It’s been well over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. While things are slowly returning to normal, much like the flu pandemic of 1918, we’re going to be feeling the effects for a very long time, not only in our personal lives but in the lives of our businesses as well. The pandemic has impacted every industry, including our own – and it’s continuing to impact our world at levels we haven’t even seen. While we’re picking back up the pieces in our own industry – trade shows are starting to get scheduled again, people are ordering things other than just PPE, we have another hurdle to jump through: port delays.
Admittedly, I first became aware of the port delays because of my hobby. If you haven’t guessed already, I am a massive Star Wars fan. I collect high-end action figures of my favorite Star Wars characters from a company called Hot Toys. Hot Toys happens to be based in Hong Kong, and all of their products are produced there. One of their releases – a life-sized fully articulated replica of The Mandalorian’s The Child happened to be one of the first of many of their products to be delayed. He was initially scheduled to arrive in either February – March of this year. I didn’t end up receiving him until June. He was so delayed, the US distributor that I purchased him from ended up shipping him straight from the port in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, my life-sized replica of The Child isn’t the only thing getting delayed.
According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (say that five times fast), the US imported a total of 451.7 billion dollars worth of goods from China in 2019. Everything from clothes, furniture, electronics, and toys to those little googly eyes for your kid’s crafts are manufactured in China and shipped to the United States. So that means a whole lot of product is sitting out in ports or sitting on docks waiting to be delivered.
At the beginning of the year, a shipping container shortage saw shipping prices jump 300% as companies scrambled to find containers, and prices have continued to rise. Then we had the Suez Canal incident, truly a Little Engine That Could story of modern times, which saw month-long delays after that. Ports were just catching up from that when there was a COVID-19 outbreak in the Guangdong province and resulted in the shut down of several parts of the province. Guangdong is home to Yantian, which is one of the world’s busiest ports. Now, it’s just clearing the backlog of ships. At one point in June, Yantian saw at least 70 ships waiting to dock. And it’s not just China that’s seeing this backlog of ships; ports in California saw at least 40 ships waiting to dock and unload their containers as well.
There’s a mad rush to get products from China to the US before the holidays, especially as peak season starts. There’s an estimated 90-day delay in ports, and as people return to their everyday lives, demand is continuing to rise. Experts are expecting this holiday shopping season to be even bigger than the last.
So, what can we do? Especially with the holiday season fast approaching, a traditionally very busy time for us, right around the corner? We can’t control the ports or try and get the ships containing our products through the delays faster.
Our advice? Order early.
Your best bet to make sure that your clients get their products on time for the holiday season is to get their orders as early as possible. There are six months until Christmas and with the estimated 90-day port delay, that gives you about three months from now. While this can be fairly stressful, try and have fun with it! One way you can get your customers ahead of schedule – take a page from QVC, Hallmark, and Disney – and celebrate Christmas in July! Don’t underestimate how much people love the holiday season and that warm fuzzy feeling that memories of holidays past bring.
Start by calling on the clients that you know always order for the holidays, and get your process started early. Get it into their minds that this year will be hectic, and the sooner they order, the better. You can even use the SAGE Print Studio to create your own catalog showcasing great gift ideas to send to your customers.
With any luck, the port delays will ease up soon – especially with the push to get the backlog cleared by August, and our industry will be plowing forward just as we’ve always done. But if we’ve learned anything this past year, we know the best plan of all is to be prepared for any outcome!
Does inspiring your clients to order their holiday gifts early with a catalog sound good to you? Click here to learn more about SAGE Print Studio, and reach out to your account executive today to get started.
Used with permission from SAGE
It might sound crazy, but the fall/winter holiday season is right around the corner!
Like a lot of people, I’m a bit of a last-minute holiday shopper. Last year, I was still shopping for gifts for friends and family all the way up to the day before Christmas! However, when it comes to holiday orders for your business, that strategy is a setup for failure.
With supply chain delays and sourcing issues affecting industries across the board, it’s more important than ever to get your holiday orders taken care of early this year. But to truly grasp why it’s so essential to order your holiday items early this year, you must first understand why employee and customer appreciation matters.
To some more cynical bosses, company gifts might seem inconsequential. However, research shows that employee appreciation gifts are a worthwhile investment that help with job satisfaction, employee retention, and more. The right gift can make employees feel more connected to your company and more likely to stick around for years to come.
Similarly, gifting to your customers is a great way to show your gratitude for their continued business and to build and reward loyalty. Gifting lets your clients know that you value their business and want to continue your shared business relationship, and helps them to feel an emotional connection to your brand. This means more repeat business and a stronger brand perception for you – all for the cost of a simple holiday gift!
Now that you know how beneficial corporate gifting can be, whether it’s to your customers or your own teams, here are a few of our favorite holiday gifts for 2021:
This set features two stainless steel stemless wine glasses with your logo or message beautifully laser engraved or screen printed, wrapped up in a protective gift box with matching branding. This gift is perfect for wine lovers, couples, or anyone who likes a temperature controlled beverage.
If you’re looking for a corporate gift or giveaway that will get used over and over again, then look no further than wireless earbuds. These little headphones are useful for phone calls, video conferences, music listening, and so much more, ensuring that your gift will be well appreciated.
Plants make a great gift for any time of year! Brighten your customer’s day with this cute air plant that will breathe a little life into their home or office.
These hard-sided coolers are uber-trendy and super durable, making them a fantastic high-end gift for the holiday season. Perfect for customers or employees who enjoy the outdoors, these rugged coolers are sure to make an impression.
Truly, you can never go wrong with candles. This classic gift makes an excellent giveaway for customer and employee appreciation alike, and with several scent choices (and even custom scents!), there’s a perfect candle for everybody.
Don’t be caught empty-handed this holiday season. Get ahead of the supply chain delays and place your holiday orders now to make a positive impact on your employees, clients, and more. To learn more about supply chain delays, check out our blog on Port Delays and the Holidays.
