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4 Easy Solutions for Leftover Promos: Creative Ways to Reuse and Recycle Extra Giveaway Items

It’s happened to businesses and marketers everywhere: you ordered stunning promotional products to make new friends and thank customers at your trade show or convention and find yourself leaving with boxes of leftover promos. Maybe it’s because your had-to-have product had an order minimum of 1,000 units, or trade show turnout was way down. Either way, you have your hands (and closets) full of products that were meant to find customers and prospects, but now you’re stuck with them.

What’s a marketer to do? Well, lots of people hold onto them until the next show! Buying in bulk is a great way to save money long term if your company makes a lot of event or show appearances (we’re sure you can find some office space to store them – if nothing else, tell your employees everyone gets a free foot rest and put some boxes under their desks). But what if your calendar is alarmingly empty of upcoming events?

Don’t panic and curse the promotional products pantheon of gods just yet. It turns out you can do a little “spring cleaning” no matter what season it is with our list of creative ways to reuse, repurpose, and recycle your extra promotional products!

1. Repurpose

040616 Leftover Promos - INTERNAL IMGS-01One of the most popular ways to deal with your trade show giveaways is to find another way to use them to reach out to customers. Jason Khoo at Ron Wave Design thinks that extra promotional products are the perfect customer service tool. He says, “If an issue has arisen, giving a customer a promotional item can help calm them down as they have received something of value for their troubles.” A handwritten “Sorry about that!” card mailed out with a company t-shirt or water bottle after a shipping snafu can make a huge difference in how customers perceive your brand.

Jason Parks at The Media Captain told us about his experience repurposing leftover trade show products, saying, “We ordered magnifying glasses for our agency for a trade show and had a ton left over…Since we had so many leftover, we decided to continue to use this as a sales tool even after the trade show. Any new lead that came into our agency, we would send them the magnifying glass with our logo along with a personalized note. The shipping wasn’t cheap but it drastically increased our closing rate percentage.”

Leftover promotional products are also a perfect way to encourage social media interaction (which can lead to sales and conversions!). Consider sending out leftover pens or other small items to new followers, anyone who tags your company in a post, or someone who leaves a positive review of your brand. You can also host social media contests – the grand prize might be a gift card, but you can thank other participants with other branded items.

You can also repurpose them as gifts to your employees. Kathy Powell at Tie National says, “Depending on what type of stock is remaining we will use them to create gift baskets, or basket fillers for employee raffles at the summer picnic or other events.” Using branded products might not generate any customer revenue, but it will definitely build up morale on your work team, and that’s pretty priceless.

Whether it’s prospecting, customer service, or team building, promotional products have proven to have worth outside of the trade shows they’re ordered for.

2. Trade

040616 Leftover Promos - INTERNAL IMGS-03In 2016, at the infamous South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, the trade show floor turned into a trading zone. Hershey’s (yes, that Hershey’s) decided to use this popular festival as an opportunity to launch a new logo for their Take 5 candy bar by offering a swag exchange. Conference goers could take swag they’d received from other vendors and brands and trade it for something at the Hershey’s booth. According to Promo Marketing, “Consumers could swap out items for other items, like ponchos, flasks, portable iPhone projectors and gift cards. The operation even had its own economic platform, where items were valued based on supply and demand.”

Would this work for you brand? Well, Hershey’s received tons of brand exposure when they tried out their swag swap, so it’s certainly worth thinking about creative ways to work an exchange into your promo product strategy, even if it’s just to get people talking! Hershey’s also received almost 6,000 branded items during their exchange. What did they do with THAT leftover swag? Well, they donated it to local charities. Which leads us to another great way to reuse your promo products.

3. Donate

040616 Leftover Promos - INTERNAL IMGS-02Tons of businesses get donation requests – just recently, our sales team got a request for unused tote bags for a nonprofit event. As weird as it seems for a promotional products company not to have leftover bags on hand, we don’t; all of our products get shipped straight to the people who order them! But partnering with a nonprofit or other organization might be the perfect way to free up some space in your trade show storage area and give your branded items one last chance to get your brand some exposure. Here are some ideas of places you could consider donating your products to:

  • Classrooms: Writing utensils, notebooks, or leftover office supplies with an outdated logo will definitely go a long way in a classroom. If you don’t have a local school in mind, you can find a school online with this search tool.
  • Nonprofits: Places like animal rescues and shelters regularly hold yard sales to raise money, or make gift baskets with high-end items and host silent auctions at annual galas to raise funds and support programs. Consider donating any useful, unique, or higher-end items to help these fundraising efforts.
  • Events: Some places– like charities that hold 5ks to support the research of a specific disease or disability, or organizations like community gardens – hold community events to get people involved in their efforts. Consider “sponsoring” a 5k or other community event– offer your valuable swag (like headphones, tote bags, car chargers, or water bottles) as raffle prizes or participation incentives.
  • Thrift Shops: Offer your unused t-shirts, stuffed animals, toys, and tech products to a charity that can resell it to support their mission. You can use the Donation Town website to find a charity that will pick up your products or drop them off at a local thrift store.
  • Online: Places like FreeCycle help connect you to people in the community who have a specific need, or you can offer your products and see if someone has a need for them. You might just grow yourself some goodwill in the community, too!

