Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kids of Character

Artistic Toy has partnered with the Kids of Character – Lehigh Valley to promote character education.  James Socci, President of Artistic Toy has been nominated to the organizations Board of Directors in 2012.  This month Northwestern Lehigh High School students in the Interact Club will be taking teddy bears into Lehigh Valley Children’s Hospital.  Students will comfort patients and share the great character traits of Theodore Roosevelt.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Product Importers need to take action now to prepare for strike

Are you ready for slower delivery times and increased shipping costs in 2013?

There are only a couple days left until the East Coast Longshoreman strike goes into effect.  On December 29, 2012, the 90 day contract extension for the East Coast Longshoreman expires.  Without a new contract or the government stepping in force the Port workers back to work under the Taft-Hartley Act imported promotional products needed for events in January or February will be stuck in ports.  

Surprisingly, there has been no news regarding contract expiration that could lead to a strike that will cripple importers from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2002, the West Coast Longshoreman 10 day labor lock-out costs the U.S. economy $1 billion per day and slowed deliveries for 6 months.  

Artistic Toy is preparing all of its customers who have goods shipping before the end of the year that deliveries will be slowed down due to port congestion and additional charges accessed by carriers to deliver goods to door.  We are advising distributors with orders scheduled to deliver by sea in January and February they should plan on at least a 14 day delay and could see additional freight surcharges as much as 40%.  Speak to your customers immediately to arrange partial air shipments for end of January and February events.

Based on our last conversation with our Customs Broker and Freight Forwarder the following costs would apply when the strike goes into effect.

Port Surcharge - A Port Congestion Surcharge of $600/20'; $750 /40' and $950/45' container will be assessed to all shipments due to labor unrest, including but not limited to strikes, lock-outs, work stoppages or slow down at any U.S. port(s). 

Demurrage Charges - The first 4 Working Days free (excludes weekends and holidays).

On day 5 the following charges apply:

Date of Delivery + 4 Work Days - 1 – 4 days  - $207 per day
Date of Delivery + 4 Work Days - 5 - 9 days – $260 per day
Date of Delivery + 4 Work Days - 10+ days -  $432 per day

In the past, all Demurrage charges have been waived.  There are so many uncertainties; however, we feel it is our responsibility to prepare customers for the worst case scenario and hope for the best.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Here's How We're Different!

On Monday at 11am, we received a call for a potential order of 3,000pcs of a soft stock bear.  The delivery timing required that the order be done domestically, however, the end user’s requirements were much more involved than a typical stock order request.  By 1pm, the Sales Team had received 5 more calls and emails related to this same project – some from familiar customers and others from new customers.  Each distributor customer was clearly working on the same project and knew that the project was out for bid, but each gave us just a little more information as to the project details, customer’s requirements, and ultimate promotion.   To add a little more complexity to this project, the end user had required all the pricing and photos of options to be submitted by 3pm the same day!  As stated in our strategic objective, “Our success is driven by a team of professionals that listen to customers needs and understand the importance of good communication. “ 

They wanted a very soft bear, but they wanted this bear to have a portion of his fur removed and a patch in the fur stating their tagline, “I donated some of my softness to Caress”.   We discovered that the end user was a Furniture company that was promoting the softness of their new carpet brand, Caress.   We worked with our cosmetology department (Beckie) to take some bears home and try several methods shave a portion of Peter Bear’s fur.  To meet the customer’s request for pricing and pictures by the 3pm deadline, we also manipulated a flock saddle and calculated pricing and labor costs to glue the patches.   We did, however, let our customers know that we were exploring some additional options overnight which included stitching, shaving, or cutting.   Beckie returned in the morning with the results of her “hairdressing” as well as created an option with some hand-stitching.   Jenn typeset artwork and Terry helped us transfer the logos onto our patch and ribbon to present photos of a spec sample to help “sell” the idea.   We presented the ideas and updated pricing to our customers on Tuesday and received some very positive and thankful responses. 

