Make your supplier do the work

Ryan Bloom is president of Montreal-based promotional products provider Rycom Group....

Ryan Bloom is president of Montreal-based promotional products provider Rycom Group.

When it comes to promotional products, achieving creativity on a budget is an ongoing challenge for clients and promotional product distributors alike.

How do you come up with something that makes your company look outstanding and original, while keeping costs in line? It’s like asking Picasso to paint you an original masterwork, without using too much paint.

Well, it isn’t easy. But with the right ingredients, some amazing things can happen.

First, you have to realize that there’s a major difference between an inexpensive product and a cheap product. If you buy cheap items – ‘trinkets and trash,’ as they’re commonly referred to – then that is how your company will look: cheap. Remember this cardinal rule: If you give away a cheap promotional item to customers and contacts, people will remember the item. If you give away a high-quality corporate identification product, people will remember the company. Only accept a product that truly reflects the image of your company.

When trying to come up with a suitable promotional product, it’s important to start the process early. All too often, the promotional product is the last detail considered in the planning of an event or program. But if you leave your product purchase until two weeks beforehand, you can’t expect to be dazzled. Distributors have to work with manufacturers and importers, which demands a certain amount of time. Last-minute orders will increase the likelihood of stock or size problems, delivery hassles and quality concerns.

If, on the other hand, you start the product selection process well ahead of time, you reap a number of benefits: better pricing, lower-cost delivery, opportunities to order special packaging or inspect pre-production samples, and – most importantly – peace of mind.

Direct import is another great way to ensure that you get the most for your money. If you can afford a 90-day delivery time and have serious quantities to order, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish. International suppliers offer many new and exciting product concepts that the domestic promotional market has never even seen.

Our company, for example, recognized this potential and aligned itself with an Asian sourcing agent. Now we buy from Asian factories and ship directly to our North American customers. The result can be a considerable saving of money – when a client has the kind of time and quantity requirements that Asian manufacturing demands.

Now, even if you have good lead time and an ample budget, you still need to give yourself permission to do things creatively. You cannot be afraid to leap into new territory. And your promotional products distributor must help foster this creativity. Many clients want creative new ideas, but end up sticking to the norm because they’re afraid of being embarrassed by their own ideas. When choosing a distributor, look for someone who exhibits the ability to conceive something completely different – whether that means taking existing products and combining them in unusual ways for new purposes, or creating something entirely unique.

The promotional products business is about so much more than the familiar catalogues of pens and pins. If you align yourself with a creative distributor who understands the difference between mere products and true corporate identity enhancers, you will be amazed by the vast array of possibilities.

Our industry is flooded with distributors who promise new ideas but deliver the same old mugs and mousepads as everyone else. So our company has a simple rule for first meetings with new customers. If we cannot show them at least five new promotional concepts, we will donate $500 to the charity of their choice.

Every customer has a unique set of goals and objectives. A good distributor understands that no two clients are the same, and that each must have their expectations managed effectively. So don’t hesitate to put your promotional products provider to the test; let them prove that they deserve your business. Give them the theme of your event or program, tell them your objectives, the quantities and budgets that you’re working with – and then let them come to you with ideas. You will find out very soon who values your business and wants to become a strategic partner, and who just wants to sell products.

Getting to know the client is one of the most overlooked elements of the promotional products business. If your distributor knows nothing about your business, your marketing plans or your objectives, how can they possibly astonish you with their creativity?

Too many distributors just want to move product. But that’s not what the business is about. As a client, you owe it to yourself to be serviced by a creative, hard-working, service-minded provider – one dedicated to making you and your promotional programs look outstanding.

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