When I conceived of the idea to visit supplier’s businesses in the Minneapolis area, it was also a good reason for my son and I go to a Vikings game. As it turned out, he was too busy with college and couldn’t go on this trip, but I proceeded because this really was a trip to see suppliers on their home turf.
The Vikings have a deep history, and at its core is the Viking Spirit that can’t be explained in words. You would have to experience it for yourself to understand the SKOL Vikings mantra. And just like the Vikings, all our businesses have a culture and personality that is unique. That’s what I learned after a week of with eye opening meetings visiting suppliers in the Minneapolis area. We all should embrace what makes OUR business special. We could even have a business chant, SKOL (GO) Us!
The Mid America Tour supporting PPAI’s GET IN TOUCH! campaign started with giving away branded products at Los Angeles International Airport prior to taking off on a red eye flight. As we all know people LOVE getting branded products.
I arrived early Sunday morning and attended Substance Church, a lively congregation in a downtown Minneapolis historic building. There, I met some great people there and exchanged GET IN TOUCH! branded products with Substance Church branded products. People loved our GET IN TOUCH! products, and I loved my Substance mug and other stuff. While I have plenty of mugs, I like this one because it commemorates this experience, which is one of the great things about branded promotional products.
Each supplier visit made its impact on me in different ways…and each company
had something special to show. I’ve visited many suppliers, but the purpose here was to go deeper than the product. I went in to learn more about company culture and values and show what makes these suppliers tick. As you read through, click the links for our video coverage and learn more about these suppliers.
Monday started in Hastings, MN. Amazingly, I had not heard much about Storm Creek a high quality, very nice activewear line. They have a beautiful collection of performance apparel. It was a blessing that they hooked me up with cold weather gear and a rain jacket. The first part of the week was cold, and raining. I wasn’t as prepared for the jolt of cold as I should have been. Learn a bit more about what drives Storm Creek in this video.
Next, I had an informative lunch meeting with Shelly Sake, VP of Marketing from Evans Manufacturing. We talked about changes in the industry, mergers, and how tariffs will impact catalogs. Is it almost time for catalogs to go away? I think not quite yet, but I believe many suppliers will go to a price list. That will be a change, but it seems that is the only way to deal with fluctuating pricing.
Tuesday, I spent time with Crystal D and ID Line. Crystal D does amazing subsurface laser printing and are a premier awards and recognition supplier. It was exciting to see the passion their family and team have for doing good in their community. President Chuck Dahlgren shares his passion in this short video. Their Team is also passionate about what they do in their community as Becca and Cathy show us here.
Eric Johnson, and his family business, ID Line have tremendous production capabilities to meet your needs. As a family business, they care about their family environment that impacts the distributor experience, as Eric explains in this short video where he kicks off his shoes at the end of the day.
Wednesday, I was off to visit with Daniel Webb, at Webb Company, a longtime supporter of FreePromoTips. Here we have another family business that cares about family. I was surprised to step up to a machine that was printing color coasters of me and my son at the Vikings game when we were last in MN. See what's happening on the Webb production floor in this video. Then they made me work and trusted me to not break their machine as you can see in this video. I was instructed on how to start the machine, and much to my surprise, I was laser printing the very hot new product in our industry, metal straws. While I don’t “get” this product, others do, and it seems to be all the rage. Again, I was surprised to be printing this item with our family’s names.
Approaching Ball Pro, I was greeted by wild turkeys. They are in a nice area, that's different from the commercial areas we have in California. Tim and Adam Hanson have a full line of golf products and are committed to helping you be profitable selling in this market. They do Lunch and Learn session and have a nice Tournament Kit program as you will see in this video. Here’s how golf tees are printed.
Thursday, I headed to St. Cloud and visited another longtime FreePromoTips supporter, Fields Manufacturing. I was looking forward to seeing their custom made lanyard knitting machine. The Fields family of companies make some very cool stuff, perhaps none cooler than the business card in a bottle. Check this out! Some of you may know Matt Wagner, VP of Sales for Fields, but you may not know he is a talented musician. In this video Matt shares a bit about Fields AND plays us a song.