We learned that we were one of, if not the only company, that was willing to help our distributor clients with this urgent request.   One of our customers from IPromoteU told us that Steven Smith, Vitronic, and Fields (all our ASI competitors) would not go any further than offering a bear with an imprinted t-shirt which was not what the customer wanted.   While we do not know the end user’s final decision on this potential order, we worked together as a team to meet 6 distributor company’s requests when our competitors were not willing to do this.  What a testament to our Strategic Objective which states, “Everyone understands how their work brings value to the organization.”  Our teamwork to understand the client’s needs, present creative ideas, and meet their time frame has helped us toward a trusted relationship with these clients which could amount to success far greater than this potential 3,000pc order. 

-          Betsy Socci, Sales Manager

Friday, November 16, 2012

Three No Cost Ways to Say Thank You!

People have choices about where to spend their time and money.

Take the time to thank them for choosing your business.

Saying thanks is an easy and effective way to grow relationships—and ultimately, benefit your business.

Social Media Shout-outs:
Recognizing customers shows them how much you value them. Thank customers by mentioning them in a tweet, posting a coupon on Facebook, or profiling one of your best in a blog post. As a bonus, the customer will often share your efforts with their personal networks.

Personalized Emails:
Turn a customer into a loyal one by giving them special attention. Send personalized emails to customers thanking them for their business. Give customers a reason to remember you in the New Year with a discount on their favorite products or services.

Recognition for a job well done is great incentive for employees to keep up the good work. Take your gratitude a step further with publicity. If an employee wins an award, send out a press release and share the news on social media or the company blog.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Character Toys

The Sales Team has been working hard to develop our 2013 Catalog.   There are so many good ideas; however, bringing it all together to balance words and pictures to tell a story about how Artistic Toy is different than other stuffed toy manufacturers is not an easy task.  We talked with a graphic artist for two hours about our ideas and determined we needed to outline a story of the most important things about our Company.  Through further reflection following outline was developed to help tell our story.   

Custom Stuffed Toy Prototypes in 48 hours
Helping You Build Character
Absolutely Safe – All of our toys are independently safety tested and meet or exceed requirements by the CPSIA
Relationships - We are on purpose about helping customers understand the opportunities that exist within Character Marketing™
Artistic Alerts – Email updates are provided to you at each stage of your order from initial entry to final shipment to keep you informed
Case studies – We will provide you with case studies to help understand the uses of plush toys in your business and their ROI.    
Thousands of stock toys – We have thousands of stock toys in our inventory that can be personalized and delivered in 10 days
Every detail of the toy is considered before the first stitch is made. 
Reliable – You can count on our Artistic Toy team for all of your stock and custom plush toy needs

Top notch quality –  Our factory quality control experts, overseas manager, and US production team examine every detail of your toy to make sure you are 100% satisfied
Our promise to you – We create products for distinguished organizations.  Working with our character will change your life forever
Your Brand – Our master designer will create your one of a kind custom prototype in 48 hours from an existing mascot, drawing or concept to bring your brand to life
Service above all others – Our unique CPC – Clear Process Communication meeting system keep you informed every step of the way from initial order to final delivery

Everything from the marketing to the manufacturing is based on Character at Artistic Toy.    Character Marketing™  is the concept that stuffed toys, when used as Characters in your marketing, will transform a brand so that it connects with people emotionally, move customers to action, and turn customers into fans. Character Marketing ™ is more than plush toy manufacturing.  It is the establishment of brand that is dependent on Character Manufacturing™.  Character Manufacturing ™ is about factory relationships that allow us to do things other suppliers can’t.  It is a shared philosophy that quality control goes beyond government standards to a global team of people who care about how the product looks when it comes out of the box. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It’s Everyone’s Job

If you look at Artistic Toy’s organization chart you might wonder where is the Marketing Department.  Who is responsible for Marketing?  The biggest complaint about most Marketing Departments is that they never talk to the Sales Department.  Some organizations propose to solve that problem by making a Sales & Marketing Department. 

