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Industry Survey: Promo Item Insiders Weigh in on the Industry

No industry is perfect. No matter what business or sector you work in, you know that there are improvements that need to be made. But we don’t really talk about that frequently in the promo items business.

So when the Quality Logo Products team visited ASI Chicago this year, we decided to ask some vendors what one thing they would change about the promotional products industry. Their answers, and some answers that I gathered from other vendors, paint an interesting picture of the current strengths and weaknesses in our sector.

First let’s take a look at the video our Media Team made, and then we’ll really get into it.

Communication and Cooperation

The biggest theme that we noticed is that suppliers want to reinforce their relationships with distributors and make sure that communication is accurate and clear.

For those not intimately acquainted with the industry, it (more or less) works this way. Quality Logo Products is a distributor and we work with many factories who are suppliers. End users – people who want trade show giveaways, employee gifts, wedding favors, etc. – go to distributors like QLP to purchase these goods. QLP will then work with the suppliers to get end users the products they need.

Some suppliers feel like there is a breakdown in communication between distributors and suppliers. There’s a worry that end users of promotional items aren’t completely informed on how products work. Gabe Mcgraw, the  Director of Golf at Gold Bond Inc., would like to see suppliers and distributors team up to present products to potential customers. “…with that separation between supplier and distributor – if they’re not familiar with the product – it’s hard for them to communicate,” he said.

Matt Rosenbaum, the Field Sales Manager at Leed’s, agrees. He would also like “Easier access to [and] full desire to have [distributors] bring us in front of your customers.” Rosenbaum elaborates that it’s “No better than both of us together getting in front of your people. It only helps. To sum it up: closer interaction/trust for the two of us together to get in front of the end user. That would be the one thing I would change.”

I would like to keep a division of things. We don’t talk to end users and I would love if distributors didn’t go to China by themselves. —Jonathan Horowitz, Primeline

As the industry grows and changes, some suppliers have started to sell directly to end users and some distributors are going directly to China to import their own products. Jonathan Horowitz, a Sales Account Executive at Primeline, would prefer that the industry sticks to the model we’ve been using. “My thing right now is I would like to keep a division of things. We don’t talk to end users and I would love if distributors didn’t go to China by themselves. Because that cuts us out of the picture. So that’s one thing that I would change,” he explained.

Randy Seltzer, the Executive Vice President of Tekweld doesn’t point to anything in particular that needs to change, but he does agree that “It’s all relationships. Relationship marketing. It’s a partnership between the suppliers and the distributors. That has to continue because that’s how you get business in here.”

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Processing Orders

Even when the supplier/distributor relationship is working well, there are still things that can be smoothed out in the ordering process.

When we asked Dana Zezzo, SVP of Sales and Marketing at Jetline, what one thing he would like to change in the industry, he had an excellent answer.

“A universal [purchase order] system. The most challenging thing that a supplier has is the diversity in the incoming POs…78% of the POs that come to a vendor do not have enough information to ship the order. But yet, we’re always going to be criticized for bad customer service while we’re playing catch up on 78% of our POs that don’t have enough information to actually fulfill the order. So if I could change one thing, it would be a universal PO system because we could be more cost-effective, we could be faster, we could be more accurate …”

Zezzo actually studied his company’s purchase orders to discover that 78% of them were incomplete.

When I asked this question to the MAS Vice President of Sales at Keystone, Kippie Helzel, she wished that there was more pre-planning so that there would be fewer rush orders. She explains,

“While virtually every supplier is geared to, and offers rush service, with that time pressure we find that there can be more mistakes from all ends, and the timing makes it harder to “fix” sometimes.  Customers may have an art error, suppliers may make a mistake, the shipping company may have an unexpected delay (do I hear weather??)—any wrinkle in a rush order leaves little, or more often than not, NO time to “fix” whatever problem there might have been.  From our supplier perspective, our goal is to deliver a perfect order, on time, and as expected. If there is any “bump” and there isn’t an opportunity to correct it, we all lose.”

It will certainly be harder to change end user needs, but this does open up an opportunity for distributors and suppliers to work together to streamline order processing.

Innovation

Another struggle in the promotional products industry? Innovation and the creation of new and better promotional items.

“It’s really important to have innovation and compliant, quality products,” says Catherine Faulk, Marketing Manager at BIC Graphic USA. It might seem obvious to state that, but suppliers find it to be a real problem.

If a supplier does a great job with something and people talk about how great that product is, then everyone else tries to knock it off. —Kellie Claudio, Sweda

Kellie Claudio, the Vice President of Sales at Sweda Company agrees. She says, “…suppliers are constantly watching each other and if a supplier does a great job with something and people talk about how great that product is, then everyone else tries to knock it off. And they do it a little cheaper so it bastardizes something that’s fabulously done – super, great quality —and they make it junk.”

