Reciprocity Road Members Represent in DC

Toby Zacks and Rick Brenner (past CEO of Prime) in front of the Capital Bldg. at L.E.A.D.

Recently, Reciprocity Road Members Tom Goos (Image Source) and Toby Zacks (Zagwear) visited our nation’s capitol to advocate for our industry and small businesses as a part of PPAI’s Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.). Tom and Toby along with 78 industry leaders held over 250 meetings with our elected officials or their staff.

When asked about the experience, Toby stated, “This opportunity gave me a renewed commitment to the value our industry brings to the marketplace. I would encourage others to get involved on legislative issues that will protect our industry.”

Discussions focused on three legislative issues that could greatly impact the industry and have a ripple effect on job creation.

  • Border Tax
  • Independent Contractor Status
  • Advertising deductions

Toby continues, “The entire experience was meaningful, fulfilling and time well spent. Not only were we spending time to help causes which affect our industry, but it was also great to meet others from our industry and discuss these matters in person.”

Tom says, “PPAI’s Legislative Education & Action Day (L.E.A.D.) is critical to the future success of our industry. Our elected officials need to hear the impact of promotional products and how effective they are in the marketplace as well as how their legislature decisions effect our businesses.”

View the PPAI L.E.A.D. agenda here.

Brand Fuel Featured in PPB Magazine’s Forces For Good

In the June issue of PPB, Reciprocity Roadie Danny Rosin discusses the culture of BrandGood that they’ve fostered at Brand Fuel.

At Brand Fuel, we believe we can improve the world through promotional products. Robert Fiveash, my business partner, and I call the business of benevolence “BrandGood.” Beyond the positivity that gets connected to our brand, it gives us a shared sense of purpose. That purpose of giving back outside the office is directly tied to morale, culture, friendships, retention, teamwork and generosity in the office.

Read the entire article here.

The Icebox Brands Good by Making Everyday More Pleasant for Those Who Need it Most.

The Icebox prides itself in giving back and entrenching itself in Atlanta’s philanthropic community. When the opportunity arose to BrandGood with The Foundation for Hospital Art’s, PaintFest, we jumped to sponsor their events across the country, and sent a team of employees to volunteer at their local event at Emory Hospital here in Atlanta.

Walking through a traditional hospital can be a drab experience. You typically see white walls and a décor resembling vanilla ice cream. In 1975, John Feight, a volunteer at Northside Hospital, in Atlanta, Georgia, decided to change that by decorating the hospital walls with meaningful artwork. His vision was to give visitors, staff and patients a more visually pleasant experience while they were there.

In 1984 The Foundation for Hospital Art, was officially established and remains dedicated to involving patients, staff and volunteers worldwide to create colorful visual artwork for hospitals. The donated pieces of art help to mitigate the often stressful hospital experience.

Today over 1,000,000 volunteers have collaborated in a joint effort to create over 44,000 paintings for over 4,000 hospitals around the world. John’s son, Scott, now carries on his father’s legacy and carries his father’s vision to create and spread visual cheer in places where the simplest things can go a long way.

The team at The Icebox felt really good about what they were doing by sponsoring and volunteering to paint at PaintFest. Not only was it a therapeutic and enjoyable experience, but it was also a great opportunity to spend  quality time making the world we live in just a little bit better and brighter for everyone. The next time your company could use a little team building while Branding Good, look no further than the Foundation for Hospital Art.

Brand Fuel and Friends BrandGood by Helping to Feed their Community.

At Reciprocity Road, one of our most important goals is to be a force for good in the communities in which we work and play.

Brand Fuel started the year off by doing just that in their own neighborhood. On January 23rd, Brand Fuel introduced the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Backpack Buddies Program and Trophy Brewing Co. to their clients at a BrandGood event that included handcrafted brew and a little hustle to outfit backpacks with the vittles required nourish active brains. Check out their photo album on Facebook.

BackPack Buddies provides children from food-insecure homes with healthy weekend meals during the school year. The children, selected by school principals, guidance counselors, and supervisors of various after school programs, receive a backpack containing six balanced meals and two healthy snacks at the end of every week. Local corporations like Brand Fuel and Trophy Brewing Co. help collect and pack bags with kid-friendly non-perishable food.

Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is an innovative hunger-relief organization serving seven counties in and around the Triangle.

We believe hunger IS fixable if the community works together to do two things: create sources of healthy food in every low-income neighborhood and grow opportunities for people to provide for themselves by learning job skills or growing their own food.

At Reciprocity Road, we couldn’t be more proud of the efforts that each of our nine distributors take to better their own communities.


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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

2016 Annual Update: Our First Year

To our vital partners:


