Collaborate To Activate

When Good Partners Share Vision, They Share Victories Too

Suppliers have the products and techniques; distributors have the promotional ideas and clients. Individually, their abilities are valuable but incomplete—two halves of a whole. Together, however, they can create memorable campaigns, winning promotions and thriving brands, and put the boom in businesses.

Each year PPB initiates a competition to find those supplier/distributor partnerships that illustrate the best winning combinations of trust, communication, teamwork and complementary skills. With thanks to those who nominated individuals for this year’s honor, we give you insight into this year’s Powerful Partners.

Vicki Head Shot web

Vicki Clayman, President

Partners N Promotion (UPIC: vickic)

Olathe, Kansas

Nominator and supplier partner: Michael Dustman, vice president, sales, Meridian Metal Works

Vicki Clayman opened Partners N Promotion in 2008 after 25 years as an independent contractor working for several distributor companies. Her company is certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).

Nominator Michael Dustman has worked with Clayman for 15 years providing a large quantity of custom holiday ornaments for a client—an audience comprised predominantly of men who hold blue-collar positions. “She has to sell them on a new ornament concept every year,” says Dustman. “She’s always tapping us for new ideas and, as a result of her efforts, Vicki has created an incredible annuity for 15 years and counting.” He describes Clayman as a strong and very knowledgeable businesswoman, “but her smile brightens up a room because she knows how to enjoy life, as well,” he says. Clayman also has a solid, mutually trusting relationship with her customers, he adds. “As a supplier, I know right where I stand with Vicki on every project we do because there are no gray areas left after we receive her input on design concepts/renderings for specific projects.”

A Conversation With Vicki Clayman

PPB: What are the most important qualities in a good business partner?

Clayman: As a distributor, one of the most important pieces to the puzzle of being a great customer is paying your vendors’ invoices in a timely manner. We are always asking for special favors from our vendors to rush orders or to give us a better price on a large quantity, free spec samples or virtual artwork. Those all cost the vendor money either in man hours or their product costs. Our responsibility is to make sure we treat our vendors the way we want our customers to treat us. It is the Golden Rule of business, and the respect both the vendor and the distributor deserve.

PPB: What do you do that sets you apart from other distributors in the way you work with suppliers?

Clayman: We pay on time, have reasonable expectations, show up at every vendor meeting and we listen and take notes. When we order samples, we show them to multiple customers. Our suppliers love that we give them feedback good or bad—if they are really giving us great support or if there is something extra that could be done. Don’t misrepresent an order if you are looking for a better price, trust is key on both sides.

PPB: Is there something Michael does that makes it easy for you to provide exemplary service to him and his company?

Clayman: Michael is a true partner in the industry. Everything he does for us is custom. I can be very picky when it comes to the final product. When I have a vision in my mind of the way a design should look, Meridian goes to work to ensure the quality and creation of product have met my vision.

PPB: What advice do you have for other distributors who want to achieve a true partnership with their suppliers?

Clayman: Be kind and courteous even when there has been a mistake. If you are not getting results from the staff you are working with, go higher up in the company or get your local sales rep involved. I have never had anyone who did not want to fix or replace a product if I took the time to explain what the issues were with the order. Vendors want your repeat business just as we want our customers to keep coming back. It is just Customer Service 101. Sometimes you have to work through tough issues, but once it is over don’t hold a grudge. We are all here for one purpose and one vision. Be professional.


Chad Edmonson web

Chad Edmonson, Field Rep/Business Development

JournalBooks (UPIC: TIMEPLAN)

Charlotte, North Carolina

Nominator and distributor partner: Bob Offord, account director, Activate! Promotions + Marketing

Chad Edmonson has been a member of the JournalBooks team for more than seven years, starting out as a graphic designer on the creative sales team. He was then promoted to the lead creative sales position and then to his current position where he works with the inside team and customers to bring ideas to life.

Nominator Bob Offord is quick to point out what makes Edmonson a powerful partner: his proactive approach. “He’s one step ahead of me with creative input and extensive knowledge of his product line and options. He goes the extra mile to expand a project for value-added treatments.” Edmonson also has a generous availability of samples, Offord notes. He recently worked with Edmonson on a custom journal book for wine tasters at a high-end winery. Edmonson moved the project ahead with imaginative ideas such as custom wood covers with die-cut branding elements, flash drive ports, creative use of tip-in sheets and more. “His team came back with prompt virtuals and specific, clear quotes,” explains Offord. “Our client was overly impressed—Chad made us look like experts in a complex promotional product category. With both companies based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Offord was able to go to the factory where he handpicked spec samples and brainstormed other ideas. “We both planted seeds for long-term growth,” he adds. “I’m proud to call Chad a partner.”

A Conversation With Chad Edmonson

PPB: What are the most important qualities in a good business partner?

Edmonson: In my opinion, it is important to bring both honesty and trust to the partnership in order to work as a team to find the perfect solution in every unique opportunity. Working together is our only way to succeed.

PPB: What do you do that sets you apart from other suppliers in terms of working with distributors?

