Reciprocity Road PPEF Scholarship Awarded

We are delighted to announce that the Reciprocity Road “Roadie” PPEF Scholarship has been awarded to Nathaniel Jahns of Milwaukee, WI. Nathaniel’s father, Joel, is a Territory Manager for our good friends at SanMar.

The scholarship will assist Nathaniel in his effort to earn a degree in Industrial Engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Nathaniel currently works at Mid-States Aluminum Corporation as a summer intern where he is under the mentorship of a Mechanical Process Engineer. Nathaniel wrote in to tell us that this experience along with classes taken at Winnebago Lutheran Academy has confirmed that he belongs in the engineering field. What a fantastic way to begin what we hope will be a fulfilling and successful career! Nathan also writes,

I would like to thank everyone involved once again for this scholarship… My college education will serve as a springboard for the rest of my life, and this scholarship will be an important part of that.

It’s an honor to play such an important part in the development of such promising individuals. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Nathaniel.

Reciprocity Road Supports PPEF’s Mission With $7,500 Donation

Reciprocity Road, an industry buying group that is celebrating its one-year anniversary this week at The PPAI Expo, made a $7,500 donation to the Promotional Products Education Foundation at its breakfast meeting this morning. Pat Dugan, MAS, PPEF chair and Sara Besly, PPEF Foundation manager, were on hand to accept the check.

The generous donation was supported through contributions from two supplier partners, Hit Promotional Products and SanMar. It will benefit PPEF’s mission of providing college scholarships to the children of industry practitioners.

This year, PPEF has pledged to provide $175,000 worth of scholarships—its largest pledge since the foundation was formed in 1989.

Reciprocity Road provides its members with a forum to exchange ideas, offer creative collaboration and provide support for mutual benefit, progress and business success.

Photo: Reciprocity Road’s Rod Brown, MAS, CFO of MadeToOrder (left) and Jeremy Lott, president of SanMar, present a check for PPEF to Sara Besly, PPEF Foundation manager and Pat Dugan, MAS, PPEF chair, during The PPAI Expo.

Source: PPAI Publications

Road to the Emerald City

In September, Reciprocity Road took to the highway to journey toward our first inaugural Summit held in Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. Hosted by SanMar, Nike, and Seattle’s illustrious Image Source team, the event was filled with back-to-back strategy sessions, tours, and, of course, a camaraderie that defines the spirit of Reciprocity Road.


A foundational principal driving Reciprocity Road is transparency. The first evening kicked off with an unprecedented approach: a four-hour session in which each company presented a completely transparent and detailed overview of their business, profitability, and outlook. Anticipation mingled with uncertainty as each participant shared sales figures, profitability, growth strategies, technology challenges, and support structures. In an industry that rarely shares the details of their operating structures, this vulnerability cultivated an environment for comparative analysis to make each business stronger.

On Monday, the road led to a tour of the famous headquarters of Reciprocity partner SanMar. Hosted by Jeremy Lott, the tour included a behind-the-scenes look at the technology, product selection, and inventory processes that make this stellar giant a success. Tom Goos, Chair of the Board at PPAI and Reciprocity founding member, led a discussion between SanMar and Reciprocity on the future of the industry and the challenges and opportunities before us. During lunch, the Reciprocity Road members were paired with their inside account managers and, in the afternoon, a series of feedback sessions between Reciprocity and SanMar departments (featuring marketing, I.T., and sales) led to a spirited collaboration on marketing messaging, product recommendations, and process planning.

Tuesday, Scotland Thede, Director of Corporate Sales for Nike, led a campus tour of the Nike headquarters in Portland, OR. Scott provided an overview of the Nike merchandising principles and presented opportunities for corporate marketing through multiple Nike experiences.

Rod Brown of Made To Order, Inc. summed up the road trip with this reflection, “This trip, our first summit, was marked by a willingness to be open and vulnerable. Each Reciprocity Road member shed their reluctance to talk honestly about their business. They came to the meeting ready to discuss real solutions to hard problems. It’s this spark of honesty that makes ingenuity thrive; this is the very tenor we will continue with both distributor and supplier partners. It confirmed that we are proud to be traveling this road together.”