In reality you can’t put the additional burden of something so complicated and important on one department.  At Artistic Toy we subscribe to the philosophy that Marketing is NOT a department, it is an ATTITUDE.  I recently learned from Paul Kiewiet, MAS that People are the 5th P that many Marketing text books overlook.  (Product, Price, Place, Promotion).  My feeling is that the most influential people are on marketing is the entire team of people that show up to work every day.  It is their attitude and desire to do more than push product and paper all day that sets us apart.  Please join me in celebrating the accomplishments within each and every department to take on this very important role of Marketing our company.
  1. Public Relations:  PPB Boss Nomination, Customer Service SuperHero, Product Safety
  2. Product Website: Accounting leading the team to accurate product information
  3. Loyalty Packages: Production delivering relevant products to each customer.
  4. Email Campaigns: Sales sending weekly product ideas to customers.
  5. Facebook Posts: Product of the Day, Quotes, Team Member Birthday, Anniversaries
  6. Catalog Design:  Developing attractive layouts and new product suggestions
  7. Clear Process Communication Meetings: Customer Surveys & Ratings
  8. Character Story:  Holding us to accountable to our vision and mission.

I think everyone in the Company would agree they have been involved in many of the activities above; however, may not have viewed them as Marketing.  So the next time you are doing something and wondering, “How is this my job?”  Think about how important Marketing is to the Company and that the set of expectations you set for yourself, memories created, stories shared, and relationships built all taken together account for our brand and when communicated effectively is the most powerful form of Marketing we have.   Keep up the good work team!   

Friday, November 2, 2012

How do you handle a situation in which distributors complain about suppliers selling direct yet they, themselves, source product directly from overseas?

The premise of the Industry is founded on a Supplier and Distributor relationship.  The integrity of the Supplier and Distributor relationship is the strength of the industry.  The primary tenant that no one will disagree is that the Supplier does not sell product directly to end buyer organizations, as this is the job of the sales organization or Distributor Company.  Suppliers that sell to end buyer organizations are looked upon as less favorable than those who do not sell direct.  From the Supplier’s perspective their does seem to be a double standard because Distributors have many direct factory relationships to overcome price pressure from customers.  

With a hobbling global economy Distributors are economically pressured to skip the U.S. import supplier and deal directly with factory in China.  Consequently, direct import trading companies have started to register with the industry organization making it easier for Distributors to connect directly with factory representatives that work on commission and can eliminate all need for a U.S. supplier.  Some of the larger distributor companies have but their own purchasing policies in place that make all orders over a certain dollar value go out for bid to other suppliers.  Many of these suppliers are non-industry suppliers, trading companies, or directly with the premier factories.

In my experience it provides no value for the Supplier to complain about the Distributor's sourcing practice, as well as it does no good for the Distributor to complain about the Supplier's direct sales practice.   While Artistic Toy does not sell directly to end user buyers, the focus must be on how we can help each other regardless of who you sell to or buy from.  No one distributor or supplier owns any customer relationship.  Every buyer has a different set of needs and requirements for ordering and you have to carefully understand how each of us fits into that relationship.  The real problem for most businesses is who my target market and what am I better at than anyone in the world?  Once we answer those questions with clarity and integrity our value is sustained regardless of supply chain problems.    

Thursday, October 18, 2012

10 Sage Marketing Tips

These marketing tips are brought to you by Sage.  Sage (S2119) is our 7" American Eskimo Plush Dog .  Sage is a profoundly wise character that brings holiday joy and business marketing tips.  

  1. Don’t try and run with the Big Dogs if you’re not a Big Dog.  Trying to make yourself bigger than you are will end up biting you in the tail.
  2. Customer’s like Dog’s need attention.  Take the time to show them appreciation, but don’t lick their face.
  3. Dogs and customers were made to be close companions, don’t treat them like a meal ticket.
  4. Customers are smart but you have to make your message simple. 
  5. Give more in each interaction than you ever expect to receive. 
  6. Communicate a vision and cause beyond your product or service. 
  7. Never stop making a first impression with your customers. 
  8. Listen to your customers and make sure you hear them. 
  9. Your personal attitude is your most valuable piece of marketing. 
  10. Be passionate about what you say and carefully decide how to deliver the message. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What should a Supplier do when they receive this type of email from an End Buyer?

