So you’re new to the promotional products industry – welcome! There’s a lot to learn, but don’t worry, we’ve broken down the basics that you need to know to get started.
What are promotional products?
Promotional products are tangible and generally useful items that are imprinted with an advertiser’s name, logo, or message. These products are often used in marketing and communications programs, as giveaways, gifts, or incentives. Promo products that are handed out for free are sometimes referred to as advertising specialties.
There are an abundance of different product types and styles of promotional products – there’s really something for everyone! Some of the most common examples include pens, t-shirts, face masks, hats, key chains, and more.
What’s all the hype about?
Promotional products allow a brand to connect with consumers by engaging their senses. Because a promo product is a tangible thing, most often something you can hold in your hand(s), consumers are able to interact with the brand on a physical level, which helps them to remember the brand later on.
Here’s a fun activity for all you promo newbies: take a look through your home, especially your desk and cabinets. How many promotional items can you find?
Where do people buy promotional products?
The majority of product orders are facilitated through distributors. When a company or organization has a marketing initiative, they can reach out to a distributor who will help them find the perfect item for their audience. With their extensive industry knowledge and access to millions of promotional products, distributors are able to know what’s new and trending, and what products will produce the greatest marketing return for their clients.
Distributors, in turn, order the promotional products from suppliers or manufacturers. Suppliers manufacture and import the products and are often also the ones imprinting the client’s logo or information onto the product.
One of the most common sources of confusion for folks new to the promotional products industry can be the supplier/distributor relationship. At first, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. To someone not familiar with the workings of the promo industry, they both appear to do the same general thing – sell promotional products. However, the big difference who they are selling to.
Suppliers manufacture/import and then sell the products to distributors. Distributors sell the decorated, prepared products to their clients. Then, those clients hand the products out to their consumers or intended audience.
Why don’t clients just purchase from the supplier?
Since distributors are closely partnered with many suppliers, they’re well aware of all the unknown risks that can befall a seemingly simple transaction. Distributors are responsible for ensuring quality in the products and their imprints, and for overseeing any legal or logistical concerns. Additionally, the distributor’s unique relationship with suppliers can accelerate purchase orders and open opportunities for additional initiatives. In short, clients don’t purchase directly from suppliers because distributors provide essential services in the purchasing process that most clients would not have access to on their own.
And there you have it! These are the very basics that every newcomer to the promotional products industry needs to know to get started. To continue your promo industry learning journey, check out our blogs on promotional product facts, graphic design terms you should know, and more – the SAGE Blog is a great place for industry knowledge. Take a look at PPAI’s educational resources as well and you’ll be on your way to being a promo expert!
Used With Permission From SAGE
Do you strive to differentiate yourself from the pack? You have probably been doing this for as long as you can remember. From college applications to job interviews to client meetings, you aim to show how you are different from everyone vying for the spot, the position or the business.
While it’s good to want to stand out from the rest, it’s also becoming increasingly difficult. That’s because many people are working to be impressive and show how they are different, just as you are, says leadership coach Lolly Daskal.
In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we discuss Daskal’s thoughts on how you can distinguish yourself when most everyone is working hard to do the same.
Progress on your own terms. When you want to go for something, go for it—you do not need anyone’s approval or affirmation. Daskal says many people wait for someone else to identify them as a leader before they feel they have the right to shine. Don’t wait for validation. Give yourself permission to move forward and claim your spot as a leader.
Commit to excellence. Remember that quantity is not better than quality. If you want to make a name for yourself, make sure everything you do is the best-quality work. When you strive for excellence in all that you do, you will set yourself apart from those who settle for mediocrity.
Don’t market yourself so much. We live in an age when people feel they need to sell themselves and brand themselves constantly. However, Daskal says it is much more effective to let your words and actions speak for themselves. Do what you say you’re going to do. Be real and authentic. That will really distinguish you from everyone else.
Always aim to help others. If you want to stand out from the competition, here’s an easy tip: Give before you get. This means you are willing to help others without expecting anything in return. Maybe it’s sending a useful article to a client or offering to take something off their plate.
Let your character lead the way. According to Daskal, one of the best ways to stand out is to work to become a person who is known for their character. Others may be rewarded for their results, but at the end of the day, character is more important.
Sometimes, standing out means doing less—less waiting on others’ approval, less self-promotion, less busy work. You will naturally set yourself apart from everyone else when you weave excellence, authenticity and helpfulness into how you live your life. When you model what it means to be an above-average sales professional and leader, you will be noticed by many.
Compiled by Audrey Sellers
Source: Lolly Daskal is the founder of Lead from Within, a leadership firm that offers custom-made programs in leadership and organizational development. As a leadership coach, Daskal is an advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and boards. She is one of the top executive coaches in the world.
Used With Permission From PPAI Media
Owner/President, It's Magic Ink
What do you like best about your company? It's a fun business. You meet the nicest people in town.
How were you introduced to the promotional products industry? I founded and owned Oakbrook Awards for 28 years. I added promotions to that business. Sold Oakbrook in 2018. Opened It's Magic Ink summer of 2019 as my "retirement" business. Only 40 hours a week rather than 60 hours a week.
If you had to pick one, what is your favorite promotional product? Post It notes. They stick around and are easily mailed.