Masks are back! After a two-month hiatus, Masks are back in the top 10 searched product categories and take up 6 of the top 25 most viewed products. Nationally, coronavirus case numbers are the highest they’ve been since the start of 2021. With the CDC recommending fully vaccinated people to mask up in public, indoor places, and increased mask mandates at schools and businesses, there has been a renewed need for branded masks. Here are the top 10 product categories searched for in August for 2019-2021.
Customer churn, sometimes known as customer attrition, is when an existing customer chooses to stop buying from you. They may leave your company because they found a better offer somewhere else. Or, maybe they had a bad customer service experience, or they don’t really see the value in sticking with your business.
Customers may leave for any number of reasons, and it’s never good for your company’s bottom line. Gaining a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing one. So, what can you do to help prevent customer churn? According to Swetha Amaresan, a writer for the HubSpot Service Blog, you can take five steps to lower your churn rate and maximize customer retention.
In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share Amaresan’s thoughts on five ways to prevent customer churn.
1. Wow them with customer service and support. When clients choose to do business with you, they are counting on you. Not only do they need the specific products or services they purchased, but they need to be able to reach you if they have a question or need support. Amaresan says one of the best ways to prevent customer churn is to give your clients an outstanding experience. Be proactive in reaching out to your clients, even if it’s just to check in and see if they have any questions.
2. Keep adding value. You can become a resource for your clients by providing more than what they purchased. For example, if your company hosts a blog or sends a newsletter, share relevant posts with your customers. You can also encourage your customers to sign up. This will help you clients get accustomed to seeing your company’s name in their inbox, says Amaresan.
3. Create personalized customer experiences. You may have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of other clients, but each one wants to feel like they are uniquely important in your world. To help reduce customer churn, look for ways to make your customers feel special. This could mean sending them a thoughtful promotional gift or writing a handwritten thank-you note. Those little extra steps could be the deciding factor for them to stay with your company, notes Amaresan.
4. Survey the customers who left. Sometimes, customers still decide to leave. When they go, find out why they left. This information can help shed light on issues you may not know about. For example, you might learn that customers are leaving because they have to wait too long to get a response. Use what you learn to adjust and improve.
5. Focus on your loyal customers. While all of your clients are important and should be treated like VIPs, it’s important to invest the most energy in your strongest customer relationships. Amaresan points out that loyal customers who don’t feel like they are cared for anymore can sometimes be an unexpected cause of customer churn. Rather than rolling out the red carpet for every new client you get, make sure you first support your customers who have been with you for the long haul.
Reducing customer churn is an ongoing undertaking. Your clients have dynamic businesses and will need different things from you at different times. You can help keep them happy and retain them by implementing the guidance above.
Compiled by Audrey Sellers
Source: Swetha Amaresan is a writer for the HubSpot Service Blog.
Used with permission from PPAI Media
Over the past year and a half, words like “agile” and “flexible” have become commonplace at work. Teams have needed to show these characteristics to succeed during the pandemic. As businesses continue to navigate toward the next normal, you may wonder what that looks like at your company.
While this new phase will look different for every workplace, it can help to reflect on what you have learned and where you want to go next. For Allegra Keith, a VP at Daily Harvest, moving into the next normal means applying four core lessons. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we discuss Keith’s lessons and offer her suggestions on how to thrive in a pandemic-era workplace.
1. Lead with your values. Your team may be starting a hybrid schedule or continuing with remote work. Or, your team may be returning to the office full time. However you approach the next normal, Keith says it’s important that your team members know what you stand for. This means that instead of offering perks that don’t really matter, look for ways to create a truly fulfilling culture. For example, instead of providing a fully stocked fridge, consider offering a more flexible schedule.
2. Co-create with your team. As you move into the next normal, make sure everyone at your company is involved and provides feedback. Give choice and flexibility when you can, advises Keith. You can co-create with your employees in several ways, including one-on-one conversations, pulse surveys, focus groups and all-hands meetings. When things feel uncertain, it can help to give employees a sense of control over their jobs and how they work.
3. Be intentional about what you put on the calendar. Remember scheduling Zoom happy hours in the early days of the pandemic? Or scheduling back-to-back meetings to replicate the quick one-on-ones from the office? They may have made sense then, but they probably don’t work so well now. In the next normal, Keith encourages managers to reassess how their teams work. Maybe instead of an annual company retreat, you take a full week off of Zoom and Slack and allow people time to make progress on deep work. Make it known when you are testing a new way of doing things, advises Keith, and let others know how long you want to try it. Then, ask for feedback. If something works, stick with it. If not, let it go.
4. Normalize PTO. When your team members are on PTO, do they feel compelled to check email or Slack? In the next normal, Keith says it’s important for leaders to encourage their employees to step away and recharge during their PTO. Make sure everyone is accountable by creating a clear out-of-office plan. You could also cross-train some of your employees so your team can function when people go on vacation.
Your workplace many never look the same again—and this can be a good thing. Use this time of adjustment to reinforce your company’s values. Talk with your team members and give flexibility when possible. When people are out on PTO, remind them to take the time to truly recharge. Your team and your company will reap the benefits of these “next normal” changes.
Compiled by Audrey Sellers
Source: Allegra Keith is the VP, head of strategic planning, talent and culture at Daily Harvest.
It can take weeks for a newly hired employee to learn the ropes. In fact, research shows it can take eight months for a new hire to reach full productivity. Whether you’re hiring someone new to the promotional products industry or an experienced industry professional, it helps to get them up to speed as quickly as possible.
Michelle Kankousky, a learning and development consultant at Insperity, says managers can set their new hires up for success well before they begin. For example, you might consider sending a personality assessment to discover how your new employee learns and communicates best.
