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Company Culture

“You’ve never had a boss like me and you’ll never have a boss like me.”

No truer words were spoken by CMC’s former CEO Zachary Tyler than these, as declared to longtime Account Manager Lisa Gruzas. To honor the legacy of our larger-than-life leader lost much too soon in May 2018, members of the CMC team celebrate 4 lessons learned from a brilliant, tenacious spirit who lives on in our culture and our hearts.

Lesson #1: Be you, believe in you

Brian Camp (Managing Director, San Francisco):

“Zach let me be me, and believed our people are our culture. All of our actions define the company and how our customers perceive us, so everyone has a vital role in our brand.”

Vicky Paar (VP, Finance):

“Zach told me he was raised by gangsters, knew how to think low while being highly intellectual and broad. He trusted his instincts and intuition and it helped CMC avoid hazards. He taught me this too.”

Jacques Marais (Managing Director, San Jose):

“More than anything else, Zach believed in empowering his team and encouraging them to do more and be more. Often when I reached out to inquire about a situation he would respond with, ‘You know this. You don’t need my help.’ And most of the time, he was right.”

Lisa Gruzas (Account Manager):

“Because of Zach, I carry forward my ability to sell because I never thought of myself as a sales person (and still don’t). Zach took my personality and engrained it in his love and expertise of the sales game.”

 

Lesson #2: Deliver relentlessly for clients

Laura Silva (Account Manager):

“With Zach, nothing was ‘mission impossible’! He lived with the thought that everything was possible if you put your mind to it. He hated the question, ‘Can this be done?’ and taught us to instead ask, ‘What can be done to make it happen?’ With Zach it was always working together and finding a way, one step at a time, to do ‘mission impossible’ for our clients.”

Ashley Freeman (Account Manager):

“Zach taught me to always push myself out of my comfort zones; to get over my own hangups and just get it done. What I learned most from Zach was to always be honest and direct while still being tactful.”

 

Lesson #3: Love life, explore the world

Gruzas: “Zach showed me the world. Really. I think I traveled with that man the most out of anyone I know, and despite his crazy travel, he was a lot of fun to do it with. Zach taught our team to be proud of what we do, be excited about making money, be even more excited about getting to spend that money and really enjoy life.”

 

Lesson #4: Be a force for good

Jocy Dizon (Finance Manager): “Zach made my cause his cause. Helping orphans and adults with muscular dystrophy in the Philippines was near and dear to my heart, so he adopted the Bahay San Jose charity with as much passion as I have. He taught me that being a good business is also about doing good for others.”

Marais: “Zach has always been a champion for the underdog because that’s where he came from. He often gave people with meagre prospects opportunities to shine and grow and never judged them based on their backgrounds. As long as they were willing to put in the work and follow his direction, he would back them all the way.”

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Brand New, Brand You

CMC’s making big moves to deliver new design-forward, premium brand experiences for clients. Inspired by our new view, we’ve expanded our team, introduced a new service and discovered some fresh, chic products to deliver eye-popping impressions for your brand.    

New Look

We’re obsessed with the downtown view in our gorgeous, new corporate HQ in San Francisco. Come visit our showroom and meet our growing team of stylists who are ready to create indelible brand moments for you.

New Service

 

Building on our success creating custom branded products for client events, we’re now offering corporate event planning services. Whether it’s a hip poolside bash or a slick sales launch, we’re your reliable partner to deliver A to Z with our top-tier catering, production and event management partners.

New Faves

CMC takes pride in curating the industry’s freshest, quality merchandise – drawing from our supplier relationships globally and our European office in Prague.  Here are two hot picks for you:

Rocketbook:

Imagine your brand on this stylish “smart” notebook for storing notes and doodles in the cloud instantly. Choose from full-size and pocket-size options.

Cece Wine Tumbler:

Make a brand splash with these premium, 12 oz. stainless steel tumblers in 7 vibrant colors. The double-walled insulation keeps drinks colder or warmer for longer.

 

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Bottled Up

ETS Express founder Ely Eyal’s story is the epitome of the American Dream. The ceramics engineer moved from Israel to the U.S. to make a life for his family, and he soon recognized the promotional products industry as a place where he could apply his knowledge and reap the benefits. Together with his children, Taly and Sharon, Ely has grown ETS Express into a leading manufacturer of high-quality drinkware.

Based in Oxnard, California, ETS’s products span a broad range of drinkware categories—aluminum, stainless steel, plastic, ceramic and glass—and all reflect a commitment to cutting-edge quality and fashion-forward design ke m Two years ago, ETS added a second location in Concord, North Carolina, and today employs more than 500 people. We spoke with Vice President of Sales Brandon Bell to learn more about the company’s secrets to success.