Tell us something about you that most people may not know. Career-wise I'm like a cat with nine lives... I've done so many different things: Arcadia's first female police cadet, insurance sales, trophy wife (retired!), landscaper, Exxon's offshore platform geology librarian and never bored.
Dear SAAC Members –
These have been trying times to say the least. The SAAC Board recognizes that many promotional products businesses are struggling and looking at ways to reduce expenses while diversifying. We are all clamoring to find new ways to drive revenues. That’s why it is more important than ever to have the right tools, resources and networking opportunities in your back pocket.
SAAC is working harder than ever to keep your business moving forward, and we are striving to find new and innovative ways to keep us all feeling connected in this disconnected and new world of work.
“I have been a SAAC member for almost 30 years. Since first joining the association, the suppliers and distributors I’ve met have become my mentors and friends. Suppliers have assisted with pricing and rush orders while many distributors have pointed me in the right direction when I needed help. At the time I was a one-person shop, these relationships made a big impact on my success. Having this community to connect with and lean on during this challenging time has been helpful both personally and professionally.” – SAAC Board Vice President, Stephen Ropfogel, HALO
All of us from SAAC want you to know you do not have to go it alone. In fact, our very existence as your regional association is intended to assist you both during the best and worst of times. We will continue to offer a variety of opportunities for growth and learning, while being an advocate for our industry locally and nationally.
“Supporting and connecting with our SAAC members and potential members during this time has been exceptionally rewarding. Having the opportunity to meet virtually with so many people we haven’t had the chance to meet at one of our live events has been the silver lining to an otherwise difficult time. #relationships” – SAAC Board Member, Ray Jimenez, The Magnet Group
SAAC is excited to announce a one-of-a-kind event: the upcoming SAAC Virtual Pop Up, August 3 - 7. For five days, distributors are invited to view short on-demand videos from the industry’s top suppliers. As an added bonus, many are offering special discounts and promotions just for SAAC distributors. It’s a fun and easy way to see the latest trends and brainstorm for new ideas for your clients, all from the comfort of your own computer and on your own time.
“I’ve owned my distributor firm for over a pandemic-free, quarter century. Throughout all my years in business, seeing my company successfully through all kinds of problems and economies, none of those years prepared me for this, and my experience means diddly-squat. I’ve had to learn the ropes through this pandemic, just like everyone else, because everything is different now. It’s true, there are some things I can’t change or fix, and I have to wait things out. But I most certainly cannot see my company through to the other side of this pandemic without leveraging the partners I’ve put in place and utilizing the tools and resources that are at my disposal.” – SAAC Board Member, Tonia Allen Gould, TAGSOURCE, LLC
Please remember, you are not in this alone and SAAC is here for you. There are numerous benefits available to you as a member that we welcome you to utilize. If you’d like to learn more, please visit www.saac.net, reach out to any SAAC Board member or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My year so far as SAAC president has proven to be interesting, to say the least. What began with plans of monthly networking events, philanthropic programs and a fantastic SAAC Expo in Anaheim quickly turned into all things virtual. However, it has been rewarding and fulfilling to engage with members through SAAC Lunches and webinars whom I hadn’t had a chance to connect with at previous SAAC functions.
“The ability of the association to adapt quickly to best serve our membership has been in great part due to the SAAC board and our executive director. But we won’t stop there—we remain focused on engaging and meeting the needs of our member professionals. We also welcome your ideas, suggestions and feedback and look forward to “seeing” you at an upcoming event soon.” – SAAC Board Member, Tara Villanueva, Geiger
We are thankful for the continued support of our membership and wish you all, your colleagues and your families good health and success.
The 2020 SAAC Board of Directors
Now that states have reopened and people are back to work, at least to some degree, business will be different, but how? Will client budgets be right-sized and constricted? What will events, such as trade shows, look like in our post-coronavirus world? To what extent will virtual communications opportunities remain? How will companies approach hiring practices when they begin to hire again? Will there be challenges relating to employee morale and productivity? Is social media going to have a hangover? Will businesses be eager to invest and spend money?
Here are a few predictions and ruminations that I hope help as we all dig out and get back to business.
This is the No. 1 question buyers ask: “What’s new?” “What’s hot?” Suppliers: now is the time for research and development. Give marketers answers to those questions that will generate excitement and sales.
I think logos should be subordinate to great design and messaging that will better represent the meaning behind brands. I respect the need for consistent logo impressions, but most logos have a disconnect with meaning. To reinforce my point, would you prefer a mug with just a Starbucks logo or a mug with a beautiful design and a more subtle treatment of the Starbucks logo?
Home has been a new work domain for many of us for the past few months and may remain so for a while. Working from a bed with barking dogs and toddlers running around wearing superhero capes has become mainstream. So, what are the appropriate premium giveaways we can provide to work-from-home employees and customers to assist them in their home environments?
Masks will become the new hat. They are a trifecta power product. They are fashion. They deliver function and they are deeply connected to purpose. And we all know that the fifth “P” of marketing is “purpose.”
Businesses will spend less on travel this year and possibly next year too. Office footprints will shrink as some companies downsized their number of employees and others are allowed to work from home permanently. How can you redirect those savings into investments in marketing—and in great marketing programs that produce results?