Still stumped? Check out this list of US charities to see if you can find a place to donate that aligns with your brand.

4. Recycle

040616 Leftover Promos - INTERNAL IMGS-04Recycling might be a last resort option because, as you can see, there are plenty of ways to reuse your trade show giveaways and keep the brand impressions going (somewhere in the distance, you can hear a marketer chanting “ROI! ROI!” quietly…). But sometimes you’ve got a lot of leftover promos that were made for a very specific event and no way to donate them. You can’t exactly give away sunglasses imprinted with ROB AND RACHEL’S SURPRISE SUMMER WEDDING at the next barbecue or hand out pens that say Dentist Symposium 2016 next year.

The good news is that most promo products are pretty easy to recycle. Some, like plastic cups, can be easily recycled in a regular ol’ community recycling can or dropped off at your local recycling center. Same goes for things like plastic water bottles, leftover notepads, flyers, and keychains – these can all head over to your recycling center.

Some things require more specialized handling. Pens, for instance, are often made of several materials and can’t be recycled “as is.” Yale University has started a sustainability program to help make it easier to recycle things like pens and markers. You send a request, they send you a label, you collect your unusable pens, pencils, markers, and caps, and send them back to Yale!

Polyurethane –the stuff stress balls are made out of – also requires special recycling. Rethink ReRethink Recycling has a feature that allows you to find a special processing location, including places that will pick up your recyclable products.

With a little bit of time and research, you can find a way to recycle just about any product or material and never worry about them ending up in a landfill.

Leftover promotional products don’t have to go to waste! There are plenty of ways to make sure you get some more brand exposure, do some good, or ensure your items get responsibly recycled. Next time you’re facing the possibility of having a lot of trade show goodies on your hands after the show is over, get creative with ways to find your branded products new homes.

Have you ever used any of our ideas for reusing and recycling your leftover promotional products? How has your brand or business used their extra custom products? Let us know in the comments below!

expand your brand

Marianne Chrisos

Originally from Massachusetts, Marianne has spent most of her professional life trying to survive the freezing Midwest. She is super addicted to the Food Network, but also enjoys good coffee, meeting celebrities at Comic Con, and naps with her greyhound. Her biggest claim to fame is having read over 100 books last year in 2014 and having once hugged John Barrowman. You can connect with her on .


  1. Doc

    Great post, Marianne! Those are some great options for extra swag. Just because you have a few extra totes or stress balls at your trade show, doesn’t mean they should be forgotten. Sending that out to potential clients outside the trade show would go a long way as well. Or, even reward your existing clients with some free branded items. It could be a great way to reconnect with past clients.

  2. Rondell Caraos

    Great reading material right there… thank you! Those are some great and different options to get rid of your extra swag. You paid for them, so you should use them all and here are some creative ways to still gain more business from your investment. Re-connecting with old clients or closing those sales with potential clients is the way to go. Always move forward and try to gain more business should be your main goal. If all else fails, donating them could make somebody else totally happy… That would be an incredible felling. 🙂

  3. Jaimie

    This is such a cool and useful post. Like Doc said, extra swag from tradeshows and other events certainly should not be forgotten. You paid for that so you absolutely should make some good use of that. Sending them to other potential clients is a great idea. Expand your brand even more by getting the items to people outside the tradeshow. That will surely get your name out there.

    If the items are not too big, and can easily be carried on you at all times (for girls who carry purses) or simply keeping them in your car for when they come in handy is a super good idea. You can sort of use the promo item as you would a business card, only cooler. 🙂

  4. Cody

    These are really some fantastic ideas on what to do with leftover promotional items. I know any I get usually go straight to my son. Who knew a 2 year old would love stress balls so much? I really love the idea of trading because it seems like a fun way to not only get your brand across many different hands, but to get people interacting and chatting. We all know how people are when they chat! It seems fun, engaging and downright smart. I also really like giving to thrift stores. Every time I visit a thrift store, I can always tell which items were promotional. It’s great when you want stuff for your mug collection or just like having interesting things to wear.

  5. greg

    Cool blog! The trade idea is very cool!!! Donating is also a great way to keep that swag going! I think sending something to help smooth over a issue or to say thank you goes a long way!! Everyone like to get cool free stuff!

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