Exciting Products. Compelling Events. Powerful Business. Unlimited Possibilities.

This year’s PPAI Expo was the best-attended show in nine years, with distributor personnel verified at 12,267—the highest since 2008. And the numbers didn’t stop there. More than 19,688 total participants from across the U.S. and 31 countries participated in Expo including those representing 1,251 exhibitors in 3,144 booths—and 157 of the exhibiting companies were first-timers. Overall, the Expo filled one million square feet at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, and its economic impact to the city is estimated at a staggering $18.4 million by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.


The PPAI Board of Directors was one of several groups of volunteers that received cheers of appreciation on stage during the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon.

But this show is about so much more than numbers, because it’s so much more than a trade show. “It’s the industry’s convention. It’s the glue that bonds our industry,” said Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI president and CEO, in his remarks during the Opening Session on Education Day.

For decades, The PPAI Expo has served as the official kickoff for the promotional products industry, and it sets the tone for the business year ahead. The Expo, which ran January 8-12, is where business gets done. It showcased thousands of new and exciting products, featured relevant and powerful professional development sessions and was the backdrop for dozens of committee, board and business meetings for PPAI and member companies across the industry. The Sneak Peek, brand. and product pavilions, the rolling show opening, the Expo Live stage, and the streamlined end-to-end, 360-degree show merchandising floor design highlighted exhibitor merchandise and encouraged attendees to experience the entire show.


Outgoing PPAI Board Chair Tom Goos, MAS, presented the gavel to incoming Board Chair Mary Jo Tomasini, MAS, during the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon.

To further enhance distributor-supplier engagement, this year PPAI adopted EventBitTM technology to customize show engagement and create unique and personalized attendee experiences as part of its plan to elevate Expo from great to extraordinary. In addition, through SAGE Mobile, attendees could view complete event schedules, create walk lists, navigate the show floor using an interactive floor plan, keep up with show news and take notes, pictures, videos and voice memos, all from their handheld mobile devices.

Outgoing PPAI Board Chair Tom Goos, MAS, president of distributor Image Source, Inc., was delighted with the show. “The 2017 Expo had a great buzz to it,” he says. “There were crowded halls and engaged suppliers and distributors. I know when I have a hard time working through the crowds that it is going to be a successful show. I stopped by dozens of booths to check in on how Expo was going for them and I heard nothing but positive reactions. The PPAI Expo is the event all industry professionals attend and the conversations that are shared are invaluable.”


PPAI honored its many volunteers who completed their terms as chairs of committees, action groups and the Foundation during the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon.

Incoming PPAI Board Chair Mary Jo Tomasini, MAS, founder of distributor Competitive Edge, LLC, agreed, calling it the best show ever. “I was proud to walk the show floor and hear ‘great show’ from literally everyone I spoke to,” she says. “Exhibitors were thrilled at the level of engagement they had with distributors, and distributors were pleased with both the quality of the show and the networking. On the final show day, Paul and I met a woman who had back surgery three weeks prior and she exclaimed, ‘This is my show!’ She said that nothing could keep her from attending Expo.”

PPAI’s Bellantone calls The PPAI Expo 2017 a resounding success that exceeded expectations. “The show marked near-record attendance, and now serves as the launch pad for the year where industry professionals connect, learn, discover and build lifelong partnerships,” he says. “As the Expo has grown, so too has the magnitude and focus of the show. It is the forum where Association executives, industry leaders and professionals meet to guide the industry forward on key initiatives, branding and strategic partnerships to promote, protect and grow this great industry.”


The PPAI Expo brings suppliers and distributors face to face to get business done.

Over the five-day event, Bellantone, Goos and Tomasini addressed the membership on numerous occasions to share the successes and opportunities facing the industry and to present a number of new initiatives including highlights of PPAI’s new consumer research; Generation Y outreach; new industry branding campaign, Get In Touch!TM  and legislative advocacy. They also engaged members about PPAI’s new strategic plan to change the membership focus from transactional to relationship-based engagement and discussed plans now under way to transform the Expo from great to extraordinary.

The Education

Among the show’s compelling keynote speakers was entrepreneur Johnny Earle, founder of Johnny Cupcakes, a multimillion-dollar highly exclusive t-shirt brand, who took center stage at the Opening General Session where he shared his inspiring start-up story along with ideas for getting a small business off the ground and creating memorable experiences for customers.


PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE, and incoming Board Chair Mary Jo Tomasini, MAS, stopped in at the SPARK event, a new platform for young professionals working in the promotional products industry.


Attendees at the Power Keynote were treated to brief intros from each speaker, then could select one for a full presentation, as PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE, explained in his General Session introduction.

World-class thought leaders—Speak Your Truth, Inc.’s Colette Carlson, Altimeter Group’s Brian Solis and sales expert Ryan Estis—presented brief intros and invited attendees to break-out sessions for a full presentation during the Power Keynote. The two keynote luncheons featured The Visibility Coach David Avrin, and a fireside chat with Mark Graham, co-founder of commonsku, founder and CEO of RIGHTSLEEVE and PromoKitchen chef, who interviewed alphabroder CEO Norm Hullinger, CAS, about the industry’s first billion-dollar company.


