales force, Kaeser & Blair provides “lucrative monetary bonus incentives, sales contests, superior commission rates, sub dealer advantageous override payments, traveling private training seminars and an annual convention/family reunion,” said Kaeser. With a company that possesses “integrity, responsibility, reliability and stability”—traits Kaeser states are necessary for distributors—Kaeser & Blair can expect to remain a leader in the industry.