Two years ago, ETS added a second location in Concord, North Carolina, and today employs more than 500 people.
We spoke with Vice President of Sales Brandon Bell to learn more about the company’s secrets to success.

Marque Asks

An interview with VP of Sales Brandon Bell of ETS Express 

What makes ETS unique in the marketplace and as a company?

The thing that I really enjoy is that this company has been around for 32 years and it’s still family-owned, as it has been since its inception. Ely and his kids have fostered it from the ground up, and they’re still heavily involved.

You’ve resisted the industry trend to expand into other product categories (wearables, pens and so forth). Explain how this benefits ETS, and your customers.

From start to finish, all we’ve done is drinkware. The [Eyal] family felt strongly that we needed to be the very best in this field, to show our customers we’re doing something different. Unique designs, unique imprinting capabilities — by being selective with our focus, we can provide a creative approach and a superior product.

You offer a ton of really great stock designs. Where do your designers look for inspiration?

Our team of designers, that’s all they do every day: come up with different looks, different shapes and profiles that we can play with. Design is very much in Sharon’s wheelhouse; he and his wife are involved with high-end fashion, so they bring that sensibility of what’s appealing to the consumer’s eye, and what else is taking place outside of our industry.

How do those designs become finished products?

Oftentimes a CAD drawing will look good on screen but isn’t pleasing to the hand when you actually feel it. We have three 3D printers that we use to bring designs to life, right in our shop, with working lids, swivels and hinges that we can actually manipulate. It lets us see what’s working and what’s not. Companies that outsource their models overseas work with hand molds, so there’s a lot of slow back-and-forth. Our process allows us to bring products to market much faster.

What’s your strategy for growing within the premium promotional branding field?

We rely heavily on promotional distributors to help us get out into the market. They’re well-attuned to a variety of businesses, anywhere from small real estate agencies to Fortune 100 companies. We also attend trade shows where we can showcase our products and build new relationships with distributors.

Describe how your company works with clients to ensure everyone is happy with the final product.

We have a lot of customer partners we’ll meet with to show them concepts and ideas, and we incorporate their feedback on what customers are looking for. We rely on them heavily for price points as well. Because they’re talking to the decision-makers, we value their feedback to where they feel comfortable saying, yes, we’ll pay that.

What trends are you seeing in the drinkware industry?

Within the last five or seven years, we’ve seen a huge increase in how much people are willing to pay for drinkware. More consumers are willing to invest in quality, in vacuum-insulated technology, things like that. People are becoming more health conscious about hydration. Water bottles and mugs are becoming much more of an everyday accessory — beyond just the gym or hiking — and people have multiple favorites. Say, one water bottle for taking to the mall, one for working out, one to keep at the office. That’s a great thing, not only for us, but also for the brands we create products for.

It’s increased exposure for them.

Exactly. It’s not embarrassing to carry the same mug every day, whereas it would be with a shirt or a hat. It’s really drawn attention to what we do — our clients can get their name out there in terms of product recognition in a way that other promotional items might not.

What’s next for your products?

Design is really continuing to ride the wave of vacuum-insulation. Consumer willingness to pay more for drinkware gives us more room to play. That makes it fun to come up with new substrates and components. We don’t see the trend changing as far as what consumers are demanding from a function standpoint. But in terms of trends, colors change, designs change. That’s always evolving.

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Bold Type

When Todd Tiefenthaler first saw Liz Schmidt at a party following a University of Wisconsin-Madison football game, he wasn’t thinking about the life and the successful business they could build together. The reality at that moment was his need to think of something clever to say, so he took a deep breath, mumbled something he can’t recall to this day, then asked Liz out to a movie, and she accepted.

That night was the first step in what would become a 45-year marriage and a 33-year business partnership.
Todd and Liz graduated from UW-Madison in 1973. Todd took a job as an account executive at a print shop in Madison, while Liz accepted a position as a schoolteacher.

When Kramer Printing went up for sale in 1984, Todd and Liz jumped at the chance to own their own business. Although they started with only four presses, they saw a great opportunity to expand. In 1998, they had grown enough that they sold their original location and built a larger facility just outside of Madison. This extensive space allowed them to install additional presses and to begin offering much-needed services to their clients.