With a slower return to face-to-face interaction at all levels, I predict there will be a resurgence of direct mail. You can help your client be successful by delivering on creativity, logistics and clever ideas—not lame giveaways or mail pieces with excess packaging that clog landfills.
Look around you and you will notice that directives play a bigger-than-ever role in reminders for physical distancing, washing/sanitizing hands and wearing a mask. We will be asked to play a growing role in health and safety. There are big opportunities here.
Branded gear that is easy to access will be critical to reinforcing the connection with customers, prospects and employees. Consider how to use 24/7 online storefronts through social media engagement, referral appreciation and affinity programs to remind buyers that your business cares about them and it wants to participate in helping them rebound.
I hope empathy will linger in boardrooms. Corporate compassion (the “human brand”) is essential in attracting and retaining talent and customers. Once inaccessible, consumers now have access to public insights through social media, comments and ubiquitous cell phone cameras. The business behind the marketing jingle has been exposed. Buyers now know what companies are really about and consumers vote with their dollars. Brands need the speed of trust and connection. So, marketing should align with who brands really are and what brands represent, or marketing will be a liability.
There must be a renewed focus on taking care of employees, being good to Mother Earth, supporting community and using brands for good. So, how can promotional products help marketing and human resources departments with recognition and retention efforts? There is a heap of opportunity in the answer.
So, now the question is, “Where to from here?” If we can anticipate the changes in business after the pandemic, the promotional products industry will thrive. It can prepare and prevent versus repair and repent. This creative industry is known for its ability to deliver long-lasting impressions, calls to action, to evoke emotion, to be a medium for connection, and to drive business and recognize those who deserve the bright light. We will adapt by creating new products, services and thinking to deliver marketing success. Now is the time for transformation.
Danny Rosin, CAS, is co- president of distributor Brand Fuel, Inc. in Morrisville, North Carolina. He is also co-founder of Band Together NC, board member for the Triangle Area American Marketing Association and The Table Raleigh, cofounder of PromoKitchen and PromoCares, and serves on the PPAI board of directors.
Used with permission from PPAI
Thanks to the internet, new knowledge is never more than a click away. You can learn almost anything online by watching a YouTube video, taking an online class, or attending a webinar.
Webinars are seminars, workshops, or lectures that are hosted online using a webinar or virtual conferencing software. They’re a powerful business tool that is especially useful now that many traditional avenues like tradeshows and conferences have transitioned to an online platform due to the Coronavirus.
I know what you’re thinking: okay, that sounds great. But why should I host one? Here are 5 of the best reasons to host your own webinar:
Hosting a webinar allows you to showcase your industry knowledge and expertise and provides you with an audience that wants to learn more about your products and services. Just because your webinar is “free”, doesn’t mean that your attendees aren’t exchanging anything for your content. To attend a webinar, your prospect has to register, set time aside for the event, show up on time, and then give you half an hour or more of their time. They’re doing all of this just to listen to you cover a certain topic – these position you as an expert before you even start the webinar!
Webinars also allow you to put a real face to your business, even when you can’t meet all your prospects in person, encouraging your audience to engage with your business.
One of the largest benefits of speaking to a group of clients and potential customers through a webinar is that it allows them to get to know you on a much deeper level. Rather than meeting them through a quick video or networking event, you are able to give your attendees a personal connection with you, the presenter, and with your company.
Webinars also allow you to easily promote your business, especially when you are delivering high-quality content in your presentation. Don’t just look to sell your products – seek to educate your viewers on the industry and how your business fits into their marketing plans. By hosting a virtual presentation or workshop, you can boost your business exposure while providing your customers with valuable industry information and insight.
Webinars are a great way to gather and answer questions from your prospective clients. An interactive question and answer portion of your presentation allows your business to get to know its target audience, their needs, challenges, and more. This will help you develop a deeper understanding of what motivates the people who use your company, and you can use that to tailor your products, services, and future content to them.
Conventional meetings, seminars, workshops, and conferences all have one thing in common – they’re expensive to hold. Hosting events in person requires lots of planning and coordination, not to mention the costs of booking a room, catering, etc. Webinars are hosted online, so your attendees tune in from the comfort of their own home or office, and they require little more than an internet connection, microphone, and webcam on your part to get started.
Webinars can also be recorded and repurposed, making them a great source of content even after the session is ended. Share recordings of the webinar with clients who couldn’t make it or post the video to your social media accounts. Take the content from your presentation and use it to create useful infographics, blogs, or flyers for easy marketing pieces that share your information in fresh new ways.
Lastly, sign-up forms for your webinar allow you to collect lead information. Registering for webinars is a standard part of the process, and people are familiar with providing their names and email addresses to attend. Best of all, your lead list generates itself: by registering, attendees highlight themselves as interested in your company and wanting to know more.
Webinars are a great way to connect with your customers from a distance. They give you the opportunity to speak directly to your customers and educate them on your company, while helping your prospects to get to know your business better.
Used with permission from SAGE
This spring, hundreds of supplier companies across North America remained open during the pandemic—many by meeting the requirements of essential businesses as they worked to produce personal protective equipment such as face masks, face shields, gowns, gloves, sanitizer and similar products for health-care workers and customers.
Although most operated with fewer employees (many working from home), limited hours and extended production times, promotional products continued to ship out—as long as distributors were placing orders.
