International Person of the Year - Suzanne Worwood

Meet Her Here!

>>More Counselor Awards

Suzanne WorwoodSuzanne Worwood, vice president of merchandising for Counselor Top 40 distributor 4imprint (asi/197045), got her start – considering the magnitude of what she’s responsible for now – in the most fortuitous of ways. Her first job out of college was with an international promotions agency, UK-based Product Plus, that gave her formidable training in the area of product safety, and taught her how to methodically monitor inspection processes and read auditing and lab testing reports on behalf of clients like Coca-Cola, General Mills and Gillette.

In 2000, Worwood moved to the States to set up the U.S. division of Products Plus, who were part of the 4imprint group. “When Kevin [Lyons-Tarr] was appointed president of 4imprint, he asked me to develop a merchandising team to support the business that was now focusing on direct marketing, and that’s how I moved into my current role, which we started with myself and one team member,” says Worwood.

Today she oversees two teams – one for merchandising and one for product data – comprised of 35 people “focused on ensuring we have the best range of product for our customers,” Worwood says. “That might include working with a supplier partner on new product designs, colors or packaging ideas. We also work as part of the broader marketing team to be sure products are marketed effectively.”

Another critical part of Worwood’s job is working with 4imprint’s key supplier partners in their supply chain, with their product development teams and factories around the world. “I also have a role in working with others in the organization on product safety and factory compliance/corporate social responsibility/auditing,” she says. “As an industry, I think one of the things we do well is react quickly to changes in customer demand and taste. Take the concerns around BPA. As customers looked for alternatives, our industry was quick to develop new stainless and aluminum options.”

Jeff Brown, chief marketing officer at Counselor Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America, points out that Worwood understands the market so thoroughly by analyzing data, traveling through China, and developing strong relationships with customers and the suppliers who support 4imprint to bring the best to market for their customers. “She’s also been able to leverage her knowledge to influence the product selection in both North America and the U.K., and is driven by understanding how product is made so she can influence ‘priced-based design’ to provide her customers with good value,” Brown says.

As an example, Worwood notes that 4imprint’s apparel supply chain has clearly followed the geo-political environment and that’s likely to continue. “As the reduction in apparel quotas or duties for developing nations continues to be used effectively to raise millions out of poverty, our industry, like retail, is likely to follow those incentives,” she points out. “Hard goods continue to have a predominantly China-based supply chain, but I’ve certainly witnessed some significant changes over recent years. The opening up of that country has meant we’ve begun to see changes in management style, the growth of younger, more entrepreneurial business owners, a desire – and increasingly good ability – to design as opposed to just manufacture, an interest in production efficiencies and equipment to offset wage rate increases.”

Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan and Korea are just a few areas near China in which Worwood thinks there could be some production shifts. “I think we’ll see some increase in spend into neighboring Asian markets as suppliers work to balance risk of their spend in China,” she says. “It’s going to be interesting to see how those markets develop.”

And harkening back to her first job, Worwood still counts product safety and social compliance as two of her top priorities. “The way we approach product safety is tailored to each product category, as the issues in each category vary,” she says. “We’ll review a supplier’s processes and controls at a category level, down to reviewing lab reports and technical drawings for individual products in some very high-risk areas. If we’re not comfortable, those products do not go on sale at 4imprint and more work needs to be done.”

She recalls 4imprint starting an audit program with key suppliers back in 2011, as it felt more support could be given in this area. “While we fund the audit costs, the hard work is done by our suppliers – working with the factories where there are weaknesses, listening to their concerns, teaching them new processes and approaches, and enabling them to develop their businesses further,” Worwood says. “It’s also important for us to re-enforce the approach face-to-face with the factory owners all the way through the supply chain.”

Scott Pearson, vice president of merchandising and design for Counselor Top 40 supplier Sweda, has known Worwood for years and says that many of her designs and product planning are followed and copied by manufacturers, suppliers and competitors. “Suzanne has a deep understanding of retail trends and how to best translate those trends into effective and prosperous promotional items,” he says. “She has the utmost respect and interest for the entire supply chain that has anything to do with the designing, manufacturing and development of a product. Suzanne wants to know how products are made, with what material, how a cost is determined, and most importantly, by whom, meaning the factory workers. She wants to know how they’re managed, what their living conditions are like, if they’re treated fairly and are safe. Her commitment to social accountability and product safety has everything to do with her passion for global corporate social responsibility and the initiatives which have helped 4imprint create one of the most progressive distributor compliance programs in our industry.”

Having worked in Europe, Asia and North America, Worwood is knowledgeable about the ad specialty industry on a global level that few others are, Pearson maintains. “Whether in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Ningbo or Shanghai,” he says, “Suzanne fears nothing and consumes all of the adventure, planes, trains and automobiles she can to explore the people and places that source and manufacture so many of the products that make her company successful.”– MB