Now known as Kramer Madison, their superb product quality and excellent customer service garnered them regional, national and international attention. They developed a full-service creative department, filled it with talented people who partnered with their skilled craftsmen. After winning many design awards, from the American Advertising Federation’s Annual ADDY Awards, Kramer Madison cemented their position as design leaders and gained credibility equal to that of traditional advertising agencies.

Today, Todd and Liz manage a comprehensive strategic design, marketing and branding agency, which offers award-winning digital, variable, and offset printing. The couple works with a wide range of major national brands, but they especially enjoy collaborating with Zachary Tyler, CEO of Creative Marketing Concepts.

Todd and Liz have known Zachary since he was a high-schooler in Madison and they were delighted to hear from him when he was working for The Hearst Corporation and needed a printer. They were even more thrilled when Zachary, known for his entrepreneurial spirit and creativity, purchased Creative Marketing Concepts in 2013. Together, CMC and Kramer Madison work together regularly. Their specialty: strategizing to help clients break through the white noise of the modern day media landscape. Kramer not only designs and prints CMC catalogs, they also work closely with Zachary on a number of out-of-the-box projects including designing custom jackets for a recent BET network awards show and fulfillment projects for Charles Schwab.

Marque Asks

Marque sits down with Todd and Liz Tiefenthaler, the couple behind Kramer Madison.

Your business is more than 80 years old. How did it begin and how has it evolved?

Todd: It was founded in 1936 and we bought it in 1984. When we bought the business, it was a small newsletter and business card shop. We grew it into a thriving design and print focused business.

Liz: From there we added marketing services, mail and fulfillment.

What made you decide to develop your own creative department? 

Liz: Todd has always loved the agency part of the business. Even when we first bought Kramer and it was a small shop, we hired a graphic designer because we saw the need. As we evolved, we discovered that there were more people looking for creative services and we knew we could offer that. Not everyone wants to go to an agency that requires a retainer or has a lot of overhead. We fill a large void for companies that are looking for an agency that is nimble. And we are very nimble.

How has having a creative team, including strategic brand consulting, changed your service offering and client mix?

It has changed us from a company that only works with local customers, to one that works nationally and internationally. Our most sizable growth areas have been in regions outside of Wisconsin. I think that reflects the success of to our business model — we can create and execute entire campaigns or focus specifically on the parts that are needed.

Todd: Both the East and the West Coasts are using our services heavily.

Working with several PR firms you’ve have incorporated promotions into your integrated marketing campaigns. What are some projects and brands you’ve have worked with?

Liz: One of the early big projects was with Philips Sonicare as they launched a new Diamond Clean toothbrush. We learned a lot on that project — mostly how to scale and adapt to our clients’ expectations. Since then we’ve worked with Nivea, See’s Candies, Mucinex, Budweiser, Canada Dry and KY among others. We amp-up the experience by curating branded promo items that fit within the theme of our mailers. When quality product, great design and promo come together, it really makes an impact. Our “Media Mailers” get our PR clients in front of tastemakers and editors alike. Leveraging promo has been a big part of that success.

What is your favorite branded promotion?

Liz: I love this game! We just did a fully designed Boxanne speaker that is just fantastic. It’s something we plan to give our clients and prospects. It showcases our design chops and humor. I mean, who doesn’t love dogs?

Todd: As a sailor, I’m often seen wearing my Kramer-branded sun shirt. It wears like iron and I don’t have to put on sunscreen. And when people ask where I got it, I point to the Kramer Madison logo, which always makes the rest of the crew laugh.

Where do you see Kramer Madison headed in the future?

Liz: I see us expanding in all areas. Shockingly, print is back. We are currently doing a lot of print for online companies, who have discovered that they get great results when using direct mail and variable data.

Todd: We have been pioneers in the use and application of variable data printing as a marketing tool, and have had many wild success stories from national and international companies who hire us for these services. We can personalize every piece we print, help our clients track action through promotional codes, and build brand awareness through integrated marketing.

Liz: The other area where we expect growth is working with Creative Marketing Concepts on branded promotional mailings, our “Media Mailers.” The mailers have been tremendously successful for PR firms that we work with.

With all of your growth and advancements, is there anything about your company that hasn’t changed?

Todd: Our dedication to serving our customers and exceeding their expectations.

Liz: At the end of the day, I will always love my customers. Our employees are our family, and we like to think our customers are, too. And . . . dogs will always be welcome in our shop.

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Catalan Sole

When Zachary Tyler, CEO of Creative Marketing Concepts, was invited to meet with the innovative team behind Brand Your Shoes at their design headquarters in Vic, Spain, Tyler cut his trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, short and headed straight to the quintessentially Catalan town, just north of Barcelona.

