Technology and Vacation Time

Isn’t it wonderful to have all of this technology at hand? Here I am sitting in Daytona Beach in a timeshare directly on the ocean, with my family, and I am still able to keep track of what is happening in my office via email, my Blackberry and the phone. I even dialed in to a webinar on Tuesday for our company’s WBENC certification.

Here in our room we can only get dial-up service, but with that wonderful technology, I was able to connect my Blackberry to my laptop and get a faster form of dial-up than the room can provide, which allowed me to keep tabs on my office, update a mailing list for our next two mailings, and upload this blog.

And since I am speaking about vacations and summer, a few great things are happening in our office this summer. Starting June 1, our Corporate Gift Give Away Contest begins – Sign up to win either an Xbox 360 or a $400 Gas Card. I believe that now that gas prices have hit $4.00 a gallon and still rising, the gas card will be in high demand. See official rules for details of how you could win! Even if you don’t win, just for signing up, every qualified entrant will receive a Free Music Download!

Not only did we create a contest to add to this summer’s excitement, we also became certified this past month as a women’s business enterprise (WBE) through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the nation’s largest third party certifier of businesses owned and operated by women in the U.S.   We recognize the commitment to supplier diversity that is embraced by corporations and government agencies today, and we can add diversity to your supply chain.

WBENC’s national standard of certification implemented by the Women’s Business Development Center, a Florida Regional Partner of WBENC, is a meticulous process including an in-depth review of the business and a site inspection. The certification process is designed to confirm the business is at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by a woman or women. – They could have just asked anyone on staff and they would have immediately known who runs the day to day operations in our office.

 

We are looking forward to working with many new corporate partners this summer and in the future. This is a huge opportunity and we don’t take this honor lightly.

 

Monday will come too soon, an end to the vacation and the beginning of another work week, but meanwhile, I better get back to my boys and the beach while they are still building that sand castle!

Packaging Can Make Your Promotion!

I recently put together a video for how, with a little money or effort, you can use packaging to make an ordinary logo’d product turn in to an extraordinary gift for extraordinary people. This past week, I received a package in the mail from a local supplier of apparel products. They sent me a sample T-shirt. They could have just tossed the T-shirt in to a priority mail envelope with a letter saying how great and wonderful a vendor they are, or they could have sent the shirt in a plastic mailer bag, both of which I have received previously from other suppliers. Many times these packages were set aside until I had a moment to open them, as I knew that they were probably just samples. However, this box seemed somehow different, there was more of a curiosity to it that made me want to open it right away.

The T-shirt came in a 6 x 6 squared mailer box with a glossy green label that covered the top of the box. When the box was opened the inside revealed a smaller, black pin striped box tied with a simple strand of green wraphia. Wow! I was receiving a gift! How cool, it was not even my birthday!

I was excited to open the box because the presentation was simple, but elegant.  I had no idea what I would find inside. When I opened the black box I found a single sheet of pale green tissue paper covered with a slightly darker green imprint of flowers and leaves. Now my curiosity was really peaked! What was inside?

I pulled back the tissue and inside neatly folded and wrapped, once again with a single strand of the same color green wraphia, I found a black T-shirt made from Bamboo! – Yes, Bamboo. So soft and cuddly that I couldn’t wait to unwrap the shirt and put it on my body, which I promptly did.

Have you ever received a T-shirt from anyone, other than maybe your grandmother, that felt so good and brought this much excitement and anticipation? This is what a little packaging, that probably adds no more than a dollar to the cost of an item, can do for you and the imprinted product you are giving away. Wouldn’t you like all of your marketing ideas to be received this well?

Increase your Marketing Efforts in a Down Economy

I recently read an article from Denny Hatch’s Business Common Sense. The article was about Bloomingdale’s catalog being discontinued after being in circulation for over 120 years. It seems that the state of the economy and the internet is the cause of this tragedy. I have heard so many times over the years that when there is an economic down turn the marketing department is the first thing to go at a company. Instead of spending more money to attract more business, many companies get rid of their marketing departments or at least scale them down.

Since I come from a marketing background, this never made sense to me. So this year, as the economy wanes Creative Expressions has decided to heat things up! Instead of “throwing in the towel”, as Denny put it, we have decided to ramp up our marketing efforts.

We hired a graphic artist to create our mail outs. We hired a PR firm to write our press releases, and we are having a Corporate Gift Give Away Contest to get more Marketing directors, Human Resource directors and Sales directors interested in our company and the corporate and promotional gifts we can provide. We decided that possibly the promise of a music download to all qualified entrants would be a nice give away. We could mail out T-shirts, a mug or a related promotional product, but our company is not your typical promotional products company and since we are a bit different, so has to be the giveaway.