Once the new hire officially begins, Kankousky says there are some simple ways to shorten their learning curve. We share her thoughts in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.
Pair up. Assigning a buddy is one of the best ways to get a new hire up to speed. This colleague can answer questions and help the new employee navigate company culture. If you’re unavailable, the new employee can check in with their buddy for help. This match-up is beneficial whether your team works remotely or in the office.
Create a custom training plan. If your new employee is coming from within the promotional products world, they likely have a solid understanding of how the industry operates and the current issues facing industry professionals. However, if they’re new to the field, they’ll need more extensive training.
Establish communication checkpoints. Kankousky recommends creating set points where you and your new hire (and possibly the buddy) touch base. This is a time to talk about how the new employee is acclimating to the company and understanding procedures. These checkpoints help you see where the new hire may need more or different training.
Follow up and follow through. To get your newly hired employee up to speed, make sure you check in regularly and provide what you say you will provide.
Let the employee know how they’re doing. As your new hire adapts to their new role, take time to provide feedback. Remember that people want and need to know when they’re doing things correctly, says Kankousky. They also want to know how they’re fitting in. Make your feedback as specific as possible so the new employee knows what behaviors or actions to repeat.
Encourage two-way communication. When you bring someone on to your team, it’s important to invite open communication that flows in all directions. This means that managers must be receptive to receiving communication—whether it’s positive or negative. Foster an environment where your new hire can let you know when you need to be clearer, says Kankousky.
Getting new employees up to speed doesn’t have to drag on weeks or months. In many cases, you can even start onboarding new hires before they begin. Get to know their personality and working preferences and send them a copy of your company’s mission statement or core values. You can also pair them up with a workplace buddy who can show them the ropes. Develop a personalized training plan and follow up frequently to make sure the new employee is catching on. If you fit the training to the person and follow through, you’ll succeed at shortening the learning curve.
Source: Michelle Kankousky is a corporate learning and development consultant at Insperity. She has more than 16 years of HR experience.
The pandemic threw a wrench into the construction market, but companies are digging out of the disruption. This year, the global construction market is projected to reach $12.5 trillion, up nine percent from 2020, according to Research and Markets. By 2025, the market could top $16.6 trillion.
North America is a major contributor to the construction industry, accounting for 26 percent of construction worldwide. This region is second only to Asia Pacific, which comprised 42 percent of the market in 2020. Dodge Data and Analytics forecasts total construction starts in the United States to climb to $877 billion in 2022, exceeding the 10-year high of $856 billion in 2019.
So how exactly do these billions of construction dollars get used? It depends on the sector. For example, building construction includes residential and commercial projects, such as offices and restaurants. Industrial construction involves factories, power plants and other large-scale production facilities. Another major sector is infrastructure construction, which involves public works projects such as roads, railways and pipelines.
To complete all these projects, the U.S. construction industry employs nearly 7.5 million general contractors, engineers, welders and other construction experts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the population grows, more workers are needed to construct buildings, roads and other structures. This year alone, Associated Builders and Contractors projects the need for an additional 430,000 construction professionals.
By working with professional organizations, vocational training schools and chambers of commerce, construction companies can use promotional products to attract the qualified workers they need. Construction firms can also use logoed items to spread awareness about specific programs, show employee appreciation and hammer home their message.
Read on for key trends and ideas on how to break ground for new business in the construction market.
Construction is literally a brick-and-mortar industry, requiring on-site interactions and activities. However, the pandemic has revealed that many construction jobs can successfully start online. Just as telehealth allowed patients to see doctors from the comfort and safety of home, telebuilding works in much the same way. By using digital tools and technology like drones, planners, inspectors and project managers can view job sites and collaborate remotely. This reduces in-person visits, helping to boost productivity and increase worker safety in a post-COVID-19 world.
Telebuilding also allows construction firms to manage workers’ concerns about masks and vaccines. More than half (57 percent) of adults believe all employees—those vaccinated and unvaccinated—should be required to wear a mask when working on-site, according to a June survey from the American Staffing Association. And while most workers (60 percent) don’t want to reveal their own vaccination status, 66 percent say they have a right to know if their colleagues have been vaccinated.
Whether workers conduct their jobs on-site or remotely, construction companies can use promotional products to give employees a better experience. Logoed items such as backpacks and travel mugs allow construction managers to transition from their home office to job sites. And branded products such as tape measures and labels are always useful on construction sites.
The residential construction market is hot almost everywhere, but especially in the cities at right. Here, spending has spiked for residential building permits. See the percentage change in value from 2020 to 2021.
Sources: Construction Coverage and Home Advisor
President Biden’s roughly $1 trillion infrastructure plan, the American Jobs Plan, will reportedly create millions of jobs—many in the construction sector. The president’s plan calls for more than 20,000 miles of roads to be modernized and 10,000 bridges to be repaired. Promotional products distributors can work with construction companies to recruit and retain workers who will be needed as projects begin to roll out.
Construction workers are in short supply. Construction companies report the greatest need for these positions specifically, which opens huge opportunities for distributors to help companies promote themselves to job seekers:
Heavy equipment workers: 29%
Truck drivers: 25%
Concrete workers: 23%
Cement masons: 12%
Iron workers: 10%
Sources: Associated General Contractors and Autodesk
Want to open the door in the residential construction market? Here are the nation’s top 10 homebuilders and their total closings for 2020:
The key to greater brand awareness could be right in homeowners’ toolboxes. More than half (61 percent) of U.S. homeowners have taken on a home-improvement project in the past year—and they have money to spend thanks to savings and stimulus checks. Over the next two years, homeowners expect to spend an average of $6,250 on renovations, and one in five say they plan to spend $10,000 or more. Here’s what tops homeowners’ remodeling wish lists:
70% want more space for cooking
31% want more space for exercising
40% want more space for entertaining
27% want more space for outdoor living
50% want more space for working from home
27% want more space for homeschooling
27% want more space for childcare
Sources: NerdWallet and Home Advisor
Construction cranes are common sights in big cities. While some may view them as eyesores, cranes are often indicators of a healthy and growing economy. At press time, these cities had the most cranes towering in the sky:
Los Angeles, California......................43
San Francisco, California..................11
New York, New York..........................10
Source: Rider Levitt Bucknall
Some of the country’s largest cities have the most open and ongoing construction jobs. See the top 10 busiest cities for construction according to the number of projects underway:
Source: Next Insurance
Women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but in 2020, they comprised only 11 percent of construction workers. Professional organizations, vocational training programs and construction businesses can use promotional campaigns to actively recruit women and highlight opportunities in the field.