Catalan Roots: Human Towers and Artisan Footwear

“Making high quality shoes is in our DNA. Our grandmother, Margardia Serrallonga, opened her own shoe shop north of
Barcelona 80 years ago, and our parents grew the business, producing and selling their own line of shoes in the region,” brothers Guillem and Ferran explain to Tyler when
they meet.

The brothers initially chose different career paths, but they rediscovered the shoe business when Guillem became immersed in a group of castellers, people who build intricate human towers: a competitive sport, team building exercise and performance art all in one. The deeply-rooted Catalan tradition of human-tower building serves as the backbone of colorful festivals, tournaments and town rivalries all across Europe.

Human towers are what they sound like: towers of precariously stacked people standing atop one another. Teams called colles compete to build the tallest, most intricate towers, which can include as many as 600 people reaching as high as ten tiers. The goal is to build and deconstruct the human tower without a fall. Castellers wear traditional dress, including white trousers, a black sash (for foothold) and colorful shirts, which signify their team allegiance. They usually perform barefoot, unless descendants of shoemakers get involved.

A family business was reignited when Guillem, an avid follower of the international sporting tradition, was asked to make
customized sneakers for one of the human tower teams using their distinct colors and logo.

Soon after, in the spring of 2016, Guillem, who studied graphic design and art history, and his brother Ferran, an entrepreneur with an economics degree, dove into the family trade headfirst. The brothers wrote a business plan to design, produce and sell handmade, upscale shoes, except their product would be sold business to business.

The brothers joined forces with Sílvia Banús, a powerhouse product manager and apparel buyer with extensive international experience. Sílvia had spent seven years working internationally for Spain’s Indetex, the world’s biggest clothing retailer and
owner of the fashion chain Zara, before joining Brand Your Shoes. With the trio in place, the Catalan company got moving!

Deconstructing the Process

The savvy, dedicated team tells Tyler that one of the main keys to their success is carefully dissecting the entire manufacturing process so they can master each step.

“The big difference is that we design our sneakers right here. We’ve carefully divided the production process into several distinct parts. Each shoe is a collection of those different parts,” Ferran explains.

“We actually see the sneakers being made. And we purchase our own high quality leather. We use pig leather for the inside and cow leather for the outside. Unlike shoes produced in China, we know exactly how the different leathers are treated with
different chemicals. With that control, we can prevent foot perspiration as well as dye migration,” the brothers say.

“We will get the same quality shoe, whether we are producing 30 pairs or 300,000 pairs” they say with pride. “It’s funny. We’re able to make a small quantity of shoes for a local bar in Costa Brava, and we can also make huge quantities for companies like KLM. We are able to do something that most shoe manufacturers can’t do and that is make low minimums while maintaining very high quality. Our product is consistently good because we retain full control.”

If the Shoe Fits (Really Well)

As Tyler chats with the devoted Brand Your Shoes team in Vic, just outside of the design capital of Barcelona, they urge him to try on their four hottest styles to see how they feel.

“I don’t know if I told you,” Tyler confesses as he eagerly ties a branded sneaker, “but I do have a huge shoe collection at home. Ferragamo. Gucci. Loro Piana. Christian Louboutin. I love great shoes,” he tells his shoe-making audience.

“These are wonderful! They are so comfortable,” Tyler says to the eager team as he takes a test stroll around the European showroom. “I feel like I’ve worn these shoes forever. How do you do that?” he asks earnestly, like the knowledgeable shoe critic he is.

The group happily explains their secret, each adding in their part: “We use the same horma to measure the volume of each shoe,” one explains. “If you’re a size 45 in one of our styles, you’re a size 45 in another one of our styles,” says the other brother. Big shoe companies that make shoes in China and all over the world don’t always use the same shoe molds and devices like we do, so the same maker can sell a certain size shoe that feels totally different than the same size in another style,” the detail-minded trio explain.

When in Rome or Barcelona, or Prague, or San Francisco 

“How do you reach new customers?” Tyler asks the team.

“In Europe, business moves much more slowly. It’s more about building relationships and close customer service,” Sílvia remarks. With a Creative Marketing Concepts office on the West Coast and one in Prague, Tyler is familiar with how different countries, large corporations, and even family-owned businesses have their own ways of doing things.

“American buyers will come to our new website, complete an order and pay there,” the Catalan tells Tyler with excitement.
“It doesn’t happen that way in Europe,” they laugh.

Along with business relationships, general taste in shoes is also different in the United States than in Europe, the team says. “All our shoes are inspired by great shoe brands, but we notice that our American customers tend to like our more classic, retro and vintage styles than Europeans customers,” they report.

