Welcome to Touchstone.
We’re glad you’re here.
If you’re looking to know more about who we are and how we got started in this space, this page is for you!
Throughout your discovery of Touchstone, here on the web or in contact with Touchstone colleagues, you will hear a lot about a unique brand position and point of difference that is truly “tip of the spear” and disrupting the world of brand building.
Dig deep into our content and be as inquisitive as we are, everyday, to ask WHY?, and push the limits of what can be expected. In the end, we hope to be running along side you, fueling your passion to grow your brand and connect it to the hearts and minds of your consumers.
Hello. I’m Derek Block.
Founder and CEO of Touchstone.
I believe in being accessible and transparent, to my colleagues and to our clients. Below you’ll find direct links to my personal social media accounts — feel free to reach out and connect. I’d love to get to know you and hear all about your brand.
Six shirts hanging in the door, and a box of keychains on the floor...
That was the start of Touchstone (then, The Aztec Group, Inc.), which I started in June of 1996. My introduction to the promotional products industry was as a buyer for an environmental company, based in Cincinnati, OH, which was owned by my father-in-law (girlfriend’s dad, at the time). After graduating from Miami University (40 miles north of Cincinnati) and after a few jobs in the entertainment business, I started working at an environmental company called Aztec Environmental.
While working at Aztec Environmental, I was exposed to the branded merchandise world, more specifically promotional products, and the specialty advertising industry as a Marketing Director and buyer branded merchandise. Little did I know, this would be the introduction into the world of promotional products, and what would later grow into what Touchstone is today. Not long after, the environmental company was merged with another company and I found myself wondering what was next. In the weeks following, I connected my promotional products distributor to my network of contacts. After one week, literally, I thought… “I should try this on my own.” At that time, I had no idea of how the promotional products world worked. Manufacturers? Distributors? Brands? In reflection, what I did have was an off-the-charts work ethic and a belief, in myself, that I was going to be successful, no matter what I did in life.
In a deal made with my girlfriend’s dad, I hatched a plan to get a loan, from him for $30,000; Name my company Aztec, where, with the same name, I could forward “environmental” calls to him; and start hustling to create a business. With that, the Aztec Group, Inc. was born. Armed with six shirts hanging in the door and a box of key chains on the floor, I took to the streets, from my makeshift pole barn office, to sell (not really knowing what to sell). I fondly recall the first project I received from a client… It was for t-shirts. Armed with no knowledge of how things worked, I called Fruit of the Loom and reached someone on the factory floor in Tennessee….. that was my introduction to the term wholesalers and what the term “ASI” (Advertising Specialty Industry) meant. Soon one client was landed, then another, and another, and sales started to take off (back then, doubling sales every year was easy).
By 2002, we were well on our way to something special, in the promotional products industry. Then, I met Larry Sheakley. Larry would prove, to date, to be the most impactful person in my life and in the future of our business. Larry would be the first person in my professional life to provide me the guidance, mentorship, and resources to allow Touchstone to grow into what it is today. Larry is a self-made business magnate, living in Cincinnati, Ohio. He started in business when he was 19, working for his father in the workers’ compensation and unemployment business. It was a family business that Larry would eventually buy from his father and turn into an empire through “bootstrap,” “pound the street” hard work, much like the path I was on.
On January 1, 2005, Larry bought a majority interest of Aztec. We changed the name to Touchstone Merchandise Group, LLC., and we became partners. Today (in addition to Touchstone) Larry has ownership interest in some 26 companies, including Il Mulino (a world-class restaurant started in NYC, with many other locations), a shampoo company, real estate properties, the Cincinnati Reds, and FC Cincinnati. Since our partnership, Larry and I have shared many years in business together, as well as other business interests, and a love for Touchstone.
