Hey there, I'm Adam Thornton, president of Match-Up and past-president of PPAF.
Over the years, I’ve found that there seems to be two main explanations for getting in to the branded merchandise arena. First, “my parents/aunt/uncle is in the business” and second, “I was not sure what I wanted to do and this seemed like a good first step.” For me, this was neither my first step and I did not have family members in the business so perhaps I am, as I told an ex-girlfriend, truly a unicorn!
Following college, I worked briefly in Washington D.C. with Senator McCain during his first presidential primary. For an impressionable political science major from Florida Southern College, what a remarkable and eye opening experience. I considered staying in the political field but the more I thought about it, D.C. just did not feel right. It’s a wonderful city but I am a Florida native and taking away the yearlong ability to golf, hike, and fish was not the path forward…it’s amazing what a “path forward” looks like to a 21 year old! I returned to Florida and got a job in marketing for a consumer electronics company. About this time, my college roommate had just left the Orlando Magic in corporate sales and had taken a job with a start up in the brand merchandise field. He asked if I might be interested and as my current employer was suffering financially from the after-effects of the 9/11 tragedy, I thought the time might be right to make the leap. In reality, I figured if I crashed and burned I had really no responsibilities (no kids, no wife) and I could bartend to make ends meet. Just typing that brings me back to a one room apartment with Ramen Noodles for lunch and dinner! That was 2002 and as I write this in 2021, I’m still with Match-Up and its grown leaps and bounds. I was lucky to find myself on a phenomenal team whose views on the customer experience aligned with my own and I was able to advance through the company and now have been fortunate to lead Match-Up for the last 13 years. I’m still humbled by the talent of my teammates, the drive of our competitors, and the partnership of our suppliers. I truly am, lucky.
The industry is unique to say the least. I’ve been at PPAI where I’ve had drinks with competitors who we just took a million dollar account from or they took from us. I’ve become friends and not just a customer with numerous suppliers. I’ve been able, due to the performance of my teammates, to work with iconic brands such as the New York Yankees, Pepsi, General Motors, and the world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I don’t care who you are but when you see a bobblehead that you helped produce on national television, with the player calling it out on social media and it looks awesome (no green eyes…I speak from personal experience!), it brings a sense of satisfaction to the profession. To get calls from clients not understanding how you got 2500 pens to them in 12 hours but telling you that the pens saved the day, it brings a sense of accomplishment. Of course, I immediately thank Hit, Hub, Bic etc. on being the true heroes! Going on a factory tour with end users and when the leadership of a supplier tells the end user “your brand is in great hands, these folks are among the best” without being prompted, a sense of pride overcomes you. Let’s also be honest, there are the day in and day out face palms. To get an order for 10,000 pieces at 9 am only to place the order by 9:10 and stock be gone. To have a critical event delivery on schedule then you get the tracking update that says “exception.” To have the client, the one you insisted upon providing a free sample to make certain the award matched the $2.98 budget, choosing to forego the sample then state “it was not what they were expecting and what can be done.” As I tell folks, as long as human beings are involved, there is no perfect scenario. And I love it.
I’ve seen a lot in the nearly past 20 years. I’ve seen where our industry was and where it is going. I’ve seen the brilliant disruption that some fear and yet I embrace. And I remain excited and privileged to move forward with an eye on the horizon, with a remarkable team around me, to see what we can do the next 20 years.