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Shifting to Cautious Optimism




(November 2020) Because I must write this column well before you actually read it, I try to be careful about statements I make about “current” events. One of 2020’s many lessons has been that things change quickly.

As I write this, the southern United States is bracing for yet another hurricane, and the West Coast is still burning from wildfires so damaging and expansive that their smoke can be viewed even on the East Coast. And we’re in a long slog to a contentious election in the midst of a global pandemic.

Given all of that, I’ll understand if you’re not ready for some cautious optimism, but that’s what’s coming.

My hope comes from a good place: our industry. The Awards and Personalization Association has always helped connect me to other industry business owners, of course, and as president, that effect is magnified. I’m even more tapped into all of your businesses.

That’s less stressful than it sounds because seeing how my fellow members are coping and overcoming challenges can both inspire me and provide a benchmark for my company.

During some of my recent discussions with other members, I’ve been hearing some good things from retailers and suppliers.

“Things are going well. We didn’t have to lay anyone off.”

“We’re under where we were last year but looking forward to a busy holiday season.”

“Corporate gifts and awards have been good for us.”

“It would be nice if award sales would improve, but it’s going well: (Industry-made COVID-19) barriers are selling in every town in this country.”

“We’re slower than last year but getting better every month.”

“We’re seeing a lot of improvement. Small businesses are coming back.”

“Numbers aren’t great, but we’re surviving.” 

“Numbers wise, we’re down 24% on the year, which, all told, isn’t horrible. We’re motoring through it.”

You can see why I’m calling this “cautious optimism.” No one is denying that our businesses have been dealt a horrible blow, and none of us are making piles of money compared to 2019. But we’re all finding ways through this and learning to look for the good. Judging by the number of retailers who have mentioned corporate customers placing orders, other businesses are going through the same experience our industry is.

These may not be your experiences, depending on what you sell, who your customers are, and where your business operates. But if you’re finding yourself focusing on how badly this year has gone, consider comparing things not just to 2019 or the 2020 you’d hoped for but also to the worst-case scenarios we all imagined in March and April.

You absolutely need to know how your business is doing financially so that you can make good decisions and plan your next steps. But you can put that in a context that will help you appreciate the work you’ve put in and hold on to hope for an improving economy.

Things won’t be normal for awhile yet, maybe not ever. But just like Americans adjusted to post-9/11 changes, we’ll adjust to change that comes after the pandemic. (Some of you may have employees who don’t remember a time when you could sail through airport security not only without a ticket or ID but with a lighter and a knife in your pockets.)

You and I can’t change the world around us, but we can change how we react to it, the decisions we make for our businesses, and whether we view the current economy as terrible or somewhat better than we would have predicted 6 months ago.

This is a good time to consider a little cautious optimism. It can provide you with more to give thanks for this season, as many countries celebrate holidays created to giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. When you read this, my neighbors to the north in Canada will have already celebrated Thanksgiving, but many other countries will do so this month.

So spend a few moments to give some thought to what you’re thankful for. It may give you a new lens through which to view the position of your business and our industry and—I hope—some cautious optimism.

Awards and Personalization Association

The Awards and Personalization Association is the organization for retailers and suppliers of personalized and customized items. By providing education, meetings, and access to a vibrant network of professionals, the Awards and Personalization Association is the one place to ensure the growth of your talent, your business, and your professional community.

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