According to OSHA, one in five deaths among U.S. employees occurs in the construction industry. Promotional products and incentive programs can help educate workers about workplace safety and foster a culture of occupational wellness.
Waterproof, breathable and exceptionally well designed, the ANSI 107‐2015 Type R Class 3-compliant XtremeDry® Breathable Rain Jacket is both lightweight and comfortable and chock full of features. Made with an exclusive Pongee Twill, a strong and supple fabric, it has full mesh lining, taped seams throughout and features 3M™ Scotchlite™ Reflective Material Segmented Comfort Trim for extreme visibility. In yellow only in sizes S-4X with a matching XtremeDry® Breathable Rain Pant also available.
Vantage Apparel / PPAI 113235, S10 / www.vantageapparel.com
Featuring push-button retraction, a wrist strap and a built-in belt clip, the Foot-Locking Tape Measure makes a helpful promotional tool for construction firms, builders, material suppliers and renovators.
Beacon Promotions, Inc. / PPAI 113702, S10 / www.beaconpromotions.com
Construction businesses can use labels, stickers and decals to identify workers’ tools, display safety messages or highlight warnings. These durable labels are designed to withstand the elements in all kinds of construction zones.
Label Works / PPAI 111141, S3 / www.labelworks.com
The Project Planner Multi-Sheet Calendar helps construction managers stay on top of appointments, deadlines and bids. Customize it with a one-color or full-color imprint.
Tru Art Advertising Calendars / PPAI 113720, S6 / www.truart.com
The Cheyenne Work Jacket is constructed of 12-ounce washed and peached 100-percent Boulder Cloth™ canvas with three-ounce polyfill insulation and a diamond-quilted, brushed, tricot-lined body and hood for durability and comfort. Details include rib-knit cuffs and waistband with six rows of spandex for superior memory retention. This jacket will withstand the toughest working conditions, provide warmth and keep the wearer moving and working hard on every jobsite.
Dri Duck Traders / PPAI 318801, S5 / www.driduck.com
With the HidrateSpark Steel Water Bottle, workers can track their water intake and ensure they stay hydrated. An LED smart sensor puck glows when workers need to pause for a sip. The water bottle syncs with a free Hidrate app to calculate users’ daily water needs.
The Allen Company / PPAI 113879, S5 / www.allenmugs.com
Renovation companies can send a sweet client thank-you with the Chocolate Tools Gift Box. This four-piece set includes a hammer, saw, wrench and screwdriver crafted in milk or dark chocolate. It’s gift-ready in a gold or silver box with an optional foil stamp.
NC Custom / PPAI 111662, S7 / www.nccustom.com
Kick off an employee wellness program with the Construction Hat Stress Reliever. The squeezable foam helps workers release tension after using their hands all day.
Bullet / PPAI 113079, S12 / www.pcna.com
When inspectors travel from site to site, the Kobuk Camping Mug keeps their beverage the perfect temperature. This mug features a stainless-steel outer wall, a slider closure to keep drinks from sloshing and a base pad to prevent slipping.
Logomark / PPAI 110898, S12 / www.logomark.com
When a lumber yard wanted to thank customers after completing an addition or remodeling project, the company turned to a custom level from Beacon Promotions. The lumber yard knew the home or business owner would need to do some decorating, and the level would help them with the task. With a full-color, domed decal imprint, recipients would always remember where they received the helpful tool. And since this promotional item also includes a tape measure, it gets used often.
Source: Beacon Promotions
Audrey Sellers is a Dallas-Fort Worth-based writer and a former associate editor of PPB.
Nearly six in 10 consumers in the U.S., UK and Germany use voice search technology, and as many as one-third of them do so every day, according to the Voice Consumer Index (VCI), a new report conducted to identify consumers’ attitudes on voice assistants and the marketing potential this technology offers brands. The study, published by Vixen Labs, a UK-based, full-service voice search agency, in collaboration with the Linux Foundation’s Open Search Network—an organization with membership including Target, Microsoft and Wegman’s—surveyed 6,000 consumers, ages 18 and older, across the U.S., UK and Germany. It revealed that 80 percent of consumers use voice search assistants to search for products, but more than four in 10 (41 percent) are also using it to make purchases.
“Voice assistant technology has advanced massively since we said ‘hey’ to Siri 10 years ago,” James Poulter, CEO and co-founder of Vixen Labs, stated in a news release. “Parallels can be drawn from the early days of the search engine and social media to show the opportunity available to brands that utilize this technology effectively, regardless of the industry. Currently, there is a lot of white space for them to move into; the customer base is ready and waiting, but in order to tap into this new marketing channel, brands need to optimize, create and integrate their products and services with voice technology.”
When asked about their usage, 57 percent of U.S.-based recipients said they use at least voice search assistant, with the top player being Apple’s Siri for 60 percent of U.S.-based 18- to 24-year-olds and Amazon’s Alexa for 38.5 percent of U.S. respondents ages 35 and older. The report also revealed that U.S. consumers use voice search assistants most often while at home on a smart speaker (32 percent) and on their phone (31 percent), and while outside the home and on their phone (18 percent). The highest percentage of U.S. respondents (37 percent) said they use voice assistants regularly as a search engine function, or to ask a question, while 22 percent said they regularly use it to search for information on products and services. When asked about specific functions, 35 percent said they regularly use voice assistants to check the weather, 33 percent said to play music, 22 percent said to make calls and 18 percent said to send messages or emails.
