Sorry if This Offends You…Part 1


I’ve been pondering writing this for a while. As you probably know, most of my commentaries touch on real-world industry stories, personal experiences, and general business topics. In this rant, I’m going to share some of my thoughts on the current state of the promotional products industry. Sorry if this offends you.  

I love our industry. There are many great forward-thinking leaders who care about making a positive difference. Our trade Association, PPAI is recognizing changes in the marketplace and working diligently on our behalf addressing important issues that affect our livelihoods.

I say OUR industry because any industry is made of people. Suppliers, distributors, service providers, salespeople, multi-line reps, associations, and networking groups are our lifeblood. People are what make the industry great. We are blessed to have some amazing people doing good work.

As I publish content for our PPAI award-winning program, I talk to many people. Everyone has thoughts on what’s happening in our industry these days. I’ve compiled some of those thoughts here.

This industry is changing rapidly.
Those who are doing business the same way as they did 10 years ago or even 3 years ago may be destined for extinction. Sorry if that offends you.

We are in a tech-savvy global market.
Today end-user buyers can easily access products from direct sources. Buyers faced with tight budgets are enticed by low prices and how simple it is to order online. Sorry if this offends you.

Not everything is a safe choice.
Inexpensive is great until something bad happens, like missed deadlines, crappy products, and the biggest problem of all…delivering an unsafe product. Sadly, these things may not deter commodity buyers. This is where the efforts of the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) and organizations like the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA) are so important. We must protect ourselves and our client’s brand AND deliver quality, safe products. Sorry if this offends you.

Today’s buyers and the next generation of buyers are part of the Amazon generation.
While clients may like doing business with you personally, these buyers are used to the ease of point and click purchasing. There will always be a need for quality service and creativity for more complex projects, but much of what we sell is a commodity that can easily be sourced with a few clicks. Sorry if this offends you.

When do you pass on business?
Recently my client had a need for 200 silicone wristbands. As this is a popular commodity item, I knew the client would look online. This is the new business reality. Many clients shop online. Doing my due diligence, I was a bit surprised to find these online at .37 per 100. Orders placed within an hour received an additional 100 free! Setting aside all the potential issues of product quality, potential customer service issues, and product safety, the question remains…does doing this order make sense? The product safety issue is important, but what should my role be on a $50.00 order?

I shared this scenario with a supplier who sells silicone wristbands and has been faced with the same dilemma. He candidly shared with me that even though “it takes a little piece of my heart” he would refer someone to one of these online companies. That’s what I chose to do. Sorry if that offends you.

This client also needed thousands of bags and we helped them with that part of the order, using a QCA Accredited Supplier. We also educated them on the risks of their $37.00 wristband order, which they were willing to take. How we chose to handle this enhanced our business relationship. In past years I would never turn down any business because it opens the door to losing other business. In this new business world, I've changed my position. Sorry if that offends you. 

Ineffective online marketing.
The words "social media" still seems to scare some people. But social media is online marketing, and online marketing is a key component in today’s marketplace. I’ve used this quote many times, because it’s so on target. The analogy of social media being a giant cocktail party or barbecue is a fitting way to look at online voice. Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Media notes, “At a cocktail party, you wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m Dave. My stuff is 20 percent off.’ What you do is ask questions, tell stories, listen and relate to people.”

Social media, done right, is effective online marketing. Many suppliers and distributors don’t get this. Sorry if that offends you.

It’s got to be about more than price.
Many suppliers sell the same products…and much of their marketing efforts are based on price. E-blasts and daily online specials are attempts to stimulate price-based sales on commodity products, but it doesn’t nurture healthy profitable, business that makes sense. Sorry if that offends you. 

While not always possible and certainly more expensive, personal relationships and creating “raving fans” is effective. These relationships can be nurtured with quality salespeople, who are able to share the benefits of products and using their line. Great multiline reps, often over looked in our industry, are an asset to the companies they represent.

What are we offering to our clients? 
NOW is the time for suppliers and distributors to effectively communicate their value proposition. Most don't do that, which creates an opportunity for those who do. Sorry if that offends you. 

