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Promotional Products: Are You a Hoarder?

Updated on February 15, 2019
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Heidi Thorne is the author of "SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business."


They're called promotional giveaways because—duh!—they're given away. That sounds obvious. But I can't tell you how many times I've run into customers and colleagues, especially small business owners, who hoard promotional products. This doesn't save money; it can actually waste money.

Are you guilty, too? Let's look at some examples...

Untrained, Undistributed and Unsuccessful

Was chatting with a customer in November about their year-end promotional product supply purchases. He mentioned that they still had a lot of calendars left over from the current year. What? They still had this year's calendars sitting around? We were working on their order for NEXT year already.

So at a buck or two a pop, if they still had stacks left, they would be throwing out up to a couple hundred dollars in the trash. Not only that, the undistributed calendars didn't help them obtain any additional sales. So they could have been losing a whole lot more.

What was happening? My customer explained that they needed to do a better job of training their counter personnel to distribute the items to customers, especially a time-dated item like a calendar. Calendars can most effectively be distributed starting in the fourth quarter of the calendar year through the first quarter of the upcoming year. But beyond that, it's not that appropriate, except for maybe new customers who come on board through the year. In that case it helps put these new folks on track for the remainder of the year and gives them a preview of the goodies they can expect to receive in the future.

Help for Hoarding: Set up specific procedures for customer contact personnel who will be distributing items in their normal working day. These procedures would include:

  • Who should receive them.
  • How many items they should receive.
  • When the items should be given.
  • When the items should be removed from distribution and display areas.
  • How to dispose of the items if necessary.

You are NOT the Office Supply Store (Even if You Are)

On the other side of the distribution spectrum—and another training problem—are the "generous" customer contact personnel who give handfuls of promotional giveaways to customers and prospects with little understanding or regard for the impact on the company's financials. One warehouse distribution customer joked that his customers considered his company their "office supply store" for pens, notepads, etc. Ugh! This mass exodus of promotional items would not be appropriate even if the business was an office supply!

Business owners whose customer contact personnel hand out promo willy-nilly sometimes try to counter the bleeding by restricting distribution to the point of hoarding. Employees become skittish about handing out anything and think they're doing a good thing by not distributing. This results in boxes of unused and unproductive marketing investment sitting in a storeroom.

Help for Hoarding: Again, this is a training problem in that customer contact personnel are not properly informed as to whom, how many and when giveaways should be given away. Using the guidelines in the above example applies here, too.

Remember, many promos, particularly food items and pens, have a shelf life and will need to be discarded if not used. It also becomes a green issue when unused promotions need to be trashed unnecessarily. The following video explains more about shelf life issues.

Learn More About Promotional Products Shelf Life

Trade Show Trash and Dash

A similar problem happens at trade shows. Booth personnel don't want to take the time to pack and ship the promotional products back home. They're just anxious to escape the show floor to go party or go home. This is similar to the office supply problem just discussed, though the motivations for the behavior are different.

So these booth folks stuff handfuls of swag into the promotional tote bags of anyone within arm-shot of the booth. Worse is if instead of giving the items out, they trash the items with the garbage. Dollars out the door! The landfill then becomes the unwilling hoarder of a valuable promotional investment.

Help for Hoarding: Again, this is a training problem. Booth personnel, whether currently on staff or hired temporarily for working onsite, need to be trained to recognize who is eligible to receive promotional items, as well as when and how they should be given and/or displayed. Post-show handling, shipping instructions and packing materials should be provided. Designating a representative to supervise the distribution and handling will help with the accounting and accountability for these promotions.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


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