Whew! It’s been a busy year in the promo product industry, hasn’t it, folks? There’s been growth, exciting innovations in decoration methods and technology, and many important and thoughtful discussions about product safety and compliance. Of course, those few things just scrape the surface of all the activity and trends in the promotional products industry in 2014.

In the promo product industry the end of the year is typically our slower season, which provides plenty of time for all of us to reflect on the previous year’s successes and challenges and to start making our plans for the new year.

I spoke with several experts in the promotional product industry to do just that! Before we get to all of their insight on 2014’s trends and predictions for what’s in store in 2015, let’s refresh our memories and take a look at everything that’s happened this year!

2014 Promo Product Industry Year in Review

If you love this timeline, feel free to copy/paste the embed code below to share it on your blog or website!

A Year of Growth!

In addition to all of the achievements in the industry this year, it has been a hugely successful year for our industry as a whole. Suppliers, distributors, and industry trade shows saw growth across the board in 2014.

“It’s a really exciting time in the industry. It’s gaining more credibility in the advertising community,” said Margit Fawbush, Communications Manager at BIC Graphic. “It’s becoming more and more necessary for brands to be in customers’ homes.”

We started the year on a high note with ASI reporting that distributors increased revenue by 20% in 2013 and sales surpassed $20 billion! From that great starting point the industry continued growing throughout the year.

“It’s a really exciting time in the industry.” -Margit Fawbush

The PSI Show, which is Europe’s biggest promotional product event, reported that attendance this year was up 20% on the first day. This year’s PPAI Expo in January also showed huge signs of growth with attendee and exhibitor numbers at a 5-year high. This year’s show drew in 11,500 attendees from around the world!

Both suppliers and distributors (QLP included!) have been reporting record sales numbers per quarter throughout the year. According to ASI, Q1 distributor sales increased by 6.4%, Q1 supplier sales grew by 4.8%, Q2 distributor sales increased by 6.1%, and Q2 supplier sales grew by 5.1%.

I can’t go on and on about all of our industry’s success without mentioning some of QLP’s accomplishments this year! Of all of QLP’s achievements this year, including placing on Promo Marketing’s Top 50 Distributors List and Counselor’s Best Places to Work List, Bret Bonnet, co-owner of Quality Logo Products® said, “I’m incredibly proud of Quality Logo Products®’ accomplishments to date. 10 years ago I would have never imagined that we’d be where we are today. Our amazing team and their never ending commitment to excellence is what keeps us going. We’re very blessed.”

Happy Anniversaries!

As our industry continues to grow, many companies in the industry are celebrating big milestones.

Vitronic Promotional Group celebrated its 100th birthday this year. “Celebrating our 100th birthday all year long has been really exciting for us,” said Jenny Straub, Marketing and Product Development representative at Vitronic.

Straub explained that Vitronic offered distributors the chance to earn “birthday bucks” by either having the largest order or selling any orders of each month’s designated featured item, for example plush animals. In addition, to celebrate with Vitronic employees, everyone got a birthday present every month.

Also celebrating anniversaries this year are Bic Graphic, which celebrated 45 years in the U.S. this year, The Bic Group, which celebrated its 70th anniversary, and Liqui-Mark Corp, which celebrated 40 years in business.

A Brand New Look

Many companies in the industry took the leap this year to launch brand new websites to make shopping for promotional products easier than ever before!

Among those with brand new website this year is Quality Logo Products, of course! But we’re not the only ones who rolled out exciting new website features. This year Promo Marketing announced their new website. In addition, suppliers Sweda, Fields Manufacturing, Vitronic Promotional Group, Gemline, Cedar Crest Manufacturing, and Polyconcept North America launched new websites in 2014!

Mergers, Acquisitions, and Consolidation

In 2014 there were upwards of 15 mergers and acquisitions in our industry, which shows both a sign of growth and a sign that our industry is consolidating and streamlining. Many larger suppliers are acquiring smaller suppliers as a means to beef up their product offerings and imprint capabilities.

For example, this year Prime Line acquired Points of Light, R.O.I. Line, and Get it Global.

“Those acquisitions addressed a need we had,” said David Fiderer, Marketing Director at Prime Line. “The acquisitions of R.O.I. Line and Get it Global helped strengthen our overseas sourcing area, and now really puts us on a par with any other company in the industry as far as the capabilities we have.”

In 2014 there were upwards of 15 mergers and acquisitions in the promotional products industry.