With consumers worldwide using voice search assistants more commonly, the report determined the likelihood for consumers to use keywords that pertain to certain sectors; a finding that may encourage businesses operating in these respective industries to explore more in depth the benefits that voice search, and also search engine optimization (SEO), can offer them. In the U.S., it was determined that each user has a 71-percent probability of mentioning something related to weather, followed by music (66 percent), news (54 percent), entertainment (52 percent), retail (44 percent), health care and wellness (42 percent), food delivery and restaurants (39 percent), local services (36 percent), consumer-packaged goods (36 percent), travel (34 percent), fitness (34 percent), restaurant reservations (33 percent), fashion (31 percent) and finance (30 percent).
It’s safe to say that business owners and their employees learned many hard lessons during the pandemic, and they are still learning. But arguably one of the most valuable, universal lessons the pandemic reinforced is the need for and the importance of human connection in all its forms. In the business world, this translates to the innerworkings of companies’ various departments, teams, workers, committees and leadership staff, who are constantly gathering and relaying information about the needs of partners, clients, consumers, related industries and the business itself to continue fulfilling customers’ wants and problem-solve throughout.
However, this is only a glimpse into the efforts that went on behind the scenes to sustain the U.S. workforce over the past year. Many of the nation’s 127.16 million full-time workers and 25.13 million-part-time workers, according to data reported in June by Statista, underwent the transition from in-office to remote work or a hybrid, and millions are likely still navigating the shift. A force of professionals actively contributing to keeping the U.S. economy afloat, they deserve to be recognized by their employers for a job well done, and that’s where incentives come into play. The incentives marketplace is a $90 billion-dollar industry that 84 percent of businesses invest in, according to the Incentive Marketing Association.
“Incentive programs are specifically designed to motivate best practices, re-direct habits and acknowledge results. In a post-pandemic environment, the above three points are virtually a punch-list of the challenges facing an HR manager,” says Sean Roark, CPIM, principal and co-owner of Spring, Texas, distributor PromoPros/IncentPros, which specializes in employee incentive programs. “One simplified description of engagement is that it encourages an employee to view their company’s success as their own. Incentive programs designed to celebrate the company’s good fortune by making a big deal about the value contributed by individuals and teams within the company, have a great return on investment.”
Employee incentives are a win-win on both sides, but require action from recipients. For employers, incentive programs are designed to reward workers for meeting certain benchmarks or exhibiting select behaviors, such as achieving membership or sales goals, or following new safety standards. Incentive programs arm employers with motivators to encourage workers to reach these goals, and help businesses to keep employees satisfied, improve retention and encourage recipients to keep up the good work, and bolster feelings of positivity about the company; all factors that collectively save on costs. Roark says that incentives also help with strengthening the relationship between employer and employee. He explains, “An incentive humanizes the corporate relationship by extending a gift similar to what someone might receive for a birthday, holiday or other personal event.”
Companies can and do save hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in operational costs by using employee programs, so much so that it is often seen as an additional stream of “revenue.” One area where costs can be notably reduced as a result of a successful, targeted employee incentive program, is turnover and subsequent recruiting, onboarding and training. According to a 2019 article by Gallup, the cost of replacing a single employee can range from one-half to two times that employee’s annual salary. For an employee who earns $51,168 per year—the national salary average as of fourth-quarter last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—it’ll cost a business from $25,584 to $100,336 to replace the employee. Multiplied across a typical workforce, that’s a hefty cost to bear.
Establishing an employee incentive program is one thing, but choosing an appropriate gift is another. For employers, gift cards are a rather seamless choice, and although well-received, they don’t have the same staying power as a tangible gift. Roark explains that when an employee receives a gift card, they’re more likely to use it toward paying for everyday costs, such as a child’s medication at the pharmacy or a needed grocery item. If the gift card is generic and doesn’t feature the company’s branding, and/or doesn’t require the recipient to go to a company-hosted website to redeem it, they’re more likely to associate their gift with CVS, Walmart or wherever they redeem it, rather than with their employer.
“Incentives are a non-economic impact, in that the emphasis is on the pleasure of receiving the gift rather than the monetization that always happens with a cash gift, where the recipient converts the value to compensation: $100 equates to five hours’ pay,” he says. “That personal connection possible [with tangible rewards] is the golden prize that can come to your client. It converts adversarial employees into allies, improves the workplace and creates the outcome of remarkable possibilities.”
Non-cash rewards, which are a $77 billion-dollar industry, according to research from the Incentive Research Foundation, are known to have greater staying power. Gifting a luxury watch, a high-end tech backpack or a designer jacket to a standout employee for superior performance, not only provides them with a luxury item, but it also creates a positive association in their mind between that item and their experience of receiving that item, with their employer; something that’s likely to be recalled every time the employee goes to wear or use that item. “Consider how the promotional product is not what you are selling your client, rather, it is whatever positive emotions recipients feel about the promotional item, being transferred to the message or corporate brand of your client,” Roark says. “Whether it’s name-brand merchandise, travel or a logoed gift card, what you are actually providing your client is the personal connection to the recipient that makes them happy that they work for, buy from and/or deal with your client’s company.”
If the gift is experiential, such as concert tickets, spa trips or incentive travel, companies can include a high-end product, branded or not, to complement the experience as well. Examples include a pair of high-end earbuds to listen to their favorite tunes well after the concert ends, or a luxury towel and beach bag to bring on their seaside getaway. Also, the impact of an incentive gift is elevated when the product is personalized, reports the IRF. So, when gifting a high-end robe to an employee who earned a spa trip, opt to have that employee’s name embroidered on the robe for added meaning, effect and recall.
