Thinking about adding promo products into your shop’s mix? Yes? Now’s the perfect time to get started.
If you’re already selling decorated apparel, you can become even more of a one-stop shop by adding in-demand promo products into the mix. “The main opportunity is to satisfy your customers’ needs,” says JP Hunt, cofounder of InkSoft. “Today’s consumer wants one professional who has a wide product mix to fulfill any branded merchandise marketing campaign. The result of offering a more broad product mix is new revenue opportunities and large average orders.”
“Today’s consumer wants one professional who has a wide product mix to fulfill any branded merchandise marketing campaign. The result of offering a more broad product mix is new revenue opportunities and large average orders.” JP Hunt, InkSoft
It’s easy to recommend promo products that perfectly dovetail with your existing T-shirt orders, and help your clients hit their marketing goals. “Promo products help expand the visibility of a brand or message–you can only wear a T-shirt or jacket so much, but a water bottle gets different contexts and gets used repeatedly,” says Dena Rothstein, senior director of product management at Prime Line.
As the world prepares to reopen this summer and into the fall, don’t wait to take advantage of expanding your offerings to include these in-demand products.
Whether you’re new to selling promo products or want to sharpen your selling skills, we answer your most frequently asked questions—and of course, share some hot product recommendations.
Q: What do I need to know before I jump in, feet first, into selling?
A logoed mug (or stress ball) is just another logoed mug (or stress ball), until it’s part of a smart marketing solution you’ve built for your client. “Promo products are always about solving a problem,” says Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and cofounder of Shirt Lab Tribe. “Before you order any products for your customer, ask questions to figure out what will help meet their goal, or you’re just creating ‘products with a logo’ that end up as brandfill in a landfill.”
In an industry with literally millions of products to choose from, Atkinson suggests always starting with consultative-based selling questions like:
- What’s your client’s problem?
- What’s the campaign goal?
- What’s the budget?
- How will the products be used? For example, will the products be part of an event?
- Will the products be given out or mailed?
- What product will be the ‘stickiest’ and create the most perceived value for the end-user?
“Promo products help expand the visibility of your brand or message–you can only wear a T-shirt or jacket so much, but a water bottle will be used in different contexts and will get used repeatedly.” Dena Rothstein, Prime Line
“For example, if your client owns a gym and they want to raise brand awareness, a logoed yoga mat, towel or gym bag gift with membership would be great,” Atkinson says. “But a towel won’t work for an insurance agent. A magnetized calendar might be a better choice there. Ultimately, you want to identify products that work for the campaign and that surprise and delight end-users.”
Hunt concurs, saying that the easiest approach is to consider what products would bring value to your customers’ marketing objectives, and enhance the apparel and end-customer experience. “This is a time to showcase and demonstrate how products can work together synergistically to move the needle,” he says. “Here’s a simple example: Imagine how a primary product like a decorated golf shirt could be packaged and presented in a beer koozie. It’s a clever packaging and presentation strategy and adds a low-cost opportunity for additional marketing impressions.”
Q: Are there any challenges or pitfalls that I should be aware of?
Hunt points out that right now, the promotional industry is contending with inventory shortages due to COVID-19’s impact on the entire supply and value chain. “This creates very real challenges as it relates to sourcing products in a timely manner,” he says. “The other challenge to consider is developing the knowledge of decoration methods and constraints to ensure that you can successfully get goods fulfilled accurately, whether you or supplier are imprinting the items.”
Beyond that, Atkinson says, you really need to know the products before you sell them. For example, you don’t want to order 1,000 water bottles that are either poor quality, the wrong color or don’t fit in the box you’ll ship them to end-users in. “I always tell printers to order decorated samples of the products they want to sell,” he says. “Then, use them. Wash them. Check out the durability and the decoration. That way you can stand behind what you’re recommending.”
Tip: When you order sample products, you can also show and share them with your prospects so they can see the quality.
Plus, it’s important to know the “stories” behind the products. For example, if sustainability is important to your client, a product made of recycled materials will be a bigger hit. If causes are important to them, do certain products support Wounded Warriors or cancer research? “This is why consultative selling is so important, so that you learn what’s key to making this campaign successful,” Atkinson says.
