Sarah Penn & Andy Thorne of Outstanding Branding were part of the UK delegation joining Sourcing City at the ASI Show in Chicago.

Sarah insightfully and amusingly observed: “I’d never been to the States before. I’d never set foot in the Land of Opportunity. But as opportunity, in the shape of global partnerships, was what I was looking for, off I went.

So it was with excitement as well as an element of trepidation that I landed in Chicago last week to visit one of the biggest and most influential trade shows in the US. Will I get on with the locals? Will they understand my accent? Will they ask if I know the Queen? And more importantly, how will I make sure I achieve my goals while I’m there?

1And that is Step One of how to take on the US and win: Have Goals.
There’s no point attending an international, or indeed any, trade show without having clearly defined goals. We had two – firstly to establish a truly global supply chain to supplement our offering to our EMEA customer base; and secondly, to establish partnerships with distributors across the pond. This would allow us to offer a real local knowledge to our EMEA clients with any type of promotional merchandise requirement in the US, whether a one-off event they need a product for, or a global scheme that needs fully managing.

2Which leads on to Step Two: Do Your Homework. Before heading over, we researched the industry at length; spoke to and joined the fabulous and abundantly supportive Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), America’s largest education and services provider to the US promotional merchandise industry; through them, we identified potential suppliers and planned our route around the vast show hall to make sure we visited them all; and ‘reached out’ to potential partner distributors to introduce ourselves and start building relationships before we landed.

3And that leads to Step Three: Speak the Lingo.
Most will be familiar with the George Bernard Shaw quote “America and England are two countries separated by a common language” and he was, in my experience, spot on.

A question on annual turnover will be met with a blank stare; ‘sales revenue’ is the phrase you need. Asking what process was used to make a product may result in you being given a price list. And how one can end up with water when asking for a large latte is anyone’s guess, but trust me, it happened. So you need to embrace your inner American; in the same way you shouldn’t be ashamed to try out a few phrases of French on your holidays, try out a few Americanisms. I’ve reached out; I’ve lucked out; I’ve had a nice day. Like trying out your schoolboy French, it may feel strange and slightly embarrassing at first, but you soon get into the flow and are more likely to get the information, details or drink you wanted.

4 Finally, Step Four: Be Yourself.
I’ve returned from my trip to the States with some fantastic supplier and partner connections; invaluable information; and wonderful memories. By aligning ourselves with those who are on our wavelength, with the same passion for our industry, products and customer service as we have, we’ve established strong relationships in the US promotional merchandise industry and achieved our initial goals.

I was bowled over by the openness, the willingness to share, the sheer outright hospitality of just about everyone I met in Chicago. There really is no need to brag, to exaggerate, or try to impress. Be honest, be open, be professional and you’re half way to achieving those goals you set.

And did anyone ask if I knew the Queen? Only once.”