In a post-pandemic world, merchandise as an employee incentive gift is expected to increase 24 percent this year, according to 2021 IRF Trends Report. Most businesses are spending an average of $160 on incentive merchandise for individual employees, IRF reports, with 32 percent spending $200 or more per employee. IRF also reports that, during the pandemic, even lower-priced merchandise worked well to keep workers engaged throughout, so consider strategically gifting smaller incentive items throughout the year to keep motivation high.
Allowing employees to choose from a selection of products from an online company store can provide reward recipients with a sense of ownership and control over the reward they’ve earned. Employee stores are one of the most popular online store types created by Dallas, Texas, business services company and ecommerce platform OrderMyGear (OMG), and provide employees with curated, customized experiences that are tailor-made for them.
“Employees pick out exactly what they want, creating a high-end retail experience they are accustomed to,” says Mitch Hammer, OMG’s vice president of marketing. “It’s a reward experience that is most similar to how they shop now and feels like they are getting to pick their incentive versus everyone receiving the same gift, which feels less special. Plus, online incentive stores relieve the burden from the HR or marketing leader from picking out a single gift that pleases everyone, or dealing with guessing sizes on apparel.”
Some of the features distributors prefer most about OMG’s employee stores, Hammer says, are the options to offer gift cards that are redeemable in the store; setting up a P.O. store, so employees can’t see the price of the item they’ve selected and can check-out without a payment; and using email authentication, allowing distributors and decision-makers to control access to the store by validating an employee’s email address against a pre-approved list. Custom options available also allow distributors to offer their clients personalized gifts, such as AirPods with initials added on the case, and the ability for clients to share information about specific services, such as virtual yoga, cooking, Pilates or bartending classes.
Inspired by vintage field and military-style watches, the SRPG39 by Seiko is a gift that’s sleek and ageless. Part of Seiko’s 5 Sports Collection, it features automatic movement with manual winding, a display showing the month and day, a stainless steel case that measures 39.4 millimeters in width, Lumibrite on the hands and indexes, curved hardlex crystal and a calfskin band. This 75-gram watch is also considered a diver’s watch, with water-resistance up to 100 meters.
Seiko Watch of America / PPAI 596169, S3 / seikousa.com/pages/corporate-gifts
A gift with potential to become a family heirloom, extending the positive message behind it for generations to come, is the Oris Big Crown Pointer Date. Measuring 40 millimeters in diameter, the stainless steel, automatic, aviation-style watch features pointer-calendar movement and a leather strap. For durability, it’s made with sapphire glass for extreme scratch- and shock-resistance, and it’s water-resistant up to 50 meters.
Tourneau, Inc. / PPAI 185492, S2 / www.tourneau.com
Looking to express a wholehearted thank-you message? Say it with diamonds. This Diamond Dream necklace is a classic—and the stuff dreams are made of. Set in a 14-karat white gold prong setting, it features an exquisite, single .30-karat diamond, which is hand-cut to perfection in Antwerp, Belgium, known as the Diamond Capital of the World. The pendant, which weighs one-third of carat, is set on a 16-inch white gold chain.
Antwerp Diamonds Incentives / PPAI 270274, S1 / www.antwerpdiamondsincentives.com
The Anvil Beaded Bracelet is delicate and timeless, but also wearable enough for every day. The 7.5-inch triple-strand, beaded bracelet is made with rhodium and gold, and features two-tone accents and closes with a horseshoe clasp. It also comes with a lifetime guarantee.
John Medeiros Jewelry / PPAI 752042, S1 / www.johnmedeiros.com
An option to suit all employees, the Unisex Patrol Anorak is a casual, everyday jacket that’s both wind- and water-resistant. Featuring the Spyder® logo placed strategically throughout, it’s made from a blend of 89-percent polyester and 11-percent elastane. Details include an adjustable hood with front and back drawcords, a zippered drop-in pouch pocket and zippered hand pockets, and cuffs tabs adjustable with a hem cinch cord. Available in sizes XS-3XL in carbon, polar and black (shown).
J. America / PPAI 351699, S1 / www.jamericablanks.com
Offer employees a “warm” reminder of the company they work for, whether they’re lounging at home or beachside. Handcrafted in Turkey, the Umbria Throw is made from 100-percent Turkish cotton and measures 55-by-75-inches, with a fringe finish on all four sides. Its lightweight feel is made using a four-layered looming technique, and it’s free of any synthetic materials. Available in beige, navy, dusty rose, dark grey and turquoise (shown).
Riviera Towel Company / PPAI 725658, S1 / www.rivieratowel.com
Whether at the spa or at home, this soft and cozy Jersey Bathrobe is casual enough to throw over sweats and a tee while lounging at home. Midweight with a classic style, this fine cotton jersey bathrobe is made from a blend of 60-percent polyester, 37-percent cotton and three-percent spandex, with the option to add-on a shawl collar or substitute a kimono style. It also has generously-sized pockets and a hanger loop for easy storing. Available in one-size-fits-all in white or ecru (shown), with the option to add custom embroidery.
Boca Terry / PPAI 254386 , S3 / www.bocaterry.com
Anyone could make do with a rain poncho, but what about a high-quality, premium one that can be reused, again and again? The Men’s Ultralight Rain Pack is packable and ultra-lightweight, with internal webbed-nylon shoulder straps that allow wearers to slip their arms out of the sleeves and carry the coat on their back, leaving hands free; otherwise, the jacket can be packed into its own back vertical-zip pocket for easy storage. Machine-washable, it hits below the knee for full rain protection and is made from water-repellent nylon. Additional details include a zip pocket and two open pockets in the interior, front zip pockets, an elastic drawstring at the waist and hem, and a drawstring hood. Available in men’s sizes S-2XL in black and pine (shown).
