Last week, PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE, and Rod Brown, chief financial officer of distributor MadeToOrder and former PPAI board member, traveled to Stockholm, Sweden to attend the Swedish Product Media Association’s (SBPR) industry education day and awards banquet and speak to its members. The pair were invited by SBPR CEO Kjell Harbom to connect with and learn more about the promotional products industry in Sweden and the businesses and professionals that operate in it.

“This was my first time working directly with the Swedish association and it was a productive, rewarding, insightful experience,” says Bellantone. “I’d met Kjell before at The PSI Show, and I appreciate his hospitality in having us at SBPR’s education day and connecting us with several industry companies in Sweden. The resulting conversations illustrate not only what we can learn from each other, but also how similar the challenges and opportunities we face are—and we built on the international connections that are vital to the Association’s ability to grow and protect the promotional products industry globally and put the ‘I’ in PPAI.”

Bellantone and Brown also gave a presentation at the SBPR education day that shared PPAI’s research data and strategic foresight for the promotional products industry, plus several real-world anecdotes reflecting those developments with the approximately 160 registered attendees.

The day ended with a banquet featuring live entertainment and the presentation of several awards, including distributor, supplier and decorator of the year.

Bellantone and Brown visited several industry firms during their time in Stockholm, among them the New Wave Group, a $700 million, publicly-traded company that owns 15 different brands, including Seattle, Washington-headquartered supplier Cutter & Buck. Torsten Jansson, founder and CEO of New Wave Group, and several of his staff members showed them around its brand showrooms and facilities, and discussed the group’s business philosophies and where they saw opportunities for the company.

Brown says, “I believe the Scandinavian countries are some 10 years ahead of the U.S. in terms of sustainability and social compliance, and perhaps five years ahead pertaining to product safety. And the professionals in the industry are proud of what they do. The general market, although far smaller than U.S., absorbs more money per capita in promotional products than ours does by quite a bit. They like their stuff, but have high standards in terms of sustainability, fair labor, quality and safety, and it has to be appropriate for the recipient.”

Harbom adds, “It means a lot to have these international contacts—not only because Paul and Rod are good speakers, but because of the message they delivered. It’s important for a small country to have a friend like the U.S., and to understand that while there are cultural differences, doing business in our countries is very similar. And it’s good to see where we’re successful, like sustainability, and where we have opportunities.”