From: Karen
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2012 4:22 PM
To: Jennifer Jaman
Subject: RE: Distributor Request from Promo Marketing User: Karen Sherrill

We’re not members of ASI, SAGE or PPAI.
But our corporate structure is such that we support 6 brands in the physical therapy industry –  so most suppliers (like Gold Bond, Hit, LogoMark, etc.) sell to us as a distributor.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


We expect some of our customer orders will be delayed due to the pending Longshoreman Strike for all East Coast Ports.  The looming strike has a 90% probability to go into effect at midnight October 1, 2012.   Please be see the most recent news release

The shipping carriers have already introduced CONJESTION SURCHARGES in anticipation of the strike.  If the strike does happen more additional costs and delays will occur.  We cannot accurately estimate your delivery time and additional costs at this time; however, we are preparing our team to understand the costs and to discuss alternatives with customers.  We will be closely monitoring the situation and schedule a meeting with you to discuss timing and costs should the strike go into effect. 

Some experts think that since the government has the ability to step in and control the ports, the November elections could play a factor.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Unlimited Potential


Sometimes we are limited by our beliefs.  Over the last 7 years I felt that since Artistic Toy supplies plush toys exclusively to independent distributor companies that it would be biting the hand that fed us if I began attending community networking events where I would be introduced to more end user clients versus  distributors.  In the last 4 weeks, I started challenging myself around this belief discovered I am missing huge potential for our Company.


(1)   BNI Networking Meeting -   I attended my first meeting and decided not to join for a number of reasons; however, encountered an uncomfortable situation with a Distributor Salesperson that felt threatened by my attendance.  Today, Five Thousands FormsDavid Eiskowitz is visiting our office to meet our team and will be working with me to create a Character Marketing Presentation that I will deliver directly to his 30 BNI members on how and why they should use Plush Toys over other promotional products.


(2)   Business Partner Referral – Our Accountant’s Stortz& Associates recognized that one of their preferred providers KeystoneFinancial Management was placing an order for promotional products.  They emailed the Marketing Coordinator and told her to consider using us to help them source their products.  I spoke to the Coordinator and told her why toys were the best promotion she could use and to prove it to her I was sending a sample to her office.  In the meantime, I also noticed from an email copy that Don Spencer – Boundless Networks - Valley Brandworks was attempting to build a relationship with this end user.  Artistic Toy never worked with Don; however, after sending him a duplicate sample and speaking to him about this opportunity he was thrilled to work with us.  Today, I spoke with the Sr. VP of Sales Marketing for Keystone Financial Management who explained he would be placing an order with Don for a couple of hundred of our bears to give out into a school networking functions. 

These two experiences and several conversations PPAI Board Member, Team Member, and Editor have convinced me to think differently about the Supplier Distributor Relationships.  In business and in life we have to continue to re-define ourselves and think about how we are adding value.  I am happy to say suppliers can work directly with end users and maintain the integrity of the supply chain.  This truly is fulfillment of Artistic Toy’s Unique Selling Proposition…. “Helping You Build Character”  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Enjoy The Process

Sometimes people make things harder than they need to be.  I for one want to make a system out of everything I work on.  If I’m going to invest my time to figure out how to do something, I want to make sure it can be replicated and others can achieve the same success as me, if not more.


Unfortunately, the system view comes at a cost.  It costs us extra time, effort, and learning.  The thought of taking yourself through the entire process again in the form of documentation is painful.  More work….Ahh!  I’ll never be done what I’m supposed to do and finish the documentation.  So we lose heart and leave future success to chance, versus documenting our experience and teaching others. In order to overcome this dilemma we need to shift our focus from all the things we need to do, to all the benefits our work will provide us and our team members.  Taking the first step is the hardest part.  Don’t worry about perfection.  Start your documentation as if you are writing it to go in the trash can. 


I was excited to learn about team members how are starting documentation and also jumping into things that need immediate fixing.  J.J. and Jim have started documenting and training on their Set-up and Closing procedures.  They will be following this up with role reversals and schedule shifts to confirm all aspects of the system are understood and can be replicated.    Jenn and Kelly have jumped in head first to improving our Marketing.  They are investigating Tradeshows, developing WOW type email flyer concepts, and exploring the exciting world of social media.   


The last paragraph of our Strategic Objective states that “every area of the Company has a set of documented systems”, “procedures help facilitate training and reliable delivery”,  and “team members are empowered to make decisions”.   What it doesn’t say is that this is a heck of a lot of work, but you can have fun doing it.   Thank you to these team members for embracing our vision and making road to success more enjoyable.


Jim Socci, President