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Marshall Atkinson  

If there's one person as uniquely qualified to discuss the future of the industry is Paul Bellantone. With HALO branded solutions, he recently made the switch from running PPAPI, an organization dedicated to the advancement and education on the promotional products industry, to a senior VP role of sales at HALO. In this Success Stories podcast, we'll discuss the transition from his serving the industry to selling to the industry and where he feels the big moves will be in the coming year. Get your paper and pen out and be ready to take some notes. This one is gonna be on fire. So Paul, welcome to the Success Stories podcast.

Paul Bellantone  

Marshall, it is such a pleasure to be here with you. This is terrific.

Marshall Atkinson  

Yeah, I can't wait. And I'm so honored that you're here. I think it's really interesting from how you move from serving the industry, to selling in the industry. And I think that's going to be kind of an eye-opening experience for a lot of people that are around you, maybe even you yourself, I think it's gonna be it's so fascinating, that part of your journey.

Paul Bellantone  

It is definitely better journey. It's been two decades that I've been in the promotional products world and decorated products well. But the roles really between running PKI. And having a senior position at HALO, not too different. They both focus on two core things growing and protecting. And when I was at PPI, my job was to grow and protect the industry, the practitioners to make sure that buyers knew who we were, and why our industry was so successful and why we were around for centuries. With HALO, my job's a little bit different. It's growing, protecting the brands that we're representing. We've gone from the macro of growing and protecting promotional products and every one or two practitioners. Now my job is to make sure that our AES, our salespeople, our company, are growing and protecting the brands who have entrusted us for us to be their distributor. So for me, it's getting to work a little bit more where the rubber meets the road. I used to talk to those companies about the value of promotional products and decorated products are getting a brand out there. And now I'm working with specific companies to make sure that their brands are successful, and using promotional products. But it is a journey.

Marshall Atkinson  

Right. So are you helping with the training and recruiting of the sales team at HALO also?

Paul Bellantone  

I am it's training, it's recruiting. And it's talking to customers about why we have a unique offering in the marketplace that we think can benefit them. So I do all of those things. The interesting thing is Marshall, we have over 1000 salespeople at HALO, and each of them comes to me thinking that I have this great wisdom about selling promotional products. I've never made a promotional product. And I've never sold a promotional product. So I'm actually learning the nuts and bolts of the industry that things that you're an expert at. I'm learning as I'm moving into the job about what it actually takes to get these things into the marketplace. And we're gonna talk a little bit about how much fun that's been trying to get product into the marketplace these days.

Marshall Atkinson  

Right. So you're it's kind of like the Wizard of Oz moment, like the curtain is pulled back and here he is.

Paul Bellantone  

Yeah, and unfortunately, some days you don't know what you're gonna see on the other side of the curtain. Right. And it's definitely been an interesting time to learn that.

Marshall Atkinson  

That's great. So you're ready to get into some questions

Paul Bellantone  

Let's do it.

Marshall Atkinson  

Okay, so as you're in this new role at the start of the year, what do you see as the things that listener should be paying attention to, and building into their sales offering for this year?

Paul Bellantone  

You know, we're now 18 -- a good 18-19 months into the pandemic, we had a full year of it, three quarters of it. And I think that we all thought that this was going to end a little bit sooner along the way when it first started was going to be Oh, we'll be back to normal by Memorial Day. And it'll be Labor Day and and it'll be Easter and thanksgiving. Well, 2020 one's going to be completely different. And it hasn't been like we're still struggling with even if not specifically COVID the pandemic really the challenges that it's presented into our supply chain. So, for me, I think it's an opportunity for us to recognize that one, here's an opportunity for us to earn those nice margins that we make, right? It's no longer just a job of procurement of product. Because on any given day the product can be there cannot be there, there are different ways of using it now, we should be paying attention to the fact that constant change will be a new normal for a very, very long time. Long beyond the pandemic, I think people thought it was going to be a light switch Marshal, that as soon as we add a vaccine, everything will become back to normal. I think that this went on long enough, when nothing will be normal. Again, I don't know that people will ever go back to offices again. So how do you recruit and retain and recognize employees? That's now up to us to figure that out? How are customers going to be engaging with businesses? That's now our job to figure that out? And I think the people who figure that out and offer those suggestions, own the keys to the kingdom?

