The Best Of The PPAI Expo 2023
Bright and early on the second Monday morning of January, a quick glance at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center hallway offered proof that The PPAI Expo had returned to its dynamic pre-pandemic form.
Just off the Las Vegas Strip, attendees flooded into the massive convention center for The PPAI Expo Conference, a day-long slate of education and networking before the show floor opened Tuesday, January 10. Over the next three days, the promotional products industry’s largest and longest-running trade show delivered like only it can – with unmatched energy and opportunities for members to enhance their businesses.
“We sent the largest contingent of people from our company ever, and the feedback from all team members – veteran Expo attendees and first-timers – was all extremely positive,” says Mark Graham, president and chief brand officer at Toronto-based industry service provider commonsku. “The industry is ready for great things in 2023 and beyond!”
The PPAI Expo 2023 marked the event’s 20th anniversary in Las Vegas. It also represented a resounding return to normalcy after a tumultuous three years for promo. Last year, The PPAI Expo featured scaled-back attendance due to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, but this year, over 15,000 total industry professionals (including more than 10,000 distributors) traveled to Vegas from 40 countries to browse over 350,000 products.
Attendees strolled through 230,000 square feet of booth space inside the convention center, complete with pop-up experiences, the Expo Live interview booth and the always-popular Beer Garden for relaxation, networking or both.
“As a past PPAI Board volunteer and long-term member, I absolutely loved experiencing a very busy and dense show floor again,” says Mark Jenkins, MAS+, Midwest regional vice president of distributor Geiger. “The attendee group size matched the total floor space well, which always contributes positively to the energy and buzz of a good trade show for both suppliers and distributors. It was great to see – in person again – old colleagues, but even better to find so many new and younger attendees – and not just principals – throughout the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.”
Here are some highlights and special moments from the unforgettable 20th PPAI Expo in Las Vegas.
Want clear evidence that the industry endured the pandemic and bounced back stronger? Dale Denham, MAS+, PPAI president and CEO, announced in his opening remarks that the preliminary 2022 industry sales volume estimate – culled from an annual survey collected by third-party research firm Relevant Insights on behalf of PPAI – is more than $25 billion, an increase of at least 13.1% over 2021.
“I am proud of what our industry contributes to the marketing mix, and I am really excited for our future,” Denham told attendees. “This is going to be a great year.”
Many leading companies did indeed see excellent financial success. During the week, HALO became the first industry distributor to announce it had crossed the $1 billion sales mark in a single year. (Distributor 4imprint announced its own $1 billion sales milestone in late January.)
Equally noteworthy, two leading suppliers chose The PPAI Expo as the venue to announce that they were joining forces. Chris Anderson, CEO of HPG, broke news of the company’s acquisition of Evans Manufacturing on the event’s main stage on January 9.
About 2,000 attendees took advantage of Monday’s PPAI Expo Conference all-day education on significant topics pertinent to the industry and overall business building. As this year’s keynote speakers, James Pogue, Ph.D., provided his expertise on how businesses eliminate bias and create organizational success, and former NASA engineer Maureen Zappala addressed how attendees can identify and defeat imposter syndrome to help achieve professional and personal growth.
The conference offered multiple breakout sessions on top-of-mind topics, such as corporate social responsibility and diversity, equity and inclusion. Digital transformation also was a central focus. PPAI Digital Transformation Manager Nick DiNicola led a session on the Association’s Promo Data Exchange (PDX) initiative, free and available to all PPAI members, intended to help streamline communication between suppliers and distributors.
On Monday night, January 9, PPAI celebrated the 2023 recipients of its most prestigious awards at the Chair’s Leadership Dinner. Carol D. Aastad, MAS, and Mary Ellen Sokalski, MAS, became the first two women ever inducted into the same PPAI Hall of Fame class.
“For 29 years, I enjoyed an exhilarating, fun, satisfying, meaningful and, yes, profitable business,” Aastad said. “Having a career in this industry changed my life. It truly changed my life. It gave me the independence, the realization and the satisfaction that I could support myself. And I had so much fun doing it. I loved this industry.”
“It is with the utmost humility that I thank all of you for noticing me, encouraging me to serve, to teach, and for the unforgettable experience I have had working with you, volunteering with you, learning from you and playing with you,” Sokalski said.
The 2023 PPAI Distinguished Service Award Recipient went to Roger Burnett, CAS, founder of Ohio-based distributor Social Good Promotions. This year’s PPAI H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award Recipient was Danny Rosin, CAS, president and co-owner of North Carolina-based distributor Brand Fuel.