Tumi Outerwear / PPAI 645193, S1 / www.tumi.com
A wintry options for employees who live and work in cold-weather conditions, the Women’s Luxe Down Parka is sure to make their lives easier, or at least more comfortable. The lightweight coat made from a polyester-nylon blend, features a water-repellent shell and insulated lining. For added style, the hood features a removable faux fur trim, and for convenience, internal shoulder straps allow the wearer to slip their arms out of the sleeves, and carry the coat on their back, hands-free. Machine-washable, remove faux fur before washing. Available in women’s S-XL in ivory, midnight blue and dark olive (shown).
These Polarized Aviator Sunglasses by FAIR WINDS are a stylish add-in for an employee-rewarded incentive trip, or simply for everyday use. Made with MauiBrilliant, the most advanced lens material offered by Maui Jim featuring optics that are nearly as clear as glass, with one-third of the weight. It has a gold frame with a matte black insert and a neutral grey lens, which offers the highest available light reduction, yielding rich colors with sharp contrast.
Maui Jim / PPAI 232755, S6 / www.mauijim.com
Described by the supplier as the “perfect gift for anyone with pants,” the Premium Gift Box – 40mm Combo offers a set of three high-quality leather belts that recipients can wear every day for years to come. Three styles are included: a bronze style, with a bronze buckle on dark brown leather; a steel style, with a steel buckle on black leather; and a tactical style, with a gunmetal buckle on a black nylon strap. Best of all, the belts and buckles can all be interchanged. The gift is pristinely presented in a matte black gift box with a magnetic closure and premium foil embossing. Available in small, medium, large and custom sizes.
Mission Belt / PPAI 771009, S2 / www.missionbelt.com
While perusing my RSS feeds the other morning, I stumbled on a most appropriate quote, one that will set the tone for this article. It comes from one of my mentors, Simon Sinek.
“Any worthwhile conversation starts with listening!”
Communication. It takes on various forms—written, verbal and non-verbal. It has, throughout history, moved mountains and opened amazing breakthroughs in technology, but the lack of communication has led to great disappointments. We need it, we depend on it and it is a skill that needs to be practiced, honed and practiced again and again.
I have a unique perspective on this issue by being actively involved in this industry for nearly 40 years. I have been a salesperson for a couple of companies, owned my own distributor company, been a partner and CEO in two supplier companies and have worked with multiple large distributors and suppliers as a marketing and business consultant. While I’ve not seen it all, I’ve seen plenty.
One of the biggest challenges I have seen and continue to see is a major lack of communication on all sides. No one side is to blame, and all would do well to reflect, think and alter the way we communicate. Solid, straightforward communication can solve a world of issues and make all things run much more smoothly. I have found this to be the case many times over, and the beauty of solid communication is that it flows over into personal relationships as well as business relationships.
What causes poor communication? Is it preventable? Is it easy to fix? These are all great questions, and questions that should be answered before one can move ahead.
Poor communication comes from people making assumptions, feeling the need to get their point across and wanting to be heard, not being openminded, failing to actively listen, feeling a lack of empowerment and not being self-accountable. Each of these points is avoidable, and the first step is identifying the issue.
Begin by answering these questions:
Ultimately, we are all serving the end customer. Every touchpoint, from the beginning to the end, can either positively or negatively affect the outcome. Distributors, do you understand the challenges suppliers are going through? Do you ask? Suppliers, do you understand the issues and perils distributors are really working through every day? Do you ask?
Distributors, in many cases, will take weeks and sometimes months to secure a client. They then relinquish the relationship to a supplier, trusting the supplier to do his or her part to ensure a successful outcome. That is a big responsibility; suppliers shouldn’t take it lightly.
Most businesses do not set joint expectations through the supply chain. Everyone should know their respective roles and what is expected from them. This goes for the entire supply chain. Supplier to distributor, distributor to client and back again. Everything should be spelled out, and I do not believe in today’s world you should rely on people to read everything. Recently, I went in for a dental procedure. Before I left, the doctor had a staff member explain, in detail, everything I needed to know so I could make an informed decision: the procedure, timelines, payment milestones, projected recovery time and potential issues that could arise. After leaving, I knew what to expect because they were thorough with their communication.
When I worked for a supplier, I realized our company was not for everyone, but it was right for many. The same principle applied when I owned my marketing company. Not all clients were a fit for a variety of reasons. Some did not appreciate our value as they are always looking for the cheapest price, were late payers, shopped our ideas, or were not respectful, loyal or open-minded. Over time, we made it a practice to target the right prospect and then interview the company to ensure a good fit. Believe me, we turned more potential clients away than we kept. Finding your ideal partner is a key component to having an open and communicative relationship.
It is true that everyone is busy, but you should never be too busy to ask questions, to understand and to ensure clarity. A fuzzy, ambiguous understanding fouls communication flow. Lack of clarity and assuming certain things further muddies the water. The power of asking good questions is a skill everyone needs to work on. Questions are never stupid; questions bring clarity and insight, and help light the path to understanding.
You may or may not have worked for a company where empowerment stays at the top. When that happens, nothing moves and there is zero progress because every decision is micro-managed from the top-down. Many who have experienced this firsthand would tell you it is stifling. Lack of empowerment shouts lack of trust. What you are saying is not good enough, in fact, you are not good enough. This creates angst and ill will.
Several years ago, I met a gentleman, Dana Montenegro, at one of my speaking engagements in the Caribbean. We hit it off rather nicely and after my presentation we had a lengthy sidebar chat. Dana had formally worked in a high-level marketing role for a large beverage distributor in the islands. He told me the story of how the company CEO encouraged failure—seems weird, right? But the explanation that followed was brilliant. Once of his co-workers totally failed with a major account. I do not remember the details, but I do remember him saying the CEO told the story in front of the whole company and proceeded to praise the guy because he took a risk, he tried but he failed. They were able to coach him, give him feedback and sent him off to try again. Imagine how that young man felt? It was extremely easy for him to take the constructive criticism and work even harder because he knew his boss had his back.
