Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Employee Gifts and Rewards: Personalized Product Tips for Any Employer

While working at Menards, I got my fair share of promotional products. For holidays (from Christmas and Thanksgiving to Columbus Day and Labor Day) and birthdays, John Menard would send a little gift in the mail to each and every employee as a thank you. Sometimes we’d get things like personalized ornaments (like the one you see in this post’s main image) and sometimes we’d get smaller items like pens or cups. Either way, that is a lot of gifts considering Menards has more than 45,000 employees!

I know this may sound awesome to some of you, and at times it was. But, many times we were sent things that we really had no use for. I will list a few examples of the good and the not-so-good so you can see what I mean.

Company Giveaways That Didn’t Quite Deliver:

Race Car Replica in Case: For random holidays, Menards employees would receive souvenir race cars. This was a repeat gift, so let’s just say I have many Menards race cars from the five years I worked there! This is a cool gift for some people (mainly those that are big race car fans, and particularly of Paul Menard), but this kind of gift wasn’t for everyone.

Embroidered Hats: We would often receive hats in the mail from Menards. I know what everyone is thinking — hats are awesome, so why not? Well, they would be if employees were actually allowed to wear them in the store. I would have enjoyed wearing a hat to my place of employment, but I most likely would not ever wear a bright green logo hat outside of Menards!

Champagne Flutes: One year, everyone in the company received champagne flutes. I am sure a percentage of Menards employees enjoyed that. If I received that now, I most definitely would. However, if you choose this route, then you have to keep your underage employees in mind as well. Menards had thousands of employees who were under 21 and couldn’t (or, at least shouldn’t) make use of this gift’s true purpose.

See what I mean now? The above products were not useful for many of the company’s employees, but Menards may have taken that into account and used it as a strategy. For example, many of us would just give away half of the stuff we got because it was not useful to us (or because we had several already); instead of throwing them away, we gave them to people who did enjoy them (my grandpa and dad got a lot of the stuff I had received). So, duplicate company merchandise isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it’s another way for companies to expand their promotional strategies!

Company Giveaways That Delivered:

Logo Pens: Pens were required as part of our work uniform at Menards for many different tasks. We would all lose them, customers would accidentally (sometimes purposely) take them while signing, or we would break them. So when we would get pens in the mail, it was a plus because we knew we’d be set for a while.

Personalized T-Shirts: T-shirts were probably a favorite shared by most employees. We were all required to wear collared shirts every day to work, but on certain holidays we would receive a t-shirt in the mail that we could wear to work for a certain amount of time. It was nice to be able to wear something a little more comfortable at work every now and then!

We also received planners, calendars, plastic cups, mugs, pizza cutters, lunch boxes, and decks of cards over the years. Once in a while, they’d go above and beyond and personalize something amazing, like the ice scraper with a glove attached to it (one of my favorites). These aren’t all things we necessarily could use at work, but they were all nice little gifts that we all could make use of at home.

Quick tips for employee gifts, rewards, and incentives:

  • Think of what you’d like to receive as a gift before giving it to employees.
  • For evergreen giveaways (aka timeless products), pick something that can be used all year round.
  • For season-specific incentives, consider what would be the most useful to your staff in their primary climate.
  • Provide employees with a reason to wear or use your company items! If you give away hats like Menards did, then think about having a casual-dress day once in a while so people can actually take advantage.

All of the promotional products that Menards sent were beneficial in some way, whether it was a gift to the employees, a convenience to use at work, or just a way to promote their business a little bit. Even though they gave away some iffy gifts and duplicates, they also sent us swag that was actually useful to us. Can you say the same for your company?

What’s the best promotional product you’ve ever gotten from an employer? Do you have any insights on Menards’ employee gift strategy? Any other takeaways?

Image credit to Ramen Junkie.


Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    Target is pretty good about giving people branded swag for their work anniversaries. Also, I was a trainer, so for Christmas I got a reusable tote bag (branded with the bullseye, of course) packed with other Target swag. There was a really nice padfolio with a gorgeous embroidered design on it. The bag was really nice and encouraged shopping at our own store. Clever, Target. πŸ˜‰

    They also had a bunch of more expensive items that they saved for people that opened the most credit cards that day. They had cute stuffed animals and more bags, but I scored a really nice sweatshirt blanket that I still use!