In addition, this year Gold Bond, Inc. acquired World Wide Line. Of this acquisition Chase Thompson, Vice President of Sales at Gold Bond, said, “The World Wide acquisition fills a void in our line that we have always had – full color. We are really excited about this new tool that our sales team has and see great things in the future.”

In 2014 we also saw Alphabroder acquire Ash City Worldwide, Sunscope take over Camsing Global Brands, A.T. Cross acquire Sheaffer Pen from BIC, and Polyconcept North America acquire HumphreyLine, among others.

Margit Fawbush also commented on all of the consolidation we’ve seen in our industry this year. She said, “All the changes in the industry make it interesting to watch.”

In addition to growth in the industry, we also had a lot of cool trends take the forefront in the industry in 2014!

Technology

We’ve been seeing technology become more and more popular in our industry over the course of the past few years. Now it’s safe to say that tech promo items are in their heyday and we won’t be seeing them go away anytime soon!

Since everyone has laptops, smart phones, and tablets now, it’s no wonder we’ve seen an increase in sales of items like car chargers, styluses, phone and laptop stands and cases, etc. This trend is here to stay.

“The category that drives development is technology,” said Matt Rosenbaum, Field Sales Manager at Polyconcept North America.

Focus on Retail

Another trend in the promotional product industry in 2014 has been a push for more items that look like something you’d find on the shelves at department stores, or as those of us in the industry call them, retail items.

“This year people typically want what they see in retail,” Scott Edidin, Division Manager at Logomark

Edidin explained that rather than customers just looking for the cheapest items they can get, more customers will be looking for items that can hold up, to deliver their brand message.

“We’ve seen a trend of higher price points. Not high price points, but the average price point on orders is increasing. Now that the economy has improved a little bit, people want higher quality and they want good value,” said Edidin.

retail promotional products

Jenny Straub agreed and said that retail has been on Vitronic’s radar for a while. “About five years ago we really did, Vitronic as a whole, start paying attention to retail more than we ever had.”

Straub continued, “The trend has been in retail, and I would think that there’s just a couple suppliers, and I’d like to say that we’re one of them, that really jumped on that.”

[Tweet “”This year people typically want what they see in retail.” – Scott Edidin”]

Related to this increased demand for retail items, Margit Fawbush said one of the big trends in product this year was partnerships with retail brands, for example, BIC’s partnership with Leatherman.

In addition to those partnerships with more well-known retail brands, Fawbush explained that bags and totes are being designed with a more retail look, which echoes the consumer demand for more items that look like something they would find in a store.

Expanded Imprint Capabilities

In addition to exciting trends in products, there has also been a trend in the promotional products industry this year for more new imprint capabilities and options.

Among those suppliers adding new imprint options to their repertoire, come next year Alpi International will be offering full color digital printing.

“We have made a lot of improvements in printing techniques,” said Francesco Indrio, Owner of Alpi International. “We bought a digital printing machine that we are learning to use and we will be able to offer that full color imprint service on a number of items in our line.”

Another supplier with new imprint capabilities this year is Bay State. Sarah Sumner, Inside Sales and Marketing representative from Bay State, said this year they’ve added the option for laser engraving, particularly on their bamboo items.

“We’re very happy that we took that plunge to get a laser machine,” said Sumner.

Other suppliers that added new imprint options this year include Bullet Line, which now offers dye-sublimation, Leed’s, which introduced mixed media printing this year, ETS Express, which launched a new mirror imprint process, and Jetline, which announced their new full color inkjet-direct printing method JetColor.

Leed's mixed media printing

“I think that as we move forward decorating, full color process is a perfect example, is only going to be more and more and more important. … If you as a supplier are not keeping up with those changes in demand with the decorating abilities, you’re going to get lost,” said Matt Rosenbaum.

On Everyone’s Minds in 2014…

Product Safety and Compliance

With several recalls on mobile chargers in our industry this year and a huge push from both the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA) and PPAI for safety and compliance certification and education, it’s no secret that product safety and compliance has been an important – if not the most important – discussion in the promo product industry.

Denise Morgan, Inside Sales Manager at Aakron Rule, said, “Compliance and safety has been something that Aakron has been staying on top of year after year. And every year, even this year, we’re expanding on that. I know we’re looking to do a flyer on that just to have assurance. So our customers can see that every single item that we have we have tested. We have certificates available for everything.”