Marshall Atkinson  

Yeah, I totally agree with that. And I've been talking about this for a while. And what I've been using, the term I've been using is the next normal, so Well, we had pre COVID, we're never going back there. It's just kind of like that old adage, where you can't step into the same river twice, right? Because the currents moving, we're never going back there. So what's ahead of us is going to be the normal. And so I was just thinking while I was listening to you answer, you know, right now we're having a hard time with inventory. We're having a hard time securing the goods and getting stuff from you know, so much of this industry stuff is made overseas. Right. So I was thinking maybe you're gonna see a resurgence in Made in America or Canada or Mexico or something where you don't have to get it on a boat to get it here. I don't even know. I'm just was just my thought. Are there any like directions? Do you see any canary in the coal mines for that happening? What do you think?

Paul Bellantone  

I think that there will be I think that there will be a shift in who we depend on in dependence on different countries. But I can't see that, again, turning like a light switch. What would it take to retool that? I mean, you think of some of the biggest industries like the automotive industry and Baltic automotive, they can't get chips, enough chips to build the new cars, you would think of anybody can retool quickly, to build a component to put a product in the marketplace, an industry like that can do it. I don't know that our industry is large enough and forceful enough and drives enough commerce to have that happen. So yes, I think we'll see it in the margins. But I don't think that there will be a wholesale shift to us made. And there have been a number of other instances where supply chains have, you know, we've struggled with them, whether it was about tariffs, or about product responsibility. And we really didn't see the wholesale shift to us may, we may see more US labor. Right, I'm not sure about the product themselves. And then I think we also need to think martial law, if we can't get the raw materials here in the country, because we're still having, you know, even every part of the supply chain is struggling and challenged right now, not just the finished product coming over.

Marshall Atkinson  

Right. Right. And so when we're also just to kind of piggyback on your first statement, I think when we're trying to help our customers, you know, who have worked from home, or they're doing, you know, part-time in the office, and they're doing different things. Do you see the huge ramp-up and online stores and fulfillment as being still a key part of this industry moving through 2022? Because I think that's still going to be germane to everybody's success, don't you think?

Paul Bellantone  

I do. I think as you have dispersed groups when you're not having all of the t-shirts delivered to one location are all of the recognition products delivered to one location for an event, you're going to have more online, you're going to count on more technology, you're going to be counted on more fulfillment, and more dropship capabilities. And that's going to shift not only the distributors that are out there and how they're working with their customers. But you know, there's going to be a new breed of suppliers, that that's embedded in the products that they're buying, that they're great that their core functionality that their core value to the marketplace is not the product of their ability to deliver product to different places on time and cost-effective ways. You know, Marshall, we were talking a little bit earlier and you're brushing up on 30 years in this industry. So you've seen recessions, you've seen a change we've had to wars, we've had the great recession, we've had terrorist attacks. And that's on one side that's on the societal side of it. You've also seen the advent of computers being bought into our industry and different types of decorating methods. Has there been anything in your 30 years that has had as large an impact as COVID and the ongoing supply chain issues we're having now?

