In Stacey Felice’s home, you might see a bunny and two guinea pigs playing together.

“My family loves animals,” says Felice, the executive director of PPAChicago. “We have pets of our own, but we recently got into fostering. I have a huge passion for animals that do not have a home or are unwanted. Some will come into the rescue center needing medical help, and we’ll nurse them back to health and help them find their forever homes.”

Felice is an adoption coordinator for Fur Angels, an animal sanctuary in Illinois. As a mom of two, family time is always a priority as well. Perhaps juggling all those personal life priorities have trained her for the often-busy life of a regional association exec. “With the executive director position, there are times when it’s slower and then there are times when it’s show time and work is more intense.”

Felice joined the industry over four years ago with a background in accounting and event planning. She says, “With the executive director position, we basically do everything. We do the accounting, bookkeeping and the financials plus the event planning. It’s wide range of what our job duties are.”

Meeting so many new faces on the show floor for the first time, Felice says she’ll never forget her first show. “The PPAChicago members are amazing. They showed me right away how passionate they are about what they sell and their products,” Felice says. “Their sales skills are phenomenal. The level of care they have for other members is huge. The industry, as a whole, is based on those relationships.”

In 2020, Felice was on PPAI’s Regional Strategic Foresight Committee. Today, she is currently on PPAI’s Regional Relationship Committee. Felice says she is passionate about giving executive directors a voice in the industry.

“All of the regionals experienced a dip in attendance for our shows. We are all working extra hard to come out of the pandemic,” she says. “As we grow in momentum this year and in 2023, it’s really important to communicate with members with marketing to grow attendance numbers. We are all doing what we can, but it will take a few years to get to pre-pandemic levels.”

For Felice, putting on a successful show is a team effort. “PPAChicago’s board, the committee showcase and I always set a high bar for the show,” she says. “It’s always a huge success because we have the whole board involved. It’s not only a success for us, but it’s also a success for the suppliers, distributors and the end users.” Felice also focuses on the attendees. “It’s all about the quality, and not always about the numbers. We found that out during COVID. Attendance had dropped down a little bit, but the quality of attendees was still there.”

But each year, Felice makes sure to add something new.

“Whether it’s signage, a new product area or a cool product that goes into the distributors’ bags, I try to build on the show and make it bigger than it was,” she says. “So, it’s never the same every year. For example, we change the theme every show, and if we can, we’ll dress up, too. I put it on myself to grow the show every year so that it’s something new and different for the members.”

An end user event is also one of PPAChicago’s signature shows. Felice says, “We’ve always had our end user show from the start. Our distributors enjoy being able to bring their clients to the show and have an in-person showcase in a very centralized location. We strategically place our show right in the center of the Chicago area.

“For the end users, it’s important to touch and feel the products. It really gets the end user excited and involved in future projects. Later, they’ll remember things they saw at the show and will tell their distributor. The in-person aspect is also top notch, especially for an industry built on relationships. Any time you can be in-person for any time of event brings out a higher level of commitment and engagement.”

To get members excited about future shows, there’s one thing Felice will always do: personalize the invite.

“We’ve gotten huge results from reaching out to members individually and personalizing that message,” she says. “It’s one thing to send out an email for show sign up, but it’s another thing when you have a relationship with that member and you can personally invite them with a call or an email.”

PPB spoke with Felice to learn more about how she’s getting members excited for regional shows.

A valuable lesson I learned in the past year was… to always remain in good communication with the members. I’m always afraid of a member saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that,’ when it’s my job as the executive director to ensure that all the members are in the know. This really rang true during the pandemic, because we were trying to connect with the members while also connecting distributors with suppliers and vice versa.

The promotional products industry could better market itself by… marketing to the younger generation. I feel like the promotional products industry took a turn in the pandemic. A lot of distributors were retiring, and we were losing veterans with a lot of experience in the industry. We need to do internships and go into local colleges so we can let the newer generation know about this industry. The board and I feel really passionate about this. Especially for those interested in entrepreneurship, this is the perfect place to start.

I am inspired by… my kids. When they smile, it just makes me happy inside. If they’re happy, I’m a happy mom. I get to watch my daughter horseback ride competitively, and I’m inspired. She jumps three feet, and I’d be terrified to get on the horse. My son wrestles, and he made it to state his first year. It’s so cool to watch them be so successful with what they’re passionate about.

Event Spotlight:
Leadership Development Workshop 2022
October 10-12,
Grapevine, Texas

This month marks the in-person return of PPAI’s premier conference for developing current and future regional association leaders and enhancing relationships between the regional nonprofit associations in the promotional products industry. This annual event provides regional association leaders with comprehensive training and networking opportunities, with the peer-to-peer interaction meant to foster and enhance relationships among all the regional associations.

Valdez is an associate editor at PPAI.