As the marketplace floods with more and more of the same product, it’s hard to stand out from your competition. That’s why Gregg Szpicek, the Vice President of Sales at Tekweld, stresses that companies need “To be innovative…if you stay stale you die.  […] …branding is bigger now than ever, I think. I think now if you don’t stay ahead of the game – being exclusive, being unique – you’re just going to be like everybody else, on both end users side on our side. You gotta be forward-thinking.”

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And the Rest?

Some problems are a little smaller. Courteny Laflinski, a Marketing Administrative Assistant from Ariel Premium Supply, would like to do away with spam emails. “Oh, the spam emails! I get enough email as is, and it’s just like, when you get the extra 50 a day it’s like…” She trailed off, but gave a shake of her head that any of us who get too many spam emails can definitely relate to.

Overall, though, the industry isn’t in too bad of shape. Marc Canet, an Account Manager from AlpiNo industry is perfect. No matter what business or sector you work in, you know that there are improvements that need to be made. But we don’t really talk about that frequently in the promo items business.

Katherine Zych, a Sales Representative from Ariel Premium Supply, and Heidi Selleck, an Inside Sales Rep at Logomark, both said that they wouldn’t change anything. Selleck continued with, “This [industry] is where it all happens. This is where the magic is. The future is bright.”

What response surprised you? What would YOU change about the promotional items industry?

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Mandy Kilinskis

Mandy is proud to be a part of QLP’s content team. A self-professed nerd, her interests include video games, sitcoms, superhero movies, iPods and iPhones but never Macs, and shockingly, writing. Her claims to fame are: owning over forty pairs of Chuck Taylor All Stars, offering spot-on coffee advice, and knowing an unbelievable amount of Disney Princess facts. You can connect with Mandy on

Comments

  1. PMO

    Although on the distributor side, I agree that a universal PO system would probably speed things up with the vendors and in turn allow them to provide a better service.

  2. Jay

    0:48… LOL! Great editing job on Rosenbaum. I think he may have had his mind on his honeymoon.

    78% of the PO’s sent in don’t have enough information to complete the order? We must all look like geniuses then!

  3. Kat D.

    The promotional products industry has some very unique characters and it’s always a pleasure to see everyone’s personalities come out during events such as this. I DO like the thought of a Universal PO system – but I’m sure there are many pros and cons, just like with anything else. Great Post!

  4. Jen

    I could not agree more on the planning aspect of promotional items! Good ideas take time. I always suggest my customers leave enough of a window to do the following: plan the promotion, get a sample, then place an order, all while communicating with your sales rep to make sure you are 100% satisfied with your promo items. We have no problem doing rush orders (in fact, that’s the majority of what we do!) but we want to make sure you LOVE your product and the event goes smoothly. It is very hard to create an emergency solution for our customers when they receive a product on a Friday, and they have an event that Saturday. If they are not satisfied with the quality, imprint, etc we have no time to fix the problem. We want to make sure your dollars go to good use, and that you are happy :)

    It’s great to hear the feedback from our suppliers because it reminds us that we’re all on the same page for the same end result: happy customers, great product. A huge thank you to all of our suppliers that work tirelessly to help us help our customers.

  5. Bret Bonnet

    I think Ricky had the best answer….

    “Um… Hmm…. I’d…. Um….”

    :)

    On a serious note – I’d appreciate a little more business ethics and product innovation. I’ve been in this industry for 16 years and I feel like we’re still selling the same staple products day in and day out.

    I’m also all for competition, but the cut throat and I’ll do whatever it takes mentality (even if it requires slander, stealing, or defamation) is not what has made this industry one of the best to work in my opinion. The GOOD NEWS is, this is not the norm, and every family has it’s fair share of bad apples, but seriously people – the best way to get ahead in life isn’t to attack or target others but instead focus on improving yourself!

  6. Greg

    Great post. Universal PO would probably make the process much smoother.

  7. Angie

    Having worked for a supplier previously, I do understand why a universal PO is wanted. Not all purchase orders have the detail or clarity needed to process the orders accurately and efficiently. A lot of time can be wasted contacting the distributors to get clarification.

    Great post.

  8. Kelly Bird

    Great post! I’m all in favor of a Universal PO if that would eliminate errors and streamline the system across the board. As for the positioning of vendor vs. distributor vs. end user I think things should stay exactly the way they are. I love the industry and feel honored to be a part of it. Great to see everyone’s faces and get their take…even minor improvements can make a huge difference and the collaboration of all of our great personalities and ideas is what makes this industry “where it happens”! :)

  9. Erin

    I’m all for the reinforcement of supplier/distributor relationships! Knowing we have a dedicated rep. at a supplier is a huge bonus when issues arise or questions come up! The ability to stay in contact with the same person each time, just like we do at QLP for our customers, assures familiarity with your order from start to finish and streamlines the order process for everyone involved!

  10. Bret Bonnet

    I miss Alex!

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