Edmonson: JournalBooks was built by hard-working, creative minds who have always believed in nurturing partnerships by working together. We believe that every member of the organization plays a crucial part in our success and growth moving forward. Each of us is trained to push the envelope on each opportunity we are presented with to uncover new possibilities. Our company also encourages creativity in every department. When a distributor is looking to create something special for their client, we remove barriers and redefine limits to help develop a truly one-of-a-kind piece. “Get creative!” is what we do and we offer assistance through the entire process. In the end, you have a unique, high-perceived product that is delivered on time and on brand.

PPB: What advice do you have for other suppliers who want to achieve a true partnership with their distributors?

Edmonson: Suppliers must always listen to the customer’s needs and follow through on promises. When given honest feedback from distributors, we must reflect on our processes to make sure we are doing all we can to satisfy their needs. Compliance and safety should always be top of mind for product and employee safety; also, we should embrace the opportunity to adapt or alter our processes to offer the best services for our customers.


mfoley web

Mary Foley, National Accounts Manager

Hit Promotional Products (UPIC: HITP0001)

Largo, Florida

Nominator and distributor partner: Mark Bennett, senior account executive, HALO Branded Solutions

Mary Foley has been Hit’s national accounts manager since July 2012 but has worked in the promotional products industry for almost 20 years.

Mark Bennett, who nominated her for the honor, says she continuously impresses him by going beyond expectations to provide samples and innovative ideas for his accounts. “She did actual pre-production samples for me at no extra charge and it helped me wrap up an order for 200 umbrellas,” he says. “She does custom flyers for me, helps me with artwork—she does everything. She induces us to give her more orders with all of these things she does. Hit has become my No. 1 supplier this year. When I get orders for items in their catalog, I don’t look at anyone else.”

A Conversation With Mary Foley

PPB: What are the most important qualities in a good business partner?

Foley: Good business partners understand each other’s goals and work together toward meeting them. Communication is key and the better the communication, the better the outcome.

PPB: What do you do that sets you apart from other suppliers in terms of working with distributors?

Foley: As a supplier representative, I do my best to listen to what my clients’ objectives are and fully understand their needs. I try to match my distributors’ pace and meet them where they are comfortable. At Hit, we take pride in providing a quality product from the start. We stand behind our products with our QCA compliance. We have the ability to source and develop new products based on trends and consumer demand. Our deep inventory makes us the go-to supplier for all distributors in the know.

PPB: Is there something Mark does that makes it easy for you to provide exemplary service?

Foley: Mark is a good communicator; he lets me know what he needs and we work together. Mark knows that I will do everything in my power to meet his goals, and his clear communication style makes it easier for me to do just that.

PPB: What advice do you have for other suppliers who want to achieve a true partnership with their distributors?

Foley: Communicate. Talk to your distributors; get to know them. Do not wait until you have a problem to fix. Tell them about your line, what you really like, what does well and any new items. Hit is constantly updating its product line and there is always something to talk about.

Gary Semrowvsemrow web

Ginny and Gary Semrow, President and Vice President

American Ad Bag (UPIC: ADBAG)

Woodstock, Illinois

Nominator and distributor partner: Jim Gordon, President, NorthStar Identity

With previous experience gleaned from starting up and selling her share of a bag manufacturing company, Ginny Semrow opened supplier American Ad Bag in 1992. Her son, Gary, a former futures trader, came on board in 1997. Working together, they have grown the company into one of the largest bag suppliers serving the promotional products industry with a full selection of U.S.-made and imported paper, plastic and non-woven bags and totes.

Nominator Jim Gordon considers the pair not only his partners but a valuable component in keeping his clients, for three reasons: quality product and imprints; fast turnarounds to meet in-hands dates; and ease of obtaining quotes on custom and large-quantity projects. Gordon recently asked the couple for a spec sample of two bags for a prospective client. “Not only were they happy to do that, but they suggested a couple of other bags that the client might like and printed four different options,” he explains. “The prospective client was so impressed that they started giving me orders for numerous items, including the bags.” Not only do they check all the boxes for Gordon on service and quality—the company’s proofing process and updated shipping information makes ordering simple. And that’s a gamechanger for Gordon.

A Conversation With Ginny and Gary Semrow

PPB: What are the most important qualities in a good business partner?

The Semrows: There are many qualities a supplier must have to create a good business partnership with distributors. First of all, you must be able to deliver a high-quality product in a timely manner. However, what really makes you stand out as a truly powerful business partner is the internal staff within your company. It begins with a creative sales team that has a solid knowledge of the product and its many applications so they can offer suggestions to the distributor to pass on to the end user. You also need a strong and friendly customer service team with excellent communication skills. Finally, you need a production team that can turn out a quality product. At American Ad Bag, we feel the best people in the industry with those qualities work for AAB and that makes us a powerful partner.

PPB: What do you do that sets you apart from other suppliers in terms of working with distributors?

