5 Ways to Give Your Print Business a Promotional Makeover
In business and in personal experiences, it’s easy to stay consistent in what you do, especially when you’ve been doing it for so many years. Although any sort of change can make you feel unsettled, if something stops working along the line, you have to be able to adapt and evolve, or your success is at risk. Take, for example, professional athletes. They abide by strict schedules, like having to eat and train a certain way, in order to perform their absolute best. But, when an injury occurs, there’s probably going to be a setback and a new routine to follow. While change can be challenging, it’s not impossible to overcome.
Just as times are changing and technology is evolving, businesses, in particular, have to recognize when to revisit their current strategy. It’s no secret that print has suffered a few blows in recent years, and many companies are turning to other sources to make up for lost revenue. Some are finding that promotional products serve as a nice complement. We spoke with two distributors who made this switch, and while there were learning curves, it was a move that made sense for them.
Megan Parker, director of operations for Evergreen Print Solutions, Seattle, explained that her company, which has been in business for 35 years, added promo to its core product line a decade ago. As for Craig Reynolds, who has held the title of sales hub owner at American Solutions for Business, Terre Haute, Ind., for a year and a half, he recalled first noticing a change in forms usage about 25 years ago at one of his previous organizations. The transition has been positive, according to both Parker and Reynolds. So, let’s dive in and explore everything you’ll need to know about adding promo to your print line.
1. Understand the learning curve
When you start a new job, there’s an adjustment period where you may struggle until you find your way. Experimenting with a new product is no exception. For Reynolds, learning new terms and finding suppliers were some of his biggest challenges when introducing promo to his line.
“The forms industry is made up of a lot of very high-caliber, quality-conscious people, and the promotional products industry back then was not the same caliber,” he said. “So, probably, one of the key challenges was sorting through and finding reliable [and] quality suppliers who really wanted to build a relationship with us, and us with them. The way we did that [was] by going to trade shows, getting to know people, trying to work with them and finding out who worked and who didn’t.”
Parker found herself in a similar situation during those early stages in the process. But, with each small step, the journey became easier.
“In print, we were used to having established relationships with primarily local vendors,” Parker shared. “That is not the case with promo, [and] the whole process seems much more automated. When you are starting out, you don’t have those relationships and, quite frankly, not everyone is helpful on the phone. We had no idea which vendors were good and which ones we should avoid; setup fees and run charges ... [we had to ask ourselves,] ‘What are those?’ There is a language and knowledge of promotional items—and, more specifically, promotional vendors—that is just learned with experience.”
In spite of some challenges, their hard work paid off. Today, promotional products comprise roughly two-thirds of Reynolds’ sales, while Parker estimated that 50 percent of her sales could be attributed to promo.
2. Don’t skip out on quality suppliers
In some instances, quantity over quality has worked, but when it comes to choosing the right products and supplier partners, you have to pick the very best. Parker explained that she typically opts for vendors that she knows will deliver quality products when she needs them.
“Quality over anything,” she stressed. “It may cost a bit more per item, but trust me, you will end up paying for it if you use a vendor who supplies low-quality items or imprints. Generally, we stick to one supplier,” she said. “However, with apparel, we most always use two. We order the blank goods from the manufacturer and then use a local decorator. We like staying local as much as possible; there is just more control on quality and meeting deadlines.”
Reynolds cited “responsiveness” as a supplier quality that matters to him.
“We look for responsiveness, obviously good, competitive pricing, we also look at the quality of the product and we look for somebody who can handle problems,” he said.
Reynolds went on to explain that although the process is complicated, American Solutions for Business has a ratings system that allows him to find suppliers.
“Because we’re aligned with a lot of suppliers, the fortunate thing is since we do such volume, we get better pricing and better service perks that aren’t even available to other distributors,” he noted.
3. Bring value to your customers
By enhancing their product offering, distributors have a chance to become a one-stop shop. And those with a print background have a particular advantage they should communicate to existing clients and prospects. As Reynolds pointed out, the trust is there when you already understand color and logo integrity.
One way to get promo orders from your print clients is to have an exploratory conversation. Specifically, ask questions, and inquire about their needs.
“If they were interested, we would provide catalogs, we would provide ideas and we’d provide samples,” Reynolds said. “Something I learned early on was that you can send people to a website, but they quickly get overwhelmed. Some people will find ideas and send them to you and say, ‘Hey, we’d like to get something like this.’” But a lot of people are overwhelmed, so I would just ask them, ‘When is your event (if it’s event-driven)? What is your budget, and what is the quantity? And, what is the event theme?’”
Parker agreed. As a business, you want to ensure that you’re targeting all of your clients’ needs. If you’re able to offer them more than just print, why not do it?
“All of our clients were purchasing promo items anyway,” Parker noted. “Now, they make one call and we can help them with all their marketing needs. There is no need for them to use multiple vendors and shop around, we provide them with solutions for both their print and promotional product needs.”
4. Think like your client
With so many promotional product lines available, determining which one fits best with clients’ needs is important. If you know your audience, it shouldn’t be a guessing game, and, again, this is where you can benefit from asking thoughtful questions.
“When entering a new meeting or preparing a presentation, understand your audience,” Parker instructed. “I wouldn’t include inexpensive under-$1 items for a law firm or financial advisor. They would never gift those items to their client.
“On the flip side, I wouldn’t include expensive, high-end tech products to a school or casino if they are purchasing thousands and then giving them away at a fair,” she continued. “Know your audience. ... I [also] love to include a few additional items and samples that coordinate with their event. They may not purchase right away, but they will remember what you provided and, more often than not, ask for them later.”
In addition to knowing your clients, it is equally important to find the supplier who best aligns with what your clients want. Reynolds admitted that certain suppliers are stronger in some areas compared to others.
“You just have to find a variety of lines to work with, just like you do in the print world,” he said.
5. Be seen and heard
There’s nothing worse than missing out on a sales opportunity. When it comes to the customer side, companies can’t afford to struggle with self-promotion; otherwise they’ll be typecast as the “print person.”
Reynolds suggested a great idea, involving the $5.51 billion promotional apparel sector: Wear branded clothing. That way, you’re essentially a walking advertisement for your new capabilities—creating brand awareness and inviting dialogue.
“Get yourself a wardrobe if you’re in cooler [places] or [a] cold country, wear jackets that are trendy and have your logo on it in a very professional way, not some giant splashy way, but professional, and you’ll start getting comments, and it leads to conversations where [you’re able to say that] we can do this for you,” Reynolds said.
Parker gave two other recommendations. “For the first announcement, a self promo is a wonderful idea,” she enthused. “Many vendors offer really great self-promo specials. Send a note along with the item (preferably something they will keep on their desk), letting your client know you now sell promotional products.”
The second suggestion was to use email blasts.
“We have SAGE and take advantage of the monthly email campaigns they prepare,” Parker continued. “The emails are completely created for you with the month’s most relevant items, [which are] sent out the day and time of your choosing. Again, emails may not result in an immediate sale, but when the time comes for your client to order, they will remember you.”