General Session Keynoter Johnny Earle, founder of Johnny Cupcakes, shared innovative marketing ideas for creating memorable customer experiences.


Mark Graham (left), co-founder of commonsku, founder and CEO of RIGHTSLEEVE and PromoKitchen chef, interviewed alphabroder CEO Norm Hullinger, CAS, about the industry’s first billion-dollar company, during Tuesday’s Keynote Luncheon.

The Awards

During Expo there were plenty of exceptional accomplishments to celebrate. The centerpiece event was the Chairman’s Leadership Dinner, at which PPAI’s 2017 Hall of Fame inductees were honored. They are Margie Price, MAS, president and owner of St. Louis-based distributor Premiums Plus, Inc., and Joel Schaffer, MAS, owner of Indian Land, South Carolina-based supplier Soundline, LLC. In addition, PPAI presented its Distinguished Service Award to Joe Scott, vice president of Chanhassen, Minnesota-based distributor Scott & Associates, Inc. and its H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award to H. Wayne Roberts, MAS, retired vice president of Wichita, Kansas-based Pioneer Balloon and past chair of the PPAI Board of Directors. PPAI also recognized this year’s class of PPAI Pioneers. At the newly designed Block Party, PPAI honored the exemplary work of dozens of industry companies with its Pyramid, Supplier Achievement, Image, Technology and Supplier Star awards (see awards listings here link to awards page on inside PPAI).

E Commerce Website Supplier Gill Group Gold Award

Gill Studios team members celebrated a gold Technology Award win for their e-commerce website at the 2017 Walk of Fame awards presentation.


PPEF supporter Paul Lage, MAS, (left), and board trustee Wayne Greenberg, MAS, conducted a live auction to benefit PPEF during a reception held just before the Chairman’s Leadership Dinner.


PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE (far left) and Chair Tom Goos, MAS (far right) celebrate with top honorees (from left): Distinguished Service Award recipient Joe Scott; H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award recipient H. Wayne Roberts, MAS; and Hall of Fame inductees Margie Price, MAS and Joel Schaffer, MAS.

The Industry’s Meeting Place


On the final night, PPAI and SAGE hosted the Party of Two at LAX Nightclub at the Luxor Hotel & Casino.

Long known as the industry’s “big tent,” this year the show was host to the SAGE Conference, iPROMOTEu’s A Woman’s View, commonsku’s skucon and PromoKitchen workshops, and it attracted many national sales groups including Fully Promoted (formerly EmbroidMe) and American Solutions for Business, as well as AIMastermind, Jack Nadel International, iPROMOTEu, HALO Branded Solutions, Proforma, AIA Corporation and Geiger.


PPAI company awards were presented at this year’s new event, the PPAI Block Party with its Walk of Fame, which drew big crowds to celebrate the big wins.

Giving Back

PPAI Expo attendees have long been a generous group and many turned out to support the Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF) through participation in the PPEF Glen Holt Scholarship Golf Invitational, Branch Out & Give donation tree and live and online auctions. Net proceeds of more than $50,000 will go to the industry’s college scholarship program. Expo exhibitors donated nearly $31,000 worth of samples and promotional products to the Kids In Need Foundation. Since 2008, exhibitors have donated a total of more than $320,000 in products to this organization, which supplies educators with necessary classroom supplies and student incentives for schools in lower-income areas.

Reactions On The Show


The brand. pavilion was the show’s go-to source for branded and incentive products.

First-time Expo attendees Bryan and Kelly James, owners of Corporate Specialty Insignia, joined PPAI a year ago and were glad they made the decision to attend. “Among our discoveries at this outstanding conference is our responsibility to the practice, PPAI and end buyers of delivering good work. We all must be purposeful and intentional in making a sincere and measurable difference for our clients. This commitment by all members will continue to strengthen PPAI for another 100 years.”

Stanley Appleman, owner of distributor Get Smart Promotions, added, “Expo has been awesome. The show is organized and the vendors have been really good. They seem to be more prepared, more organized; everybody’s about quality of imprint and ideas, not just who can get it for the least. They’re offering great services.”


Show attendees came to learn as well as to shop; the Expo offered 140 education sessions, including two general sessions and two keynote luncheons.

Longtime show attendee Suzan Bolski, MAS, CEO of distributor Anything Goes Promotions, said, “The show has been excellent. I saw a lot of great people and a lot of great new things. I got some wonderful new ideas and reconnected with old friends. As Paul [Bellantone] said, [Expo] is the glue that holds us together and I look forward to this every year.”


Hundreds of new and best-selling products were on display, serving up fresh ideas and solutions for promotions of every kind.


More than 19,688 total participants, including 12,267 distributor personnel, nearly set a record at the industry’s largest and longest-running show.

See the Expo flipbook with more photos from the show here: sageflip.com/PPAI-Expo-2017

Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.

It’s A Date!

Next year’s show will return to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas January 14-18, 2018.