Marshall Atkinson  

No. And I think the biggest challenge is the fact that people are scrambling for labor, they can't get enough people to help them. Because when we downsized, all those people went and found something else to do. You know, and I've been studying this. And there has been such a huge shift in the number of small businesses that have started, it's record-breaking. You know, I was just looking at some labor statistics, actually, in this morning. And usually, there's each state, we're almost 40 to 50% more small businesses that start up per month, every state's got different rates. But all these people, when you downsize, they had to go find something else to do theirs. They started their own business, the people that were at retirement age, they just went ahead and retired. They're not coming back, either, right? And so that's why do we have such a huge challenge. And so what's happening is, these are the people that we depend on to drive the trucks or to answer the phone, or they're a waitress, or they're, you know, they're in the screen printing shop, you know, or whatever they're doing, they've moved to some other industry, and they're doing things. And then you have key industries, I think, with lots of capital, who have really raised the bar on how much wages they're offering. And so that's why you see in some cities, you know, working at a subway, they're making $22 or $25 an hour to make, you know, a ham sandwich, right? So the local people that we've been, depending on this industry, for workers to staff, they can't compete with that, right, which is why you're seeing lots of price increases and all kinds of just disruption. And I can't remember another time where we couldn't get garments, we couldn't get white ink, we couldn't get stuff shipped, you know, and we've always complained about shipping, write UPS, FedEx, Postal Service, whatever, but they eventually delivered. And now they don't have employees. So they're running late. And it's just crazy. domino effect that's happening. And I think 2023 We might be out of this thing, right? I don't see it's 2022. You know, this year just started. I don't think that we're, we're out of the woods anytime soon.

Paul Bellantone  

You know, that scope creep is real. Because in 2019, and 2020, it came out 2021. We're going to be okay, not 2022, it's going to be okay. And I think, you know, there's two ways you can look at scope creep and see the scope creep, like how long it's gonna last or knowledge creep. We know more now than we did when we made that first prediction. I think what's key to what you were saying in those 30 years that you had in 20 years I had, we've seen supply chain issues. We've seen shortages on certain products, we've seen labor issues, we've seen price compressions and all of these different dynamics, we've never seen them all at the same time. The thing that's saving us though, Marshall is that so our customers experience the same thing. It's not like they're only not getting what they need from their promotional products distributor, or they're only not getting what they need from their, you know, name industry, from that car industry, the auto industry or any other industry. We don't have to over-explain the challenges that we have, because they know it, they feel it in their own businesses. And there's that uncertainty, all we need to do is provide industry-specific solutions of how we can help them. And I think there's so many ways that we can help people right now, during the holiday rush, right?

Think how much sooner we had our customers ordering product that they wouldn't have ordered until September or October in a normal year for a November and December delivery. You start backing that up those salespeople who didn't make those recommendations, lost customers. And you know, they didn't say, Hey, here's a product. And I think this is going to be great. This smart people are saying here's a product and I think it's going to be great, but here's our plan B because inventory is running low on this, and here's our plan C and by the way, you don't have two weeks to make This decision anymore, we need to make it days because I cannot guarantee inventory. There are so many opportunities now, for us to be those trusted counselors and coaches to our clients that have more meaningful impact than they probably ever had. before. You know, every one of those customers out there that used to know how they were acquiring new customers, every one of our customers that were acquiring new customers, or needed new employees, or want them to recognize and retain employees, they used to know how to do that. They were the expert, they were telling us now we're telling them things that we're doing in our industry to help them do that, because they don't have the answer. What a great way to justify wonderful margins and build strong client relationships. It's really, I believe, an opportune time for companies to differentiate and add value in a market.

Marshall Atkinson  

It is the people who have the solutions, are the trusted advisors, you know.

Paul Bellantone  

Absolutely.

Marshall Atkinson  

That's where our value is. And I think this is a great segue into my next question. So HALO has got over 1000 in sales staff, and you were just talking about that. So where do you see people having success that are at the top of their game? You know, what is the differentiator with those folks? Is it just that expertise thing that we're just talking about? Or is there something that's a little deeper?