Some of the most talented people fail. Michael Jordan, who I feel was the greatest player ever, said, “I fail every day of my life, and that’s what makes me great.” Understand you make mistakes, own them, learn from them and if you are the boss, empower your team to go out there and keep learning.
There are two types of listening: active and passive. Without writing one more word, you know the difference because you have experienced both. A passive listener is not focused; this type of listener wanders and gets distracted. An active listener, on the other hand, looks at you when you speak, is not multi-tasking, seeks clarity, asks questions and never assumes. Be an active listener and communication changes dramatically.
Ambiguity is the biggest deal-breaker. We “Type A” personalities tend to rush through things. We know it, we understand what we want and, in all fairness, we expect people to figure it out. This is especially true with written correspondence. Our industry is heavily laden with details, and half-hearted correspondence creates delays, issues, mistakes and, in many cases, these missteps are expensive. Take the time to clearly articulate what you need. I find when communicating with someone, especially when there is detailed information, it’s best to bullet-point the information in an email. This creates a checklist of sorts and is much easier to ascertain what I am trying to convey.
When dealing with sensitive issues, having respect and empathy make a potentially tough situation easier to manage. If you need to reprimand someone, do it quickly and in private. Don’t let things fester or linger. Also, make sure you have a full grasp of the situation prior to sounding off. The ready, shoot, aim approach is least effective. When you need to deliver unwelcome news to a client, realize they need solutions, so go in armed with a couple of viable suggestions. Listen (really listen) to their response, hear what they are saying and let them know you hear them and understand.
Feedback is synonymous with accountability. It is easy to point fingers at others but taking a different approach may serve you better. I’ve found that, in most situations, looking inward first, asking myself questions about how I could have managed that differently, smooths over many issues and I eventually work out the issue.
I always ask: What could have I done differently? How could I have altered my approach or my questioning? Was I thorough? Did I assume anything? Was I clear? Most times the fault lies with me. Correct the problem, then go back to the person, own the situation and learn and move forward. As author Ken Blanchard said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
To make the most of a bad situation, take the emotion out of the equation. Develop a filter and do not take it personally. I realize that is easy to say, but when communication is emotionally charged, the outcome is rarely favorable. A former CEO I once worked with said his grandmother told him to count to four after someone speaks before responding. One, you’ll realize they are finished with their thoughts and two, you can digest what they said before your answer. This is one of the most difficult things for people to master. However, when you are aware of it, you can accomplish anything.
When you need to say something to someone, take a moment to think about the best method to communicate your message. In this fast-moving world of ours, I believe we rely on email and the various social channels too much. Some people are eloquent writers, but others are not, and too often the message can be misconstrued using these channels. Too often, things become misinterpreted or taken out of context, and the communication link becomes broken. Decide on the best channel; maybe picking up the phone or a face-to-face interaction is much more appropriate.
Be open to all possibilities, hold yourself accountable, and be willing to take positive feedback and turn that into a real learning lesson.
If you come at communication for the purpose of getting things done quickly and efficiently, remarkable things can happen. On the other hand, insipid, lackadaisical behavior does not foster effective communication.
Smile. Even on the phone, people can tell if you are smiling—it just comes through in your voice. I heard a story once where a call center manager put mirrors on everyone’s computer monitors with the word “SMILE” on the mirror. Productivity increased and callers made positive comments about the difference. Smiling makes a significant difference; it is one of the best forms of nonverbal communication.
The Japanese practice of Kaizen translates to “making better.” Former NFL referee Jim Tunney spoke at The PPAI Expo many years ago and shared this quote, “If it ain’t broke, break it and make it better.” Kaizen uses the same philosophy. This does not mean you need to dismantle your entire operation, but look at all the procedures and processes in your business—especially internal and external communication with others—and see where you can you make improvements. Even little improvements can make a big difference.
Here are a few more points to consider to improve communication all around:
We have a great industry and this industry, like others, is reliant on details and getting them right. Do your best to improve communications with yourself first, then within your organizations. Ask questions and understand your partners. This industry has been my life for 40 years and I love it, but I realized early on that people have choices. Suppliers, distributors and our ultimate end-user clients all have choices. To ensure they choose you, make every communication positive, friendly and memorable. If we all do this, imagine what our industry would look like.
In the words of the well-known motivational speaker, Les Brown, “Your ability to communicate is an important tool in your pursuit of your goals, whether it is with your family, your co-workers or your clients and customers.”
I wish you continued good selling, an open mind and the willingness to listen. Keep smiling and make the most of every communication.
Cliff Quicksell, Jr., MAS+, president of Cliff Quicksell Associates, has been an active industry volunteer serving on various PPAI committees, as a speaker and facilitator at PPAI and ASI shows, and as a member of PPAI’s Ambassadors Speakers Bureau for more than 15 years. He has also served five terms as the education chairperson for Chesapeake Promotional Products Association and is currently board president.
Quicksell has also been a speaker, trainer and international consultant to companies, associations and international business groups for more than 34 years and is the recipient of numerous awards including 30 PPAI Pyramid Awards and is a five-time winner of the Printing Industry PSDA’s Peak Award for creativity and the CPPA Creativity PEAKE Award. He was PPAI’s Ambassador Speaker of the Year for six consecutive years and, in 1997, was the inaugural recipient of PPAI’s Distinguished Service Award. Counselor magazine named Quicksell one of the Top 50 Most Influential People in the promotional products Industry.
He writes two weekly blogs, “Jumpstart Monday” and “30 Seconds to Greatness.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.quicksellspeaks.com.
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