How to Select a Good Promotional Products Distributor

Popular searches engines like Google are filled with promotional products distributors, which can be a minefield for even the most experienced buyer.

With a plethora of distributors to choose from, plus the associated product choice, choosing the right distributor for your marketing campaign could be the difference between success and failure.

Making the right choice is vitally important, especially if you are a marketing company procuring promotional gifts on behalf of a client. Letting them down is more than embarrassing, it could cost you the account.

So, whether you are selecting a budget printed pen or a bespoke USB, what should you look for (and avoid) in a distributor?

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Specialist or Bolt-On?

Many companies such as high street printers, graphic designers and workwear suppliers ‘also offer promotional products’. The reality is, many of these companies merely offer promotional products as a bolt-on service through a 3rd party.

Although there are some decent bolt-on resellers, the majority simply lack the industry expertise, competitive edge and consequently desire to offer an efficient and well managed service.

Choosing a specialist distributor isn’t without its pitfalls, but choose the right one and the chances of a successful campaign will be significantly enhanced.

Industry Expertise & Product Range

Don’t confuse product range with product expertise! Even specialist distributors (those whose focus is purely on the supply of promotional products and associated services) may lack industry expertise. If you simply want a handful of printed plastic pens, in theory you can’t go wrong. However, when a campaign involves multiple products, complex branding methods, no fail deadlines and multiple delivery channels – an experienced distributor will come into their own.

Many distributors have access to similar wholesalers and can offer a multitude of products ranging from printed pens, bags, mugs, USB’s and umbrellas. However, offering the products and having a grasp on what is achievable are sometimes very far removed.

A good distributor will have a solid understanding of branding methods, product availability, product quality, legislation, logistics, artwork and so on!

Bespoke Competencies

If the volume is large enough, many products such as keyrings, USB’s, powebanks, polo shirts and even chocolate can be customised or made fully bespoke.

A good distributor will have a grasp on manufacturing processes i.e. what is realistically achievable based on product design, budget and lead time. They will also have a more eclectic source or manufacturers, including ties with FE factories and sourcing agents.

Company Culture

Intuition and first impressions in any walk of life can be invaluable. It’s no coincidence that some companies have grown a reputation for bad service, whilst others excel. Sports Direct vs Virgin are well documented examples of this!

What kind of company are you dealing with? Do they sound sincere, friendly and instil you with confidence? Avoid ‘box shifters’ at all costs – those companies that simply quote (often ridiculously low/high prices) without the desire to ascertain your true requirements or even peruse your artwork. This kind of company is synonymous with misquoting and/or failing to meet a deadline.

Price Points & Transparency

We live in a competitive environment on a local, national and global scale – the promotional products industry is no exception. Pricing is often reflective of this across the most popular promotional items.

However, purchasing printed items on price alone is unlike a simple high street price comparison or bulk wholesale order for plain goods. It does not take into consideration differentials in product quality, print quality, lead times, legislation and service.

Pricing should be transparent and always declare associated costs other than unit price where applicable e.g. origination (set-up), carriage, artwork, sampling. Don’t be swayed by a low unit price alone or ‘manager’s specials’, always check the total quote price. Even when the price is competitive, ensure the quote is ‘like for like’, the stock is available and the lead time can be met.

Professional Standards

A good promotional products distributor (or any company for that matter), will always provide T&C’s, but not simply hide behind small print the moment an issue arises. Naturally, some issues are un-avoidable and even client driven. Either way, a good company should look to resolve these quickly with minimum fuss and minimum expense to the client where applicable.

It’s prudent to ascertain the credentials of a distributor before you place an order. If they for example have ISO 9001 certification, this is a very good benchmark. However, ensure it is UKAS accredited!

Website & Content

Although a website needn’t be expensive, the design and content speaks volumes about the company. Everything from contact details, terms, accreditations, products and pricing should be clear and concise. Chances are, if the website is hard to navigate or not particularly ‘transparent’, so is the distributor!

Flexibility

Due to the nature of print prices, packaging and general economies of scale – promotional products are generally priced into various ‘price breaks’. Thus, the more you order the better the price.

Although it’s not always feasible, a distributor should offer the flexibility in both volume and price where not unreasonable. If for example you require 400 units (vs natural price breaks of 250 or 500), they should be able to accommodate this request and offer a price close or equal to that of 500. Equally, if the MOQ is 250, don’t be afraid to ask for 200 units if that’s all you require!

Similarly with tight deadlines, experienced distributors can shave time off the standard lead time – even a single day can make all the difference! 

Corporate Programmes

The smaller and less experienced distributors will struggle to offer a robust corporate programme. They simply don’t have the expertise, infrastructure, resources and relationships to manage.

If you require a dedicated web-portal, dedicated account manager, warehousing, fulfilment, bespoke labelling and global distribution – the larger promotional products distributors should offer most if not all of these services.

Account Management

If your marketing budget or strategy for promotional products is limited to small and/or adhoc orders, service is still important – although chances are you might not place an account manager as a priority.

However for marketing agencies, companies with larger budgets or simply companies that order regularly (f not enormously), an account manager with experience and autonomy is invaluable and provides peace of mind.

Just as importantly, if your account manager is absent, other account managers will be fully briefed and ensure your job is completed just as smoothly.

It Should be Stress Free and Fun!

Ultimately, taking delivery of promotional products should be enjoyable. After all, you are receiving items branded with your company logo which reflect your business and/or latest project.

Clients and prospects alike on the most part are grateful for promotional giveaways. Even those that might not personally use them, know someone that will!

Therefore, choose a promotional products distributor that removes the stress for you and genuinely enjoys partaking in your marketing project – however large or small it may be.

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