Social media has a way of bringing people together, whether it’s reuniting long-lost friends or introducing two business people who share common interests and goals. With nearly 20 years in the promo industry, Alex Symms, MAS, MASI, has built an impressive reputation as a sales pro and an industry social media influencer with his thought-provoking and eye-catching posts. Symms’s efforts on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram have generated thousands of impressions and snagged him a place among this year’s top 18 social media influencers—a coveted, annual industry list.
His popular posts also attracted growing attention from Nigel Harris, CEO of PowerStick, who not only admired Symms’s skills in fostering business relationships through social media, but his successful experience in selling tech products and custom packaging, a skillset Harris was looking to add to his sales team at the Ottawa, Ontario-headquartered supplier.
Symms, who has been on the supplier side of promo at Chameleon Like, Admints & Zagabor and KTI Networks, was also familiar with PowerStick and had admired the company’s industry-wide reputation for manufacturing high-quality tech products in North America and consistently delivering stellar customer service. The pair had an opportunity to meet up for the first time at an industry trade show this summer and, on October 1, 2022, Symms officially joined the company as its first national account manager.
“I’ve always had a passion for technology,” he says. “That’s what drives me, that’s what I have fun doing.”
But while he knew PowerStick as a respected name within the tech space—he says he was blown away to learn the company also offered kitting with its own and provided products, and was a leader in packaging with its premium magnetic boxes and custom branding options. Symms was also pleasantly surprised to learn how frequently PowerStick introduces new products—usually several per quarter—and about the company’s transparency in notifying distributors on what’s coming down the pipeline in its weekly emails.
“We’re not afraid to tell distributors what’s coming,” he says. “I think people have an appreciation for that because they want to be the first to know. And it’s a great opportunity for us to always have something new.”
The more he dug into the PowerStick opportunity, the more impressed he became. He discovered the number of online tools that are available to distributors, including high-res product and lifestyle images, product flyers, educational sales tools, virtuals, client-friendly videos, original articles, case studies, social content and catalogs. “I knew if I joined PowerStick, I wasn’t joining a company that just put a logo on a product and shipped it out the door. It’s much more meaningful and higher quality,” he says. “We really provide our clients everything they need to go out there and sell the product.”
Symms also relied on his well-connected network to tell him what they knew about PowerStick. “Before I took the job, I asked a lot of people if they knew PowerStick and what feedback could they provide. Everything I heard about PowerStick was positive—and I asked a lot of people!” he says.
Settling into the new role has been a fairly easy transition for Symms, even though he admits that four weeks into the position as of this writing, he’s still learning all the tools available and the details that make PowerStick products a standout choice among distributors.
It’s a learning situation he’s been in before, when he joined Chameleon Like seven years ago. “We were making our products from scratch in the U.S. I had to get involved in manufacturing, machinery, processes, learning new terms, production, going through becoming a B Corp., and being on the front lines of those teams that were implementing those things for our company,” he says. That job was a different experience from his earlier role at KTI, a company whose products are sold primarily on price. “At Chameleon Like, I was selling myself as a consultant to help solve problems. It was not ‘how cheap can we get them?’ but ‘how great can we make them look?’ We specialized in being experts in that space.”
He sees PowerStick as having an exceptional culture in a similar way. “PowerStick is not a commodity company. They’ve been able to build their own culture too—being the exclusive maker of chargers that are made in North America, answering the phone on first ring and all the other small touches that address the friction points for our clients. Sales is not difficult for me but it can be a bottleneck—getting info back to the client, being responsive.” He says PowerStick handles these areas with skill and efficiency—something he expected with Harris at the helm.
“PowerStick is led by the most forward-thinking innovator in Nigel Harris,” he says. “Nigel sees things from a unique perspective that allows PowerStick to be a leader in that category, and that’s unique and proactive, not reactive like I’ve seen from other companies that participate in the same space.”
