The Game is Changing. Are You Ready to Play?



I’ve been writing on things changing in our industry for years. It’s certainly not a new topic. What is changing…so to speak, is that our industry is FINALLY realizing and accepting that it’s changing.

In past commentaries I’ve talked about changing business models, social media, and new communication strategies. In this commentary I’m going to talk about acceptance of a changing game and who’s changing it.


True confession. I’m an old guy, but I think young. A few years ago I had my son with me at the PPAI Expo helping with video recording. People who know what we do with were telling me how much they love FreePromoTips. It seemed like a good idea to do a “Raving Fans” video with clips from raving fans. My son was filming these clips. This video, which you can see here, features comments from PPAI Hall of Famers, Wayne Greenberg, Paul Kiewiet and past PPAI Board Members, Scott Siegel, Sherry Lennarson, Joe Scott and others. My son astutely noted, “Dad, your friends are old.” Yes, my friends are old and I’m old too.

While I have developed many great friendships in the industry, the people I most relate to these days just happen to be younger. I can’t list them all, but I will mention a few that I have come to personally know pretty well; Danny Rosen, Charity Gibson, Tee Hamilton, Dale Denham, Dana Zezzo and Bill Petrie.  Interestingly, all these people are PromoKitchen Chef’s. For those not familiar with PromoKitchen, check out what’s going on in the kitchen here. PromoKitchen is changing the game by promoting mentoring, networking, education and sharing useful business building information.

I was happy that I nominated Kirby Hasseman (another PromoKitchen Chef) for the PPAI Rising Star award in 2015 and he was selected. His “Weekly Word” and “Delivering Marketing Joy” interviews with all kinds of personalities, is good content. If you know me, you know that I feel sharing relevant content is important in today’s evolving marketplace. Suppliers and distributors need to move past sharing a steady stream of product specials and also offer information that has value.

The Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) is seeing the change. They understand the importance of connecting with the next generation. This of course includes buyers, suppliers and distributors. PPAI is taking the initiative to address this need. Seth Barnett has been named PPAI’s first Diversity Development and Engagement Manager.

This new role addresses the diversity challenge in our industry primarily focusing on generational demographics. The reality is that today’s workforce is nearing retirement and there will be a tremendous need for young leadership. You can learn more about Seth’s new position here.

PPAI Professional Development added Expo education classes that focused on how the game is changing. They included a PromoKitchen “Salt and Pepper” session that was a big hit as you can see in this video interview. It certainly was a tasty session!

An innovative “Power Keynote Preview” gave people the opportunity to choose what keynote session they wanted to attend. Interestingly, the few people we interviewed all chose to attend a session presented by Josh Tickell: Secrets Of The Millennial Code. People want to know how to reach Millennial’s!

Forward thinking companies  are changing offices to create a more productive work environment. Check out this article from the HubSpot BlogThe Future of the Office: 7 Innovative Ways Companies Are Changing the Workplace. I like it! Is our industry ready to make changes like this?

The stimulus to write this commentary came when I unpacked my suitcase from a trip. For the first time, I took note of the imprint on the commonsku t-shirt I had packed. This shirt was part of the skucon event goodie bag in January. The front imprint is the skubot character with the text: GAME CHANGER.

Some of you reading this may be wondering what I’m talking about. What is commonsku, skucon and the skubot character? I found it interesting that while I have seen the skubot character for a few years I really didn’t think about what skubot represented. Tied to the text GAME CHANGER, I believe skubot represents a character that may be part of a game…representing commonsku. And commonsku is changing the game.

commonsku ​is a cloud based business management software solution designed specifically for our industry. It was created by Mark and Catherine Graham, the well known entrepreneurs behind the distributor company RIGHTSLEEVE. It’s driven by a unique social collaboration component that distinguishes it from other similar software.

commonsku's mascot, skubot, was created to showcase the fun and personable side of the software. According to creator, Mark Graham, “The magic of commonsku is how we have taken powerfully designed software and created a personality and community around the product. Business software doesn't have to be boring and dry.

commonsku is a key tool to assist forward thinking distributor entrepreneurs run their companies. Mark Graham notes, "We want them to have an emotional connection to the software that helps them do this." Putting a personality on a business building software tool that also revolves around community connections is what makes commonsku game changing.

All industry members have access to the free commonsku social platform, which is like a “facebook” for the industry. Businesses that are on commonsku platform have access to full CRM and Order Management tools that allow them to run their whole business inside the application.

commonsku also hosts a conference dubbed skucon. The event brings suppliers and distributors together in a way that reflects the personality of commonsku. Mark and I talk about what makes skucon special in this video interview. It’s an inspirational connection point for the communsku community.  If you can attend a skucon event held in Las Vegas before the PPAI Expo and in Chicago before the ASI Show, you'll see how commonsku is changing the game. 

Most of us realize that the game is changing. Are you ready to play? It will be those who can accept that, and adapt to the new playbook that will succeed in the way the business game is being played. 

© 2016 Jeff Solomon, MAS​​​​


Another good one

Jeff, your continue to provide insightful commentary. This is another great piece touching on what people are finally starting to talk about. The game is changing!!

good stuff

This is good stuff. The game is changing and most in the industry don't see it happening. As an industry, we need to start thinking outside the box.

Enjoy the links to articles and post

Thank you Jeff, I always find something to take away from your posts. I am one of those old guys as well, something that happens to all of us. Love to see the innovative ideas, and creative ways the work place is evolving, amazing and inspirational to watch as innovation takes root. One must learn to embrace change, mold it and marry it with experience and deliver value to your network of peers and clients.

Comment of Game changers

Jeff, I have been observing a game changer but from a different perspective. Online sellers Selling branded rubbish at premium prices.

Let me explain: My youngest son is really into online gaming and for Christmas wanted a shirt from one of his game playing You tubers. I hunted all over the webs found one and ordered up a kids XLarge Oh and I paid 25 bucks for it. What landed in my mail box was a 2 oz t-shirt that shrunk to half its original size.

This is not an isolated case as my other son has ordered off the web only to get the same crap quality shirt. I would not be surprised to find out they were produce oversees and shipped directly (Amazon and other portals allow for this). This is a huge trend among Online Sellers producing junk shirts and selling at premium prices with no recourse to customer. On a personal note I will never buy a T-shirt online.

The point is this: Buyers have no way to know what they are being sold and the sellers have to no morals about them and could care less they are ripping you off. Buyer beware is truer today then every before.

Take this one step further: Distributors are losing clients because those clients find it easier to order online (place the name of online printing company here). Note the products they sell are not of the same caliber as those I would sell my clients. yet its easy to buy 100 magnets or 250 business cards or a handful of shirts using online sellers. A quick look at quality will show you a difference in many of these online sellers to what the average off line seller offers.

My thoughts are this, I think in our wired online shopping world convenience will outweigh quality which means we will see a continued mass migration from reliance on brick and mortar distributors to online sellers/distributors. Lets face it quality has been taking a back seat since Wall Mart and other Big Box stores took over. Amazon is no different not any other online seller especially in the printed goods arena as I began my rant with.

Once a populace is trained to accept poor quality they will no longer understand the need for higher quality products. Lets hope I am wrong but it is my concern this is a trend that is not going away and in my opinion is a Real Game Changer!

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