We are able to provide proven, successful, result driven promotions by using music downloads and cell phone entertainment cards to help with employee recruiting, tradeshow marketing, customer motivation and a myriad of different ideas. Because this is not your normal promotional product, we thought we could illustrate this by being our own case study using a product that we sell. And of course there is the Grand Prize, the winner’s choice of an X-box 360 or a $400 gas card!

From Denny’s Takeaway Points to Consider he said “Marketing is war—a fight for your share of market and wallet. It is nothing less” – to this I say we are joining the fight by increasing our marketing efforts. There will be no quitters here!

Excellent Customer Service

 

Companies are only as good as the products they deliver, and only as good as their last order. I truly believe this is true. A lot of problems can occur between the time an order is placed and the time it arrives in our customers hands. Partnering with a distributor that has integrity allows our customers to spend less time monitoring their order and more time to do their business.

If a company does not have strict operating procedures, orders will need to be redone, and that costs time and money for everyone. When we attended the E-myth seminars a few years back we realized that there was serious need to build a procedure for each and every part of the order. We believe it works very well and we have received numerous compliments on our attentive customer service.

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Does your Promotional Products Consultant understand Proposition 65? They should.

Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, has been around for more than 20 years. It had not become widely know until August 2007, when Mattel, Inc., the world’s biggest toymaker, issued a toy recall for more than 20 million Chinese-made products. Then came the toothpaste recall, dog food recall, and the lunch bag recall for a high content of lead over the past few months. Proposition 65 was originally a health measure created to protect the people of California. Companies cannot discharge toxic chemicals into the states sources of drinking water, or expose people in the state to the toxic chemicals without prior warnings.

So What Does This Mean to You, the Purchaser of Promotional Items?

Purchasing products that are non-compliant, from a Promotional Consultant, who does not verify that the products being sold to you are socially compliant, and /or Proposition 65 compliant could jeopardize your company’s reputation. If your company purchases products for National Tradeshows and these products end up in California without the proper warning labels you could become liable for distributing a product without the warning information.  You should always let your promotional consultant know if the product that you are purchasing will be distributed in California at any time. The law says that if goods made, sold or distributed in California contain “significant levels” of any of the toxic chemicals provided in their annual list, the business selling, manufacturing or distributing these items MUST include a warning label when shipping the merchandise.

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An Educational Flight

Having returned recently from the ASI show in Las Vegas, it never occurred to me before how rewarding a long flight can be. During the ASI show in Orlando this past January I missed some of the educational classes, so I purchased those classes as mpegs, which were transferred over to my mp3 player. My flight to Las Vegas was spent listening to Jeff Burrows class on The Entrepreneur’s Success Code: How to Run a High-Performance Business and Have a Life!” 

It was so informative, and it brought back memories of when we took the E-myth seminar out in California a few years ago. A seminar that brought about many new changes in the way we do business. That weekend seminar cemented our need for procedures in the way we handle everything in our office. We now have a concrete matrix of procedures on how we take an order, to managing our customers’ expectations each and every step of the way.

During Jeff’s class, I wrote pages and pages of notes. So many ideas were flying through my head; it was hard to keep them all to myself. I found myself several times, during the flight, wanting to pick up the phone and call my business partner to discuss all that was being said.

When I arrived in Las Vegas, and attended Education Day, I took a class by Bobby Lehew on Marketing in a Web 2.0 World: How Small Businesses Can Be Heard in a Big Way. It was a phenomenal class in regard to social networking. Bobby talked about LinkedIn, Facebook and other ways to raise the online visibility of your company. Once I arrived back home in Tampa I immediately began putting to work his ideas for more visibility for my company. 

One of those ideas was working on a blog. I had written many articles for our company blog over the past couple of months, but was not ready to put them out for everyone to read. However, Bobby promised they didn’t have to be perfect, and for now, I hope he is correct. I wrote two different entries on the plane trip home and will post them soon.

How We Work a Tradeshow

As I said in an earlier post, our entire office team went to our industry tradeshow. There were over 850 booths, with literally thousands of products. I am a bit anal when it comes to what happens at a tradeshow. We have 3 things in mind when we attend.

First, are the education classes; we all need to learn new things about the business and what the trends are for the year. Second, is to see the products that are shown in our new catalogs and third, when and where the fun events are held that we are going to attend while at the show.

To show you how important this is to our business I am going to relate a little story in regard to how I go about giving direction. Some will say it is overkill, but this is how I manage things in my life. I am a huge fan of lists.