Paul Bellantone  

Well, I think the expertise needs to be there. Regardless, you should really have expertise. We're not in an economy right now where you just hold the bucket up and the orders fall into your pot. So the expertise, I think, is evenly distributed gaff, but it's really the confidence and the mental mindset, that this isn't just you, it's happening to everybody. And you have to get up and deal with it directly. You know, people who are successful are the ones who've met their customers where they are, whether that's they want to meet me in the tangible meetings, whether they want to meet online, whether they want to do zoom calls, or meet in coffee shops, it's those people who really listened to their customers' challenges if they had the same buyer at all. And what other roles and responsibilities does that buyer have now that they didn't have before? The ones that are addressing this by saying, what are the new challenges you're having, in your new role in this pandemic? With a supply chain issue? Not, hey, when's your next golf tournament? We need to order early. So those that are taking that real mindset, to the game with them, are the ones that are differentiating and winning more often, and winning bigger.

Marshall Atkinson  

So it's asking great questions, active listening, being the source of reason, and building that trust with the customer. That's what's really winning.

Paul Bellantone  

It is, it's a recognition that your customers his business, is as different as yours is that they're not any more certain about things in their business as we are in ours. And I think when you approach it that way when you approach it with the humility to say, hey, we know that a lot of things are going on, and you might be uncertain, but what are the things that you think you would have problems that, you know, you have now that we may never even talked about before, the level of the conversation becomes so much deeper, but it's only the salesperson who can approach with that, with their own level of self-confidence in their own servant leadership, I think are the ones that are winning right now. And again, winning back because they're moving across organizations like they hadn't before?

Marshall Atkinson  

And what are the tools that people are using it? Is it more video calls? Is it a better drip marketing newsletter campaign? What's really do you think that's really helping augment this whole process?

Paul Bellantone  

All of the above? I can remember 10 years ago, Marshall, I said, I'm never doing business by text messaging. I just said that just said, that's the line. When that happens. I'm adding more. I communicate with my AEs the way they want to be communicated. We have everything from faxes to team meetings going simultaneously, while people are on Zoom calls, in Starbucks, checking text messages, you know, there's nothing is really ever replaced. I think it's just additive. We get better at it. We adapt to it. And we respond to our customers the way that they need to communicate. I do think that there is a clamoring for face to face meetings, and I think we're going to see more of that. But I don't think zoom calls going away. I think that they'll just be another part of the way that we serve as clients. I would I don't think it's going to replace live meetings and live meetings will not replace him calls.

Marshall Atkinson  

So as a company is HALO is investing in video call training, and the tech support, and the bandwidth, and cameras and microphones and all that kind of stuff? You guys setting people up for success to make sure they have the right tools?

Paul Bellantone  

All of the above. And it's a recognition of what our customers want. And it's a recognition of one how our AEs want to be communicated to us, we have some that still want me to pick up the phone or pick up the phone, someone attacks, but it's also a reflection of how their customers want them to respond. And like you said, wash I think it was it was really interesting people, there are some people who are not being successful in this or who's just decided, You know what, I think this is a good opportunity for me to shift careers and do something else. Me for heaven's sakes, I did it. I decided I wanted a different challenge. But in every one of those challenges, there's an opportunity, you mentioned something and it really struck me that there are more small businesses right now opening than ever before. And even prior to the pandemic, there were 28 million small businesses in the United States. I happen to know that. Well, the average order size for promotional products is $800, $850, and they're generally virally distributed, but probably the wrong word to use these days virally distributed. But all of those businesses we are they're perfect medium, small orders, relationship-driven. So that's more opportunities for us to sell. We're not selling ads on the Goodyear Blimp during Superbowl or on TV commercials. We're selling products that all sized companies can can benefit from, especially small companies.

<<COMMERCIAL>>

Recently, inventory has been a hassle to deal with. And because of that, it's more important than ever before to know when something's back in stock. That's why we've added a new feature to our website that will make it easier for you when inventory is low. The next time you run into a style that's completely out of stock, you'll see a brand new button under its price labeled notify. Clicking this button will sign you up to receive an email when inventory has been added into our warehouses. Can't wait for more inventory to come in. Use the order comparables button on each product page to look through the inventory of styles that are similar to the one that's currently out of stock. For closer look at these features and other helpful tools, head on over to the Help Center at ssactivewear.com and click on website video guides. Thanks for listening.