Tip: Prime Line offers a selection of Eco-Responsible™ product ideas that you can pitch to sustainably minded clients.
Finally, check into what types of minimums your suppliers offer. “There are a lot of products that have low minimums because they can be digitally printed, so you could get a branded insulated cooler in a unit of one,” Atkinson says. “With promo products, you can truly make any type of program work. Just check with your supplier rep to see what’s available.”
Q: How do I find the right supplier to partner with?
Since in-person trade shows have been on hold for the past year, printers haven’t had the chance to meet hundreds of suppliers and thousands of products under one roof lately. However, the flip side of an in-person trade show floor experience? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of vendor partners and product choices.
“Promo products are always about solving a problem. Before you order any products for your customer, ask questions to figure out what will help meet their goal, or you’re just creating ‘products with a logo’ that will end up in a landfill.” Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting
Many printers and distributors decide to partner with a smaller supplier list of those companies that offer a wide array of imprinted products (and prioritize customer service so you look good to your clients). “If you’re new to promo products, find a supplier partner that can deliver these goods and make it super-easy for you,” Atkinson says.
“We act as partners to our customers, by recommending promo products and imprinting methods their customers will love,” Rothstein says. “While apparel is great, promo products offer some expanded functions. For example, people are going to be really thankful when they remember they have that umbrella they got from your client in their glove compartment or bag when they get stuck in a downpour.”
To get started, Atkinson recommends looking at your top customers and determining what products would help them hit their most common marketing goals. If one of your profitable niches is gyms, ask your supplier partner what products best fit into that category. “You need to be a researcher first before you start selling,” he says. “Ask your supplier for good-better-best sample products so that you can really understand the products before you start selling them. You want to see the colors, feel the weight and heft, and examine the imprint quality.”
Q: Since I decorate the apparel I sell, should I also imprinted hard goods?
The short answer according to decorating-industry veterans? No.
Atkinson advocates that decorators who plan to add promo products to the mix should rely on their suppliers to do the decorating. “Unless you have a lot of time to learn how to decorate hard goods, I’d recommend having your supplier do it,” he says. “Most printers would rather pay the hard goods expert.”
For one, Prime Line’s primary business is selling decorated and imprinted hard goods. “Pretty much all of our customers prefer to have us decorate their goods,” Rothstein says.
For decorators who want to try their hand at decorating hard goods, Rothstein recommends doing a few test cases by category or product type at a time. Rothstein points out a number of additional considerations for decorating promo products, including:
- needing a wider range of inks to adhere to the products
- needing fixtures or tooling to evenly decorate round of curves
- extra pre- or post-treatment steps, from wiping products with alcohol to curing them in an oven after decoration
- extra drying time required before packing up the orders and shipping them to customers.
“We do sell a very small percentage of blank hard goods, but it’s in full-case quantities,” Rothstein says. (Learn more about Prime Line here.)
Q: What kind of opportunities are there for me around promo products now?
If you’re a decorator who’s primarily sold apparel, we’ve got a couple suggestions on how to really monetize these add-on products:
1. Offer promo products alongside apparel in online stores.
If you manage and fulfill online stores for your corporate, group or team clients, they’ll be thrilled to hear that you can add water bottles, tote bags, hand sanitizer and sunscreen (and more) with their logo on it. “Educating customers about product choices and options is a powerful way to boost revenue and ‘one more sales’ opportunities,” Hunt says.
“Fitness has been trending since the start of the pandemic, whether it’s because people need to find a way to stay fit at home or because they’re using the opportunity to get fit.” Dena Rothstein, Prime Line
However, since you’ll be working with a promotional products supplier to get these goods into your shop, Atkinson advises getting on the phone with your rep to talk through all the product details, pricing and timelines. “Go through the purchase order to learn exactly what you’re paying for, like Pantone colors and setup charges,” he says. “Ask about turnaround times and shipping costs. You need to be completely clear on what you’re paying for the products upfront.”
It’s also important to know about minimums if you’re fulfilling an online store. “If you need to order an item in quantities of 36, your client will need to know that you’re reordering when you’re down to 10, and they’ll be invoiced,” Atkinson says.