New business building strategies.
Some suppliers are seeing the value of producing short videos to show their products. Savvy distributors are seeing the value in sharing those videos with their clients. In today’s marketplace online video is hot and is proven effective driving buying decisions. Video is an effective business building tool. We have created, a video resource website that enables distributors to share videos with 1-click. 

With a challenging market comes opportunity. This is why we are so excited about SuccessFit4Life!, a simple, turnkey health and wellness program that meets a real need. The benefits of a wellness program are obvious!  SuccessFit4Life! s driven by branded products that are used for achieving goals. The program drives product sales.

For more information about what we are doing to help distributors and suppliers create sales opportunities, feel free to contact us.

That’s it for my “offensive” rant! I believe I have touched on things most would agree with, so in reality how offensive can it be? Many are living with blinders on not wanting to accept change. They can’t accept how business is done in today’s challenging marketplace. Sorry if that offends you.

© 2016 Jeff Solomon, MAS


Feedback on your "offensive" rants...

Right on, timely perspective about the ever-changing marketplace and how business is transacted nowadays. I recall from my days with when distributors and suppliers laughed off this evolved e-commerce evolution of how the promotional products industry would be forced to adopt, or "be left at the station, as the train pulls out...". And it happened in less than five years.
Good perspective... keep it coming... see you around at PPAI's 2017 EXPO in Las Vegas!

NOT offended

Jeff, what you say here in SO on target! Everything is changing and I just don't see that people, suppliers and distributors get it. I have changed how I do business and look forward to learning more about your wellness program.

Thank you for saying what

Thank you for saying what needs to be said. I love your commentaries and this one really hits the nail on the head. It's sort of like the story of the frog in the slowly heating water. The frog doesn't know he's cooked until it's too late. That said there are opportunities for those willing to change and understand that business is being done differently.


Great commentary! As a seasoned industry vet, I know that what you are saying here is right on. The game has changed and I think many of the stuff sellers will be losing in the way the game is being played now.

Reality check

My business opinion is that Bill Petrie's "A Fiddler's Tale" and Jeff Solomon's "sorry if this offends you" both accurately portray a business world that has -- and absolutely should have -- for the first time in history -- the average promo distributor and supplier feeling increasingly 'insecure' about 'survival' in the future. The 'good news' of my opinion ends there. My 'bad news' opinion about the industry's reality is this: What is needed to be done -- that can only be done by PPAI -- to most effectively and successfully deal with this historic crisis -- indeed the only strategic initiative that can 'secure the future' -- is not even being discussed, and in my opinion never will be. My personal opinion, as an old friend of the industry, is that this is both heartbreaking and infuriating. Al Kernan

Your right but missed a second issue

There are industry suppliers selling online below EQP pricing direct to consumers. They want us to sell their product but have no problem undercutting us and going direct. They want it both ways. They need to pick one; either work with us or compete against us (not both).

Great piece!

Jeff you're right on. But, some of us "still" have customers who don't wanna do the work and value the relationship. And most of us distributors can't afford a 4imprint site. Social media? The jury is still out on that for promos.

Reality check #2

First let me clarify this additional point of emphasis (and recommendation), by noting that I sincerely have the utmost respect for what PPAI does.

When I see their communications about what they are up to these days, and how well they go about working on behalf of the membership and entire industry, I can see why the Board, all volunteers, the Management and entire staff of PPAI should all feel professional pride in their efforts and results.

But again that ends the 'good news' unfortunately.

My additional point can best be made by this fact. Over the last century too many other justifiably-proud trade associations to count have declined significantly in terms of their numbers of membership and and influence in their marketplaces, directly due to their failure to in a timely way successfully comprehend and confront the complex, major 'new paradigm' shifts beyond their control that were challenging their industry's basic 'status quo' -- complex, major challenges like the ones that the promo industry faces today because of the Internet age.

My recommendation is this: without any drawn-out delays PPAI should specifically study 10 of those associations that didn't adapt in time or well enough.

Using the 100% clarity provided by hindsight and history, the task force will be able to identify many 'big picture' questions, changes, investments, risks, etc., that the failed Associations did not identify and did not take that if they had, very likely would have better 'secured the future' for themselves and their members.

The goal obviously is to come up with TOTALLY NEW ways of understanding, attacking and surviving the threats PPAI and its members are facing today!


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