The Semrows: American Ad Bag provides extensive training to both the sales and customer service team to teach them to think outside the box when working with distributors. We are bag experts, and we provide distributors with applications and uses for our products that neither they nor their customers may have thought about. It begins by having a strong communication channel. We ask questions such as, in what industry is your customer? What is the intended use of the product? What is the user’s end goal for the use of the bag in their promotion? When both our sales and customer service team approach an opportunity in this manner, our expertise can often provide original and creative solutions. The key is to take a “solutionist” approach and think outside the box. That makes American Ad Bag stand out.

PPB: What advice do you have for other suppliers who want to achieve a true partnership with their distributors?

The Semrows: The key thing suppliers have to do is to keep the lines of communication open. Every job doesn’t run smoothly and you may not always have enough inventory but the supplier must be quick in communicating with the distributor. The next key for suppliers is to train your staff. Suppliers with the best teams are prepared to answer any questions about the product on the spot, and to provide creative solutions.

Carmela Wagner web

Carmela Wagner, Branding Consultant

Jack Nadel International (UPIC: NADELINC)

Palo Alto, California

Nominator and supplier partner: Dan Edge, national sales manager, Peerless Umbrella Co.

Twelve years ago Carmela Wagner didn’t know the promotional products industry but had a client base and was looking to spread her wings and drive her sales career to the next level. Through research, she found Jack Nadel International and was impressed to learn from a supplier friend that the distributor treated its vendor partners with the highest respect, paid them on time and had a strong sales force.

“What sold me was that, in an industry where it’s easy to put relentless pressure on your vendor partners, JNI took the high road and truly treated them as just that—partners,” she says.

It was Wagner’s ability to be calm, open-minded and work with her supplier partners to get around the hurdles that caught the attention of nominator Dan Edge. “No panic … just ‘how can we find a solution?’ Carmela has this amazing passion for her projects and the ability to take a simple product and, through creativity and vision, make it a signature piece.” Edge gives a recent example. “We recently did a project for her where we wanted to modify a stock umbrella and make it a bit more unique for her client. She had us working hand-in-hand with another supplier to collaborate on getting the right materials produced for the final product. The end result was amazing, with Carmela leading the way. Carmela took a nice umbrella and made it spectacular by adding just the right finishing pieces (custom zipper pulls, hang tag and other details) to make it classy and memorable for her client.”

A Conversation With Carmela Wagner

PPB: What are the most important qualities in a good business partner?

Wagner: Can you dream with me? Can you see beyond the problem or product and see what we can do together? Yes, sometimes we do simple things like a pen with a logo but there still may be the element of problem solving. Can my vendor partners lock arms with me through rush situations and help me to the finish line? Can they help with a design technique to elevate a brand? Can my partners collaborate with me to create a custom product beyond what lies in their catalog?

At the end of the day, we sell products, but what so many don’t see are the problems leading up to the execution and delivery. I align partners who can help us soar through all areas of doing business. I love that feeling of team that extends outside of my JNI walls. I embrace partners who can dream with me.

PPB: What do you do that sets you apart from other distributors in terms of working with suppliers?

Wagner: I like to believe that I have a passion not just for the product but also for the team involved. That team starts with the client—I want them to love being part of the creation of their product, love the experience of working with JNI and my team. It sounds cliché but we love what we do; I want others to feel that too … and they do.

The project Dan shared with you is a yearlong delivery of a meticulously custom piece—it’s gorgeous, but if Dan didn’t dream with me, we never would have gotten the order. The details of the custom product were one thing, the collaboration across numerous suppliers another, then there were the logistics of delivering it. It’s a complex puzzle, but we approached it as a team with great ideas from many voices and solutions that got us a million-dollar order.

This business is not a one-man show, it involves a lot of people, and I thrive from that sense of team and what we can do when we approach business that way.

PPB: What advice do you have for other distributors who want to achieve a true partnership with their suppliers?

Wagner: The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately. I have so many projects where I have lofty, creative ideas and dreams but I need the right partners to pull it off. They exist; it’s our job to hustle, find them, partner with them and bring to life a client experience that leaves an imprint on us all.

Six Qualities Of Exceptional Business Partners

When considering investing time and money with vendors or clients, do yourself a favor and look closely for these six qualities:

1. Trustworthiness: Does the person do what they say they will do? Do you have confidence that the person is authentic and cares about your interests in the final outcome?

2. Good communicator: Nothing spells frustration faster than someone who does not return calls and emails, or does but provides the barest of details on a project or leaves out critical information. Can the person explain what he’s thinking in a clear and concise manner?

3. Shared vision or goal: Can you agree on what the outcome of a project will look like? The ability to work in tandem toward the same goal is critical to good partnerships.

4. Highly motivated: Does the person share your passion for giving a project 100 percent? Will the person go the extra mile and do whatever it takes to make it successful? Look for drivers who can move the project forward.

5. Problem solver: If the first method or option doesn’t work, will the person take the initiative to look for alternative solutions to solve problems and overcome challenges? If not, you may end up at a dead end.

6. Team player: Will the person listen to what other people say or bring to the project? Will the person work cooperatively with other members of the team toward a common goal?


filed under december-2015 | ppb
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