“Also, in America, your culture values branding more than we do here in Europe. You have a long history with branding. We expect the U.S. market to be very big for us,” the brothers say.

When asked what’s next, a list of America’s hottest brand names begin to percolate from the group: “Google.” “Facebook.” “Apple.” Lots of great brands, they say.

“As a graphic designer, I’d love to work with some iconic American logos that I admire like IBM and CBS,” adds Guillem.

“Each client is a new creative project with different colors, tastes and a different logo. It’s fun for us to work with new brands and what they give us,” Sílvia smiles.

Head Turners with Traction

Last May, just as this unique Catalan shoe company was getting off the ground, Honda placed an order for eye-catching custom branded sneakers for the staff working in their booth at the automobile exhibition in Barcelona. The next day, Honda dealers, drivers and lovers were clamoring to get their hands (and feet) on a pair of the hot new “Honda sneakers.” Orders for more
Honda sneakers started pouring in and Brand Your Shoes was off and running!

“The sneakers are perfect for trade shows and events because people can’t help but notice them,” says Tyler, studying the shoe’s smart design.

“One guy offered us a €1000 for a pair we designed as a prototype for a potential customer,” the teams says with amusement.

But these custom sneakers are no joke. Each pair is personally designed with precision in the fashion-forward region near Barcelona. At least 30 different people handle each shoe before it is delivered. And despite their growth, the modest Catalan company still offers personalized customer service in the form of shoe prototypes and shockingly low minimums, at least for now.

“From sourcing products and harnessing creativity, to overseeing production and executing your business plan, it sounds like you’ve got every aspect of your custom sneaker business in working order,” says Tyler as their friendly meeting-turned-fitting comes to a close.

“Your sneakers are really beautiful,” he declares with the resolute confidence of a man who knows his way around boardrooms, luxury brand retailers, Imperial capitals and now Catalan country.

After their leisurely European-style business meeting last spring, Zachary, Ferran, Guillem and Sílvia decided to partner together to drive sales in the United States and around the globe. Today, the company is in the process of adding fresh, new designs to their smart, nimble collection for 2018.

Keep your eyes open for hip, haute couture-like sneakers boasting big brand names in the coming year. Chances are, Brand Your Shoes’ sneakers will be sparking buzz and second looks when they make their sure-footed appearance at conferences, trade shows, product launches or red carpet premiers near you.

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The Gift List

Top Gear | Today’s 10 coolest retail products for corporate gifting.

Looking for a standout gift that gets your client’s attention and keeps your brand at the top of their mind? Think of products that sport good looks and smart design. Hip, useful and dare we say fashionable, these 10 items are modern-day essentials.

 

1. PopSocket
Kitschy, affordable and endorsed by A-listers, this collapsible phone accessory pops when you need a grip, a stand or a cord wrap

 

2. S’well Bottle
Well-known and mission-minded, S’well Bottles keep drinks cold for 24 hours or hot for 12 hours. The sleek, sustainable design comes in a variety of colors and sizes.

 

3. Timbuk2 Custom Prospect Laptop Backpack
Embroidered before it’s assembled, this weatherproof, comfortably padded pack stylishly protects your laptop.

 

4. Toddy Gear The Wedge
A guaranteed workplace conversation starter, this tech accessory doubles as a device stand and a screen cleaner, meaning more bang for your buck in a playful package.

 

5. Incase ICON Backpack
Popular for its durability, the ICON backpack has a plush lining ideal for laptops, and its multiple
compartments house cables and accessories.

 

6. Arc’teryx Zeta AR Jacket
For the discriminating client, Arc’teryx’s technical high-performance outerwear has a higher-end price point backed by progressive design and an obsessive eye for materials.

 

7. bkr Water Bottle
Boasting a celebrity following, this water bottle changes the way you hydrate with an eco-friendly, modern design.

 

8. Sweda PowerStation PRO
Stay juiced with this fast-charging USB system, which features extreme-condition resistance and temperature protection. Bonus: You can silkscreen a graphic on it.

 

9. KeepCup
Kick-starting the demise of disposable cups, the KeepCup is a new compact cup perfect for travel. Lightweight and unbreakable, all of its parts are color-customizable.

 

10. FitBit Flex
Thanks to an easy-syncing app, you can stay in step while you’re wearing this motivating activity tracker, which comes in a variety of colors.

