The promotional products industry is comprised of a number of different players and it helps to understand the relationships between them and why each player is in the distribution channel. This is particularly important in today's technological world where lines between industry players are blurring more than ever. A simplistic look at the industry involves manufacturers/decorators, multi-line representatives, distributors, information service providers, and the industry association. The reality today is that many products come from overseas factories and are warehoused and decorated in the U.S. to keep delivery times within acceptable limits. If you have time and quantity on your side, we can work directly with manufacturers in various parts of the world for greater economies.
Manufacturers/Wholesalers/Decorators (collectively referred to as "suppliers") who participate in the promotional products industry do so because their expertise is in producing quality products. They choose not to deal with the general public or end user companies because they recognize the economies of dealing with intermediaries who bring them 10-20+ orders per year rather than the one time user. They may also choose the strategy of working through the network of distributor companies because of real or perceived weaknesses in marketing capabilities. Most decorators will work directly with distributor companies, but some smaller decorators choose to hire a multi-line representative to present their line (and non competing others) to distributors.
Muli-line representatives are companies dedicated to marketing supplier companies to distributor companies. They will frequently represent five to ten non-competing lines (perhaps one clothing line, one general wares line, one drinkware company, one chocolate company, etc.). These representatves communicate to distributors on behalf of suppliers.
Distributors and their employees in the promotional products industry are typically "the sales force of the industry." Distributors are the people who know where to get products and present products to those seeking them. This role of "promotional broker" if you will has changed significantly over the years from simply the power of information and knowing where to buy products in a "closed industry" to one of advertising and marketing consultant. Probably the most important thing to understand about distributor companies is that it is not hard to get into the promotional products industry now...but it IS difficult to to do well. One of the main reasons this is true is that there are over forty decorating methods employed in this industry. Being of service to customers requires much more than simply knowing where to find products...it means understanding marketing, and being an expert in the medium of promotional products much like other media experts are in their fields. This level of industry knowledge requires understanding the "products" of the industry and being able to combine products to create successful marketing campaigns and "programs." The true leaders in the industry also know a variety of decorating processes and the strengthns and limitations of each to acheive maximum results for their clients. In short, distributors are intended to add value to the products themselves through the application of professional knowledge. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to falsely appear to be an expert in the promotional products industry today. Some signs you can look for are professional certifications, industry participation and acknowledgement, and awards presented by industry peers.
Information Service Providers are companies who assume the role of linking suppliers and distributors. Typically this involves soliciting advertising from suppliers, compiling ths information into a variety of useable forms such as Internet websites, printed catalogs, and search tools, then reselling this packaged information to distributors for use in their businesses. These catalogs and Internet sites are used by the vast majority of distributors in the promotional products industry. These service providers create composite catalogs and websites that are very useful tools for the many distributors. There is also an important downside that needs to be considered here...that is that any supplier (regardless of quality of product, decoration, or service) can pay to be included in any of these composite materials. An over reliance on these service providers can circumvent the distributor's role to add value...the value of knowledge, quality, timely delivery, etc. that come only from experience and strong relationships between distributors and suppliers.
There are five notable information service providers today, the most widely know is ASI (Advertising Specialties Institute). Due to ASI's agressive marketing tactics and their role as an industry pioneer, there is some confusion among newer industry participants and the general public between the roles of ASI and the Industry association, Promotional Products Association International (PPAI). ASI is a privately held, for profit business while PPA in a not-for-profit association that monitors industry education and lobbies on behalf of industry participants, among many other things. Recent history and actions by the two organizations have created what is tantamount to a civil war within the industry, with many taking sides.
Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) is the association of the promotional products industry. You will find their website at www.PPA.org and with their permission, much of their information has been included in our site. PPA is the industry association and they stage the largest tradeshow in the industry, the second week of January each year...in Las Vegas. They also partner with regional associations for other trade shows such as Promotions East held in Atlantic City, NJ early in June each year. The association administers the examinations for the CAS/MAS certifications and holds numerous educational sessions for members throughout the year. PPA also acts as the voice of the industry, hiring lobbyists to present industry views to lawmakers. PPA also coordinates the industry response to disasters such as the recent hurricanes in Florida.
If you would like more information about the promotional products industry, feel free to email our president Darrell Marriott who has been very involved for many years.