PPEF To Award Eight New Named Scholarships

The Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF) is awarding eight new named scholarships for the first time this year. The move brings to 25 the total number of named scholarships—those established in honor or memory of an individual or company—presented each year.

This category of PPEF scholarships offers outstanding students attending a two-year or four-year accredited undergraduate college or university a one-time award of $1,000 toward their education. It is funded at three levels. At the Associate level, the named scholarship is awarded for five consecutive years; at the Colleague level it is awarded for 12 consecutive years, and at the Lifelong Friend level, the scholarship is endowed in perpetuity.

Among the new scholarships is the Lifelong Friend level scholarship in the name of Bill Schmidt, Sr., CEO of Largo, Florida-based supplier Hit Promotional Products, who passed away in April 2016. The scholarship is funded by a personal gift of $50,000 from Schmidt’s wife, Liz, and son, CJ, Hit’s president.

Industry buying group Reciprocity Road has also endowed the Reciprocity Road Roadie Scholarship at the Colleague level, while six Associate level scholarships are new for 2017:

  • Ted E. Dennison, MAS, Scholarship
  • Maureen & Thomas Dugan Scholarship
  • PMANC Campbell M. Brown Memorial Scholarship
  • PPAS Scholarship
  • Jack & Marty Nadel Scholarship
  • Paul E. Smith Scholarship

“Reciprocity is not a usual name for a business enterprise or a scholarship. However, it is fundamental to our members’ beliefs and values,” says Rod Brown, chief financial officer at Reciprocity Road member company MadeToOrder, Inc. “In our formation, Reciprocity Road committed to systemic giving back. We are so proud and excited to work with PPEF and participate in helping to fund education through our Reciprocity Road Roadie Scholarship. We want to both reward students and remind other companies that giving back is good business.”

The Premier Group, an alliance of suppliers and distributors, sponsored the Paul E. Smith Scholarship in honor of one of the group’s founders, who currently serves as the group’s chairman emeritus. Jeff Marks, current chairman of the group, says, “The group has consistently supported the business practices of all members and helped each of us to improve. Paul has been instrumental in all of those years as a supportive supplier member and tireless contributor to the group. It is an honor for the group and its members to support this worthwhile scholarship in Paul’s name.”

Funded by PPAI and donations from the promotional products industry, the PPEF scholarship program enables youth and professionals to continue their education at the collegiate level.

In 2016, PPEF awarded $150,000 in academic scholarships and since its inception in 1989, has awarded more than $1.56 million in financial assistance to 926 recipients. The program will award $175,000 in total scholarships for the 2017-2018 school year. For more on PPEF, click here.

8 Tips for Stimulating Sales

Implementing these strategies will help you build revenue and surpass your goals.

Map Out Marketing Calendars:
Talk to buyers with whom you do the most business and buyers with whom you see the greatest potential to increase sales about the events, campaigns and internal initiatives they have planned for next year. Knowing what’s on tap allows you to devise creative product and imprinting suggestions that amplify your value, help keep competitors at bay and lead to higher-revenue sales.

Connect With New Buyers At Existing Accounts:
Potential new clients often exist at companies with which you already work. Start connecting with these prospects through internal referrals. Say you serve a buyer in the marketing department of a hospital. Ask that buyer for a referral to one of her colleagues in human resources. From there, continue to expand by asking for additional referrals from the new buyers, doing so after you’ve engineered a successful deal or two.

Be More To Current Buyers:
Ensure you understand the full scope of your buyers’ branded merchandise needs. You may find that while they’ve been buying pens and mugs from you, they also require T-shirts, hoodies and more. If you can deliver competitive pricing and creative suggestions on product and branding options in these merchandise categories, you’ll be in a fantastic position to earn the business.

Diversify What You Sell:
Savvy industry pros are complementing their sales of traditional promotional products by selling technology solutions and services. Event app development, marketing videos and social media management are some of the offerings. In the months ahead, select a solution you’d like to offer clients. Then, build a relationship with a reliable vendor partner that can produce what you sell. Diversifying leads to a wider range of sales opportunities.

Attend Industry Trade Shows:
Go to shows to learn about trends and get product ideas for clients. Indeed, it’s wise to attend shows with the mindset that you are “shopping” for products for your best customers. The ideas you bring back can spark sales – and show clients that you’re a true partner.