Marshall Atkinson  

These days, it often feels like the decoration part of the order is an easier task. The logistics of that order is where everybody is stubbing their toe, right. So what do you feel we need to be able to get back on track? And I think this is something that everybody's struggling with right now.

Paul Bellantone  

Yeah, I wish I had we had as a company or as an industry a silver bullet, because I think some version of this is happening in every single industry. But I also know that you know, we talked to decorators all day long apparel decorators, product decorators, and they're changing the way that we work. They used to be able to say we didn't get all of the product. And so we'll decorate this and we'll wait for some other product. And now there's telling distributors, hey, we're not starting decoration product until all the product is delivered.

Well, that just sends an entire stream of activities happening that never happened before. It's how your company like HALO, we pay most of our sales people on both business, we get paid by customers on build business. Well think about how that window is broadening when your decorators are saying, well, we're not going to decorate this product until we have all of it in because you're not the only one with this problem.

Every company out there has it. It's changing that one piece of impact that you're talking about in supply chain is changing every single aspect of the business from how it's brought into the country to how you know it gets the input on it. No silver bullets, except I think we're all going to need to work a little bit harder because time is not on outside in this because inventories depleting faster. You need while you you know you come from the artwork side of things. Do you remember when we used to say camera ready? Meaning or is the art ready? And now it's the things that are defining ready are different than they were five years ago, and 10 years ago and 20 years ago? Already order looks different today than it did five months ago.

Marshall Atkinson  

Right. I was just talking with one of my clients -- today actually, and they were struggling with one of their largest clients, and they were trying to get the Gorter started. But not all, it's an apparel decorator shop, not all the pieces were in yet. And yet the ship date never changed. Right? It's the one of the things that I was helping them with was the language that they were going to use to apply to their client, which is that the clock needs to start when everything is here. And then here is our new service level agreement that we're going to do for you based on that timeframe. Because of course, there are a contract decorator and somebody else is ordering the shirts. And you know, they're left holding the bag. And so what's happening is they're having increased overtime, and all this kind of stuff to try to meet that date. And of course, if it's an event, you know, what's the State Fair, or, you know, a trade show or something that event has to go on? And of course, you have to do it. But if it's just a replenishment order, or whatever, and it doesn't really matter, then yeah, we can do that next week. So it's like one of these things, they're going to have to change their service level agreement to make it so it works for what's happening in reality, not the utopia that everybody thinks is in their mind about how stuff works.

Paul Bellantone  

You know, you said that in a way that I took it, you know, from a macro level, put it specifically into what it looked like for a client, we basically said the same thing, the clock starts in a different place, I think about you know, I always saw our apparel companies, we have some, you know, their largest suppliers in the industry or you know, the S&S and some alphas and sandbars, nice companies that even the most well run companies are struggling with the fulfillment of product and how much product is on the water. And what warehouse it's coming from. The decorator is at the end of that supply chain. So where it used to maybe come from one supplier and one of their warehouses, that same order can potentially be coming from a number of suppliers and a number of their warehouses. So when you talk about service level agreement, go back up the food chain again, where you can no longer afford to charge that price that you were charging me a year ago. But I have an agreement with my buyer customer, that this is how much he's going to pay for that shirt.

Marshall Atkinson  

It's a crazy thing.

Paul Bellantone  

Up and down. But you know, it's I used to talk to legal counsel that we're playing chess, not checkers, you know, sometimes our industries to be checkers was pretty easy with basic blocking and tackling. We're playing chess now. But not only we're doing that we're doing it on multiple boards simultaneously. Because each level of this chain is being affected differently. I think it's the most exciting part of my job every day right now is to say today is going to look like today is not going to look like any day prior to the one you can't step in the same river twice, right? This is the first time we've been 600 days into a pandemic, you know, or 601 days into a vendetta. Nobody knows what, you know, day 700 of it gonna look like, right, and that makes our industry pretty exciting right now.

