The one where we accidentally order 20,000 fidget spinners

By Devon Hennig

Boardroom Confidential is a collection of wild-but-true stories from the careers of me and my friends.


Several years ago, I was VP of Marketing at a start-up.

We were preparing for a conference and the head of events wanted to order swag for the booth. She shared the list of items and I said sure, go ahead.

In this situation, the swag was being shipped straight to the hotel, so by the time I flew to Florida, checked into the hotel, and got to the exhibition hall, the boxes were already there waiting for me.

Except there weren’t 7 or 8 boxes like usual.

There were 50 boxes. Five. Zero.

Thinking there must be a mistake, I checked the labels.

Sure enough they were ours.

Cracking them open I discovered an avalanche of fidget spinners.

I called the head of events and asked what was up. She said she’d ordered enough for the whole conference, which was 2,000 people. Whoops. She’d added an extra 0 and didn’t check the invoice. Now I had to deal with all these damn spinners, which I wasn’t sure 20 people would want, let alone 20,000.

By the time the conference was over, I was left with 42 unopened boxes. Joy.

I lugged them all the way down to the UPS business center to be shipped home. And no, you don’t want to know how much the shipping cost.

When I got home, I had to explain the mistake to an unimpressed Chief Marketing Officer and have a heart-to-heart with the events person about double checking invoices before submitting them. It wasn’t a career-ending move, but an embarrassing one none-the-less.

And then, wouldn’t you know it, a turn of events.

Two months later, a salesperson posted in Slack that they closed a record-size deal. The lead source? That conference I was at!

Well, it looked like my hard work at the booth had paid off.

I pulled up the deal notes and my jaw fell on the floor.

The salesperson’s notes stated specifically that the person at the company who had found us at the conference said he was in a session and saw one of our fidget spinners lying on the table. Because of that, he had decided to stop by our booth and strike up a conversation.

I’ll be damned.

I found the events person and apologized. Her order of fidget spinners now had the best ROI of any marketing campaign we had ever run — by 30x.

That’s when I learned to never judge a tactic until you see the data. Also, at least one good thing came out of the fidget spinner craze.

Devon Hennig

Devon Hennig is a writer, marketer, and ex-game-show host. He quit his job as a software executive to make a go of it on his own. Follow along as he tries not to go broke.

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