As state shelter-in-place mandates were slowly lifted beginning in late April, companies across the industry have resumed operations, but they are returning to a much different landscape.
The pandemic and lockdown cancelled hundreds of thousands of events, upended entire industries and permanently closed some businesses. One of the hardest hit is the hospitality industry, a top buyer of promotional products, which includes hotels, airlines, meetings, conferences, tour companies and related businesses. By the end of May, the U.S. economy was expected to have lost 1.6 million jobs and $84 billion in earnings from cancelled conferences resulting in closed hotels and almost-empty planes, according to Emsi, an affiliate of Strada Education Network.
Retail, the largest business sector for promotional products, according to PPAI research, was also among the casualties suffering temporary closures resulting in huge revenue losses, particularly among furniture, home furnishings and clothing stores. The education market, also a top buyer, suffered economic losses as well with school closures and cancellations of proms, graduations and end-of-school-year events.
Even now, as businesses are reopening and people are returning to workplaces, the future is unclear and the question on everyone’s mind remains: How will our industry find its way back and when?
“Now is the time for a complete reset and for people to reimagine what their business will be,” says Jonathan Isaacson, president at supplier Gemline in Lawrence, Massachusetts. “What it was, is really not what it will be any time in the near future.” He cites events and conferences, a big piece of the industry’s business, and the fact that more people are now working from home on a long-term basis, a trend that will affect commercial real estate and related industries. If these markets go away, what will take their place? “Where are the places where we are driving value as an industry and how will that change the world that is today?” he asks.
While the sales of PPE buoyed some suppliers and distributors over the past few months, he doesn’t believe these products are a natural fit for the promo industry. “Three-ply masks without a logo, and the fact that we are buying them from the same guy in Asia from whom we buy our stress balls, is not the best possible course of action. If PPE fails, it has a much bigger implication than an issue with stress balls,” Isaacson says.
Noting that the safety of his associates is of paramount concern, he has put together a Standard of Care Advisory Committee that includes epidemiologists, microbiologists and an environmental health pro to help ensure the company is selling the best PPE possible, to provide education and best practices for the industry and to help keep his workplace safe.
As far as sales, Gemline had to shut down for a while but later reopened when it was deemed an essential business. The company added new categories to sell products such as soap and hand sanitizer and is selling kits and bundles that combine PPE with other products. By July, it will have launched additional new products and services that bring value to distributors and their end buyers. The latter is just one example of the importance of getting to market quickly.
“What has changed is the speed in which we’re implementing changes in the organization,” says Isaacson. “We’re on COVID time. If we see an opportunity, we move on it quickly.”
When asked when sales might return to pre-lockdown levels, he says Gemline wasn’t hit quite as hard as others and weathered it well, but from an industry perspective, it’s going to be a long road back. “Whole industries were decimated, and it will take a while to rebuild to where we were. We need to remember that this is a huge tragedy—especially for the people who’ve put their blood, sweat and tears into companies that are now gone—through no fault of their own. It’s an event that was out of everybody’s control, no one saw it coming. It’s a human tragedy on many levels.”
Another victim of the pandemic is the industry supply chain. “Our relationship with China has gotten a lot more tense. That’s good for nobody,” he says. “We need to find a way to engage our way through this because there is no way to easily move the supply chain out of China—you can move some, but not all of it. It’s going to be an issue for the industry and it’s very category-dependent.”
What he’s most optimistic about is the resiliency of the promo industry. “This is a very resilient industry with product that has real value. People will find a way—one way or another the business will be rebuilt. It may be different, but it will come back.”
Adrienne Forrest, vice president, corporate sales for Citizen Watch America in New York City, says with its warehouse based in California, the company was unable to ship the bulk of its products for either retail or corporate use during the lockdown, but it began a soft opening in late May and is gradually shipping in larger and larger quantities to customers. Still, she says it’s unclear how the event and experiential programs will be impacted. “The next six months will be critical once companies reopen and we get a better idea of customers’ comfort levels. Customers will be relying more heavily on suppliers who have stock on the shelf since lead times overseas will be greatly impacted.”
She believes it will take a year or more to return to a semblance of normal business, but it may never rebound in full.
During the pandemic, the company implemented a restructuring strategy to “meet the challenges of the rapidly evolving watch marketplace and accelerated by the unprecedented headwinds of the COVID-19 crisis,” Forrest says. One of the changes was moving many of its executives into multi-brand positions. Forrest now oversees the entire CWA portfolio of brands within the corporate sales channel and the company is adding more resources to provide customers with the best service.
“We now offer an unparalleled selection for every market niche under one roof, while preserving the integrity and storytelling power of each brand,” she says. “We believe these fundamental changes to our company will makes us far stronger and position us as an innovator and leader in our industry.”
Paul Lage, MAS, president of IMAGEN Brands, in Mason, Ohio, parent company of suppliers Crown and Vitronic, says the pandemic and subsequent lockdown caused obvious challenges but also some positive changes that might not have otherwise been addressed. “We have learned to work from home, embraced new technologies and processes, learned about crisis management and expanded our appreciation of all our employees and business partners as this crisis continues to pull us together,” Lage says.
