NALC: A ‘Perfect’ Learning Environment

perry-wehrle-2016-featuredIn August, I attended the PPAI North American Leadership Conference (NALC) in San Francisco and I want to share with you some of my experiences from the perspective of a distributor as well as a board member. This was my second time attending NALC and, as expected, I was not disappointed.

I could fill the rest of this space telling you all about the compelling keynote presenters, but I would rather tell you about what I call the H-2-H factor. Human-to-human interaction is what I value more than anything and it is what draws me in at events like this one. At the first cocktail meet-and-greet, I spent time visiting with several first-time attendees who traveled from all over the country—scratch that, from around the world—to be part of NALC. In visiting with Mark Sacharowitz, joint managing director at distributor All Branded Promotions in Australia, I discovered some of the challenges his firm faces in doing business with clients located across the globe. He shared how he had just completed an order of beach balls with Hit Promotional Products in Florida, and had it shipped back to Australia for distribution. All of it was done seamlessly. Talk about leveraging relationships and how small our world really is!

Spend a few minutes, like I did, visiting with the amazing Catherine Graham, CEO of Toronto’s commonsku, and you will discover what is happening in her busy part of the world and see why I think she is one of the many talented treasures in our industry. She, along with David Nicholson, president of supplier Polyconcept North America, led the NALC Work Group and, with the help of the work group members and PPAI’s Professional Development team, worked to create a powerful and highly relevant series of educational sessions taught by experts from both inside and outside of the promotional products industry. The programming was incredibly timely and gave us plenty to talk about between sessions and afterwards, during the networking events.

During one of those opportunities, I chatted with attendee Jeff Batson, CAS, president of supplier NEXT Products, about the future of the catalog. Yes, folks, what does the future hold for the traditional printed full-line catalog? Will it fade away and be replaced by the digital options? Without question, this is a big trend and I heard several suppliers during NALC say they would print less and invest more in providing higher-quality digital assets. I’m all in favor of saving the environment by printing less and having less in the landfill at the end of the year, but personally, I feel there is still a need for both. Let’s see how this trend takes shape.

During the conference, I also met with Allison Bendis, account executive at distributor Klondike Advertising in Anchorage, Alaska. As a Millennial, her perspective on the industry was refreshing and energizing for me to hear, as well as learning where she sees her market heading (her key market is energy), and how the economy is affecting her organization. This ties in to what one of the presenters said: “Agility will allow for survival.” Specifically, there is value to the organizations that are able to see what disrupts their business and then react and implement a plan of change. Duncan Logan, one of the presenters, put it best when he said, “Encourage the disruption … get them out of the darkness.” It’s an interesting thought.

As I reconnected with Allison during one of the evening dinners, she told me she is ready to take the CAS exam and is looking forward to applying her knowledge as she builds her business experience. She definitely appears to be one of the industry’s up-and-coming young leaders we’ll hear more about.

On the final night, I ran into Todd Gabel, CEO of supplier Toddy Gear, and was impressed by his comments about NALC. It was his first time at this event, and he wanted to know how he could be more involved next year. He commented that the format was perfect, and his overall impression of the conference was off the charts. When I asked if he could give me one negative point—something we could improve next year—he paused for several seconds and said, “I don’t have any negative points.”

I can understand Todd’s perspective—and I share it. For me, NALC provides an unmatched format to network with industry leaders and meet the brightest and most influential heads of businesses, all the while being inspired by a host of keynote speakers who openly share their remarkable experience. Read PPB’s coverage of this event here.

I already have next year’s dates blocked off on my calendar (August 13-15, 2017). Hope to see you there.

This month’s guest columnist is Perry Wehrle, president of PAW Marketing, Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa, and a member of the PPAI board of directors, Class of 2020. Reach him at perry@pawmarketing.com.

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