Selling Promotional Products – Ad Specialties

There are marketing and distribution firms that sell promotional products, or ad specialties, everywhere. These include anything you might get as a giveaway, from bobble head dolls to pens to very high tech and innovative products. Since companies will buy quite expensive items to give to customers, and cereal companies, non-profit charities and major credit card companies often give a promotional item away in a mailing, or as an incentive to purchase a specific product, the promotional products market can be quite lucrative for manufacturers that have an in-demand product. If you look into your local phone book for ad specialties or promotional products you will find dozens of companies in most towns. There are also dozens of companies selling promotional products through distributors and manufacturers’ representatives. Small one line companies with innovative products can be very successful in the promotional products market.

Four Sales Approaches

There are four common sales strategies for promotional products, and most companies use all four strategies to maximize their sales.

Trade show attendance

The promotional products industry has several big trade shows where you can set up a booth and potentially meet manufacturers’ representatives and distributors who might sell your product. You can attend one of these first to see what booths are like and what type of promotional materials companies have. You can also look for booths with just a few products that look like they are run by an inventor or small company. Talk to them regarding their experiences and the steps to market they took that were successful. Also discuss whether or not they might want to share a booth at the next show so you can cut costs. Some of the big shows in the industry include:

  • The Motivation Show, Chicago, IL
  • The Promotional Products Expo, every January in Las Vegas

You can learn more about additional trade shows and other industry news by checking out two organizations, the Incentive Marketing Representatives Association, and the Promotional Products Association International.

Trade magazine publicity and advertising

The industry has two major associations: the Promotional Products Association and the Advertising Specialty Association. Both have major trade magazines and both have products listings on their web sites. You can send new promotional product announcements to the magazines (typically no charge), run ads in the magazines, and you can also take out listing in their products directory. The two magazines are listed below:

Using the trade magazines is not as expensive as attending shows, but it also not as effective. You are counting on a small ad or press release getting attention. I do recommend you send out press releases to the magazines but you can’t count on releases and ads alone to generate enough business for you.

Manufacturers’ sales reps

Manufacturers’ representatives carry products from a variety of manufacturers and they sell your product to distributors and large major accounts. You can meet manufactures’ representatives at trade shows, or through magazine publicity, but probably the most cost effective way of reaching reps is through a direct mailing campaign. You may be able find lists of representatives at both the ASI and PPAI web sites. You can also try a Google search for manufacturers’ sales representatives for both Advertising Specialties and Promotional Products.

Once you get a list, you should send out at least a flyer, and possibly a sample to all the representatives on the list. But if you can, you should try to make you rep mailing package as thorough as possible, including

  • Pictures of the product being used
  • Any big sales you may have heard
  • Testimonials or other feedback from satisfied users
  • Materials that the reps and distributors can use for selling the product
  • Price schedules

Reps sell to the distributors which are covered in the next section. There are many, many distributors of promotional products but they all have slightly different sales mixes, one might do embroidered shirts, while others specialize in incentive gifts for employees and another gifts that companies can give to their customers. Manufacturers’ sales representatives are the best way to cut through the clutter and reach the right distributors and customers for your product.

Distributors

There are many distributors of promotional products and ad specialties in every town. A mid-size city might have 10 distributors and a big city over 100. I feel it is always a good idea for an inventor or small producer to start their marketing campaign by calling on distributors in their town. This helps the inventor learn what features are highlights for the distributor, learn what are the best type of distributors for their product, and also learn how to best promote their product to distributors. Often this type of preliminary work will help the inventor save a considerable amount of money – by focusing the inventor’s efforts and projects and customers where they can have the biggest impact.

You can approach distributors nationwide with a mailing program just like you did above with manufacturers’ sales representatives. You can find a list of distributors or promotional products marketing companies through the ASI and PPAI web sites (see addresses earlier in the article). You can also find the distributors and marketing companies by doing Yellow Page searches both locally and nationally for promotional products, incentive products and advertising specialties.

Pricing

There are many distributors and manufacturers reps’ – a fact that helps you sell your product – but it also means that there are many levels of commissions are pricing discount that you face. Manufacturers’ sales agents normally take a 10 to 15% commission and distributors often receive a 40% discount.

If you believe you should sell your product for $10.00 to the final consumer, you will receive only $5.10 to $5.40 cents.

Price to end user $10.00

Price to distributor $6.00

Commission to sales rep. $0.60 to $0.90

Money to inventor /manufacturer $5.10 to $5.40

If you want a 50% profit, you need to be able to make your product for $2.55 to $2.70. Be sure to have your pricing in line before starting or you won’t make any money.