Profile: Ripe For Change
When Chris Anderson considers his future in promo, it involves growth, expansion—and being the first promotional products professional in outer space. “Elon, Jeff, Richard, give me a call. I’m ready to sign up,” says the new CEO of HUB Promotional Group (HPG) based in Braintree, Massachusetts. “I live by the ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra, and I try to pack as many experiences and opportunities into my life as possible,” he says.
But until his day of space travel arrives, Anderson is steadfastly preparing for innovation on the ground. After serving as the executive chairman of Salt Lake City, Utah-based supplier HandStands, where he worked for more than 16 years and also previously served as president and CEO, Anderson joined HPG as chief operating officer following HPG’s acquisition of HandStands in December 2018. The company became the eighth brand operating under the HPG umbrella that also includes HUB Pen, Beacon, BEST Promotions USA, Cooler Graphics, Debco, BCG Creations and Origaudio.
Just six months after settling in as COO, Anderson was appointed CEO of HPG in June 2019, following the resignation of longtime CEO Joe Fleming, who had led the company for more than 30 years. Fleming remains a shareholder and a member of the HPG board of directors.
Anderson was up for the challenge, and with a background rich in leadership, he’s prepared to take HPG in the right direction. “My background has been one ‘intrapreneurial’ chapter after another, where I have joined already existing (and successful) teams and businesses, and sought to find ways to catalyze the growth and fortify the enterprise,” he says. “In each stop, I worked to create the reputation of being a win-win-oriented problem-solver and innovator, and one who takes his job very seriously, but not himself.”
All of his life Anderson has enjoyed challenging himself and taking calculated risks. He learned to fly an airplane before he could drive a car (he soloed in the cockpit on his 16th birthday while working an after-school job to pay for flying lessons).
One of Anderson’s major areas of focus as CEO is to develop HPG’s brands, while being careful to preserve and embrace what makes each company unique and their products distinctive. HPG, he explains, is a union of brands with their own “unique dialects and cultural elements,” with a whole that’s even better than the sum of its parts. Anderson feels it is his responsibility to protect these elements and to ensure each brand continues to perfect what it does best. “HUB Promotional Group consists of several great brands that were very successful as independent companies,” he says. “My job is to avoid the temptation to fix what isn’t broken within each of these businesses. Instead, our team is 100-percent committed to embracing what made Debco, Debco or Origaudio, Origaudio, while also leveraging the operational and logistics advantages (among others) of our coast-to-coast North American footprint to better serve our distributor partners.”
HPG is investing in technology to seamlessly integrate its eight North American operations and to integrate with their distributors. The plan HPG jokingly refers to is its “Hubazon” initiative. “Simply put, our goal is to leverage people, facilities and technology to provide our customers with the most compelling combination of speed, quality and value in the promotional industry,” he says. By late September four HPG locations were already on the system and another was set to go live this month.
To bring HPG closer to its goals, a series of improvements are under way. First, the company plans to increase Origaudio’s presence by adding two new shipping locations. The Fountain Valley, California-based supplier, which specializes in tech accessories and lifestyle products, ships from its factory but it has product inventory arriving daily at HPG’s Braintree headquarters and at Debco’s facility in Concord, Ontario. In the coming months, Origaudio products will ship from all three locations, providing customers with greater availability and shorter lead times.
To refresh the look and feel of HUB Pen Co., which was founded in 1954 and recently celebrated 65 years in business, the HPG creative team updated the website and the logo, which now appears in a cursive font and is animated where applicable. Further, HPG recently opened a new innovation center in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the company plans to remain aggressive on the acquisitions front.
“We will continue to be thoughtfully aggressive,” he says. “This is not to say that we will acquire for the sheer sake of growth—that type of expansion rarely results in a successful outcome. That said, we have a well-defined architecture for the future of HPG (including the market segments, geographies and services and functions that we intend to actively pursue), and we will remain open to future acquisitions that better position HPG to delight our customers in these areas.”
Asked about some of the challenges he and other suppliers are facing, he points out tariffs, product and social responsibility and technological threats. On tariffs, he says, “HPG is constantly evaluating its supply chain to ensure our products are manufactured on a globally-efficient basis. Given the recent tariff-related issues, this task has become infinitely more complicated. That said, the combined scale and resources of HPG has us well-equipped to navigate these waters and ensure that we are delivering the products our customers want, at the prices they need to be successful in their businesses.”
Being a leader in today’s marketplace is about more than price. “At HPG we are committed to doing things right in terms of growing our footprint and business, while doing the right thing in terms of being a responsible corporate citizen,” he says. “Once again, we have leveraged the scale of HPG to establish an enterprise-wide process, and team, to ensure that our products and practices are at the forefront of promo industry responsibility.”
As far as industry disrupters, Anderson says, “Technology is disrupting previously-thought impenetrable markets at an accelerating pace. While it has remained resilient, the promo industry is not immune from the effects (positive and negative) of technology. With this in mind, and as previously noted, HPG is aggressively investing in technology with an eye toward ensuring we remain not only relevant, but the supplier partner of choice, in the promo industry of the future.”
Today, Anderson lives in Salt Lake City with his wife, Jamie, and their four children, where they enjoy the mountains, winter and water sports, and are committed to actively finding ways to serve others. “We have made it a point to pass this core belief on to our children,” he adds.
As far as serving distributors, at the PPAI Expo 2020 in January in Las Vegas, HPG plans to launch a compelling lineup of products across all eight brands. “I have been sworn to secrecy, but I can tell you that from writing instruments to technology, lifestyle products and drinkware, the innovations we are bringing the industry are going to drive growth for HPG distributors in 2020.”
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.