Even so, his biggest concern is the health of the industry. “Distributors, suppliers and our vendors are all hurting at some level as we look to a prolonged recovery,” Lage says. “If everyone just worries about themselves, then there will be a long-term negative impact on the industry. This is not a time for leverage, it is a time for partnerships. That’s what we talk about all the time and now it is the time to practice it.”
The industry supply chain is another issue, but Lage believes it’s already been impacted. “Most suppliers are pushing out inventory buys, new products are being delayed and there is little certainty that we can provide our vendors for when things will change,” he says. “Many of our products are labor intensive. These delays are not sustainable and many of our vendors are at risk of going out of business, too. As a supplier, we are trying to balance our needs with the long-term survival of our vendors.”
As far as returning to pre-lockdown levels, he’s estimating third quarter of 2021. “That’s today’s estimate. There is more risk that it will be later than this time frame versus recovering earlier.”
Still, Lage believes there’s plenty to be optimistic about. “We are learning how to do business differently; working from home will create new and different jobs for the future. Our salespeople have new tools to use in conducting virtual sales meetings and trade shows, and we are learning how to communicate differently with our own associates and partners. We will look back on this time and realize this is when our industry truly had meaningful change. We will come out of this, and those who make it will be stronger and more prepared for the future.”
The pandemic was a catalyst for change in many companies, including Lage’s. “We now have a more strategic focus on products, structure and purpose,” he says. “We need to find ways to be profitable no matter our size. We have to evaluate our relationships and create fair partnerships going forward, too. This future is not about who can supply the lowest price, as so many suppliers have been ‘flying too close to the sun’ when it comes to margins and being prepared for crises like this. If you think about the tariffs, COVID and the social unrest we are living through, it should be a reminder that we all need to work together to create a positive future for all.”
For Brandon Mackay, MAS, president of SnugZ USA in West Jordan, Utah, the pandemic and lockdown “caused havoc on our business from A to Z. Every day is a Monday here and we just try to solve one problem, concern or crisis at a time,” he says. In April, the company was among many that stepped up to provide PPE. For SnugZ, it was die-cutting and kitting five million medical-grade face masks for local health-care workers.
The massive job required precise teamwork, and the pandemic uncovered a number of opportunities for the team to learn what it was capable of. “First, it has put an emphasis on family-first,” says Mackay. “If that is not a cornerstone of your business, then it’s all for naught. The SnugZ USA team has rallied to help out all areas of the business not just to provide an A-plus job for our customer while dealing with mind-bending adversity, but we’ve also tried to help out with an all-hands-on-deck mentality to get people out of here to spend time with their families.” During the height of the pandemic, SnugZ was able to transition more than 75 positions to work at home to protect their safety and allow employees to care for their children who were without daycare, schools and activities. “I think this has again emphasized our SnugZ values of ‘think big, work like crazy, care passionately and do what is right,’” he says.
Now that the country is opening back up, he’s thinking about industries that are not doing so yet. “Like many promotional products suppliers and distributors, we have a weighted portion of our businesses in travel, events, conventions and meeting planning. These segments being shut off like a valve has been an extreme challenge, and many of these looking like they won’t return until 2021 has left a huge void in our business,” Mackay says. His best guess on when sales might return is fourth quarter of 2021. “Let’s be honest, this is a guess since so much is dictated by fear and testing.”
This year was a double negative one for many suppliers, Mackay says. “We had Chinese New Year followed by COVID. On top of that, when product did show up it was the wrong merchandise. We became heavily weighted in inventory that was unsellable in the short time frame due to the shift to PPE. The immediate shift to PPE left us with little to no inventory for 90 days as the supply chain caught up the best it could. Now everyone is trying to sell PPE regardless of quality and vetting of vendors. It’s unfortunate that quality and safety have taken a back seat to just shipping product.”
Despite the events of the past few months, Mackay has faith in the power of promotional products. “I’m very bullish on promo and always will be,” he says. “There is not a means of advertising and corporate branding that is equal to this industry. If we, as Americans, always believe in the American Dream of an idea leading to success and a better life, then we’ll always have an industry, and SnugZ will always have a customer to sell branded merchandise to. As I reflect over the past 90 days, I have faith in our distributor partners to make a comeback for all of us."
Rich Carollo, president of Chicago-based Lion Circle Corporation, says his company was deemed an essential business and remained open but sales during the first few months were down significantly. Most of the company’s products, such as hand fans, are festival- and event-driven and that segment of industry has taken a huge hit. But the nice thing, he says, is that some of his lower-profile products, such as coloring books and food packaging, have become more popular for companies sending gift packages to home-bound employees. Another bright spot, he says, is that it’s easier now to get customers on the phone. “They are willing to listen; it used to be that they were too busy,” he says.
Still, he’s concerned about his events business. “We need the events to come back. Events are pretty important for our industry,” he says, adding that parades, such as Chicago’s Gay Pride parade and 4th of July parades mean big business for Lion Circle. “Those are what we need to get going.”
Like most suppliers, he’s eager to get business back to the constant hum he enjoyed only a few months ago. “It’s going to take some time,” he says, mentioning trade shows as an example. “The way it’s going to work is you just do it. There will be lots of people, both suppliers and distributors, who don’t come to shows but if you stay back for a year, then you see people who are out living their lives and you realize you’ve missed out. It’s just a matter of when you adapt to it.”