2. Start with simple box-fulfillment programs.
Sparked by the pandemic, many decorators started offering fulfillment services, even sending individual orders to end-users’ homes or offices. “This isn’t going away, so get on board,” Atkinson says.
Lots of companies, schools, groups and brands are sending out branded boxes to employees, customers, students, members and beyond. “The client doesn’t want to send out 1,000 boxes, so they’re happy to pay you for that,” Atkinson says. “Whether you’re doing this monthly, quarterly or yearly, you’re making a healthy profit.”
However, to be successful, you need to be a solutions provider, not an order-taker. Your client will look to you to suggest a tight suite of products that go together. “How do the products work together as a themed group?” Atkinson says. “How about the product colors and branding? Does it all hang together harmoniously? Remember, this is what they’re paying you for, to be a problem-solver.”
Q: Got any product recommendations for me?
Absolutely! We’ve been saving the best for last! Here are some areas where we’re seeing a lot of traction for printers who’ve added promotional products to their lineups.
1. Office Accessories
“Many people are still working from home and there’s lots of everyday office supplies they may not have, and would be thankful for getting something useful in the mail,” Rothstein says.
- The Duo Stick Notepad & Phone Stand (MB180) is a multi-function jotter, stick flag and notepad, and phone stand all in one. It includes 50 sheets of 75 GSM yellow sticky note paper and five neon color sticky flag pads. A 2″ w x 2.75″ h logo appears prominently on the back.
- For a meaningful gift, the Atrium Glass Barclay Gift Set (LG-9055) combines the LG-9023 Atrium Glass Business Card Holder and the LG-9022 Atrium Glass Message Pad Holder, made of cut glass with multi-faceted edges. You can add a silkscreen logo on each item to complete the set.
Atkinson recommends sending along “branded props” that employees can use on Zoom calls like sunglasses or a fun hat. “Also, if your client is hosting virtual meetings or events, recommend they purchase branded mugs or martini glasses that everyone can use on the call,” he says.
- The 18.59 oz. Orb Glass Tumbler (MG423) sphere single-wall tumbler with color silicone grip and Tritan™ Plastic lid is a great logoed gift to give employees or everyone attending an online event.
2. Plush Novelties & Giveaways
Needless to say, it’s been a rough year for many of us. “Novelties are a great way to show you care whether it’s a stuffed animal or puzzle,” Rothstein says.
- Choose from an array of stuffed animals to give away as motivational friends. We’re partial to this adorable 7″ Plush Monkey With T-shirt (TY6032). Choose from different T-shirt colors and put a logo on the front or back of the T-shirt.
- This throw-back Rubik’s® 9-Panel Full Stock Cube (PL-4685) is the original nine-panel-per-side Cube with colors: yellow, blue, red, green, orange, and white. Your client’s logo can appear on the white panel. (The yellow panel contains the recognizable Rubik’s® logo.)
Atkinson points out that when your client has an in-person or online event, “you want to celebrate the tribe and encourage participation, so add a logo and fun saying on masks or fun giveaways.”
- The Social Distancing Fitness Kit (PC905) includes everything you need for an event or a fitness routine, including the durable translucent 28 oz. Tritan™ Wave Bottle with measurements on the side and straw with spout for easy drinking and a quick-drying, super-soft Microfiber cooling towel (both of which take logos). The kit also includes a face mask made of anti-dust, lightweight soft and breathable non-woven polypropylene, one alcohol-free antiseptic wipe, and one pair of disposable nitrile gloves.
3. Sports & Fitness
At-home fitness experiences are here to say: 75% of people believe it’s easier to stay fit at home, according to a OnePoll survey. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, 64% of respondents say they’re more interested in at-home exercise than ever before.
“Fitness has been trending since the start of the pandemic, whether it’s because people have to find a way to stay fit at home or because they’re using the opportunity to get fit,” Rothsten says. “There’s a nice range in our offerings to fit these needs.”
