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This week, Promotional Products Professionals of Canada (PPPC) hosted its annual National Convention at the International Centre in Toronto. It marked the first year that the organization, which has more than 1,300 members across Canada, held the show in partnership with the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) and SAGE.

More than 160 suppliers exhibited their wares at the show, including heavy-hitters such as Ariel Premium Supply (asi/36730), Cutter & Buck (asi/47965) and alphabroder (asi/34063).

“Bundling products is really trendy right now,” said Amy Kitzman, regional sales manager for Ariel. “Instead of choosing one product, clients choose several that complement each other. And we’re seeing a lot of tone-on-tone and full-color digital printing, particularly on drinkware, and we’re coming out with really fun, unexpected colors for all of our hard goods.”

Cutter & Buck’s retail-inspired booth featured outerwear, athletic quarter-zips, vests and polos. “Our Rainier line of insulated pieces and the Response line of technical items are just killing it right now,” said Shane Allen, corporate sales representative for British Columbia. “We do really well by having a retail line in the corporate world.”

Meanwhile, alphabroder had such a robust launch of fall apparel styles (over 130) that they enlarged their booth and gave it a retail feel. They recently relaunched the North End line, added new exclusive styles from Puma and Columbia, launched almost 30 new items from Spyder and have new fashion basics from Threadfast Apparel (asi/91163), Top 40 supplier Next Level Apparel (asi/73867), Bella+Canvas (asi/39590) and Champion (asi/59528).

alphabroder re-launched its North End line earlier this year, including a plethora of outerwear options in different styles and weights.

“We wanted to build out a collection for the fall because we’re competing in with other brands in this space,” said Spencer Linwood, director of sales for Western Canada. “The quality of the opportunities and discussions has been great today. But I’d bet that most attendees are from Ontario and Quebec. I’d love for Nat Con to represent our entire country.”

Walking the floor among more than 1,300 distributors that attended was Lorne Brown, president/owner of Thornhill, ON-based JEFCOR Promotions and his assistant Carmen Alexander-Nash. “I’ve been in the industry a long time,” said Brown. “I like that this show was moved to September from earlier in the year because now it’s before the holiday season. We’re just checking out the scenery and saying hi to all the people we know.”

Gemline now offers select items from kitchenware and lifestyle line W&P, including a craft cocktail set in this gift bundle.

Amanda Dudek, owner of A Dudek Promotions (asi/101207) in Maple, ON, agreed that moving the show to the fall is beneficial for distributors looking to present new products in the busy fourth quarter. “I’m really impressed with the drinkware here,” she said. “ADNART (asi/31518) steps it up every year. Gemline (asi/56070) has it all under control with a clean, streamlined look to their products. But I’d like to see more innovations in apparel. Everything is a little behind, based on what my clients have been asking for recently. They’re looking for casual, yoga-inspired athleisure. And U.S. suppliers should provide Canadian pricing and be able to handle cross-border transactions.”

The Kapston line of bags from BIC Graphic includes five different collections: San Marco, Pierce, Natisino, Stratford and Jaxon.

Whiteridge (asi/97061) offers products from KUMA Outdoor Gear, including super-soft camping chairs, retro lawn chairs and log- and wood chip-shaped pillows.

PPPC hosted The Power of Partnerships Networking Party on the evening of the 10th, and its annual Image Awards on the 11th. Among the top winners were Graeme Dawes of Elite Promotional Marketing, a past Bess Cohn Humanitarian of the Year, who received the Humanitarian Award for his work volunteering with young athletes; Debco’s (asi/48885) Laurie Gibbs and Patricia Ortiz, who tied for Gold for CSR of the Year; Pro-Dev, named Multi-Line Agency of the Year (East); ASD Promotion Advertising and Cotton Candy, also both Gold winners in the Large Enterprise Distributor of the Year category; and Debco and Genumark (asi/204588), which received the coveted Supplier of the Year and Distributor of the Year Awards, respectively. A full list of winners can be found here.

Carol de Ville of The Branding Company and David Plummer of Clearmount (asi/45440) present the Humanitarian Award to Graeme Dawes of Elite Promotional Marketing (asi/186738).

Laurie Gibbs and Patricia Ortiz, both from Debco, win the Gold award for Customer Service Rep of the Year.

Alex Morin, SVP of sales & marketing at Debco, was the awards host; Debco was also named Supplier of the Year.

Professional Development sessions were held on first of the three days, including a kick-off State of the Industry panel with Paul Bellantone, president & CEO of PPAI, and David Natinsky, president of SAGE. Both answered questions posed by Jonathan Strauss, PPPC president & CEO.

“The industry hasn’t been technologically advanced because it didn’t have to be,” said Bellantone. “Everything was secret: pricing, line names. Then the internet came along and now we’re playing catch-up. People want B2B to be as efficient as their B2C lives.”

Jonathan Strauss, PPPC president & CEO, asked industry questions of Paul Bellantone, president & CEO of PPAI, and David Natinsky, president of SAGE.

In the realm of product safety, the associations are working to make sure compliant products are the norm. That has to continue, said Natinsky. “It used to be that things were categorized as ‘general purpose’ or ‘children’s products.’ But as soon as companies realized the general purpose items could also appeal to children, all bets were off,” he said. “Customers assume products are safe, and we need to meet the expectations they place on us.”

In a session entitled “True Partnership: Giving and Gaining Value from Every Customer Relationship,” sales expert and author David Fellman discussed the ways salespeople can offer their customers value, and how they can make sure their clients are offering them value in return.

Sales expert and author David Fellman offered his insights on ways that sales reps and clients can provide value to each other.

“Value is in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “The buyer determines it, not the seller. Your value, like honesty, flexibility, predictability, has to be meaningful to them.”

At the same time, to derive more value from customers, Fellman recommended protecting what they’re currently buying, maximizing what they could be buying and leveraging those who could influence more sales (like asking for testimonials and referrals and networking).

“It’s well accepted that you have to bring value to each other,” he said. “If it’s a one-sided relationship, it’s not a partnership.”

Nikki Pett, founder of Sigma Promotions Inc., (asi/326727), held a session entitled “10 Things I Wish I Knew About Leadership,” which included her hard-earned advice as manager of a distributorship. “When I started, I avoided confrontation, didn’t set expectations and clear outcomes and had selfish motives,” she said. “But I learned that every single person wants to be engaged, valued and appreciated. We’re desperate for these three things. A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what’s expected.”

Among her 10 pieces of advice for leaders: Be actively engaged and 100% present; know how your energy and attitude affect the people around you; provide development opportunities for your team; and be humble enough to know when you’re holding people back.

“Don’t think that leaders can’t be vulnerable in any way,” she said. “Being a vulnerable leader will build deeper relations faster than any team-building activity. And strong leaders say sorry when they’ve made a mistake. Your people are your most valuable asset.”

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