TO TAG OR NOT TO TAG
TO TAG OR not to tag. This is the question facing new companies entering the promotional products arena and established companies reevaluating the way they do business. “Tag” in this case refers not to the products but to the companies themselves. In this industry, nearly everyone is familiar with ASI numbers and most are familiar with UPIC identifications.
Why would one company choose a UPIC identification over an ASI number or vice versa? Why do some companies opt for both? Why do other companies use neither?
To better understand the markets, Promotional Marketing contacted Tim Andrews, president of Trevose, Pennsylvania-based ASI; Scott Fuhr, director of corporate communications at ASI; and Pat Burger, president of UPIC, which is umbrellaed by PPAI, Irving, Texas.
The necessity of identification is disputed; some organizations manage to function without any. “One does not need to have an identifier or belong to any organization to do business in the industry. It’s been proven again and again,” said Burger.
ASI takes a different stance. Fuhr said the organization works on the principle that an identification system is necessary to the industry. However, he was careful not to dismiss businesses without such an identifier. “I think each business has to make a choice that’s right for its own situation and its own business practices,” he said.
ASI numbers have existed for more than 50 years. For many, the ASI number is synonymous with the promotional products industry. It is tradition and, like all traditions, it is resistant to change. PPAI witnessed this first-hand when it introduced the UPIC identification in 1999. “In the first year or so [UPIC] was not readily adopted by a lot of companies,” said Burger. Over time the system proved its value: “We currently have about 25,000 companies in our online directory, each of which has a UPIC.”
History alone does not make identification systems valuable. “An industry numbering convention provides a way for distributors and suppliers to know that they are doing business with a bona fide promotional products industry company,” commented Andrews.
Identifiers have helped, and continue to help,
companies locate potential partners. “Identifiers make [business] easier because the tradition of the industry is business transactions between suppliers and
distributors, and there needs to be some way for those companies to find one another,” said Burger.
ASI and UPIC also offer credit reports on member companies. This is touted by both organizations as a great member tool. Andrews noted the importance of credit checks for both suppliers and distributors. “New distributors can be researched quickly and extended credit, and seasoned distributors enjoy the reputation that quickly builds when sound paying habits are recognized,” he said.
Credit reporting does seem to facilitate business transactions. “There is some reliance on those databases. It’s important for [suppliers] to know that the
distributor they’re selling to has a good credit history and they can trust the order without requiring a deposit,” said Burger. “And, I think likewise, [it is important] for a distributor to know that a supplier has good credit history, to know [the company] can be relied on.”
ASI prides the exclusivity of its organization. Application for ASI membership does not ensure entry. As the company publicly comments, exclusivity protects the industry and strengthens the credibility of member companies. According to Andrews, “ASI assigns a number only after a distributor member firm proves it is doing business with other verified industry firms, or a prospective supplier member proves it has a North American presence. This process protects the integrity of the member network.”
ASI’s exclusivity leaves some legitimate businesses to look for other methods of identification. In this respect, ASI may be responsible for the creation of UPIC. As Burger explained, “In the late 90s, we were hearing from more and more companies [that] wanted to work in the industry—either as a distributor or a supplier—and they wanted to know how they could find other companies.” UPIC was created to fill this gap. “We decided to make it open, accessible and free to any company in the industry that could demonstrate [it was], in fact, working in the industry,” said Burger.
In outward appearance, the UPIC identifiers and ASI numbers differ in an obvious fashion. UPIC allows for a company to choose its own identification using numbers and/or letters. Some companies like this freedom and the ability to identify their products with easy-to-remember tags. ASI takes the stance that this can cause confusion. Indeed, there is no obvious way to differentiate a supplier from a distributor using UPIC, whereas under the ASI system, distributors are denoted by a six-digit number while suppliers are denoted by a five-digit number.
In the end, both systems provide companies with more choices as they struggle to conduct business in an ever-changing and highly competitive market. Here, both Burger and Andrews agree. “In areas where [ASI and PPAI] do compete, each competitor is pushed to do its very best to support its customers and provide the most useful products and services,” stated Andrews. Burger had similar sentiments. “We believe that alternatives and options are really important in the industry,” he concluded.