Ten years ago, during the Great Recession, he remembers companies were peeling back their marketing budgets. “If everyone is going forward, you can’t keep walking backward or you’ll be wiped out,” he says. “We are going to figure out a way to get everything working again.” He says it’s anybody’s guess when sales will be return to pre-lockdown levels, but he’s hoping it will be Q1 of next year.
On the industry’s supply chain, Carollo considers his USA-made products a particular market advantage now. “I think there will be some hiccups in China and that will cause a positive for us. We are a decent alternative to Chinese products at a low price point in a quick turn time. I’m optimistic about that and we are getting plenty of work because of it but I think it will be another generation before anything really happens [with moving supply chains out of China],” he says, adding that where products are manufactured is not usually the first question end users ask their distributors.
Carollo is confident in the industry’s ability to bounce back and he’s eager for relationships to continue. “I hope the way the industry works, with the supplier/distributor relationship, stays the way it was, and I think it will,” he says. He thinks the industry will continue to consolidate, especially on the distributor side.
“In the past four or five years, we’ve seen investment groups buying into our industry and finally seeing how important we are. I think a lot of those ‘numbers guys’ will get really scared by what they are seeing now in our industry, but the seasoned people know where we’re at and will figure it out. I’m hoping our industry gets back to that more personal level. With a lot of people looking around and trying to find answers, there will be a lot more collaboration.”
During the first couple of weeks of the pandemic, his business went from slow to dead, he says, so he had to furlough quite a few employees but hopes to rehire them by late summer.
“This is a gut-check moment when you find out who on your team is really good and willing to work hard,” he says. “I’ve seen some surprising stars—people shining, willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. That helps me sleep at night, for sure.”
The pandemic also was a catalyst to look at his product line to see what products could be mailed and what products could make people safer. He saw a boom in his single-serving food packaging, drop-shipping requests and kitting orders, and also added face masks to the line.
“I’m also always looking for new lines and new products to add, but I’m going to loosen that up a bit more if I can find some new opportunities, some synergy with a company—I wouldn’t mind adding on to this portfolio,” Carollo adds.
When Carleen Gray, CEO of GroupeStahl in Sterling Heights, Michigan, looks at the impact of the pandemic on her business, she looks at the immediate, mid-term and long-term effects. “Immediate was almost an entire rolling shutdown by the state as orders were issued,” she says. Then the company filed for essential status, reopened and experienced eight weeks of sustained “re-birth” of the business units as sales volume came back. “We used this stage to strategize and plan for the rightsizing of the company for a full recovery. Long term we will be a much different organization, both internally and externally. Internally, we think differently—smaller and leaner is better. Externally, the industry will see streamlined, focused business units.”
As the company, a leading provider of pre-cut and custom athletic numbers, letters and logos, equipment and related services, has resumed business, Gray is happy to report that some of Stahls' sales are already very close to pre-lockdown levels. “We have different projections for different divisions. We also saw very clearly which segments were stable during the crisis, why, and will work to develop more market share,” she says. As far as any effect on her supply chain, she says, “We are a manufacturer, so we control much of our supply chain. However, there is no getting around certain components and key supplies. We have U.S.-based manufacturing in all key areas and redundancy in all major segments, and this helped.”
Because Stahls offers a comprehensive educational component to customers, downtime during the pandemic drew more participants. “We found, during the pandemic, that businesses wanted to listen, learn and talk. Our educational sessions were packed. We found they would invest, and new start-up business is through the roof,” Gray says. She also was surprised to see how well many business owners handled the shelter-in-place orders. “Customers who were in business simply unplugged their heat presses and took them home. The heat press gave them independence, and a way to earn a living. All segments were doing this, from promo to sports and ecommerce fulfillment. People were personalizing masks on heat presses almost immediately—something that is difficult on a screen-print press. The customer base was so thankful that we remained open to fill their orders. They told us this time and time again.”
The pandemic also gave the company time to rethink its business. “Stahls’ has been in business for 88 years and the pandemic forced our hand on changes that were long overdue, but culturally engrained,” Gray says. “On a daily basis, we realize that we can do more with less. We have streamlined and cut costs. Our executive team anticipates and makes decisions to keep the company and our people healthy and employed. We know we will be a smaller company, but we also know we are smarter, leaner, stronger.”
She is also confident about the company’s future in other areas. “We are very optimistic about new technologies we are introducing,” she says. “The pandemic made us focus on fewer projects with less distraction. We are driving these with the mentality of a start-up, make-or-break-it passion. We are introducing simpler solutions to an industry that needs clarity and simplicity and a focused way to profit.”
During the pandemic, David Miller, president of Chocolate Inn/Taylor & Grant/Lanco in Hicksville, New York, led his company to pivot by adding a new category of PPE products to the broad range of gifts, apparel, edibles and hardgoods already offered. New items include masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, wipes, dispensers, PPE kits, microfiber cleaning cloths and vitamin packs.
“We reinvented ourselves in being one of the top suppliers to the industry of PPE products,” he says. The pandemic also made him rethink the company’s purpose and products to focus more toward the needs of where there is a scarcity of supply.