Reciprocity Road would like to thank Marty Lott, Jeremy Lott, the Image Source team (Tom Goos, Brian Haner, Jeff Holt), Tanya McKinney, Dan Tushar, Susan Rye, Ted Wright, Ann Klug, Lee Strom, Kimberly Kapustein, and Scotland Thede for their generous hospitality, warmth, and most of all, friendship. May the Road rise to meet you all.


The Greatest Return on Investment

rod-giving-blood“Give me a pint and I’ll save a life,” the doctor stated.

This is no slogan. Martha Sommers, the only doctor for 1,000 square kilometers in Northern Malawi is looking Reciprocity Road distributor Rod Brown directly in the eyes. Her matter-of-fact demeanor means her mission demands no time for pleasantries. Nearly twenty percent of the nation is infected with the horrific HIV virus; they have a desperate need for clean blood.

Nkhoma hospital is just one of the stops on this year’s trip. Rod Brown has traveled nearly 10,000 miles, far from the comfort of his northern California community, to conduct a critical mission at the Chilanga School for the blind. “I’m under no illusion that I will change the direction of these kids lives, but I can ensure that this day, today, they can have a great day.” school-for-the-blind

Some sixty or so kids surround Rod and his friends with laughter and singing.

Being born an albino child in sub-equatorial Africa means a horrendous alienation. “If you are albino you have 100% chance of severe vision impairment, to a greater or lesser degree you are blind or legally blind. Even if you are not physically orphaned, you are figuratively orphaned: expelled from your village because your own people are afraid of you. The blood of an albino is said to have special powers. You are shunned by your community and are susceptible to being hunted and killed for your blood.”

The orphans at Chilanga School for the Blind suddenly greet Rod and his friends with clapping and singing. Rod has put his long-hewn, entrepreneurial instinct to use. A frightening excursion into the heart of the black market rewards him with a greater exchange rate for the cash that Rod bears; this is a businessman who understands risk and the impact of a greater return on investment. “I can get far more food for my kids if I take the risk. Converting American cash into local currency means I feed more families, even if it means my head is on a constant swivel and a target’s on my back.”

fundsAfter procuring three hundred fifty kilograms of corn maize (meal) from the black market, he buys three bags of rice and beans. Maize is everyday fare for this school of orphans, but rice and beans are cause for exuberance. Small waves of happy chatter ripple and reverberate among the children. Three hundred and fifty kilos will sustain them through the winter. The bags of beans and rice are a special treat.

“Our opulence is absurd,” Rod laments. “When you start feeling sorry for yourself that you don’t have a NetJets card or your yacht isn’t big enough, think about being an orphan in the one of the poorest countries in the world, where the blaze of the subequatorial sun will consume you and every noise in the night shudders a fear through you that someone is stalking you with a machete to take a limb and sell it on the black market. Think of the deep emotional scars you carry simply because of how you were born. Add to all of this, the rawness of real hunger against the ever-present risk of contracting a deadly disease, the plight and poverty exceed our comprehension. And yet, their capacity for joy is immense. They laugh and sing and play. I look at these children and think I need some of this this running in my veins, I need their passion in my heart.

reciprocity-sanmarRod and his sons have taken this trek to Africa four times over the last 10 years, but this year, he comes bearing an added benefit. “Thanks to the generosity of one of our Reciprocity partners, Marty Lott, we’re arriving with gifts.” MadeToOrder caps and shirts (provided by SanMar) are distributed and proudly worn by the kids. “There is no audience more grateful for a shirt and hat than an audience like these kids: the shade from the cap means a literal salvation from the sun’s rays.” One of the older kids grabs Rod’s arm and speaks with his eyes lifted to reach Rod’s attention, “Although we cannot see, we know we look beautiful in our new shirts.”