Reconnect & Revitalize:
Have certain accounts gone dormant? Have you lost track of buyers when they switched to a new company? Do you have good networking contacts you haven’t spoken to in a while? Answer these questions, and then contact the people who come to mind. Don’t push business right away. Rather, seek to reopen the lines of communication. Rekindling such connections could lead to sales opportunities you never would have had.

Recommit To Networking:
Participate more actively in current networking groups, and even consider joining a new one. Get more active in your community through volunteering, which allows you to give back and meet others who can become – or refer you to – clients. Join marketing-related groups on LinkedIn where you can offer helpful insights and connect with prospects. If you target particular markets, join LinkedIn groups related to those industries; again, dialog and provide valuable advice. Also, take a strategic approach with Twitter, sharing content that’s interesting, useful and/or entertaining to prospects. “Favorite” and retweet content from prospects, and tweet out congratulations to clients about their achievements.

Develop A Great Blog:
Demonstrating that you are an expert in the promotional products field gives you a distinct advantage. Fortunately, a blog is an excellent vehicle for establishing your expertise. HubSpot says some keys to a successful blog are: Writing content that answers the questions, issues and challenges of potential customers; publishing consistently; and including a call-to-action at the end of posts that urges visitors to download premium content.

By Christopher Ruvo
Published in Advantages

Monday, December 05, 2016

Promotional Apparel Trends for 2017

Style insights to help fuel your sales in the new year.

When it comes to apparel, style counts.

More than any other product category in the branded merchandise business, apparel requires distributors to stay on top of trends to best advise clients. Naturally, you’re probably wondering what’s hot for the year ahead. Well, if 2017 had a fashion theme, it would be this: what’s old is new again.

As you’ll see, retro and vintage pieces are clearly making a catwalk comeback, with a number of top trends taking inspiration from patterns of the past. From “dad hats” to heritage tees, colorblocked tops to denim and flannel wovens, the so-called “has-beens” are once again the must-haves of fashion.

1. The Dad Hat Is Back
The “dad hat” is an unstructured cotton or canvas baseball cap that has a slightly curved bill and, most characteristically, a strap back. The term was originally pejorative – a way fashion-forward millennials who liked flat-bill caps could mock uncool, outdated hats dads wore to Little League games and barbecues.

Well, now it seems the dad hat is getting the last laugh. From counter-culture hipsters to college kids, skateboarders to major celebrities, a cross-section of fashion-conscious people are donning the formerly unhip hats. Indeed, style luminary Lebron James even sported one during the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA championship victory parade.

For distributors, the dad hat trend means that clients targeting a younger demographic can use the caps to appeal to end-users. Potential buyers include schools, universities, fraternities, sororities, musical acts, drink brands, concert venues and more. Plus, the dad hat is likely to carry continued appeal to the people who unwittingly gave the accessory its name: Dads and other adults north of 30.

2. The Hegemony of Heather

Garments that feature heathered fabric may just be the hottest trend of 2017.

Heather refers to interwoven yarns of mixed colors producing flecks of an alternate color. Often, heathered fabrications involve multiple shades of gray or gray with another color to produce a muted shade. However, any colors – including bright ones – can be mixed in heathered arrangements.

Heading into next year, expect heathered fabrics to populate categories that include polos, T-shirts and fleece. Tri-Mountain (asi/92125) anticipates heavy interest in heathered fleece pieces for both men and women. “The heathered pattern is a great way to step up and add interest to fleece apparel, but in a subtle way,” says Danny Tsai, VP of merchandising at Tri-Mountain.

If you’re a football fan, you may have already seen a key heathered trend on the sidelines: Coaches have worn polo shirts that feature heathered elements in colorblocked designs. During warmer weather games this fall, Notre Dame coaches frequently had on polos that included heathered fabric at the shoulder, collar and sleeves. See the look here

Highlighting the heathered trend in T-shirts is the Hanes X-Temp Triblend collection. Moisture-wicking and odor control performance features are enhanced by a fabric blend that creates a soft, heathered look. “Textures will be very important in 2017,” says John Spivey, marketing manager for Hanes/Champion (asi/59528). “It’s all about adding visual interest and making the garment look unique.”

