Professional business, open exchange and long-standing friendships – what began as a cooperation between six European firms and two companies from the Far East in 1965, has in the meantime developed into a worldwide network with history and tradition.
This year the International Partnership for Premiums and Gifts is celebrating its 50th anniversary, one could almost say its golden wedding anniversary. In its anniversary year, the association’s members consist of 25 promotional products distributors from all over the world – from Australia, Belgium and Denmark, to Dubai, Finland and India, through to Mexico, New Zealand, the Czech Republic and the USA, who together, according to own sources, boast over 60 offices worldwide, earn an annual turnover of around 200 mil. Euros and employ over 1,500 people. The concept: Only one company per country is allowed to join the cooperation, the acceptance of new members is democratically decided by all existing members jointly. “Ippag has set itself the task of helping its member companies become or remain the number one on their market,” explained Soren Langhoff, President of Ippag from 2008 to 2015. Companies that want to join the distributor group “have to be ambitious and innovative and should either already be the market leader in their country or this should be the company’s explicit goal,” added Langhoff.
Ippag was founded in Switzerland by Claude Barbey in 1965. At the time, Barbey was head of the promotional products specialists, Lacoray, which is based in Geneva and maintains subsidiaries in Italy, Spain and Germany, all of which imported promotional products separately – mainly from Japan and to a small extent from Hong Kong. At the time, Lacoray had an affiliated company in Japan – Liebermann Waelchli – one of the oldest Swiss trading agencies in the Far East, which was specialised in the consumer goods trade and which had a promotional products department. In order to create synergies, all of the Lacoray subsidiaries were to reap benefit from the existing export office in Japan, according to Barbey’s plan, which at the same time proved to be the hour of birth of Ippag. In addition to the Lacoray subsidiaries, the first members included two companies from France and Great Britain – as well as a member in Hong Kong – Loxley Co. Ltd. Hence, six European companies and two from the Far East were the founder members of the distributor cooperation that originally met up once a year in Geneva in the Hotel du Rhone.
Milestones of the Ippag history
In the course of the following decades, Ippag grew constantly and became increasingly more professional. In September 1976, the first Ippag meeting took place outside of Switzerland, namely in Utrecht, which had a further positive effect on the international alignment of the group and which evidently laid the foundation for the later summer meetings in alternating locations. In 1977, the members of the association – ten in total at the time – came together for the first time during the PSI Show in Dusseldorf. The first meeting in Hong Kong took place two years later and the trade fairs in Guangzhou have been visited regularly since 2002 (apart from in 2003 when the meeting had to be cancelled because of the SARS crisis). Over the course of the years, the Ippag members have increased the number of meetings a year up to three: After the PSI Show in January in Dusseldorf, during the trade fairs in China and Hong Kong in the spring and at different venues in the summer or autumn at the location of one of the members.
Since 1981 the international trading association has been electing an Executive Board and committee members for a term of two years. In 2015, the anniversary year, Thibaut Fontaine of mcs Kick&Rush, Belgium, succeeded Soren Langhoff of Langhoff Promotion, Denmark, who had been Ippag’s President since 2008. Having served two terms as President – from 1990 to 1994 and from 2002 to 2008 – Fritz Bauer of the Austrian member company, Mitraco, deserves a special mention, because he decisively co-shaped the development and the strategic alignment of Ippag. A further milestone in the history of Ippag is the “Preferred Supplier Programme“ (PSP), which was presented at the autumn meeting in Mallorca in 2003. The programme involves two to three producers being selected as top suppliers for important product categories, who the Ippag members give preference to for all orders.
Since the establishment of the London-based corporation Ippag Global Promotions (IGP) in 2012, the trading group can rely on the commercial support of the corporation, which offers the international customers full-service from one source. Cross-border contracts can be concluded via the international company, procurement, buying and logistics functions are bundled time and cost-effi ciently. As one of the largest full-service service providers in the promotional products industry, IGP is committed to strict socially responsible and eco-friendly and sustainable behaviour. Solidarity, internationality and the constant exchange on suppliers, production sites, campaigns, current industry themes and trends form the concept of Ippag, whose aim is to become the interface for ideas and inspiration of the best and most professional promotional products distributors. A sense of responsibility, high quality standards, business understanding, a global alignment and the aspiration for innovation are found in all activities and interactions with suppliers, service providers and end customers. The “Code of Conduct for Ippag Members” that was presented in Guangzhou in 2006 is based on the guidelines of the international social standard, SA 8000.
“Ippag to me is about global cooperation and friendship. It’s about knowledge and best practice sharing, sourcing consolidation and learning from other cultures and countries.“
“Ippag is a unique opportunity to meet fantastic people from all over the world and a unique mind opener to other visions and experiences.“
“We are very fortunate to count such brilliant minds and industry players in our group and evolving at their sides has been a privilege.“
In addition to the expansion and reinforcement of the international business, the mutual exchange of experiences and friendly cooperation are the most important aspects of the Ippag concept. Great value is placed on personal relations and particularly the inhomogeneity of the companies that are located all over the world, their diversity in the socio-cultural context and the peculiarities of the respective markets, combined with often totally different tasks, are considered to be a source of inspiration and one of the group’s strength. “The internationality of the group with members from all Continents and yet at the same time a very personal, intense communication exchange has always fascinated me. I find it extremely exciting to be able to network on a global level and work correspondingly,” said Ralf Dickopf of the German Ippag member company, mcs Promotion. One hardly has to fear potential rivalry with only one member per country, which in turn promotes a constructive cooperation to the benefi t of all the members that allows business to thrive. “The level of involvement of all members and the level of professionalism is very high, which means that we always have a high level of information, creativity and service,” explained Rafael Garcia from promosistem, the Spanish member.
The combination of business and pleasure is rarely as successful achieved as at the almost legendary summer meetings of Ippag. Joint experiences and unforgettable evenings promote the cohesion and create trust. The presentations of new promotional products and case studies of successful campaigns are a fi xed item on the agenda, as well as the further strategic and operative alignment of the group and the optimisation of the existing organisation and communication structures. All of the members learn from each other, provide each other with feedback and help one another in times of crisis. Today, Ippag is a strong community that has grown over the years, which has stayed true to itself and which is guaranteed to impress many generations to come with its concept of open exchange and friendly relationships. The original marriage of convenience has long since turned into a loving relationship.