Miller says his concern about the industry’s supply chain is about inflated product and shipping costs from overseas, but he anticipates sales will return to pre-lockdown levels by fourth quarter of this year. “We will rebound, and the pivoting of most distributors from purely promotional to being top of mind for PPE products shows the versatility and survival aspects of our marketplace in which the relationships we have developed are supreme.”
When most events and conferences came to a screeching halt this past spring, many custom orders at C. Sanders Emblem in San Fernando, California, were cancelled as well. “So many of our [end buyers] are schools, sports teams, museum gift stores, fraternal organizations and membership clubs,” says President Penny Ledbetter. “I’m confident they will all come back in time.” But COVID-19 was not the first challenge the supplier has faced in the past year. “Actually, our major issues started last September with the 15 percent tariff on top of the regular duty of 11 percent on our products coming from overseas. That 26 percent was not something we felt we could pass on to our customers. The past few months the tariff was reduced to 7.5 percent plus regular duty of 11 percent—so now we are at 18.5 percent. This has really hurt us.” In addition, she says all transport companies are now charging a surplus fee depending on weight so her cost to get products into her warehouse has risen significantly.
However, there has been a positive side to the pandemic. “My team—admin, sales, artists and warehouse—are much closer. Job descriptions are out the window—everyone wears several hats—and communicating and coordinating is at an all-time high. Everyone is giving their all,” she says.
Ledbetter reopened her facility in May and is worried that business will not come back to previous levels. “I worry that [end buyers] with budget constraints due to temporarily closing their business, may view my products as non-essential and not come back. “Budgets, understandably, will go to other areas of their business,” she says, adding that she did take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program and it’s helping but she’s not sure what may happen when that runs out before her business comes back. She also had to deactivate her SAGE membership due to budget constraints and is concerned new distributors will not know about the company or know to contact it.
With fingers crossed, she says she hopes sales will be back by fourth quarter of this year but realistically, she’s anticipating 2021. “Business will trickle in but to return to previous levels …?”
The supply chain post-COVID is another concern. “Everything will take longer and be more expensive,” she says. “So far, factories have been able to import from other countries the raw materials they need for our pins: copper, iron and aluminum. I’m not experiencing any problems from overseas. My factories are up and ready to run at full capacity—they are just waiting for us to come back with orders.”
If nothing else, the pandemic taught Ledbetter and her team how to look for new opportunities. “We are looking for new customers to expand the category of clients we now service and for new ways to connect with them,” she says, adding the example of perfecting a short video introduction. “We are looking at our core values and matching them with businesses and foundations where a partnership makes sense.” She’s also using the company newsletter and social media to share what fraternal clubs her customers are using to help their communities. “These ideas will help others by giving them knowledge of how to help and how to go about organizing projects to assist others,” she says.
These exercises and working to be innovative in other ways, have helped her team to be more creative and energized by the challenges they are facing. “We have ideas for new ways of selling, new designs and products. More importantly, how to use our products in meaningful and effective ways,” she adds.
As far as what to look forward to as the industry ramps back up, she says, “Relationships and trust will be even more important between distributors and suppliers. I expect the relationship to strengthen with a greater understanding and respect for each other’s position.” She’s also optimistic about promotional products and her category specifically. “There will always be a need to deliver a message through marketing and branding, and special collections and keepsakes are important to people now more than ever, and that is so much a part of our company.”
Events are also the lifeblood of BamBams in Manassas, Virginia, which sells promo products in a variety of categories, including those used by sports teams and at outdoor events such as the company’s namesake: an inflated, sealed noisemaker.
“At BamBams, a majority of our products are imported so we were faced with a large challenge entering March,” says Zack Harvey, director of sales. “As events started being cancelled and pipelines were drying up, we began working with our network of factory partners and logistics team to begin importing masks, gowns and various other PPE items that we could offer to our distributor partners.”
The company was able to remain open during the pandemic, and its U.S. production facility was fully operational while taking precautions for social distancing. Sales, accounting, design and support staff worked remotely to keep up with orders. Now as business has begun opening more fully, Harvey’s concern or challenge “is being able to fill the PPE orders in a timely manner. Everyone is concerned with the health and safety of their community and we are working with our factory partners to provide the best quality products in a reasonable time at a competitive price.”
He’s unsure when sales might return to pre-lockdown levels because of the prospect of a second wave of the virus but he’s optimistic about the health of the supply chain. “We believe the industry supply chain will recover, but that a portion of the focus will remain in importing PPE, especially protective items that can be branded. BamBams is known for providing unique and custom items to our customers, and that won’t change. However, because of our longevity and business relationships with our factory partners, we were able to quickly bring PPE to our market and we will continue to do so.”
As far as the future for BamBams and the industry, Harvey says, “While there might be a new normal, BamBams will continue to provide ‘products that excite,' as well as grow our company based on success measured through customer satisfaction and empower our team members to grow their business partnerships.”
Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.
This summer looks different for most people. With the first half of the year upended by the pandemic, many salespeople are using this season to grow their client lists rather than take some time off. Lisa Leitch, CSP2, president of Teneo Results, says that while prospecting can be hard, tedious and discouraging, when you put in the work in July and August, you can capture the clients before your competitors get to them in the fall.
In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we discuss Leitch’s seven ways to get your sales pipeline sizzling this summer.
