Weird new world – after September 11 – Brief Article
Nowell C. Wisch
By publication date, it will have been about two months since the Sept. 11 tragedy changed America. I was with 60 suppliers in Greenville, S.C. doing a tabletop show. At 9:05 am, we were running between the ballroom and the lounge where the big-screen TV was. The evening before we had watched Monday Night Football in that lounge. A year before, we spent a Monday night watching football in that same lounge in what was then a different world.
On Sept. 11, we, along with thousands of others, watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center live and in color. When we awoke at 7 a.m. that morning, it seemed as though our world was the same. Sure, during the preceding year, the stock market collapsed and the corporate casual philosophy along with a few dot.com companies, emulating the Titanic, vanished without a trace. Mostly, however, the world looked the same.
In 30 minutes, all that we had known and loved changed. It was a shocking and profound change. No one has been spared the pain of this event. Some have suffered more than others, but we all have suffered. A tragedy of this magnitude will impact everyone in our industry and most of our country.
A distributor in New York shares the grief with a distributor in San Francisco. They shared a client whose offices in the WTC lost 70 people in a half hour. Ellen and Jim serviced different departments in the office, but they overlapped on many projects and knew the same people.
A supplier in Kansas purchased products from the Orient through a broker whose office was in the WTC. They have no idea what the status of thousands of dollars of purchase orders might be. Another supplier in California cannot determine where their entire holiday gift order is because their custom’s broker cannot retrieve information; his people are alive and accounted for, but his office and computer systems are destroyed. Business will go on for both suppliers, but this year will not be the same and will not recover completely for years to come.
Ronald said, “Chen was a good friend who we worked with for seven years. I cannot imagine doing business without him. Yes, life will go on, but it will never be the same.”
Life will go on but it will never be the same. That is the theme of most of our thoughts. Even during the hours that followed the collapse of the WTC life went on in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn in Greenville, but it was surreal. While we conducted business, it felt like we were swimming in deep water, trying not to drown. It was hard to think, but we did because the show had to go on. That was the point. We had to keep the world spinning and business going. There was no other option. We were professionals doing what professionals do. It wasn’t easy.
That seems to be the situation we are living in… we have to be professional in times when we don’t feel like it. As I speak with sales people throughout the country, while everyone feels terrible, they also feel as though returning to normal is more than necessary, it is vital. It seems that much of the industry follows that sentiment.
As a nation, we are embarking upon a course of action (our war against terrorism) that will demand a long-term resolve that has been lacking in our culture for a generation.
During a discussion on terrorism at lunch, several distributors raised important questions about our New World, one in which we will all have to be brave. Naturally, the discussion revolved around what our role as promotional product distributors and suppliers would be. While the consensus was that there would be opportunities that we did not yet see, the consensus also was that there were responsibilities that we did not yet see, either.
A distributor sent a copy of an e-mail she received from a client in New York City who opined that her business was making people feel good and that hundreds or thousands of the people who died in the WTC collapse had treasured items on their desk that attested to their ability, loyalty or performance and reassured them that their work was valuable and necessary.
“We can hardly remember what we did on Monday,” said a distributor in Raleigh, N.C., “so how difficult will it be to keep our attention focused on an enemy we cannot see for perhaps years and years?”
Another distributor in the same room said, “Maybe that is our real task from now on… keeping the world aware of this fight.”
Everywhere we look, there are American flags adorning lapels, windows, cars and businesses. Perhaps the problems we face can best be summed up by a distributor from Kenner, La, who said: “The trouble I will have is teaching customers how to incorporate American spirit into their promotions. I know that they will want to, but we have to explore this new opportunity and do it right.”
That is the real challenge facing us as sales people. We will have to be imaginative and think of ways to use the Stars and Stripes, red, white and blue, eagles and flags in our promotional efforts and product recommendations. The “war” will be protracted and difficult. Part of the job we do as promotional product distributors is to help guide our clients in their logo and purchasing decisions.
Hopefully, we all will take the time to think about what the client asks for and consider if their requests are in good taste and will stand the test of time. If we can do this, we will honor the spirit of those we lost on Sept. 11 and continue to help businesses recover from the shock. When we do this, we will be the professionals we all can be.
Nowell Wisch, CAS, is Editor-at-Large for Wearables Business and a practitioner in the promotional products business for nearly a quarter-century.
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