It is important to see and feel the items that will be appearing in our catalogs. Our first catalog of the year, “Select,” was mailed out in January, so it was very important that the vendors in that catalog be sought out and each employee see the products first hand. It is also important to ask questions about each of the products, like who purchases this type of product? Do you have any case studies on your products that we can use? Production time, imprint colors, set up fees etc..

During the show, I sent each one of my employees on the show floor with a 10-page document. The first page was just an outline of the education classes they would be taking and a schedule of what everyone else was taking, including room numbers and times. The rest of the document outlined the vendors that were in each of our new catalogs, and their booth numbers, the overview of the educational classes, the events that they needed to attend and how to get to the hotel and convention center.

I just happened to stop by one of the booths, after my team had been there. My hands were full of catalogs and samples (I hadn’t felt the need to bring the bag provided to me the previous day). The booth just happened to be that of a bag and box vendor, and I am sure they thought I was only stopping in the booth to get a “free bag” to empty my hands. – However, I started asking them questions about their “Green Products” and told them that they were one of the vendors that were in our upcoming catalog called “Idea Showcase,” a catalog with over 14 pages of “Go Green” products that would be mailed at the end of that month.

I asked if maybe some of my team hand stopped by at some time during the show and asked questions about their products as well. The representative in the booth started laughing and said ‘Was that you who made the long list of vendors and booth numbers? I saw pages in one of your employees’ hands and asked if we were on some sort of list and they showed me this thick packet of pages of what they were supposed to do here at the show.”

We both laughed. It was at that moment that I realized my team of employees must think, at times, that I am a bit over the top. The factory representative showed me the rest of her product line, a lot of bags and boxes made from recycled paper, and sustainable goods. I won’t go in to detail here about all the exciting new products we saw, including the items from our new catalogs, but I will give you a link if you want to see the new line of Custom Books for Green Living.

By the way, I did get a free eco-friendly bag to put my items in before I left the booth.

Goals and Achievements

January is always a time to pump yourself up for the New Year. You make lofty goals, plan and compile lists and work very hard on implementing them. One of the best things we could have done for ourselves and our business this year was to attend our industry tradeshow. We spent a full day in education classes, which I will talk about in another post, and we visited over 850 supplier booths to get new product ideas to help our customers. But the most exciting thing we did was attend a keynote with Sara Blakely, the founder and owner of SPANX.

If you have not heard Sara speak, or heard her incredible story about her struggle to bring her product to market, a product that has revitalized the $2 billion hosiery industry, you are missing out. In search of the right undergarment she cut the feet out of her pantyhose to wear with white pants and open-toed shoes. At that moment, Sara knew she had a million-dollar idea. 

I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. At least the women in the audience, all around us, had tears in their eyes; either from laughing at her humorous anecdotes of how she embarked on her adventure or from the fact that she didn’t stop trying even when no one would listen to her idea or help her manufacture a prototype, which eventually built her a $100 million company in just seven short years!

Sara didn’t have venture capital, she didn’t have a sugar daddy, or the type of connections some have when starting a business. All she had was an idea, and sometimes a plan, and a lot of perseverance to make her dream come true.

Her struggle was real. She shared her thoughts all along the process of working through her idea and getting it to market. They weren’t generalizations, but “here is what I did, and these were the problems I encountered along the way”.  She was answering the same type of questions I ask myself about others who grow their businesses fast, and I am sure others ask: Did they know someone in the business? Did they have a huge pile of cash available to them? Was her idea purchased by someone in the early stages that catapulted her to fame? The answer to all of these questions is no. She honestly didn’t have a clue as to how to bring her product to market, just tenacity and a burning desire to make a difference for women who purchased undergarments.

I asked my staff to tell me what was the most important information they learned from the keynote, and here is an excerpt of their answers: “I definitely did have some tears in my eyes when Sara was speaking. She was very powerful and very insightful. She made me believe that regardless of your background in life, if you have a mindset and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to succeed in whatever project you’re setting out to achieve, it can be done!  Another key point is: Dedication. Everyone told her that she wouldn’t get anywhere with her ideas and that her invention was "crazy". She was determined to make a name for herself and her product even though everyone had their doubts and nobody wanted to help her market her idea (in the beginning).” Michelle"

If you weren’t trained to do your job, how could you make it better?”  This quote was powerful to me. Jaime 

As we look ahead to our plans and ideas for 2008 and beyond, I hope that my staff and I can use Sara’s story to help work through any issues that come up, keep sight of our goals and try to find better, more efficient ways to do our job.