Sometimes Jim Manno enjoys reading articles written in the ’90s that confuse the rise of the Internet with a passing fad, perhaps an outlet for lonely people looking for chat rooms. They might be worth a good laugh, the Facilisgroup vice president of marketing says, but they are also informative of how easily otherwise smart people can be tempted to resist change, especially when technology is involved.

The promotional products industry thrived and succeeded for generations before the Internet. But it can only keep growing by keeping pace with consumers’ expectations. That growth will require companies of all sizes to embrace the tech tools at their disposal.

“These things aren’t fads,” Manno says. “Ecommerce and promo are only going to become more and more ingrained.”

Facilisgroup (PPAI 493664), among other business service providers, aims to provide tech solutions that address specific promo-related problems. Workflow, accounting, logistics of all kinds – there’s a tipping point where they cannot be properly organized and executed without some type of system in place.

Last week, PPAI President and CEO Dale Denham and Senior Vice President Alan Peterson met with Facilisgroup leadership at the company’s Missouri headquarters to discuss the direction digital transformation should take in the industry, the opportunity for services firms to lead in those continued modernization efforts, and to have a productive conversation about open standards.

“Business services firms have played a critical role in supporting the growth of distributors and the industry overall,” Denham says. “Having software customized to the nuances in our industry at competitive price points is extremely valuable to PPAI members.”

PPAI’s contingent joined Facilisgroup during the week of the company’s strategy sessions to “get together and talk about our mutual interest and appreciation in advancing technology within the industry,” as Manno describes it. Facilisgroup President Ashley McCune says, “The industry has been consistently focused around two key areas, suppliers and distributors. Tech solutions via the services providers have oftentimes taken a back seat.

“The discussions confirmed our mutual belief that industry tech providers play a key role in our today, and more importantly our future.”

Facilisgroup boasts 215 distributor clients of its Syncore workflow solution, which combine to process more than $1.5 billion, the company says. Syncore functions as an order management system and in some ways is similar to an Enterprise Resource Planning system. It’s designed to free up distributors to grow their businesses by simplifying logistics. It also offers Commercio, a recent eCommerce innovation that can serve as a temporary pop-up store or full-fledged company store for a distributor. 

These innovations and others like them in the industry are about potential, but they are also about ease. A distributorship that’s been family-run for decades and has succeeded doing things a certain way should be able to take advantage of a low barrier of entry to utilize services like these.

“We knew [Commercio] had to make it easy to get someone who at this point had been resistant to go in that direction and get them to take that first step,” Manno says.

During the two-hour meeting, the at times polarizing issue of open standards was a key topic. Part of PPAI’s push to help lead the industry through digital transformation is the creation of Promo Data Exchange, which the Association hopes can complete the marketplace’s long-discussed push toward a universally accepted data set. Facilisgroup has supported the efforts of PromoStandards since the beginning as a founding member, McCune notes, and is currently represented on its board by VP of Product Amy Rabideau.

Finding consensus on these industry data standards has proven tricky over the years, with most firms having distinct individual perspectives even if they’re in virtual unanimous agreement on the importance of the goal.

What these discussions can produce are welcome knowledge for PPAI, which values the industry’s business service providers as crucial to the future of the industry and growing distributorships in particular.

“Order management in our industry is extremely complex,” Denham says. “Having firms like Facilisgroup, commonsku, SAGE, Distributor Central, Essent, Anterra and others allows distributorships of all sizes to identify the best fit for their organizations.”

Likewise, Facilisgroup sees its distributor clients as “partners,” so regular communication with PPAI is intended to serve the best interests of those partners. 

“Everyone wants the same thing,” Manno says. “During the course of the meeting, you realize that everyone is trying to do what’s best for the industry.”