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Above: Dave Saracino, far right, with his wife Lynda (far left), son-in-law Adam, grandson River and daughter Christie seeing the Bubble Guppies Live, River's favorite show.
It goes without saying that one of the most extraordinary aspects of the promotional products industry is the creativity, cleverness and collaboration of the people who work in it. That’s also the main reason why Dave Saracino, an industry veteran who retired last May after 36 years with BIC Graphic NA (which later became Koozie Group), decided to pause his retirement after less than a year and join supplier Charles River Apparel as its vice president of sales.
“I was motivated to come out of retirement and rejoin the industry because I am too young at heart to retire, and I’ve grown to love this industry and the people in it,” Saracino says.
After 36 years with the Largo, Florida, supplier, most recently as its vice president of business development, Saracino had attended hundreds of industry events and shows, helped serve thousands of clients, seen nearly every kind of promotional product imaginable, and engaged in countless conversations with colleagues, industry peers and clients. He became a familiar, friendly face to many, as a trusted business partner and animated ambassador for the BIC Graphic brand. His steadfast dedication to the supplier, coupled with his in-depth knowledge of promotional products and his readiness and enthusiasm to help clients made him an industry icon. In 2016, he was recognized with the ASI Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the industry’s top honors.
When he left, it’s safe to say that he missed the industry—but the industry missed Saracino, too. “For me, it is hard to imagine other industries engaging in the kinds of amazing and fun business relationships that develop into true, lifelong friendships that I have enjoyed during my career in the promotional products industry,” he says. “As I always say, ‘Who has more fun than promo people?’”
Returning to promo for the second time around, he’s now leading the sales department of family-owned supplier Charles River Apparel, based in Sharon, Massachusetts, which includes its direct sales representatives, multi-line representatives and inside sales team. “I specifically decided to join Charles River Apparel because of the incredible history, product quality and sales growth opportunity of this family-based company,” he says. “My goal at Charles River Apparel is to apply my sales leadership skills to enhance the company’s brand awareness and sales volume.”
In his previous role as BIC’s VP of business development, which was a new position he was promoted to in 2019, Saracino leveraged the many relationships he forged over his career to help implement the supplier’s success strategy. Having begun his career at age 25, starting with BIC Canada on his birthday, Saracino’s connections not only consisted of business partnerships spanning years, but also close friends.
“My love for this business goes way beyond promotional products,” Saracino said, when he announced his retirement last year. “This industry is unique because you don’t just maintain relationships with your colleagues, but you form real friendships with both clients and competitors. That’s what makes it truly special.”
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in business from Western University in London, Ontario, in 1982, Saracino, a Toronto native, worked briefly for Mr. Greenjeans, a landmark burger restaurant in Toronto, until finding BIC Canada. Ready for a new opportunity, he was skimming through the classified ads in the Toronto Sun one day when he came upon a junior retail sales representative position. He applied for the role, was accepted and started a new journey with BIC Graphic that, little did he know, would segue into him earning his American citizenship in the early 2000s, along with his wife and daughter, and relocating to Florida’s Greater Tampa Bay area—and one that ultimately became his lifelong career.
Saracino worked his way up the corporate ladder and was soon transferred to Vancouver, Canada, where he spent two years as BIC Canada’s account manager, servicing the retail and promotional products industry in British Columbia—and also spending weekends hitting the beach or the ski slopes at Whistler Mountain, he says. In the late 1980s, he was promoted to BIC Canada’s sales and marketing manager and was transferred back to Toronto, where he worked alongside Ray Winter, former president and chief operating officer of BIC Corp., and Jack Teague, former general manager of BIC Graphic USA, who’d become his mentors.
Dave Saracino and Lori Bauer, SVP of affiliate sales and support for iPROMOTEu, previously with Koozie Group, with Reginald Samples, head coach of Duncanville High School in Duncanville, Texas, and speaker at PPAI's 2019 North American Leadership Conference (NALC). Right: Saracino says his nine-year-old grandson, River, pictured, is his "adoration in life."
“Ray Winter’s management style is like no other, and especially his approach to building business relationships has been the basis for my success in business connections and forming lasting relationships in the promotional products industry,” Saracino says. “Jack Teague’s integrity and exceptional level of business policy and acumen has shaped strength and perception in sales throughout my career in this industry.” He adds, “Both Ray and Jack were amazing mentors and working for them was not just an enjoyable learning experience, but also an honor to garner such perspective from their expertise.”
In 1990, Saracino was promoted to national sales manager for BIC Canada, and in 1994, Winter and Teague propositioned him to join BIC Graphic as its regional manager, to work out of its Largo, Florida, office. “My wife and daughter and I jumped at the opportunity to move to sunny Florida!” he says. In the early 2000s he was named vice president of sales, a position he retained until his 2019 promotion.
An avid golfer, Saracino has spent many days on the putting green with fellow industry peers, before, after and during industry events, including having participated in the Glen Holt & Fran Ford Memorial Golf Tournament, held annually during The PPAI Expo, to benefit the Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF). But outside of the sport, Saracino uses his love for golf to help those in need, and currently sits on the board of directors for JDME Foundation as its chief strategy officer. A role he’s held since August 2020, the John Daly and Major Ed Heart of a Lion Foundation is a national charity that provides mental, physical and wellness services to children, veterans and first-responders, and hosts golf fundraisers to assist providing services to veterans, such as mental health support and shelter, while also raising funds for local Boys and Girls Club chapters nationwide. “Our next big fundraiser is a golfing event that I will be attending on Father’s Day weekend in Dardanelle, Arkansas, at John Daly’s golf course,” he says, with proceeds to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of the Arkansas River Valley.
But when he’s not involved in promo or golfing, Saracino is a dedicated family man, with his nine-year-old grandson River at the center of his world. River, whom he calls his “adoration in life,” was diagnosed with severe autism at age two, Saracino says, and is non-speaking, though he communicates with loved ones through a device or via non-verbal cues. He says that River has taught him more than anyone he’s ever known.
“River has helped me to achieve a better and more compassionate understanding of the special needs community, and he has shown me a capacity to love that I’d never thought possible,” Saracino says. “He is my hero, my wife’s hero, his parents’ hero, and he is our family’s greatest joy.”
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.