As we settled into our development and growth, as Touchstone, we embarked on an ambitious journey to grow our business. As we would soon learn, we would face our 2 biggest challenges. First, 2008 happened. Amid an aggressive growth initiative, the economy was stressed, our account executives and clients were struggling to find the budgets and branding success of years past and we were in free fall. Second… even in the midst of economic challenges, we eventually found our footing and we were growing, so much so, that we soon outgrew our systems capability as well as our financial oversight capability (which all came to a head in late 2011). We learned that any well-intentioned decisions, based on bad data, was ultimately a bad outcome. In hindsight, this “season” in business would be the catalyst for personal and company humility and growth, giving perspective to appreciate when times are great, while the defensive context to “always” be incredible stewards to our business, our clients, and our colleagues.
As we progressed into the early to mid-2010s, we spent a lot of time, energy, and purpose rebooting our business and culture, by design and with purpose. With the injection of a sophisticated and talented leadership team, we structured a team of humble leaders with their pasts being our future. We took purpose to define, develop, and implement sophisticated workflow processes, as well as systems, which allow us to work with speed, efficiency, and accuracy…ultimately delivering a higher value and ease for our prospects and clients. Lastly, we focused on the legacy of what our business would represent in the development of colleagues. In the midst of this, I was lucky enough to be introduced to a very special person, Dave Lindsey, who offered to expose me to anything and everything, which led to the high-performance success of his business (Defenders, based in Indianapolis, IN.) I became a humble student and sponge of every opportunity Dave would offer me. As a mentor, Dave taught me the importance of building culture and leaders. He taught me that leading a business was far more than paychecks for people, but more about growth, development, purpose, and passion… for our colleagues. With this, he also gave me a lot of tough love and accountability and taught me the difference between “playing business” and leading a high-performing business. He taught me something, that, in reflection was so profound… “Businesses Don’t Grow… People Do!” It was core to their culture and success and we adopted this as our own. Wow, was this a breakthrough! Today, we strive to grow our colleagues, not only faster and better than anyone in our industry but faster and better than anyone in business.
Today, Touchstone comprises an inspiring roster of brands, we get to serve, with a talented team of developing leaders, which are thirsty learners, competitive in spirit; committed to systematic processes; that love and value relationships and service, within their communities where they work and live. Our influence is abundant both in building brands and in building people. Our path growth success allows us to serve brands with a level of sophistication, which is so special and something we take tremendous pride in. We are Brand Soldiers deeply rooted in humility and, every day, are excited about the continued legacy we are writing.
Touchstone is headquartered in Mason, OH (Cincinnati – North), with offices throughout the United States, as well as sourcing offices in ever-changing and dynamic parts of the world. We are excited to share with you our story and our passion for building brands, and the impact it has on the world we live in.
A few places we've lived...
25+ years of building brands.
It’s incredibly humbling to reflect back on our path and think about all that we’ve accomplished and overcome. Scroll through some of our milestones and get a glimpse into the journey that brought us to this point.
With humility and appreciation,
we’ve picked up a few along the way.
For those who read the terms and conditions, this section is for you!
We get it, books with pictures just weren’t your thing. That being said, here’s a full list of all the things we do. Enjoy!
Domestic Product Sourcing
Custom Product Mfg
Retail Trims & Tags
Industry Comparative Studies
Audience Profile Mapping
Marketing Calendar Planning
Follower Growth Initiatives
Incentive Campaign Strategies
Metrics Tracking & Reporting
Store Creation & Mgmt
Banner & Asset Creation
Social Media Integration
Customer Service & Returns
Real-time Analytics & Reporting
Platform Creation & Mgmt
Custom Metrics Tracking
Top Tier Retail Rewards
AI User Experience
Visual Line Plans (VLP)
PRIVATE LABEL MANUFACTURING
Testing & Compliance
WAREHOUSING & FULFILLMENT
Pick, Pack & Ship
Real-time Inventory Mgmt
Quality Control Reporting
Drop Ship Services
We have a footprint all over. Wherever you are, we’re probably not too far away.