“Distributors and end buyers will be more apt to purchase items that have been tested.” – David Fiderer

Product safety has been on everyone’s minds this year, especially with CPSC recalls on mobile chargers like the one in April which recalled 100,000 chargers from the retailer Five Below. In addition to that high-profile case, this year the founder of Buckyballs settled with federal regulators over their product recall on his high powered magnets that the CPSC deemed a “substantial hazard” for young children who swallowed them. Later in the year the CPSC approved a ban on high-powered magnet sets like Buckyballs.

With all of those things in mind, we know in the promo product industry that end users are concerned about the safety of items, and it’s our job to make sure they are at ease when ordering.

David Fiderer said, “Distributors and end buyers will be more apt to purchase items that have been tested. The fact that we [Prime Line] are likely the only industry supplier that submits its mobile chargers to UL testing I think instills confidence in our products and company and gives both seller and buyer peace of mind.”

The discussion surrounding product safety and compliance certainly won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, with even more federal regulations on lithium batteries going into effect in February of next year.

Scott Edidin said, “I expect price points to increase because the cost of doing the testing and getting the certifications is extremely high.”

More Cities Move Toward Plastic Bag Bans

In 2014 several states moved forward with plastic bag and water bottle bans. With more states headed in this eco-friendly direction, there’s an opportunity for the promotional products industry to sell more custom tote bags and water bottles to businesses who are no longer allowed to provide disposable plastic bags!

This year the L.A. plastic bag ban took effect, San Francisco banned the sale of plastic water bottles on city property, the Dallas City Council approved a partial plastic bag ban, Rincón became the first town in Puerto Rico to ban plastic bags, Chicago approved a plastic bag ban, the L.A. plastic bag ban expanded to smaller stores, and California became the first state to ban plastic bags.

“More and more states will ban plastic bags. That’s a certainty,” said David Fiderer.

Customer Service

With online shopping, social media, and the internet taking precedence in everyone’s lives, more and more often customers have a need for speed when it comes to ordering their promotional products.

“Customers think, ‘Okay I want to go to the catalog, I want to pick it out, I want to tell you what my logo is, and I want it tomorrow.’ You know? That’s just the way people think these days,” said Jenny Straub.

Straub continued by saying, “You can see that’s true. Every supplier offers some sort of free rush. And if you don’t, well, you better.”

Similar to the way customers want more of a retail feeling with their products, customers also want their ordering experience to feel more like a traditional shopping experience.

“The need for speed on the supplier end to you guys [distributors], and then from you guys to your customer, if you can’t keep that retail feeling and retail pace, you’re not going to survive,” said Matt Rosenbaum.

Of course, speed isn’t the only way for our industry to work on our customer service.

“We put a huge initiative towards service and inventory,” said Scott Edidin. “For us it’s all about a high level of service and a good experience.”

Now with 2014 under our belts, everyone in the industry is looking forward to the future and planning for next year. Let’s take a look at what industry experts are predicting for 2015!

More Useful Promo Items

Margit Fawbush said she believes next year we’ll see an even bigger increase in promo products that improve your life. “Things that improve or make life easier are growing,” she said. She cites this to the fact that more and more brands are looking for items that their customers will use every day, not just something they will throw in a drawer and forget about.

Along those same lines, David Fiderer said health and wellness items will continue to be a huge trend in our industry next year. For example, companies will continue to purchase anti-bacterial products such as hand sanitizer spray and wipes in an effort to keep their employees healthy at the workplace.

Health and wellness promotional products

Bundled Items

Another forecasted trend for 2015 is bundling and packaging of promo items. By creating bundles and gift baskets of popular items suppliers are able to reach more price points, and therefore more customers!

Sarah Sumner, Inside Sales and Marketing representative from Bay State Specialty Co., explained that for suppliers that offer products on the lower end of the pricing spectrum bundling items together is a great way to be able to reach more price ranges.

For example, Bay State can offer a bundle of some of their silicone kitchenware such as oven mitts, spatulas, and spoons. Sumner said those bundles make good corporate gifts and they’re great for the holidays!

Aakron Rule is also exploring this option and hoping to add packaging options to their catalog. “We’re trying to have other items, existing products, where we’re trying to find packaging for it. …so that we can go to that step where you’re putting things into a cello bag as a set.”

You can expect this trend to continue as more customers seek that one-stop-shop retail experience for their corporate gifts.