I ended the week visiting the two Showdown Displays massive facilities. We started at their huge production facility where I learned how their products are produced and assembled. It is interesting that their average order size is one. I was wondering what the steam coming out of vents was for and learned that Showdown has a very controlled environment. The humidity and temperature are consistent all year long, despite the weather conditions in Minnesota. Since they use a variety of inks this means a quality, consistent product your clients will appreciate. Learn a bit more about Showdown here.
Showdown’s large office and showroom facility was equally impressive. Here Chief Marketing Officer, Kevin Walsh walked me through the showroom. Patricia Hellings explained how Showdown supports children in Guatemala through Common Hope in this video. A point of note is that Patricia mentioned that the color in the building brightened the work space. The Showdown offices were filled with color. I’m guessing that would be nice when the brutal Minnesota winter freeze comes.
There is much more I could share, but this isn’t a novel. The goal of our Mid America Tour supporting PPAI’s GET IN TOUCH! campaign was to show you want you won’t see at industry events and give away some much-appreciated branded products. Trade shows are great for seeing products, but you don't get to see some of what is happening behind the scenes. I do however, want to touch on a few additional points about the trip.
These products got me an upgraded rental car for the week and a room on the Executive Floor of the Hilton Hotel. People LOVE promotional products!
For all the automation in our industry, this is still very much a people driven business. Some items are made entirely by hand. Some products may be produced by machines, then assembled by hand. And of course, orders are shipped by hand. When distributors place an order, they may not have any idea how many hands are involved in getting their order produced.
Team members took ownership of what they do even if they just “worked there.” A comment offered up by Zito, Master Etcher at Crystal D summed it up - “If the Vikings all worked together like we do at Crystal D, they would have winning team.” (As a Vikings fan, my hope is they WILL become more like Crystal D.)
The people who produce these products care. The companies I visited all had great teams. While some of the tasks maybe repetitive, those doing these jobs are the ones who make our industry go. I have a new appreciation what our suppliers do. EVERYONE involved plays an important role in getting it right.
Many may not be aware of the Promotional Products Association International’s GET IN TOUCH! campaign. Our goal on this trip was to support this campaign and give away branded products along the journey. The GET IN TOUCH! campaign is an industry-wide initiative encouraging advertising buyers to recognize the power of promotional products and allocate a larger share of their marketing dollars to the promotional products industry. The campaign’s tagline, ADVERTISING THAT LIVES ON, asks the viewer to consider that the use of promotional products in marketing communications, has the opportunity to last far longer than any other medium.
Click here for a video compilation of thoughts on GET IN TOUCH! from the suppliers we visited in on our Mid America Tour. Thanks, PPAI, for all you do to support our industry!
Friendships that we make through the years, are one of the blessings of the industry. Beyond my business encounters on this trip, I was able to visit with some industry colleagues; David Hawes from Geiger, former PPAI Board Member, Joe Scott, from Scott and Associates, and industry veteran Sandy Nichols. I visited Sandy in her art gallery, Jaguar Blu, in the quaint river front town of Stillwater. I had to take a picture of this piece that is at the heart of their business. In our lives we have choices: Dream it. Believe it. Become it.
At the end of a busy, productive, thought provoking week, my time in Stillwater was nice. At Sandy's recommendation, I went to a lovely restaurant on the water and had Walleye, which apparently is a popular fish in this area. It was good! The weekend included a run in a beautiful preserve, visiting Prince's Paisley Park, where you can't take pictures, and hitting the Vikings game at US Bank Stadium.
This was great week that gave me a fresh appreciation of our suppliers and the power of promotional products through our GET IN TOUCH! focus. I look forward to our next Tour. If you are interested in being a part of of it, let us know.