State of the Industry Report: Chasing Dollars
ON PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS
The Expert: Gary Biron, MAS+, CIL, vice president of marketing and vendor relations, Geiger, Lewiston, Maine
What are your thoughts on the current state of the promotional products sector?
Gary Biron: Technology has impacted the promotional product industry over the last several years, changing the way customers buy. Commodity items can be easily priced online with very little effort. The savvy online shopper (and who isn’t?) has access to any product at [his or her] fingertips, whether available through our normal channels of distribution or not. Technology has also opened the way to direct overseas purchasing. Pricing initially appears incredibly low. The inexperienced buyer is often unaware of the risks that are involved when dealing with offshore resources. Having said that, customers are still in need of the expert who can provide professional guidance with their promotional needs. The value of being a true promotional consultant to a customer is priceless. That person not only can offer creative ideas to assist the customer in making an impact, but can also guide the customer through the minefields of product safety and compliance.
What do you think the biggest changes will be this year, and what will drive them?
GB: E-commerce will continue to play a significant role in the way we go to market. It will be increasingly more important to have a true e-commerce presence with outstanding customer experience in order to compete with all the emerging online resources. We will see more channel conflict. The Internet makes it extremely easy for consumers to bypass the normal supply chain. And salespeople will need to become more consultative in their sales approach so that customers will recognize the value they bring to the equation.
Geiger recently received eight awards at the PPAI Expo—what does it take to be a leader in this industry? Do you have any advice for your peers?
GB: Geiger is fortunate to have a strong collection of extremely talented, professional sales partners. Many have helped their customers to achieve amazing results through their efforts as a promotional consultant. The PPAI industry provides an excellent opportunity to recognize and celebrate those achievements. We work with our sales partners to assess their achievements. Being a leader requires awareness of the results of your efforts. It is important to take the time necessary to evaluate results, determine the impact and work toward fostering continuous improvement in everything you do.
Product compliance and safety is an essential element in the support of customers’ good names. What steps has your company taken to make sure your sales partners and customers are educated about the laws?
GB: First and foremost, we have complete support from our senior management. [Geiger President and CEO] Gene Geiger has spearheaded a number of safety-related initiatives within our industry. His message on safety is continuously resonated throughout our organization. Secondly, we have a full-time associate dedicated to managing our product safety and compliance efforts. He is responsible for keeping abreast of information related to national safety initiatives and issues. He is also responsible for conducting ongoing education with our associates and sales partners. We require our production partners to provide us safety documentation to ensure we are working with resources that are aware of safety initiatives. Additionally, an internal taskforce was established to develop systems and protocol to identify and flag orders that require review and evaluation prior to processing.
Of the different misconceptions surrounding promotional products, which one frustrates you the most? Why?
GB: Tchotchkes, landfill, waste. People who do not recognize the power of promotional products are all too eager to diminish their value when taken out of context. What they fail to measure is the impact upon the recipient. How appreciated did that person feel once they received it? What other positive emotions were experienced? What degree of brand recognition or loyalty was fostered by this product? What educational message was shared that will make a lasting impression? What secondary messages were shared by the recipient with their friends and relatives? There is power in promotional marketing. We are charged with using it wisely.
Based on past trends, what are your expectations for the short-term future of promotional products?
GB: Short-term? Well, this is an election year. [There will be] lots of opportunity on a national and local level to use promotional merchandise to support a candidate or initiative. Also, with energy prices at the lowest they have been in years, customers have more resources to spend on marketing and building their businesses. We should expect 2016 to be a strong year for the promotional marketing industry.
Is there anything you would like to add?
GB: We work in an exceptional industry that fosters creativity, excitement and rewards. The beauty is there is not only one right way to accomplish success. Yes, there are more effective ways that harness technology, relationships and resources. Depending on how one measures success, there are many who are achieving various levels of greatness.