Even More Tech!

And of course, just as technology dominated 2014, it will continue to remain on top in 2015.

“Looking ahead to next year I see technology continuing to be both a major driver of innovation and a disruptor in this industry,” said Bret Bonnet.

As technology continues gaining popularity, suppliers will have to work hard to keep up with new tech trends.

“Tech will remain hot and we are doing our best to stay on top of the trends and introduce products as soon as we see cool new items,” said Chase Thompson.

“Looking ahead to next year I see technology continuing to be both a major driver of innovation and a disruptor in this industry.” – Bret Bonnet

With technology continuing its reign in the industry, that of course also means that product safety and compliance especially in regards to tech will continue to be important.

David Fiderer predicts we’ll see even more items contain lithium-ion batteries, which are now used mostly in mobile chargers.

“With so many suppliers offering this category, the battery quality is uneven,” said Fiderer. “Sub-par batteries can be volatile and we’ve seen a few industry suppliers be forced to recall their chargers. With this in mind, I believe we’ll see more demand for UL tested batteries, such as those available from Prime Line.”

Even though product safety and compliance will most likely continue to be the most important discussion for our industry, what else will be dominating our conversations in 2015? Let’s hear from the experts!

Important Discussions to Have in 2015

The Supplier-Distributor Model

You didn’t think we were going to make it through this whole post without touching on this one, did you?

For those of you not directly involved in the promo product industry, you might not know how our industry works. The current model for our industry is that suppliers develop and manufacture the promo items, and then distributors (like QLP!) sell those items to the end users (customers like you!). As of late, there have been rumors circulating of suppliers attempting to cut distributors out of the equation and selling direct to customers, and vice versa.

With all of the acquisitions in our industry in 2014, including some suppliers who acquired distributors, the supplier-distributor model was hotly debated this year. It’s likely that this conversation will continue into 2015, and will keep coming up as our industry continues to consolidate and streamline.

“We support the current structure of the industry and we want to do things that enhance it,” said Scott Edidin.

Whether professionals in our industry support the current model or not, there are also outside threats to the current structure of our industry, including huge wholesale retailers like Alibaba.

Jenny Straub said, “If distributors can just go on Alibaba and get what they think they want, or end users can (more than likely), then what’s that going to do to our industry on a whole?”

Straub continued, “I still say at the very core it’s about relationships, and it’s always going to be about relationships. And the minute an end user orders something from Alibaba and it doesn’t arrive on time, that relationship is going to be reunited.”

Innovation

An important topic that keeps coming up in our industry is the need for more originality and innovation. It’s no secret that many suppliers offer a lot of the same types of products and similar product designs. There’s a real need in our industry for more original ideas and less copying.

“All of us are just looking for a differentiator. We want to stand out. We don’t want you to look at our catalog and go ‘ho hum, I can get that anywhere,’ because that’s not the approach that we take with product development or with our programs at all,” said Jenny Straub.

“We want to do our own stuff, we don’t want to do what everyone else does. And hopefully that will be true for a lot of other people.” – Francesco Indrio

Despite this need for innovation, Straub also points out that it is hard not to duplicate and copy. When one supplier comes out with something that no one has ever seen before, in order to stay competitive everyone else makes something similar.

However, even if you do make a similar product, Straub stresses the importance of still trying to make it your own in some way, whether that be by adding different imprint options, new imprint locations, or color choices.  Several suppliers echoed Straub’s sentiment.

If we start seeing more suppliers come out with original ideas and unique items, everyone wins, especially end users!

“For us, the way we want to go, and hopefully it’s not a trend but a real decision, we want to do more proprietary products,” said Francesco Indrio. “We’re hiring new designers, we’re using new technologies to do something new – something that we own.”

Indrio continued, “We want to do our own stuff, we don’t want to do what everyone else does. And hopefully that will be true for a lot of other people. That will keep the field open and everyone excited.”

Overall after a highly successful year and productive conversations about product safety and innovation, spirits are high in the industry looking forward to 2015. In the end, we do it all for our customers! For suppliers and distributors alike, putting our customers first is always the key to success.

Bret Bonnet said, “Customers continue to expect more and more from us every day, and those who rise to the challenge and truly take a customer-centric approach to their business will have a great 2015.”

Quality Logo Products®

are experts on all things printed and promotional. Let our team of awesome, incredibly good looking, and fun promo nerds help you select awesome promotional swag today!