The Past is Holding Back the Future


The Past is Holding Back the Future | PromoKitchen Chef Patrick Black

There have been tremendous strides within the promotional products industry over the past few decades. In fact, if you only compare the last few years, you’ll notice huge advancements. Printing processes have greatly improved. Full color printing is becoming more readily available on products. 

Most brand name goods are available with decoration. Production times have been dramatically shortened. No longer do you have to mail a black/white copy of “camera-ready” artwork to suppliers. And the list of improvements goes on and on.

On the flip side, many archaic processes still exist, which cause low productivity. While there are many suppliers and distributors that embrace technology and use it to increase productivity, there are many others who are failing to move forward. Those distributors and suppliers who are lagging in the past are holding back our industry as a whole. The progressive companies will continue to plunge forward, but the plunge will be much faster if the whole industry jumped on board.

Right now, the promotional products industry is in the midst of an exciting time of growth with an increasing amount of professionalism and new technologies. Ridiculously creative individuals are getting involved and disrupting the old way of doing things. Make no mistake, these disruptions are positive and helping to propel the industry forward.

So where is our industry headed? Will it be largely commodity based or will it blossom into much more? My hope is that distributors will stop focusing on price and begin concentrating on creative services using promotional products. 

While there will always be those clients that are only concerned with low prices, there is also a larger demographic of businesses and marketing professionals who understand value and the power of 

creative campaigns. I believe over the next 5 years, we will see the demise of distributors who are price focused and an explosion of growth for distributors who embrace creativity. However, in order to move in the right direction and advance the industry, we have to get past those hindrances that are preventing this advancement. New technologies must be utilized in order to properly service our clients as well as increase our own productivity.

Below is a real life example of an antiquated and non-productive recent exchange between myself and a supplier.

I emailed a purchase order with vector artwork to exact size. The next day I received a proof by email and was asked to print, sign, and fax back. Fax? Really? A simple reply to the email isn’t sufficient?

Later that day, I received a prepay request since we didn’t have terms set up with that vendor. That’s another form that has to be printed, filled out, and, you guessed it, faxed back. 

Side Rant: Now there are multiple things wrong with this scenario.

Number 1, in addition to the needed credit card info, the form required me to fill out multiple points of data that were already included on my PO, such as shipping address, company name, and company address.

Number 2, I’m pretty sure faxing credit card numbers is the reason my accounts continue to be stolen. Are those forms being shredded? If the faxes are converted to a PDF document and emailed, I’m quite sure that is not PCI compliant. 

Number 3, It is a huge waste of resources and time to print paper and spend the time faxing a document when a simple email is sufficient.

Back to the story…After faxing back the second document (prepayment form), I received an email stating that I need to sign and fax back the quote. Say what? I’ve already signed off on the proof as well as the prepayment. Now I have to go backwards and sign off on the quote? The last time I checked, a quote comes before the proof and prepayment. So a third document has to be printed, signed, and faxed.

This is one example of a pain point we deal with that wastes time and resources. There are many more. The example above was a pain point dealing with a supplier; however, suppliers also have their fair share of pain points dealing with distributors.

Together, as an industry, we all have to take that leap, or sometimes, just a small step in order to progress forward. We must work together as partners (distributors and suppliers) in order to advance our processes and technologies for efficiency. 

Much of the industry education at trade shows and industry events center around advancing the industry through professionalism and creativity. Selling service as opposed to product is a common theme.

While encouraging more creativity and agency-like thinking is a phenomenal idea, we have to start with improving our core business operations. How can we expect to move forward if we still use outdated technology? How can we be more creative if we keep suggesting pens or Koozies for our clients so we can make a quick sale? 

If we are always striving to improve our processes, creativity will follow. Doing the same thing over and over because that’s how it has been done before directs us into a rut. However, trying new things ignites sparks and aids our creative process to now see how those same pens or Koozies can be used creatively as part of a great custom kit that will wow our clients, and more importantly, wow their clients.

Many suppliers and distributors are on the right path for advancing our industry. They are embracing technology and all of its benefits. Through this adoption of technology, their clients are benefiting. The gathering of information is effortless. The order process is easier. The production is faster. Overall, the end client has a more positive experience and increased respect for the promotional products industry.

To those of you making our industry look awesome, I commend you. The future of our industry shows much promise. Promotional products have become a staple for effective marketing. The new wave of successful distributors will embrace the practice of creative campaigns using promotional products. New and exciting products are released every year, however, the overall success will not lie upon the products themselves, but how they are used. The agency approach of selling service over product will win out over the distributors who focus on price point and selling products only. Companies will continue to use great promotional products more and more, but the more creative and unique the campaigns, the more effective they will be.

And for crying out loud, may the fax finally die.