Relationships are the lifeblood of our industry. It’s a lesson I’ve learned, and now I’m reinvesting into my regional promotional products association, SAAC. By sharing my experience, I hope your company reevaluates its commitment to regional associations, whether you’re a distributor, supplier or industry player.
I’m a "geriatric Millennial,” a micro-generation born in the early 1980s. I’ve spent my 20s and 30s in the promotional products industry. I couldn’t wait for the prophesized collapse of the trade show circuit, allowing me to get back to the native way of doing everything as my peers do: online.
This idea was constantly challenged by my first promo boss and mentor, Bob Levitt. Bob is “old school promo,” which I believe is “Relationships First, Online Last.” This approach reeked of inefficiency to me for years.
As Bob and I drifted apart in our careers, with him heading to a Top 2 distributor, and me venturing with my own independent distributorship, I continued on the path I approached most things in life: Why call when text is faster? Why visit when I can send an email?
For the first couple years, it seemed to work well. I’d research products online, check inventory online, submit estimates and purchase orders online.
My solopreneur business stayed flat throughout the pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, the business was on an upswing, with the company growing 100% plus per year for the past three consecutive years, and now with now employees across the country.
With this growth, an entirely different level of management was required. This continues to be my greatest challenge. I’d love to be out prospecting all day, but now the company needs different things from me. Instead of selling all day, I’m supporting the team to sell all day. Guiding them through the process of fostering relationships with industry suppliers to enhance their knowledge and assist our clients.
As I look back as every single crisis, the solution has always been an interpersonal relationship with our suppliers and decorator partners. SAAC has always been the nearest and easiest avenue for little distributors like me to maintain and develop relationships.
As my team at Radar Promotions has grown, the SAAC Expo has presented a unique and valuable event for our company each August. After more than five years in the industry, the regional and even PPAI Expo shows have lost some allure to me: I show up, and I talk with a lot of suppliers and decorators, but you pretty much know who’s who and what they do. What was very illuminating to me was how valuable our team’s first trade show was to them. Watching my Radar team think about how certain products could be decorated and sold to their unique clients was eye-opening.
The other truly unique asset that Regional Associations bring to the distributor experience is organized factory tours. I’m registered for two this month at the Picnic Time Family of Brands and Vantage Apparel. I haven’t been to a team-based factory tour before, and I’m looking forward to it, especially because these suppliers aren’t primary suppliers for our company. With that said, every primary supplier in our list of preferred suppliers started off NOT being one, so I have no doubt that these SAAC-Organized Factory Tours will energize our creativity and selling brains on how we can sell more.
I’m calling out my Millennial self for this one, The PromoHunt toolbar by Tony Wavering is one of the best tools I have seen in our industry. If you don’t already have it installed, you need to install it today. This aggregates all buyer group pricing, if you’re a member, regional association specials/perks, and online stores and easy presentations. This no-charge toolbar, alone, has paid several times over for the minimal cost of being a SAAC member, and I cannot stress membership and participation for all distributor peers in SAAC’s area.
Maybe Bob was right all along. My age might have been the biggest liability in my success. I can definitely say that after eight years working on both the supplier and distributor side, the relationships are what matters. When competitors can foster mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationships, and distributors can truly partner with suppliers, we will all succeed as industry. Join a regional association today.
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Published With Permission From Ryan Paules, Radar Promotions