Wholesalers of any size can effectively use promotional products, and small companies should definitely look for something unique, ex­plains John Rich, a partner of Green-Rich Assoc., a marketing firm which works exclusively with wholesalers. “The small wholesaler really needs to put his name and phone number in front of people and encourage them to give an order,” explains Rich. “Here in Cleveland, there are probably 10-12 plumbing wholesalers, but three of them are well known throughout the city. Every contractor in the business knows who they are so their name is already out there. It’s the little guys that need to make themselves known.” It’s a personal decision as to what to include on the product, but all promotional items should have the company’s name prominently displayed. An elegant, expensive item should be kept simple with maybe only the company logo engraved on it. Miniature items may become cluttered with too much additional information provided, but smaller, independent wholesalers will probably want to list their address and phone number on items such as calendars and clip boards. Branches may wish to hide the fact that they are part of a chain, and for this reason they should avoid listing all of their branch locations, advises Weiner. ‘‘If you’re a huge branch fighting some little independent out there, and the little independent asks the customer 'why do you want to do business with a big company like this,’ and he picks tip your pen and it’s got 29 addresses on it, you’re reinforcing their point. The idea with branches is to solely identify with the market itself,’’ Weiner says. CHOOSING YOUR SPECIALTY Promotional products in this country dates back to the early 1800s when Farmers’ Almanacs were passed out in rural communities. Today, perhaps the most famous of all promotional items in this industry is Ridge Tool Co.’s pin-up calendar. Weiner says that when a company becomes known for the specialty it hands out, you know you have a winner, but coming up with the ideal promotional product is not as simple as it sounds. The promotional item picked, the amount of investment made and the method of distribution for the item depend a lot on the wholesaler’s motive for the giveaway. For example, if a wholesaler is giving away the item for good will (public relations), with no ulterior motive, he would look for an inexpensive item that the customers will enjoy and the countermen can feel free to hand out more than one of if, on the other hand, the wholesaler is giving the item as a ‘gift” with purchase, he would want to spend a litte more. ‘Understand what the promotional product is supposed to do,” Weiner explains. “Is it supposed to tie in with a promotion? Is it supposed to be something I want to give out for good will? Is it something I want to use just to keep my name out there? If you want to build your name, get something that’s going to last a little while and that a guy’s going to use.” ‘You want something that the person is going to keep,’ Ebel adds. “If they throw it away it has no value.” An exception to this would be if the objective of the promotional item is simply to create impact, he explains. If the wholesaler just wants to grab the customer’s attention, then the promotional item does not necessarily need to be saved. One direct mail marketing plan Ebel remembers as particularly effective was done by Time magazine when they sent miniature pencils along with their solicitation for subscriptions. The pencils were probably not much thicker than a needle,” he recalls. “It’s not something that you’re going to hang on­to, but it does catch the eye. The idea of the little pencil is that you can use it to fill out your subscription form, It travels light in the mail and doesn’t cost any additional postage.” According to research conducted by the Specialty Advertising Association, the promotional items that most appeal to businessmen are those which can be used on the job, and desk items are among the hottest specialties right now, like mouse pads. Neutral gender promotional items, such as wall clocks or calendars to decorate an office, are also popular and make sense, because the contractor or customer is forced to see the name and number on a daily basis. Subliminal advertising like this practically forces the contractor to memorize the phone number whether he wants to or not. Another good way to gain daily exposure for your company is through the use of clip boards, according to Rich. “I think clip hoards are unique because you can put your name and your phone number on a clip board and it’s actually something that a lot of guys can use on tile job,” he explains. Since the summertime uniform for a contractor is generally a T-shirt, these also make excellent giveaways. Another item a contractor’s sure to use on the job is 10-ft., 12-ft. or 20-ft. retractable ruler. Rich recommends giving the contractor something a little different from what your competitors are offering their customers. With countless manufacturer/wholesaler hats vying for your contractors’ attention, it’s unrealistic to believe he’ll be loyally wearing your hat on a daily basis. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians and contractors like to collect hats. Usually one hat becomes a favorite and the rest are likely to hang in the closet. Some contractors have been known to “jive” countermen by wearing a competitors hat into the wholesaler’s place of business, Rich explains, so it's important to make your hat stand out. “You can get those hats with wings on them or stuff like that, but the guys aren’t going to wear them,” admits Rich. “Still, try to make them different. Instead of giving away summer hats, if you’re in the North, give away a stocking cap with your name knitted into it or If you give them a coffee cup, give them the type that they use on sailboats—one the contractor can stick in his truck and it won’t spill.” It’s important to understand the tastes and needs of your targeted audience. Dean Ballard of Anaheim, California-based Urban Pipe & Supply Inc., tries to find objects that are both useful and unique for giveaways, which so far includes a tiny calculator disguised as a matchbook, an extendable water heater lighter, a miniature flashlight and a pocket calendar. Some of these items were Co-oped 50/50 through advertising money from manufacturers, with the amount of money Urban Pipe received determining how much they were willing to spend on an item themselves. "We’ll utilize the $2,000 to $3,000 we get from the vendors toward whatever we give,” explains Ballard. “We don’t like to spend too much of our own money, but we will in certain eases. We cotildn’t afford to give some of the more expensive stuff away ourselves,” A manufacturer will co-op anything that has his name adequately shown, is in his best interests to help finance and which might result in plus business for him. It was the co-op funding which first steered Urban Pipe towards promotional products a few years ago. As a salesman, Ballard could not stand seeing money wasted which could be used to help him get his foot in the door. “We had all this money sitting around and if we didn’t utilize it, we’d lose it. So rather than lose it, I just kind of grabbed it and started giving things away.” WHAT SHOULD YOU SPEND?


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