1. Build a hot list of 50-100 customers and prospects. Leitch recommends going through your past customer lists as well as your current customer list when creating your hot list. Be sure to review leads from webinars, tradeshows and LinkedIn.
2. Schedule prospecting time. Be intentional about when you will spend time prospecting. Leitch likes to block time in her calendar early in the day, typically between 7:45 and 8:55 in the morning. She says this is an ideal time to reach potential customers before they begin their 9 a.m. meetings. Think about when your buyers are most likely to answer your call or email live and plan your prospecting time then.
3. Pinpoint 10 prospects to contact next. A good idea to get excited about your hot list is to identify 10 prospects ahead of time. Before you end your day, think about who you want to contact the next workday, being sure to research on LinkedIn so you are prepared.
4. Use the double-whammy method. Leitch says this method involves calling your prospect and following up with an email, text or video for the best results. She notes that this method can improve your response rate by almost 50 percent.
5. Communicate to get attention. Remember that most customers read their emails on their mobile devices, especially during the summer when they may be working at the pool or beach. Knowing this, aim to write your emails to capture attention from the intro. The first 10 words must be compelling enough to get the buyer to click “open” and avoid the delete button.
6. Inspire interest with a video. To break through the inbox clutter and stand out in your prospects’ inbox, consider sending a video email. Leitch points out that video emails have been shown to get 81 percent more responses than traditional emails. You can use platforms like BombBomb and Covido for free for 14 days so you can test out this method and get comfortable recording yourself.
7. Focus on your prospects. Always make your messaging about your prospects—never about you. Strive to show your prospects how you can help them improve their business or solve a problem. Remember that your objective is to create interest to secure a meeting, not the sale, notes Leitch.
Take some breaks this summer but stay focused on connecting with potential buyers. This takes a commitment to planning ahead by researching prospects, developing a hot list, and communicating strategically. When you invest time in your prospecting efforts during the summer, you stay one step ahead of your competitors.
Source: Lisa Leitch, CSP2, is president of Teneo Results, where she has trained thousands of sales professionals at more than 250 companies across North America. She transitions salespeople away from the standard “product and price” approach to having purposeful business conversations with their customers that drive results.
A Time to Be Confident
It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times - Charles Dickens
7/16/2020 | Roger Burnett, CAS, The Burn
Let’s face it. If you call the Promotional Marketing industry home AND if you’ve sat out selling PPE, times are pretty bleak.
Many of my friends’ lives have been turned completely upside-down. Many of our friends in the Supplier salespeople ranks have been tossed overboard like deck chairs from a sinking Titanic. It’s not wrong for businesses to do what they need to do to survive, and I have no complaint with the ways leaders are facing the challenge at this moment. I have the ultimate respect and understanding of the need to keep a business viable in the face of a seemingly endlessly shifting set of circumstances. No-one should get a permanent black eye for their approach to solving what seems to be an unsolvable problem right now.
None of that changes the fact that many people have had their careers thrown off the rails. Theirs are real fears and concerns about the possibility of being rehired to do what they have done for their entire careers. Many have reached the career stage where we’re not yet ready or willing to retire, but daunted by the idea of making a significant career change. It’s forcing people to undergo some pretty uncomfortable metamorphosis.
If that’s where you find yourself at the moment, know this.
Some of those forced metamorphosis’ I’ve been witness to have been done with a healthy eye toward people choosing to do things that make them happy to wake up in the morning. Folks who may otherwise have had a somewhat easy road to retirement age are making choices to do the things they’d always wanted to do but were too comfortable to try. It’s as if I’ve heard these words in their actions; “If I’ve gotta be broke, I might as well be broke doing trying something I like doing.”
I CAN RELATE.
When we started Social Good Promotions back in January 2019 (that’s like five years IRL, am I right?) we did so with a blank canvas;
ZERO existing clients
ZERO email prospects
ZERO brand equity
We’ve earned our way to building relationships via a relentless focus on delivering value to people for the long haul, as opposed to looking at businesses merely as a transactional means to an end.
Leave it to a global pandemic to accelerate the pace of change.
After two months of excellent sales growth and a decent March to start 2020, our revenue line took a beating in April and May. Those meager results forced us to look at our infant business and consider her viability.
After much consideration and a look at the business from a purely financial perspective, we realized we would be ok getting by for a reasonable amount of time, plus, all of our pre-COVID_19 commitments we’d gotten from clients are still good.
What we needed to do to survive was to focus our efforts and attention on building trust.
We were making an educated guess. Should we find success in elevating our trust status with others during this time of crisis, they’d be more inclined to invest in our company. Giving us money to help them with their businesses once they regain the confidence to start spending again has been the reward we’ve reaped as a result of our efforts.
So, as Dickens reminds us, there are moments of tremendous transformation going on all around us. While there’s an enormous amount of sadness, so are there also a litany of creatively refashioned careers rising like the Phoenix, emerging borne anew from the ashes of a crashed economy.
Don’t let the fear of the unknown stand in the way of you finally taking the steps necessary to awaken tomorrow, resolute that you’re now on the path to doing what it is you should have always been doing.
Used with permission from PromoCorner
Eileen Joy Spitalny
Co-founder and President, Fairytale Brownies
SAAC & The Foundation for SAAC
PO Box 2394
Camarillo, CA 93011
p: 805.484.7393 e: email@example.com