- This handy Strength Resistance Bands Set (OD603) includes a polyester drawstring bag with three resistance bands in different strengths. The kit includes instructions with basic exercises. Add a one-color or multi-color 3″ w x 3″ h imprint on the bag for lots of second glances.
- The Champion’s Jump Rope (PL-4402) with soft EVA handles promotes healthy living. Include an eye-catching 2″ w x .5″ h logo on each handle.
- This 20 oz. Shaker Fitness Bottle With Wireless Earbuds (PL-4204) combines staying hydrated and working out to your favorite tunes wirelessly. You can add a 3.5″ w x 2.5″ h logo on the side of the water bottle.
People are increasingly focused on whole-body and mind wellness, which includes managing exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress and mindfulness. Promo products that act as tools to help them in this area and track their progress are huge.
- To help people track their daily activity, this Fitness & Activity Tracker Wristband (PL-3846) has a digital watch, step counter, distance calculator and calories burned, and works with the free Smart Bee app on most smartphones. You can add a logo or message on the band.
- As people get out more in the warmer weather for their mental health, the 2 oz. Sunscreen With Carabiner – SPF 30 (PC186) is a perfect accessory to enjoy the sun, while being protected from its harmful rays. Each bottle of vanilla-scented lotion features a colorful lid and matching aluminum carabiner. Your client’s logo and message go on the front label.
4. Coolers & Dry Bags
“Coolers are both functional for people to bring lunch to work (if they’re back in the office) or to take a picnic or go on a hike,” Rothstein says. “With growing concern for sustainability and our environment, this is a great way to reinforce using reusable cooler bags instead of disposable brown paper bags.”
Cooler product ideas:
- Perfect for a day at the beach, the roomy Diamond Cooler Bag With Wireless Speaker (LT-3960) lights up (in seven different colors) when you’re streaming music. This cooler offers a generous 9″ w x 5″ h imprint area on the top and the back.
- The Heathered Neoprene Lunch Tote (LT-3999) has a modern silhouette with an on-trend heathered finish. This roomy lunch tote holds the equivalent of seven soda cans, plus has a front zipper pocket. Choose a colorful heat-press imprint on the front pocket that will definitely get noticed.
“Dry bags are great for a day at the beach, water park or boat ride – people are more and more able to do these things as they get vaccinated,” Rothstein says. “The dry bags help keep your phone and keys safe without a lot of clutter.”
Dry bag product ideas:
- Ideal for a day at the beach, a corporate event or even a hike in the rain, the 5L Water-Resistant Dry Bag (LT-3038) keeps clothes, valuables, electronics and snacks dry. The black plastic buckle closure doubles as a handle for easy carrying when the bag is full and sealed. Get your client’s logo or message front and center with a highly visible 7″ w x 6″ h logo on one side.
What to Do Today
If you’re interested in competitive distinction or playing field leveling for your shop, dipping into promo products is a smart strategy. “There’s no worst-case scenario or downside to adding promotional products to your mix,” Hunt says. “You’ll either be differentiated compared to other apparel decorators in your marketing, or you’ll have the same capabilities to complete. It’s a win-win.”
Here are some steps to get started:
1. Take a look at your client lineup to assess the niches you primarily serve. This way you can check in with some customers to see what promo products they might need so you can choose a few products to test out.
2. Chat with a supplier rep (we suggest that you talk to someone at Prime). You can learn the basics of ordering promo products, and even get some suggestions. You’ll definitely want to order some samples to try.
3. Take this opportunity to tell your client list about your new offering. ”This is especially true for legacy and traditional apparel decorators,” Hunt says. “Customers could very likely assume that all you offer is apparel, so this is a great way to start an expanded conversation.”
4. Go big or go home with this new effort. “Remember this is the business of promo, where we want to surprise and delight people,” Atkinson says. “You don’t want end-users to have a lackluster response to a product. You want them to say, ‘That’s so cool!’”
When you’re helping clients design new logos or revamping some of their designs, here are the most popular font styles: athletic block fonts, athletic scripts, handwritten script fonts and comic book styles. “These days, people are also loving weathered and distressed effects that evoke a more retro or vintage feel,” says Craig Mertens, general manager of GraphicsFlow.