  • DEFINED (AND REDEFINED!) OUR MASTER SERVICES AGREEMENT. No small feat when you are trying to corral several hyper-busy entrepreneurs plus their lawyers and accountants!
  • DETAILED SUPPLIER PARTNER ANALYSIS. Over three years, and across nine diferent distributor companies, we compiled a spreadsheet of over 700 vendors (this reflects only the vendors with whom we spend over $10K a year). The reason for our analysis? Reduce our partner network; increase spending. We are, admittedly, not there yet, but we’re making progress. This analysis helped lay the groundwork for Reciprocity Road. We will soon stand on our feet and celebrate: fewer vendor partners; longer (richer) lifetime values.
  • ESTABLISHED OUR CORE CHARITABLE PARTNERS and, more importantly, plotted our path toward becoming greater supporters of our communities in the future. Reciprocity distributors already give time and money to important causes, but our concerted effort toward a few key charities is something new. It is also the brightest point on the horizon for our future. We started small, but now that we have initiated this journey, our vision is to grow charitable contributions at a significant pace. You will hear more about this in the near future.
  • INTEGRATED QRG AND SWERVEPOINT INTO THE FAMILY OF RECIPROCITY DISTRIBUTORS. QRG’s mid-year integration was an unexpected path on our journey but, thanks to you, our partners, we quickly on-boarded a substantial business associate, projecting year-end sales for Reciprocity at $150MM. The addition of SwervePoint for 2017 is equally substantial, projecting 2017 year-end group sales at $200MM. Our commitment to you is that we will continue to attract only the brightest and boldest distributors in the industry.
  • DETERMINED WHO WE’RE NOT. We will not compromise size nor passion. Distributors have approached us to request inclusion into Reciprocity. For various reasons, some of these distributors were not accepted. This is a direct reflection of our commitment to you: stay relatively small, yet attract significant partners that will maintain the integrity of our agility and strength. But we are passionate about attracting the right kind, if you know of a distributor that fits the spirit of Reciprocity, please let us know.
  • MINIMUM 25% REBATE COMMITMENT: Since the final supplier partner agreements rolled in (most finalized late Q1, 2016) we have been communicating with our sales teams this rock-solid, non-negotiable commitment to return a minimum of 25% of the rebate back towards the sales drivers. This is one of the strongest pillars (returning rebates back to our teams) in the Reciprocity foundation, a deliberate tactic to drive sales with our respective supplier partners.
  • SUPPLIER PRIORITIZATION, SALES CONTESTS, AND INCENTIVES: Some distributors within Reciprocity have already begun sales contests directly benefiting Reciprocity Road suppliers. This is a category we plan on growing and sharing, including possible (shared) group-wide incentives. We have also adjusted our ESP and Sage systems to prioritize results toward our Reciprocity partners. Efforts have been made to curb or eliminate non-Reciprocity partners from our rep meetings, and some have even adopted penalties for non-Reciprocity partner orders.
  • LOOKBOOK, 2016-2017: Creative teams from Reciprocity Distributors, along with many of you (our Reciprocity supplier partners), allied together to produce the first Reciprocity LookBook, released for winter (for 4th and 1st QTR sales opportunities). This elegant catalog was the first merchandising foray from Reciprocity and represents many more merchandising tactics to come.

We’re fond of our road analogies here at Reciprocity but a different analogy that befits our future best is that of a small oak. A sapling. We’ve tilled the soil. Planted. Watered. Our roots are established. We’re young, strong, and nurtured toward growth. With no paid staff, we have spent these past months establishing governance within Reciprocity and within our respective businesses in order to grant priority to you, our partners.

Some of you might not see this reflected in the numbers yet, but you will. Q1, 2017 will be the first time we return rebate funds back to sales reps within our organizations.

Money speaks with a convincing tone. When our reps see that we have reduced the frictional cost of doing business, built a pathway toward compassionate causes, while streamlining rebate funds that directly benefit their future, they will proudly claim our mission: PROFIT. PROGRESS. PURPOSE.

We are excited to turn our first corner and begin our second year. Thank you for your belief in this journey we travel together.


Reciprocity Road Welcomes SwervePoint, Projects $200+ Million in 2017

Houston, TX (December 28, 2016) – SwervePoint, a full-service merchandise agency headquartered in Boston, MA, joins fast-growing collective Reciprocity Road, bringing the group’s projected sales for 2017 to over $200 million.

Nine businesses now comprise the community known as Reciprocity Road, a consortium of distributors who find resonance around shared values in exceptional design, robust technology, creative merchandising, supporting best-in-class sales teams, and contributing back to their communities through shared charitable initiatives.

“We think there’s something really special going on at Reciprocity Road and we’re thrilled to be part of it,” said Kevin Phoenix, Co-Founder and Principal of SwervePoint.

Fellow Co-Founder and Principal Jamie Mair added, “The spirit of collaboration was evident from our initial conversations with the partners, and the genuine enthusiasm for the shared mission is inspiring.”

“This was not a decision either of us took lightly; we spent a lot of time considering SwervePoint, and SwervePoint thoroughly explored the option of partnering with Reciprocity,” said Robert Fiveash, Co-Owner and Co-President of Brand Fuel, Inc. “After an on-site visit and many discussions involving the principal leaders of both organizations, we came to the unanimous conclusion that SwervePoint possesses the right DNA for Reciprocity Road. Moreover, the value and expertise they bring to our collective knowledge propels Reciprocity to even greater heights than imagined.”

Rod Brown, Chief Financial Officer at MadeToOrder, Inc, stated, “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. SwervePoint is an obvious partner for Reciprocity, they exceed our requirements and will clearly help fulfill our obligation to our stakeholders and our supplier partners, guaranteeing the fastest return possible,” Rod continued, “the addition of SwervePoint accelerates that progress. We’re excited about the shared learning ahead of us and the value we can deliver to the entire community.”

Barely a year old, the Reciprocity Road collective now projects over $200 million in revenue for 2017; they will be celebrating their one-year anniversary at the PPAI Expo in January.

About Reciprocity Road

Reciprocity Road is a community of nine distributors projecting over $200 million in sales by 2017. Allies in vision, smart marketing, philanthropy, and purposeful partnerships, they are committed to fostering transparent support and creative collaboration. Each year, the Reciprocity Road distributors select a charity (or charities) as their mission to make an impactful change. The 2016 charities of choice are PPEF (Promotional Products Education Foundation) and CMN (Children’s Miracle Network). To maximize the impact and scalable nucleus of the group, Reciprocity requires a minimum threshold of $5 million in annual sales to join.

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.




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