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Tailor Made

As a premier supplier of promotional products, Germany’s Elasto Form KG is known for its innovative design solutions. The company has a cool concept in the works for beverage customers such as Coca-Cola and Jägermeister: a beverage tray with an anti-slip coating.

“If you transport a cold drink on the tray, it sticks and doesn’t slide around,” explains Marcus Sperber, Elasto Form’s managing director. “The customers love it because it’s a good means of communication for them to present themselves to the public. These coated trays will find use in a number of restaurants and bars, drawing a lot of positive attention.”

A far cry from the traditional trade show giveaway notepad branded with a company’s logo, Elasto Form’s new tray demonstrates the next level of innovation and underscores what European buyers expect from promotional items: a useful product customized to their preferences and needs. This commitment to creativity is nothing new to European brand marketers, who have long been on the cutting edge of cool.

 

Top of Their Game

Sperber points to two factors that contribute to the long-term success of European promotions: competition and regional preferences. Think of it like a soccer team, he says. If you have 11 players, everybody gets to play. But if you have 20 players, he says, everybody has to work a little harder. He equates that to Europe’s competitive promotions market.

“Here, you have many countries competing with each other, each with different languages and cultures,” Sperber says.

Sperber explains that European promotions companies must work to develop new production techniques and must consistently hone their processes and efficiencies. With low margins, he says, “You always must be striving to be better than before.”

Europe’s cultural preferences help marketers narrow their focus.

“In France, people love to have very good food, and they love to spend their money on beautiful things,” Sperber says. “But nobody really cares as much about their house or their apartment.” In Germany, on the other hand, most buyers prize their homes and cars over good food, he notes.

European marketers keep these regional priorities in mind as they design promotional items for their audiences. For example, Germany sees a lot of car-related promotional items. In Italy, Sperber explains, they’re more food- and design-focused.

“Knowing where to focus helps you have a successful, competitive marketing campaign,” he says.

Karolína Čermáková, company director of the Czech Republic-based BF Promotions, says that in her region, people favor the practical.

“Here, something is cool if you’ve never seen it before and if it’s useful,” she says.

She gives an example of a promotional best-seller that fits the bill: a small Bluetooth tracking device called the Chipolo. The tiny circle, about an inch in diameter, attaches to cell phones, key chains and purses — anything frequently misplaced. As long as it’s within 60 meters, the
Chipolo can help you find whatever you’ve lost, she says.

According to Čermáková, retro items also make the cool cut, and they’re inspired by regional preferences and traditions.

“People really like the things they remember having as a child, or even the things their grandmothers used,” she laughs. Woven-net bags, she says, are a perfect example. “They’re eco-friendly, they come in every color, and we can remember our grandmothers taking them to the market and having them in their homes.”

 

Just for You

The idea of customized promotional items may start with regional preferences, but customization narrows the focus to a personalized level. For a recent campaign for a soccer club, Elasto Form gave consumers the option of customizing a smartphone cover, a storage box or a bottle opener with their own photos or words.

“They can upload their picture or use a photo of their favorite player or even a slogan they like,” Sperber says. “You just press a button and get a unique, custom-made item.”

When Čermáková’s clients ask about personalization, they’re often planning to give deluxe gifts to executives. Once again, BF Promotion considers regional preferences.

“If you say the Czech Republic,” she says, “the first thing people think of is, ‘beer country.’”

Especially around the holidays, Čermáková says Czech buyers shop for gifts connected to beer and the country’s wine region.

“If you give beer or wine, you will never make a mistake,” she laughs.

The challenge is making sure the customer continues to love the gift — and think of the company — long after they drink the wine or beer.

“We suggest a bottle opener or a wine cooler,” she says, “and we recommend incorporating a tasteful logo that is not so visible.”

Whenever companies give an expensive, high-quality gift, Čermáková says, they should consider displaying their logo in an inconspicuous location — or not at all. Any loud branding is considered gauche. They could make the gift, such as a leather wallet or bag, even more
memorable by engraving or embossing the recipient’s initials on it.

“When someone gets this gift,” Čermáková says, “they feel like it is special — like it is just for them.”

In a diverse, competitive market, European marketers know that making it personal can make it count.

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Object of Desire

The pen has propelled history, having empowered human-kind to document and communicate every idea under the sun. The humblest of tools, pens have helped express the dreams of artists, the hopes of nations and the power of presidents.

The team at Swiss pen manufacturer Prodir, aware of the writing instrument’s important place in business and culture, puts a considerable amount of time, research, collaboration and marketing into every detail of its products.

“Our guiding principle is that Prodir must be different,” says Raffaele Laurenti, Prodir’s country manager for France, Italy and the Americas.

