Brand Consistency Fuels Promo Product Business
Promotional products provide a creative way to reach audiences. Whether it’s a coffee cup, pen, keychain or tote bag, these products linger on top of a desk, on a key ring or serve as a reusable grocery bag week-to-week. They can be important marketing tools for companies, schools or organizations.
Providing promotional products for their print customers is just one more way in-plants are converging and bringing in work from adjacent markets. And with 25% of in-plants currently selling promotional products, according to In-plant Impressions research, it’s clear in-plants have realized the profitability of the promo products business.
Beyond creating a brand new revenue stream, it gives the in-plant control over organizational branding standards and compliance. Too often, products are ordered from an online middleman and the final product comes out completely off-brand — a devastating mistake for any marketing department to deal with.
“This is one of the biggest selling points for us,” says Melynda Crouch, manager of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (HSC) Print Center, in Lubbock, Texas. “The Texas Tech Double T is a tricky logo to imprint correctly according to our identity guidelines. Not only do we have control over the branding, but we also have our Communications and Marketing Department approve all artwork before it is submitted to the vendor. Places like 4imprint may not be familiar with the correct way to impose our logo on different colored products or in different colored imprints, but we are.”
The State of Michigan’s Print and Mail Management (PMM) department also began offering this service to fill a niche for state agencies. “PMM is able to ensure the State of Michigan’s branding is properly used, as well as that of the various state departments and agencies,” explains Kristen Hampton, director of the State of Michigan’s Print and Mail Management division, in Lansing, Mich.
Another reason in-plants are selling promo products is to make it easier on their customers.
“If we are printing their brochures, forms, letterhead and other projects, it just makes sense for us to be a one-stop-shop for them,” notes Crouch. “Offering promotional products has made us much more visible to our customers. Some departments may not be aware of all of the services we offer, and sourcing promo items allows us to get in front of that customer and help them complete their entire marketing approach. It has increased print jobs as well as graphic design opportunities.”
Making and Saving Money
Offering promo products saves customers a substantial amount of money and creates a very lucrative revenue stream for in-plants.
Crouch says placing the orders in-house allows her to use preferred vendors with preferred pricing. And even after a 20-30% markup, her shop’s prices are still under those of all local distributors.
“The cost for running this program is minimal — mainly time investment — and that ends up saving the institution thousands of dollars per year,” she notes. “And yes, by having knowledge of preferred vendors we have been able to hasten the turnaround on many items substantially.”
“I could see that the university needed it because we had people buying green, orange or brown — whatever color they liked for products that weren’t correctly branded for our university,” explains Douglas Fenske, director of University Printing Services at Minnesota State University, in Mankato. By offering promo products the in-plant not only introduced a much-needed service to the university but added a new source of revenue for Printing Services.
The in-plant started selling promo products in 2005. That year, the shop did just 18 orders and $14,000 in sales, Fenske recalls. It has grown exponentially. In 2018 the in-plant got 805 orders totaling $600,000. Promo sales now make up about 60% of Printing Services’ revenue.
Fenske says having the in-plant take care of the ordering has made it easier for departments. Previously, the university had office administrators creating artwork that was not right. They weren’t using the correct logos or correct fonts. Now, they can order online and the shop takes care of the rest — including handling any snafus that arise.
“If the product’s not correct when it comes in, then I deal with it,” Fenske notes. “I have one right now where the particular decorator changed manufacturers where they buy their tote bags from, and the purple they now have is orchid — our color is PMS269. I deal with my local distributor and we get it taken care of so our customer never sees the errors. We fix them beforehand.”
Customers want to work with a print shop that can be a one-stop-shop for them. It saves them time, money and peace of mind. At the University of Delaware, in Newark, Del., clients look to the in-plant for all of their print needs. As the shop’s reputation has grown over the years, clients started inquiring if the in-plant could produce their promotional products as well.
“It seemed like a natural progression to facilitate those sales,” explains Michael Czerepak, manager of University Printing. “Selling promotional items has raised the perception that our facility should be the first call if there are any print needs, as well as our ability to problem solve. Our clients like the service because it takes [away] the heavy lifting of getting quotes, preparing files for print, gathering suppliers as necessary and ensuring quality output. It also allows us to ensure the items are brand compliant, which our communications and marketing department likes.”
The feeling is mutual at the State of Michigan’s Print and Mail Management Department. “PMM staff handle all aspects of the procurement process, from bid solicitation to final delivery,” explains Hampton. “This allows department staff to focus on other aspects of their work. With our ability to distribute bid solicitations to a diverse group of pre-qualified vendors, PMM typically provides a cost savings.”
Most promo products are produced with the help of outside contracts and local and national vendors but some small items such as stickers and magnets are produced in-house. The University of Delaware’s in-plant is a certified supplier of UD merchandise and has a 0-50% mark up on the products it provides. Czerepak says since the in-plant produces such a variety of items it does not have a catalog for clients to peruse; it advertises the service on its website and asks clients to call for a consultation.
The State of Michgain doesn’t have a catalog or online site to view available promotional items, either. “We work directly with our customers to determine their needs and then work with our vendors to get access to their catalogs or obtain samples,” Hampton notes.
As for the actual promotion of the service, these four in-plants rely heavily on word of mouth and do not make it a priority to promote the promo products side of the business.
“PMM promotes this business throughout the state at seminars and quarterly customer meetings; however, many hear about this service from other customers,” says Hampton. “Word of mouth is a valuable tool.”
The University of Delaware and the State of Michigan may not have a catalog of items to peruse, but other in-plants, like Minnesota State University and Texas Tech HSC, do. Both in-plants also utilize SAGE, which is a provider of information, marketing and business management solutions to the promotional products industry and gives members access to nearly 45,000 distributor companies.
Texas Tech HSC’s Print Center, which is a certified distributor and marks up products 20-30%, offers clients pens, pop-sockets, water bottles, t-shirts, flash drives and highlighters, among other items. “To become certified we had to be vetted by the company we source our promo products to by showing that we had a history of promo product sales and had purchased from a manufacturer in the past,” explains Crouch.
Adding promotional items has allowed the Texas Tech HSC Print Center to complete a customer’s entire marketing campaign. Doing all of the print and promo items for an event helps the customer keep cohesiveness across its printed and promotional items.
“If the conference is taking place near a beach, we can suggest fun-in-the-sun items to go along with that and keep all branding consistent,” Crouch notes.
Promo products opens the door to other possibilities. The more services an in-plant is able to offer, the more valuable it is to a client.
“We have been able to pick up additional print jobs from our customers simply because we were able to get in front of them with promotional products,” Crouch says.
Related story: Promo Products: A Profitable Business for Your In-plant