AAPN Makes Connections
American Apparel Producers' Network provides a forum for members of the apparel supply chain to network from dirt to shirt.
James M. Borneman, Editor In Chief
Managing Director Mike Todaro is a perennial source of information and marketing ideas. A recent interview with Todaro highlighted marketing as it relates to textiles, associations and the apparel supply chain.
TW: Your background is not typical of an association executive. How does it affect AAPN’s approach?
Todaro: As a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel with a background in telecommunications and computers, and having had a civilian career with IBM focused on sales and marketing, coming to AAPN and working with Sue C. Strickland, our executive director, has let us approach AAPN from a different perspective. AAPN is focused on networking our members in every possible way, whether it be through our Web presence, our meetings, our support at trade shows, trade visits to different parts of the world, summits in El Salvador or our daily e-mail communications that create a community for our members.
TW : How does AAPN serve a marketing function?
Todaro: One of my favorite stories happened when I first joined AAPN. I visited an apparel contractor, really, what then was known as a cutter, and I asked him, “How do you market your company?” His response was, “Market, what do I have to market? I’m just a contractor.” And for me, that said a lot.
TW : How did it change things for you?
Todaro: At IBM, there were similar challenges. I remember trying to help a software company boost sales. They had a product that had gone flat. I went to the meeting dressed in IBM suit and tie, and they were laid back in Friday mode. I asked about marketing, and they said that this was a sales problem. I stepped back. I had just finished a Marine Corps marathon that weekend and was still beat. I said, “Sales and marketing are just like a marathon. When the sale gets made it is like that day you are running the race — the crowd is cheering, all of those miles go by, you are engaged in the moment and you cross the finish line.
“Marketing, on the other hand, is all of those early morning runs the crowd never saw. It’s the training, the disciplined program, the running a full marathon on a Saturday and being dead tired the rest of the weekend.” That is the commitment you need to do marketing, but, you know, it gets you to the finish line — it gets you to the sale.
TW : How has AAPN changed through the years?
Todaro: We reflect the industry, sometimes even foreshadow it, for good or bad. We lost a lot of US apparel companies as they were affected by NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement]. We added members in Central and South America, and with more and more members having an international footprint, we have members around the world. We also have broadened to include all members of the apparel supply chain and the technology suppliers that make that happen.
TW : What marketing tools does AAPN provide?
Todaro: I suppose the most basic is the networked community of members. We keep that active on a daily basis with e-mail, and networking is what we do. We don’t take a commission, we simply help people do business and find what they need.
The summit in El Salvador and our annual meeting are focused on getting industry leaders out in front, getting our members heard, and helping network solutions with them.
The AAPN Journal that [Textile Industries Media Group] publishes for us is a way for AAPN to establish a record of those needs and ideas, get it out there to an even broader community, and give our members an opportunity to market directly.
Our presence at trade shows is done in a way that allows members to have the option of being with us in a organized presence at a show. At Material World, we do additional events like a Sourcing Managers Forum. Last year, we had more than 50 sourcing managers meeting with us to give us their perspectives. We also held a reception with more than 300 members and guests, all focused on networking within the apparel supply chain. We just visited Guatemala and Taiwan, and next year we are taking members to mainland China.
TW : How is your association supported?
Todaro: Our primary revenue stream is dues. Every member pays the same amount. There are other modest sources of cash, but we keep an open book to our board and spend everything on promoting the network. You can compare us to any other apparel supply chain organization in the world — we are certain we have the lowest overhead costs and highest apparel industry staff skills, and are the best value in the world.
TW : What do you see as the biggest marketing challenges for your members?
Todaro: The main challenge is for them to accept that they have to market, have to differentiate, have to rise above the noise. Marketing is hard. Most think it is expensive. But the cost of not marketing is going up faster than whatever it costs. Advertising, manning a booth at Material World, maintaining a gorgeous website, accumulating and publishing testimonials, getting face time with sourcing executives, networking at AAPN meetings — it’s all marketing; it’s all a form of a sales call. The old saying is it takes six calls to sell something — most give up after three in our industry. Contractors in the old days didn’t even make sales calls.
TW : For a small to mid-sized company, what is your advice to developing a marketing initiative?
Todaro: At the risk of being self-promoting — join AAPN; and the real call is to come to meetings. It is amazing what you learn. It is fascinating to see who an elastic producer knows, where a patch maker has just been, why a shipping company knows so many senior executives, how a hang tag company is powerful to retailers, and when a technology executive has been involved in key industry strategy sessions. Meetings are where you learn who the customers are, what their problems are and how you can solve them uniquely. Small companies and mid-sized companies need to think big. AAPN gives them a way to meet big players face to face.
TW : What new opportunities will AAPN provide in the future?
Todaro: AAPN has been on a countdown to doom three or four times in the past 10 years, and we always thought of something that gave us a future. I suspect it will be in the networking area — the ultimate collaborative communications system each of our members could use out of the box. Also, we’re very committed to this hemisphere’s industry. We’re trying to organize it industrially so it has a real competitive advantage other than just proximity to the United States.
What Is AAPN?
Sue C. Strickland, executive director, AAPN, sees it this way: “Since inheriting this association from the founder, Don Strickland, in Atlanta in 1990, AAPN has grown through a number of chapters divided into pre- and post-NAFTA, pre- and post-Internet, and pre- and post-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act. Now, we are in pre-2005. Soon it will be post-2005. And AAPN will not only still be standing, but growing.
“Meaning matters in this and any other industry association. How we affect our members’ businesses determines if we mean value to each of them. Are we sending our members work? Are we helping them stay in business? Are we helping them to make money? The network works to answer these questions every day.”
“[Each] day, up to 3,000 businesses either visit our website, phone us or send us an e-mail,” Strickland said. “This is traffic that has taken us 22 years to build and every member who joins jumps into this stream equal to all other members in every way.
“At our own meetings, at Material World and other trade events, we network. In fact, one board member said we invented the word ‘network’ in this industry, and maybe we did.
“Since 1994, every member has been shown on-line free of charge and in still-industry-exclusive, accurate detail. This hard work continues, now taking us into 28 nations around a world where the sun literally never sets on our membership,” Strickland added.
For more information about AAPN, contact (404) 843-3171; fax (413) 702-3226; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.aapnetwork.net.