3. Short-Sleeve Sweatshirts

Short-sleeve sweatshirts will carry a cool cachet in 2017, especially with women. “From basic fleece to short cropped tops, the fleece short-sleeve sweatshirt is an item every girl should have in her closet,” says Jamie Henry, product development manager at Boxercraft (asi/41325).

4. Harkening to the Tee’s Heritage

In the T-shirt space, heritage styles that are popular at retail will be in high demand among logoed apparel buyers, says John Spivey, marketing manager for Hanes/Champion (asi/59528). “Ringer tees, baseball tees and varsity tees are transitioning smoothly into the promotional apparel market,” Spivey says.

While the retro look of these shirts is enticing, end-users also want contemporary performance features. That’s why Hanes added moisture-wicking and cooling attributes to its Hanes X-Temp Baseball T-shirt (shown here;

5. Blocks of Color

Colorblocking will add pizzazz to polos and T-shirts. The Sport-Tek CamoHex Colorblock Tee (ST371) from SanMar (asi/84863; is a good example of the trend as it pertains to performance T-shirts.

6. Polo 2017: Trad Patterns, Blues & Neon Touches

Traditional menswear prints associated with wovens have expanded into the polo shirt category. “Gingham, checks and tattersall provide a break from the norm,” says Gina Barreca, director of marketing at Vantage Apparel (asi/93390). And on the subject of polos: Popular colors at retail include saturated shades of navy, blue and indigo, so expect those hues to figure prominently in the promo marketplace. Designers are also using bright neon sport colors in blocks and tipping in next year’s polo shirt collections. Lastly, it should go without saying that performance features – like moisture wicking and odor control – will remain on buyers’ wish lists.

7. Sporty Scuba Necks

When brands like Lululemon and Under Armour feature a style, you know it’s huge. Such is the case with scuba necks on hooded sweatshirts. Adding practical warmth and sharp zipped-up style, scuba necks are now adorning performance hoodies in the promotional products industry. An example is the Augusta Sportswear (asi/37461; Zeal Hooded Pullover; styles 4762 for men (shown here) and 4812 for women are available from S&S Activewear (asi/84358;

8. Pleats 
“Designers are using pleats in different ways to create interest and dimension,” says Jennifer Tsai, VP of operations at Tri-Mountain (asi/92125). “From side pleats to barely-there pleats, this is a great way to dress up a style or staple.” Check out how simple pleating elevates elegance in Tri-Mountain’s LB708 Elle blouse (shown here; The Elle features a scoop neck and pleated cap sleeves.

9. Insect-Repelling Apparel 

Performance wear is evolving with fresh innovations that aim to go beyond moisture wicking and antimicrobial. Expert Brand (asi/53404), for example, recently partnered with Nobitech ( to offer revolutionary clothing that repels ticks, ants, flies, fleas, chiggers, midges and mosquitoes, including the one that carries the Zika virus.

The bug-battling garments feature Skintex technology, which uses permethrin, a contact insecticide that damages the nervous systems of insects and kills them. “From our water-resistant jackets to hoodies to performance tees and pants, you’ll see a lot of familiar Expert Brand pieces within this technologically advanced Nobitech collection,” says Sion Shaman, VP of sales at Expert Brand.

10. Slub Chic 

For several years, buyer interest in T-shirts featuring slub fabrications has been growing. Suppliers believe the trend will take off in both the men’s and women’s categories in 2017, especially on campuses and at schools, and with fashion-forward clients. At their best, slub fabrics present an organic image that’s rich with an element of vintage Americana.

11. The Return of Pink

For women’s apparel colors in 2017, trend spotters are expecting a return to femininity – and that translates to many manifestations of pink. “Pink has been a strong feature on the Fall/Winter 2016-2017 catwalks,” says Jennifer Tsai, VP of operations at Tri-Mountain (asi/92125). “This quintessentially feminine color is everywhere. It ranges from pale pink, to blush rose and bright magenta.” Distributors would be wise to have a number of pink product suggestions to present to clients well in advance of October breast cancer initiatives.

12. Olive Green Activewear

“I see olive green being a more predominant color in activewear,” says Leah Hulon, designer at Expert Brand (asi/53404). “Also, there will be a big push for indigo; an offshoot of this will be different variations of teal and jade.”