Reciprocity means mutual dependence or influence. Giving often feels like a one-way street, as if the only one who benefits is the receiver. But the people who are changed are the givers. “It is changing me. This isn’t a simple matter of being grateful for all we have in light of the poverty that they posses; this is quid pro quo: we give from our wealth of materials; they give from their generosity of spirit. Those of us on this trip return with only the clothes on our backs, we leave everything: luggage, shaving kits, extra clothes, every cent. Even though we return with nothing, we somehow return richer. I can’t explain it, but it’s the greatest return on investment I’ve ever experienced in over forty years of doing business.




Reciprocity Road Welcomes QRG, Projects $150+ Million by Year-End

Quality Resource Group of Minnesota joins Reciprocity Road as an official member of the road crew.reciprocity-logos-for-footer-in-newsletter-2-bl-sep-2016-fw

Founded in 1965, Quality Resource Group, a $34 million marketing asset management company, brings technological prowess, operational excellence, and a solid reputation to Reciprocity, a fast-growth collective launched at the PPAI Expo only six months ago.

The seven distributors who comprise Reciprocity Road (MadeToOrder, Inc., Brand Fuel, The Icebox, Zagwear, Image Source, C&S Sales, and Robyn Promotions) wholeheartedly endorsed QRG after a thorough review process, including an on-site visit. “We are meticulous about who joins Reciprocity Road,” stated Rod Brown, Chief Financial Officer at MadeToOrder, Inc. “We have an obligation to our stakeholders and our supplier partners to align only with exceptional companies for the fastest return possible. And we don’t mean merely monetary returns, the criteria for a Reciprocity Road member involves three key areas: a stellar reputation; proficient, profitable, and creative business practices; and a generous corporate spirit. Quality Resource Group exemplifies our highest ideals and will help accelerate our mission and mutually enrich our professional growth.”

“Reciprocity Road is a revolutionary force that drives value to our supplier partners, internal teams, and to the communities in which we live. Reciprocity Road’s core mission and values align perfectly with our own, and we can clearly accomplish more as a group than we can individually. QRG’s inclusion in Reciprocity marks the beginning of what promises to be a fulfilling partnership,” said QRG President, Todd Pottebaum.

A mid-year assessment revealed that the Reciprocity Road collective is now projecting over $150 million in revenue by year-end. “We are humbled by the amount of interest in Reciprocity Road,” stated Rod Brown, “and we’re honored to align with the entire team at Quality Resource Group. Together, we will build a mutually beneficial highway for greater profit, while fueling an inspiring journey for everyone involved.”

Our Journey Begins

To our strategic partners: Thank you for believing in our mission and joining us on an epic adventure. We are proud to announce that nearly all of the selected, top 30 partners, have signed agreements and are official members of Reciprocity Road. Since our inaugural groundbreaking at the PPAI Expo in January, we have:

  1. Secured amazing agreements with our strategic partners.
  2. Sparked conversations and commitments within our walls to give priority to Reciprocity Road members. (Example? One distributor has already kicked-off a sales contest exclusive to Reciprocity supplier partners; see the image at the end of this note).
  3. Began relationships with our charitable partners (one Reciprocity distributor alone has already given to CMN over $4,000 in combined in-kind and cash donations).

Where does the road lead from here?

  • Suppliers: Reciprocity Road has committed to fewer supplier partners so that we can concentrate our spend and magnify our influence. Each distributor member of Reciprocity is striving to give allegiance to our strategic partners. The questions we continually ask: How can we give you priority? How else can we help you with our teams and our processes so that we grow together? The next several weeks are dedicated to answering these questions while opening up communication and building a better road to faster profit.
  • Distributors: Most of the Reciprocity distributor members have already visited each other’s offices. Our weekly conference calls continue to add value to our respective businesses as we open up about the challenges and opportunities before us. Though we are adamant about keeping our group small, we welcome a discussion with any interested distributor who wants to grow their business, enlarge their profits, and pay it forward.
  • BrandGood: Profitable partnerships are our priority; BrandGood is our vision. Our BrandGood component had to wait in the wings until we could establish all the agreements with our strategic partners. Now that the road is paved, expect our charitable efforts to move to the fast lane. In the upcoming weeks and months, we will be sharing more of the charitable work we are doing in our respective markets. You already know of our rather modest donation goal for our first year together. What you do not know is that we have hopes and aspirations for something much bigger. Join us as we work toward our year-end contribution to our primary charities but, in the meantime, let’s learn to work better together to make Reciprocity a reality for us, our teams, and our communities.

