Past and Future: 7 Promo Lessons From a Departing Industry Veteran
Change is always a good thing, but it’s also a really hard thing. Making the decision to leave my role as chief development officer at industry top 10 supplier HPG was one of the hardest business decisions, if not the hardest one, I’ve ever had to make. But it was time.
I’ve spent one third of my life dedicated to the promotional products industry, and I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with so many phenomenal people in it and share so many amazing memories along the way. Throughout the years, I’ve learned countless things about myself, my business and life in general, and I thought it’d be great to share some of those. Here are my top seven.
1. The industry is resilient.
As many of us have learned in the last two years, the promo industry is incredibly resilient. COVID reminded us how the industry can adapt to new norms, pivot and, more importantly, power through. COVID might have been the latest headache the industry has faced, but it has also survived depressions, recessions, wars and more. I’m more bullish on the industry than I have ever been, and the future is incredibly bright.
2. Disruption and change are a good thing.
When Mike Szymczak and I started Origaudio in 2009, we noticed the industry was prime for disruption. Many suppliers had the same go-to-market strategy, timelines, fees and procedures in place for distributors to order by. We thought if we could go to market with a no-minimum, no-setup, full-digital and five-day production time, the industry would take notice—and it did.
After many years, we saw other suppliers follow suit and adapt the same principles, so we accelerated ours by including free personalizations, drop ships, virtuals and three-day production times, and the industry again followed course. I really hope suppliers continue to flip the model on its head and push each other for further change, as it’s only going to help change the way goods are produced and the industry as a whole.
3. Relationships are everything.
People in the promo industry tend to buy from and work with people they like. This industry is built on relationships, which also makes it hard for a new company to navigate the waters early on. However, the relationships that have been forged for years are what makes the industry so fun to be in.
For years, I’ve always loved catching up with fellow suppliers at trade shows, visiting distributors to pitch them the latest and greatest, and being on the road with fellow team members. It’s what makes the promo industry more of a family than anything else. I know that even though I’ve left my position at HPG and the industry, the relationships I have built for so many years will continue to forge ahead.
4. Technology has changed the game.
When I first started in the industry, people would fax us orders. Sadly, some distributors still do. However, to see the rapid expansion of technology in our industry and what it’s done to progress things forward is nothing short of amazing. Industry programs like commonsku, SAGE and more have helped lay the foundation for distributors to operate their business. When you throw in all the software powering the thousands of supplier warehouses, decoration facilities and more, it’s nothing short of amazing.
Think about how just 20 years ago people would overnight a physical purchase order along with a piece of artwork. Then distributors would have to wait another week to get a paper proof generated and sent back to them for sign-off, then to send it back to the supplier to start the order, then wait another month to get the goods delivered to their client. It’s simply mind-blowing. I can only imagine what the industry is going to look like in the next decade: 3-D printed goods that are produced localized within an hour from order submission. I can say one thing with certainty: The future is going to be awesome!
5. First impressions are important.
When I started in the industry, the norm for packaging was a plain white box or a poly bag, which was and still is pretty sad. The first impression a recipient has with your brand or product is on the outside, before they even get to touch and feel the product. I saw this gap in the market and brought into the promo industry what I knew from retail: packaging matters.
If one of our distributors wanted a plain white box or a bag, we’d charge them more simply out of principal for deviating from the beautiful retail packaging we made at Origaudio. We didn’t want their client’s first impression of the brand we built to be subpar. What’s on the outside matters almost as much as (if not more than) what’s on the inside, and you can sell someone really easily by making sure the first impression you make is a good one.
6. Don’t take yourself seriously, but take your business very seriously.
My mentor Skip Yowell (the founder of JanSport) lived by this motto and instilled it in me. For those who know me, I am pretty sarcastic, consider myself funny, and have always enjoyed making people laugh in a presentation or a meeting. Basically, I don’t take myself too seriously. However, when it comes down to business, financials, growth and more, I take that pretty seriously, as my business was my livelihood. I encourage people to do the same, especially in such a fun industry.
7. The industry is fun, and it’s supposed to be fun.
Everyone in the promo industry gets to make Christmas morning happen 365 days a year. Whether it’s producing amazing goods and decorating them for distributors or selling them to the biggest brands in the world on a daily basis, the promo industry makes people’s jaws drop and creates memorable experiences for the world.
I have always liked to say to my employees and teammates on a bad day or when something wrong happened with an order, “Don’t worry, remember at the end of the day we’re not doing open heart surgery, and mistakes or bad things happen, and that’s OK.” The promo industry is fun—and, more importantly, it’s supposed to be fun!
I am incredibly proud of all the growth and success I’ve achieved in the promo industry over the last 13 years. However, I’m more proud of the tools and products I’ve created for distributors to be successful, jobs I’ve created in the businesses I started, and the impact I’ve left on such a great industry with equally great people in it. This isn’t me saying goodbye to the promo industry, as goodbyes are forever. This is more like a “see you later” promo industry—it’s been incredibly awesome!
Jason Lucash is the founder of Origaudio and former chief development officer for HPG. He has spent the last 13 years in the promotional products industry, changing the way the industry goes to market by creating hundreds of revolutionary products that have won countless industry awards and accolades.