13. Woven in Denim and Flannel

Cotton-based denim and flannel woven shirts are important components of many retail collections headed into 2017. Industry suppliers expect the trend will continue expanding in the branded apparel space. Artsy brands keen to convey a hip image may be particularly interested in the styles, says Gina Barreca, director of marketing at Vantage Apparel (asi/93390). Think startup technology companies, organic food purveyors and makers of eco-friendly products.

Of course, denim and flannel wovens – especially lighter-weight, sleeker styles – can be a sound brand investment for any client interested in projecting a youthful image or courting a millennial generation audience.

14. Buttoned-Down Performance 

While denim and flannel wovens are making inroads, they’re not about to supplant more corporate-image button-downs in the branded apparel realm. Bet on it that performance wovens featuring moisture-wicking fabrics and stretchy materials will remain in high demand. Gingham, tattersall and Bengal stripe are among the patterned looks that, along with crisp solids, will resonate with buyers.

15. Accented With Camo 

Camouflage-patterned apparel is hardly an emerging trend, but it is one that is likely to stay strong in 2017, conveying an outdoorsy image with country-cool appeal. In addition to full-coverage camo patterns, anticipate that designers will use camo as an accent in caps, fleeces and shirts. Caps, for example, will feature mesh backs and camouflage fronts. Camo will also certainly be accenting women’s pieces, as shown by the pictured Port Authority Ladies Camouflage Microfleece Full-Zip Jacket (L230C) from SanMar (asi/84863),

16. Oversized Is In

The craze for oversized T-shirts, jerseys and sweatshirts is reaching a fever pitch at retail. The mania will continue growing in the promo industry, too, especially within the education and hospitality markets. “Oversized creates extra comfort for all while being extremely on trend,” says Jamie Henry, product development manager at Boxercraft (asi/41325).

17. Puffed Up, Slimmed Down, Retro-Inspired

In the arena of corporate outerwear, several distinct styles will be among the most sought-after looks. They include puffer jackets and soft-shell bonded jackets that deliver warmth without bulk. These jackets provide a polished, retail-inspired appearance that is perfect for executives, sales professionals, engineers, construction managers and more. That said, there’s also an element of old-school running through the outerwear category, with retro-style windbreakers and coaches jackets back in the limeligh

Distributor Q3 Revenue Increases By 3.1 percent

Distributors increased their sales in the third quarter of 2016 by 3.1%, according to new data from ASI. The increase is down from 3.2% in the second quarter of this year, and slightly lower than the 3.4% reported in the third quarter of 2015.

 The quarterly sales study conducted by ASI found that sales growth was strongest among larger distributors (those generating more than $1 million in annual sales), with a 5% year-over-year increase in Q3. Meanwhile, small distributors ($250,000 and under in annual sales) reported a decrease of 1.3% and mid-sized distributors reported no change for the same time period.

“The one true consistence is this is a category [distributor revenue] that is not consistent,” says Forrest Fairley, head of promotional products sales for Top 40 distributor Safeguard Business Systems (asi/316203). “What I mean by that is the distributor who relies on the ‘annuity factor’ will be the distributor who will quickly find dismay when the customer decides not to repeat a promotion. And, thus, a huge shortfall in year-over-year revenue production occurs.”

The report also found that 30% of distributors reported an increase in Q3 sales this year when compared with Q3 of 2015, while 21% reported a decrease and 49% stated that sales remained the same. Meanwhile, the number of distributors reporting an increase in sales from quarter to quarter has rebounded after a downward trend; 27% reported an increase in Q2, 30% reported an increase in Q1 and 36% in the last quarter of 2015.

Fairley says Safeguard has experienced 31% growth this year and is on track to reach a record revenue year by the end of 2016. “With a combination of business growth, acquisition and always creating new ways to solve customer’s challenges, we attempt to set ourselves apart,” Fairley said. “The more we can do that with great consultative solutions, the more our annual increases become a reality.”

Meanwhile, the Counselor Confidence Index, which gauges the health and optimism of distributors, has increased to 113, up from 111 in the second and first quarters of this year. However, the Counselor Confidence Index has remained relatively unchanged over the last three years.

Just four in 10 distributors expect sales to increase in 2016, compared to 20% who expect a decrease.

In July, ASI reported that distributors saw a 3.2% increase in sales in Q2 vs. the last quarter of 2015.

Published in Promogram
Tuesday, October 18, 2016