So far, Symms says his favorite part of the job has been reaching out to industry friends to tell them about PowerStick. “These are my buddies whom I’ve been doing business with for decades,” he says. “It’s exciting to say, ‘Hey, let me know how I can help you.” The responses have come back that have reinforced the fact that I don’t just have customers, I have relationships that really care about me and where I am, and they are going to do what they can to transfer some opportunities to us. Things are already starting to happen.”
He adds that a lot of people in his network are excited for him, and the new role with PowerStick has opened opportunities to approach customers who didn’t have a need for the products he previously represented. “What’s cool about technology is that it’s not gender, age or industry specific,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who you are selling to or what it’s being used for, the products we sell are good for just about anyone.”
Symms shuns the stereotype usually associated with salespeople. “I’m the worst salesperson and I joke about it,” he says. “All I’m doing is providing ideas and solutions to help distributors look good. I’m not here to sell them anything. I’m here to help them solve problems for their clients in a way that’s frictionless. They don’t have to wait three days for a response or worry that we’ll have stock issues. That’s not the way PowerStick has been able to gain huge competitive advantages. Most products have a one-piece minimum. Production time is quick and the customer service aspect of the company is amazing.”
When asked about how social media has helped him expand his broad industry connections, he pauses. “It’s trial and error,” he admits. “There are a lot of platforms and you can spend a whole day posting, but what I’ve learned is that if I can make my posts relevant to the people in my network, there’s a lot of special engagement. My network starts to see it and I end up with new connections.” Although he posts on a variety of social media platforms, his top recommendation for business is LinkedIn. “We can’t ignore that social media is such a powerful platform. Over the years, it’s proven to be a very successful part of who I am and my reach,” he says.
Working hard has never bothered Symms but his motivation to do it has evolved over the years. The motivation used to be about money but he says that left him about 10 years ago. “Now, it’s not a dollar figure but the fulfillment I get from the wins. That’s a little bit of a different type of approach— that I was able to help somebody out, make them look good and provide solutions to clients who had a need.”
He adds that sometimes the motivation is the challenge and getting to celebrate the win. “It builds trust and loyalty,” he says, “and next time they have the opportunity they bring it to us because we’ve proven we can do it. That’s establishing the relationship—that’s where it starts.”
In 2020, his motivation got an unexpected jolt when the pandemic hit and his employer at the time laid off all employees for four months. Symms saw it as an opportunity to do something he had been wanting to do for years—earn his industry and digital certifications. “I always wanted to get my MAS and MASI, and was interested in getting digitally certified,” he says. For four to five weeks, he studied hard taking every PPAI and ASI course he could find online and passing the tests. Once he earned those industry certifications, he went to Google Garage and earned his digital marketing certification. Then he went on to earn his social media certification from Hub Spot, along with other digital certifications.
“I knew I wasn’t going to leave the industry but I also knew I needed to keep learning new things because without them I couldn’t bring any value. I’m just another person,” he says, adding that he doesn’t use the initials behind his name to flaunt the accomplishment but to promote the accessibility to information in the industry. “There’s a wealth of knowledge and not enough people take advantage of that. It’s not that difficult. For people who are serious about our industry, they need to be doing things like that.” It’s an accomplishment of which Symms is very proud. “I worked hard for those letters. They mean something to me. Even something that small is a motivation for me to remember where I’ve come from, where I’m going and what I want to do in the future.”
It’s clear that Symms is truly committed to his work in the promo industry—even when he’s not officially working. He and his wife of almost 20 years, who works for a distributor, often relax on the patio at their Houston, Texas, home, sometimes grilling dinner and talking about the industry from both sides of the aisle. He likes to hear what her pain points are, what experiences she’s had with manufacturers, where people dropped the ball and what she likes and dislikes about the sales experience. Hearing the stories from her perspective help him hone his own skills and approaches.
When it’s time to disconnect from business altogether, the couple spend time with their two teenage sons at their sporting events—one plays rugby, the other plays baseball—and they also like to travel to see new places and experience new cultures. Favorite destinations have included the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Cozumel. But living anywhere other than Texas is a definite no. A native of nearby Tomball, Texas, Symms says he has no desire to move out of the state. “I love everything about it,” he says. “I can’t see myself living anywhere else.”