Founded in 1975 by Giorgio Pagani, Prodir started out producing pen parts for other brands. Pagani saw an opportunity to collaborate with leading designers and introduce a brand that capitalized on Switzerland’s reputation for elegant, high-quality goods, like precise watches and delectable chocolates.

“We invest a lot in maintaining what we call a medium- high-level image,” Laurenti says.

To ensure that its products meet its exacting function and style standards, Prodir thinks differently, presenting a tightly curated collection of pens — around 10 styles each year, Laurenti says — in its annual catalogue.

“Every year, we try to create a new idea, focusing on one design element that sets us apart,” Laurenti says, “like a large cartridge refill that allows up to three miles of writing without the ink drying out.”

Prodir also produces its own ink in order to control quality and adhere to Switzerland’s strict environmental standards.

“It’s the Swiss mentality and culture,” Laurenti says.

“We respect the environment from production to the field — and confirm this through certifications — even though consumers might not see what’s behind every Prodir pen.”

Pens have become collectors’ items and status symbols, and Prodir makes the case to its clients that its pricier, design-forward instruments are more than mere writing utensils.

“This gadget is a vehicle that will allow you to promote your brand, linking your logo with the unique design of the pen,” Laurenti says. “Even in a high-tech world, people continue to believe in the pen because they use it for communication and to express their style.”

“You find people who are crazy for pens,” he adds. “We always need to give the pen that much more power.”

 

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In Context Sidebar

Raffaele Laurenti says his home region of Ticino, Switzerland, is the place to be for a higher standard of living, seeing and doing. The small canton of about 352,000 sits atop Lake Lugano in southern Switzerland near the Italian border, and it’s surrounded by the majestic Swiss Alps and dotted with medieval castles.

 

Tell us about the local culture.

We are not far from Milan, which is big and fashionable. We are a small community in the middle of the forest with a strong culture.

 

Why visit Ticino?

Here, you can get everywhere easily. We have charming small towns, mountains and beautiful lakes. You can swim in the lake in the summer and go skiing in the winter — there’s a lot to discover.

 

What are the best bites?

The Italian kitchen is strong here, but we have our own food, too. Try raclette, which is often melted like cheese fondue, in the wintertime. In the summertime, spend the afternoon at a typical Ticinese grotto — a place where you can eat outside.

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Innovation

As the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the late, great Dame Zaha Hadid made her mark designing high-concept structures known for their sometimes undulating,  sometimes ragged organic forms. Her imagination forged some of the world’s most recognizable buildings that bend: the National Museum of 21st Century Arts, also called the MAXXI, in Rome; the London Aquatics Centre; the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany; and the Guangzhou Opera House in Guangzhou, China.

Hadid extended her provocative sensibilities in collaborations with automaker BMW on the Z-Car I and II concept cars; with iconic interiors brands Alessi, Artimede and B & B; and with celebrated fashion houses Chanel and Louis Vuitton. In 2015, the Iraqi-British visionary collaborated with music maverick Pharrell Williams on an edgy modern interpretation of the classic Adidas Supershell trainers. The feminist and star architect changed more than skylines in her lifetime, believing fiercely that good design evokes emotion. Good design, she said,  “should be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think.”

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In the Bag

Not every handbag maker aims to create a product that functions as the best supporting actor in a woman’s handbag collection. But entrepreneur Jae Lee and his wife and partner, Katy Lee, launched RuMe — a line of lightweight, eco-conscious bags — in 2009 with the understanding that women love their designer handbags but don’t typically use them to shop at a farmers market, tote their gym clothes or transport a dozen cupcakes to a bake sale. The entrepreneurial couple recognized that there was an opening for affordable, quietly stylish bags that make the daily hustle a little less laborious.

“We’re not trying to replace a woman’s designer handbag,” says Jae, 40. “We design a good accompanying product.”

To that end, one of the company’s mottos is, “A RuMe in every Tumi, Tory and Louis.”

“We make sure our products aren’t going to clash with other bags, that they’re going to work well with a lot of the different elements of an outfit,” Jae says.

The all-polyester collection includes roomy totes, wristlets with multiple pockets, space-saving garment bags, messenger-style satchels, and even a few household items, such as cord organizers and food cooler packs. The products are eco-friendly in that many items, particularly the shopping totes, are designed to replace non-renewable options, like plastic shopping bags. The brand’s name is an abbreviated play on “Reuse me.”

Sustainability isn’t RuMe’s most important attribute, Jae says, but it’s a bonus.

