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Personalised Promotions Rule in the Resurgent Corporate Gift Sector

Digital technology has seen the promotional sector go bespoke with a vengeance, with everything from footwear to electronics set to be individualised, according to exhibitors at The Promotional Products Association International Expo.

Photo: Bespoke boots: Fun footwear with a promotional purpose from The Ave.
Bespoke boots: Fun footwear with a promotional purpose from The Ave.
Photo: Bespoke boots: Fun footwear with a promotional purpose from The Ave.
Bespoke boots: Fun footwear with a promotional purpose from The Ave.

Personalising everything for everyone is clearly the new mantra for the promotional industry in these digitally dexterous days. At least that would seem to be the key message from this year's Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) Expo. Indeed, the event played host to a plethora of individualised items, ranging from the expected (hats and bags) to the slightly more outré (personalised sneakers).

A clear beneficiary of the rise in consumer spending, the promotional-products industry turns over about US$21 billion a year in the US. Between 2011 and 2016 – not the easiest of years – it even managed to sustain a modest per-annum growth of 2.4%, according to a recent report by IBISWorld, a Los Angeles-based market research group. On its current showing, it is expected to prosper over the next five years in line with the growing profitability of the corporate sector, with education, collegiate, corporate recognition and healthcare earmarked as its key markets.

In terms of current events, the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US President has generated equal parts excitement and anxiety among many promotional-products professionals, according to the Advertising Specialty Institute, the sector's Pennsylvania-based trade body. While some senior executives expect a pro-business approach that would only boost the promo industry, others are worried about rising costs as the new administration sets about re-assessing international trade agreements and partnerships. It may be of some reassurance, however, that the President's own election campaign saw more than $11.5 million spent on promotional merchandise, a record for a US election.

Back on the show floor, though, and this year's PPAI featured a broad spectrum of new promotional options, from bulk pens to high-end electronics and apparel. Given the vast array on offer, it was perhaps timely that the recent expansion of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center allowed all of the exhibitors to be accommodated on one single, easy-to-navigate level. Whether it was this more buyer-friendly experience or just the improving market conditions, the show also saw a 10% rise in the number of distributors in attendance, all of them keen to identify new opportunities.

Among the companies only too happy to point them in the right direction was Numo, a Texas-based manufacturer of promotional items. This year, its stand resembled nothing so much as an upscale gift store, heavily stocked with pastel-colored neoprene laptop sleeves, jersey-knit bottle holders and burlap wine totes (complete with inspirational sayings).

For her part, Amanda Hoak, a Senior Executive at the company, maintained there was now something of a deliberate move away from the traditional promo feel. Expanding on this, she said: "We try to take more of a retail approach, offering products that look like something you'd buy in a store rather than a traditional promotional item."

This year, the company debuted its Continued line of canvas products, including totes, pouches and pillows, all in clean, pastel designs. Explaining the thinking behind this new addition to the company's range, Hoak said: "While we did bright colours before, right now it's more about blue, pink and purple. We can also completely customise any bag, printing to the edge of the seam and matching zipper colours to logos. We can even do a bespoke design on one side and a logo on the other. It's proving to be a big hit for us."

Photo: VP Brand’s customised coolers.
VP Brand's customised coolers.
Photo: VP Brand’s customised coolers.
VP Brand's customised coolers.
Photo: The Continued line of canvas goods from Numo.
The Continued line of canvas goods from Numo.
Photo: The Continued line of canvas goods from Numo.
The Continued line of canvas goods from Numo.

Similarly hoping to have a hit on its hands was Tomax USA, a Los Angeles-based supplier of imprinted gift items, with a 2017 focus on power banks, Bluetooth speakers, cables and adapters. When asked about the most in-demand items, Yu Ma, a Customer Service Representative with the company, highlighted its range of iPhone-style round metallic power banks and its multi-coloured collapsible Bluetooth speakers.

Singling out another favourite – a range of mini-speakers with a cloth front panel – Ma said: "People like their retro design. While it's a mini-speaker, the coloured graphics change the dynamic of the whole item."

While digital was largely holding court at this year's event, all things analog and vintage were not entirely banished from the proceedings. Indeed, among the best-selling products in any of the non-tech categories was a range of distinctly retro coolers.

Fuelled by the popularity of the high-priced Yeti range, the coolers available from Texas-based VP Brands come with a far more affordable price tag and can be customised with regard to design, colour and pattern. The company had on offer both soft-sided and powder-coated stainless-steel coolers, with new additions to the range planned for later this year. Among its best-sellers is a hard-sided cooler with a removable light, bottle opener and ground tripping.

Clearly pleased with the reception the range has received, Jeff Brandes, the company's President, said: "We were surprised how people are buying them from every vertical – from schools to beverage companies. We even provided a soft-sided cooler for a hunting retreat."

For some reason, beverage-related items seem to inspire an unusually high level of creativity. A prime example here is the Flowzer, a can-holder that punctures a can and makes it "shotgun" its contents, currently available courtesy of Utah-based Fluidnmotion.

Explaining the genesis of the product, Kim Dunyon, the Co-founder of the company, said: "My husband made the first one at work one day and we started taking it around to parties, exciting considerable interest."

The Flowzer is now available in a variety of colours, as is its companion piece – the Canudle, a can-holding pool noodle. According to Dunyon, the hope is that this new variant will prove popular at beach vacation destinations as well as the adult-oriented pools on the Las Vegas Strip.

If shotgun cans are yet to wholly make it with the party crowd, custom-printed sneakers are already making their mark among high-end, hip clientele. This decidedly fun style of footwear comes courtesy of The Ave, a California-based company that started life as a T-shirt printing business. It now has a patent for its proprietary shoe-printing technology, allowing it to make one-of-a-kind Vans and Chucks in a range of colours.

According to Nick Romero, the company's Founder, its range of sneakers featuring celebrity photos and licensed images are already hugely popular in Hollywood. Highlighting the line's movie credentials, Romero said: "As we're based in LA, we provide a lot of gifts for events and for people who work on films. The shoe we did for Planet of the Apes, in particular, had a very cool graphic, while working with Marvel on Captain America was also pretty awesome."

Photo: The PPAI 2017: Will the US promotional sector flourish under the Trump presidency?
The PPAI 2017: Will the US promotional sector flourish under the Trump presidency?
Photo: The PPAI 2017: Will the US promotional sector flourish under the Trump presidency?
The PPAI 2017: Will the US promotional sector flourish under the Trump presidency?

The Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) Expo 2017 took place at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas from 8-12 January. The event featured 1,300 exhibitors and attracted 13,000 attendees.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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