Photo above: Tom Carpenter, MAS, (far, left), accepts PPAI’s Milestone Award during The PPAI Expo 2019 on behalf of Fey Promotions. He shares the stage with PPAI’s President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE, (far right), Dale Denham, MAS+, 2018 PPAI Board Chair (second from left), and fellow honorees George Kelly (center) and James Jones of Kellmark Corporation.

What’s Tom Carpenter’s secret? He leads by example. The 2019 PPAI Regional Association Council (RAC) Volunteer of the Year—the 17th to receive this laurel—and national accounts manager at Edgerton, Minnesota-based supplier Fey Promotional Products Group, makes the most of industry challenges by getting involved on the frontlines. “In a world where everyone wants change, the best opportunity to affect that change is to be present and get involved,” he says. “Bring who you are with you, like a shovel, and help dig a hole.”

Carpenter, MAS, who lives in Springtown, Texas, has dedicated years to the promotional products industry, not just as a professional, but as a leader. On October 22, he was honored with this year’s highest regional volunteer award during the 2019 RAC Leadership Development Workshop in Grapevine, Texas.

His involvement as a regional volunteer began with his service on the Promotional Products Association  Southwest (PPAS) board of directors from 2005-2009, which led to his appointment as PPAS Regional Association Council (RAC) delegate in 2008 and RAC delegate to PPAI in 2011-2014. He was elected PPAS vice president in 2009-2010 and president in 2010-2011. Carpenter currently serves as PPAS treasurer.

For the past 18 years, he’s also dedicated time to PPAI, volunteering as a member of the PPAI Membership Taskforce in 2014, as RAC delegate on the PPAI board from 2013-2015, as a member of the PPAI Volunteer Project Pool from 2016-2018 and he helped with the PPAI Awards Work Group in 2016-2017. He also previously served on the Suppliers Committee (2017-2018), a position he held once before in 2002.

But aside from Carpenter’s admirable involvement, what’s also remarkable is what led him to become an active volunteer. It was through a conversation with his former boss and industry veteran Barry Chase, CAS, the longtime president of former supplier World Wide Art Studios, in Hixson, Tennessee, where Carpenter got his start.

Chase—who served on the PPAI board, was named to the PPAI Hall of Fame in 2006 and is a PPAI Fellow—knew a thing or two about getting involved and wanted to pass this message on to Carpenter. And one day, when Chase called Carpenter into his office, he did just that. “[Barry] explained that he had a responsibility for our industry to make it a better place for everyone involved,” says Carpenter. “He explained that the professionalism standards they had been training me on were because we were responsible for promoting the future of our industry as a whole.” This discussion culminated with plans for Carpenter to travel to a CAS certification class in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and become involved with both national and local industry associations. “[Barry] stated that he would be completely surprised if I ever felt that I wasn’t getting more out of my experiences in giving back to our industry than the effort and time I would be investing, and he was 100 percent correct. I have always found myself to be a better, more enriched person as a result of my volunteer work.”

Photo above: Tom Carpenter, MAS, (left) chats with Tracey Barton of Safeguard Business
Systems and Mike McMillian of RiteLine LLC during an industry event.

Volunteering was an effort that Carpenter not only embraced, but one in which he thrived. But it’s also been a journey that’s given him a lot of insight into the complexities of an ever-innovating industry. “I have had the occasion of working with committees and associations that have been through some very difficult times, and I have seen some great successes and, sadly, a failure or two as well. What has always seemed to have been the key to getting through those times was flexibility and being aware of all the available resources,” he says. “You have to start with the realization of the truth—that the only constant we have is change.”

Over the years, Carpenter has created a method to finding solutions. “I always suggest stopping, taking a deep breath and then asking the group the basics of “SWOT,” or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.” It’s only after the bigger picture is identified, he says, that professionals can then redirect themselves and their teams in the right direction. “When the winds of change come, you have to decide to be flexible enough to bend with it and not be broken by it.”

PPB spoke with Carpenter to learn more about how he got involved and what his volunteerism has taught him.

PPB How did you get started in the industry?
Carpenter I moved to a small town near Covington, Tennessee, in the early ’90s. I had been an event coordinator for the Mabee Center, an arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I managed and organized major theater and concert events. There weren’t many major entertainment venues in West Tennessee, so I started looking for another line of work. I saw an advertisement in the local newspaper for a customer service position at a company that manufactured branded merchandise. My mind went to the t-shirts, caps and key rings I saw being sold during various concert events that I managed, and I thought I might actually know a little about that sort of merchandise. The company was World Wide Art Studios and it only took the first interview with the customer service manager, Peggy Davis, for me to realize I had no idea of the scope and depth of the industry. 

PPB Tell us about some of your experiences with RAC.
Carpenter Some of the greatest challenges that I was involved in during my service was the implementation of the RAC Benchmarking Study to help identify the strengths and weaknesses faced by each of the 27 regional associations. We took on the tremendous task of establishing metrics that each association could use to see where they stood and where they needed to focus on maintaining visibility as local nonprofit industry associations. I also helped the regional associations establish a process for evaluating their needs and the performance of their executive directors which helped those associations and directors keep up with the changes we saw coming in the industry and in other nonprofits worldwide. I also had the opportunity of working with regional associations that were struggling to connect their needs to the resources available through RAC and PPAI.

PPB How do you manage your time between your position at Fey Promotional Products Group, your volunteerism and your personal life? 
Carpenter I work for a great company that has spent the past 50 years helping to make our industry what it is, and for great people like Mike Fey, CAS, who understands the importance of volunteerism and who has spent his time in service at the regional level—that helps for sure. Most importantly, I think the key is to get involved. You end up realizing that everyone you are volunteering with has the same day-job responsibilities as you do, and there is a general understanding that we all have to share the load in order to dedicate our “extra” time to helping out. And you do have to learn, responsibly, how to say “no.” It’s not a dirty word; it’s actually not making promises you can’t keep. A wise person once said, “You don’t know your limitations until you have surpassed them.” You have to set limits on what you are able to offer and then make the most of the time you give. Don’t waste it.

PPB What is the best piece of advice you’ve received and who offered it?
In my early days in the industry, the PPAI Expo was held in Dallas, and I distinctly remember working at our booth one year when a stately gentleman came over and took me aside. His name was Jim Moore and he worked for a competitor of mine selling similar products. My first thought was that he might be trying to hire me away from my company, or maybe trying to see if I had some inside information on what we did. Instead, he told me that by observing me, he felt I had a future in our industry and wanted to make himself available to me to answer any questions or challenges that I might face. Then he told me: “Always remember that a cup of coffee is the international symbol of good will, and that’s why a coffee mug is some of the best advertising you can buy. And never forget that why a product exists is much more important than what a product is.”

PPB  What are some of your favorite hobbies and pastimes?
Carpenter When it comes to hobbies and pastime activities, I am a foodie. My family and extended family consider me their chef-in-residence. I enjoy using my big barbeque rig mounted on a tow trailer to smoke ribs, brisket, pork belly, turkey and salmon. I’m always up to try something new and sometimes to try really old recipes, like for pound cake or cookies. I am also a guitar player and collector. It’s something I started when I was a teenager and thought all the girls would like it, but now it’s something I don’t do publicly as much, but more for myself as a reboot when I am stressed about the craziness going on around me. Being from Texas, as you might have guessed from the barbeque, I also enjoy shooting, as well as fishing and hunting. I’m also a carpenter, not just by namesake, and I enjoy building and remodeling projects when time allows, and working on my yard.  


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.