Boost Your Non-Wearable Sales!

Promotional-products expert Don Sanders joins us this month and going forward with insightful commentary designed to help apparel decorators bridge the gap between merely embellishing garments and selling promotional apparel.

Are there any new marketing approaches we can use that will give us an edge over our customers? I feel our advertising efforts have become stale because we haven’t tried anything different lately.

We recently freshened up our selling approach by purchasing a software program called Captivate. This program allows us to create brief product videos that are presented in slide format complete with recorded voice-overs. The program allows us to produce the short videos ourselves in 90-second bites and feature products that we feel are suitable for our customers’ needs. Some of the shows we’ve done demonstrate to our clients the value of buying food gifts, how packaging makes awards more special, and how items such as umbrellas add exposure to their business. So far we’ve made more than 30 such “shows” and after we produce one, we email the link to our customers. After we send the link, we leave our customers a voice mail message asking them to look at the presentation(s). This electronic approach keeps us in front of people we sell and gives us an edge over our competitors. Our efforts with this program have made it possible for us to make several sales of the products featured in the videos. 

Our golf-shirt sales have always been strong, but we have never sold any additional items for golf tournaments. I know there are many other imprinted items purchased for golf events, so is there something new that we can show that will motivate our golf-shirt customers to place some of these orders with us? 

Many organizations are in the habit of buying the same gift items for tournament participants every year—products such as imprinted balls, tees, head covers or towels. These are all things that players need, but most of them already have a supply on hand. To generate additional sales, suggest something unique that golfers haven’t received at other events or don’t choose to buy themselves. An excellent product to show would be imprinted flip-flops that are available in several styles and price points. Even though they have been around for years, flip-flops have rarely been shown to this market. As players exit the course after finishing their round, they are given the imprinted sandals and can take off their spiked shoes and replace them with this casual, comfortable footwear. Since tournaments have “after” parties and award dinners, this alternate footwear option can be worn in the clubhouse during the celebration, on the ride back to the hotel and beyond. Not only does this bring relaxation to the players but it also transforms them into walking billboards since the straps are one of the imprint options. After this initial use, they can be easily stored in travel bags and used for years to come. If you show unique products like this and describe how they can be used, you will definitely stir up some sales.

I own an embroidery and screen-printing shop that sells several orders of promo products per month. It seems like there have been a great many ads in industry publications touting the benefits of how running one’s orders through mega distributorships is the way to go. Am I really missing something by being on my own and ignoring their services? 

We’ve been selling solo for 25 years and during that time have lost very few orders to larger distributors who claim they are better prepared to do business than we are. Our sales mix is similar to yours and the orders that we have lost have been to individuals like you––rarely to so-called large experts. The increase of ads pitching the benefits of joining large distributorships is mostly attracting people who are in need of financial assistance. As long as you run your operation efficiently and have a basic understanding of the promo business, forget about those ads and focus on what you do best. Most large distributors are made up of a few heavy hitters with the balance of their sales force being lower-volume producers. Personal service is what builds success, not the fact that you are able to sell at end-quantity pricing or have someone process orders for you––things that big distributors say you need help with. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence, so stay independent and focus on your strengths.

In the past several years our company has sold a goodly amount of shirts and caps to area tanning salons. Since there is now a great deal of bad publicity about health risks associated with tanning, I am worried that these good customers will have less need for my products or no need for them at all, especially if they go out of business. Your thoughts? 

Customers are forever changing, regardless of your efforts to do everything correctly. In today’s world, there are just too many things happening that can disrupt relationships––such as people changing jobs, problems with the economy and, in your case, bad publicity. Since changes are inevitable, prepare for the worst in the event that tanning salons aren’t around in a couple of years, by starting a new prospecting program. Since you have expertise in working with companies that help people get a golden glow, shift your focus to the next generation of tanning services: airbrush tanning. There are numerous spray-on tanning operations opening around the country and they will need the same items that you produced for your current customers. You can find them by looking in your local business journal for the list of companies who recently applied for sales-tax permits. When you see applications for sunless-tanning salons, make it a point to call on them immediately. In fact, you should make it a practice to read those publications looking for permit applications associated with other industries for which you do work. Being one of the first people to know about opportunities that are available will give you an edge on competitors and provide you with a constant source of new leads.

Our shop is located in a retail center, so the majority of our business is made up of walk-in customers and referrals. The problem that I’m facing is that the walk-in trade is more price conscience than the referral clients or ones generated at networking events. What are some things that can we do to promote ourselves that will increase our higher-profit customers?

This is a good question because many storefront owners obtain their customers the same way you do and don’t venture out enough in search of new business. To increase your stable of higher margin customers, start getting out more, start being seen more. Make sure to arm yourself with several self-promotion items such as sticky notes, magnets or pencils. These items are easy to obtain since most suppliers offer generous self-promotion programs. Whenever you talk to someone about your business, give him or her one of these items with your business card. By having items floating around with your information, you will increase your chances of securing more clients. After you give something to someone, make sure that you call within two days to remind him or her of your initial conversation. Also, be sure to add them to your postal mailing programs and email solicitations. Even though your storefront location is easily used by drop-in customers, as you have experienced they can sometimes be ones who nickel-and-dime you to death. By being more aggressive you will be better able to pick and choose with whom you do business. That freedom will help you in the long run.