Marshall Atkinson  

So what is your favorite tip for listeners to get out of being a commodity? You know, instead of just you know, you're an order taker, right, and start delivering on value. And so what should people be doing? What do you think, Paul? What should they be doing?

Paul Bellantone  

Recognizing that now more than ever, they have the opportunity to make an impact with their customers, let's put it two different ways. And really, it's a nice recap to everything that we've spoken about things will not be back to normal. Any company had 100 people sitting in a room talking on the phone, we'll have people back in their office doing that, but they're not going to have 100. And they're going to be all over the country that presents a different set of challenges for people who want to recruit, retain and recognize employees. So we have that part of it. And on every aspect of the business and then different sets of challenges across every business. We can't run our businesses the same way that we did. I think it's a recognition that not everything that used to be was good. You know, let's not bring back all of the things that it used to be let's bring back some other things. And so I don't know why I'm such an optimist about this, but I just know that there's no business right now. That can't reshape the way their industry does business. I don't know what the most successful distributors gonna look like two or three years from now. I hope it's my company. I think we have the tools to do it. But I don't know what problems some other distributors are solving right now that I haven't even identified.

Marshall Atkinson  

The field statement, you know, where there's problems, there's opportunity.

Paul Bellantone  

Oh, no more than now, you know. So how do you stop being a commodity? A lot of it just adds value -- what value is to your customers is different than it was 24 months ago, right? It used to just be a procurement of a safe product, or a valuable now it's, it's a little bit different. It's a little bit tricky resolving different problems. I'll seminar, it's finding out what value is to your customer today because I'll guarantee it wasn't what it was just two years ago. I think somebody was telling me, there's the part of the real estate that the real estate industry that's going to be changed forever because of this, right? And you have to figure out that housing is different right now, where commercial real estate looks like right now. Somebody was telling me about restaurants and real estate and restaurants and how much that's changed. And I was like, Well, tell me about it. Everything from how people are seated, to the number of spots in front of the restaurant that is dedicated to take out, you know, we're not even thinking about these things about how it's changing how parking lots have laid out. Everything is new and fresh right now. And and I think to try to apply old roles and old processes is just a gas March, if you if you do it that way.

Marshall Atkinson  

So really, it's keeping your head up antennas up, right? Let's find the opportunity just by paying attention. And really just talking with people and asking folks, what are they struggling with? What are how do you do that? What's going on. And I think maybe that's how we can deliver more value because we can bring a new idea to somebody that they might not have ever thought of. Because we've got the solution right here in our back pocket. And they don't know what we do. And we're connecting the dots for them.

Paul Bellantone  

Right. Well, think about kitting. Think how much of our business last year, we two years ago, year and a half ago, well actually researched again in 2021. Think about how much of our business was based on PPE, you know, which was always part of our industry, but not the dominant part of our industry clearly. And, you know, on PPE and then kitting and our ability to do dropship to multiple locations. You know, there were companies out there that were doing kitting and dropship. That was kind of, they always had it, but they were able to answer challenges that they were presented with before in the scale that they were presented with them. We had that in our back pocket. That's what gave us the ability to step up and solve problems. Because we had these skill sets all along. We're just answering different questions.

Marshall Atkinson  

Right, right. Well, great. Well, hey, Paul, thank you so much for sharing your story of success with us today. We appreciate it. So if someone wants to learn more about what you do, or how you can help them, what is the best way to contact you?

Paul Bellantone  

Well, you can reach me at work, I'm Senior Vice President of Sales at HALO. It's paul.bellantone@halo.com. Or just go to halo.com and see what we do, and we'll see if there's a way that we can help you and I guarantee because of my experience in the industry. If I can't find somebody on my team that can help y'all, I'll find somebody to help you because to me, it's always about growing and protecting our industry.

Marshall Atkinson  

Great. Well, thank you so much, Paul, you were great. Talk to you soon.

Paul Bellantone  

Thank you so much.

Posted 
Tue
Jan 11, 2022