“We made up the term ‘light green’ to describe them,” he says, adding that RuMe speaks more to “an overall sustainable lifestyle.”

In a sea of eco-friendly grocery totes, RuMe has skyrocketed to success in a relatively short time because its products are solution-oriented. The Garment Travel Organizer, for example, is a two-sided garment bag that separates clothes into neat and orderly cubes, reducing wrinkles and optimizing packing space.

The bags are problem solvers with style and substance.
The medium tote bag ($9.95) is RuMe’s best-selling item; it boasts a boxy design that makes it extra roomy, shoulder straps that are part of the bag’s body (as opposed to being sewn or tacked on), and double-stitched seams and squared corners, which make it fit more comfortably against the hip. It also can carry up to 50 pounds, can be thrown in the washer with laundry, and rolls up to the size of a fist.

The utility-with-style concept has paid off. The brand, which is head-quartered and manufactured in a joint office-industrial space in Centennial, Colorado, is sold by major retailers, including Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; The Container Store and Whole Foods.

The company’s fastest-growing sales avenue is, by far, digital — both through direct sales on its website and via branded partnerships with printable product e-commerce businesses Shutterfly and Zazzle; soon, RuMe will work with Vistaprint, too. The idea of using durable RuMe bags as canvases for printed photos, words and illustrations initially came from Shutterfly. The creative imaging company contacted RuMe in 2011; it loved the bags, Jae recalls, and asked to put some imagery on them.

“It’s good to be naive and hungry, and we were at the time,” Jae says. “We were like, ‘Of course!’”

Around that same time, dye-sublimation printing — a digital printing process in which heat transfers dye onto materials — was becoming much more user-friendly and affordable. So diving into customization seemed like a smart pivot. The hunch was spot-on: In the fourth quarter of 2011, RuMe shipped between 30,000 and 35,000 customized bags. Now, RuMe does that kind of business in a single month.

RuMe was built on a series of good instincts that manifested in wise business decisions. Jae, who earned marketing degrees at Georgetown and Northwestern, was born in Seoul, South Korea, but immigrated with his family to Colorado as a child. Before launching RuMe with his wife, he learned the ins and outs of a product-based company while working in his family’s import-export business.

Katy, 39, is originally from Wisconsin and came to RuMe after years working in the creative side at major marketing and advertising firms, including Ogilvy & Mather and Leo Burnett Worldwide.

The partners inhabit distinct roles within RuMe. Katy, the chief creative officer, is in charge of all creative aspects of the company, including design. Jae is the company’s CEO and, among other things, handles day-to-day operations and product development.

The Lees formally launched RuMe at independent gift trade shows in 2010. A thriving, family-owned company was born.

Jae attributes RuMe’s success to creating a team of smart, motivated people.

“You have to have passion for what you do,” he says. “There are a ton of challenges that come
up every day. But you do it. And the next day, you do it again.”

 

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In Context

The Lees are building a formidable empire in one of America’s most laid-back states. Jae Lee explains why it’s the perfect place to enjoy time out of the office.

 

What is it about Colorado that inspires you?

The climate, the new energy of all the people moving here — the overall sense that it’s a place where people want to be.

 

What are your favorite outdoor spaces in the Denver area?

The Denver Botanic Gardens and Wash Park — which is short for Washington Park, a spacious green space that’s over 100 years old.

 

Where do you go for inspiration?

Winter Park — Colorado’s longest continually run ski resort — and Beaver Creek. We also love walking around downtown Denver. It’s an adventure every time.

 

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RuMe Firsts

2009 – Business-world veterans Jae and Katy Lee soft-launch RuMe, a line of simple, stylish
reusable bags.

2010 – Showcasing the versatile classic RuMe tote, the couple officially launches RuMe at independent gift shows.

2010 – RuMe debuts its first e-commerce website.

2011 – The company receives a patent for its Classic RuMe Tote, which is still the brand’s best-selling product.

2011 – Shutterfly and RuMe collaborate on printed bags, sparking the idea of a RuMe-owned custom-printing category.

2011 – The Lees launch RuMe’s customization category. They ship more than 30,000 customized bags in the fourth quarter.

2013 – The brand builds its own hybrid office-manufacturing space in Centennial, Colorado.

2013 – RuMe releases its first collection of home products, dipping a toe into a category that’s still thriving today.

2014 – RuMe officially becomes profitable.

2014 – The company focuses on its web presence as a major revenue stream, overhauling its e-commerce site.

2015 – RuMe introduces its innovative garmentsuitcase hybrid, the Garment Travel Organizer. It sells out quickly.