Late in the evening came a traditional ceremony at The PPAI Expo, the passing of the gavel from PPAI Board Chair Dawn Olds, MAS+, to incoming Chair Kevin Walsh, CAS. Olds’ term expired at the conclusion of The PPAI Expo.
On Tuesday, January 10, seven suppliers took center stage for “The Pitch,” promo’s version of The Voice. The participants made their best possible product pitches to win over a respected panel of veteran distributor judges.
Illinois-based supplier S&S Activewear took first place with its Quikflip Apparel line product the Hero Hoodie, an easily reversible hoodie and backpack. All four judges – Amanda Clay, vice president of sales at Walker-Clay; Danny Rosin, president and co-owner of Brand Fuel; Memo Kahan, president of PromoShop; and John Vo, MAS, owner of WHOOPLA – turned their chairs to signal that they liked the product. The audience inside the Mandalay Bay Convention Center also got to vote, and 51% picked S&S as their favorite of the seven.
“We have this bookbag that’s interactive, it’s fun, and it gives us the opportunity to really interact with the audience,” says Meg Erber of S&S Activewear, who helped present the product that wooed both the judges and the audience vote. “So I picked that, and I asked (Quikflip founder) Rener (Gracie) to help me out because it’s his invention.”
Other exhibitors included Therabody, Raining Rose, Trailform, Bevee, City Bonfires and Maple Ridge Farms. Hundreds of distributors crowded the ballroom where The Pitch was staged, and hundreds more watched it on the Expo Live video boards as the show floor opened.
“I loved the audience participation of being able to text and to see how people were voting,” said Staci Cannon, MAS, of California distributor Industry Incentives. “Overall I thought the energy and the whole atmosphere was really, really nice. It was worth getting up early for.”
Taking a quick break from the convention center, 112 golfers from more than 30 promo companies hit the links for a great cause, raising more than $39,000 for the Promotional Products Education Foundation during the Glen Holt & Fran Ford Memorial Golf Tournament at Bali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas.
“Thank you to the golfers, sponsors, volunteers and all those who made this tournament happen through their support,” says PPEF Executive Director Kathlene Brethowr. “It was another momentous tournament honoring the legacies of Glen Holt and Fran Ford.”
Close to 2,000 PPAI Expo attendees celebrated their last night in Las Vegas at the action-packed Promopalooza. Held once again at the state-of-the-art Allegiant Stadium, home to pro football and major concerts, attendees enjoyed drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres on the field and received exclusive tour access to the locker room.
The PPAI Expo 2023 was a smashing success, and the Association is already getting started on next year. The PPAI Expo 2024 is headed back to Las Vegas, January 15-18, inside the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
What Attendees And Exhibitors Are Saying
“Many people have referred to Expo 2023 as a reunion, which is spot on. It was great to see customers that we had not seen in three years and, after warm embraces, reverting back to business as usual. The world has changed a lot in those three years, and it was exciting to show and explain to customers the big technological leaps we took during that time.”
-Murray Siegel, marketing director at Towel Specialties
With over 10-plus years of Expos, this year proved to be one of the strongest, with an impressive group of attendees, show floor flow and a strong, enthusiastic energy.”
-Jeffrey Brenner, director of sales and marketing at Seiko Watch of America
“Expo was a very positive experience for us this year. The floor was packed with people, our booth was consistently very busy, education was dynamic, and the off-floor socials were great. Particular standout social moments included the Promopalooza event and the alphabroder party. I also really enjoyed ‘The Pitch’ – the presenters were all excellent, and the judges were very engaging. It was a great way to experience new product ideas.”
-Mark Graham, president and chief brand officer at commonsku
“Everyone I talked to said that the first day of the show was packed. When I had a chance to walk the floor myself it was after hours, so I missed the rush but saw a lot of sustainable and eco-friendly products and initiatives, some awesome new decoration methods, a nice smattering of retail offerings finally making their way into our world, and probably my favorite thing of all – names and booths of new suppliers! It’s a very exciting time to be in promo.”
-Charity Gibson, national accounts coordinator at Peerless Umbrella
“There is no looking back. PPAI Expo had our Brand Fuel team re-engaged, learning new trends and connecting with key and new suppliers. In particular, we loved the focus on sustainability. There is no doubt that our investment in this experience will pay great dividends as we giddy-up into a new year. Way to go, PPAI staff! Way to show up, members!”
-Danny Rosin, CAS, co-president of Brand Fuel