Executive Perspectives: HPG's Chris Anderson on Strategic Product Positioning, Industry Threats and More
As part of Print+Promo Marketing’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Chris Anderson, president and CEO of HPG, Boston/Salt Lake City. Here, he advocates for strategic product positioning, addresses industry threats and expands on his company’s recent technology endeavors.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Chris Anderson: In 2002, I was hired in a business development role at industry supplier HandStands. This was my second job out of college, and my task was to diversify the business from its historical core focus of producing and selling mouse pads to the U.S. retail and promotional markets. Over the next 14 years, working with an exceptionally talented and dedicated team, we transformed HandStands into the leading North America seller of car air fresheners. Throughout this time, I was given the opportunity to operate in a variety of positions within the business, and ultimately served as president and CEO.
It was while serving as CEO of HandStands that the business was acquired by Energizer, the global battery company (who was looking to diversify into other categories, including car air fresheners). In 2017, I, along with two partners, bought back the promotional products and retail mouse pad businesses from Energizer. Then, in 2018, I led the group in selling these businesses to HPG, who continues to operate the business today. At the time of joining the HPG team, I was named chief operating officer of the enterprise, and have served as president and CEO since June 2019.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
CA: In both cases, I set goals from right-to-left, meaning that I write my desired outcome on the right side of a page and then work my way left, to end at where I am today. This exercise forces me to establish exactly where I want to be, and then work backwards to list the steps necessary to get there. (I find this exercise works best using a genuine Hub Pen.)
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
CA: It is often said that a high tide raises all boats, and that has typically been understood to be the industry’s relationship with the macro economy. However, it is not quite that simple. While overall spending for industry products generally moves downward in the face of macro-economic contraction, there are many instances where industry distributors and suppliers have simply not participated in recessions. Whether it be through the offering of high-quality, low-cost items of daily use (such as the Hub Pen example, noted above), or the smart positioning of promotional products [as] a cost-effective, memorable and compelling means of marketing, the right product and positioning strategy has the power to overcome macro headwinds.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
CA: End-market disruption from outside the industry (leveraging technology) is a risk factor that suppliers and distributors alike need to take seriously. This threat will prompt meaningful—and necessary—innovation within the industry, and will drive further consolidation (at both the supplier and distributor level).
What keeps you up at night?
CA: Obsessing on how HPG, working closely with its distributor partners, can deliver a globally best end-user experience. History tells us that if we are not delighting our end-users, they will migrate to other offerings.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
CA: We are investing in technology to make it faster and easier to do business with HPG. For instance, we just launched a new AI-powered tool that enables distributors to generate custom catalogs and videos that seamlessly integrate their clients’ logos (in color and format-appropriate fashion). Launched in late Q3 2021, this innovation has been an immediate hit with our distributor partners, and represents a smart use of technology to delight our end-users.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
CA: I am an instrument-rated pilot, and fly myself to meetings and industry events whenever possible. To that end, I intend to travel in space before I am too old to enjoy the experience (that is my ultimate “right-side-of-the-page” personal goal)!