Greg Gregorian, the founder of Lunar Branding, might not still have a career in the promotional products industry had he not decided to take a seat at a table at The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas back in 2018.
“I’m a new guy, I don’t know anything,” Greg Gregorian recalls the moment four years later. “I’m in a suit and tie, ready to go. I sit at the only table that doesn’t say reserved, and I have no idea what’s going on.”
It was his first time at the industry’s largest event, but it wasn’t the first time he was in Las Vegas with more gumption than experience. Just over a year earlier, he was armed with an idea and a window of opportunity in the Las Vegas airport. That window was seized, and it’s how he found himself back in the city the next year, amid an industry he knew next to nothing about.
Put together, those two moments paint the picture of how Gregorian built Lunar Branding, (PPAI 712052, D1) a promotional products distributor that takes a collaborative and consulting approach to customer service. We’ll get to them both, but we’ll start with the most recent one
It was the Chair’s Leadership Dinner, and technically, as an attendee of The PPAI Expo, he was welcome to a seat. But his company was only a few months old at the time, and as he introduced himself, he began to realize that this particular dinner seemed a little bit more like a networking opportunity for more experienced individuals in the promotional products industry.
“It was all people from big companies,” Gregorian says, noting that his fellow dinner guests were friendly but unsure of why he wouldn’t be doing something a little more fun with his time. “They asked why I was here. I told them, ‘I’m a [U.S. Army] Vet, this is my story.’ They were like, ‘Cool story, but why are you here?’ I just wanted to learn as much as possible.”
One of those people was Dale Denham, now the President and CEO of PPAI. He’d heard Gregorian tell his future peers about his company, which, back then, was named AZ Access Distribution, LLC, and he couldn’t bite his tongue. See, Gregorian’s company existed because he had one great idea for a promotional product—a type of retractable key badge that can connect to an article of clothing such as pair of pants and display a logo when pulled open – with a specific brand in mind, and he became a distributor of that product.
Greg Gregorian was overwhelmed at his first PPAI Expo, but he soaked up everything like a sponge and hasn't missed one since.
“I had a customer before I had a business, so I had to think of a name ASAP,” Gregorian says.
But to Denham, a company name was nothing to be rushed out with little to no thought. How could Gregorian expect customers to trust him with their brands, Denham reasoned, if he didn’t seem to prioritize his own branding?
In a room that could have lent itself to a lot of posturing between industry leaders, Gregorian showed up practically begging to learn, and Denham laid something out very clearly for him: Go home and change your name. Back in downtown Chicago soon after, Gregorian was sitting on a balcony at night staring between two skyscrapers perfectly framing a full moon. That’s when the idea came to him: Lunar Branding. From that point on, he marketed his company with intention. He came up with logos and merchandise that fit with an aesthetic.
The story is a microcosm of how alignment with the Association has helped Gregorian succeed in an industry he had never planned on being a part of.
“It’s a mystery to get in it, you know?” Gregorian says, conveying that he truly did not understand how one gets a footing in the promotional products world. He didn’t know where to begin. Even becoming a member of PPAI was difficult because he had trouble expressing that he was legitimately in the industry. He had to get his initial client, the one who purchased the retractable key badges, to send over a traditional purchase order as proof.
He was initially “fumbling through and figuring out” the industry, in his own words. His first PPAI Expo bolstered his desire to be in promotional products. “I was like, This is incredible. I signed up for everything. I went for the whole week.”
Gregorian didn’t necessarily need inspiration or a lesson in entrepreneurship. He didn’t need much creative counsel. He needed some contacts—he met an importer that day who he has worked with ever since. He needed a general scope of how the industry operates and practical advice for sustainable business in the sector.
“I brought all that stuff I learned at the PPAI educational [sessions], and that’s how I created my new company,” Gregorian says.
That company has grown steadily since 2018. He has attended The PPAI Expo every every year since, including the virtual PPAI Expo Direct-2-You in 2021, each time adding more industry know-how. He prefers to work collaboratively with clients to hopefully determine products he might never have pitched on his own. Lunar Branding won’t turn down an opportunity to sell pens, t-shirts, or tumblers, but it has also put logos on yoga mats and etched company names on the corner of the reflective part of makeup mirrors.
In an ideal world, a client approaches him with some details. Here’s our brand. Here’s what we stand for. Here’s our targeted audience. Here’s the event we have coming up. What can we make that’s unique?
That’s the fun part of the experience for Gregorian. He wants clients to think they’re Lunar Branding’s only client.
It all circles back to that earlier moment in Las Vegas in 2016, the one we haven’t discussed.
His first product, the retractable key badge, came about when he was in Mexico with a travel club. The club encouraged posing for pictures for social media with signs with the club’s name. The problem was that many of their activities—swimming, horseback riding, parasailing—required at least one free hand. So Gregorian devised a retractable device that clipped to clothing and could be pulled open with just one hand.
He told people who worked within the organization, which had thousands of members, about his idea and made a two-minute video explaining how it worked. They all laughed at him.
Then he saw the organization’s president in the Las Vegas airport waiting at the baggage claim. He put his phone in front of the man and convinced him to watch the 10 most important seconds of the video. Initially uninterested in talking to Gregorian, the president was impressed. He would later introduce him to the CEO, who put him in touch with the head of marketing.
The organization technically could have stolen the idea from him, but that would have taken them out of the running for any of his future ideas. They wanted to buy it from him. So the head of marketing gave Gregorian the instructions that would eventually lead him back to Las Vegas for The PPAI Expo.
“Go start a promotional products company.”
It was the right advice for someone like Gregorian. He had everything the industry requires. He just needed a little guidance along the way. Everybody does.
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Jonny Auping is a news editor at PPAI.