    • Jaimie Smith

      Ohh, nice!! Thats awesome you guys got nice items for opening up store credit cards. Whenever we got someone to open a Menards credit card we got a whopping extra 2 bucks. I guess i can’t complain, but stil. And ah, sweatshirt blanket, awesomee!!

  2. Michelle

    I worked at Victoria’s Secret for like 2 years when I was still in college. Any time they would get new products in (bras, fragrance, etc.) they would give them to the employees for free! They wanted us to be able to give first hand reviews on the products, I didn’t complain! A majority of the bras are anywhere between $40-$55 so I was very happy when they would give out the new products for free. The products weren’t exactly “promotional items” but it got their product line out there! I miss those days…

    • Jaimie Smith

      OMG! all i really have to say is I AM INSANELY JEALOUS!! Victoria’s secret is my favorite, hence the last blog of mine that was posted was about that.

      But that is a really great strategy for them to give to their workers first. Because then they can have certain recommendations for all the customers!
      Thanks for commenting! πŸ™‚

  3. Amy Swanson

    I have several t-shirts from when I worked at Crate & Barrel, as well as a random pair of gloves. The t-shirts are great and even though I don’t work there anymore I still wear them to the gym, which gives them free advertising πŸ˜‰

    Your tips are great, Jaimie. It’s often overlooked, but giving something to someone that you would want to receive is a major one. What a concept, right?! Hahaha!

  4. Jaimie Smith

    Oh def! tshirts from anywhere are always great for the gym. I have worn some of my old menards ones to the gym, even to other random places. (there has actually been a guy asking me if he could buy the shirt off me because it was a “Race to Savings” shirt, which not only promoted menards, but Paul Menard the as well) And yes, indeed it is gree advertising for the company!

  5. Jen

    Ugh, the hideous “Race to Savings” shirts…those were the most obnoxious colors on a shirt, ever! But I have to admit, I got some pretty useful stuff, like a pizza cutter and the lunch boxes (yes, that’s right, I worked for them so long I managed to got four). I also got a set of sturdy plastic cups that I use quite a bit. Great post Jaimie!

    • Jaimie Smith

      yeah the plastic cups are used in my household quite a bit, and are beginning to break lol. But yeah, i actually liked the race to savings shirt. Like i said in my post, it was nice wearing tshirts there here and there, i hated those polos and the aprons. I have so many of those polos still….hmmm…what to do with them?…

  6. Jeff Porretto

    Man, I love me some free thingamajigs. I have a saying, “If it’s free, it’s me, give me three.” But you gotta draw the line somewhere. I think the race cars is that line. On your marks…. get set…. stop. Once was cute, and every time after that is increasingly annoying.

    Great post Jaimie! Way to point WHO you give promos to is just as important as WHAT promos you give!

    • Jaimie Smith

      HAHA! i liked your on your marks, get set, stop! very nice!
      But yes , it is def important to know WHO to give promos to and WHAT to give to them. You do not want to give anybody anything that could offend them or is considered innapropriate. …The champagn flutes for example. Receiving them as a minor. THAT’S JUST NOT EVEN FAIR! “Here i am with a champagne class…hmm I guess ill put some juice in it…” πŸ™

  7. Eric

    Well, I’m kinda torn on this one. As much as I love free stuff, I don’t like getting things I haven’t a need for, or can’t use. I’d rather they saved their money and gave employees an unexpected pizza party, or some other nice gesture, or hell…donated the money to charity in the name of the employees.

    Come to think of it, that’s what I wish places like this really did with their money. Donated it to a good cause in the name of the company and its workers. Makes the company look good. Gives me employees some piece of mind. Makes the world a better place.

    • Jaimie Smith

      That is a really nice idea, Eric! Companies should start doing that. πŸ™‚

  8. Jon

    I work at Menards right now, and I got these two green, rubber, squares. Not one clue on what to use them for. I thought they were pot holders, but my parents said “but they’re rubber.”
    Again not one clue. However I’m thankful for anything and everything that I get.

  9. Ro

    I found out what the green squares are!! Hot pads!!!

  10. Philip @ Acobs Global

    Logo pens and personalized t-shirts are the coolest. Thanks for sharing your wisdom in this article.

  11. Mark

    I definitely agree! Giveaways that can be used on a daily basis is great aside from the usual giveaways that cannot be used.

    Great Post! Love to hear from you again

  12. Priya

    Choosing a personalized gift for employees really work because we can simply choose a style and get them ordered online. I feel pens or any deck boards would be great to gift for the employees as that would actually employees use at their desk. Nice article

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