Like all businesses, we will grow into our distinct differentiation as we actualize our vision. We’re trying to build something inspirational, not perfunctory. We are idealizing, dreaming, planning that the model of a buying group in our industry can be more, that the alliances can be stronger, the reciprocal influence loud and life-changing.

Again, to those who have taken the high road with us and believed in our efforts: thank you.

May the Road rise to meet you.



Laying the groundwork

The Reciprocity Road Distributors hosted their official launch reception with their teams and potential supplier partners at the 2016 PPAI Expo. Industry leaders from many of the top suppliers gathered to hear the vision for a new kind of buying group, one that inspires philanthropy through common charities and also returns greater profit while building stronger alliances. Rod Brown, industry veteran and one of the founders, cast a strong vision for where the road leads, “this is going to be a journey that benefits everyone involved, by definition, our name carries our brand promise. Reciprocity Road is focused on maximizing financial incentives while lowering frictional cost. We are on a mission to pave the way for better relationships with our partners, our teams, and our collaborative leadership. We want a different kind of journey, a highway that returns greater profits, faster, a journey worth taking together.” Breaking ground (from left to right) are Distributor members Tom Goos (Image Source), Brad Storms (C&S Sales), Rod Browne (Made to Order), Brian Haner (Image Source), Scott Alterman (The Icebox), Robert Fiveash (BrandFuel), Toby Zacks (Zagwear), Bobby Lehew (Robyn Promotions), and Jeff Holt (ImageSource); not pictured: Danny Rosin (BrandFuel), Jordy Gamson (The IceBox), Judd Karofsky (Zagwear).

A New Kind of Buying Group with BrandGood at Heart

Houston, TX (January 5, 2016) – MadeToOrder, Inc., Brand Fuel, Inc. The Icebox, Zagwear,  ImageSource, C&S Sales, and Robyn Promotions announce the formulation of a new kind of buying group, one with a philanthropic heart.

A conversation at the PPAI Expo two years ago sparked a mission of solidarity as seven distributors with collective gross sales of $100 million, galvanized their efforts to build better businesses together while making their communities stronger.

Reciprocity Road is new kind of buying group, committed to returning more business to their carefully selected supplier partners with open access to end user clients, more rebate dollars to their sales teams, and consolidated support of chosen charities.

This initial group of seven founding members reviewed other buying groups and affiliations and, due to regional conflicts or member populations outside their profile, decided to create their own.  The team shares a common vision, transparency and cooperation with each other and all their constituents, vendors, and employees alike.

Rod Brown, CFO at MadeToOrder, Inc. “We are sending a clear message to all of our supplier partners, our communities, and our teams that this is going to be a journey that benefits everyone involved. By definition, our mutual dependence on each other becomes our catalyst. By naming the group Reciprocity Road, it’s a reminder even to ourselves, that we exist to benefit each other.”

“Too often, buying groups lapse into a rebate-only or EQP-for-all entity. Reciprocity Road is focused on maximizing financial incentives while lowering frictional cost but we are on a mission to pave the way for better relationships with our partners, stronger two-way traffic. We want a different kind of journey, a highway that returns greater profits, faster, that is worth taking together, along a road that leads somewhere inspirational.”

Each year, the Reciprocity Road distributors select a charity (or charities) as their mission to make an impactful change. A percentage of the rebate dollars collected will be returned to the chosen charity. The 2016 charities of choice are PPEF (Promotional Products Education Foundation) and CMN (Children’s Miracle Network).