Watch these two promotional marketing veterans discuss the best and worst changes to the industry over the years, tips for how to succeed as a newbie in the industry, the importance of USA Made products, and much more!
Highlights from the interview:
Kirby: What are some of the best and worst changes that you’ve seen in our industry?
Phil: There’s an open-ended question! After doing this for 30 years, I’ve got a lot of bests and worsts. One is this little thing called the internet. Think back to many years ago—I started when the fax machine was just getting started.. then we had FedEx, then email.. but the internet has changed everything for the good. The tools that it provides for the customer in terms of order tracking, product research, the search engines tools out there that our industry provides, the internet is an outstanding thing.
That being said, it is also probably one of the worst things to happen in the industry BECAUSE, all of our end users and distributor customer all have access to this information now, so t’s an open door. The end buyer is becoming a well-educated consumer, and it’s keeping the distributor on their toes.
Phil: Another thing that fits into both the best and worst category is expedited shipping and rush orders. We’re working on yesterday delivery. We don’t know how we’re going to do it yet, but we want to anticipate the order coming in before it comes in. That’s the wave of the future. Things are being turned around so much faster now—and that’s good, buy yet it’s also bad. From the supplier side, we manufacture, we start from scratch and build this stuff. We’re not just imprinters where we bring something in and slap an imprint on it and ship– so fast turnaround, when customers expect 2-3 days, there are some things we can do that on ourselves, but it’s also hurt the industry a little bit in a way. In order to do things faster, we have to increase over time, and we have to buy more equipment, which drives costs up. So everybody loves the fast turnaround, but I want to go back to the old days where you mail me the order…I mail you the proof… you mail me the proof back, (laughing)… 6 weeks delivery was the norm!
On the other side of the coin, we have a lot of great things happening new product offerings. You walk around a trade show and some things are amazing- the product offering have grown dramatically over the years which is a positive thing. But once again, this clutters the waters a little bit too.
Social media has been outstanding for the industry. We just recently hired a gal, our Digital Marketing Manager by the name of Kelsey, and she’s done some wonderful things here at Warwick when it comes to social media.
Phil: Now, I may be a bit politically incorrect here, but I’m going to talk about something from the supplier side ( and I’ve only been on the supplier side for the last 30 years) – but I think this has hurt the industry , and that’s EQP and rebates. I’m not a big proponent, here at Warwick we don’t provide EQP on the entire catalog (though we do offer it on select items) , I realize it’s kind of the nature of the beast now days – but I truly think that EQP and rebates have caused a whole new set of problems in terms of profitability for the supplier. It costs a whole lot more to make 50 of something than it does to make 10,000 of something, so how we’ve combated that Is by reducing our end quantity which is now 2500 instead of 10,000. It’s great for the distributor and helps them out a lot, but if we went to our suppliers and said hey, we’re doing x amount of dollars of business with you and we want an x% rebate, from you at the end of the year, they would go—what? What the heck are you talking about? That being said, I know other industries have it, but I don’t think its great for our industry.
One other item that I think has changed for the worst is the fragmentation of the industry. Going back to the old days where everybody – supplier and distributor were at the same shows together and you really made friendships and good camaraderie. Now the industry’s gotten so big (and that growth is a good thing), but its’ just fragmented and harder to get to know everyone. That’s why things like PromoKitchen are so good thing to help reduce that fragmentation.
Kirby: As a grizzled veteran, what are some tips you’d give to new sales people?
Phil: I truly believe a new sales person coming into this industry should GET INVOLVED in the industry. A great way to do that is with Promo Kitchen — it’s a great networking opportunity to mingle with the seasoned veterans. Get involved in your regional association, and our national associations, that is key. Another thing I try to tell newer people in the industry is – don’t sell the product—sell what the product is going to do. We are not in the “product” business, we are in the solutions solving business. For instance — I don’t sell calendars, I sell year-long communication programs. Sell what the calendar is going to DO, not what it is.
Kirby: We’re surrounded by tech now, and that should be a part of the marketing mix, but what are some other things that an entrepreneur should consider when building a marketing campaign?
Phil: We just recently hired a Digital Marketing Manager — somebody that knows the social media world, and search engine optimization (SEO) – 20 years ago that wasn’t included in the marketing mix. We’ve also recently dabbled in snail mail direct marketing, Nowadays, we can get locked in too much on the technology aspect of it, and we’re forgetting the old standbys. We get inundated with emails, so I think the old snail mail postcard gets a little bit more attention. It’s really finding a balance to differentiate yourself from everyone else, but looking at marketing packages as a whole. Look at our own industry catalogs — print advertising alone doesn’t have the impact that it used to, so you have to consider a whole marketing mix.
Kirby: One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain along the lines of, “Whenever I find myself standing with the majority, I try to reconsider.” So to your point, whether it’s old school or new school, doing something different from the rest of the group makes sesnse. So you’ve answered my questions, and I give everyone a chance to ask me one, so do you have one for me?
Phil: Being a small family owned business here at Warwick, all of our products are made in the USA — so for the distributor, is that still as important to your buyers as we think it is?
Kirby: It totally depends on the buyer. I have buyers that it really, really matters to, and then I have buyers that are more international and ship internationally from a company standpoint, focused as a business, so it’s not as important to those types of businesses. It’s funny. I was just working on a project and my initial reaction based on the quantity was “we can probably do this overseas” — but, because of the timeline and who we were selling to, it made a lot more sense to do it domestically.