Becoming Well-Schooled in Promotional Products
Are you tapped into the promotional products market? According to the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), the U.S. promotional products market has grown by 2.5% to reach revenues of $24 billion in 2018. There are ongoing pressures, however, with buying habits, technology, procurement practices, government-imposed tariffs and compliance continuing to shift or change outright.
Following the trajectory of other industries, online sales of promotional products are growing. In 2016, online sales represented 19.8% of the total; by 2017, that number had grown significantly to 23.2%, reports the PPAI. Total online sales grew by 28.1% to $5.3 billion, compared to $4.2 billion in 2016, driven by significant increases from both large and small distributors.
“Giveaways,” as promotional products used to be known, are constantly evolving. While certain items remain ever popular — pens (now perhaps equipped with a stylus and laser light), magnets and tote bags, for example — others have outlived their functionality — think paperweights and letter openers.
Today’s most popular products include anything that enhances or plays into technology, such as mini-drones, travel chargers, speakers, USB drives, phone cases, multi-function cords and water bottles with a built-in speaker, explains Linda Laucks, a print consultant and Certified Advertising Specialist with Modern Litho and Brown Printing
Recently released Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) data shows that promotional products distributors increased sales on average by 5.3% in the third quarter of 2018, matching the largest quarterly rise in about four years.
But pricing can be a challenge, acknowledges Korey Massey, manager of The Mark-It. “Companies may price their products very low, so it can be hard to compete.”
Education Market Primed for Promo
The education sector is a steadfast moneymaker for the industry, according to the Institute, accounting for $3.28 billion, or 14.3%, of promo product sales in 2016 and continuing its run as the largest market in terms of distributor revenue.
That market too has seen shifts. While colleges and universities were traditionally the largest sources of revenue for distributors selling into the education market, high schools are increasingly spending money to build their brands and demonstrate school spirit.
Not surprisingly, this sector is primed for buying right before the school year starts in late August or early September, when educators, PTAs, school clubs and sports leads are looking for products to support curriculum or activities. At the high school level, proms are a great opportunity for promotional products, says Cole Canedy, COO of Nonstop Sign and Printing. Teams often look to fundraise and raise school spirit with promotional products, offering year-round opportunities.
The education market also has a proliferation of annual conferences and trade shows, providing another channel for promotional products.
No Order Too Big or Small
Printers involved in this market range from those who are fully vested in promotional products, to those who offer it as a specialty service to existing customers.
The Mark-It in St. Joseph, Mo., is one of the former. The seven-person company, which has been owned by present management since 2009, specializes in customized T-shirts, koozie’s, stadium seats, blankets and other promotional products for both the corporate, nonprofit and education markets, using its large-format Roland printer/cutter VersaCAMM VS-300i and flatbed VersaUV LEF-300 digital inkjets.
“The Mark-It is different from anyone around here due to the fact that we do not require minimum orders,” Massey says. Prior to his family taking over the business in 2009, Massey worked at The Mark-It while attending college. “We can do a single item or we can do thousands,” she says. “Our slogan is ‘No Order Too Big or Too Small.’”
The Mark-It is known for its custom garments, embroidery and the custom gift genre. It personalizes clipboards, coasters and coffee mugs, as well as laser engraving statements, logos and any other customized design on a range of items, including bottles, cutting boards and lighters.
Full-color glittered items are a hot commodity, Massey says. “We’ve always been able to do glitter but it was one color at a time,” she explains. “Now, we are able to print on white glitter and have almost any color you can imagine and customers eat that up … Who doesn’t love glitter?” she poses.
Having the right equipment in place has allowed The Mark-It to expand its product offerings. For example, new this year is customized wrapping paper, bumper stickers and wall decals. “If you want to put your dog, a loved one or just a collage of names in your own color scheme, we are able to do so,” Massey says.
While 75% of its business is local, The Mark-It’s customer-base is expanding. “I’ve noticed that we are starting to get more looks from surrounding states lately,” Massey says. Right on trend, the company is developing a new website to start selling its goods online.
“When we are working with local schools, most of the time they are selling the merchandise to make a profit,” she says. “So, we have to keep in mind our pricing and focus on what type of merchandise they would benefit most from.”
Work with the Seasons
Located in San Diego, Calif., Nonstop Sign and Printing offers a dazzling array of wide-format products, from custom and dimensional letters to cardboard cutouts and mesh banners, floor graphics, vinyl and static cling labels, and stickers.
Promotional products comprise approximately 20% of its revenue base, produced primarily for its wide-format printing customers. Products may include custom badges, custom mouse pads, mugs, T-shirts and tote bags. Custom badges are a popular item for schools, allowing the institution to easily and quickly identify its students at a sports or special event. The buttons can be personalized with the school’s name or mascot.
“A lot of what we do for this market is seasonal,” Canedy says. During golf season, for example, there’s high demand for custom-branded tees, ball markers and bottle openers. One non-seasonal popular item is the PopSocket (the gizmo on the back of cellphones that allows for easy handling). “It’s a great product because it’s on the phone that everyone carries with them all the time, and is seen every day by the customer,” Canedy notes.
The education market still loves pens — a very affordable method of getting your name out there. Also popular are custom fans and drawstring nylon backpacks.
The promotional products sector is a great fit for a shop like Nonstop Sign and Printing. Those customers who require displays and graphics for trade show exhibits might also want a branded pen or a PopSocket to give away at their booth.
Add Promo Products to Your OmniChannel Campaigns
Headquartered in Jefferson City, Mo., Modern Litho has been in business for more than 80 years and serves verticals such as nonprofit and member-based organizations. While best known as a leading printer of specialized publications and catalogs for niche markets, its capabilities have evolved beyond traditional offset printing, finishing and distribution of direct mail and publications to include variable-data, wide-format and interactive print and media.
While ad specialties were once a larger part of its revenue base, today Modern Litho and Brown Printing provide that service as an add-on to its existing database of customers, who are often looking for one-stop shopping, or perhaps something above and beyond the traditional promotional product.
So, while the printer provides wearables, the coveted high-tech items and the ubiquitous pen, it might also include higher-end products, such as branded board games, like Monopoly with the customer’s name imaged onto the box. “These are not cheap, and it takes the right market to spend that kind of money,” Laucks notes.
Modern Litho has also used promotional products as part of larger multi-channel direct mail campaigns. For one insurance company, the campaign featured several pieces delivered over a few weeks. The show-stopper was a branded aluminum case filled with playing cards and poker chips, accompanied by a card saying, “Let the chips fall where they may.”